In the fifteenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a werewolf terrorizes Sunnydale, and then WHAT THE HELL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
In 1998, this aired. There was an entire episode of a show devoted to the sexualization of women, the violence they experience on a daily basis, the microaggressions that build up against them, and how misogyny even affects (and is perpetrated by) gay men. That’s not to say this is the Most Important Episode On Sexism Ever, as there’s a lot of sloppy metaphors made here, but HOLY SHIT THIS WAS ON TELEVISION. I’m just not used to it! I’m used to having to read really hard into the text or script to even find this stuff, and then this episode is all about it.
Oh, right, and Oz is a werewolf. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT IS THIS SHOW DOING TO ME!
There’s a lot of really obvious talk of sexism and misogyny in “Phases,” but I think the one thing I picked up on the most was the gender reversal of Willow, Buffy, and Cordelia. I’m become accustomed to watching men discuss how flippant, confusing, and fickle women are over the years, but this episode specifically inverts that. Instead, there’s a whole lot of time spent discussing how much Xander and Oz make no sense at all. Now, I don’t think women discussing men is the most progressive thing I’ve ever seen, but all throughout “Phases,” the focus is shifted from the male perspective of these issues to show us how women are affected by them. And of course, the characters of Larry and Cain represent two distinct types of sexism women face.
I’m still not sure what sort of metaphor the werewolf stands for, though. Is the show trying to say that sexism is a “phase” in teenage boys? That it’s in their nature to act the way they do towards women? Or is it just a fringe plot that really doesn’t have much to do with this? Or is it just one of the worst creature costumes I’ve ever seen? Okay, sorry, but it truly is awful. There’s nothing frightening about it at all. I SWEAR I TRIED. But it looks like a school mascot, not some frightening were-beast.
Anyway, it’s a small thing out of a lot of good things in “Phases.” The episode never really focuses entirely on one person, starting off with Willow, then moving to Cordelia, and then finally to Oz when he discovers who he really is. It’s interesting to see Cordelia complain about Xander’s inappropriate behavior, not just because SERIOUSLY DUDE PLEASE GET OVER IT, but because it’s one of the first times we see how much she actually does like him. Gosh, I am so glad that their relationship is out in the open, whatever sort of relationship that is. I don’t know how much more I could have tolerated sneaking around. But it also gives us perhaps the best scene in the whole episode: Willow and Cordelia sitting on a couch in The Bronze, comfortably discussing their problems. They aren’t being witty, they aren’t being mean, and they’ve found a way to bond with one another. Could more of this happen? thank you THANK YOU.
I wasn’t super into this episode, though, until the big reveal of Oz’s. I swear to you, my first thought was, “COULD SOMEONE ON THIS SHOW DATE AN ACTUAL HUMAN FOR ONCE?” Then my next thought was, “COULD YOU PLEASE NOT KILL HIM OFF, JOSS WHEDON?” Then the thought after that was, “Oh, I shouldn’t have thought that. Damn it.” Then it was, “Wait a second, did he just ask his aunt if her son is a werewolf and she confirmed it? That seems…bizarre.” Then I thought, “Well, wait, no one seemed to “notice” or remember the werewolf breaking into The Bronze earlier. The residents of Sunnydale sure aren’t very observant.” Then, “Did Oz as a werewolf actually plunge from the ceiling in that scene? Where did he come from?” Then: “Hold the front door, Oz woke up from his transformation totally naked, so how did he get home? Where exactly did he find an oversized button down shirt?” Then: “Wow, hold old is Oz’s cousin? Could you imagine having a nine-year-old werewolf sun? I would rather have an adult werewolf than a child.” Then: “I just had too many thoughts at once.”
It became my chief worry of the episode to see if the show would now dispose of Oz after the big reveal. That made Willow’s big confrontation scene so much more worse to me. Was she finally getting the courage to tell Oz what she wants, only to have her heart broken just moments later when Cain kills him? Seriously, there is already so much heartbreak on the show as it is, and now we’re going to add Willow’s to that? UGH LOOK, JUST GIVE ME ONE THING AT A TIME, BUFFY. Seriously!
I suppose that it really did surprise me that Oz was a werewolf because there were no hints of this development before. I mean, yes, he was bit recently by his cousin, but I can’t even think of a single detail that might have tipped me off. On top of that, there was a very clear misdirect on the part of the writing that purposely was meant to distract the audience to believe that Larry was the werewolf. I think there’s something to be said about how well Larry’s story fits in the episode, even if I also think it’s not done as well as it could be. You can parallel his experience with what Oz later feels. Both fear rejection once their identity is known, and both are reasonably calmed down once they are not rejected by people they trust or respect.
If it seems at all unbelievable that someone like Larry could be both gay and viciously misogynistic, allow me to confirm that people like Larry are very much real. I’ve known them! In fact, it’s one of the things that’s rather disheartening about the mainstream gay community: a lot of men think because they’re gay, it’s totally cool to be raging sexist douches. Whether it ranges from thinking it’s acceptable to mock or hate women because they’re not attracted to them, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, to hate women to “prove” their masculinity to others, this is very much a thing that happens all the time. While I think Larry’s transformation is disingenuous (people don’t engage and criticize their own misogyny over the course of a day), I actually didn’t find Larry’s character to be an offensive thing as a gay man. I was a little weirded out by Xander’s reaction to the whole thing. Hey straight guys, you know that we’re not all automatically attracted to you, right? In context, I do get that Xander just accidentally outed himself to Larry, so it’s not like he didn’t have something to freak out about. But just communicate that you were discussing something else and brush it off. The whole gay panic face isn’t a fun thing to see. (I’m directing that at the writers, for what it’s worth. I am actually starting to like Xander a lot more.)
Ultimately, I am ecstatic that Oz survived this episode; once Cain started pursuing him, I thought that this story would end with Willow seeing the guy she liked shot down in front of her. I sort of wish that Cain’s characterization was a bit more layered; all he really serves in the story is to be super sexist and gross, and then he just sort of goes away? Well, Buffy does bend his shotgun, which is pretty cool, but there’s no way he’s going to learn not to be a misogynistic asshole. He just won’t ever come back to Sunnydale.
Still, the important thing here is that Oz is alive, and Willow is still willing to give him a chance. I’m hesitant to throw any real emotional weight behind this ship, because now there’s a thing that can tear them apart. I certainly want more of Oz in the rest of the season, and I’m definitely interested to see how the show deals with his werewolf side again. WOULDN’T IT BE COOL IF HE WAS SOME SORT OF WEAPON FOR THE SCOOBIES??? oh my god WAIT CAN THIS HAPPEN? Someone stick me in a time machine so I can go suggest this idea to the writers. Wait, if I have a time machine, I really hope that I use it for anything but suggesting a slightly mediocre idea to a staff of writers on Buffy.
That’s another point for another day, though. I’ve gone on enough tangents in one post to last a lifetime.