Buffy the Vampire Slayer 4x19 Review: Relationship Geometry (Topics Include: Parallelism, Triangles, and Coming Full Circle)
“New Moon Rising”
Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by James A. Contner
Willow and Tara are discussing pet preferences. Willow is a dog person, but she’s not anti-cat. Tara wants to get a secret kitten for her dorm room, where pets aren’t allowed. She particularly wants to share the secret kitten with Willow. Willow agrees. They link hands as they walk, and they’re on the way to a Scooby meeting, which will be Tara’s first!
Buffy hasn’t found anything about Adam or really much of anything at all lately. Giles thinks they’re in the calm before the storm with Adam, and that’s why the patrols have been so unfruitful. Willow keeps a running commentary for Tara throughout the conversation. While Buffy might’ve had a light load the past few nights, Riley and the rest of the Initiative have been bringing in so many demons that they’re running into a population control issue. Anya observes that this was a pretty boring meeting, which annoys Giles. His chastisement of her gets interrupted by the arrival of…OZ. (HELLO OZ, IT IS SO VERY LOVELY TO SEE YOU!)
Tara, of course, is the only one who doesn’t recognize him. As soon as Willow says his name, Tara wilts. Willow is so floored she can barely speak, so Xander is the first one to try catching up. Buffy’s immediately in protective best friend mode, but Giles would like things to remain as relaxed and friendly as possible, particularly since they’re still in his flat. He offers Oz tea, but Oz just wants to talk to Willow alone. She agrees, but she’s still very bewildered. Oz leaves to go see Devon. Buffy asks if Willow’s okay, and Tara bails with an obviously fake excuse.
That night on patrol, Buffy fills Riley in on the Willow/Oz story between fights against demons. She tosses out the “Oz is a werewolf” tidbit like it’s nothing, but it’s a serious record scratch moment for Riley. He can’t believe a girl like Willow would date a non-human. He still doesn’t know about Buffy’s history with Angel, another non-human, so he doesn’t realize he’s suddenly treading on very thin ice. She comes down hard on him for being so judgmental about Oz, who is harmless (mostly) and can’t help being what he is. She calls him a bigot and starts to storm off, but he’s not just going to let that lie there. He only digs himself in deeper when he tries to explain. She’d like to just get on with the patrolling now.
Oz shows up at Willow’s dorm room that evening. He’s obviously very content to see her, but she still seems pretty unsure how to feel about it. He invites her outside, so they go walking together on campus. She admits how weird she feels about everything. She can’t quite grasp that it’s real. He tells her to look up. She sees the full moon and realizes what it means. He’s not in wolf form. She’s suddenly very excited and happy for him. She throws her arms around him, but then her face falls back into confusion. Oz said he was going away to deal with this stuff, and now he has, but she was starting to move on already. Oz says that Xander told him Willow doesn’t have a new boyfriend. Which is true, but also misleading. Willow doesn’t clarify, and Oz tentatively takes her hand. Now that he’s resolved his own issues, he’s here to be with her, if she’ll have him.
Graham and a troupe of other Initiative guys patrol until they get attacked by some kind of furry monster. It’s not a werewolf, but it kills one of them and leaves the other two unconscious.
It’s morning, and Oz and Willow are sitting on her bed. They’ve been talking all night. He’s given her a really pretty cloth from Tibet. He’s been all over the place in the last several months. Most of the awkwardness between them is gone now. He learned a bunch of meditation techniques for keeping his wolf side down, among other things. She’s very impressed. She feels like she doesn’t have nearly as much to tell him. She’s ready for breakfast, but he wouldn’t mind postponing it in favor of catching some shut-eye, probably with spooning. She opts for breakfast, and he’s okay with that. She leaves to go do morning bathroom stuff, and while she’s gone, Tara shows up. She’s surprised to find Oz there instead of Willow, but doesn’t want to wait around for her to come back. Oz tries to make friendly conversation, but Tara doesn’t really want to do that with him (not that she’s rude or anything; she’s actually stuttering as if he was the one being rude). She leaves. Willow comes back and Oz tells her “her friend” stopped by. This gets Willow all crestfallen again.
Buffy and Riley are woken up by Riley’s alarm. He seems to want some cuddling, but she gets up a bit abruptly instead. He gets up too, so he can do pushups. She’s a bit snappish with him about his normal guy routines, ‘cause she’s still mad about his attitude about Oz (and by implication, his attitude about her and Angel). He wants to deal with this before she can leave angry. He doesn’t see what’s wrong with a “demons bad, people good” mindset. But that doesn’t allow for any exceptions or different circumstances. Skeptical, he challenges her to name one, but then Forrest comes in with news about Graham’s team. They’re going to hunt the demon that attacked them. Buffy wants to know what kind, but Riley (pointedly) doesn’t care.
