FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Pack
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This episode's fairly standalone so not much going into this one other than Xander has masculinity issues still with Buffy being around and Willow's crush on Xander continues to be unrequited.
Following a trip to Sunnydale Zoo (the first of many Sunnydale size inconsistencies*), Xander becomes possessed by the spirit of a hyena along with four of the school's meanest teens. They begin to stalk across campus like a pack, picking on the weak, feasting on the school mascot and laughing like loons at just about anything. They also get their very own badass slo-mo walk. Xander does his level best to fracture his relationship with Willow whilst going all sexual predator on Buffy, but Giles remains sceptical to say the least. However, when the new school mascot, Herbert the pig - sorry - Herbert the terrifying Razorback - is eaten, even Giles is forced to admit that something supernatural is going on. The gang manage to sort everything out, but not before Principal Flutie is erm... eaten.
The Pack explores the concept of bullying and does so rather well through the 'winged monkeys' as Buffy terms them, of Kyle, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi, four people who live to prey on the weak. The hyena laughing gets a bit wearing, but there's no doubt as to what message the writers, Matt Keine and Joe Reinkemeyer were going for, particularly in the Dodgeball scene. The animalistic nature is realised well in the way the possessed start cackling and in their physicality; there's also the neat moment in which they recognise instinctively that Buffy is too strong from them to take on and turn back to a previous victim. It also acts as a metaphor for the whole hormonal process that teenage boys tend to do go through as focalised by Xander, in which they become moody and just not fun to be around. Again, the metaphor isn't explored all that deeply and just offers a superficial circumstance which the characters must navigate, but it does lead to some great scenes.
Nicholas Brendon balances the joker and the predator in Xander well, completely transforming himself into the latter when required and the scene where he forces himself on Buffy makes for uncomfortable viewing. The star in this episode though is Alyson Hannigan, granted some meaty scenes in which to develop Willow beyond merely the lovesick sidekick. Beaten back by Xander's harsh words, Willow takes a lot in this episode, but then there is the scene between them in the library in which Willow manipulates Xander into revealing his true current mental state. It's like a practice run for the scene between Black Widow and Loki, but the lack of medieval English swearing means it doesn't quite pack the comic punch. It does deal a few emotional blows though and is a great insight into just how strong a character Willow is.
Thanks to the subject material, it's not one of the first season's funnier episodes and the focus is much more on the dramatic which Buffy has always excelled at. However, the denouement isn't perhaps as strong as it could be with a reveal that is easily foreseen. It's all a bit rushed and after the excellent action in the previous episode, just lacks a little of the thrill that has slowly started to creep in to Buffy's more violent moments. I did enjoy Giles getting knocked out though - is this the first time it happens in the series? It certainly won't be the last.
A largely solid episode then that is made much stronger by its focus on the character development as a result of the central metaphor, rather than the central metaphor itself.
*Sunnydale rapidly goes from a 'one Starbucks town' to having its own zoo, a gazillion graveyards/churches and eventually its own university campus. Still only one nightclub though.
Quote of the Week:
Giles: "Xander has taken to teasing the less fortunate?"
Buffy: "Uh huh."
Giles: "And there is a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanour?"
Giles: "And otherwise all his spare time is spent lounging about with imbeciles?"
Buffy: "It's bad isn't it?"
Giles: "It's devastating. Xander has turned into a 16 year-old boy. Course you'll have to kill him."
Let's Get Trivial: This is the first episode in which the library cage has been used to trap anyone; it'll get some use next season with Oz's transformations, as well as being used to trap members of the Scoobies by evil ne'er-do-wells. I should use that word more often.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Eion Bailey, who plays Kyle, is one of those character actors who seems to pop up just about everywhere; look out for him in Band of Brothers or more recently, Once Upon A Time (coincidentally, a project involving major Buffy contributor Jane Espenson).
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Never Kill a Boy on a First Date here.