"Phases" begins with Willow's increasing frustration that Oz shows no sign of wanting to get serious—not to mention physical—with her. Cordelia is frustrated with Xander because he keeps talking about Willow, even while making out in Sunnydale's lover's lane under a beautiful full moon. They are attacked by a werewolf that rips a hole in the car's roof. Giles points out that there have been quite a number of other attacks, though so far only animals have been killed. During high school gym class, we learn that at least two students have been recently bitten: Oz by a young cousin who doesn't like to be tickled, and school macho Larry by a dog.
After some research, Giles finds out that a werewolf is a wolf for three nights—the coming night would be the second. Since the werewolf is human the rest of the month, it would be wrong to kill him. This, however, is not what werewolf hunter Cain thinks, whom Buffy and Giles meet while looking for the animal in woods where Xander and Cordelia were making out: Cain is out for his twelfth pelt. Though the two groups do not get along, mainly because Cain is a rampant chauvinist, Giles and Buffy do learn that the werewolf will be attracted to places were teenagers hang out—it is the "sexual heat" that draws it.
Buffy and Giles rush to the Bronze, where Cordelia and Willow are busy complaining to each other about their men when the werewolf crashes the party. Buffy tries to catch it with a chain but fails. Cain joins them and points out that it will be Buffy's fault if the werewolf kills anybody.
Theresa Klusmeyer, one of the students that Larry was tormenting, is walking home late at night when she senses someone is following her. She begins to rush and is startled when Angelus steps out in front of her. She's suspicious at first, but when he tells her that he's a friend of Buffy's, she drops her guard.
A body does turn up the next morning: Theresa's. Buffy is not the only one to have feelings of guilt. Oz wakes up in the forest, naked and confused after changing back from his wolf state before the viewers eyes. Recalling the bite he got, he calls his Aunt Maureen, and casually asks if his cousin is a werewolf. The answer is yes.
Xander figures that Larry is the most obvious suspect because of the dog bite, aggressiveness and "excessive back hair". When he confronts Larry alone in the gym locker room, it turns out that he really is hiding something—his homosexuality. Xander unwittingly helps Larry out of the closet. Larry is then left with the impression that Xander is also gay (when he really isn't). Back in the library, Buffy suggests to Willow that she might have to make the first move if she wants to speed things up with Oz.
Buffy realizes that the reports of Theresa's body didn't mention any mauling. She and Xander get to the funeral home in time to watch her rise as a vampire. Theresa passes along greetings from Angelus before Xander stakes her.
Cain busies himself casting silver bullets in preparation for the hunt. Willow takes Buffy's advice and visits Oz just before sundown. Oz is about to chain himself up but lets Willow in the house. Her rant about the mixed signals he is sending is interrupted by him changing into a werewolf. She flees the house screaming, the werewolf in pursuit. Cain hears the wolf's cry and joins the hunt. The werewolf is distracted by a scent which Cain set as a trap, and Willow escapes and then finds Giles and Buffy, who are about to start the hunt for Oz with a tranquilizer gun. All parties meet in a clearing in the forest, and in the scuffle, it is Willow who shoots Oz, saving everybody. Buffy bends Cain's gun with her bare hands using Slayer strength, and tells him to leave Sunnydale.
At school the next morning, Larry thanks Xander, and Willow seeks out Oz to talk. She points out that she is not fun to be around three days out of the month either and she accepts Oz werewolf or human. Oz and Willow share their first kiss, leaving Oz saying to himself "a werewolf in love".
In the opening scene, Oz remarks on the moving eyes of the cheerleader statue, a reference to Amy's evil mother, who was a former cheerleader, and was trapped in that statue in "Witch".
Oz becomes a werewolf in this episode, a defining characteristic of his character for the remainder of the series. He was turned into a werewolf by a bite from his younger cousin who was in human form at the time.
After a chase through many episodes, Willow and Oz finally become a couple, their love strong enough to withstand the discovery of Oz's condition. The Scooby Gang have their own special powers and problems that will be explored in later episodes. Xander remains obsessed with Willow, though, setting the stage for "Lovers Walk". Angelus continues to torment Buffy, strengthening her resolve to kill him.
