Spoilers: Passing mention is made of the end of BtVS and early-s5, AtS.
Email: glossolalia_01 @ yahoo . ca
A "poorly-dressed slacker who should be despised for breaking Willow's heart".1
BtVS' soul: The "show was never the same without [him]. It lost its soul without even gaining sexy eyeliner and leather pants."2
Premier among the "honorable stoics".3
Second only to Spike as a favorite villain.4
"The embodiment of all things Sunnydale."5
A small, laconic, socially adept, musically semi-talented werewolf genius.
It's hard as hell coming up with predicates for Oz. Oz just is and simply does. He's far less a noun-thing than he is a verb-action.
I've been groping for ways to talk about Oz, particularly how to talk about how much he differs from the other characters. He can be distinguished both from the core of the group -- Giles, Buffy, Willow, and Xander -- as well as from their various lovers/enemies/shadows, including Cordelia, Angel, Faith, Anya, and Dawn -- most generally as The One Who Got Away. Oz left at the end of "Wild at Heart" (4.6), reappeared for the space of "New Moon Rising" (4.19), and was never heard from again. While Xander recalled him occasionally over the course of the final three seasons, by the time that Angel episode 5.3, "Unleashed", aired, Oz was truly invisible from onscreen canon.6
Oz gets away.
I'm not sure, however, that he was ever really there in the first place, and if he was, his presence was attenuated and partial. In a group which was secretive, insular, and familial in their dependence on each other and the group as a whole (a description which applies to both the Scoobies and AI), Oz was always a little different. He was visually coded as different from the start, with his ever-changing hair color, painted nails, and jewelry. While this is not all that remarkable, it's important to remember that male self-adornment is only seen in the villains, particularly Spike and Angelus -- that is, in the vampires, who can be read both as shadow-selves of human beings and, according to Joss and others, queer metaphors.
Oz differs from the others in terms of his mobility, his persisting social ties outside of the group, and his sense of individual responsibility (a sense which might even be called honor). That is, Oz has other friends, Oz takes care of himself, and Oz moves.
Let me digress for a moment and summarize the few bits of biographical information we have about Oz. He has parents, plural ("Band Candy"); an aunt, uncle, and little cousin ("Phases"); his van is a 1974 Ford Econoline; he "tests well" and is at least as smart as Willow if the Microsoft-esque recruitment session in "What's My Line?" is any indication, yet he flunked senior year and neglected to attend summer school ("Anne"); he knows a few guitar chords ("What's My Line?" and "Doppelgangland"); and...that's about it. While he's been deemed "stoic" (by Buffy, in "Wild at Heart") and "taciturn" (by Willow, in "Enemies"), he has a deep fondness for words -- witness his exquisite dissection of the differences among "gathering, shindig, and hootenanny" in "Dead Man's Party" and his willingness to give Scott Hope "bonus points for use of the word 'mosey'" in "Faith, Hope, and Trick". He's also displayed a geeky fanboy side that rivals Xander's own (in the kryptonite debate in "Helpless" [3.12]).
But these are just bits of trivia, clusters of facts. A character comes to life through relationships, actions, and interpretation.
Central to any consideration of Oz is his lycanthropy. Although he was visible throughout the first half of Season Two, he was then more a foil/foe in the Willow/Xander dynamic than a character unto himself; it is only with "Phases" (2.15), when his lycanthropy manifests, that Oz can be said to come into his own. (Yet, true to form, despite hooking up with Willow at the close of "Phases", he disappears after the next episode, only resurfacing in the season finale five episodes later.)
Oz-as-wolf is yet another way in which he differs from the rest of the group; the others have powers (whether normal, like Willow and Giles' intelligence and Xander's loyalty, or supernatural, like Buffy's Slayerness, Angel's ensouled vampirism, and Willow's magic) that contribute to the successful functioning of the group. Oz's power, such as it is, is a liability. While wolf!Oz defeats two villains in Season Three, this goes unremarked and, it seems, we are to understand that the wolf was just doing what it does -- hunting and fighting -- rather than explicitly helping.
Oz deals with the wolf on his own, from his attempt in "Phases" to chain himself up, to his building himself a cage before the opening of Season Four, to his departure from Sunnydale at the end of "Wild at Heart". His greatest fear is that the wolf will get out and hurt someone; it's his first question on the day after the second full moon in "Phases", and his expression of fear and betrayal when Giles suggests a werewolf is responsible for the maulings that occur in "Beauty and the Beasts" speaks volumes, and in "Fear, Itself", during which Gaknar the itsy fear demon animates everyone's fears, Oz starts to change, flees Willow, and huddles alone in a bathtub, chanting don't change, don't change. Even the situation with Veruca, which comes to a head in "Wild at Heart", is treated as his own problem, one which he very nearly solves by locking Veruca up.
