Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “The Pack" Review (1x06)

Brief Synopsis: “While enduring the annual field trip to the zoo, Xander and several other students enter the quarantined Hyena pen and become possessed by the demonic spirit of the wild animals. When Buffy notices a significant change

"Never Kill A Boy On The First Date" (1x05) quick link here                                                                   "Angel" (1x07) quick link here

Before getting started on this review, here are a few notes about how these reviews will be formatted...

1) I will be reviewing the episodes in bullet point form. This is because it makes the reviews simple to read, and helps break up the vast amount of text.
2) I will be uploading a new review every one or two days, so be sure to check back often! Alternatively, you could subscribe to the blog via email to receive the reviews in your inbox (the subscription box is located to the right-hand side of this blog).
3) If you are watching the show for the first time along with these reviews, please be warned that there may be a few spoilers for things that haven’t happened yet.
4) If you are here from my Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel fan page from Facebook (located here :- www.facebook.com/BTVSFC), these reviews are similar to the rewatch reviews that I wrote for that page, only they are longer, more detailed, and in a much nicer format than Facebook allows (curse their lack of italics, bold, and underline!)
5) The basic layout for the review will be the review itself, the ‘quote of the episode’, and then the final score for the episode (out of ten). All of the final scores will also be placed on a separate tab so that you can refer to them easily.

With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?

•    This episode primarily centres around bullying and the effects that it can have on people (especially in a school environment). One of the best things about Buffy The Vampire Slayer is that it seems to cover every issue that a lot of people deal with in their lives in such a realistic way. When I was battling severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and the loss of my best friend, I always had a Buffy or Angel episode that I could put on to help me deal with whatever emotion I was feeling. If I needed to openly grief, I’d put “The Body” or “A Hole In The World” on. If I needed inspiration, I’d put “Amends” on. If I needed to feel like I wasn’t as alone as I felt, I’d put “Family” or “Earshot”. Buffy The Vampire Slayer takes these real life emotions, adds a supernatural spin to them, and then explores them. In this episode the supernatural spin is Hyena possession. Xander and a group of students are possessed by Hyenas and start trying to eat everything in sight...including the new school mascot and THE PRINCIPAL.
•    I must admit, I really like this episode! Does it deal with the issue of bullying and sexuality a little heavy-handedly? A little, yes. However, I think the positives of this episode greatly outweigh the few negatives. This is easily my favourite episode of the first six. In fact, I have this ranked as my 4th favourite episode of season one (behind “Prophecy Girl”, “Angel”, and “Nightmares”).
•    Xander: “We just saw the zebras mating! Thank you, very exciting.”
Willow: “It was like the Heimlich...with stripes.”
Xander and Willow are clearly both sexually frustrated.
•    Bless Principal Flutie in this episode. He tries. He fails miserably, but he tries. At least he does attempt to stop the bullying of Lance. I doubt Snyder would have cared enough to bother. Principal Flutie made for an interesting first Principal of Sunnydale High. The problem was that he was far too weak to survive. The few times we’ve seen Principal Flutie have to deal with a supernatural element (such as Dr. Gregory’s body in the freezer), he’s turned into a gibbering wreck. It’s completely understandable! I’m sure most people would react that way, but a high school located on a Hellmouth certainly needs a stronger authority figure. Say what you want about Principal Snyder, but he is at least capable of running Sunnydale High efficiently.

