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Day: April 2, 2013

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch s01e06 “The Pack”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will never, ever try the Burger King turkey burger because it sounds awful. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

So… “The Pack.” I’m torn, y’all. I’m torn because it’s one of the most problematic episodes in terms of racism and rape culture, but… poor, poor Principal Flutie…

It’s also one of the most boring episodes, so let’s just do this one, okay?

First of all, the kids of Sunnydale High are on a field trip to the zoo. Because somebody thought it was a fucking brilliant idea to build a zoo on a Hellmouth. What could go wrong?! (8) And before you argue that it could be a zoo in another town, check the sign:

And who takes high schoolers to the zoo, anyway?

So, they’re at the Sunnydale Hell Zoo, and Buffy is walking around by herself, taking in the sights, when a wild clique attacks!

They mock Buffy for having no friends and being unpopular, then one of them makes a crack about Buffy beating one of them up. Instead of beating the jerk to death and dumping his body in the crocodile lagoon like I would do if I were a superhero villain, Buffy takes their teasing pretty much in stride. Which is one thing I’ve always liked about Buffy in this show. You get the sense from the way she deals with bullies that she probably was the nice popular girl at her old school. She doesn’t seem too fazed by going from May Queen to the weird kid. Oh, wait, you didn’t hear about her being May Queen yet? We’ll get there.

So, where were Xander and Willow when all this was going down? They were watching the zebras mate:

Willow: “It was like the Heimlich. With stripes!”

Buffy tells them she was looking “at the fishes,” which signals an alarming need for more classroom time vs. field trips for Sunnydale students, if you ask me.

The clique that teased Buffy finds another student hanging out by chimp island. And I noticed something really bizarre about this scene that I never noticed before: when one of the jerky kids says, “Lance,” to get the non-clique kid’s attention, one of the chimps responds with like, a “Who, me?” kind of noise. And he looks up. So… that monkey’s name is Lance.

That’s Dr. Lance, thank you. I didn’t spend three years in monkey medical school to be on a first name basis with a blogger.

The really funny part is that when I was labeling my screencaps, I labelled that one “Lance.jpg” and all the ones of the human Lance are labelled “geek01.jpg” or similar.

Poor Lance (the human, not the ape) is the target of some pretty unclever monkey jokes, until Principal Flutie overhears and demands to know what the bad kids are up to. Because Lance is a nerd, and he wants to live through this field trip, he adopts pack mentality and tells the principal that everything is cool, the bad kids weren’t bothering him. Flutie warns the clique kids that he’s watching them, and stalks away looking like a fat Jerry Orbach.

You can practically hear him putting Baby in the corner.

 Because they’re assholes, the cool kids dupe Lance into believing they really like him, and he should go check out the hyena exhibit with them. Even though the hyena exhibit is closed with some pretty serious looking cones. Buffy, Xander, and Willow watch as Lance and the clique head into the forbidden hyena house, and Xander muses that every school has mean kids. The mean kids at this school appear to be in their late twenties, but whatever. Their jokes were pretty bad, so I guess that’s an indication that they’ve been held back a lot?

Buffy is going to go to Lance’s rescue, but Xander suggests that since super powers aren’t needed, he can handle this one. And I’m siding with Xander here. Lance seems so eager for approval from the four jerks that he’s probably not going to be too keen on the “new kid” coming in to rescue him from his newfound popularity.
Buffy and Willow decide they’re going to go after Xander, because, you know. Four, possibly five against one are not good odds, but then a zookeeper who looks like Bill Oddie’s younger, handsomer brother shows up and says this totally bizarre thing:

“Are you blind, or are you just illiterate? Because hyenas are very quick to prey on the weak.”

As we continue in the episode, you’ll note that this is an important plot point. But it’s stated so strangely. Not only does it imply that blind people and the illiterate are inherently weak, but it kind of seems like he’s saying that literacy would save you in case of hyena attack. Which is an unnecessarily bizarre and ableist way of promoting reading to high schoolers.

If the dialogue and story seem kind of off to you in this one, keep in mind that it was written by Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer, a writing duo who only wrote two episodes, both uniformly horrible, Xander-centric stories for the series. The Pack and Inca Mummy Girl both feel like particularly well-written, but not entirely in-character, fanfic.

Bill Oddie’s brother tells Buffy and Willow that the hyenas are in quarantine because they just arrived from Africa. He goes on to share some pretty specific information about how hyenas will hunt the Maasai by imitating their names to lure them away from their camp fires at night. And this guy? He is really into hyenas.

You can’t see it from here, but this guy has a massive erection right now.

