In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
After the game-changing story told in the previous episodes, the second season of Buffy cools things down just a hair in the two installments that follow, but that doesn’t mean important stuff doesn’t happen here. In fact, we find out some shocking facts about a key supporting player in the first of these episodes, “Phases,” and are reintroduced to a minor character from Season One in the second episode, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” While neither installment packs quite as much of an emotional wallop that “Surprise” or “Innocence” did, they are both a lot of fun and provide a nice palette cleanser after those two heavy-hitting episodes.
“Phases” begins with a brief scene involving Willow and Oz, who have started dating but are moving very slow, much to Willow’s dismay. We then cut to Xander and Cordelia making out in Cordy’s car in a secluded area of Sunnydale during a full moon. As we’ve come to expect from this town, their car is attacked by a werewolf who tears directly through the roof of the car. They are able to escape the creature and, when they report the incident to Giles, they are told that there have been a number of similar attacks reported that night, though luckily no one has been hurt or killed yet. After doing some research, Giles shares with the Scoobies that a werewolf is changed by the full moon over the course of three nights, which gives them two chances to catch the beast. Buffy and Giles go out werewolf hunting that night, resolving not to kill it since the person who becomes the wolf is likely unaware of what he or she is doing. While patrolling the area where Xander and Cordy were attacked, they come into contact with Cain, a hunter who has no qualms with killing werewolves since he can get good money selling their pelts.
Through Cain, Buffy and Giles discover that the werewolf will most likely frequent places where lots of teenagers hang out, as it is drawn to their hormonal energy. Buffy heads to the Bronze in time to fight off the wolf as it attacks. She is unable to capture the beast, and when Cain shows up, she tells her that if anyone gets killed by the werewolf, that she is to blame. Later that night, a classmate of Buffy’s named Teresa is killed by Angel, but when her body is discovered, Buffy and the Scoobies immediately assume that the wolf got her. When morning comes, we see the wolf changing back to human form and discover that he is Oz. The next day at school, Xander becomes convinced that an obnoxiously chauvenistic jock named Larry is the wolf, but when he confronts him in the locker room, he discovers that the secret Larry is hiding is that he is actually gay. Meanwhile, Willow shares with Buffy her concerns over Oz’s reluctance to take things to the next level in their relationship, and Buffy tells her that she may have to make the first move. Later that night while visiting the funeral home where Teresa’s body is held, Buffy and Xander discover that Teresa was killed not by the werewolf but by Angel when she rises as a vampire and attacks them. Before being slain, Teresa tells Buffy that Angel “sends his love.”
Taking Buffy’s advice, Willow shows up at Oz’s house just before Oz attempts to restrain himself before his transformation. When Willow shares her frustrations with Oz, he begins to change, and when he has fully transformed, he chases the frightened Willow out of the house, with Cain soon picking up his trail. Willow runs into Giles and Buffy, who have brought a tranquilizer gun, and when the wolf catches up to them, it is Willow who subdues the beast by shooting him. Buffy prevents Cain from claiming the wolf’s pelt by bending his gun and telling him to leave, and Cain complies. The next day at school, Willow tells Oz that she accepts his affliction, stating that she’s not so fun to be around a few days out of the month as well, and the couple share their first kiss.
“Phases” is one of the stronger standalone episodes of the season for a number of reasons, primarily for the big reveal of Oz as a werewolf and for not making him a villain because of it. This creates an interesting change in the status quo, making Oz an infinitely more interesting character and establishing an appealingly complex stage in his relationship with Willow. I also enjoyed how Larry’s coming out was handled in an era where there were still not a lot of openly gay characters on network TV. Having Angel show up as more of a side villain was a nice touch as well, and I enjoyed how he played a key role in the plot without becoming the main focal point. Admittedly, the werewolf effects aren’t very good, and the transformation scenes are laughably bad, but that’s forgivable given the fact that Buffy was still a fairly low-budget show at this point in the series. The less than stellar effects are really the only part of “Phases” that I didn’t enjoy, and I’m anxious to see how this change in Oz’s character is explored in future episodes. “Phases” gets 4.5 out of 5 “Werewolves In Love.”
