Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 1 Episode 6

The Pack

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Apr 07, 1997 on The WB

Episode Fan Reviews (66)

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  • The Pack

    "The Pack" is an odd little piece that is all over the place in terms of quality. There are some moments of gutsiness, moments of cowardice, moments baked in pure clich, and it's all coated in the episodic amnesia that is S1. In some ways the episode reminds me of "The Witch" [1x03] in that it tells a stand-alone story that is firmly in the "high school is hell" mode of making broad statements about the high school experience rather than telling its story through the characters we care about. The episode almost makes it work by having Xander be among the possessed, but it's all thrown away by the end of the episode. Enough teasing, though -- let's get into the meat of it all. ;)

    The central concept behind "The Pack" is in exposing the dark side of social cliques. The pack isolates and preys on the weak and then devours them, made literal here due to the Hellmouth. This concept is set up in the opening sequence, which is written and directed in the most clichd manner possible. Fortunately, the episode's execution of this concept becomes a bit better when filtered through a possessed Xander and his interactions with Buffy and Willow. When Xander lashes out at Willow we later see the after-effect it has on her. On full display is how painful it can be to have a trusted friend seemingly turn on you in an instant something that can actually happen during those teen years, albeit generally not due to hyena possession.

    After Xander has done his damage to Willow he moves onto Buffy, but he's not looking to hurt her emotionally he's looking for something a lot more physical. One interesting bit of information to come out here is that Xander sees Buffy as liking men that are "dangerous and mean, right? Like Angel. Your Mystery Guy. Well, guess who just got mean. " While I can see why Xander might come to this conclusion when looking at Angel, S1's episodic amnesia bites again with Xander acting like Owen from "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" [1x05] never existed. In Owen we have some evidence to support that Buffy can also like a non-threatening nice guy. I do think Buffy likes men who have a bit of mystery about them, but that doesn't necessitate danger or cruelty.

    Things get interesting when the pack, sans Xander, actually eats Principal Flutie while Xander makes an attempt to sexually assault Buffy, both of which combine to make quite a shocking sequence particularly for S1. I very much appreciate the episode's guts in going there, but sadly that appreciation quickly gets diluted by the follow-through. Xander's assault is promptly forgotten by episode's end and never brought up again despite being fertile ground for both character insight and exploration. Principal Flutie's gruesome demise is also pretty washed over in the episodes that follow, with only jokes about it down the road. Speaking of missed opportunities, how about there being absolutely no parallel drawn between the possessed students and Cordelia's often cruel 'pack?'

    To put the final punctuation on my feelings regarding "The Pack," I'll refer to the giant slo-mo scene involving the possessed pack. This is a unique scene, to be sure, but the shot and the music are allowed to continue going on for way too long, to the point of absurdity. It's a bizarre shot that, in the grand scheme of the season and the series, just doesn't end up giving me a lasting impression other than "weird."

    In the end it's a bit difficult to sum up "The Pack." It's decidedly a mixed bag, but what's ultimately damning is like so much of S1 its irrelevance. There are some good ideas thrown around and even a few individually compelling scenes, all of which keep the episode interesting to watch and help hold it together. Sadly, though, there's just not much I find compelling outside of said scenes and ideas as the central theme -- while relatable in a broad sense -- is a mixed bag in execution.

    "The Pack" holds up alright as a stand-alone story (I actually prefer "The Witch" [1x03] in this regard though), but I just can't seem to care much when all is said and done. When events like these don't have follow-up consequences and/or reflection, they lose long-term relevance and all we're left with is an uneven one-off. The light-hearted 'everything is back to normal' attitude at the end of the episode sums up that dissatisfaction for me. If this same basic concept was tossed into the more complex S2 landscape, then I think we'd be looking at an overall much more compelling episode.