In the pilot, "Welcome to the Hellmouth", Buffy is able to tell from the briefest of glances that the vampire victim will not "rise again," in Giles' words. But in the funeral home, Buffy has no idea that Theresa has been turned into a vampire until she actually rises, despite getting a good, long look at the body. This possibly shows that Buffy, although being very tough and strong, has little or no proficiency with magic or the metaphysical, as opposed to Giles himself and especially Willow.
The background character of Larry is seen again. This is his second appearance; he will reappear a few times until the Season 3 finale.
Xander says to Oz "I know what it's like to crave the taste of freshly killed meat. To be taken over by these uncontrollable urges..." Thus, he inadvertently admits that he remembers being possessed by a hyena spirit ("The Pack"). Buffy calls him on it, and he admits "I said I didn't remember anything about that," but Buffy fails to pursue it.
In this episode, Gib Cain claims to kill werewolves so he can sell their pelts. In the Angel episode "Unleashed", Jacob Crane intends to serve his guests a live Lycanthropus Exterus werewolf—a rare breed of werewolf that walks on its hind legs, is supposedly not common in North America, and reverts to the human form upon death (hence being served alive), unlike the "common" werewolves like Oz.
Cordelia implies in this episode that she has had sexual intercourse (claiming that her father falsely thought she was still a "good girl"). Since Cordelia was offered up as a virgin sacrifice to Machida early on in the season in "Reptile Boy", she must have lost her virginity at some point this season in-between those two episodes.
This is the first time Xander stakes a vampire unaided. He previously staked his best friend Jesse McNally in "The Harvest" but it was an accident aided by a panicked patron of the Bronze.
During self-defense class this exchange was cut:
Xander: (to Cordelia) "Be gentle with me."
Cordelia: (to Willow) "You're first. I wouldn't want to be accused of taking your place in line."
Willow: "Oh, I think you pushed your way to the front long before this."
Cordelia: "Hey, I can't help it if I get the spotlight just because some people blend into the background."
Willow: "Well, maybe some people could see better if you weren't standing on the auction block, shaking your wares."
Cordelia: "Sorry, we haven't all perfected that phony 'girl next door' bit."
Willow: "You could be the girl next door, too. If Xander lived next to a brothel!"
Pop Culture References
Right after Buffy and Giles meet Cain and he mentions the werewolves attraction to sexual heat, Buffy says, "I think I know where to go, we just have to make it there before Mein Furrier." "Mein Führer" is German for "My Leader", one of Adolf Hitler's titles.
Finnish: Täydenkuun Kirous (Curse of the Fullmoon)
German: Der Werwolfjäger (The Werewolf Hunter)
Goofs, Bloopers & Continuity Errors
Willow is running away from Oz (as the werewolf) through the woods. She falls over and her dungarees get muddy. In the ensuing shots, the mud on her trousers repeatedly appears and disappears.
Cain uses a Bunsen burner with the collar closed (cooler, yellow flame) to melt the silver for his bullets. Even allowing for cinematic time compression (so that we imagine more time passes than we actually see between him putting the crucible in the flame and pouring out the molten silver), raising that much silver to its melting point of 962C with a small burner fueled by camping gas would have taken far too long for him to have sat there patiently holding the little crucible on a stick that he uses, especially when we see just how many bullets he appears to have made in this session (they're all set out on the work bench).
Giles is in the library, and his glasses repeatedly disappear and reappear between shots.
Xander's mouth movement (At 30:46) does not match at all as he says "werewolf" to Buffy.
When Giles and Buffy arrive at the Bronze you can just glimpse two men pushing Giles' car from behind.
Oz is surprised to find himself naked in the woods on the second night yet he'd transformed into a werewolf the night before so he should've found out then.
Xander gives a description of the werewolf despite never actually seeing it.
