Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "The Pack"

Previously on Buffy: Xander, who was preyed upon by the She Mantis in “Teacher’s Pet”, preys upon others in “The Pack”

“The Pack” has long been one of my favourite episodes of BtVS. I think I like it so much because so much of what I like in Buffy—the metaphors, the pain, the darkness, the character changes, the emotional intensity—makes an appearance in this episode.

Metaphors of the Week (pun intended): High School is Hell where high school cliques are packs of animals (in this case hyenas) prey on the weak. Boys are testosterone driven morons Giles to Buffy: “Xander has taken to teasing the less fortunate? It’s devastating. He’s (Xander) turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Of course, you’ll have to kill him”. Awesome speech.

Playing with Genre: Buffy does the possession motif of classic Hollywood horror.

The Darkness and the Pain: In “The Pack” we are introduced to Dark Xander, the Xander who is the leader of the pack and the Xander who can, while under the spell of a hyena spirit, be mean, really mean, too fan favourite (and Ron favourite) Willow. Dark Xander to Willow: “…so I won’t have to look at your pasty face anymore”. Similar scenes will show up later in Buffy. An equivalent scene will show up, for instance, in “Nightmares”, namely, the brutal and painful scene between Buffy and her father. More about this later.

Themes and mise-en-scene: the “brutal” dodge ball game in the middle of the episode reflects the strong preying on the weak theme of the episode. Xander brutally sending Willow out of the dodge ball game is a foreshadowing of the “pasty face” scene that follows.

Buffy as protector of the weak: note how Buffy’s first inclination is to go and protect Lance from the, as yet, unpossessed pack. Note how Buffy helps up Lance after he is viciously pummeled during the dodge ball game. Note how Buffy protects Willow and confronts Xander after the “pasty face” scene. Note how Buffy protects Willow (“put Willow in peril”) from the pack as they hunt for her at Sunnydale High School.

The Horror: The scene where a young mother with child in carrier happens upon the pack, the scene where the pack chases Willow, and the scene where the pack attack a parked SUV with a family in it are genuinely scary.

Humour: There is lots of black humour in this episode. Rhonda: “How is Herbert?” Heidi: “Crunchy”.

Character: Willow is still obsessed with Xander. Willow once again shows she is not so naïve. She doesn’t fall for Dark Xander’s speechifying while he is locked in the cage in the library. Buffy has her “buttons pushed” by Angel. Xander still has a thing for Buffy as his very sexualized attack on Buffy in the room where Herbert the pig is eaten by the pack makes clear. Dark Xander compares himself to dangerous Angel.

Foreshadowing: Giles gets knocked out for the first time. Dark Xander tries to rape Buffy. Buffy will, as we will see, face another attempted rape in season six. We will see Dark Xander again in season three though this time Dark Xander is a vamp.

Killing Demons: Buffy kills the zookeeper, Dr. Weirick (played by James Stephens of Paper Chase TV show fame; he played the lead character Harvard Law School student James T. Hart) after he is possessed by hyenas.

Religion: Africa’s Masai, “the Primals”, and animal possession. Some academic “readers” have read this as an instance of Buffy’s white neo-colonialism. I suspect that what makes “The Pack” with its hyena possession “racist” for some academics is that hyenas are associated with Africa and African rituals are associated with possession and dispossession in the episode. But let’s question this equation of Buffy with racism. Note that all the kids who became possessed by hyenas in Buffy “The Pack” are all White. I guess one could argue that the White kids in Buffy were being possessed by African animals. Then you can go on to argue that the hyenas invariably get caught up semiologically into all those nasty Western ideas about and images of “Darkest Africa”. Note, however, that generally no effort is made by the crystal ball textualists who write these articles to go beyond the text and the supposed contexts these critics tie the Buffy text to. Generally crystal ball textualists make no attempt to interview those who create TV shows to see what their intent was.

Acting: I love the expression on Alyson Hannigan’s face after she is viciously hit by the Xander thrown ball in the dodge ball game. What a great actor. Nicholas Brendon (Xander) does a great job expressing his transformation from “good” Xander to “dark” Xander through expressions, scratching, smelling, and a hyena like laugh.

Cinematography: Great use of a hand held camera to follow Herbert the pig though the Sunnydale High School hall. This documentary like style will show up prominently later in the fifth season episode, “The Body”. Needless to say the use of documentary stylings in TV has become an obsession. Love the intercutting of the killing of Principal Flutie (Ken Lerner) and the Xander/Buffy fight.

Music: Note the use of African rhythms and African like drums. I love the song “Job’s Eyes” by Far, the song used as the pack, led by Xander, is on the prowl during lunch outside on the Sunnydale High School campus. I love the way Buffy uses popular music to reflect the narrative. Is “Job’s Eyes”, a song derived, in part, from a book of the Tanakh which reflects on the nature of evil in the universe, meant to comment on the nature of evil in the Buffyverse, an evil that can possess humans and cause them to eat pigs and principals and to attack the weak? Buffy also uses popular music to reflect what is going on in the minds of its characters. More about this later.

Popular Culture: Is Willow’s “three’s not company anymore” a reference to the TV show Three’s Company? Buffy accuses Giles of scullying her (“I can’t believe you of all people are trying to scully me”), a reference to the character of Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in the Fox TV series X-Files. Whedon once described Buffy as “X-Files meets My So-Called Life. Love this use of the term “scully”. What Buffy means by the use of this term is that Giles is trying to explain behaviours (in this case Xander’s weird behaviours) in scientific and empirical rather than possession by hyena terms.

Trivial pursuit: first use of the cage in the library as a place to imprison someone. Sunnydale High’s colours are those of USC.

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