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LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 6, The Pack

“Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons.!”

Friends, we need to talk about Xander. This week brings us the second Xander-centric episode in the 1st season (the other being Teacher’s Pet).

I have to admit I’m not the biggest Xander fan girl. There’s always something about him that has put me off, a sort of buried resentment of Buffy and her Slayerness that bubbles up in incredibly ugly ways. Lots of people on this show do a lot of truly terrible things and most of them end up punished for them in various ways. Willow, for instance, basically spends the entirety of season 7 being punished for and trying to make up for the events at the end of season 6. Angel and Spike both must shoulder the burden of their souls, re-realized after hundreds of years of murderous and depraved acts. Xander doesn’t commit atrocities on the level of, say, what happened to Warren, but he frequently betrays Buffy in ways that he always manages to weasel out of. I haven’t quite figured out if this is intentional on the writers’ part or a side effect of dropped plot lines, but I have to assume that it’s mostly on purpose.

Xander’s betrayals are all rooted in his deep insecurities. He’s a low-totem person at the school, he’s a sidekick to a girl, he’s thwarted in love, and he can’t quite square these facts with his desire to be.. Be what? More masculine? Stronger? A leader? It’s a bit of all those things. This episode gives us a glimpse at what Xander would be like if he were a bit more (ok, a lot more) of those things and it isn’t pretty.

For once we don’t open up The Next Morning at School, because the sophomore class is on a field trip to the Sunnydale Zoo. There’s a pack of bullies roaming around causing problems, preying on the socially defenseless, and taking cheap shots at Buffy. They’re just lucky she’s a hero, because someone like Faith would have used their superpowers to shove their taunts right up their late 90s clad backsides. The gang sees them leading another student into the off-limits hyena cage. Since the situation doesn’t involve slaying, as Xander points out, he trots off after them to intervene.

While confronting the bullies and arguing in front of the hyenas, a weird mystical moment passes between them. The bullies’ ““ and Xander’s –  eyes glow bright yellow and they erupt into a chorus of hyena like cackling”¦

TNMAS, Xander is behaving strangely. His jokes are biting and cruel. He teases Willow about her crush on him and reduces her to tears. He’s hanging out with the bullies. During a gym class game of dodgeball, Xander and his pack (get it? get it?) pick off all the weakest players first until only Buffy remains on the opposing side. And rather than having to pit themselves against another predator, they turn on the weakest member of their own team.

Unsurprisingly, Buffy suspects something supernatural is going on. Giles pooh-poohs her theory, even though he’s consistently wrong about second guessing Buffy’s instincts (see: basically the entire series for evidence) and gives a version of “˜that’s what growing up is like speech’. Flavor: Teenage Aged Boys are Jerks.

Giles: “Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons.”

The thing is, Giles isn’t entirely wrong. There’s definitely an undercurrent in the episode that suggests Xander could actually be the jackass he’s acting like. In the Buffyverse, we rarely see anyone mind controlled, be-spelled, or tricked into doing things they might not actually do anyway. They may get the strength or charisma to boost their behavior (see: The Trio), but they are still themselves at the core. This isn’t something that’s readily apparently if you’re just coming into the series and watching it for the first time ““ it’s easy enough to read Xander as be-spelled. But between certain comments made in this episode and the themes over the run of the show, I can only conclude that there is a real deep well of jerkdom buried in Xander. The hyena spirit is just letting it run loose.

However, after it is discovered that the bullies have killed and eaten the piglet that is the school mascot, Giles is forced to agree that Buffy might be right about the hyena possession. She runs off to find Xander while Willow and Giles try to see what they can find out.

Buffy finds Xander no problem, but it’s not a pleasant encounter. He’s in full on predator mode. His season-long crush on Buffy comes to an ugly head as Xander decides he’s not going to take no for an answer anymore. Buffy likes dangerous guys, he says, and now he’s a dangerous guy. Buffy hits him with a desk.

While Buffy is having it out with one of her best friends, the pack is keeping themselves busy: they eat the school principal.

No, no, let’s linger on that for a moment, because this is Sunnydale High. A group of students eat the principal.

Good-bye, Principal Flootie. We barely knew you.

Buffy locks unconscious Xander up in the cage in the library and leaves Willow as his guard. She and Giles run off to the zoo to talk to the hyena keeper and see what they can find out. Xander comes to and immediately tries to manipulate Willow into letting him out, but Willow, as usual, is too smart to fall for it. No matter ““ Xander’s pack will break him out. And then, for a lark, they hunt Willow through the halls of the high school.

Buffy gets back in time to avert the crisis ““ I’m pretty sure Just-In-Timeness is one of her superpowers. After running the pack off, she needs to go out and find them again, in order to lure them back to the hyena pit at the zoo. Which is no problem ““ Buffy knows what Xander wants. After this episode, everyone knows what ““ and who ““ Xander wants.

Giles, Willow, and the hyena keeper prepare a ceremony that should transfer the animal spirits out of the jerky teenagers and back into the animals. Or would, if the hyena keeper wasn’t actually interested in that power for himself and pretty irritated that a group of school kids managed to steal it in the first place. Down goes Giles with a bump to the noggin. Tied up goes Willow, who quickly figures out that she’s not a fake sacrifice but a real one. In comes Buffy, with the pack hot on her heals.

The zoo keeper manages to capture the animal spirit, but his victory is short lived ““ Buffy throws him into the hyena pit, and they take care of the rest.