In the AtS episode "Unleashed", Angel tells Nina that "if you separate yourself from the ones you love, the monster wins". This sentiment is in keeping with both series' familial-structure, according to which the group is human(izing), and isolation is monstrous. As in so many other aspects, Oz challenges and disrupts this prescription simply by being himself.
In Tibet, he learns to integrate the wolf into himself, such that the moon no longer controls his monster. His achievement is challenged by the emotional pain at learning that Willow loves Tara in "New Moon Rising" -- and I think it's significant that his change is predicated on the question "Does she love you?" rather than a question that about sex, or "cheating", or what have you -- and his solution, as it always has been, is to deal with the challenge by leaving. Alone.
Outside of death, no one else in these series leaves and stays alone. Xander tries to leave in "Hell's Bells" (6.16), but returns to the fold, as does Spike in Season Four and again at the start of Season Seven. Angel, Cordelia, and Harmony leave but find various group-structures to sustain them (or not, as the case is with Harmony first with the vampire self-help cult and later with Angel's reign at Wolfram & Hart). Unlike anyone else, Oz lives past the Hellmouth on his own.
This is not to say, however, that Oz is antisocial. In fact, it's fairly easy to argue that Oz has the widest social network of any of the main characters during his tenure. In "Phases", he stands up, without conflict, to Larry and his horde of jockthugs; in "The Freshman", while commiserating with Buffy who's feeling lost, he greets two separate friends; in "Fear, Itself", he speaks knowledgeably of and to the frat boys holding the Halloween party. And throughout the three seasons, Oz remains friends with Devon, the singer in their band, from discussing kinks in "Inca Mummy Girl" (2.4) to staying with him in "New Moon Rising". While the rest of the Scoobies concentrate their social activities with each other -- or, like Cordelia, find their outside social lives withering away -- Oz maintains these (and probably other, unmentioned) relationships.
Oz moves on.
His mobility is what most fascinates me currently. It captures all the aspects I've been limning here -- his self-reliance, his social network, his independence from the group -- in that he can move beyond the group emotionally as well as physically away from the hellmouth. I've been using spatial metaphors -- here/there, present/absent -- and these are peculiarly apt for Oz, whose van is as much a part of the character as Buffy's crucifix necklace is to her or Angel's coat is to him.
In a universe (or universes, depending on whether you see AtS as a separate one from the Buffyverse; Oz appeared in both, so the question's rather moot) that is structured around a physical site and a mission, Oz broke all the rules. Many honorable stoics in other fandoms -- whether Sisko on DS9 or Skinner on The X-Files or Commodore Norrington in Pirates of the Carribbean -- are associated with an institution of some kind and a sense of authority. Even Gunn, an honorable stoic if there ever was one, had his mission and crew, forming a sort of bricolaged-institution. Oz is in no way aligned with an institution, and his deliberate, persistent attempts to deal with the wolf on his own also call into question the mission. Or, at least, how it's defined in Sunnydale.
Oz rejects heroism. Nor is he that tiresome rebel, the anti-hero. As a mobile, honorable man, he would agree, I think, with this passage, drawn from a work on Baudelaire and the modern crowd: "For the modern hero is no hero; he acts heroes. Heroic modernism turns out to be a Trauerspiel [tragedy; literally, "mourning play" of the German baroque] in which the hero's part is available"7. In "Innocence/Surprise" (2.13/14), he does the right thing -- joining the fight against Angelus, Drusilla, and the Judge -- because it's the right thing to do and because he has a van well-suited for transporting weaponry, not because he has joined the overall mission and accepted its definition of heroics.
The part of the hero is available, and Oz is well-aware of how roles can shift and what gestures can mean. This talent complements his love of odd words and distinctions. In "Amends" (3.10), he rises abruptly when Willow hints that they should have sex. She asks where he's going, and he replies: "No, I'm not going. Just a dramatic gesture." When it's decided that Faith should guard his wolf-cage, he tries to leave the room, only to have Willow go after him. He tries to explain that "you know that thing where you bail in the middle of an upsetting conversation? I have to do that. It's kinda dramatic, I know, but -- sometimes, it's a necessary guy thing" ("Beauty & the Beasts"). Having to hear Willow talk about Xander all night long in "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (2.16) left Oz with the "very strong urge to hit Xander", which he does. And then helps Xander up off the floor.
Perhaps the most notable role-playing he does is in a little-noticed scene at the beginning of "Fear, Itself". Willow is talking to Buffy about heightening her magic ability:
Willow: I don't know. Then again, what is college for if not experimenting? You know, maybe I can handle it. I'll know when I've reached my limit.
Oz joins them: Wine coolers?
Oz: Ooh, you didn't encourage her, did you?
Willow: Where's supportive boyfriend guy?
Oz: He's picking up your dry-cleaning, but he told me to tell you that he's afraid you're gonna get hurt.
Willow: Okay, Brutus. Brutus -- Caesar? Betrayal, trusted friend? Backstabby?