Willow’s sitting on her bed when Buffy comes back. Buffy doesn’t want to talk about why she’s upset, because she’d rather talk about Willow and Oz. Willow tells her about how Oz has apparently found a cure for lycanthropy, and Buffy is thrilled, then confused when Willow seems less thrilled. She takes a breath, then admits why it’s complicated: Tara. Buffy misunderstands, initially thinking the hypotenuse of this love triangle is Oz. Then, from Willow’s expression (which we don’t see), she gets it right, then realizes what that means. Willow and Tara aren’t just friends. Buffy stands up and tries very hard not to act like a spaz while she adjusts to this revelation. But this is Unsubtle Buffy we’re dealing with, so that works for about thirty seconds. Willow fears rejection from her best friend, but then Buffy finally gets a grip and assures her that this changes nothing between them. At first, Willow probably would have just chosen Tara immediately, but after spending time with Oz, all her old feelings for him have come back. She wishes there was a way she didn’t have to hurt anyone, but Buffy points out that’s kind of impossible. She recommends honesty.
Spike is sleeping in his crypt when Adam shows up to recruit him! Spike would rather fight him, but that’s clearly not going to work. Then Adam offers a deal: if Spike does something for him, he’ll take care of the chip in Spike’s head. Spike is a-okay with that plan.
Willow shows up at Tara’s dorm, and Tara lets her in. Tara’s relieved when Willow tells her she and Oz were only talking all night. But that’s basically where the good news for Tara ends. She assures Willow that she’d be happy just to be Willow’s friend, if that’s all they can be. Tara is basically the sweetest person ever. Willow is less certain than Tara that what she wants is to go back to Oz. She starts crying. She cares about Tara a lot, and she owes a lot of the happiness in her life lately to Tara. Tara just wants her to be happy, even though it hurts her to say it. Willow hugs her.
Oz is standing in the hall looking at some fliers on a bulletin board when he thinks he smells Willow going by. It’s Tara, wearing Willow’s jacket. Oz is confused, and Tara tries to be friendly. She notices that Oz has an admissions packet, and she sees her chances with Willow shrinking. Whatever happened after the scene in Tara’s room ended, it sounds like Willow is at least leaning more towards Oz. Tara can’t quite paste on a happy face. Oz can only focus on the fact that Tara smells like Willow. His wolf, it seems has figured out what his human side and Xander did not, and he’s not okay with it. Tara very much does not want to have this conversation, but Oz grabs her. She’s both sad and frightened, and Oz is getting angrier, particularly because Willow never told him anything about this. She tries to edge away, and he grabs her again and yells for her to stop (which makes this the second and final time he ever raises his voice). In the middle of demanding answers from Tara, he realizes that he’s not okay. He is in fact wolfing out. In the middle of the afternoon. He tells Tara to run.
She does, and Wolf Oz is now chasing her, through halls and classrooms. She throws a chair at him and then Riley and another Initiative guy shoot him with a tranquilizer dart. Tara tries to stop them from taking Oz away, but she’s stuttering again, and the guys think she’s just scared and confused. They think he’s one of the things that attacked Graham’s team.
Spike is totally on board with Adam’s plan (which we didn’t get to hear, but which requires both demon and human casualties in order to work). He wants Buffy to act as the leader of Team Humans, but Spike thinks that will just result in Team Humans winning. So Adam wants Spike to be his mole on Buffy’s team. As long as his chip comes out, Spike will do anything.
Tara finds Willow in the library to tell her what happened to Oz. Willow runs off to go find Buffy and rally the gang. Tara watches her go in quiet agony. At Giles’s flat, the Scoobies talk about how they can get Oz back from the Initiative. Xander votes they use Riley for that, but Buffy doesn’t think Riley will be so understanding. Also he hasn’t been answering any of her efforts to contact him. So they need a Plan B.
Wolf Oz is in a cage inside the Initiative facility’s fun little vivisection pit. The scientists haven’t been able to ascertain yet whether or not Oz was the thing that attacked Graham’s team, and Forrest is chomping at the bit to kill him. So is Riley. He cocks his gun and takes aim, at which point Wolf Oz morphs back into Oz Oz. He’s kind of out of it. When he comes back to his senses, he’s on a table, still naked, and a team of lab coats are standing around with clipboards and syringes. Riley wants them to leave him alone, but it seems he doesn’t have as much sway in the Initiative as he used to. The head lab coat orders Riley removed from the pit. One of the lab coats tases Oz until he wolfs out again, which confirms that Oz didn’t so much find a cure for lycanthropy as he detached it from the lunar cycle and attached it instead to his own emotions. Strong negative emotions bring out the wolf.
