Follow by Email

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild at Heart

[Updated April 30, 2013]

I love Wild at Heart, but many viewers (including me) were very disappointed that Oz left. There was no secret about it at the time so it’s not a spoiler now to say that his departure was caused by an outside event. Seth Green had a movie offer which he badly wanted to take, so they let him leave. By all the public statements, the departure was amicable and BtVS would have been happy to have him back. The fact that he left was one of the factors I had in mind in my comments on S4 in the post on The Freshman, and Oz leaving will have extremely important and long-lasting ramifications both on the show and perhaps for the show.

One consequence of Seth Green’s departure is that Wild at Heart is unique among the episodes. It’s not really about Buffy in any meaningful way, though it does fit in with the season themes as I’ll discuss below. Joss: “I remember we spent a long time trying to figure out - we broke the story [meaning outlined the episode], we had it down, but we were like, we don't know what the Buffy is. … I remember when we broke it we were just like, ‘We've gotta figure out how Buffy's agenda completely relates to this one.’ This is the first time we went, you know what? We don't, actually. It's like, Buffy can be strong and interesting in the episode and save the day, but this one is about Oz and Willow, straight up, and let's deal with that.”
The events of Wild at Heart were foreshadowed in Fear, Itself. I deliberately held off discussion of Oz’s fears, and one of Willow’s, for that reason, but I’ll review them now. Both of their fears in Fear, Itself come true here. Oz feared that he would lose any control over the werewolf part of himself, hurting Willow in the process:  Oz:  “…I won’t lie about the fact that I worry?  I know what it’s like to have power you can’t control.  I mean, every time I start to wolf out, I touch something –deep – dark.  It’s not fun.” Later, in the house, that fear manifested itself when he began to wolf out even with no full moon. After Oz clawed her and ran away, Willow feared that he’d leave her: “Oz! – Oz, don’t leave me!”
Similarly, the events of Beer Bad set the stage for Wild at Heart. In my post on Beer Bad I quoted Prof. Walsh’s words about the id, and we were introduced to Veruca not long afterward when Oz and Willow sat in the Bronze listening to her. The werewolf is a metaphor for the unrestrained id (see my post on Phases), and we got strong hints of that in Oz’s reaction to Veruca’s singing both in that episode and in this one.
Oz is in denial that his true self includes his id. We see this when he denies to Willow that anything is amiss, and when he denies to Veruca that he’s “really” a wolf:
“Veruca : Maybe. Or maybe you just don't wanna admit what happened to you. Maybe you just wanna pretend like you're a regular guy. (She walks over to him.)
Oz : Well, I am. I'm only a wolf 3 nights a month.
Veruca : Or you're a wolf all the time and this human face is just your disguise. You ever think about that, Oz? …
Veruca : I can help you, Oz. You're scared. I was, too. But then I accepted it. The animal, it's powerful, inside me all the time. Soon, you just start to feel sorry for everybody else because they don't know what it's like to be as alive as we are. As free.”

Veruca’s presence, and Oz’s reaction to her, bring him eventually to decide that Veruca was right: “The wolf is inside me all the time, and I don't know where that line is anymore between me and it.” Marti Noxon, who wrote both episodes, compared Wild at Heart to Beauty and the Beasts, saying "What is our basic animal nature? How much of that should be fulfilled and how much do we have to resist and say no, that's a dangerous impulse? Many of the problems we have between men and women are based on the fact that we deny a lot of these impulses and blame other things. The question of how much of me is animal and how much is man and how to control that is a big reason why Willow and Oz end up breaking up.”
Oz’s concern about who he really is fits in perfectly with the theme of personal identity which, as we’ve seen, is one of the principal themes of S4.
A few other points worthy of note. First, Xander got it totally wrong in his advice to Willow:
“Xander : Well... Have you asked Oz about it?
Willow : Well, I thought about it, but then he'll think I'm all jealous and worry.
Xander : But you are. And odds are, he feels it. I'll bet that's all there is to the weird you're feeling. You guys should talk things out, Will. You'll both feel better.”

