Sometimes events on screen and behind the camera reflect each other in ways that were unintended but are accidentally quite poetic. In Wild at Heart a rapid and unseen departure behind the scenes creates a rift in the status quo of Buffy’s friends. Both are too abrupt.
Seth Green wanted out of the show, at least on a permanent, regular cast member basis, so the storyline of his attraction to Veruca and the slow erosion of the Oz/Willow relationship became a one episode thing, beyond the few moments of attraction between Oz and Veruca that we have seen previously. That probably turned out to be the lesser of two evils, because dragging out this particular story would have likely tried the viewers’ patience even more than the Buffy/Parker stuff. When we dislike a character a bit too much, it’s hard to invest, and Oz’s departure almost seems like a fair price to pay for getting rid of Veruca so soon. And if we are being brutally honest here, what does Oz even bring to the party? A few jokes about his “stoicism” (i.e. he doesn’t talk much)? He has worked well as a character for one reason alone: Seth Green. Few other actors could have made this work. On paper Oz is a relatively boring human, and the wolf side of him suffered from being largely an irrelevance. When it did matter, the show never solved the age-old problem of covering an actor in hair, getting the actor to jump around in an animalistic fashion, and expecting us not to laugh at the result. The wolf was silly. The human was… stoic.
The breakdown of the Oz/Willow relationship therefore becomes the most interesting thing Oz gets to do as a character since his debut. They were seemingly the show’s only stable couple, a little too perfect if anything, without much potential for drama once they became a couple. Oz was simply Willow’s plus-one after a while, handy for the occasional wry one-liner (or one-worder). At last, a relationship that seemed perfect turned out not to be perfect after all, with Oz realising that the wolf side of him is not confined to times where there’s a full moon. It makes perfect sense that he would want to leave for a while to figure out where the wolf ends and the human begins. The metaphor is of course barely even metaphorical, because Oz and Veruca get physical, albeit in their wolf forms. This is about the sexual impulse inside everyone, which rages through the hormones of teenagers in particular, and how that can derail the best of relationships. Where does that wolf end and the human who commits to be faithful to their partner begin? It’s a question many people have probably asked themselves, and few will find definitive answers, but denying that impulse inside you that makes your eyes wander to some other attractive person walking along the street is an internal battle that at best hangs in the balance. The answer, perhaps, is that love is more powerful than the wolf inside, and that’s where the writing is clever towards the end of the episode, because it’s clear to see that Willow and Oz were going to find a way to move on from this, if only Oz didn’t need to head off into the sunset to battle his demons. Their parting moment is tender, and full of love. The wolf doesn’t win.
And we can be sure that he will be back, because this is never a show that leaves dangling threads untied. If you think for a moment that this is the last we are going to see of Oz, then you’re not paying attention to the series you’re watching, because this is far too tidily written a show for that to happen. Of course he’ll be back, but that leaves a tantalising question: what will he find when he returns? Will Willow be waiting for him, and will she even still be his Willow? Her first instinct is to turn to magic to deal with her problems, and we see her stop herself just in time, but how much longer will she deny the wolf inside her? It’s a different kind of wolf, but no less powerful. It’s called anger. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
When I watch shows with my wife, I’m often let down by the number of times she calls something early that I fail epically to see coming. She’ll guess a murderer in a mystery ages before I do. I’ve even pondered if, in her massive ingestion of news articles, she’s not cheating and finding something about the things we’re watching. Alas, I don’t believe it, but I’d be happier if that’s how she was doing it! Buffy has been around a long time so I can’t deny there’s a chance I would have seen something about this, but I swear that I had no recollection when I made the call about Veruca being a werewolf. It made me really happy to have nailed it for a change. Except… I don’t think I can give myself credit! Oh, I got it right that she was a werewolf, but I really didn’t think it was going to lead to Oz cheating. I thought it was a red herring, but it’s not: she’s a werewolf and Oz cheat on Willow with his new friend. And that’s the sort of thing I’ve come to realize that this show is very good about: subverting expectations. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that both things could happen!
Fair dues go to Allison Hannigan for really selling her pain over the betrayal, though. She has a very subtle (but substantial) beauty and seeing her broken hearted undoubtedly impacts even the most stoic viewers! This episode belongs to her; Buffy and Xander have their moments, but this is Hannigan’s episode to shine and she does it, even while the camera stays focused on Oz and Veruca. As for Oz, I was stunned that he actually did betray Willow; I genuinely didn’t see it coming and I think that’s a testament to the writer building his character as a rock. Having said that, I’ve been alternating between Buffy and Angel each night but I really want to know how long Oz will be away. I won’t look it up in the event of spoilers, but I’m guessing he was doing some other work and needed time off the set. I guess it was an ill omen indeed for Willow that this is also the episode to see her academically jealous of Buffy. Twice!
The episode felt a bit like a filler to give Oz an out for a while, but then we see those masked militia guys again and we realize something is up. I love that Buffy encountered them and explained her mistake around Halloween, but now I’m really curious to see where they are going with this! Speaking of, there’s very little comedy in this story and rightfully so: somehow watching Willow go through this ordeal isn’t a laughing matter. However, we do get another outstanding opening from Spike with him monologuing about being the big bad in town before being electrocuted. I’m starting to hope every episode opens with Spike! (Still, nothing can beat his Angel opening!)
I can’t really complain about this series the way I did at the start. There have been far too many moments where the show has come back to me with my hat on a platter asking if I’d like ketchup with that. I still think ninja vampires are ridiculous and that opening of Buffy having to be a martial artist is pretty silly, but it’s such a minor thing now. On the other hand, the death of Veruca is handled pretty poorly. Even Giles seems to dismiss the death of a student as Buffy saving her friend. Let’s face it, there’s a dead girl in a lab with her throat torn open. How did that get covered up?? Oh, well now that I think of it, I suppose the 2 wild dogs could be the cover, but Veruca will be found naked too. Lost in the fight, perhaps? I guess even the bite marks will show the teeth marks of an animal… yeah, even as I complain about it, I can find some garnish for my hat. Brown sauce, no doubt… Hey, no complaints about that. I’d rather notice the “flaw” and be proven wrong about them. To think I’d been overlooking things that seem blatantly obvious would bother me a lot more. The only thing obvious right now is that I’m going to be impressed with this show repeatedly. Now if I could only get my wife to show some initiative to watch it with me… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Initiative