infinitejest: (buffy: the wind speaks)
[personal profile] infinitejest
Episode Title: "The Pack"
Writers: Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer
Episode Number: 1.6

Spoilers. And, as usual, I got my script transcripts from TWIZ TV.

Demon Lore

Primals and transpossession:

Once again, we're back to non-vampiric demonology, furthering the show's agenda of branching out into other supernatural creatures and situations. In this episode, we learn a bit about possession by animal spirits.

Giles: "The Masai of the Serengeti have spoken of animal possession for, for generations. I... I
should have remembered that."

Buffy: "So how does it work?"

Giles: "Well, apparently there's a, a sect of animal worshipers known as Primals. They believe that humanity, uh, consciousness, uh, the soul, is a, is a perversion, a dilution of spirit. Uh, to them the animal state is holy. They are able, through trans-possession, to, to, um, draw the spirit of certain animals into themselves."

Buffy: "And then they started acting like hyenas."

Giles: "Well, only the most predatory of animals are, are of interest to the Primals, so, uh, yes, yes, that would fit, yes."

So, we learn that Primals worship the animal state and use transpossession to draw the spirits of powerful predators into themselves. Check. Does Giles have any idea how this is done? No.

Giles: "I-I'm afraid I still don't have all the pieces. Um, the accounts of the Primals and their methods are a bit thin on the ground. There is some talk of a-a-a predatory act, but the exact ritual is, is, um... The Malleus Maleficarum deals in particulars of demonic possession, which... may apply... Yes, one, one should be able to transfer the spirits to another human."

Buffy: "Oh, that's great. Any volunteers?"

Giles: "Oh. Good point."

They run off to the zookeeper to get more information, and he seems both better informed and suspiciously less informed than he should be. His behavior is dubious, but he says that the breed of hyena imported by the zoo was a rare and very vicious breed. He's very excited to learn about the act of predation and suddenly knows the term transpossession and seems confident they can do one. What's really going on, of course, is that he's sure he can transfer the power into himself... not back into the hyenas.

Ritual-specific notes:

Unbeknownst to the viewers, the first ritual we see is very, very simple. There is a mystical sign painted on the floor (a sort of stylized hyena). A predatory act is committed while standing mostly in this circle, although Xander stopped it and the prey scrambled away. Yet apparently, that's all it took. The hyena emerges, green flashed in meeting eyes, and the five were possessed of the hyena's spirit.

Now, during the transference of the possession, things are just slightly more complicated. Only the one who wishes to take on the spirit needs to stand in the circle, and he needs to have either committed a predatory act or be utterly willing to do so. (I'm not sure which, though: he knocked Giles out within the confines of the circle before everyone showed up, and then he merely threatened to kill Willow, not actually going through with the predatory act, although he was entirely ready to do so.) Those possessed of the spirit need to at least be within eyesight.

Beyond that, a simple chant ("YU BA YA SA NA!" apparently) and the spell is completed. The spirit transfers to the caster. In this case, the zookeeper dropped the knife and tried to bite Willow, now existing in an entirely savage state.

Also, I'm not sure if the ceremonial dress of the Masai was purely required, but the zookeeper did look pretty intimidating. They did an excellent job on the blue and white face paint.



Hyena-Specific info:

Here's a bit of Masai mythology for you, thanks to the zookeeper:
"The Masai tribesmen told me that hyenas are capable of understanding human speech. They follow humans around by day, learning their names. At night, when the campfire dies, they call out to a person. Once they separate him, the pack devours them."

Hyenas prey on the weak.

Zookeeper: "After hyenas feed and rest they will track the missing member of their pack until they find him. They should come right to you."

The Regression of Possessed Humans:

The first stage of possession simply involved predatory behavior. This was typical in the gang of four, so no one noticed anything out of sync with them. However, Xander's succumbing to this behavior of cruelty and entitlement was entirely out of character. He took what he wanted from Buffy at the Bronze (her food, which he then insulted) and he spoke rather sharply and shortly to both her and Willow.

An accompanying change in the first stage was the greater reliance on olfactory information and an alteration in the physical relationship to one's surroundings. Xander was sniffing at Buffy within a day, able to deduce that she'd taken a bath. He was also trading intense looks with random females and kindred-spirit-recognition looks with the gang. And, of course, there's the laughing.

As the possession progressed, Xander stopped making any pretense at being his old, affable jokester self. His mere presence terrified a pig, and the depth of his change was shortly made clear during the dodgeball game in gym. Xander was on the same side as the rest of the pack, along with Lance (the boy who is continuously picked on in this episode). Willow and Buffy were on the opposite side. As the game commenced, every pack member tried to tag Buffy and failed. Xander himself mercilessly tagged Willow out of the game. When it came down to the end, it was Buffy, the pack (of which Xander is now obviously a part), and Lance. Recognizing a power equal to their own, the Pack didn't attack Buffy. They recognized that the weakness lay within their own team, so they turned on Lance and viciously threw the balls at him. This was all accomplished in absolute silence and comes across as a pretty harrowing scene.