The reason he got it so wrong, I think, is that this is not a standard case of romance gone wrong. It’s a more basic question of Oz’s fundamental identity. Xander, in fairness, couldn’t have expected that so he gave the standard advice: talk about it. The problem was that he suggested that Willow’s failure to talk to Oz had caused Oz to react to that failure. This was true, up to a point – it contributed to the awkward lunch, and Willow knew it. However, it wasn’t the real problem; that was internal to Oz and unrelated to Willow. Thus, Xander’s advice, well-intentioned though it was, made things more painful for Willow when she caught Oz with Veruca the next day because it would have left her with the sense that it may have been partly her fault.
Second, Oz’s behavior in bringing Veruca into the cage was obviously wrong, though he probably got the idea from Buffy. She told him that if she found the other wolf, he “might have a roommate in there”. She, of course, was concerned only about safety and had no reason to think that something else might be going on. Oz did, and both Veruca (before) and Willow (after) called him on it. Even more than the sex, Oz was sharing a fundamental part of his nature with Veruca, something Willow couldn’t touch. As Marti put it on the DVD commentary, “And the wolf, to me, is the part that both men and women have that can destroy relationships even when people love each other.”
Third, Willow’s uncompleted spell was emotionally understandable but just as impossible to justify as Oz’s behavior. The difference is, Willow stopped herself. Unfortunately, by the time she was ready to talk to him about it, Oz had come to his realization and had made the decision to leave. We can even understand what Oz was going through. Seth Green (speaking to Joss and Marti): “my favorite thing about working on the show was just how well you guys handled every character ‘cause no one was just a bad guy, even the people who were doing the horrible things, like Spike. Everybody had a reason. Everybody had their own emotional agenda that was no - it was undeniably valid. You could really understand everybody's point of view, and it made the audience unable to choose sides. And that was my favorite thing about this episode was that - even though Oz is the bad guy, doing the bad things and being the ill character, it's like you understand where he's coming from, and you can see why he thinks leaving is the right thing and how he feels, like he's protecting Willow in a way. And you can see the selfishness, but you can understand from everybody's point of view why things happen the way they do.”
But Willow never got the catharsis when she dropped the spell and then Oz left without her having any say in it.
William B added a good point about Willow’s magic use: “Willow also nearly does the spell because it's part of Willow's character at this point in the series to go closer to that edge. And she is devastated by the idea that, in her manifest goodness and wholesomeness, she is cut off from whatever animal instincts that attract Oz and Veruca. It's another motivation to keep exploring the dark arts, as protection from this sort of thing happening.”
So, what’s up with those commando guys? We’ve seen them several times now, but they remain mysterious. Having them completely undercut Spike’s (over)dramatic monologue in the teaser just whets the appetite, as does Buffy’s collision with one on her way back to rescue Willow. We’re about to find out.
Trivia notes: (1) Oz mentions having seen Giles’s album collection, which refers back to to The Harsh Light of Day when Oz noticed his Velvet Underground album. (2) Buffy described Veruca as “quell Fiona”, referring to singer Fiona Apple. (3) It pains me no end to include this as trivia, but Oz’s reference to the “extreme Jerry Garcia look” requires me to note that Jerry Garcia was the lead singer for The Grateful Dead. (4) Willow’s mention of the wicca group meeting sets up a very important plot point later in the season which is directly a consequence of Oz’s departure. (5) The game show Giles was watching on TV asked about the treaty which ended the Thirty Years War. Giles’s answer – the Peace of Westphalia (1648) – was, of course, correct. (6) Veruca scornfully called Oz’s cage a “Habitrail”, which is the set of tubes and “houses” used to create more interesting environments for a hamster or mouse. (7) Barabbas was a robber who was freed instead of Jesus during Passover (h/t Isaac P.). Willow called on Barabbas as part of her incomplete spell. (8) Willow also called on “the Saracen queen”. “Saracen” was the Roman word for the Arabs. There are several “Saracen queens” in history and literature, so it’s hard to say which one was meant. (9) It’s pretty much true: “Joss: Well, it's also a rule on Buffy: If anybody ever has sex, the person that they - the reason they shouldn't be having sex will walk into the room.”


