One of the most successful aspects to Phases is in how the episode itself takes on board the relaxed, dazed feel of Oz himself. I loved how both his conversation about Cousin Jordy and the final revelation that he's a werewolf were ridiculously casual. No other show could do something like that, but there's a knowing sensibility to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that makes it work. Equally systematic of this show is how Oz, introduced only a couple of episodes ago, already experiences his own character development. He's not just the reserved, quiet and observant guy anymore, he's the secret werewolf now, too.
There's also a lot of humor here that works incredibly well. Xander's interaction with big gay Larry is hilarious, likewise Giles' awesome levels of glee over the possibility that there's a werewolf on the loose. There's also something wonderfully endearing about unlucky-in-love Buffy snooping around a bunch of horny teenagers in cars with stuffy old Giles towing along. Aww.
But Phases isn't a perfect episode. You would be facing an uphill battle to follow Innocence, regardless, but there are certain elements at work here that don't work. There's a weird commentary on gender politics that appears at certain moments that doesn't really say anything at all in the long run. Buffy is forced to be that 'weak girly-girl" while in self-defense class, Cain repeatedly remarks how weak Buffy is due to her gender, and Cordelia and Willow bond over their mutual annoyance with guys. These parts feel at odds with the rest of the episode, and I can't understand what point the show was trying to make in this context. Eh.
And while I hate to bring up Angelus, especially since I already mentioned that it's not entirely the fault of Phases that it had to follow up Innocence, it feels a little odd for the Scoobies to be acting so naturally, especially Buffy. I guess it has more to do with when the episode was first aired, but the Angelus arc probably deserved a long run of episodes dedicated to it, like the arcs in seasons five and seven. Seeing Angelus sparingly in small cameos feels like a waste.
Phases works best in the context of Oz and Willow, giving the former a wonderful piece of character development, and giving the two of them together a truly engrossing romance. The two of them are so cute together, having an interesting post-modern chemistry and a relaxed, easy banter. Phases has a couple of problems, but it's heart is in the right place. B-
Guest stars Seth Green (Oz); Camila Griggs (Gym Teacher); Jack Conley (Cain)
Writers Rob Des Hotel, Dean Batali Director Bruce Seth Green