Buffyversed #6: “The Pack” is Outrageously Stupid Fun

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Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp. For previous episodes click here.

There are three really stupid episodes in season 1, and, unfortunately, this is one of them. Let us return for a moment to the writer’s room, where someone put their hand up and said: “Hey, what if some kids got possessed by hyenas!?” And instead of cannibalistically devouring this person in a frenzy of blood, everyone nodded eagerly in approval. Hence “The Pack”.

On that note, I think we can all agree that Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes from zero to cannibalism with remarkable speed, and a frankly shocking sense of confidence. I mean, this is where you choose to kill off your first recurring character? Good Anointed One of the Hellmouth, this episode is truly a waste in almost every significant way imaginable.

I mean, let’s try and imagine the level of budgetary method acting that went into “The Pack”, just for starters. Picture the casting director handing five teenagers (okay, probably twenty-somethings) a VHS tape, each, of hyenas, and encouraging them to unleash their inner animal.

“Are we going to be running on all fours?” they ask with an almost touching naivete. “No!” the writer breaks in with what we can only hope is mock indignation, “That would be absurd!” After a brief huff, he elaborates: “They will just sniff and paw at each other while we edit in some random hyena noises!” Phew, I thought this was going to be dumb.

But I suppose we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, this is usually where I break down what the episode is about and how it starts right? We can all agree that at best we need a loose plot description this week right? Right!?

*sigh*

There’s no caption here, just the sound of an already meager budget being wasted on terrible effects.

Okay, let’s get this over with. Buffy and co. are on a field trip at the zoo with the rest of the class, including a notable set of bullies. Said bullies, and Xander, wander into a closed off hyena cage where they are subsequently “possessed” by a pack of hyenas (read: one very poorly-made, anamatronic, hyena puppet, strategically hidden in the shadows).

God damn it. I hate this episode so much. I always tend to picture people trying to give Buffy a shot after hearing all of the critical acclaim, and then hitting this episode. What are these poor folks to think at this point, having already endured “Teacher’s Pet”? Oh you woeful souls, at least I was 11 when I first sat through this awful nonsense.

Anyway, things move along, with Xander falling in with the titular pack, and becoming a shameless asshole. He teases and bullies weaker kids with the rest of them and even looks down on Willow for her mousy demeanor. This is the first time we’ll see a main character be a real shit on this show, outside of Cordelia, and it doesn’t do the episode any favors. It’s all well and good if the payoff is worth it but let’s be honest, this is easily top 5 worst episodes in the entire series, if not top 3. It just doesn’t work

Now, there’s a whole admirable motive behind this episode, one that falls in line with one of the most key elements of the series, which is taking issues that teenagers and college kids will likely face and re-framing them as a supernatural threat. The most obvious of these is the fact that in Sunnydale, high school is literally hell.

Okay guys, yes, bullying is an inherent trait in human behavior, and it does hail from some of our more base animal instincts, those that encourage us to ally with the strong, and prey on the weak, for the benefit of our own survival. Good try, but this feels less “subversive commentary”, and more “clunky metaphor”. It just doesn’t work, and it’s actually painful on occasion.

But man, I’ve already totally digressed again because this episode is so shitty that it’s derailing my entire writing process.

Alright, I’ll try again. So Xander and his garbage friends that we’ll never see again eat a pig. Yes, they actually eat it. This causes them to get called to Principal Flutie’s office… where they… eat him. What the flying fuck is happening? Why do I still have eyes? Can I be possessed by an animal spirit please? I’m certain my stupid dog, who I have named Jade, but probably doesn’t even know that’s her name, would not be dealing with this sort of existential terror due to this pile of nonsense.

Memorize the faces of these supporting actors, because they will never be seen again, despite having murdered and eaten a recurring character.

Really, though, let’s just wrap this all up so I can stop hoping for an aneurysm to end this article without it trailing off into baby-typed gibberish. Say, I actually have a couple of babies lying around, and they don’t usually earn their keep… What’s that Cristina? They’ve been entrusted to us as wards of the state? Drat.