Oz: Oh, I'm with you on the reference, but I won't lie about the fact that I worry.
Oz lightly, confidently plays both "supportive boyfriend guy" and "worried friend" (it's significant, as well, that when he expresses concern about the magic, Willow reads that as betrayal; it's even more significant, I think, that he goes on to draw a fairly convincing link between the wolf and magic). His gestures, like his suggestion to attack the Mayor with hummus and his definition of "panicking" as kissing (both in "Graduation"), are performative and expressive in that they accomplish their meaning.
Like the figure Walter Benjamin finds in Baudelaire's work and raises to the status of philosophical subject -- the figure, that is, of the flâneur, the "the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets"8 -- Oz moves and performs and observes. Benjamin identifies the "dialectic of flânerie [as] on one side, the man who feels himself viewed by all and sundry as a true suspect and, on the other side, the man who is utterly undiscoverable, the hidden man"9, a dialectic that's very much at the heart of Oz's experience in Sunnydale. As a werewolf, he is frequently "a true suspect"; indeed, given the coding of lycanthropy as a form of masculinized, irrepressible, overwhelming sexual desire/violence (particularly in "Beauty and the Beasts" and "Wild at Heart"), his gender makes him suspect, too -- or, at least, that's the only way I can understand Noxon's categorization of Oz as a villain, by contextualizing it within the Buffyverse's very odd, very simplistic anti-sex, pro-women morality.
At the same time, however, Oz remains mysterious. Willow complains, frequently over the course of their relationship, about how difficult it is to read Oz, to know him, to understand and engage him. He doesn't ask for help, he doesn't throw himself wholeheartedly into the mission, he hits the road and takes the monster into himself. His actions and orientation don't make sense within the limits of the Sunnydale group. By looking at his mobility, by considering him a kind of C20-flâneur10, for whom the van has replaced feet and the world has replaced Paris, we can better appreciate Oz.
Sunnydale is the Hellmouth. When the Hellmouth is closed in "Chosen", the town -- already desolate -- collapses and disappears. And, further, the Slayer mission is Sunnydale. This localization is in keeping with what Michel de Certeau has described as the position of power, from which strategy is used:
[Use of strategy] postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research, etc.) can be managed.11
The mission is about heroism and power, and the Hellmouth is, oddly enough, the site of the exercise of that power.
But Oz leaves, moves, stays away.
Oz does not align himself with power and the mission. He has no space that is his own beyond the van, and no strategy is available to him. Rather, he must, according to Certeau, use tactics. The tactic, or its user, possesses "a mobility that must accept the chance offerings of the moment, and seize on the wing the possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment. It must vigilantly make use of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers. It poaches in them. It creates surprises in them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse."12 It is wit, and punning, and stealing time from the boss's clock. It is always moving.
Oz is tactical.
Oz is somewhere else, following his own map, melding with the wolf, free from missions and heroic identities which might just be a tad medieval in this world. So I'll leave you with something a cowboy said about another easygoing soul, because somewhere out there, Oz is driving his van, listening to music better than anything you've ever heard but which he'd be happy to dub for you, squinting into the morning sun, and we'd do well to remember him and not take heroes quite as seriously as we sometimes do: "The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners."13
Much gratitude goes to kindkit, mimesere, glimmergirl, mod_journal, dolores, and anonymousdi for help and inspiration and supprt and love.
1. Feedback from she who's known around fandom as [insert adjective of choice] Lindsey Lady, chastising me for writing Lindsey/Oz.
2. minim_calibre in mimesere's recent post of Ozlove.
3. A category conceived by Sheila Perez: "I *like* the dependability of them, and the solidness, and the ability to take the shit that life hands them and just keep going. I like the serenity of them even though serenity is probably the wrong word. I like the quietness and the surety of them." ("On Characters and Stoicism")
4. Marti Noxon lists her favorite villains: "Obviously, Spike is villain number one. Probably second would be Oz, when he was a werewolf. Angel is a favorite." (Buffy Yearbook: 2003, p.31).
5. Cordelia, in "In the Dark" (AtS 1.3), greeting Oz.
6. In that episode, Nina asks Angel, "Can you cure me?", to which Angel replies, "No. But I can keep you safe."
7. Benjamin, Walter, Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. Trans. Harry Zohn (NY: Verso, 1997): 128.
8. Benjamin, "Convolut M: The Flâneur". The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999): M1,3.
9. Benjamin, M2,8.
10. I suggest this provisionally, fully aware of how *gendered* Benjamin, and Baudelaire, make this figure; the flâneur is always male, and his female counterpart is, worrisomely and troublingly, the prostitute (Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing [Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1989]).
11. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, vol. I, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: UCP, 1984): 35-36.
12. Certeau, 36.
13. The Stranger in The Big Lebowski (Coen Brothers, 1998).