The Pack
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green
Written by: Matt Kiene/Joe Reinkemeyer
Air Date: April 7, 1997

So its been a few days since my last viewing/review/post. And I’d apologize, but… This is “The Pack” we’re talking about here. There are four episodes that I absolutely hate because of their low production values, lame narratives, and stupid plots; “Teacher’s Pet”, “Go Fish”, “Killed by Death”, and “The Pack” – these episodes represent the worst of what “Buffy” has to offer. The absolute worst part? Half of those episodes are contained in season 1’s 13-episode count. They are the bottom of the barrel. But, thankfully, this is the end of the awful episodes featured in season 1 (note: “I Robot, You Jane” is awful from many standpoints, but I like the plot and much of the execution. The awful robo-demon? Well, we’ll get there, won’t we?).

This episode attempts to investigate the high school issue of social structures – the “clique” so to speak – and how bullying and “pack mentality” effects students. This is brought into the realm of the supernatural by way of magical demon hyenas that possess people through a trick of the eyes. From here, Xander and a group of stupid jerk ass bully fools form the titular “Pack” – a group of, well, even bigger jerks. From the outset, these characters Xander now finds himself hanging with were annoying and antagonistic. The only difference, now, is that they go about hunting, killing, and eating people… and little pigs. From the standpoint that this is a stand-alone episode (and I want to stress that by “stand alone” I mean it entirely: the events that unfold here aren’t related in any way, shape, or form to the events that precede the episode, and they are only sparsely referenced again after the fact. If you removed this episode from the show’s continuity it would have no impact on the overall narrative) this device would work fine and well enough. But, here, as is? Just horrid.

Its all about this one shot of the “pack” walking through the school’s common area, outdoors, to lame music and in slow motion. This whole sequence actually encapsulates the entire reason this episode – and, in some ways, the whole first season – sucks. It goes on for too long and is just uncomfortable to watch. Once you get through it? You get back to the good stuff, but here? Its the worst. But its stuff like this that brings the show’s start down: awful music, lame effects work, and amnesiac episode sequence. I mean, Xander notes that Buffy must like mysterious and dangerous people, like Angel. Well, while all good and great, did he forget that she went on a date with that Owen guy who, while kinda mysterious, was in no way dangerous? Just one episode ago?

This wouldn’t be so bad if the episodes bad guy(s) weren’t corny, lame, or not realized properly. Check the hyena in the cage at the start of the episode, for example. You only see one, you only see its head, and you barely see it move at all. Its also clearly animatronic. Again, I recognize and – in some ways, even respect – the fact that Joss Whedon paid for a lot of this show out of his pocket, but if you’re looking to fund an episode that requires a robot hyena, and you look at your bank account and see you only have enough scratch for a robot head, you might want to rethink shooting the episode at all, period. On top of this, you have a character that is stupid and – above all else – not threatening, even when he has his Darth Maul makeup on.

So, on top of the stupid plot, the stupid bad guys, and the lame effects, what else is there to not like about this episode? Well, it breaks up the season by thrusting itself into the middle of one plot-advancing episode (“Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”) and the following episode, also a plot-advancer (“Angel”). It also introduces annoying characters that we don’t care about at all and never hear from again (Kyle and his gang of jerk ass jerks). It still contains corny lines that should be retroactively edited out (Buffy, on Angel: “He’s very much a honey”), and some rather glaring inconsistencies, such as Giles being a push over in any kind of fight (I get that Buffy could take him, but later on in the show he’s a pro with a sword and, if he’s supposed to be training her in fighting, why does he suck so much?). It also continues to drive this “Xander loves Buffy” business which is uninteresting and lame. It also showcases Buffy’s seemingly bottomless pit of ingenious detective skills, what with her giant leap from Xander being a douche to being possessed by a hyena without any real evidence to support such a theory. Also, that dodgeball game? I’d forgotten about it, and I sure am happy about that, still.

There are a few things to like in this episode, though. Namely any time Giles gets to be sarcastic or Willow gets to be cute. But these things are, well, not enough to save the episode. The untimely demise of Principal Flutie, too, is amusing, if not shockingly dark for the show (the kids effing ate him) and Giles keeping Xander’s apparent memory loss regarding the whole ordeal a secret is a nice start to their friendship. But these things are so minor, the episode’s overbearing awfulness really keeps it from being anything but a complete waste of an hour.

There have been a few watch-throughs of BtVS in my time, and most of the time I skip this episode because of how awful it is. But this time I elected to give it a go. Next time? It can just go. Into a trash can. Where it should just rest forever. Until I turn around and light the trash can on fire. And pee in it to put the fire out. Then start it on fire again. Ugh.

Episode Rating: 54

Death Count: 19
Annoying Scream Count: 7

Additional Notes:
-Nicholas Brendan plays both sides of Xander really well in this episode. Of course, it wasn’t much a stretch for the character, who has kinda been a dick a lot.
-The sexual nature of Xander and Buffy’s confrontation is awesome and well played out.
-Best line? Buffy: “I hit him”
Willow: “With what?!”
Buffy: “…a desk.”
-Giles insistence that Xander is just a teenage boy and that Buffy must, of course, kill him is hilarious. But Giles having to admit being wrong is more hilarious.
-Buffy just keeps wearing them high-boots. But then? She wears this stupid looking hat at the end of the episode,
with the boots, ruining… well, nothing. Still hot in those boots.
-Buffy just clocks that one chick in the back of the head with that fire extinguisher. Even without Slayer strength, that kinda hit could kill a person!
-On TV I’m sure that boy going “Willow…” outside the library window before and after the commercial break was fine. But on DVD/Netflix? Its so rapid its annoying.
-While the dodgeball sequence is pathetic and awful, the gym teacher getting a boner from the brutality of the game is hilarious and not necessary.
-The family in the van squabbling is a nice touch of added realism. To a show about vampires.