FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - New Moon Rising
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Oz departed Sunnydale after realising that he wasn't as in control over the werewolf as he thought, leaving a heartbroken Willow in his wake. She developed a relationship with Tara, a fellow witch, instead which is now a romantic one.
The Scooby Gang meet to discuss Buffy's recent lack of demonic activity and the Initiative's sudden rise in inmates with Tara joining them in an official capacity for the first time. However, at the end of the meeting, Oz returns, throwing the wolf amongst the pigeons. His return not only causes problems for Willow, but also for Buffy as the revelation that he's a werewolf prompts Riley to exhibit some extreme anti-demon sentiments, naturally getting Buffy's back up. When Oz runs into Tara on campus, he realises that she's involved with Willow and the resultant reaction causes him to wolf out. When he's captured by the Initiative, Riley is finally forced to choose between Buffy and his career in order to get Oz out before he gets hurt.
Oh Oz. You continue to break my heart with your wolfy soul-searching. It may be an episode heavy on the Initiative (though thankfully points out they're all dicks in the process), but it's also one heavy on the emotion, particularly for Willow. We all know how badly the break-up with Oz affected her so seeing him back tugs on the heartstrings almost instantly. It's a lovely little goodbye episode for the two of them after the abrupt end to their relationship back in Wild at Heart, whilst also marking a new beginning for Willow. She finally reveals her relationship with Tara to Buffy and confirms it to Tara too. It's all a bit heartwarming.
New Moon Rising itself deals with the unconventionality of love in a variety of ways, largely seen through the metaphorical prism of humans in love with demons in order to. Buffy reacts the way she does to Riley's black-and-white view of the world because she's no stranger to an unconventional relationship, as we all know, and ends the episode telling Riley about her past with Angel. His belief that Willow's relationship with Oz is somehow lesser because he happens to be a werewolf doesn't quite function entirely as a metaphorical homophobic reaction to a lesbian relationship, but the recognisable attitudes are there. Buffy flying off the handle at him in defence of her friends is a wonderful moment, built on beautifully by the scene in which she finds out that Willow and Tara are dating.
That scene is one of the best conversations in the Buffy-Willow friendship, a testament to how strong their connection is, but also to how the show functions as an examination of human experiences. There's no demonic parallel here; it's just simply two best friends having a heart to heart in which one happens to reveal she's in a lesbian relationship now. Buffy's reaction, momentary wiggins followed by complete and utter acceptance, feels so human as does the trust that Willow immediately places in her best friend. It takes a hell of a lot to shake that relationship, let's face it. Buffy gets the opportunity to practice the acceptance that she preaches to Riley and for Willow, it allows her to properly begin her relationship with Tara.
The episode itself, aside from having it as the source of conflict for Oz and Willow, doesn't make a huge deal out of it when it so easily could have done for effect. Oz's problem with Tara is just that she has replaced him in Willow's affections and he didn't expect that to have happened with anyone. But there's no soaring, dramatic music, no tearful revelations or torturous monologuing. It just happens that two people have fallen in love. The show has a few faults over the years, but the Tara and Willow relationship still feels like one of their most quietly revolutionary moments, particularly at a time in which gay relationships on TV weren't as commonplace as they perhaps are now.
Watching it all these years later, New Moon Rising feels as if it's another step in the show's maturity with its deft handling of social issues that it has always had, but with perhaps more confidence in itself. The fourth season is a tricksy one, as I've mentioned a few times before, but it does form an effective bridge between the high school years of seasons 1-3 and the more adult years of 5-7. It's not surprising it feels a little muddled after it has to refind its feet, but this episode is a good demonstration of how it's getting there.
Quote of the Week:
Giles: How did you get in?
Spike: The door was unlocked. You might want to watch that, Rupert, someone dangerous could get in.
Buffy: Or someone formerly dangerous and currently annoying.
Let's Get Trivial: Although she would go on to become one of the show's most beloved characters, there was an initially negative reaction to Tara following this episode because she was seen to be breaking up Willow and Oz all over again.
Demonology 101: This episode proves that the werewolf condition is something that can be controlled. It doesn't necessarily impact the television side of the series, but Oz's continuing story in Season 8 explores it further.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Where the Wild Things Are, here.
Don't forget, Becky's also doing an Angel rewatch alongside the Buffy one. Check out her look at Five by Five here.