Inside the hyena hut (if I ever own a store that sells hyenas, that’s probably going to be the first name I reject as being too obvious, but then I’ll ultimately go back to it for its simplicity and aliteration), the mean kids are tormenting Lance by trying to push him over the rail into the hyena enclosure. Xander helps Lance get away, but then he and the four jerks all make eye contact with the hyena, who flashes yellow light from his eyes into theirs. The camera pans up to show that they’re all standing in a pretty sick sigil:
As Lance (the human, not the monkey) runs from the exhibit, he stumbles, and all the flashy-eyed kids turn and laugh like idiots.
And we know how certain people feel about that, don’t we?
Xander smirks an evil smirk:
He attended the Morgana Pendragon School of Smug Scheming, Sunnydale campus.
And after the opening credits, we join Buffy and Willow at The Bronze. Willow asks Buffy if she thought Xander seemed weird on the bus back from the field trip. Buffy says she didn’t notice anything different about him, but she’s also not “hyper aware” of Xander’s moods the way Willow is. They discuss Willow’s huge crush on Xander, and Buffy tries to deny having a crush on Angel, even though she’s still wearing his leather jacket. Buffy points out that while Angel is good-looking, he’s never around, and he only pops up to talk about vampires. But when Willow says, “He’s here,” Buffy immediately thinks she’s talking about Angel and about gets whiplash. But it’s not Angel, it’s Xander, and he’s behaving… strangely. He casually stares down a girl before joining Buffy and Willow at their table, grabbing Buffy’s “buttery croissant” that she pronounces “qua-sont.” Then he sniffs Buffy and tells her that she took a bath, but that’s okay. Buffy and Willow are mystified by his actions, especially when the mean kids show up and have a pretty intense staring contest with him.
Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize that as the same look that same actor gave to his bulimic ballerina girlfriend in Center Stage, right after he catches her getting out of bed to purge. 

The mean kids pass Xander by to make fun of a fat kid, which Xander finds super funny, though he is somewhat chastened when Willow and Buffy aren’t impressed. Then we cut to Sunnydale high, where Buffy finishes kicking Giles’s ass in training, in a scene that goes literally no place before he sends her off to class (fanfic, anyone?). Then we cut to the legs of frightened, fleeing students and a panicked Principal Flutie. What’s causing all this commotion?

Bacon is your friend! Don’t run from bacon!

It’s the new mascot, Herbert, a piglet who’s meant to be a razorback. Buffy catches Herbert, Principal Flutie explains how this piglet is the most terrifying mascot ever (you know what would have been a better mascot for Sunnydale high? A FUCKING VAMPIRE), and we cut to Xander and Willow in the courtyard. Willow is trying to tutor Xander in math, but he’s getting frustrated. When he asks why he has to learn this stuff, anyway, Willow gives him what is possibly the worst motivational speech of all time:

“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.”

So, no pressure, Xander.

No wonder he throws his book in the trash.
Even with her amazing coaching skills, Willow is unable to convince Xander to finish the lesson, and he storms off, content to be that creepy pizza guy she described.
While this episode is one of my least favorites, it sets up some important characterization for our Mr. Harris. Xander is motivated primarily by fear of failure in every area of his life. He’s afraid of failing at school, with girls, later in his work life and serious relationships. And while he almost always does fail, he never stops trying. The fact that we see him quitting here, and it’s shown as being completely out of character, is a perfect example of showing rather than telling, what kind of a person Xander Harris is. Take it from me, this is something that writers struggle with every freaking day, every sentence of their entire lives. It’s done really well here.
In the hallway, Principal Flutie is still waxing poetic about how things were different when he was a kid, people cared about school spirit, etc., while Buffy holds Herbert the pig. When Principal Flutie observes that when he was a teenager, old guys complained about how things were better when they were young, you get a sense that Flutie is a goodhearted guy who just can’t connect with his students anymore. He goes into the room where Herbert’s cage is, just as Xander walks by. The pig is way not impressed by Xander, and Buffy struggles to hold on to the squealing animal, looking on in confusion as Xander passes her without a word.
Due to inclement weather, gym class has to be held inside, and the teacher, who I’m pretty sure is a veteran of some war or another, forces the kids to play dodge ball with the sadistic glee of a drill instructor a week from retirement. Xander and the mean kids end up on the same team, and an epic beat down ensues, scored by drumming and jungle noises so that the audience is aware that something “savage” is happening. Xander brutally slams Willow with a ball, and she looks totally “What the hell?!” as she goes to sit down. Pretty soon, the only person left on the opposing team is Buffy, and she faces Xander the mean kids, who inexplicably ignore her to turn on their own teammate, Lance.
Buffy helps Lance up, then there’s another tense glare off. I’m beginning to think the more appropriate title for this episode would have been “The Staring Contest.”
After gym, Willow waits by Xander’s locker to confront him about his unnecessarily forceful dodge balling of her person. But he’s hanging out with the bad kids. She asks him what’s wrong, and they have this conversation:

Xander: “I guess you’ve noticed that I’ve been different around you lately.”

