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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Pack

Giles: "Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons."

What this series does really well is take an ordinary high school situation (bullies and gangs) and move it to a higher, more horrible, and more absurd level (hyena transpossession). They do it better in later seasons; this one turned my stomach, pardon the expression. But we all know that deep down, teenagers are scarier than vampires, don't we?

I could see where they were going with Herbert the pig and even with Principal Flutie, who comes to a terrible end. We don't see either incident actually happen, although there is a nasty preview to Flutie's death in the form of woodcuts. Fortunately, Xander is too busy attempting to rape Buffy at the time to partake. Nicholas Brendon is seriously menacing in the above scene, as well as when he's being cuttingly nasty to Willow. The dodge ball scene is also shuddery and somewhat unnerving.

Buffy and Willow discuss boys; i.e., Willow's unrequited love for Xander, and Buffy's growing interest in Angel ("Angel pushes your buttons"). Later, Willow and a possessed Xander have a telling conversation about how Buffy's advent has made their lives a lot more dangerous.

Some of the trademark BtVS wit is starting to pop up more regularly: like "Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons," and "I can't believe you of all people are trying to Scully me." And, of course, Willow's comment about zebras mating: "It was like the Heimlich, with stripes."

Bits and pieces:

-- Sunnydale must be pretty small; every part seems to be accessible on foot from every other part.

-- Charisma Carpenter does not appear, or scream, in this episode.

-- Xander again shows his jealousy of Angel.

-- Zoo guy was just way too knowledgeable; he practically had a sign attached to him saying, "Bad guy! Me me me me me!"

-- Xander fakes amnesia at the end, and who can blame him?

-- The library book cage is used as a makeshift prison for the first time.

-- If you weren't thinking Lord of the Flies throughout, you probably haven't read the book.

-- There were a ton of dog references. Xander says, "Dogs," meaning the hot dogs the pack steals from other kids. Buffy says, "Apparently Noah rejected the hyenas from the Ark because he thought they were an evil impure mixture of dogs and cats." Willow wonders, " Why couldn't Xander be possessed by a puppy or, or some ducks?" Giles says the prevailing theory is that Flutie was killed by wild dogs.

Quotes:

Xander: "We just saw the zebras mating. Thank you, very exciting."
Willow: "It was like the Heimlich, with stripes."

Xander: "Buffy, this isn't just about looking at a bunch of animals. This is about not being in class."
Buffy: "You know, you're right. Suddenly the animals look shiny and new."

Giles: "Xander's taken to teasing the less fortunate?"
Buffy: "Uh-huh."
Giles: "And, there's been a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanor?"
Buffy: "Yes."
Giles: "And, well, otherwise all his spare time is spent lounging about with imbeciles."
Buffy: "It's bad, isn't it."
Giles: "It's devastating. He's turned into a sixteen-year-old boy."

Buffy: "I cannot believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me."

Willow: "Hyenas aren't well liked."
Buffy: "They do seem to be the schmoes of the animal kingdom."

Buffy: "He tried his hand at felony sexual assault."
Willow: "Oh, Buffy, the hyena in him didn't..."
Buffy: "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."

Two out of four stakes,

Billie
---
Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.

23 comments:

  1. Not my favourite by a long shot. This episode always creeps me out. Just the thought of those kids and the principal -- yuck!

    But, I do love Giles's dry wit. The 16-year-old boy comment is hilarious as is the testosterone comment. Keep 'em coming!

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  2. "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."

    Well, maybe the Chianti :)
    th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th

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  3. The BUFFY RE-WATCH is on! Post your comments! Remember, no spoilers for future episodes. If you'd like to talk spoilers and foreshadowing, you can post them here. And if you have a moment, Twitter and Facebook buttons at the bottom of the review? Thanks so much!

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  4. Well, this episode holds a certain place in my list of memorable Buffy episodes, not because it's my favorite or anything, but because I honestly think it's the scariest they have ever done.

    However, I absolutely loved the work Nicholas Brendon did in this one. He was so chilling, so mean to poor Willow, and so much not his gullible, funny, sweet Xander self, it was somehow even more horrifying.

    - They were sent to the principal's office.
    - They didn't hurt him, did they?
    - They, uh... ate him.

    Looking at what is happening at schools these days... talk about foreshadowing...