Riley still hasn’t been in touch, so Buffy is planning to head into the Initiative with Xander like they did before. Willow refuses to just stay behind. She has to be on the scene to help Oz. Giles is even willing to brave being her stand-in as a hacker to enable her to accompany them, so they concede. Just when they’re discussing how to actually get inside, now that Buffy’s clearance has been revoked, Spike pops in, suggesting they use the back door. The way Spike responds to Buffy’s flat snark continues to be more sexual than it was before Faith-as-Buffy pulled her little teasing stunt with him. As much as they don’t trust him, his plan does sound like a great deal.
Oz, still naked, is curled in the corner of a cell identical to Spike’s in “The Initiative.” He is not having fun. He looks up at the sound of beeping. Riley is here, and he has some clothes for him. Oz puts them on, and then Riley tries to lead him out of the facility, only to get caught by Forrest, Graham, and a whole bunch of guys with guns. They’re not getting out.
Riley is now in a cell (not the same kind), and he gets a visit from the colonel, who is disappointed in the change in Riley’s loyalties in the last couple of months. He doesn’t allow Riley to explain about Oz. He’s pretty much just here to tell Riley he’s about to have him court-martialed. His only chance to save his career in the military is to help them take down the “anarchist” Scoobies.
Buffy and Willow (wearing lab coats) and Xander and Spike (wearing military uniforms) are on their way to Spike’s back door. Which is only effective because Adam is opening it for them using his own hacking skills. Giles and Anya, using Willow’s instructions, are doing their own hacking, which interferes somewhat with what Adam’s trying to do, but still helps the infiltrating team get where they need to go. Via a city-wide blackout. Anya feels this merits a high five, which seems to be a thing Giles hasn’t really done before. It’s great.
Buffy and Xander get into the colonel’s quarters and aim their weapons at him while Spike and Willow stand watch. He assumes they’re there to get Riley, which lets Buffy know that Riley was on her side about Oz when it mattered. She’s okay with getting in a bonus rescue while she’s here. She gets Riley out first, knocking out a guard and swiping his card key to do so. Riley knows leaving with her will affect his whole future. He goes anyway.
With the colonel as a hostage, they move on to rescuing Oz. The colonel reluctantly gives the order to release Oz, who starts wolfing out again as soon as Willow gets closer to him. He gets it under control, but it seems that they both know what this means for them, and they’re very upset. The Scoobies (plus Spike and the captive colonel) get into the elevator to Lowell House, which Riley then breaks. Mission accomplished. The colonel tells Riley he’s a dead man, to which Riley responds with one of his more awesome moments:
Buffy and Riley are setting up camp in the ruins of the high school. Riley is officially on the run from the Initiative, and Buffy might have to be too. She threatened to kill a U.S. colonel. She’s very impressed with Riley, whose actions towards Oz have spoken much louder than his words that morning did. Even though Riley’s a fugitive, he’s at peace with himself now. No more cognitive dissonance. No more divided loyalties. Buffy, having now gone through her own moment of being less-than-perfectly open-minded regarding Willow’s relationships, is more understanding towards Riley’s initial attitude about Oz.
Riley’s newfound open-mindedness makes Buffy feel like it’s finally time to be more open with him about herself. Besides, her advice to Willow was to be honest. It’s advice she should follow in her own relationships, too. She warns Riley that he’s not going to like what she’s about to tell him, but he says she can tell him anything.
Willow and Oz are sitting in his van. He regrets the timing of his return. He clearly isn’t as in control of his wolf side as he thought. It’s particularly upsetting because his emotions run highest around Willow, which means he’s an even bigger danger to her than he was before. I feel like they deliberately wrote this scene to leave room for interpretation about Willow’s feelings. As a huge Willow/Oz shipper, I’m seeing Willow say that while she has found someone she can be happy with, Oz would’ve been her choice if the way to him had been clear. But thanks to his wolf side, that option is being taken away again. She won’t grieve the same way she did before. Also, if Oz wanted Willow to wait for him, then he should’ve stayed in contact. She tells him she was writing him letter after letter, so she clearly would’ve been willing to try the long-distance thing, but he didn’t make that possible. It’s a much less painful parting than the first one was. They talk about it pretty calmly. He’s clearly going to be the one hurting more once he leaves. She tries to keep up a brave face when he says he’s leaving now, but she can’t stop herself from crying (and neither can I). They hug, long and close.
Tara’s sitting alone in her room. The power’s still out. Someone knocks on the door. It’s Willow, with a candle. She hands it to Tara, who backs away. Tara’s still expecting a rejection, but that’s not what she gets. Willow promises to make it up to her for putting her through all that love triangle pain, and they blow out the candle.
