15:01 – 30:00
The last time you and I got together to talk about this episode of BTVS, I mentioned that it wasn’t one of my favorite episodes. And, it’s not. But, as I watched it this time, with what I think is more clinical detachment, I began to wonder why this was the case.
There are some elements of the plot that make me uncomfortable, certainly. Even queasy. We’re getting to those scenes momentarily. And that’s part of it, I’m sure. Plus, supernatural hyenas aren’t nearly as impressive as vampire kings and apocalyptic prophecy. I think we can agree on that.
But, what really bothered me the first time I watched it was how differently Xander Harris was acting under the hyenas’s fell influence. Not just evil, but believably evil. Perhaps Nicholas Brenden was tapping into some of his own personal darkness, which has occasionally revealed itself in real life as well. At least, according to the very slanted and celebrity obsessed news.
Plus, Xander is mean to Willow, which—as I’ve said before—is just unacceptable.
When we were here last time, we were still in Act I of the story. Xander had just revealed his true colors while playing dodgeball. He teamed up with our mean teens from the Hyena House—Kyle, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi—to turn against Lance. Poor, poor Lance, who enjoyed sketching monkeys at the zoo. Lance was on the same dodgeball team as “the pack,” with Buffy alone on the other side, but that wasn’t important. Hyenas prey on the weak. Dr. Weirick told us that at the zoo. Remember?
Buffy goes to check on Lance after he is pummeled with all of those red balls. If memory serves, those could sting quite a bit. The pack has left the gym, and Xander seems to be the Alpha now.
The gym coach says, “God, this game is brutal. I love it!” The sadistic gym coach may be an unfortunate cliché, but it dovetails nicely with my own experience. There’s a reason some things become clichés.
Later, Willow waits for Xander in the hallway. He enters from the other hall with his new pack. She asks him what’s wrong with him. He pulls her aside and says he guesses she’s noticed he’s been acting differently towards her lately. His feelings for her have been changing.
Buffy enters the scene and goes to her locker. She’s not an active participant yet.
Xander tells Willow that he’s decided to drop geometry. So, he won’t be needing Willow’s help with math anymore.
“Which means,” he says, “I won’t have to look at your pasty face again.”
You’d have to be made of stone not to empathize with Willow as her emotions play across her face. She has been devastated by her best friend and not-so-secret crush. Most of us have experienced some form of heartbreak or betrayal in our lives. This series was usually adept at hitting the emotional notes.
Xander and his pack are laughing, of course, as Willow exits the scene. Laughing, hyena-like.
Buffy watches her friend leave as she stands at her open locker. She slams her locker door and approaches Xander. She is angry.
“You gonna say something to me?” she asks.
Xander and his pack laugh even harder and walk away from the Slayer.
Then, we are outside again. The skies are blue, it’s sunny out, no longer raining. The newly forged Xander Quintet stalk their way across the high school lawn. Xander is clearly the Alpha in this group, which is odd since hyena packs are matriarchal. He sniffs the air, says “dogs,” and leads the pack to a picnic table where some students are discussing the guitarist for a band named Wretched Refuse. Xander’s pack takes the students’ hot dogs, tastes them and pronounces them too well done. Xander sniffs the air again and leads the pack onwards.
The pack enters the room where Herbert the pig’s cage is kept. They close the window blinds. Xander says, “Let’s do lunch,” and then Herbert begins to squeal. End of Act I at around the 18-minute mark, which makes the first act only twice as long as the teaser.
As Act II begins, the Xander Pack emerges from the high school in slow-motion. Surely, that one little pig wasn’t enough to satisfy all five of them. Tor even wipes his mouth with his sleeve, which I thought was a nice touch of actor’s “business.”
From his perspective, we see that Xander is aware of Buffy and Willow talking—about him, of course—on a second floor walkway. Willow is distraught. Buffy says that there’s something wrong with Xander, but Willow is wondering if maybe something is wrong with herself. Xander is sniffing Buffy a lot, but he’s not picking on her the way he is Willow.
Buffy insists that something weird is going on. So, she’s going to talk to the expert on weird.
That’s Giles, if you hadn’t already guessed. The next immediate scene is in the library.
He enumerates Xander’s symptoms, as conveyed by Buffy.
- He’s begun to tease those less fortunate;
- There’s been a noticeable change in both his clothing and demeanor; and,
- He spends his spare time lounging around with imbeciles.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Buffy says.
“It’s devastating,” Giles responds. “He’s turned into a sixteen-year-old boy.”
Giles insists that testosterone is the great equilizer: it turns all men into morons.
Buffy accuses the librarian of trying to “Scully” her, which is a wonderful X-Files reference, suggesting that this time it is Giles who is the skeptical, rational one who believes in things such as science and actual facts. Buffy insists that something supernatural is going on. She mentions that Xander scared the pig.
Giles tells Buffy that boys can be cruel. They tease, they prey on the weak. It’s a natural teen behavior pattern.
Buffy latches on the the phrase “prey on the weak.” Xander has been acting totally “wiggy” since going into the Hyena House with Kyle’s mean crew. And, that laugh . . .
Giles asks if Buffy is suggesting Xander is turning into a hyena. She says she doesn’t know. Maybe being possessed by one. And, not just Xander. All five of them.