Post-game, Xander committed an act of cruelty toward Willow. His viciousness and base desires were in full control; he intimated that he's merely used her for tutoring, and expressed happiness over never having to see her again. When Buffy confronted him after Willow ran off, there was an immediate intensification of his self-satisfied look into one of calculating desire. He laughed in her face, along with the rest of the pack, instead of engaging her.

At a later stage of possession, the five began craving raw meat. Their senses were hyper-aware at this point, or at least Xander's were. For some reason, Xander was the strongest of the possessed. I'm not sure if this was because he was in the middle of the pack during the transpossession or if this simply speaks to his strength of character and capacity for cruelty (something that is explored in the second season's "The Wish"). In any case, he led them to the pig. The rest of the pack will later take this further, consuming human flesh (poor Mr. Flutie). Xander's desires will, however, lead him to attempt sexually assaulting Buffy instead.

Xander never reaches the same degeneration of character that the rest of the pack does. This may be due to his strength of character again and the fact that he had further to fall. The rest of the kids were already vicious little gits, preying on the weak. Xander was a good guy. To illustrate, he keeps his powers of speech pretty much to the end, even when the others are reduced to animal noises and sleeping curled up around each other in a lightly wooded area (before seeking out their pack leader). The only powers of speech the rest of them seem to have at the end is in calling out the names of their prey as the zookeeper said Masai tales intimated hyenas did. Besides this, they also exhibit other animalistic behavior: intense looks, weaving patterns when hunting prey, touching each other to reassure and reunite, etc.

This is the first time we see possession in the Buffyverse, and I think it's the only time in this series that we see this kind of organic possession (possession by another creature that does essentially belong in our world). The other possessions later in the series seem mostly to be ghost- or spirit-based, with less lasting effects and much more immediate violence.

Slayer Notes

Once again, this is the Slayer Notes section as not much is added to the mythology of the Slayers. Buffy's formal training continues as we see her sparring with a heavily-padded Giles in the library. (Dude, do they lock the doors during these times or what?)

The look on Giles' face is one of barely suppressed panic and worry as Buffy punches and kicks and leaps at him. As the session wears on, Giles finally says they can stop and walks stiffly off. Buffy, actually interested in her training, is concerned about her sloppy roundhouse kick, but Giles is more concerned about the feeling returning to his limbs. This is more evidence of the Slayers' strength, of course, but we must imagine that she's training more for precision and form here, rather than strength. Buffy has the ability to send people flying with her strikes, so it must be admitted that she's going easy on poor Giles.

There's also further evidence in this episode that there are plenty of things out there that are more powerful than Buffy. A pack of hyena-possessed youths, for instance. While this makes sense in the early development of Buffy's powers, I like to think she'd send them all yelping after seven years as an active Slayer.

Xander makes the first observation in this episode that Buffy's primary response to trouble tends to the physical. The first thing she does is figure out how to fight it, employing her "all-purpose solution of knock-'em-out, punch-'em-down." This speaks of how the main forte of the Slayer is violence: it's what she's bred on, what's in her soul. However, that's not substantiated by actual mythology until much later in the show.

Characterization

Buffy: Buffy is back to being more of the go-to-it girl in this episode. She's the one who insists there's something supernatural about Xander's recent personality overhaul, makes the intuitive leap as to its origins, pushes Giles to find the relevant information, tracks Xander down and locks him up, leads the pack to the zookeeper, and so on. Because of her endless initiative, Giles is once more given more of a backseat in their power dynamic, but you can still sense the underlying shift from the previous episode.

In a normal social arena, Buffy is very resilient and snarky when it comes to handling mean kids. She can exchange witty repartee with the best of them; that is, until they bring up some of the oddness surrounding her, where her working life has bled into her "normal" life (getting kicked out of her old school, the fact she might beat someone up). When they bring up these things, Buffy lapses into a somewhat hurt silence without defense.

Buffy's intuition is not to be underestimated and the viewer can see that, even if the rest of her friends keep forgetting it. At the same time, though, it's a necessary foible that her friends keep playing the devil's advocate. As time wears on, Buffy does sometimes turn out to be wrong (I think this is a rather rare occurrence, though). If she were assured she were always right, that'd be as detrimental to her character as never being believed. Anyway, in this episode, she makes an awesome intuitive leap regarding Xander being possessed by hyenas (from a chance comment Giles made and the laughing).

