Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 2, Episode 15 Review – “Phases”

Written By: Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
Directed By: Bruce Seth Green
Broadcast Date: 27 January 1998
Summary: Buffy and her friends discover secrets about themselves as they battle a werewolf, its hunter, and their own emotions.

This moderately successful episode focuses on Willow and Oz’s developing relationship when a werewolf-shaped spanner is thrown into the works, but is slightly bogged down by underwhelming padding from secondary narratives.

Oz and Willow take centre stage in this episode, in both the narrative and character development aspects. Seth Green as the lovable Oz has been a great addition to the cast thus far, so I am glad that he finally has an episode to fully sink his teeth into. His comic timing was superb as well, from his nonchalant statement of “my cousin bit me” to waking up naked in a forest one morning and exclaiming “oh”. Putting two and two together since he is aware of the supernatural now, he calls up his aunt in a hilarious scene and asks her point black if his cousin is a werewolf. Oz is not yet a primary cast member (I’m not sure if he ever will be) so the logistics of these events are a little confusing (can werewolves infect other humans whilst in human form) but I can get past that thanks to the great comic performance of Seth Green in this episode.

Oz’s transformation also allows the writers to fully discuss his and Willow’s ‘relationship’, or lack of, as has been the case since they met a few episodes ago. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) has been enjoying the nice time they spend together, but the fact that they are both quite passive means that she feels like he isn’t letting her in, let alone when he tries to hide his werewolf identity from her. If this episode took place in the first season, she would let the cards fall wherever in fear of doing the wrong thing. Out of the four ‘junior’ characters, Willow has made the biggest strides in her development. She takes control of the potential relationship with Oz and is the one to defend him when he transforms, instead of a slightly subdued Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), but more on that later. Willow also takes the initiative and shares her first kiss with Oz. After the pairing took centre stage, it felt like it came at the right moment. I hope now that Oz doesn’t sink into the background again following this episode.

It wouldn’t be an episode about werewolves without a werewolf hunter (played by Jack Conley). I guess this element should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that in 2020 the trope has been expanded massively and the characters are varied in personality and attitude. The portrayal in this episode is stone-cold villain, the type of odious character who used to hunt game but now hunts werewolves for their pelt and teeth, skinning what is a human when the sun rises. He is also deeply misogynistic towards Buffy and has no redeeming qualities at all. This repulsive nature may have been done deliberately so that the viewers see the werewolf as on the side of ‘good’ and the hunter on the side of ‘bad’. Even in supernatural dramas which have villains of all shapes and sizes, even on this show, this character feels painfully one-dimensional and a weaker element of this episode when so much more could have been done with it.

The previous episode was a big game changer in terms of dynamics between the Scooby Gang and the vampires, with Angel (David Boreanaz) losing his soul in a moment of pure happiness and reverting to the utterly evil Angelus. The character makes another appearance in this episode, but sadly this has the air of being crammed in so that a primary cast member has some scenes, and actually deviates the attention from the Oz-Willow plot that was much more successful. Angelus’ appearance involves a classmate of Buffy and the direction this goes in, even though we are only on Season 2, feels played-out and predictable. I guess it reminds Buffy of recent events, which may be why she was so ineffective, so Willow and Xander (Nicholas Brendon – who stakes a vampire) are forced to take action. There were so many questions following the epic plot twist but this answers none of them, only what we knew about the Angel viewers knew being gone. I hope this won’t set a trend for future episodes, for the character to only do something meaningful when the episode’s plot calls for it.

If you are looking at this episode from the standpoint that Willow and Oz received the storyline they deserve, then this episode is a great side-plot from the Scooby Gang vs vampires narrative. It gives Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green a chance to give their characters another layer, and they definitely deliver on that front. However, the other elements of this episode either feel unnecessary or that they miss the mark by a long way, whether it is a very one-dimensional werewolf hunter as the villain, or an appearance by Angelus that does absolutely nothing and feels very predictable.. For future episodes of a similar nature, I hope that the writers choose to go all in on the central plot and make the most of it, rather than try and pad it with less successful elements.

Episode Rating: 7/10

Cordelia and Xander’s fling reaches boiling point in the next episode when she breaks up with him – but is Xander’s retaliation taking things way too far? You can read my review of Episode 16 – “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” – very soon!

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