  1. Heads up, you're thinking of Dismas and Gestas, not Barabbas; the latter was a notorious criminal who was freed by popular acclaim during Passover. His notoriety comes from the fact that the crowd had a choice between freeing him or Jesus; as the crowd has been described as Jewish in certain translations, that passage was used to justify anti-Semitism within the Christian community (Yay Wikipedia!

    Not sure what that's meant to invoke considering Willow is herself Jewish.

    1. You're absolutely right. Fixed it -- thanks.

  2. Bruce from MissouriMay 14, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    I believe it was this episode that Hannigan demonstrated herself to be one of the top cryers in Hollywood, crying so hard that several people rushed over to her to comfort her after the take, only to have her immediately brighten up and say "what's the big deal, it's just acting".

    I have to think it's a tough job to act across from her when she's in full raw crying mode, because you totally believe her pain.

    That said, SMG is no slouch in that department either.

    1. Yes, this was the episode where that happened. She really had me convinced.

      I was also impressed because her role in the very next episode is so different and she handled it so well. I'm a big AH fan.

  3. Two stray thoughts—

    Since you are talking about the manifestation here of fears brought forth in Fear, Itself, it is interesting to note that while Willow feared her magic going awry, thus proving that she was not a witch, she did not fear her misuse of magic, as she almost does here...

    Slightly SPOILERY

    If I recall correctly, the final scene of this episode is the last in which we we will see Buffy and Giles quietly conversing—alone—about an important matter—until Season 5, when those conversations will become so important. The frequency and tenor of this kind of communication between them, I think, signifies much about the nature of not simply their relationship but of that between the main 4—from this point on

    1. Just off memory, I think your spoilery point is factually correct. That being the case, I agree that the lack of such scenes is very meaningful within the season themes, as we'll see soon enough in A New Man.

  4. I do like this episode quite a bit and agree with what you say. I do like that the three leads -- Willow, Oz and Veruca -- all have their own agenda. Metaphorically we could say that, since this episode is ultimately Oz-centric more so than Willow-centric (I don't necessarily mean POV, but in terms of who is the primary agent), there is a superego/ego/id thing going on, with Willow as superego and Veruca as id -- and the revenge spell is nearly designed to be Oz' own punishment of himself ("I'm sure Oz is flogging and punishing..." as Buffy said). But I do think if that's the case, it's only one angle among several in the episode; Willow also nearly does the spell because it's part of Willow's character at this point in the series to go closer to that edge. And she is devastated by the idea that, in her manifest goodness and wholesomeness, she is cut off from whatever animal instincts that attract Oz and Veruca. It's another motivation to keep exploring the dark arts, as protection from this sort of thing happening.

    1. I think this is right about Willow and magic, though we have to be careful because magic will very soon be used in another metaphorical way and I don't want to be misunderstood (and you definitely did not confuse the two; I'm just being cautious).

      IMO, Willow uses magic as a "hack" on the world, similar to the way she was a computer hacker in S1-3. Willow tends to be very intellectual and uses first hacking and then magic as an intellectual tool, thinking that this alone can give her insight into deeper truths. She sees it as giving her the access which she craves, but it's also, as you say, a form of self-protection.

      I see this as related to, but not the same as, the magic metaphor we'll soon see.

    2. Caution is good.

      I definitely agree about magic as a "hack" on the world. This is the key difference between Willow and (SPOILER) Tara, who doesn't see magic at all that way. I'd say that in season seven, Willow's attitude toward magic is a combination of her own and Tara's -- with Giles and the Coven being the representatives for Tara in the text. The big Chosen spell works best for me if I think of it as both recognizing the basic structure of the world and of power, AND being willing to change it in some basic ways. Respect for, and willingness to use in original ways, magical power. I think the "respect for" is the thing that Willow doesn't really get pre-s6.