This is also the first episode in which Buffy's attraction toward dark, mysterious, and dangerous men is mentioned. Xander, in the throes of cruelty and passion, tells her:

Xander growls and rolls Buffy over onto her back so he's on top now and has her arms pinned down.
Buffy: "Get off of me!"
Xander: "Is that what you really want? (As Buffy struggles a bit.) We both know what you really want. You want danger, don't you? You like your men dangerous."
Buffy: "You're in trouble, Xander. You are infected with some hyena thing, it's like a demonic possession!"
Xander: "Dangerous and mean, right? Like Angel. Your Mystery Guy. Well, guess who just got mean."
...
Xander: "Do you know how long... I've waited... until you'd stop pretending that we aren't attracted..."
Buffy throws him off of her and quickly gets up to face him. He gets up, too, and begins to approach her as she backs away.
Xander: "Until Willow... stops kidding herself... that I could settle with anyone but you?"
Buffy: "Look, Xander, I don't wanna hurt you..."
He grabs her by the shoulders and pushes her hard against the vending machine.
Xander: "Now do you wanna hurt me?"
Buffy struggles, but the possessed Xander is too strong.
Xander: "Come on, Slayer. I like it when you're scared."
She struggles a bit more.
Xander: "The more I scare you, (as he sniffs her) the better you smell."

Did this plant the seed in Buffy? Or just nurture a seed that was already there? She knows Angel is mysterious and potentially dangerous but she pursues him anyway, even when she receives undeniable proof that he's dangerous. She goes deeper down this path in Season 6. I think Buffy's attracted to violence, as much as she may dislike that in herself. And I think that's because she's the Slayer, and Slayers are part-demon. But we'll get to that later.

Also, I can't remember if Angelus ever does this, but these men like to objectify her by calling her "Slayer." I think they're intoxicated by her strength, by the fundamental contradiction that she can be a killing machine and a fragile human all at the same time. They are attracted to her power, and they like to think they can get inside that power, manipulate her into letting them do things to her.

In this episode, Buffy comments (in passing) on how she's attracted to Angel but unsure whether she could be with someone who is only interested in her working life.

Willow: I think we see Willow at her lowest point here (you know, outside of Season 6 and a brief time in Season 4.) She is utterly consumed by her unrequited love for Xander. We discover that she keeps track of the most minute of Xander's habits-- even including memorizing information about his blood pressure. She's so obsessed that she begins perceiving all of Xander's reactions in reference to her-- he's acting weird, so it must be her fault. (Even though Xander's raw "How could it POSSIBLY be your fault? That's crazy talk!" throws into sharp relief that she's not nearly important enough to affect his behavior so strongly.) She takes his ill treatment and still goes to him until he maliciously snubs her.

Even then, she's entirely willing to forgive him when she discovers that he's not in control of himself. But she's also unwilling to admit that there may be some truth in the things he so viciously said. She wants to blame everything on the hyena spirit.

Still, Willow's inner strength comes through. She insists Buffy allow her to stay and watch the unconscious and imprisoned Xander. Buffy gives her this chance to prove her mettle and, I must admit, I thought this was a mistake at first. I was almost certain that Willow would succumb to the manipulations that Xander would shortly ply. I'm pleased that we were proved wrong, that Willow kept her head and tested Xander to discover how far gone he was for herself:

Xander: "When we were alone together... Willow, I know there's something wrong with me. I think it's gettin' worse. But I can't just stand around waitin' for Buffy to decide it's time to punch me out again. Look, I want you to help me. I want you."
Willow: "I am helping you."
Xander: "You're doing what you're told."
Willow: "Buffy's trying to help you, too. You know that. Or Xander does."
Xander: "Yeah... Buffy's so selfless. Always thinking of us. Well, if I'm so dangerous, how come she left you alone with me?"
Willow: "I told her to."
Xander: "Why?"
Willow: "'Cause I know you better than she does... and I wanted to be here to see if... you were still you."
Xander: "You know I am. Look at me. Looook."
Willow: "Xander..."
He makes a grab for her through the book return slot in the cage, but she jerks back in time.
Willow: "Now I know."

Of course, maybe I'm giving her too much credit in assuming her nearly succumbing was simply subterfuge. But I believe in Willow's inner strength, so let's just go with my assumption.

We also see that Willow has enough strength to confront her former best friend, even when he's backed by a group full of bullies that just ate the principal.

Xander: We discover strength in Xander in this episode, as well as cruelty. At the beginning, with little fanfare, Xander volunteers to take care of the pack picking on Lance. He's not doing it to get Buffy's attention or for praise: he's just secure in the fact that he can take care of a bunch of high school mean kids and he's not going to let them get away with messing a fellow classmate around. Xander simply does a good thing.

