Friday, February 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Phases"

“Phases” is Buffy doing the werewolf theme in horror. As usual when BtVS does their versions of genre pieces, however, “Phases” adds a twist to the werewolf subgenre.

In “Phases” it is Oz who is he monster of the week this week. Oz has been bitten by his baby nephew Jordy. Jordy, it turns out, like Oz’s Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ken, is a werewolf. When Oz learns matter of factly from his Aunt Maureen that he has become a werewolf as a result of Jordy’s bite Oz takes it in typical Oz stoical stride.

Though “Phases” has a monster of the week quality to it the episode, like so many other seemingly Buffy standalone episodes, moves seasonal and character arcs along. Buffy is experiencing the romantic fallout from “Surprise/Innocence” thanks to Angel going all Angelus and going over to Spike and Dru’s side. Cordy and Xander are still smooching though they have taken their kissage outdoors to “lover’s lane”. Xander is now jealous of Oz, obviously Willow means something to him, and he remains in love with Buffy, as Cordy notes. Willow wants her relationship with Oz to grow closer and more knowing in the biblical sense but Oz is pulling back or at least Willow thinks he is pulling back. Angelus appears and kills one of Buffy’s acquaintances, Theresa Klusmeyer, turning her into a vampire. When Buffy and Xander arrive at the funeral home to check out whether Theresa had been killed by a werewolf or something else that goes nasty in the night they discover that Theresa has been killed by a vamp. They learn that the vamp who killed Theresa is none other than Angelus himself as Theresa rises out of her coffin telling Buffy that “Angel sends his love”. Angel is, as he promised, starting to kill those around Buffy during his psychologically tinged campaign against the Slayer.

Previously on Buffy: Larry is back and is as much of a macho Neanderthal as ever. When Xander confronts him over being a werewolf—Xander connects a bite Larry received from a dog to werewolfness—Larry admits to Xander that he is gay. The admission liberates Larry. In a scene at the end of the episode, a scene that hearkens back to a scene in the teaser when Larry, showing off his machismo in front of his “Larryettes”, knocked books out of a Sunnydale High female student’s hands in macho male misogynous fashion, Larry picks up the books of a female student that have been knocked out of her hands by yet another Sunnydale High misogynous macho male. Larry no longer plays the macho male and seems comfortable in his new skin, his homosexuality. Xander is not fully comfortable with gay Larry, however.

Subtext Becoming Text: This episode, penned by Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali, has a strong feminist component to it. Larry and Gib Cain the Hunter (Jack Conley) are misogynous macho men who verbally and sometimes physically terrorise women. Cordy, Willow, and Buffy complain about “men” during the course of the episode. When Giles describes a werewolf as acting on “pure instinct, without conscience, predatory and aggressive, Buffy responds by saying “In other words, your typical male”.

Awesome: Oz looking at the cheerleader statue in the Sunnydale High School hall. Oz claims that the eyes of the statue seem to move. And he is right as we know since this is the statue Amy’s mother is trapped in thanks to her spell in “The Witch”. Oz’s statement about today’s films being kind of like popcorn, you forget about them once they are done. So true. Buffy bending Cain’s rifle (phallic symbol?) at the end of the episode. Buffy power. Woman power.

The Gaze: Oz is shirtless as he transforms from werewolf back to Oz in the woods.

Slayer Secrets: Willow tells Buffy that she is supposed to protect her secret identity by being a “girly girl just like the rest of us” during self-defence class. Buffy tries but when Larry grabs her derriere and makes a typically Larry sexist remark Buffy slams him to the mat. Slayer power. Girl power.

Werewolf Lore: Buffy continues certain traditions in werewolf mythology. In “Phases” one can become a werewolf by being bitten by another werewolf and werewolves can be killed by silver bullets. Buffy also continues the mythological tradition that humans transform into werewolves during the “night of the full moon”. However, Buffy makes this transforming into a werewolf a three-night affair: the night of the full moon and the nights before and after the full moon. I don’t know enough about werewolf mythology to know how typical or atypical this three-night transformation is. What I do know is that “Phases” uses this three day transformation for comic and feminist effect by having Willow tell Oz at the end of the episode that “three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around, either”. Willow follows up her admission by telling Oz that “So I'd still if you'd still”. Willow, in other words, is still in love with Oz despite the fact that he is a werewolf. Oz responds by telling Willow that, “I'd still. I'd very still”. He is as he says a “werewolf in love”. “Phases”, in other words, takes the Willow/Oz relationship to a new level.

Vampires and Werewolves: Angel and Werewolf Oz growl at each other but don’t fight each other.

Costumes: The werewolf costume in “Phases” is old school. It is not a special effect. I like old school. New school CGI is too easy and so unrealistic.

The Metaphor: Lycanthropy as metaphor for the changes that one goes through when one grows up?

Watch Your Language: Giles calls Cain a “pillock”, which in the sixteenth century referred to a cock, a penis. Today it is used to refer to someone who has done
something stupid or who is annoying.

The Chorus: After the emotional intensity of “Surprise/Innocence” “Phases” is a nice sometimes humourous breather that moves season two along.

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