Buffy and the Beast: The Complicated Depiction of Werewolves and Masculinity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Part Two)

This is the second and concluding part of Kaja Franck’s blog exploring werewolves and masculinity in Season Two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To read part one click here, and if you want to share your thoughts on Buffy and Werewolves use the hashtag #BuffySlays20.

The gendered nature of the werewolf is only briefly challenged in ‘Phases’ when Willow points out to Buffy that, following on from Larry, she is the most aggressive person at Sunnydale, with a history of violent outbursts. However, throughout the episode Buffy is compared to Cain (self-proclaimed werewolf-hunter) as an alternate hunter-type figure. Therefore, Willow’s comments seem less a challenge to gender constructs and more a comment that, through her physical prowess and hunter-like status, Buffy is just masculine enough to succeed as the Slayer. Later in the series, we are introduced to a female werewolf, Veruca, in the episode ‘Wild At Heart’ (aired November 9, 1999). Oz is immediately attracted to Veruca, a fellow musician, who is depicted as being deeply alluring. Even Giles is attracted to her aura, despite the uncomfortable age difference between the two. Veruca tries to convince Oz that he should revel in his identity as a werewolf, celebrating his instinctual desires and losing himself in passion. Though Oz is briefly tempted by this, at least in animal form, Veruca threatens to harm Willow. Oz’s love for Willow overcomes his feelings for Veruca. Indeed, once transformed, he is able to channel his violent tendencies into killing Veruca rather than hurting Willow. This moment infers that the werewolf is ultimately able to control their violent tendencies, even in wolf form, as long as their self-control is great enough. Ultimately, Oz leaves at the end of this episode in order to try to ‘cure’ his lycanthropy.

However, just as Willow’s comments about Buffy suggest that she is outside the normal range of gender due to her Slayer status, Veruca’s gender is equally compromised. Though she is clearly monstrous in the physical threat she poses to Willow, she is also monstrously sexual, tempting the decent and honourable Oz away from Willow. In this way, the depiction of lycanthropy in this series coheres with idea that being a werewolf creates hyper-gendered versions of human beings. As Rosalind Sibielski notes, male werewolves are typically highly aggressive physically whereas female werewolves are sexually aggressive (Sibielski, ‘Gendering the monster within: Biological essentialism, sexual difference, and changing the symbolic functions of the monster in popular werewolf texts’, in Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader,2013). The portrayal of the werewolf in Buffy could be read in two ways. Given that the werewolf is treated as a ‘monster of the week’, and the parodic way in which they are introduced, this could be a further sign that their depiction simply does not need to challenge the ‘beast within’ trope, nor explore more complex representations of this supernatural entity. Alternately, it draws attention to the series more conservative aspects, specifically regarding female sexuality, such as Angel’s transformation into Angelus reading as a punishment for the loss of virginity, and the deeply problematic issue of Spike’s attempt to rape Buffy.  

Though ‘Phases’ centres on Oz and Willow, the backdrop of this episode is also telling regarding gender constructs. Angel, following his night of perfect happiness with Buffy, is now the sadistic and violent Angelus, every young woman’s dream become nightmare. During the episode, a friend of Buffy is killed by Angelus, though the death is thought to be by werewolf. Buffy’s discovery that there are two monsters killing beautiful, young woman highlights the fact that not all monsters look monstrous, in either the television programme or real life. Oz’s lycanthropy, Angel and masculine violence are brought together again in ‘Beauty and the Beasts’ (aired October 20, 1998). As the name of this episode suggests, masculinity is once more shown to be bestial and a danger to women. However, in this case, the perpetrator is not Oz nor Angel, both of whom were made into monsters against their will, rather, it is an abusive boyfriend who makes himself into a Jekyll/Hyde monster in order to further terrorise his girlfriend. Oz’s lycanthropy in this episode is used as foil to explore issues regarding the inherent violence of masculinity.

(Oz locked up in the library in ‘Beauty and the Beasts’)

It is telling, therefore, that it is Willow who shoots Oz with a tranquilizer dart at the end of ‘Phases’ saving both herself and her colleagues. Willow’s role here functions in two ways. In some ways this moment continues the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ narrative, beautifully expressed in King Kong (1933), that it is Beauty who ‘kills’ the Beast. Both Kong and the werewolf are depicted as masculine and their “death” at the hand of the woman they love suggests that man’s greatest weakness is woman. Alternatively, Willow’s presence of mind in this moment also suggests that she is not simply an overtly emotional heroine. Rather than sacrifice herself to save her friends, she retains her sense of self-preservation in order to save herself and the rest of the Scooby Gang. In doing so, she subverts the hunter, Cain, thereby proving that the monster does not always have to die. At the end of the episode, she accepts Oz as a werewolf and states that she would happily have a relationship with him. Even if, ultimately, his lycanthropy will come between them. 

Following his disappearance at the end of ‘Wild At Heart’, Oz returns in ‘New Moon Rising’ (aired May 2, 2000). He tells Willow that he is now able to repress his inner beast; he is redeemed and has become an acceptable model of masculinity, returning in order to continue his relationship with Willow. Yet Willow has not remained in a heartbroken state, awaiting Oz’s arrival. Rather she has started a new relationship with Tara (and in doing so, shows to what extent the series had moved on in its depiction of gay characters from Larry in ‘Phases’). When Oz discovers this, he loses control once more, culminating in his realisation that his has more work to do in order to deal with his problem. It is jealousy and a sense of ownership over Willow that precipitates this transformation. These are emotions which, to return to the opening of the first part of this blog, are problematic aspects of masculinity, ones to which Oz cannot consciously admit. 

(Oz/Seth Green at Entertainment Weekly’s 20th anniversary photoshoot)

Though Oz goes on to be a central, and much beloved, character in the series, his departure, return, and re-departure makes it clear that lycanthropy is always a curse. As with the vampire characters, such as Angel and Oz, who are given equally complex character arcs, monstrosity in Buffy’s world is always something to fight against. Even those who see themselves on the side of good and humanity, such as Cain, can easily slip into the role of monster. The boundaries between good and evil are never clear, and appearance rarely coheres with the true identity of a character.  

Dr. Kaja Franck is part of the ‘Open Graves, Open Minds’ project (www.opengravesopenminds.com), and she has recently passed her PhD researching the literary werewolf as an ecoGothic monster. As well as a passion for all things werewolf-related, Kaja enjoys touring churches and convents (although Sheffield Gothic can neither confirm nor deny her whereabout during the full moon).