When he's possessed by the hyena, before he shows any true signs of regression, his inner viciousness and cruelty are tapped. Yes, these things were exaggerated by the hyena spirit, but we can't deny that they were already a part of Xander. There are pieces of him that are willing to simply take as he wants and hurt as he has been hurt. This is a side of Xander that never really manifests outside a few incarnations of Alternate Reality Xander, possibly in some part due to this very experience.

Also, I think this experience helped draw him even closer to Buffy and Willow. Afterward, he no doubt feels some lingering remorse and overcompensates in his relationships with them. We see this when he gives Willow a big hug at the end, claiming "No one messes with my Willow."

Xander is knocked out by Buffy twice in this episode: once with desk and a second time by a fire extinguisher to the face.

Giles: Giles is back to being the information man again, but still shows some of the authority he garnered in the last episode. He speaks confidently and, at times, dismissively to Buffy (even though he also admits he's wrong and follows her lead when she's proven correct).

Themes

One of the main and mundane themes of this episode is that people can change. Especially in high school. It's happened to most of us, in one form or another: we change, our friends change, people do inexplicable things. During these developmental years, alliances may shift overnight and the person you thought you knew becomes someone completely different (and possibly abhorrent). It's terrible, but it happens, and it can result in falling-outs and never understanding what happened, causing deep hurts.

Giles also makes some good points in generalizing teenage boys:

Giles: "Xander's taken to teasing the less fortunate?"
Buffy: "Uh-huh."
Giles: "And, there's been a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanor?"
Buffy: "Yes."
Giles: "And, well, otherwise all 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. Course, you'll have to kill him."
Buffy: "Giles, I'm serious."
Giles: "So am I. Except for the part about killing him. Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons. He will, however, get over it."
Buffy: "I cannot believe that you, of all people, are trying to Scully me. There is something supernatural at work here. Get your books! Look stuff up!"
Giles: "Look under what?"
Buffy: "I don't know. That's your department."
Giles: "The evidence that you've presented me with is sketchy at best."
Buffy: "He scared the pig. Well, he did..."
Giles: "Buffy, boys can be cruel. They tease, they, they, they prey on the weak. I-i-it's natural teen behavior pattern."

Miscellaneous

Again, no job description monologue before the teaser.

At the beginning of the episode, Xander tells the pack to pick on someone their own species. This is very appropriate, considering what happens. Also, at the end of the episode, he asks Giles to "Shoot me, stuff me, mount me."

Buffy seems to wear a cross at all times. I haven't addressed this before, but it's obviously a very useful accoutrement for a Slayer, and it's good she keeps in the habit even in the daytime. (Also, it's the cross that Angel gave her. Thinking of him much?)

The Sunnydale High Mascot is the Razorback, and Herbert is their first ill-fated incarnation of that mascot. He's dressed up with tusks and a "fierce" razor on his back. And a helmet.

Flutie is given some excellent characterization in this episode, showing just how versatile the Principal is. Beyond being concerned and generally affable, he also demonstrates the resilience and backbone that enables him to be a good administrator. Unfortunately, he didn't count on getting trapped in his office with rabid, hyena-possessed teenagers.

Why is there a picture of Flutie on his own desk?

Excellent scene change between the pack supposedly eating Flutie and Willow watching footage of a pack of hyenas devouring bloody meat from a disembodied rib cage.

Animal possession does not actually result in memory loss, meaning that Xander is in total possession of all his memories. This causes him no little consternation, and he manages to convince everyone but Giles that he doesn't remember a thing. Giles is nice enough to keep the knowledge just between them.

Giles Knock-Out Count

KO #3: The zookeeper knocks Giles out with his staff-- first a blow to the gut, then a blow to the back/head. He drags him off-stage and into the maintenance area behind one of the walls of the exhibit.

Favorite Quotes

Principal Flutie: "Today it's all gangs and drugs and those movies on Showtime with the nudity. I don't have cable, I only heard."

Coach, on how to play dodgeball: "Now, for those of you that may have forgotten, the rules are as follows: you dodge."

Coach, on dodgeball: "God, this game is brutal. I love it."

Giles: "It's devastating. He's turned into a 16-year-old boy. Of course, you'll have to kill him."

Giles: "Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons. He will, however, get over it."

Buffy: "I can't believe you, of all people, are trying to Scully me."

Willow: "What're you gonna do?"
Giles: "Get my books. Look stuff up."

Buffy: "It shouldn't be too hard to find a new principal. Unless they ask what happened to the last one."

2010 Update

Now that I've actually watched all of The X-Files, I finally caught Buffy's Scully comment in this episode. Heh.


Links

Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Movie
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Origin comic
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.1: "Welcome to the Hellmouth"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.2: "The Harvest"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.3: "The Witch"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Viva Las Buffy! comic
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.4: "Teacher's Pet"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.5: "Never Kill A Boy On the First Date"

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