•    The biggest problem that I have with this episode...how does just looking at the Hyenas possess the students? Do the Hyenas have magical retina powers? Are they telepathic through eye contact? It makes no sense whatsoever. Yes, I’m aware this is a television show about a Hellmouth, a Slayer, and vampires, but even by a sci-fi show’s standards this is unrealistic.
•    I must commend Nicholas Brendon in this episode. His acting was superb all the way through. He plays cute, angry, upset, funny, being a jerk, and a whole host of other emotions so well in this episode. This is easily his strongest acting of the show thus far. It’s his first central episode and he delivered big-time.
•    Oh Willow, I just want to protect you from the world and keep you in a little jar so that no-one can ever be mean to you. Willow is deeply in love with Xander at this point. Like, scarily deep. She notices every tiny detail about him including slight changes in his mood (and blood pressure). Willow’s undying love for Xander is what makes his actions in this episode (after he’s possessed) so much more heartbreaking. If Willow merely fancied Xander, this episode would hold significantly less weight. The fact that the audience is already aware of Willow’s infatuation with Xander is what brings this episode from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
•    Why are Buffy and Willow sat around talking about boys they like? I thought when girls socialised by themselves they did nothing but have pillow fights in their underwear? Has society been lying to me for 24 years?!
•    Willow: “You remember...you fail math, you flunk out of school, you end up being the guy at the pizza place that sweeps the floor and says ‘Hey kids, where’s the cool parties this weekend?’, we’ve been through this.”

That is scarily accurate to what happens to Xander in season four. I’ve never noticed that before. Whilst I don’t have definitive proof on Xander asking kids about where the cool parties are (it would be in character for him), he definitely works in a pizza place.

•    The dodgeball scene was highly disturbing. Xander and the pack going after what they perceive to be the weakest person there, which is pretty much what all bullies seem to do. I think that “The Pack” does such a good job in tackling the issue of bullying. How many of us can relate to having been bullied during our school years? I was personally bullied every single day for years at school and it left me with no self esteem, no self worth and no self respect. For the longest time I thought that there must have been something wrong with me for others to pick on me so much. I started to try to be a different person, to conform, and look and act more “normal” in an attempt to fit in. It was to no avail, as I still continued to be bullied anyway. In the dodgeball scene, the pack attack Buffy rather than Lance because they perceive Lance to be the weaker person. That doesn’t mean that Lance is weak, it’s just the perception that the pack have. I think the same can be said for real life bullies. They tend to pick on people because they deem them unable to defend themselves.
•    This episode is filled with disturbing scenes. I can think of at least four. The first one is Xander calling Willow ‘pasty-faced’ and generally being an ass to Willow. I am aware of the fact that it’s not really Xander acting that way, but here’s something to consider...possessed Xander is still attracted to Buffy. Does this imply that Xander still maintained aspects of his own personality when he was possessed? Like vampires after they’ve been sired? If this is the case, what Xander said to Willow takes on a whole new meaning.
•    Alyson Hannigan has the best upset face that I’ve ever seen in my life. Every time she’s upset or crying, I die a little inside.
•    Can we not have Willow cry again, ever? That would be nice. I’m sure this show will grant my wish. Nothing bad ever happens in the Buffyverse, right?
•    At this point in the episode, I was enjoying it, but I was left thinking “okay, so the pack are rude and obnoxious, but they’re not really a threat, are they? Buffy and Giles will reverse the possession and everything will be back to normal again with little damage done outside of insults”...I was wrong. Just as I was thinking this, the episode picked up the pace in a significant way.
•    Herbert! Nooooooooooooooo! Is it wrong that Herbert’s death upsets me more than Principal Flutie’s death? Although, the second a pig was introduced to the episode (after it already being established that something happened with the Hyenas and Xander), I knew it was only a matter of time before Herbert was eaten or killed.

