00:00 – 15:00
On this date in history, Georgi Shonin, a Russian cosmonaut who flew on Soyuz 6, passed away. As did Tomoyuki Tanaka, the Japanese movie producer and creator of the Godzilla franchise.
Puff Daddy remains at the top of the US recording charts, with “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” which is just bad grammar, no matter how you look at it. The double negative means that somebody can hold Sean Combs down. At least, that’s how it was taught when I was in school.
What do I know? I can’t get no satisfaction.
Over in the UK, R. Kelly sits at #1 with “I Believe I Can Fly.” You’ve hummed along to the song before, so don’t sit there so high-and-mighty in judgment. Yes, Robert is an convicted pedophile, human trafficker, kidnapper, child pornography aficianado, and serial abuser.
But, this despicable freak was #1 in the UK this week. I believe he should fry.
The previous Friday, April 4, 1997, the movie Chasing Amy was released in the theaters. I wouldn’t watch it until it was released on videotape, after I moved to Arkansas (the first time). It was my introduction to the ViewAskew universe of Kevin Smith, and would lead me to Clerks and Mall Rats and then the movies that came after. I became a fan.
I could wax overly critical on a few of Smith’s movies—Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, for me, was the mental equivalent of biting into a rotten walnut—but I don’t like to lambaste the creative output of people who actually make something and put it out there, even if I’m not a fan. I’m a reviewer, not a critic. Besides, I liked Jersey Girl, and even Kevin Smith talks smack about it.
So, now that the Wayback Machine has put us in a 1997 mood, let’s talk about this episode.
I know I just wrote that I was a “reviewer,” not a “critic,” but I have to warn you that this is not one of my favorite episodes and my habitual sarcasm may get a little caustic. There are much worse episodes in the series, however. More about those later.
The teaser opens in a new setting for the series, the Sunnydale Zoo (actually filmed at the Santa Ana Zoo). We see park “road” signs pointing the way to the reptiles, elephants and the Hyena House, which is a capitalized proper noun here for reasons which will soon become apparent.
Buffy Summers is walking down a path alone, carrying what appears to be a park map and referring to it. We’ve all been there and can relate.
Buffy is approached by a group of young white people we’ve never seen before. Sunnydale High students apparently, because they know who Buffy is.
This pack of teenagers has individual names: Kyle, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi.
This quartet quickly reveals itself to be a form of a familiar archetype: the high school bully. Not of the “stuff you in a locker” breed of bully, but more the “mean girls” type. Since there are two males and two females, I guess “mean girls and boys” would be more accurate. You would think that Cordelia Chase would somehow be involved in this plot, but she doesn’t seem to be—at least, not yet.
These mean teens spend some unproductive time teasing and taunting Buffy, because, you know, she was kicked out of her last school and burned down the gymnasium or something. Worse yet, she’s not one of the popular students. But, Buffy brushes them off with aplomb, and the pack, laughing (like a pack of hyenas, one might say), moves off to find a better target, not knowing how lucky they are that the Slayer didn’t rip off their heads and insert them into other available orifices.
While Buffy stops at the elephant exhibit, her friends Willow and Xander run up to her, excited to have witnessed two zebras mating. Willow says it was like the “Heimlich . . . with stripes,” which is both a funny and a visual line.
If it wasn’t obvious before this moment, it seems that the Sunnydale students are on a school field trip. While her friends were watching the zebras, Buffy was looking at the fishes.
I’m sure that Buffy knows the plural of fish is normally still fish. However, when you’re referring to multiple species—as Buffy does, no doubt—fishes is totally acceptable. And here I go, defending a fictional character’s grammar.
Leaving our Scooby Gang for the moment, and their discussion of Heimliching zebras and all the fishes in the deep blue sea, we discover that our mean teen quartet has found a better target for their teenage snark. This is a young man named Lance, whom we’ve also never met. Lance seems to be enjoying the monkeys. He is sketching them, I think.
Because I am in control of this episode, I can pause it wherever I like. Let’s talk about these names for a minute. I have known several Kyles and Rhondas during my lifetime. Only one Heidi, as far as I know. I once worked with a guy named Lance, and of course I’m familiar with Lance Armstrong. Now that I think about it though, Lance Armstrong sounds like a made-up name, like Slim Goodbody.
But, I’ve never met anyone named Tor.
I do know that Tor is a popular name in Norway, as the modern equivalent of Thor. The Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson was in several Ed Wood movies.
I know that everyone may not be as interested in this brief digression about names as I am. What I really wanted to point out is that none of these names begins with the same letter (K, R, T, H, L) or the same letters as our main cast (B, X, W, A, C, J or G). Of course, C doesn’t appear in this episode, which is unusual; I’m not certain about J or A yet. That’s Joyce and Angel, by the way.