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  5. As I said above, not my favorite episode, but it is certainly memorable and creepy. Bad Xander is compelling to watch. This early in the series, it leads me to wonder if he were truly possessed by an entirely different personality, or if those characteristics are in there somewhere. Like alcohol, maybe the possession only brings out the worst of what is hidden.

    For all the moms out there, Happy Mothers’ Day!

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  6. Elements of this episode are as bad as I remembered, but overall, I think it is notable for featuring a marked shift in tone that demonstrated what the series could be capable of in terms of darkness and emotional resonance.

    The previous episodes leaned more towards light camp, or threats that were really hard to take seriously. And granted, this threat had its campy elements. But, as Billie and others noted, Xander was quite menacing and scary once he was possessed. It wasn't played for laughs, and the kids did real damage. The dodge ball game was truly intense, and Xander's attack on Buffy was hard to watch. And his interactions with Willow were genuinely distressing. I was absolutely crushed for Willow when she was crying over Xander not even wanting to be her friend anymore, and I was incredibly concerned about what else he might say to her when he was caged. (Of course, it is virtually impossible to watch Alyson Hannigan cry and not feel emotional distress.) Even though I never truly feared for Xander's safety or recovery, the emotional damage he inflicted felt real and unsettling. And, certainly, the murder of the principal (a character we had gotten to know and like a bit) was a fairly serious consequence, even if it was brushed aside a bit at the end. So, not the best episode, but a good early indication of some of the show's potential.

    That said, it's hard to get past the ludicrous hyena at the beginning, which was laughably bad. I literally laughed out loud every time they showed that thing. "It looks cute." "I think it looks hungry." No, it looks ridiculous!

    Holy frak! The lead douchebag was played by Eion Bailey! (Known 'round these parts as August on Once Upon a Time, but who I think of as Pvt. Webster from Band of Brothers). Damn, he looks so young.

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  7. For some reason I always think of the old 80s movie "Cat People" when I see this ep. The only good thing going that movie had was the music...that is not the case here.

    That sadistic gym teacher always creeps me out. Poor Principal Flutie got eaten...and Xander ate a pig!

    Eion Bailey!! I knew I recognized him! Some years ago huh?!?

    I am really struggling with season one this time around, thankfully I know it gets better

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  8. Newbie report:

    I have mixed feelings about this episode. I think it was a great Monster-of-the-Week story. And bad-ass Xander - awesome! Very much more, please! James Stevens in that blue Masai make-up is truly creepy.

    Now, what I didn't like. The story is about school bullies. Giles is aware of the bullies on campus but just waves it away - it's just a normal part of the school. Bad teacher, bad! Maybe that fat kid committed suicide off-camera and Giles could have gotten involved and stopped it?

    Anyway, thumbs up for the presentation and acting (Xander - swoon!) thumbs down for content.

    And a tribute to Principal Flutie:

    Pity poor principal Flutie
    His death scene was really a beauty
    The poor little dude
    Became hyena food
    And afterwards, hyena dooty.

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  9. This is literally my least favorite episode of the entire series. I often skip it on rewatches, but this time I was determined to watch it and figure out why I hate it so much. I think I have it. This is one of the first episodes I ever saw (I watched reruns intermittently for years before sitting down to watch the whole series), and I think of the episode as an exemplar of what is bad about the first season (the cheese, the bad special effects, the less than Emmy-worthy guest stars).

    Structurally, it's not a bad episode at all. And there are good parts. The shot of Xander and his hyena cohorts walking up the stairs after eating poor, adorable Herbert is great, as is the shot of Xander looking for Willow in the school. I've always thought Nicholas Brendon did a great job with the part. Thus far goofy sidekick (and mostly goofy sidekick hereafter), Brendon really brings the creepy this week.

    Also, Willow gets a great arc. She goes from one of her weakest points in the entire series (crying because Xander was mean to her) to her strongest point thus far (being in total control of the Xander in the cage situation). I love the way the Scoobies progress. Buffy is a superhero. She has superpowers, including expedited healing time and, one imagines, a rather high pain threshold. The bravery that's really impressive in the show (at least for the moment) is that of the normal people. Xander goes to rescue Lance from the mean kids without a thought. Willow, once discovering the zookeeper has her in a trap, reacts relatively calmly. Xander, when un-possessed, sees Willow in danger and heads to the rescue.

