I was waiting. I feel like some part of me will always be waiting for you. Like if I’m old and blue-haired and I turn the corner in Istanbul, and there you are. I won’t be surprised… Because you’re with me, you know?
Oh, Oz. When last we saw this particular ginger, he was breaking all of our hearts in “Wild at Heart.” The Oz-Willow relationship was such an integral part of the high school years that their breakup was devastating for the viewers as well. In retrospect, it’s obvious the breakup had to happen. A good chunk of Willow’s emotional growth and character arc comes out of her decisions after she and Oz split. Though we know very little about what happens to him (until his reappearance in the comics), there would be no Tara, no Dark Willow and no Light Willow without the events of “Wild at Heart.”
None of that means it’s not a kick in the gut when Oz returns looking to win Willow back in “New Moon Rising.”
The last couple of episodes has been slowly spinning out the truth about the Willow-Tara relationship. The viewers have known they’re a couple since FaithBuffy blurted it out during “Who Are You.” Since then, we’ve seen them growing closer, touching each other when they think no one is looking, and Tara being included in Scooby events (mostly, getting chased by monsters, as it goes). This week, they hold hands as they head to Giles’ apartment for a Scooby meeting. It’s a nice couples moment. For as long as it lasts, which is until they hit the front door, and then it’s shredded even further when Oz shows up in the doorway.
Clearly Willow has told Tara about Oz, because she starts stuttering – as she does in moments of stress – and flees the apartment pretty much immediately.
Oz has been traveling the world for the last several months, attempting to figure out a way to control the wolf. That he’s only been gone for maybe four or five months before he returns should be a major clue that maybe he doesn’t really have things as figured out as he thinks – but he wanted to get back to Willow, so we can forgive his eagerness. He learned some meditation techniques, got some herbs, memorized a couple of chants and wears a bunch of charms at all times, effort that seems worth it when he’s able to stand under a full moon with Willow and not wolf out. He wants to win her back, he says, but when he suggests some totally innocuous cuddle time, Willow declines. She’s not sure how she feels about Oz being back and to her credit, she’s honest about her confusion.
Complicating matters is Tara, who shows up to talk to Willow and finds Oz instead, and takes off. We won’t know more about Tara’s background until season five, but everything about her behavior suggests someone with debilitating low self-esteem. She seems to know exactly how she feels about Willow, but she doesn’t expect Willow to return the feelings. And she does that “I understand” thing where you are hoping someone won’t stomp on your heart, but you’ll pretend it’s OK even if they do, just so you’ll have them in your life in some form. When Willow shows up at Tara’s to explain things “weren’t what they looked like,” she confesses she doesn’t know what it means that Oz is back. But when we next see Tara, she’s wearing Willow’s sweater.
We’re not the only people who see Tara. Oz runs into her too and tries to be friendly, because that’s the kind of guy he is, reaching out to the nice blonde he saw at Giles’s apartment. And then he notices that Tara is wearing Willow’s sweater. And then he says she smells like Willow “all over,” and the show has just stated that the two were definitely, absolutely having sex with each other, something BTVS had been a little sly about so far.
Oz wolfs out. In the middle of the day, he loses his shit and starts chasing Tara all over Sunnydale. Unfortunately for him – and fortunately for her – The Initiative shows up to capture Oz. See, the night before some other random werewolf, who never, ever comes up again, attacked one of the squads, slaughtering everyone except Graham, who gets secondary character injuries, so the entire team is out for monster blood.
When Oz reverts back to a human being while in captivity, Riley shows the only smidge of decency in the military circle when he suggests torturing a human being (one he knows, so screw all the other “hostiles” they’ve been torturing) isn’t copacetic. He goes as far as to try and break Oz out of the installation, but both of them are captured. While they’re dicking around with their poor escape plan. Buffy, Spike, Willow, and Xander break back into The Initiative, because it has the worst security of pretty much any military base ever invented and find that not only are they rescuing Oz, now they’re rescuing Riley as well. There’s some manly posturing involved and Riley’s declaration that he’s an anarchist, and blah blah blah, before they all escape. And then continue to evade the keystone cops army guys by hiding poorly in the ruins of the high school (or in the dorms, where the army guys don’t even think to look).
Oz leaves again. He can’t handle his feelings where Willow is concerned, but she – she’s in a different place. Oz was her past, and she loves him in her own way – but it’s OK that he’s going again. Her heart belongs elsewhere now.
There are only two more Adam-centered episodes left in this season. What has struck me most about this Big Bad during this rewatch is how little he really does. At this point, Adam is amassing his forces for his master plan, but as an active enemy, he’s really been sidelined. Glory, The Mayor, Spike and Dru – they all actively clashed with Buffy far more than Adam has. Mostly we’ve encountered Adam separately from the Scooby Gang. We usually see him off in his lair, or meandering through The Initiative. As a threat, he’s kinda ho-hum.
Oz’s return underlines the issues in the Buffy-Riley relationship. He’s so Nice Guy and so Mr. America that he can’t even conceive of loving someone like Oz – a guy who turns into a monster who wants to kill you. Buffy hasn’t explained that part of her life to him yet, so every time Riley opens his big mouth about things he doesn’t understand, he’s basically just spitting on her. And you can’t really blame him, as much as I dislike Stupid Riley, because having a boyfriend who is a werewolf or a vampire is so out of most people’s realm of experience, how can they understand it?