•    “Job’s Eyes” by Far plays as Xander and The Pack walk across the school. Beautiful song and one that fits perfectly for this episode. “Job’s Eyes” really adds another dimension to that scene.
•    How disturbing is Principal Flutie’s death? THEY EAT HIM! That’s so messed up! One of the worst deaths in the Buffyverse in some ways. In a show like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, you expect a certain amount of death...from the students and people Buffy comes into contact with. Very rarely would a show kill off the Principal. Principal Flutie wasn’t a big part of the story and I was just expecting him to pop up every now and then, then fade into the background. Even after the pack started attacking Flutie I was expecting Buffy to swoop in and save the day! It takes a lot of guts for a show to do something so drastic (in such a grotesque way) so early on! Especially when a second season wasn’t confirmed! However, I’m not going to lose any sleep over Flutie’s death as it led us to the far superior Principal Snyder.
•    What made Principal Flutie’s death more spectacular was that it was left to our imaginations what was happening. Nothing graphic is shown at all. Our own twisted imaginations created something far worse than the show could come up with...curse you, brain.
•    I guess it’s some small comfort that Xander wasn’t part of the killing of Principal Flutie. I almost wish he was, just for the emotional mileage we could have gotten out of that story. Even though it wouldn’t have been Xander’s fault due to the possession, watching Xander’s reaction and guilt would have been interesting to see unfold. It would have made Xander grow up much faster than he did.

•    Believe it or not, Principal Flutie death, nor Herbert’s death, nor Xander’s treatment of Willow in this episode, is the most difficult thing to watch...
•    The most disturbing scene award goes to: Hyena Xander’s attempted sexual assault of Buffy. I’m glad Buffy hit him with a desk. I never knew that goofy, comedic-relief Xander could be so creepy! Nicholas Brendon plays creepy very, very well.
•    Possessed Xander does let Xander’s feelings for Buffy out into the open. I’ve always wondered why Buffy is so surprised in “Prophecy Girl” when Xander asks her out on a date. Did she think that possessed Xander was lying here? Possessed Xander didn’t really lie at all...he just twisted the truth and said horrible things to upset people...JUST LIKE ANGELUS! Mother of all that is pure, is this where Joss got the idea of Angelus from?!
•    No, no hurt the baby! Bad Pack! Stay on the ground.

•    Xander trying to manipulate Willow into letting him out of his cage was a great moment too. If I could use one word to describe this episode it would be “uncomfortable”. I mean that in a good way. This is good uncomfortableness. Xander’s treatment of Willow in this episode, his sexualisation of Buffy, the dodgeball scene, Herbert’s death, Flutie’s death, this scene, it’s all so uncomfortable...which it should be! We’re dealing with an episode that revolves around bullying. It should be awkward, it should be emotional, and it should be uncomfortable. Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer did such a fantastic job of writing this episode in a realistic way. It couldn’t have been easy to tackle the issue of bullying realistically whilst having the bullies possessed by Hyenas, but somehow they make it work.
•    The Pack calling “Willow” through the windows used to creep me out so much when I was a kid...it still does a little bit if t he lights are off and I’m alone...
•    I was genuinely surprised that the zoo keeper was the villain-of-the-week. I didn’t suspect him at all when I first saw the episode. I was nine years old when I first saw this episode! The zoo keeper being the villain made a certain amount of sense, but his motives felt forced at best.
•    Xander: “Nobody messes with my Willow *hugs Willow*
Oh, real Xander, you deserve a basket full of kittens (as long as they’re not used for poker) for making Willow smile again.
•    The episode ends with another shocking reveal; Xander remembers everything that he did whilst possessed by the Hyena! This actually comes out into the open during season two’s “Phases”.
•    To sum up, this episode was excellent. Out of the six that I’ve reviewed so far, I felt that it served the most character development for Xander and for Willow. Not only that, but the episode was intense, memorable, and full of twists. “The Pack” signified for me that Joss Whedon was starting to find his feet for what Buffy The Vampire Slayer was capable of doing.
•    My only complaint of this episode is that nothing has consequences! Xander’s attempted sexual assault of Buffy is never brought up again because Xander was possessed, Principal Flutie’s death is barely mentioned again (unless Snyder is remarking what an idiot Flutie was), and when Buffy and Willow find out that Xander remembers everything while he was possessed, nothing comes of that either!

Quote Of The Episode

Giles: “Xander's taken to teasing the less fortunate?”

Buffy: “Uh-huh.”

Giles: “And there's a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanour?”

Buffy: “Yes.”

Giles: “And, well, otherwise, all his spare time's 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. Of course, you'll have to kill him.”