Willow: “Yes.

Xander: “I think, um… I think it’s because my feelings for you have been changing. And, well, we’ve been friends for such a long time that I feel like I need to tell you something. I’ve um… I’ve decided to drop geometry. So, I won’t be needing your math help anymore. Which means I won’t have to look at your pasty face again.

Willow. Is. Crushed. As she runs away, Xander and his friends laugh uncontrollably, and Buffy, having overheard the exchange, angrily asks Xander if he has anything to say to her. He just laughs and walks off with his new friends.

So, if you haven’t gotten it by now, they are the titular “pack.”

The pack – I’m calling them that now, because I love seeing the titles of things in things – head into the courtyard where they severely fuck up some kids’ lunch by half-eating it, discarding it, and stepping in the rest. They don’t like the hot dogs, because they’re too cooked, so they sniff the air and follow their noses to poor Herbert.
Alas, poor Herbert, I knew him…

They make a crack about “doing lunch,” which I really hope doesn’t mean anything about bestiality in this context, and the scene cuts to Xander his pack roaming the campus in slow motion for way too long. You might not remember this, if you’re a young ‘un, but back in the 1990’s, everyone walked in slow motion to angst-ridden alternative music. It was going to be our decade’s official pastime, until someone invented Frolf. DAMN YOU, Frolf!
Xander uses his super hyena hearing to listen to a conversation between Buffy and Willow. Willow tells Buffy that she’s known Xander her whole life, and while they haven’t always been close, he’s never been so openly hostile to her before. This contradicts the mythos that we’re privy to in later seasons, when we hear about Xander and Willow being close enough to spend every Christmas together, etc. It’s one of the very few continuity fuck ups in the series, but since it happens in the first season, I give it a pass, they might not have known where they were going.
Willow suggests that the reason Xander doesn’t like her anymore is because of Buffy. He likes Buffy, and views Willow as a third wheel. It’s a really cool conversation, because Willow is jealous of Buffy, but not accusatory. She doesn’t say, “You’re such a slut, you’re stealing my man.” She just suggests that Xander is pushing her away to pursue Buffy. And for Buffy’s part, she doesn’t get angry at Willow’s assessment of the situation. She insists that something is really wrong with Xander, and something weird is going on. So, she’s going to talk to the expert in weird.
The scene cuts to the library.
Pictured: Weird.

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

Buffy: “Uh-huh.”

Giles: “And there’s a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanor?”

Buffy: “Yes.”

Giles: “And otherwise, all of 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. Of course, you’ll have to kill him.”

 Buffy demands that Giles take her seriously, but he just talks down to her about how testosterone turns all men into morons. Which is interesting. With what we’ll learn about Giles’s teen years in season two, it seems like he’s projecting a bit here. Buffy tells him not to “Scully” her, and I flip the fuck out because ZOMG SHE JUST REFERENCE THE X-FILES! Though Buffy urges Giles to check his books, and tells him about Xander scaring the pig, Giles goes on and on about teenagers preying on the weak. This triggers Buffy’s thought process, and she realizes that Xander has been possessed by a hyena. Giles doesn’t take her seriously until Willow bursts into the library and tells them that Herbert the Fauxzerback has been eaten. Giles admits defeat and starts researching.

Meanwhile, Principal Flutie knows exactly who is responsible for Herbert’s demise. He confronts the four bad kids – who are sans Xander at the moment – and orders them into his office, promising they’ll have “so much detention, your grandkids will be staying after.”

Buffy, Willow, and Giles are researching hyenas, and Giles suddenly knows all about this sect of animal worshipping Masai who allowed themselves to be possessed by animal spirits. Somehow, this did not raise alarms when Buffy was first talking about the hyena thing? Someone is getting Watcher dusty, methinks.

Because mutilation and decapitation is apparently a side effect of animal possession, Buffy knows she has to get to Xander right away. She goes to the room where Herbert met his tragic demise, and she’s inspecting the remains when Xander shows up. He tries to block her from leaving the room and she knocks him down. So he tries to rape her. Interspersed with Xander’s attempted sexual assault, we see the rest of the pack in Flutie’s office, where they rip the phone off his desk and surround him. Xander tells Buffy that she’s only been pretending she doesn’t want him, and back in Flutie’s office, well… RIP, Flutie. Actually, yeah. Literally. To shreds.