Larry acts like he is a senior as well when he bothers Oz about dating a junior, however, he is in season 3 as part of Buffy's class with no indication that he stayed back like Oz.
In an essay exploring the feminist ethics of Buffy, Shannon Craigo-Snell uses this episode as an example of how the series examines the threat of sexual violence facing women and girls as a "problematic background against which women attempt to have satisfying relationships with men." Craigo-Snell points out that this threat is embodied by the character of Larry, who sexually harasses Buffy (and other girls) during a gym class focused on self-defense, and the werewolf-hunter Cain, who says Buffy's failure to capture the werewolf is "what happens when a woman tries to do a man's job." This theme is made explicit when Giles describes werewolves as "potent, extreme representation of our inborn, animalistic traits", predatory and aggressive with no conscience, and Buffy responds, "In other words, your typical male." Anyway, other than Oz (who has conscience), the main werewolves in Buffy/Angel are Veruca (no conscience) and Nina (conscience), both female.
This is the first of only three Oz-centric episodes. Marti Noxon states in the DVD commentary that this episode is viewed as the first in a "Willow/Oz Trilogy." "Wild at Heart" is the second, with "New Moon Rising" as the last with the final actual appearance of Oz (his official last appearance is in "Restless," though he is only in a dream).
Actor Jack Conley, who plays Cain in this episode, also portrays the recurring character Sahjhan in seasons three and five of Angel.
Buffy - "I didn't jump, I took a tiny step, and there conclusions were."
Giles - "Werewolves! One of the classics! I'm sure my books and I are in for a fascinating afternoon."
Buffy - "He needs to get a pet."
Oz - "That's great, Larry, you've really mastered the single entendre."
Giles - (at Lover's Lane) "I thought we could knock on some windows, see if anyone's seen something."
Buffy - (in a "duh" sort of way) "Giles, no one's seen anything."
Xander - (trying to figure out who the werewolf is with Oz right in front of him) "Wait, it's obvious, it's right in front of us!"
Buffy - "Me and the werewolf alone in a cage for three minutes, it's all I ask." (Oz looks worried)
Xander - "Buffy, you can't blame yourself for every death that happens in Sunnydale. If it weren't for you people'd be lined up five deep waitin' to get themselves buried. Willow would be Robby the Robot's love slave, I wouldn't even have a head, and Theresa's a vampire."
Buffy - "So what's the scuttlebutt? Anybody besides Larry fit our werewolf profile?"
Willow - "There is one name that keeps getting spit out. Aggressive behavior, run-ins with authorities, about a screenful of violent incidents."
Buffy - "Okay, most of those were not my fault. Somebody else started 'em. I was just standing up for myself."
Willow - "They say it's a good idea to count to ten when you're angry."
Buffy - (pointedly) "One... Two... Three..."
Willow - "I'll keep looking." (goes back to work)
Xander - (about Willow and Cordelia) "Wow, those two gals are hanging out a lot together. This would be a good time to panic."
Oz - "Willow! What are you doing?"
Willow - "I had this whole thing worked out. And I had it written down, uh, but then it didn't make any sense when I was reading it back."
Oz - "Willow, this is not a very good time."
Willow - "I mean, what am I supposed to think? First, you buy me popcorn and then you're all glad that I didn't get bit. And you put the tag back in my shirt. But I guess none of that means anything because instead of looking up names with me, here you are all alone in your house doing nothing by yourself."
Oz - "Willow, we'll talk about this tomorrow. I promise."
Willow - "No, damn it! We'll talk about this now! Buffy told me that sometimes what a girl makes has to be the first move and now that I'm saying this, I'm starting to think that the written version sounded pretty good, but you know what I mean."
Xander - "Oh, no, my life's not too complicated."
Oz - "You mean, you'd still..."
Willow - "Well, I like you. You're nice and you're funny. And you don't smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month I'm not much fun to be around either."
Oz - "You are quite the human."
Willow - "So, I'd still if you'd still."
Oz - "I'd still. I'd very still."
↑The Watcher's Guide, Vol.1 by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder, 1998.