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The much-delayed Buffy re-watch continues. “The Pack” was the episode that absolutely cemented for me that Buffy was going to be like nothing I’d seen before and completely sold me on the show.

As we open with the school field trip to the zoo, in the confrontation between Buffy & the bullies, the bullies are already creepy even before they’ve been possessed. Can’t help noticing prominent Elephant sign “Family Matters”–hard to believe it’s coincidental rather than foreshadowy, given how important “family” will become as a metaphor in later seasons and in Angel.

Principal Flutie–he’s a bit of a tyrant, like most principals, but he’s not really a villain, and this episode gives us a glimpse of  his human side before we have to say goodbye–Joss wants us to miss him and realize that even if “woolly-headed, liberal thinking…leads to being eaten” (according to Principal Snyder in 1.9 “The Puppet Show”),  eating people is Bad.

After tormenting Lance, the bullies pull him in with lure of being part of the group or “the inner ring,” even if the group is horrible:

Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. (C.S. Lewis).

Xander again acts without thinking in going to help Lance. Keeper tells Buffy & Willow, “Hyenas are quick to prey on the weak”–in other words, they are bullies.
Post-possession, Xander’s creepy smile before the credits is a turning point in the series–our heroes can become villains. Uh-oh. We did already see something like this when Jesse became a vampire in “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest,” but we thought Xander was definitely part of the team. Now what?

Buffy trains with Giles and wears him out, then helps to catch the new school mascot, Herbert the pig. Principal Flutie notes that “it costs a fortune to feed him.” There are so many references to eating or scenes of eating in this episode, even if much of it is, thankfully, off screen.

Willow tutors X, who’s now dimmer than usual and mean about it.
Flutie starts giving Buffy the kind of “The problem with kids today” speech that kids today automatically ignore, but concludes by recognizing his own futility with rueful humor: “When I was your age we cared about the school’s reputation and the football team’s record, all that stuff! Of course, when I was your age I was surrounded by old guys telling me how much better things were when they were my age.”

Herbert the piglet is afraid of Xander. Bullies attack in dodgeball; Xander throws the ball to hit Willow & has no reaction to her pain. Coach: “God this game is brutal. I love it.”–adults are implicated as well.
After Willow asks Xander what’s wrong and he rejects her in the meanest possible way, he and the laughing pack of bullies prowl the campus looking for meat, eventually finding little pig Herbert in his cage. Again, a turning point. After having eaten the piglet, the pack emerges prowling silently over menacing song…clearly, there’s been a shift. They don’t look like monsters, and that makes their monstrous actions worse.

Hurt Willow is always bad news–Joss Whedon comments (I think on “Welcome to the Hellmouth”) that Alyson Hannigan in pain or danger is always outstanding. Buffy is sure something’s wrong, but Giles, for once, is skeptical:

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?
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. Course, you’ll have to kill him.
BUFFY: Giles, I’m serious.
GILES: So am I. Except for the part about killing him. Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons. He will, however, get over it.
BUFFY: (exasperated) 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!

The news that Xander & the others have eaten the pig convinces Giles to “look stuff up,” while Willow researches hyenas, concluding, “Hyenas aren’t well-liked (Death of a Salesman allusion).
Giles does exposition on “primals” and predator possession.
Xander stalks Buffy–creepy, but at least he’s not with the rest of the pack, who are after something worse.
Xander: “You want danger? You like your men dangerous, right? Like Angel”–Spike will insist later that Buffy “needs a little monster in her man,” but somehow Buffy never totally buys this line.
Pack (minus Xander) attacks Flutie in his office. A major escalation, turning point–they look perfectly charming, except for the growling. Camera push in on photo of smiling Flutie, cut to video of wild hyenas on prey.

The episode starts and ends (almost) at the zoo, where Giles discovers that the keeper is too prepared, and–too late!–Giles is knocked out again! Willow is about to be sacrificed! (that’s 3 “Willow-in-peril”s and 1 “Giles-knockout” for those keeping track). However, the ritual works, dispossessing the students and possessing the keeper, who has reckoned without the foolhardy loyalty of regular Xander, who now saves Willow, allowing Buffy to toss the keeper into the hyena den, where he is (deservedly) devoured.

Xander claims not to recall anything up till “Nobody messes with my Willow.” Buffy & Willow collude in not mentioning the attempted rape. Giles knows that Xander remembers all, but promises not to reveal–another milestone for the series–secrets the friends are keeping from one another, for various reasons. From here on, everything gets more complicated.