You were too beautiful for this world.
The fade-to-black for the commercial ends and we see Willow watching disgusting video of hyenas eating:
Bullshit she’s watching those graphics on that computer.

when Buffy enters, dragging an unconscious Xander. She tells Willow she hit him with a desk while he tried “his hand at felony sexual assault.” This is the important part here. She calls it sexual assault. This is going to be important at the end of the episode. She and Willow lock Xander in the cage in the library. I’m not a librarian, so I don’t know what those cages are used for. But I’m going to assume all libraries have serious monster problems.
Giles returns from a staff meeting to inform Buffy and Willow that their principal was eaten. The story given to the rest of the school is that wild dogs got in somehow and mauled Flutie in his office, but obvs the Scoobies know what’s up. The only problem is that they don’t really know how to un-possess the pack. Giles kind of guesses at a solution, which is to transport the hyena spirits into another human. Giles and Buffy decide to go interrogate Bill Oddie’s brother, and Willow offers to stay behind and keep an eye on Xander.
A woman out for an evening stroll through Sunnydale, with her baby, because #8, happens upon the pack sleeping on the ground outside. They make some predatory noises, but she gets away.
They are immediately eaten by vampires.
Back at the library, Xander wakes up and tries to seduce Willow into opening the cage. He’s all, things were better before Buffy came to Sunnydale, because it was just you and me. Don’t you mean you and her and JESSIE YOUR BEST FRIEND WHO DIED FOUR EPISODES AGO? No, of course he doesn’t mean that, because Jessie is never mentioned again in the entire series, despite being Xander’s best friend. But whatever. For a moment, it seems like Willow is going to fall for Xander’s obvious manipulations, but when he tries to grab her, she tells him she has her answer, she knows he’s possessed.
Giles and Bill Oddie’s brother bond over creepy hyena rituals. The zookeeper somehow knows how to do a trans-possession ritual. Which is kind of weird, but maybe he had that on his resume when he applied for the job as Sunnydale zookeeper and HR was like, “Actually… that could be extremely helpful.” Little Oddie tells Buffy that he needs all the possessed students to fix the problem. While Buffy knows where Xander is, she has no clue about the rest of them. The zookeeper assures her that after feeding and sleeping, the rest of the pack will look for their lost member. Which means they’re headed straight for Willow, who is trying to set a world record for “most hyena footage watched in a single night.”
The other pack members use their creepy hyena name mimicry to scare Willow, then they break in. And really, the mimic thing isn’t that impressive when you remember that they’re not actual hyenas, but people who could always talk and knew her name already. But whatever. They crawl through the library windows and break Xander out while Willow makes a run for it. 
It’s like that scene in Titanic, except instead of sex, everyone gets cannibalized.

Xander and the pack pursue her through the school, and she’s cornered when Buffy and Giles show up to save her. Which leads to INAPPROPRIATE STUDENT TEACHER CLOSENESS TIMES!
This hadn’t happened yet in this episode, so you knew it was coming.
Buffy decides to lead the hyenas back to the zoo. She says they’ll be looking for someone weak to feed on. So she should probably definitely leave Willow and the easily concussed Watcher behind.
Then there’s a throwaway scene of a couple and their young son getting in the car to go somewhere during a marital spat, and the hyenas attack them. And then things get… weird.
Buffy gets Xander’s attention and tells him, “You know what you want,” and runs off, getting him to chase her. So… is she daring him to rape her here? After he just tried to? I guess it’s an effective way to get the hyenas to leave the family in the car alone, but it’s pretty disturbing that her plan hinges totally on being bait for possible sexual assault. (6)
Giles and Willow arrive at the zoo, where Giles goes into the hyena enclosure to help start the ritual with the zookeeper. Seriously, Giles? This raises no red flags at all that a guy who takes care of animals on the hellmouth also has an interest in the occult? To the point of knowing an obscure Maasai ritual that wasn’t even in your books? Really?
Here’s another issue we need to add to the list, folks. Some stuff on this show is racist as fuck. For example, the fact that many times “primal” or “primitive” magic is depicted as being African or from a “tribal,” non-white culture. It might seem like using non-European cultures to illustrate power and vast knowledge of the unknown would be a positive thing, right? They’re not saying anything negative. They’re saying these otherwise “savage” people are truly strong and fearful. But the problem with this is, it relies on a colonial misunderstanding of “exotic/tribal/savage” cultures as being somehow more simple or mysterious than the “normal” white, western way of life. It’s just relying on lazy cultural stereotypes to depict mystery and fantasy for a western audience. Because this will crop up again, and this show pulls a metric fuckton of racefail over and over, I’m giving this the #12 slot: Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
To prove my point, the zookeeper shows up looking like this:
And Giles says it’s Maasai ceremonial painting or something. But even just a cursory glance at photos of Maasai ceremonies shows that they don’t wear blue paint. So anything weird or scary to a westerner’s perception can be passed off as this “exotic” culture most westerners know nothing about, and that’s apparently fine.
Giles slowly puts two and two together – about the ritual, not the racism- that this guy meant to become a Primal himself before the kids were possessed. The fact that he’s a zookeeper who knows a little too much about possession didn’t clue you in at all? Okay. We’ll go with it. And then Giles gets knocked out again, because being a librarian and playing for the NFL are pretty much the same thing:
I believe this is the fourth episode in a row where Giles has been knocked unconscious from a blow to the head.