Speaking of love, the next episode, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” is set during Valentine’s Day, which turns out to be a less than happy one for Xander when he is dumped by Cordelia, who is pressured to do so by her shallow friends. Meanwhile, Giles advises Buffy to watch out for an attack from Angel, who has a long history of committing horrible acts around Valentine’s Day. In the vampire’s hideout, Spike presents Drusilla with a necklace before getting completely one-upped by Angel’s gift to her, a human heart. That night, Buffy receives an ominious gift from Angel, a dozen roses with a card attached that simply says “Soon.”
The next day at school, Xander approaches Amy Madison, last seen in the Season One episode “Witch,” whom he finds out is following in her mother’s footsteps by practicing witchcraft. He promises to keep Amy’s dark secret in exchange for a spell that will make Cordelia fall madly in love with him so that he can dump her and make her feel the pain and humiliation that he is currently experiencing. The spell works, but not in the way Xander expected, as it affects every female in the school but Cordy. Xander soon finds himself chased around by every other girl in Sunnydale, including Buffy, which would be a dream come true for Xander if not for the fact that she’s not in her right mind and uncharacteristically aggressive in her attempts to seduce him. After returning home only to find Willow waiting for him in his bedroom, he runs to the school library to get help from Giles, who chides him for being so reckless with magic spells. Xander soon finds himself in the center of a verbal sparring match between Amy, Buffy, and Jenny Calendar, all of whom are all hot for him thanks to the spell. Buffy, who in an attempt to seduce Xander is wearing only a trenchcoat, is turned into a rat by Amy and scurries away, and Giles and Oz attempt to look for her. Giles angrily tells Xander to go home, but before he has a chance to leave, he spots a group of girls assaulting Cordy, whom they accuse of breaking Xander’s heart. He rescues her, and they run from the school, pursued by a mob of loved-crazed teenage girls led by an axe-wielding Willow.
As Giles attempts to convince Amy to reverse the spell, Xander and Cordy attempt to take refuge against the army of horny girls in Buffy’s house, only to find that the spell is affecting Joyce as well. They run upstairs to Buffy’s room, where Xander runs into Angel, who intends to kill Xander as a late Valentine’s Day present to Buffy. His plan is foiled by Drusilla, who also is affected by the spell, and she expresses her desire to turn Xander into a vampire so they can be together forever. Xander is saved from an eternity with Dru by the mob of girls, and he and Cordelia run back into the house. The mob breaks down the door and enters the house, though Drusilla is not able to, as she has never been invited. Xander and Cordy find themselves back in Buffy’s basement, where Xander explains that the spell was meant for her, which strangely flatters the self-centered Cordy. They soon find themselves trapped as the mob of ladies pounces on them. At this point, Giles and Amy are able to reverse the spell, which snaps everyone out of their trance and restores Buffy to her true self, albeit nude and very confused. The next day at school, Buffy tells Xander that she appreciates that he didn’t take advantage of her while she was under Amy’s spell, and Cordelia rebukes her stuck-up friends and takes Xander back.
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is one of the more lighthearted episodes of Buffy I’ve seen so far, which is a nice change of pace after all the dark and tragic events that have occurred in the past few episodes. It’s nice for a change to see an hour of the show go by without a single death, if you don’t count the poor soul that once possessed the heart that Angel gave to Drusilla. While I’m still a little confused as to why Cordy was so flattered that Xander wanted to put a love spell on her, her decision to take him back no matter what her friends thought was a nice step forward for her character, even if she and Xander make a truly awful couple. I also enjoyed Oz’s brief but humorous attempt to defend Willow’s honor by punching Xander in the face, which is something that I’m sure a lot of people at Sunnydale High have been wanting to do. Whedon and company’s confidence in the show seemed to have been growing week to week, as shown by these two self-contained stories that both enrich the overall plot and creatively stray from the standard “Monster Of the Week” formula that was established in the first season, which is yet another testament to the overall greatness of Season Two. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” earns 4.5 out of 5 Obligatory Mousetraps.