“New Moon Rising” has never been one of my top picks. Episodes in which sad things happen for Willow/Oz are pretty much automatically disqualified from that category. But it’s still an extremely well crafted hour of television. Closure was not what I wanted for Willow and Oz, but it’s much better than just never seeing or hearing from him again. It’s particularly effective closure because of the way it’s filmed. Willow first started falling in love with Oz when they were sitting alone in his van together (while Xander and Cordy stole a rocket launcher from the military), and they sit in those exact same seats while they have their final interaction in the series. That’s beautiful. *sniffles* Buffy’s plot with Riley (and the ghost of her relationship with Angel) and Willow’s plot with Oz and Tara are also expertly intertwined. Episodes in which Plot A mirrors Plot B are often good, but episodes in which one character’s Plot B mirrors another’s (with some Plot A stuff thrown in for flavor) are often great, and that’s definitely the case here. It also moves the main plot forward much more than stupid “Where the Wild Things Are” did. High marks all around, but it’s just a little bit too bittersweet for me to love it.
Several years ago, my best friend from high school (whose name, coincidentally, is also a type of tree) came out to me as a lesbian. Without intending to, I’d given her many reasons to expect I wouldn’t handle that kind of revelation well, which is probably why she waited until we were thirteen hundred miles apart and chatting over AIM before she told me. My reaction was almost exactly the same as Buffy’s when Willow told her about Tara. I think I was subconsciously using Buffy as a model for how to react, and I’m very glad I did. Buffy’s arc in this episode will probably always be one of my favorite things about it. It’s one of those episodes that really impresses me with how real the characters feel. Buffy isn’t instantly understanding about Riley’s views; she’s angry and irritable until she gets side-tracked by other things. Then she steps out of her own problems for a moment to be Willow’s best friend, and when she goes back, seeing that Riley has already made some changes to his own mindset, she humbles herself and realizes she can meet him halfway. She’s been holding out on him on some very serious aspects of her life, and he’s finally proven that she can trust him with them.
Xander is the first one to extend a gesture of welcome to Oz. It makes sense. In spite of everything in season three, Oz is the closest thing to a male friend Xander has had since Jesse died. He certainly has more in common with Oz than he does with Riley or Giles. And based on what Oz tells Willow, it seems like Xander is still quietly rooting for Willow and Oz. I don’t know if that’s because, having been an obstacle between them once, he’s sworn to never be one again, or if it’s because he genuinely believes they’re right for each other. Heck, it might just be that since he’s in a stable (if weird) relationship with Anya, he’s feeling all match-maker-y about his friends.
Willow gets put in pretty much an impossible situation. It’s Joss Whedon’s tendency to give characters what they want at exactly the worst moment all over again. So right when she’s starting to fall in love with Tara, her first love returns, professing his undying love and devotion, having seemingly worked through all the problems that made him leave. The way Oz’s wolf side changes to be about emotion instead of the moon is almost like Oz’s version of the perfect happiness clause in Angel’s curse. They both can’t be with the women they love more because of sucky circumstances than anything else. The trouble with Willow is that we don’t quite see enough from her perspective in this episode to be able to definitively say what her choice was. Oz was effectively disqualified by his wolf’s new rules. It seems to me that she would have chosen him if that new obstacle hadn’t presented itself. I’m thinking maybe she could have been happy either way, with Oz or with Tara. What was making her miserable was being forced to choose. It’s not exactly the same thing as being caught in the middle of a love triangle, but when I was applying to graduate school, I applied to two different programs. One was at the same school where I got my bachelor’s, which would mean I wouldn’t have to move or get used to a new town. The other was the same school where my brother is attending, and it would’ve been really neat getting to hang out with him more. In the end, only the first school accepted me, so I didn’t have to make the choice, and it was a huge relief. That’s kind of how I see Willow at the end of the episode. Sure, she’s sad about the chance she lost with Oz, but she’s mostly just relieved that the pressure is now off. She doesn’t have to wonder “what if I’d chosen different?” because she didn’t actually choose. Also, Tara is officially the most selfless and kind character on the show.
Riley’s loyalties have been tested over and over since he and Buffy first discovered each other’s secret identities. This is the final test. The colonel gives him an ultimatum: Buffy or his military career. He chooses Buffy. But not just because she’s his girlfriend and he loves her. He’s come to believe for himself that her approach is better than the military’s, and he can’t be a part of something he doesn’t fully support. Well, now that he’s made his decision, let’s put that to the test by dropping the Angel bomb on him.
Faith’s actions continue to impact Spike’s interactions with Buffy. I still wish we could have seen that first one without the influence of Jonathan’s spell, but she doesn’t rise at all when his tone gets provocative. And on the other hand, with Adam’s promise to remove his chip, he’s immediately willing to work against Buffy again. It isn’t the least bit surprising; he’s soulless. He’s going to work for whoever can give him more of what he wants.
Giles has very little to do in this episode, but I think this might have been the first time he engaged with the digital realm without any kind of fuss. When it’s about something that matters so much to one of the people he cares about, he can put away his extreme aversion to computers like it’s nothing. He just keeps giving me new reasons to adore him.
“…You were a Boy Scout?”
“Parts of me.”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.