So what are your thoughts on "The Pack"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!


  1. That was the first real "creepy" episode for me. Gore and blood, that's disgusting, but ok for me. But evil, real evil, creeeeeepyyyyyyyyy... And as you said, Nicholas Brendon does that so well!! Xander is always so happy go lucky, and in this episode, man.. Wouldn't want to cross paths with him.
    I am curious about something. If Xander remembers everything, then the others must remember as well. How are they coping?? Have they gone insane? Years of therapy and pills? Would have liked to see something about that. Even just a little scene.
    As always, great review Shangel, thanks :)

    1. The others are ignored, like this show always ignores the bit players and their futures. D'C'A'

  2. Enjoyed your review. I agree with your comments and score and totally got the creepy feeling through out. I do think Xander got of easy with the sexual assault incident as he was 'possessed' especially taking into consideration his attitude in future episodes toward other characters (but that's another story lol).
    Well done for yet again a spot on review.

    1. Was just thinking that. Makes it a little hypocritical of Xander to be even more upset than Buffy at later Spike-involving events...just saying...

  3. Sorry that should say got off not of blooming iPad :)

  4. Oh I was all hating on Xander making Willow have a sad face - she does have the best sad face - And the pack eating Herbert just gutted me.

  5. great review Shane! I agree that this is the best episode of the season so far. And yes yes yes! I am glad you spotted it! this is Episode is the foreshadowing of Angelus! Just like possessed Xander he spins the truth and uses it for his own ends. He is all of the negative aspects of Angel just like evil possessed Xander is. Now when I re watch this episode the scene when Xander tries to rape Buffy only reminds me of The famous bathroom scene between Spike and Buffy in season 6. Also this demon possession makes the person guilty after they have done it. Xander remembering what happened after regaining his consciousness is similar to the fact that Angel is cursed to remember all of the innocents that he has killed back when he was evil. I love this episode even more now! Awesome Analysis.

  6. A little heavyhanded, sure, but seriously, what a PERFECT metaphor for bullies - heyenas! Nasty, pack-oriented teenagers who get their kicks tearing up other people? I love that the reason they all got possessed in the first place had to do with their cruelty and pack mind. (Well, maybe not Xander, but those awful kids.)

    I think it's funny that the hyena possession tests your suspension of disbelief so much. In a show where possession happens lots of other, equally vague ways, this doesn't strike me as the biggest stretch by a long shot. But I guess I see it less as scifi (where things get some kind of explanation of how we get from point A to point B) and more as a dark fairytale. Magic happens...don't think too hard about how? :)

    YES! Alyson Hannigan is the best cry-er ever. Makes tragic things extra devastating.

    Um, Xander. I find it really upsetting that he just gets to pretend it all away. I want Giles to hold him more accountable for what happened, want some kind of clear-the-air conversation where he accepts responsibility and apologizes to Buffy. Of course the losing control wasn't really his fault - he was possessed; but by that logic, do we say 'oh, if you don't have a soul you can't really help it, so it's not your fault!'? No! Everyone is so quick to excuse and forget Xander's attempted rape, but holds a double standard when it comes to another situation where Buffy herself was a lot less blameless. They're both awful and never okay, but the double standard just gets me going. Maybe it's just that the Scoobies themselves are in a really different place by season 6 - more jaded, less quick to forgive.

  7. I LOVE this episode! As a former high school nerd who was bullied and never cool, it was awesome to see Xander being "Large and in charge". I hated the cruel way it manifested, but Nick did a great job changing from insecure Xander into the leader of the pack!

    About the possession, the zookeeper had already painted the tribal symbol for the transferring of the hyenas soul to his on the floor of the hyena hut, so the spell was primed and ready to go. Remember "These are very special hyenas!"

    Sorry to disappoint, Shangel, but the pillow fights are reserved for special occasions...usually we do just sit around talking about boys!