Buffy has something akin to Peter Parker’s Spidey Sense. Let’s call it Slayer Sense. When her intuition is switched fully in the “on” position, her words need to be heeded.
Willow enters the library with the news that Herbert the pig has been found. Dead. And also eaten. Principal Flutie, understandably, is freaking out.
Outside the school, in that pleasant outdoors picnic table area, Kyle and his gang, the original foursome, are draped artistically around a table without Xander as Principal Flutie approaches them. Flutie tells them that some kids saw them hanging around outside the room where Herbert was kept. Flutie orders the four of them to report to his office. Now. They are going to have so much detention their grandchildren will be staying after school.
Back to the library. Willow wonders why Xander couldn’t get possessed by a puppy. Buffy isn’t sure that “possession” is the right word.
Giles says it is. The Masai of the Serengenti have spoken of animal possession for generations. There is a sect of animal worshippers known as “Primals,” who believe that humanity—the consciousness, the soul—is a perversion, a dilution of spirit. To them, the animal state is holy. They are able to draw certain animal spirits into themselves.
That’s a lot of exposition for someone who didn’t believe in animal possession a moment ago.
Giles goes on to suggest that if the possession goes unchecked, really bad things are going to happen. Buffy leaves to find Xander.
Buffy goes to the faculty room, where Herbert’s cage was kept. The cage itself has been seriously mangled, which leads Buffy to say, “They are strong.”
They still had the ability to open the cage, so I’m wondering why the cage was destroyed. Also, why isn’t there blood on the cage? You would think that eating a live pig would be messy business. I make more of a mess when I’m eating bar-b-que.
Something crunches under Buffy’s feet. Pig bones, also curiously bloodless. If someone had cleaned up the scene, why leave pork bones strewn around the floor?
Why am I suddenly craving ribs?
Xander shows up behind Buffy, to provide an old-fashioned horror movie jump scare.
Buffy says, “We need to talk,” and then knocks Xander to the floor, flat on his back.
Xander quips, “I’ve been waiting for you to jump my bones.”
We cut to Principal Flutie’s office. While he’s still giving the Kyle Doucheman Four a royal ass-chewing, they begin to approach him—as a pack—menacingly.
Back to Buffy and Xander. Xander reverses the status quo, pinning Buffy to the floor in a manner similar to the way Buffy had pinned him. Buffy tells him to let her up, but he questions if that’s what she really wants. She wants danger. She likes her men dangerous. Buffy tries to reason with Xander, convince him that he’s infected with some hyena spirit. Xander says he’s just become dangerous and mean, just like her Mystery Guy, Angel.
Xander’s unrequited lust for Buffy and his jealousy over Angel are two of his main defining characteristics at this stage of the series. It will morph into something more palatable eventually, just not yet.
Back in the principal’s office, the beleagered Flutie is further harassed by the hyena-possessed teenagers, ultimately knocked back into his office chair.
Cutting back to the faculty room, Buffy pushes Xander off of her. Both stand, and Xander pushes Buffy forcefully into a vending machine. He says that he likes her scared. The more he scares her, the better she smells. This scene is decidedly rapey.
The Ballad of Principal Robert Flutie is coming to a tragic end. One of the girls (Heidi, I think, but who knows?) scratches Flutie’s cheek, drawing first blood. Then, laughing and yipping, all four knock the principal to the floor and begin to dig in as we head into our act break.
Act III opens in the library, where Willow is watching a video of hyenas feeding on the computer screen. Buffy enters, dragging Xander’s unconscious form behind her. She says she hit him with a desk.
They lock Xander in the book cage, the existence of which in the library always confused me. Perhaps it’s meant to be a place where rare or old manuscripts are kept. That makes sense, but I’d never noticed it before on the set.
Willow explains Giles’s absence by saying he was called away to some teacher’s meeting.
Giles enters the scene, saying that the rest of the pack were seen outside of Herbert the pig’s cage, so they were sent to the principal’s office. Reluctantly, he tells Buffy and Willow that the students ate Principal Flutie, although the official story is that wild dogs somehow got to him. In Sunnydale, coverups seem to be a matter of course.
Willow says Xander wasn’t involved in the Flutie munching because he was with Buffy. Trying to rape her, sure, but at least he’s no cannibal. Yet.
“That’s a small mercy,” Giles says.
Giles is having trouble finding the correct spell or ritual to reverse the hyena possession. He refers to the Malleus Maleficarum, which is a 15th Century leather-bound tome dealing with witchcraft and demonic possession. He says it should be possible to transfer the spirits to another human.
Buffy says they need to put the hyena back in the hyena. She also suggests that the zookeeper may know more than he let on. Maybe the hyenas weren’t quarantined because they were sick.
Did Dr. Weirick say the hyenas were sick? I thought they were quarantined because they just arrived from Africa, which sounds reasonable to untrained ears. In any case, Giles thinks that they should go talk to Weirick.
Willow elects to stay behind, to keep an eye on hyena-Xander. I think Willow should get used to locking the people she’s crushing on in cages. I would talk more about the people who end up locked in the book cage over the next couple of seasons, but we’ve reached the 30-minute mark and the conclusion of this part.
Join me next time, here in the library, for Part 3 of our discussion of “The Pack.”