Everything is back to normal TNMAS, and Willow and Buffy forgive Xander for everything he did, since he wasn’t “himself” over the last few days. Heck, Xander can’t even remember what happened!

After the girls walk away, Giles notes that memory loss isn’t usually listed as a side effect of animal possession. Xander begs him to keep his secret, and thus beings the long line of Things Xander Does and Gets Away With. Just wait until the end of season 2, my friends.  Or that thing that happens in season 6. Or that other thing that happens in season 6.  You’ll see.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com.

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

7 replies on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 6, The Pack”

Re: Xander, I’ve discovered that my problem with him is that he seems to be very much a “Nice Guy” TM. He hangs out with Buffy and acts the part of the friend and confidant, but he’s always secretly (and not so secretly, as is super apparent in ‘The Pack’) hoping that he’ll one day get to bang her and when she gets a new boyfriend he hates the guy indiscriminately because it’s not him.

You’re totally right about that. He’s very much the Nice Guy and spends no time at all with self analysis. Of all the characters on the show, he’s really the one who evolves the least. Like I said, I don’t know if that’s just criminal neglect on the writer’s part, or if they just don’t get how his character reads when you stack the whole series on top of itself.

I feel in many regards they ultimately don’t get it. They use his character to explore lots of issues about masculinity, but they never resolve anything, and Xander never compromises his approach to life to these new ideas of power and gender that Buffy brings to the table. Joss said in the DVD extras on ‘Teacher’s Pet’ that Xander was modeled on what Joss himself was like in high school and I don’t think that identification ever goes away.

I will say that I think Xander in the season 8 comics is much better realized and a more sympathetic and mature individual. He’s basically not the same person he was at the end of season 7.

I’d argue that some of the transition of what Xander becomes in season 8 is foreshadowed in season 7, particularly where he takes the time to comfort Dawn in ‘Potential’. There’s more self-awareness in that final scene then in maybe the entire series.

That said, in a lot of ways he isn’t made to take responsibility for his actions, in particular with Anya. She pretty much gets shit on for all of her choices, is marginalized, and because he’s Xander, he is forgiven… or better, there’s not even really an acknowledgement that he needs to be forgiven.

Its a scene that makes sense when viewed from season 8, I agree. But I felt at the time it was so completely out of the blue and, frankly, not entirely true, that it fell flat. It was a scene about how we’re supposed to see Xander, not a scene about how he’d actually been portrayed.

I feel like in season 8 he’s just less. .judgy. Less quick to pick up and harbor grudges against someone, especially if that someone is romantically involved with Buffy.

That scene at the end of season 7 where Buffy references the lie Xander told her in season 2, and Willow jumps out of the chair to say ‘I never said that’ killed me because I thought he was finally going to get called on it, but it is totally dropped.

OK,I have to voice my beef with this episode v. Seeing Red.

This episode has pretty much become the equivalent of Gossip Girl pilot where Chuck almost rapes Jenny. It falls into the forgotten realm of “see no evil, see no evil”.

Xander was in full-on sexual assault mode due to his state of hyena (unnatural state). Spike was in full-on sexual assault mode due to his state of lust-driven vampire (natural state).

The only difference is that Buffy fought back/fought off Xander, whereas she wasn’t completely able to with Spike (which I think was a bit of a farce).

So, why is it that Seeing Red is panned by Buffy fans and this episode is just accepted as is?

The End.

You make excellent points. I think the fans are conditioned to ‘like’ Xander and to ‘dislike’ Spike, so we read ‘Seeing Red’ as proof that Spike was evil all along. But Xander is Buffy’s friend and one of the Scoobies, so excuses are at the ready when he does something wrong, especially if it’s ambiguous. Especially if it treads close to something we might do in real life — like the lie Xander tells Buffy at the end of season 2, and never, ever has to pay for. It even finally gets brought up in season 7 and completely glossed over. Xander repeatedly gets away with being, frankly, kind of awful.

I personally think that happened in this episode is worse than what happened in Seeing Red. I’ve said before that I don’t think the hyena possession was ‘making’ Xander do anything, it was giving him license to do things he wanted to do, but was too weak (in several ways) to accomplish. (I’m not saying he ‘wants’ to rape Buffy, but he does want to have sex with her, and Normal-Xander isn’t on her radar at all.)

So Xander attempts to rape Buffy — we’re all in agreement that that is what was going on in that scene, I think — and he remembers doing this, but instead of being apologetic or horrified at what he did, he covers it up. And he dupes Giles into helping him do it.

And Spike? I’ve made my peace with that development of their relationship, but only after reading a lot about the intent of the show’s writers and spending time immersed in the show academically. Spike is going against his nature by loving Buffy and he tries, he really tries in a way that makes sense for the monster he is, to be a better man for her. To be someone she loves. And when he gives in to that monstrous side of himself and tries to rape her, in this incredibly fucked up logic that he’s following, he’s horrified by his own behavior. And he knows that he has to do something else, be someone else, not just because he wants Buffy to love him back, but because he’s able to recognize his own lack of humanity.

Xander can’t, doesn’t, and never makes an effort to set things right. And it’s because he only sees himself as a good guy. He’s on the white side of his black and white worldview.

I think the fans are too harsh on the events of season 7 and unwilling to really understand the gauntlet Spike runs, physically and emotionally over the course of the season, to atone for Seeing Red. (And his existence as a vampire.) I’m going to have a lot to say about Spike when we get to him, not the least of which will be that I think he’s the person who loves Buffy the most, and the most honestly, over the course of the series, which I recognize will not be a particularly popular assertion.

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