Teen Angst Bites
I probably would have enjoyed this week's episode more if it had not aired right after the rather disturbing "Innocence." That was a serious episode with what should have been long-term consequences for Buffy, so to go from there to a not-very-subtle story about werewolves paralleling teen sexual angst was rather a letdown. Willow seems to have transformed from a very intelligent young woman into an utter flake, so even though I like her with Oz better than Xander, I have a hard time really being interested in their relationship. I found it ironic that she and Cordelia now find they have so much in common in their difficulties with men.
I found it disturbing, however, that Buffy was talking on their wavelength. Despite the former's backseat (well, front-seat) horniness and despite the latter's desire for "smooch action," Cordelia and Willow respectively are KIDS. They're not ready for sex or love, and they seem instinctively to know that - they appreciate that the guys are being cautious even while they're complaining about the lack of romance, the seeming inconsistency, they don't want someone like Larry the Lecher at the start of this episode. Buffy, on the other hand, has turned into a grownup pretty quickly. Her sexual angst goes a lot deeper than "should I make the first move" dating crises; sex cost her her lover, quite literally. I don't expect her to lecture her friends about morality, but it annoyed me to hear her sighing "Men," right along with them, as if their problems could be equated.
As for the werewolf business, it was a lot of fun. A local poacher's using guns to compensate for his inability to satisfy himself any other way - making dirty remarks about Buffy and Giles doesn't cut it - while Oz is experiencing the pains of adolescence quite literally. When Xander confronts the animalistic Larry, his suspect as the hairiest beast around, saying he knows what the senior is going through, he's knocked for a loop when Larry comes out to him and assumes Xander's gay as well. Beautifully handled, and completely believable (in the context of a series that takes vampires seriously, of course). I wish the series had been as subtle and gentle in dealing with Buffy's sexuality.
We've seen lycanthropy used as a metaphor for teen angst before (I Was A Teenage Werewolf and Teen Wolf spring nimbly to mind). But the metaphor loses much of its effectiveness here since Giles tells us early in the episode that werewolves aren't responsible for their actions. So we don't get an internal struggle as Oz fights for control of his werewolf form. We don't even see Oz wrestling with whether he can tell the rest of the club that he's the werewolf. If he even considers telling anyone, we see no signs of it in the episode. Instead of Willow and company trying to talk Ozwolf down we get Willow and company shooting Ozwolf to render him harmless.
Of course, everyone in this episode of Buffy seems to have an excuse for their actions. If Larry manhandles Buffy in gym class (and let's not even get into the massive liability insurance a public school would need to teach self-defense in gym), it's all right because he's actually gay and trying to overcompensate. If Xander acts like a jerk, it's because he's worried that Oz isn't right for Willow. If Angel turns Theresa into a vampire, it's all right because he's under a curse. And if Buffy decides that the werewolf should die, even if werewolves are not responsible for their actions, largely because Cain was mean to her, it's all right because she's upset over Angel. (Apparently Buffy missed sex ed on the day where the teacher shouts at the top of her lungs, "FOR GOD'S SAKE, DON'T SLEEP WITH VAMPIRES! WHAT ARE YOU, ON DOPE? THEY'RE VAMPIRES!") Apparently everyone in Sunnydale is a victim, whether of a gypsy's curse, a werewolf's bite, or a really, really bad mood.
Men generally don't fare very well in this episode of Buffy. The only sympathetic male characters in this episode are Larry, who's gay, and Oz, whom Willow shoots. Giles is an ineffectual wimp and Xander comes across as an arrogant, dumbcracking jerk. In fact, Buffy fares even more badly in this episode than the men do. She gets captured in a net, lets Cain get to her, lets Angel get to her through vampire-Theresa, and has to be rescued from vampire-Theresa by the arrogant dumbcracking jerk Xander. Sure, she gets to bend Cain's gun at episode's end, but it comes across as a token amateur pseudo-Freudian moment. And that's hardly compensation for her depiction as a victim and an incompetent for most of the episode.
This column was originally written for AnotherUniverse.com.