    It always bothered me that the mean kids in this episode weren't seen before or since. BtVS usually does a good job of recurring high school students. The guy whose hot dog gets eaten this episode was talking to Cordelia in the pilot. They literally used the same extras for years. But these four just appear out of nowhere and disappear after the episode. Were they sent to jail for eating Principal Flutie? We don't know. It would have made much more sense to use the Cordettes (Cordelia and her crew, for the uninitiated), as they've already been established as the mean girls of the school.

    In continuity, Giles is knocked out at the climax of the episode for the THIRD TIME in a row, conveniently leaving Buffy to fight her battles by herself. I've always wondered if theres a residual effect from all the concussions. like brain damage or something? Also, I hate that cage. The hyena kids destroy it so easily, but when the plot requires an impenetrable cage, nothing can get out of there.

    Jess - "It is virtually impossible to watch Alyson Hannigan cry and not feel emotional distress." Truer words have never been spoken. I always thought watching her cry should be some sort of psychological test. If this doesn't upset you, there is something wrong with you. Also, August! (barely recognized him sans stubble)

    pucklady - I think you're going to have to do a limerick for every recurring character death. It totally made me smile. :)

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  10. Back in the day when the series was running, someone had a wonderful website that counted the injuries sustained by the characters. The number of times Giles was knocked out was just hilarious. I just did a cursory search and couldn't find the site, but that's not surprising -- a lot of Buffy sites aren't up any more.

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  11. Counting Giles knock-outs is like counting Voyager shuttlecraft crashes :) So, so many...

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  12. I always thought 'do a shot every time Giles cleans his glasses' would be a good drinking game. :)

    I love that they end up making fun of both his glasses cleaning and his getting hit on the head. BtVS never took itself too seriously.

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  13. I like this episode better than most of you seem to like it. I remember when I first watched it that my husband and I were very surprised by it and creeped out. However this was the one that made us think "wow, this show is really something." It gave us a glimpse into the reason why the show was so critically acclaimed.

    Here are some of the things I really like about it:

    - the change in Xander and the way Buffy and Willow handle it. It felt very true to high school to me that Willow really believed he might be abandoning her since extreme changes in friendships happen in high school all the time. It breaks my heart for Willow every time I see how Xander treats her. I also like how Buffy knew something wasn't right fairly quickly unlike a lot of shows where it would take a long time and we would have to suffer waiting for them to find out.

    - the humor in Giles reaction even if the comments above about bullying and teachers' reactions are true. I always consider Giles to be posing as a school librarian, though, not someone with training. His comment about Xander's symptoms being typical of a 16 year-old boy are awesome.

    - the dodge ball scene is great. It reminds me of one from Freaks and Geeks yet that one was awesome in its comic effect whereas this one shines in the way it depicts the true horror of this gym class ritual. The brutal satire of the gym teacher delighting in the ruthlessness of the game was amazing.

    - the sign by the Elephant area right after the bullies pick on Buffy that says "Family Matters" and then two seconds later Willow and Xander appear by her side. They are becoming a family that each of them chooses and this seems to be a big theme in the Whedonverse, and one I love.

    - the fact that they don't show the gory violence as so many shows do now (here is looking at Vampire Diaries and Walking Dead, both shows I enjoy, but ones in which I could do without all of the gore.). I preferred the subtlety of the quick switch to Willow watching hyenas on TV.

    - Willow defying stereotype in the cage scene where she approaches Xander as he smooth talks her and you think he will trick her into getting so close he will grab the key. Instead she figures him out and says "Now I know" and we know she was the one manipulating him.

    So, even though the cheese factor was there in many of the effects and I agree that the bullies come out of nowhere, I still admire this episode a great deal.

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  14. I thought I'd posted a comment but I think it has got lost. I like this episode but it is quite hard to watch.

    Xander is really chilling and the scene where the pack are closing in on principal flutie is quite disturbing.

    I also like the parallels with high school realities - Giles initial interpretation of Xanders behaviour as mentioned by Katherine, and the fact that the bullies are already like a pack of hyenas before being possessed.

    For me this is definitely one of the season one episodes that shows the potential of btvs that will later be realised more successfully.

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  15. SOB ! so MANY comments ! What is it going to be at season 7 ?! Wow !

    Oh good. You started your review with the testosterone quote. And I loved the Heimlich one. Willow and Xander had a good time. Agreeing with you, the dodge ball scene was rather intense (and tougher than Glee's LOL). "God, this game is brutal, and I love it."

