September 25, 2021

Buffy 1.6, The Pack: Who Knew Xander Was the Alpha Anything?

Posted in TV tagged at 1:08 pm by Jenn

This is basically the official photo for this episode and I bet Eion Bailey hates it

Summary: Buffy, her classmates, and her ugly orange coat are on a field trip at the zoo. The popular kids (Kyle, Rhonda, Tor, and Heidi) mock her, but she pretends not to care. Xander and Willow find her, excited because they just saw zebras mating. They think she should be happier about being on a field trip. After all, they get to miss class and look at animals.

The popular kids move on to a nerd named Lance, who’s sketching some monkeys. The theme of their teasing is that he’s also a monkey. Clever. Mr. Flutie catches them and asks Lance to rat out the kids if they were bothering him. Lance, no idiot, says they were just playing around. Mr. Flutie warns that he’s keeping an eye on the group.

The kids are happy that Lance didn’t betray them, so as a reward they take Lance to the hyena house, which is supposed to be closed. The Scoobies see them and complain about how annoying Kyle and his friends are. Buffy wants to go after the group and make sure Lance is okay, but Xander says he’ll go alone. Willow tells Buffy that the kids are jerks, but they won’t actually hurt Lance. Probably.

The girls decide to tag along, too, but a zoologist named Dr. Weirick stops them. He tells them hyenas will prey on the weak. Plus, the animals are in quarantine, having just arrived from Africa. The girls need to stay out of their enclosure even if the hyenas call their name. According to a Masai tribesman Weirick once spoke to, hyenas can understand human speech. They’ll learn humans’ names, then call out to them at night to separate them from the people they’re with. Then the pack devours them.

The other kids go to the exhibit, and once they’ve seen one hyena, Lance suggests they leave. Instead, the other kids playfully threaten to throw him in with the animals. Xander steps in and tells them to pick on someone their own species. The hyena growls and its eyes flash yellow-green. All the kids’ eyes do the same. They’re also standing inside some big symbol painted on the floor. When Lance trips behind them, they all laugh at him, except Xander, who just smiles evilly.

At the Bronze that night, Willow wonders if Xander’s okay, since he was quiet on the bus back from the zoo. Buffy teases her for being so hyper-aware of everything Xander-related. Willow says he makes her head tingle. Buffy laments that she hasn’t had a crush like that in a while. Willow thinks she likes Angel; after all, she’s still wearing his jacket. Buffy has to admit that he’s attractive. The problem is that he’s never around, and when he is, he just wants to talk about vampires. That doesn’t sound like the basis for a good relationship.

Xander arrives, making eyes at a girl before joining Buffy and Willow. He helps himself to some of Buffy’s food and drink, then says he needs something more substantial. The girls are confused about his behavior. He says he’s just restless. He also sniffs Buffy’s hair, which is when I would have called it a night if I were her. Kyle and his friends come in, and they have a stare-off with Xander before walking away. They make an overweight kid leave the table she wants to sit at, and Xander laughs along with him.

Buffy trains with Giles in the library the next day, which seems like a strange arrangement because she’s obviously much stronger than he is and could probably knock him over with one kick. There’s a little chaos in the hallway, as the school’s new mascot, Herbert the pig, has gotten loose. (The mascot is supposed to be a Razorback, but this is just a regular pig with some foam spikes and tusks. No one’s impressed.) Mr. Flutie comes to collect him.

Willow helps Xander study for math, but he’s frustrated because he doesn’t see the point in learning it. Same, buddy. Same. He throws out his book and snaps at Willow, then leaves. Buffy and Mr. Flutie take Herbert back to his cage as Mr. Flutie complains that kids nowadays have no school spirit. Of course, back in his day, teachers also told the kids that things were better back in their day. As Xander walks by, Herbert starts squealing and trying to get away.

It’s raining during gym class, which means everyone has to play dodgeball. Here are the rules: dodge. Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Kyle and his group are all in the same class, with Buffy and Willow on one team and the popular kids and Xander on the other. Xander hits Willow harder than necessary with a ball, and she doesn’t appreciate it. Eventually, Buffy’s the only one left on her team, but instead of easily taking her out, the popular kids turn on Lance, their own teammate. Buffy stares Xander down for participating in their meanness. The coach just marvels at the brutality of the game.