Buffy and the pack arrive at the zoo, and Willow runs into the hyena enclosure to tell Giles and Blackface Bill Oddie. The zookeeper binds Willow’s wrists, and she just lets him because, as I said before, this whole episode reads like a mildly OOC fanfic. He’s got a knife to her throat before she realizes anything is up, but I’m too busy being distracted by the fact that this dude face painted all the way to the back of his head because his hair is so thin. That’s almost more creepy than the fact he painted teeth over his mustache. And where the hell did he get a Snuggie in 1996?
Buffy bursts in and Willow warns her that’s a trap, but it’s too late, the pack has already got her. They’re about to eat her when the zookeeper shouts something that I would bei money is made up words and not some real Maasai dialect, and the flashy thing happens with their eyes again. Possessed by the spirit of the hyena, the zookeeper throws his knife aside and is about to bite Willow, but the kids, no longer possessed, let Buffy up. Xander rushes the zookeeper in Willow’s defense, but he gets knocked down. Buffy and the zookeeper fight, and she throws him to the hyenas, who eat him.
BUT THAT MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE, GUYS! We’ve heard through the whole episode that hyenas are pack hunters, they’ll search for missing pack members, etc. The zookeeper is possessed by the spirit of the hyena, so isn’t he a member of the pack? When the kids became possessed, the hyena backed away from them, like they had an understanding. And while it’s true that the zookeeper didn’t complete his ritual (he had to perform a “predatory act”, like eating Willow), the other students became possessed without committing any kind of sacrifice. I suppose you could make the argument that the hyena “chose” the kids and Bill Oddie’s brother “stole” their possession, but then why the emphasis on the ritual, if it just happened to be a magic hyena and not something that could be done with any old animal? We heard that these hyenas are very rare, but it’s not unusual for rare animals to be kept in zoos. It’s not like they said, “Hey, these are magic hyenas.” They just said that they were more vicious and rare.
The fact that none of this stuff makes sense means that the zookeeper’s tumble into the hyena pit was just a convenient way to dispose of him without Buffy having to murder a person.
Back at Sunnydale, everything is normal again. Xander is grossed out by the fact he ate a pig that wasn’t cooked, and worries he’s going to get trichinosis. He’s grateful he didn’t eat principal Flutie. He asks Willow and Buffy if he did anything else embarrassing while possessed, because he can’t remember anything. Buffy and Willow share a knowing glance and tell him that no, he didn’t do anything else.
As in, “No, you didn’t try to rape me.”
So, #6. The victim of the attempted assault is depicted as being understanding and a good friend due to her willingness to deny the assault happened. Because it might prove embarrassing to the perpetrator. 
That’s not cool. That is just not cool. 
But it’s nowhere near as uncool as what happens next. After the girls leave, Giles approaches Xander and calls bullshit on the memory loss thing. Xander asks if he’s going to tell Buffy and Willow, and Giles tells him, “Your secret dies with me.” Then he claps him on the shoulder in goodnatured sympathy because, heck, who hasn’t tried to rape somebody while under the influence of something mind altering, amiright? Mortified, Xander walks off, leaving Giles to sit and, I guess, fondly reflect on the secret rape pact he just made?
He will sleep well tonight, knowing another fragile male ego is untroubled by conscience.
The fact that this screencap is now my desktop background in no way minimizes my point.

So, that’s it for this week. Join us next week for one of my very favorite episodes, Angel, or “That time Jenny wore her 9 key the fuck out.”