    I don't remember where Xander was working at the time, but he DID ask Buffy and Willow where they were hanging out when they were in college. He might have been at the pizza place then! :D

    I yell at hat woman with the baby every single time! Run! Don't just stand there looking at the crazy, growling lunatics! They're gonna eat your baby!!

    I can barely watch the dodge ball scene...really bad flashbacks!

    In my mind, the bullies were so freaked out about what happened that they all changed their wicked ways and weren't mean anymore. Right? Sure I'm right.

  8. Flutie is now doing T Mobile commercials on TV in the states. Weirded me out the first time I saw one.

    1. I had an idea soem years back for a psin-off show called Spook Squad - I described it as a combiantion of Charlie's angels,Highway to Heaven, X-Files, and Brimstone, with deceased characetrs from the shows tkaign temporary form again to fight wrongs all over the world. The cast would have been Amber, alexis, Danny Strong, and Bianca LAwson as trhe angels, with Ken LErner (FLutie) in the Bosley role D'C'A'

  9. Robyn Elena Angerer25 November 2013 at 19:17

    - This is one of the most disturbing and uncomfortable episodes for me to watch. Not only is bullying a pretty much universal phenomenon and recalls many an uncomfortable moment in most people’s personal history (such as mine and my best friend's in school), but it takes one of the sweetest relationships in the Buffyverse and masochistically tortures the hell out of it. I can't stress enough how much I empathise with Willow when Xander turns mean and systematically starts to tear her down. We as the audience know that she has very strong feelings for Xander, and although he has never reciprocated them in a romantic way, he shows a very strong sisterly affection for her. Here, not only does Willow have to deal with the fact that Xander doesn’t love her back, but she needs to have the message BEATEN INTO her in the cruellest way possible (“which means I won’t have to look at your pasty face again”.) Alyson’s voice trembles before he’s even said it and it tugs painfully at my heartstrings. It is so unfair if you think about it. Buffy is exempted from his malice because she is perceived to be an attractive, strong individual, the exact opposite of what Xander perceives Willow to be. The Hyena possession may account for the fact that the pack is hunting down the weakest members of the student body, but his sexual attraction to Buffy stems from his own personality, and that truth may come out sooner rather than later. It is very, VERY uncomfortable to see this truth displayed in such stark terms when we can see how head-over-heels Willow is for her best friend. Essentially, we see what Angelus later on does to Buffy. You’ve got the emotional investment (Willow’s love for Xander) and the ugly twist where the guy you love turns bad and starts to emotionally harass and torture you (Xander calling Willow “pasty-faced” among other things). This is complete conjecture on my part, but I wonder if Xander really doesn’t see that Willow is in love with him (I think he does but does a good job of ignoring it and pushing it away because he values their friendship too much), and this subconscious knowledge makes him act more drastically as a hyena. He is not interested in Willow in that way, but he is in Buffy, so he makes it clear to both women where he stands in the most primal and animalistic way possible. By the same token, his hyena state only enhances and brings to the fore what he is really feeling inside. Hmmm….so intriguing – erm, I meant disturbing. (This is a slight foreshadowing of what happens when Xander and Cordy start to go out and Willow is again the person who is not on Xander’s radar. That was when I KNEW that Xander knew that Willow had feelings for him, he just never voiced his thoughts out loud.)
    - Coming back to slightly more trivial matters: Hello, fashion alert! One of my favorite outfits of Buffy’s at the Bronze is the sparkling gold dress complete with Angel’s jacket. Perfection. Of course that will later get smushed in the MASSIVE PILLOW FIGHT THAT IS UNDOUBTEDLY AND IRREVOCABLY GOING TO HAPPEN! *calms Shangel’s nerves* There is no girls’ night out without a decent pillow fight back home and shame on anyone who doesn’t uphold this most sacred female tradition. *coughs* *flings pillow* :p
    - I thought the soundtrack in this episode is absolutely phenomenal! I appreciate it now more than ever! The song playing at the Bronze when the pack enters is so dark, but that’s why I love it. It’s moment like these when I get goosebumps because the song is already telling what the scene is going to be about. Same thing with every song in this episode, really.
    - Ah Willow, her first response to Xander behaving differently is, “Did I do something?”. It’ not about you sweetie, stop looking for faults in yourself. You can see he’s under a major spell or possession-mojo of some kind. I’m glad Buffy was there to have her back. I’m also kind of frustrated that she’d be so, so vulnerable when it comes to him and immediately seek blame with herself. That sort of thing doesn’t lead to a happy ending.