After class, Willow goes to confront Xander for his recent behavior. He tells her his feelings for her have been changing. Buffy arrives as Xander tells Willow that he won’t need her help with math anymore, which is great because he won’t have to every look at her pasty face again. The popular kids laugh like this is the funniest thing anyone has ever said. Willow runs off, humiliated. Buffy asks if Xander has anything to say to her, but he just goes off with his new friends.

At lunch, Xander sniffs out some hot dogs, and he and his new friends (hereafter known as the pack, because obviously that’s what the episode title is referencing) help themselves to some other kids’ lunches. This is despite one of the kids being friendly to Xander and asking his opinion about a band. The pack isn’t satisfied with the hot dogs, so they move on to a meal with a little more substance: Herbert.

Post-lunch, the pack does a slow-motion walk across campus, which kills a couple minutes. They come across Buffy and Willow, and even though the girls are up on a balcony while Xander’s on the ground, he’s able to hear their conversation. Willow thinks Xander’s singling her out because he wants to hang out with just Buffy. Buffy thinks his behavior is due to something else – something weird.

She goes to Giles, who diagnoses Xander with the devastating condition of being a normal 16-year-old boy. His testosterone is making him act like an idiot, but he’ll get over it. “I can’t believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me,” Buffy complains. She’s sure something supernatural is going on. Giles doesn’t know how to look into that, since Xander being a jerk and scaring a pig don’t exactly point to a specific supernatural thing. But when Giles notes that teenagers often prey on the weak, a lightbulb goes on in Buffy’s head: Xander’s acting like a hyena.

Willow comes in to announce that Herbert has been found dead/eaten. Buffy thinks this is another check in the “something strange is going on” column. Giles has to agree. Meanwhile, Mr. Flutie approaches the pack (minus Xander) and accuses them of harming Herbert. He sentences them to a ton of detention. Back in the library, Buffy and Willow research hyenas, “the schmoes of the animal kingdom.” Willow wishes Xander had been possessed by a kinder, cuter animal.

Giles reports that the Masai of the Serengeti have spoken of animal possession for centuries. There’s a sect of animal worshipers called primals who believe that humanity and the soul are a dilution of spirit. The animal state is holy, and they’re able to draw the spirit of animals into themselves – but just predatory animals. If a person who’s been possessed doesn’t get control of that spirit, there are fatal consequences.

Buffy checks out Herbert’s cage, seeing how strong the pack is. As she’s snooping around, Xander sneaks up behind her and won’t let her leave the room. She takes him down, but that just excites him, since now he’s on the floor and she’s on top of him. Mr. Flutie is still with the rest of the pack, who surround him like…well, like a pack of animals. Xander flips Buffy over so she’s on the ground instead. He thinks she likes her men dangerous and mean, so she’s enjoying this. “Well, guess who just got mean,” he says.

The pack continues closing in on Mr. Flutie, then starts growling at him. Buffy throws Xander off as he talks about how Willow needs to stop kidding herself – he’ll never want anyone but Buffy. She tells him she doesn’t want to hurt him, but when he throws her up against a vending machine, he expects her to fight back. He likes it when she’s scared. He starts to kiss her, and it’s really disturbing. Also disturbing: The pack mauls Mr. Flutie. It’s just like the pack of hyenas Willow is watching in a documentary in the library.

Buffy drags an unconscious Xander into the library (she hit him with a desk), and she and Willow lock him up in a book cage that’s going to get a lot of use over the next two-and-a-half seasons. Giles tells them that the pack was sent to Mr. Flutie’s office for what they did to Herbert, and Mr. Flutie became their next meal. The cover story is that a pack of wild dogs got into his office. Willow confirms that Xander wasn’t a part of that.