So it turns out it was the zookeeper all along. He shows up in some ridiculous face paint before being thrown to the proverbial wolves… only jungle wolves, for our purposes. Or maybe, Africa wolves? Oof, that’s more accurate, but also more offensive. Let’s just call them cheap, giggling wolves and leave it at that.

At least he got to be a part of them in the end right hahahahahahaahha? Too bad he’ll only come out to shit in the end hahahahahahaha? Why am I still typing? Is there life after death? Where did I come from? Does consciousness exist outside of the physical state? Why am I alive? God damn this shitty episode.

(I’d be remiss to not point out the only two genuinely good moments in this episode though, in all seriousness. The first is when the pack ends the dodge ball game not by picking off their only remaining opposition [Buffy, obviously] but by taking out the weakest of their own remaining team. The second is when Willow stands her ground when placed in a guard role for the boy she likes. No horse shit Twilight sentimentality here. Willow understands the situation, and acts with the intelligent caution befitting her character.)

Lastly, the kids snap out of it, and at least Xander didn’t DEVOUR A HUMAN BEING WITH HIS FRIENDS!?!?! Oh well we’ll never see any of those characters again, so I guess we’re just left to wonder about their years of PTSD and assorted mental anguish, since the ending of the episode confirms that they will remember their actions.

Holy crap, can I move on to the bonus sections please?

When you’re the guy who has to review what might be the worst episode in a beloved series.

Cristina Says:

“Cristina Says,” is based on observations my fiance makes. This is my 4th time through the series, but she’s a first-time watcher with modern TV sensibilities, so I thought it would be interesting to note what a first-timer would observe.

“I’m actually scared! What if they’re… wait, don’t write that down!” (Hahah, sucker, I write all down! Luckily it’s impossible to say anything stupid about this episode. It’s all stupid!)

“I never did like dodge ball. Did you? (Actually I did. Good thing there’s no hyenas out for my soul, or whatever is happening in this episode.)

“Aww, I knew they were gonna get that pig.” (Alas poor Herbert, you were too pure and tasty for this world. Will Cristina join me in the oft-maligned, and regularly shit-upon sub-culture of vegetarians? Tune in in next time for almost certainly no updates on this cliffhanger!)

“What? They turn into a hyena? They get killed?” (Cristina wonders what the endgame of Giles’ warning could possibly be. It’s okay my sweet angel, your mind was not meant to predict such fathomless nonsense.)

“They ate him?! Now they’re gonna have to get a new principal. (You’re not wrong, they really did kill off one of their only recurring characters in maybe the worst monster of the week episode ever.)

Holy fuuuuuuuuuuck! (Cristina comes to terms with the actual implications of this throwaway cannibalism subplot.)

Ohhhhhhh, he’s the dude that… (Cristina falters and trails off when trying to put the zookeeper’s obviously ridiculous motivations into words.)

Oh semi-developed, comic relief: we hardly knew ye. Enjoy your horrifically disturbing, off-camera, death!

Notable Whedonisms:

Whedonisms are a sort of term for Whedon’s style of dialogue, and something I’ll be using as a catch-all for particularly fun or witty lines.

“We were watching the zebras mate! It was like watching stripes do the Heimlich maneuver! (I think this one is self-explanatory.)

“You took a bath.”
“I did. I often do. I’m known for it actually.” (Buffy tries to come to terms with Xander’s strange observations.)

“I can’t believe you, of all people, are trying to Scully me!” (Buffy reacts incredulously to weird-master Giles’ skepticism in a glorious X-Files reference.)

“Why couldn’t Xander be possessed by a puppy, or some ducks?” (Willow wishes the new Xander had been taken over by a more likable animal.)

Holy shit! To any Scoobies who managed to persevere through this one with me, at least we have next week’s “Angel” to look forward to! We shall be redeemed!!!

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about games. Through some miracle he’s still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there’s hope for him, there’s hope for everyone. He’s the Features editor for Goomba Stomp, and can be found weekly on the Random Encounters podcast.