    1. Great job sketching out the similarities between Xander's possessed personality and Angelus' soulless personality. One of the things I love about BTVS is it's very honest about human nature. When something happens to remove constraints, all the darkness that people usually do a decent job of hiding comes flooding to the foreground. It's interesting to think how much of the possession (or Angel's soullessness, or Dark Willow, etc.) is a perversion of core personality and how much is just a liberation of it.

  10. Robyn Elena Angerer25 November 2013 at 19:28

    - Oh, who’s a good boy, Herbert? I don’t want to poo anyone’s bubble here, Mr. Flutie, but our fierce little razorback seems to be as mild-tempered as Clark Kent and heavily sedated.
    - I’m always highly apprehensive when watching the Dodgeball scene and seeing the students on the other team getting picked off one by one - and Xander HITS WILLOW, HARD! That was the first of two moments between the two of them that had me cringe in pain. The second one is triggered by his line, “[…] so I won’t have to look at your pasty face AGAIN.” Did anyone else wanna smack that guy and crush Willow into a giant bear hug? Or at least start whittling little plastic stakes just in case? Just me then. Again, I KNOW he's not Xander. Ugh, Nicholas Brendon is way too good at this. He’s just knocking them out of the park one by one.
    - ”Let’s do lunch.” That was a new level of ickiness right there. Note to self: Never eat a turkey sandwich while watching cute rosy-colored piglets get eaten by disturbed Hyena-people on TV. It could potentially put you off food forever. I blame Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. They really should have put that on the back of the box.
    - To use Buffy’s words, “Could it get yuckier?” Yes it could and it did. It was so creepy and disturbing to watch the pack closing in on sweetly flustered, huffing-and-puffing Principal Flutie. Expulsion and counseling sessions are indeed not gonna do the trick this time. It was like watching a train wreck; you know it’s gonna come, but you just can’t tear your eyes away for some reason. (Stupid eyes!). The attempted sexual assault scene was only slightly muted for me on account of all the enchanting cannibalism going on in the background and because I knew Buffy could take him easily anytime. Still, seeing Xander give in to his impulses like that is highly disturbing. And again, he voices what must have been clear to him without the Hyena possession as well (“until Willow stops kidding herself”…it sounds eerily like a vampire taking over a human’s personality and twisting everything, I agree)
    - The pack calling Willow’s name in the library is always creepy as hell. ALWAYS. No matter how old you are. :p
    - Side fact: I think, Buffy DOES have a thing for dangerous types, or should I say guys with special circumstances, but that’s part of her heritage as the Slayer. (“Real love & passion have to go hand in hand with pain and fighting.”) As the Slayer who’s always dealing with life-and-death stakes and is walking a fine line between light and dark herself, it’s normal she would be attracted to people who are occupying the same grey-area. (Angel, cough cough, Spike cough).
    - “They ate Principal Flutie?” As shocked as I was by this unspeakable act, I can’t help grinning a little bit at that one (*turns shamefacedly away*). Leave it to SMG to mix in a bit of comedy in the midst of all this horribleness.
    - My favorite quote must be, “Hey, nobody messes with my Willow.” Buffy and Willow really must be Xander’s best friends in the whole wide world: They don’t hold grudges against the guy who just tried his hand at felony sexual assault and exhibited weird Angelus-like torture techniques. However, it would have been nice to see him dealing with some of the repercussions of his actions, such as apologising to Buffy or having a heart-to-heart with Willow.