Episode title: The Pack
Original air date: April 7, 1997
“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!” – Buffy
This week it’s another vampire free episode and that’s completely, there’s not even a background vampire in sight. Instead Buffy has to deal with a case of animal possession, when Xander and several of his fellow students are possessed by a hyena spirit.
If there was any doubts if the show could survive on its regular breaks from vampire hunting this episode only further confirmed that the show didn’t need vampires to be good. At the same time Xander gets to play something of the bad boy as he undergoes a personality change as part of his possession while forming a pack with the other possessed students as they increasing start showing more animal instincts which soon proves to be very bad news for one member of the Sunnydale High School faculty.
The episode does a really great job of showing the change the student undergo from small changes such as laughing uncontrollably at any given moment, through to teaming up to pick on the weaker students as highlighted during a game of dodgeball. During this scene when the pack have eliminated all their opponents with the exception of Buffy, only to then turn on the one member of the team whose not part of their pack. What makes this so interesting is that in the wild Hyena’s will back down if faced with a tougher opponent which would in this case obviously be Buffy leaving their own team member as we see in this scene which was a nice subtle touch and something I only realised on their rewatch. Thankfully there is no were-hyena transformations here which would have perhaps have pushed things too far especially when the episode works just fine with the group just having an animal mentality. At the same time though the show makes the strange move of having Xander the leader of this pack when hyena packs are matriarchal something only made the stranger when you consider the strong feminist stance the show has, that it would take a position of power like this and assign it to a guy.
As I mentioned already this episode also sees us saying goodbye to another member of the Sunnydale High Faculty, as Principle Flutie gets possibly one of the cooler deaths on the show as he’s eaten by his own students. Not a great loss it has to be said as he was always one of the weaker and frequently more irritating characters on the show and kind of deserved it for having a framed picture of himself on his desk! Seriously what sort of person has a framed picture of themselves, let alone a standard portrait shot and not him doing something vaguely interesting which would justify such a thing. I have to also wonder how they cover for these random deaths when they high their replacement? Surely admitting that their predecessor was eaten by his own students is hardly going to have folks leaping to take up the role. However this episode is one of the few occasions were a strange death like this is actually covered up, with Flutie’s death being linked to wild dogs. Xander is notably absent from this scene, which is probably for the best as god knows what sort of damage that would have done to his psyche, though the writers do still have him joining the pack when they eat the school mascot.
While the episode has a nice creepy edge to it with a couple of surprisingly dark moments while the ending does come slightly rushed with the end game for the possession coming seemingly as an afterthought more so when the big villain responsible for the possession being so laughable much like his inevitable demise. Despite these few weak points the episode is still an enjoyable one while Nicholas Brendon proves himself more than capable of playing a convincing darker version of Xander other than as his usual funny guy antics.
Next Episode: Angel