Monday, December 27, 2010

Classics: BtVS 4:6 - Wild at Heart

Overall Rating: 8.2

The relationship drama is oh so wonderfully done, the performances are frighteningly good, and the writers have proven once again that they can tug at your heart strings, but questions remain about the take-home message.

Plot Synopsis:

A full description can be found here, courtesy of

The Skinny:

There is no doubt that this is an exceedingly well made, heart-breaking episode - that it is deeply entertaining, and that Marti Noxon has proved, once again, that fandom's irrational dislike for her style is unfounded. Her mastery of characterization makes her uniquely qualified to write this kind of episode. She reminds us how good Oz and Willow are together, then she savagely rips that joy out from under us with such skill that we can't help but feel Willow's agony. It's really quite remarkable how well Noxon does this on a consistent basis. It helps when you have actors as skilled as Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green to play out your story, because they were ON THEIR GAME here. All that said...this episode is still not a feature for me...and here's why.

I would be able to look past my discomfort with the way in which Oz is portrayed in this story if two moments in the script had happened very slightly differently. When he pulls Veruca into the cage to protect her (and everyone else) from a night as a werewolf, they kiss immediately BEFORE his change. If that had happened immediately AFTER...that would have left Oz at least arguably on the moral side of the universe. And later, when Oz decides to kill Veruca, he does so slightly before his wolfy changes begin - admittedly, this is to defend Willow, and no one is crying over Veruca's death - foul temptress that she is. But in order to kill Veruca, Oz must embrace his animal nature, which leaves me questioning the foundational meaning of this script.

For all comes down to this. To interpret any BtVS script, you must begin with the assumption that anything with a demon visage is meant to represent some twisted part of human nature. Vampires have variously represented the passion of lust, the selfish emptiness and hopelessness of life without a soul, and the decadence of greed. Various demons have represented a host of other deadly sins, and there can be no denying that the werewolf in Oz has always stood for his baser animal instincts. Now I want to be fair to Noxon, but I believe that although Veruca was very aggressive in her pursuit of Oz, Oz was always portrayed as the aggressor in their aborted affair. He is the one that kisses her in that moment at the cage door...he's the one that tracks her scent and attacks her in werewofl form at the start of this story, he is the one that decides to kill her. I think Noxon has fallen victim to a modern ideology that fuels the hatred (and attempts to destroy the very existance) of primal masculinity. I believe the point of this story, if you remove the werewolf make-up, is that even the best of men, if approached by a tempting, sexually aggressive woman, are vulnerable to the primal beastly appetites that make them male. The beast inside Veruca is not inherently is male. When a girl plays by the guy's rules, bad things happen because men are instinctually wild and dangerous.

I reject this notion wholeheartedly. I believe that although men and women are undeniably different beings, neither is more prone to instinctual behavior than the other, and neither set of instincts is more primal/evil/dangerous. This is actually quite the running theme with Buffy...this presupposition that men, if not civilized in a modern, enlightened way, are dangerous to women and that women, if shown behaving in the same way, are not typical women. Faith, Veruca, Glory...the evil women on BtVS were always outsiders...the evil men were always portrayed as being "typical men" in some way. I don't think it advances quality of life for women to teach them that men must be retrained before they can be trusted or that even the best among us may be corrupted when women play things the way men supposedly always do. Believe it or not, there are a ton of men out there who would find Veruca's advances disgusting and frightening. And no, we're not all metrosexual guys in touch with their feminine sides. In fact, some of the most metrosexual guys I've known over the years were the most likely to be players.

Writing: 9.5

For crafting a very believable, if morally dubious end to the Willow/Oz relationship, and for tugging at our heart strings so successfully, the score can't go any lower than this.

Acting: 10.0

Alyson Hannigan, Seth Green, and Paige Moss were sensational and really hammered home this story with gusto.

Message: 5.0

I won't be too hard on Noxon and co. for what I personally feel is a wrong-headed take on the male psyche because (a) you could make the argument that I'm misreading her motives and that Veruca is an ordinary girl behaving in her own distinctly evil ordinary ways and not a stand-in for the supposed male sexual fantasy....and (b) Oz comes out of this episode doing essentially the right thing (if you aren't sure you can resist your sex drive with an aggressive, sexy woman, you shouldn't be dating) and we still have room to love him despite his misdeeds and the harm he's brought to Willow. It's certainly not the most obnoxious man-hating moment this show produces. But I can't give it a par score for the message for all the reasons stated above.

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