    Oh ! I saw a subliminal message with "Family Matters" on the elephants' info board (2nd word more as a verb than a noun). Subtle. Aren't ALL TV characters we love part of families, even if not related ?

    "Oh great. It's the winged monkeys !" This one was rather cute : "You're gonna have so much detention, your grandchildren will be staying after school !" (I never had detention; well, maybe once, but if so, totally removed from my memories)

    Nice touch : the camera's angle at Herbert's level and people freaking out. But, too many hyena laughing made my eyes roll a few times. If you do not take the show seriously, it is great fun. And SMG is NOT doing her own stunts.

    And I haven't read Lord of the Flies, sorry.

    Eion Bailey would be in Band of Brothers after this; he looked so...young here.

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  16. And now, I have read the comments.

    Olga, LOL about the "foreshadowing".

    ChrisB, indeed, the very best for all mothers !

    Jess, LMAO about Eion Bailey. I swear I did not read your comment. Also, agreeing with you : ridiculous head (oh heck, small FX budget ?) and what you said about Xander. definitely and way more serious than the rest (so far).

    pucklady, brilliant tribute, Crap, I already miss the guy !

    sunbunny, wow, great comment.

    Juliette, my fave crash is on the icy planet in the past. I can watch that scene 10 times in a row (Timeless, season 5)

    Suzanne, a ha ! you saw the "FM" sign !

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  17. "This game is brutal. I love it." I love the dodgeball scene. The look Willow gives Xander after he takes her out is gold.

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  18. Like Suzanne, I'm kind of fond of this episode. I think it probably has a lot to do with the potential for darkness it brings forward.

    Nicholas Brendan did fantastic with the part, and I will admit that he's never looked hotter to me than in this episode (I'm shallow like that).

    The one thing I kind of hate is the fact that Xander chooses to pretend that he doesn't remember what he did. I get why he does it, but it would have liked to see some kind of apologetic behavior towards Buffy. I have to say, through the run of the series, I've always found Xander's behavior towards women a bit iffy (like there's a sense of entitlement there, and a very judgemental side on whom they decide to date/have sex with), but that may be just me.

    Also, goodbye Principal Flutie. (pucklady, I loved your goodbye, it was fantastic!). His death is probably the most traumatazing to me of all the series. I mean, the poor man got eaten.

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  19. THE PACK is my favorite first season episode and one of my all around favorite episodes.

    The dodgeball game is sheer (almost) silent brilliance. We always played dodgeball in the neighborhood, but we didn't play it in gym class and we were never as brutal as they were in this game. If we had and if one clique had singled one person from the opposing team out to "attack," I think I would have been like Buffy and tried to pick up for the one singled out.

    I've never been one to interfere in a fair fight -- two seemingly evenly matched opponents or two evenly matched groups throwing down. But if I've been around when one person is being picked on by the "popular kids" or the kids who long to be popular and prey on the kid who's even lower down the pecking order, I can't keep put of it. I'm not brave or a fighter in the least, but I can't stand by and let someone get pounded on without doing what I can to break it up.

    Nick Brendon put in his most mature (to date) performance in this episode. Once possessed, he was downright terrifying throughout. Far more effective than the rest of his "pack," Xander definitely became an "alpha" (an "evil alpha," but still an alpha) with his possession.

    I love the idea of the animal transpossession, particularly the way Xander, Rhonda, Tor, Heidi and Kyle stumble upon the ceremony rather nonchalantly, but in the exact way needed for the transpossession to take place.

    This was another "building their own World of Buffy" mythology episode, which is a reason I love this episode.

    Four out off four dodgeballs

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  20. Someone said that Eion Bailey looked young.

    Speaking of young... let's talk about baby Nicky Brendan.

    The only thing less mature than Xander's possessed behavior is how young he looks.

    And Jesus, I'm the same age as the characters were supposed to be.

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  21. "the pecking order"

    Oh boy. Something to ponder...

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  22. I remember hating this episode but very much enjoyed it on re-watch. I'm with everyone else who agrees that watching Willow cry is incredibly sad, and I love the way that the high-school/monster metaphor becomes really clear here.

    Pucklady, I feel oddly compelled to defend Giles, even though I completely agree with you. So here's my (pathetic) defense: Buffy's description of the behavior might not have done justice to situation, so Giles didn't realize the extent of the bullying. (Right up until he realized it was a case of transpossession.) Also, bullying was, in some circles, considered a natural part of school life. Ah, the 90s. Pathetic defense over. :-)

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