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Buffy, the Vampire Slayer - 1.06 - The Pack - Review

Since no one could make the roundtable this week but I promised to post on Buffy after last week's absence, I decided to review this episode instead. The discussion will have to be in the comments section this time. So, what did you think about this episode? What were your favorite and least favorite scenes? Spoiler Warning - Although we discuss specific episodes in these roundtables, all episodes of Buffy and Angel are fair game. There may be spoilers ahead for those who have not watched both series in their entirety.

Plot Synopsis (includes ending): Xander enters a restricted hyena pen to stop the resident mean kids from hurting Lance, the typical science geek. After Lance skedaddles, the others are inadvertently possessed by hyenas and form a pack. The mean kids and now Xander harass random students and display weird sniffing habits. Buffy and Willow realize something is wrong right away but sadly cannot put the hyena spirits back into the hyenas before Xander hurts Willow's feelings, tries to assault Buffy, and with the rest of the pack, eats a live pig. Yuck! At least Xander was unconscious when the mean kids ate the principal. Bye Flutie. Buffy will miss you. Getting Giles on board, the team realizes the zookeeper wanted the hyenas' power but couldn't work the ritual. He takes Willow hostage and releases the spirits from the pack. Xander saves Willow while Buffy fights the zookeeper and ends up tossing him into the hyena pen, where he is promptly eaten. The next day, Xander is overly apologetic but claims not to remember anything. Giles knows better than that.

Impact: The biggest impact of The Pack is that it showcases a main character going evil for the first time. It becomes a common and usually popular story line. I love how they give the actors a chance to stretch by having their characters change suddenly. Who can forget Angelus, Vampire Xander, and Evil Willow? This episode also ends Principal Flutie, leading to the far less tolerant Principal Snyder.

Favorites: I confess that this is one of my favorite episodes in season 1 because it is immensely relatable (who hasn't dealt with bullies) and yet offers such a different Xander that all characters respond differently to him. Some of the best scenes were actually the most painful. When Xander insults Willow in front of the others, the pain on Willow's face is heartbreaking but it also includes some of the best acting. Likewise the dodge ball game was a powerful example of show not tell. When the pack turned on Lance, who was on their own team, instead of Buffy, we learned more about the pack than in any of the dialogue. It was brutal but powerful. (Just a reminder - The golden rule of dodge ball for kids who don't like gym is get hit first so you can sit out the whole time. Even better, pretend to get hit.) My favorite scenes of course were with Xander post-possession. I loved how he helped save Willow from the zookeeper and the school scene afterwards had me agreeing with Buffy: "This is definitely the superior Xander. Accept no substitutes." The end reveal with Giles that he remembered exactly what happened helped build a budding mentorship between Xander and Giles.

This episode also excelled at small moments. Buffy's impressive double-legged jump kick during her workout was amazing, as was the small hyena moments from the pack. The sniffing, scratching, and head tilting helped sell the story. I also enjoyed the Mr. Flutie moments. I only wished he had stayed a little longer. Snyder got on my last nerve in the beginning although he eventually grew on me. Shooting from the pig's point-of-view before Buffy captured it was an interesting directorial choice. I liked how frantic it felt, which is odd since I am not a fan of handheld camera projects. However one of the best parts of the episode though was how well Willow and Xander knew each other. Anytime the two of them were on screen together, it was powerful.

Least Favorites: While I thoroughly like this episode, some things are odd. What teacher puts all the mean kids on one team? Even one as sadistic as this guy would spread them out. Also, why did Buffy not sense Xander right behind her? Her spidey senses have been going full blast but suddenly nothing? Even I would sense someone in my personal space like that. Also, Willow researched hyena behavior but didn't realize they hunt by scent. The whole "hiding in the classroom" scene made little sense to me. Speaking of Willow, how exactly does she know Xander's blood pressure? I don't know my own much less my friend's. That comes off as stalker creepy instead of nerd adorable. The clothes were also hideous in this episode. Is Buffy planning a museum heist? What's up with the black cap? Although these are all nitpicks, they stand out in the rewatch.

Three scenes are also in my least favorites. First, the slo-mo walk through school is all filler. Second, they ate Principal Flutie. That's disgusting to a degree most shows don't go, especially in the 90's, but it also spent more time than necessary showing how ineffectual Flutie was. It's hard when a character's portrayed as weak and pathetic before their death. I wish there was more honor in his. However the worst scene was Xander sexually harassing Buffy. It made me absolutely uncomfortable, but in ways they probably did not anticipate. The dialogue was atrocious and awkward. Xander: "The more I scare you, the better you smell." Really? How did Nicholas say that with a straight face? Add the "dangerous and mean" guys being a turn-on speech and the entire scene was a turn-off to me.

High School Metaphor - One of my favorite things about Buffy is the "high school as hell" metaphor Joss Whedon uses brilliantly. This episode is a beautiful example. Obviously it depicts bullies preying on people they see as weak. However using hyena spirits also demonstrates that people change in a pack mentality with Xander representing the "good kid" who falls in with the "wrong crowd" and does things he normally never would do. It shows the power the pack has over the individual, for good or evil. I particularly liked Giles and Buffy's conversation. Giles: "Individually they're almost as strong as you. As a group…" Buffy: "They're tough but I think they're getting stupider." By linking mob mentality to idiocy, Whedon makes a strong case for staying true to who you are and befriending people who appreciate you for you. That's a good reminder for anyone at any age.

Best References:

2. Buffy: "Oh great, it's the winged monkeys."
1. Buffy: "I cannot believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me. There is something supernatural at work here. Get your books. Look stuff up."

Worst Reference: Buffy: "No, no, but it's safe to say that in his animal state, his idea of wooing doesn't involve a Yanni CD and a bottle of Chianti." Is there a teen out there who would woo with Yanni? No teen would actually say this.

Best Lines:

5. Xander: "Buffy this is not just about looking at a bunch of animals. It's about not being in class." Buffy: "You know you're right. Suddenly the animals look shiny and new." Xander: "Gotta have perspective."
4. Bully: "You ever wonder why nobody popular wants to hang out with you?' Buffy: "Just thankful."
3. Buffy: "What is it with those guys?' Willow: "They're obnoxious professionally." Xander: "Well every school has them. See, you start a new school, you get your desk, some blackboards and some mean kids."
2. Willow: "You saved my life." Xander: "Hey nobody messes with my Willow." Buffy: "This is definitely the superior Xander. Accept no substitutes."
1. Buffy: "Well it shouldn't be too hard to find a new principal…unless they ask what happened to the last one."

Grade: B+

Screencaps by Buffyverse Database, Snarksquad,  Buffygasm, Brendon Daily, and Tumblr Buffy Quotes.

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