While hurriedly taking notes during my rewatch of these episodes, I would refer to main characters by their first initial (or last, in the case of Giles). This is where I noticed that none of the characters began with the same letter. This episode introduces five new characters who also don’t overlap. Kiene and Reinkemeyer, the writers of this script, deserve praise for this sort of diligence.
In my own fiction, I tend to give characters similar-sounding names or names that begin with the same letter, which can be confusing to the reader. Sure, I realize that you know four different Steves, but verisimilitude is no excuse for bad writing.
By the way, I’ve never known anyone named Kiene or Reinkemeyer either.
Back to Lance. The mean quartet wants to know if being here with the monkeys is like a family reunion for him. It’s possible to be mean and funny at the same time, like the late Don Rickles, but these kids haven’t mastered the skill.
Rhonda does ask Lance if his mom still picks out his lice, which is semi-funny, at least.
Tor—who may in fact have Norwegian ancestry—snatches Lance’s notebook out of his hands, which isn’t funny at all.
Suddenly, Principal Flutie shows up out of nowhere to save Lance. “I’ve had it up to here with you four,” he says, which means that Flutie realizes that Buffy isn’t the only problem student at Sunnydale High School. Lance covers for the Meantastic Four, telling the principal that they were just fooling around. This inspires the magnanimous Kyle to invite Lance to join the group in the Hyena House.
“But I think it’s off-limits,” Lance says.
“And therein, my friend,” says Kyle, “lies the fun.”
I don’t wholly disagree with Kyle’s philosophy. Springsteen said something similar, when he was revved up like a deuce, about looking into the eyes of the sun. Of course, R. Kelly probably agrees with Kyle also, so I’m going to slowly back out of this particular avenue of thought now . . .
The Hyena House has sawhorse barricades and caution tape blocking the entrance. Not much of an obstacle. It’s almost as if someone wants teenagers to trespass here.
Buffy, Willow and Xander observe Kyle’s gang taking Lance into the Hyena House. The ever-heroic Buffy is about to extract Lance from harm’s way when Xander steps in and says he’ll take care of this one since the job doesn’t require actual slaying. Buffy and Willow decide afterward they should follow him as backup.
Buffy and Willow are caught in the act of trying to sneak in by a zookeeper who is also a bit of a jerk.
He asks, “Are you blind, or are you just illiterate? Because hyenas are very quick to prey on the weak.”
The zookeeper is “Dr. Weirick,” according to his nametag. He’s bearded and balding, with roundish-rimmed glasses.
You would assume that Dr. Weirick’s specialty is in veterinary medicine, but one of his skills is the sharing of exposition. He proceeds to tell the two young women he just rudely insulted a story about hyenas, which are currently under quarantine because they only recently arrived from Africa. According to Dr. Weirick, Masai tribesmen say that hyenas can learn to mimic human speech and will call a person by name, at night, to lure him out and devour him. That’s a lot of backstory which doesn’t seem relevant, yet.
Typically, when a character is given this many lines, they turn out to be important to the plot somehow. Just sayin’.
Inside the Hyena House, the mean teens continue to torture poor Lance, even though he didn’t rat them out to the principal. Kyle makes the comment that the hyenas look hungry as he and Tor begin to lift Lance over the top of what seems to be a too-short barricade in front of the hyena den. The Sunnydale Zoo apparently employs the same safety engineers as the Imperial Death Star.
Xander arrives just in time to rescue Lance. One of our favorite Xander character traits: Brave but Reckless.
One of the hyenas growls. All five of the Sunnydale students (including Xander, but not Lance) turn to look at the hyena. The beast’s eyes flash green, and the eyes of the students do the same.
Uh-Oh, this can’t be good. When Bill Bixby’s eyes did this . . .
An overhead shot reveals that the Sunnydale “pack,” including Xander Harris, is standing inside a circle with some sort of crude symbol within its circumference. It appears to have been made with red or orange spray paint. I’ve seen better tags on the sides of train cars.
Because I am me, I immediately thought about Supernatural‘s demon traps this time. That reference didn’t exist the first time I watched this, and certainly not in 1997. But, we are no longer tethered to time, you and I.
Since this is a zoo located near a Hellmouth, we know something creepy and mystical just happened. Lance trips and drops his notebook as he attempts to leave the exhibit. The pack turns and begins laughing at him.
Except for Xander, who does a slow turn as the camera pushes in on his face for a dramatic closeup. He doesn’t laugh, but he gives an evil smile. I never saw Xander’s eyes flash green, though.
Anyway, end of teaser, roll opening credits and that energetic Nerf Herder theme song. Clocking in at almost six minutes, this was a very long teaser.
Act I opens at The Bronze. We’re on familiar ground now.
