FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Pangs
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel is now living in LA, but Doyle, his colleague, had a vision that Buffy was in some kind of danger. Spike was taken by The Initiative and fitted with a chip that prevents him from harming any living thing without an intense headache. Buffy is tentatively approaching a relationship with Riley, without realising that he's part of The Initiative.
Thanksgiving approaches and UC Sunnydale is about to launch its brand new Cultural Centre. At the opening, Xander, now a builder, begins the dig to start the building work on the new building, but instead falls into an old mission, buried in one of Sunnydale's many earthquakes. In doing so, he awakens a Chumash warrior, Hus, who also happens to be a vengeful spirit, determined to right the wrongs done to the Native American people. Meanwhile, Buffy is going about trying to create the perfect Thanksgiving Dinner as well as investigating Hus' activities and working out a friendly, non-Slay-ey way to stop him, given he has a pretty valid grievance. Also, Angel is in town, but remaining hidden from Buffy whilst trying to help the Scoobies protect her.
Pangs ranks amongst my favourite episodes of Buffy and is one of those soaring high points of the fourth season that I was talking about last week. Playing out like a disgruntled family gathering, the script is the star, thanks to superstar-writer-hero Jane Espenson who gives the cast memorable zingers all the way through the episode. She also manages to weave in some good old colonial guilt and the pressures that come with being the descendants of a people who committed mass genocide in order to take over the land.
The arguments build throughout the episode and give it that festive family feel; we've all known those kind of family gatherings where no one really agrees, someone lets fly with a political opinion and chaos ensues. Here, it's liberal, guiltridden Willow who kicks it all off with her opinions of what a load of horse-hooey Thanksgiving is. Buffy occupies the middle ground, determined to have Thanksgiving for more positive reasons and Giles butts heads with Willow by suggesting that actually, there isn't a huge amount they could do about the past given the enormity of what went on and Hus will kill them all if they dither about for too long.
Anthony Head deserves a mention here for the exasperation he manages to convey as events escalate around him as well as getting to play up his Englishness for the episode's subject matter: "I like mushy peas!" he exclaims, delighted at the prospect of something from the home country. Sarah Michelle Gellar is also a lot of fun to watch here, particularly in the smaller moments of physical comedy that is peppered throughout the episode. Buffy bustling around and trying to make dinner whilst everyone else argues about colonialism and vengeance spirits is used for great comedic effect, whether it's saying "I need to baste" to get out of an argument or vehemently beating pie mixture instead of answering an awkward question.
It's probably the first episode of the fourth season that captures the family dynamic of the first three season for obvious reasons, given the holiday theme. They even get a black sheep in the family, courtesy of Spike turning up, half-starved and in need of somewhere to lie low whilst the Initiative are still looking for him. Spike's interactions throughout the big final fight scene are hilarious with Marsters' dry sarcasm cutting through the drama unfolding around him as Spike is filled with arrows whilst tied to a chair. It's the start of him working with the Scoobies and the begrudged alliance will see a lot more comedy to come, with Spike at the heart of it.
I also love the Angel scenes in Pangs as he skulks around trying to protect Buffy without letting her know that he is there. As much as I love him in his own show, it's great when Angel returns to Sunnydale because it allows for a little pre-fourth season nostalgia. He's repeatedly asked if he's evil again and gets to ask Willow about Riley, hinting at the jealousy between the pair that will become instrumental to Riley's character development.
Pangs and the following episode Something Blue are two classic episodes of Buffy with all the humour and heart that we've come to expect from the series. Yes, the fourth season isn't the strongest as a whole, but the individual moments are worth it because they shine a lot brighter when sat next to something like Beer Bad.
Quote of the Week (very hard to pick this week - Spike's Caesar speech is a close runner-up):
Giles: It's very common for Indian spirits to change to animal form.
Buffy: Yeah well it's plenty uncommon for me to freeze up during a fight. I mean, I had the guy. I was ready for the takedown and I stopped... And Native American.
Buffy: We don't say Indian.
Giles: Oh right, yes, yes. I'm always behind on the terms. Still trying not to refer to you lot as 'Bloody Colonials.
Buffy: And the things is, I like my evil like I like my men. Evil! You know, straight up, black hat, tied to the train tracks, soon my electro-ray will destroy Metropolis bad. Not all mixed up with guilt and the destruction of an indigenous culture.
Let's Get Trivial: Pangs is the first of three episodes to feature all three of Buffy's major love interests in Angel, Spike and Riley. The other two are The Yoko Factor and Fool for Love.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, The Initiative, here.