Now the Scoobies need to figure out how to end the pack’s possession. Giles knows there’s some sort of ritual, but he doesn’t know the details. He uses an old book of witchy stuff, the Malleus Maleficarum, to piece together something that might work. Buffy says they need to get the hyena’s spirit out of the pack and back into the hyena. They decide to talk to Weirick, who might have had a reason to quarantine the hyenas other than just standard protocol. Willow offers to stay back and keep an eye on Xander.

That night, a woman with a baby finds the pack napping together in a park. They all wake up and snarl at her. Fortunately, they don’t attack her. Xander also wakes up, unhappy to be locked up. He tells Willow that Buffy is the problem – their lives were a lot better before she came to town. He knows something’s wrong with him, but he can’t just wait for Buffy to act. He needs Willow to help him. She promises that Buffy’s trying to help, even if he doesn’t appreciate it.

Xander wonders why Buffy left him and Willow alone together. Willow says she wanted to be the one to stay behind – she knows Xander well, and she wanted to see if he’s still him. He says he is, but when she gets too close to him, he tries to attack her. Willow says now she knows he’s still under the influence of his possession and is still dangerous.

At the zoo, Weirick tells Buffy and Giles that the hyenas are a rare breed that used to be worshiped by the primals. He doesn’t know how one could have possessed the pack. Giles knows the possession ritual involves a predatory act and a symbol. Weirick thinks they can undo the possession; they just need to bring the pack to the hyena enclosure. After a meal and some rest, packs that have been separated go looking for their missing members. That means the rest of the pack will soon be on its way to retrieve Xander. And that means Willow’s in danger.

Indeed, the pack is at the library, calling Willow’s name before bursting through the windows from outside. Willow makes a run for it, and the pack tears into Xander’s cage to free him. They go after Willow, who hides in a classroom. They find her and Xander tries to attack her, but Buffy and Giles get to her in time to save her. The three Scoobies hide in another room until the pack heads off to find a weaker meal. Buffy plans to lead the pack to the zoo for the ritual.

The pack finds their weaker meal in the Andersons, a family getting in their car after having dinner at a friend’s house. Buffy saves them as well and gets the pack to follow her to the zoo. Giles leaves Willow outside the hyena house and goes inside to meet up with Weirick. But Weirick isn’t planning on helping the Scoobies. Giles figures out that he was planning to perform the first possession for himself, and a bunch of teenagers got there first and did it accidentally. No hyena powers for Dr. Weirick!

As he knocks out Giles, Buffy and the pack approach the enclosure. Willow goes in to let Giles and Weirick know they’re almost there. Weirick tells her that Giles is lying in wait, then ties her up and puts a knife to her throat. He tells her this is for the part of the ritual that requires a predatory act. She thinks he’s just going to pretend to kill her. But this is Willow, and she’s really smart, so when Buffy arrives, Willow warns her that Weirick has laid a trap.

When the pack comes in, Weirick says some magic words and undoes their possession. He takes the hyena’s spirit into himself, then starts to attack Willow. Xander tackles him and Buffy finishes him off, throwing him into the hyenas’ den. The pack has already run off, those cowards. Giles stumbles in moments later and asks if he missed anything.

At school the next day, Xander wants reassurance that he had nothing to do with Mr. Flutie’s death. He doesn’t seem to remember anything he did while he was possessed. He’s disturbed enough knowing that he ate a pig. Willow’s grateful because he saved her life, and Buffy’s pleased that the regular Xander is back. She doesn’t tell him about how he almost raped her. As the girls head to class, Giles approaches Xander and says he couldn’t find anything in his research about people not being able to remember what they did while possessed by animals. He promises never to tell anyone Xander’s secret.

Thoughts: Kyle is played by Eion Bailey. Mr. Anderson is played by David Brisbin, AKA Babcock on ER.

God help me but when Buffy stares Xander down after dodgeball, he looks hot.

We never see Xander hanging out with people other than the Scoobies, and I was always under the impression that the Scoobies are seen as losers and outcasts at school. But this episode shows that Xander, at least, isn’t completely invisible or unpopular. The guy who asks him about a band seems nice; he really wants Xander’s opinion and isn’t trying to make fun of him. So it’s good to know that the Scoobies aren’t complete rejects.

Talk of alphas always makes me think of this.

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