This episode examined the idea of animal possession – hyena possession to be precise – and what would happen if a group of Sunnydale High students (one of our favourite Scoobies included) became possessed by hyenas. Xander and four other bawdy students find themselves possessed by hyena spirits on a field trip to the zoo and inevitably start terrorizing the school, leaving it up to Buffy, Giles and Willow to de-possess them.
A lot of people have said this was one of the standout episodes of the season, and the first really good episode of the series; but I have to disagree. While the plot was more original than Never Kill a boy on the First Date and The Witch, The Pack lacked character development and didn’t have much relevance to the season as a whole.
That being said however, the concept was quite original and very well executed. Whedon was able to draw scarily accurate comparisons between high school teenagers and predatory pack animals.
One of the best things about this episode was Xander breaking out of his role as a funny, dweeby guy and becoming evil (even if it was only temporary). Nasty Xander was, well – nasty and scary and mean. It was interesting to see the character of Xander be used as more than just comic relief and some of his scenes – especially when he was degrading Willow - were truly chilling.
The most notable piece of character expansion in this episode was Buffy discussing her burgeoning like/lust for elusive mystery man Angel. Angel obviously becomes Buffy’s main love interest and remains so until Season Three, but he wasn’t featured much through the first half of Season One, other than to give Buffy warnings of impending doom. Buffy’s girly conversation with Willow about Angel at the beginning of this episode alludes to the growing part Angel will play in her life; as Buffy enthusiasts know, the next episode in Season One centers entirely around Angel and the idea of a relationship between the two of them.
Despite being an eerily accurate depiction of how malicious and demeaning teenagers can be, especially when under the influence of something (alcohol, testosterone and evil animal spirits to name a few), this episode didn’t really provide the audience with any major character revelations, or hints as to what would happen later on in the season. The ‘Anointed One’, who was such a huge part of the previous episode, and is, as the audience learnt, still alive, is not referred to at all. Likewise, The Master went unmentioned in this episode. However, all this aside, it was nice to have an episode of pure high school in all its evilness – it’s episodes like this one and The Witch that begin to be missed after the gang graduates at the end of Season 3.
In my opinion, The Pack features one of the most unsettling, yet bizarre scenes of the season, with the four hyena teenagers eating Principal Flutie. Luckily Xander was excluded from this; as he was too busy trying to rape Buffy (silly boy). The worst part about it all was Principal Flutie (although he is bumbling and old-fashioned) was actually a likeable character. The audience was genuinely distressed when he got devoured, along with Buffy, Willow and Giles. This was an effective plot point used by Whedon, as he was able to create a character that his audience liked and didn’t think anything would ever happen to (in most high school dramas the Principal is a constant force of either benevolence or evil) and then POW! he has him eaten by students who are possessed by hyenas. However this event was also quite bizarre and somewhat unbelievable; if a high school principal got ‘eaten’, surely there would be an investigation of some sort rather than the teachers’ dismissing it with a theory along the lines of ‘wild dogs got into his office’. Surely there aren’t an abundance of wild dogs running freely through the streets of California? But this is Buffy and vampires do seem to kill countless humans nightly with the authorities remaining unawares, so viewers have to learn to accept the explanations given for events like these with no questions.
On the whole The Pack was standard Season One fare; not particularly groundbreaking, but not particularly awful either. The plot was fairly original and was executed well, and while it didn’t give much to the season overall, this episode worked well on its own, letting the audience know that sometimes, high school really can be hell, in a literal sense as well as a metaphoric one.