Buffy and Willow saunter across the cavernous room, talking about Xander. Buffy is carrying a croissant on a little plate. The Bronze has an eclectic menu.
The gist of the conversation is that Willow thinks Xander was acting funny on the bus ride back from the zoo. Buffy says she didn’t notice, but then again she’s not as hyperaware of Xander as Willow seems to be. Willow admits that Xander makes her head go “tingly.”
Buffy claims that hasn’t happened to her lately. Willow calls BS on that, saying that Angel pushes her buttons. In fact, she’s wearing the leather jacket he gave her at this very moment. Buffy can’t deny that, but he’s never around and, when he is, all he wants to do is talk about vampires.
This episode is about hyenas, not vampires. Maybe that’s why there’s no Angel.
Cordelia’s absence can also be explained: we’ve already reached our quota of mean students with Kyle and his squad.
Willow says: “There he is!” and her face brightens.
“Angel?” Buffy says.
“Xander,” Willow continues.
The Xander that walks into The Bronze seems somehow more self-assured, looking girls in the eye, and being less goofy than normal.
He helps himself to Buffy’s croissant, saying, “What is this crap?” Seems like atypical behavior. Xander says he’s hungry and needs some real food.
Now Buffy understands what Willow has been talking about. Xander is acting different, angrier, more high-testosterone. Nicholas Brenden is actually very good at going Dark Xander. This happens more than once in the series, and is not limited to hyena possession.
Xander suddenly sniffs Buffy’s head and says, “You took a bath.” Which is just creepy.
The Kyle Quartet walks into The Bronze. Buffy calls them the “winged monkeys.” They approach the Scooby table, with Kyle and Xander locking stares for a moment until the group veers off to an adjacent table. They tell a heavyset young man that he’s sitting at their table.
Rhonda makes a Goodyear blimp joke. Not funny, but the group laughs. Xander laughs along with them, stopping only when he notices that Buffy doesn’t think it’s funny.
“Kid’s fat,” Xander says. Oh, now I get the joke.
We cut to the next day, at Sunnydale High School. In the library, Buffy trains with Giles. The librarian is wearing protective gear, but it’s obvious that Buffy’s martial arts display is a bit overpowering for him. He calls a halt to the training session. This implies that they train like this often. More subtle worldbuilding.
We cut to the school hallway where Principal Flutie is chasing after a pig named Herbert. Buffy catches him. The pig, not the principal. Flutie introduces Herbert as the new mascot for the Sunnydale High Razorbacks. Herbert is wearing a tiny football helmet with fake tusks and a green serrated foam ridge attached to his back.
In my adopted home state, the University of Arkansas sports teams are also known as the Razorbacks. This is apropos of nothing, of course. Just a swine of coincidence.
Outside, on the campus grounds, Willow helps Xander with his geometry homework. Xander is having a hard time understanding the work. He has a headache, which he says is better after he throws away his geometry textbook.
This isn’t entirely atypical behavior for Xander, except that he seems angrier and less jokey. Also, he’s being mean to Willow, which is just unacceptable.
Back to the hallway. Buffy carries Herbert the pig as she follows Principal Flutie to return the mascot to his cage. Principal Flutie gives a lecture about school spirit and cable television.
Xander enters the hallway, looking decidedly predatory. As he approaches Buffy, who is still holding Herbert, the pig begins to squeal in distress. Buffy finds this reaction odd and looks puzzled. Also, Xander didn’t say hello or anything to his friend, which I also found odd.
Cut to stormy skies streaked with lightning.
Then, we’re in the gymnasium. Because it’s raining, all regular gym classes have been cancelled. Instead, the students will be playing dodgeball. Kyle and his mean buddies are there. So is Lance. And Xander, Willow and Buffy (I’m surprised Buffy is allowed near a gym, considering her reputation). No Owen, Amy or Cordelia, though.
It occurs to me that it must be difficult to film a dodge ball game and make it look exciting. Those guys at ESPN 8 (“The Ocho”) know what they’re doing.
Xander hits Willow with one of those red rubber balls, and you can tell from her expression that her feelings are hurt. Unacceptable. There is something about Alyson Hannigan’s performance as Willow in these earlier episodes that makes you want to protect her.
Very soon, only Xander, Kyle, Rhonda, Tor, Heidi and Lance are left on one side, with Buffy alone on the other. Instead of taking Buffy out, the “pack” turns on Lance, who is on their side. Like hyenas, they go after the weaker prey. Each one of them hits Lance with their ball. Buffy runs over to make sure Lance is okay, while Xander and his new friends walk off the court.
Technically, Buffy won the game, I believe.
We’re at the 15-Minute mark, however, so we’re going to stop here for now. Join me next time for Part 2 of our discussion of “The Pack.” We’re still in Act I for a few additional minutes.