This week on Buffy and the Art of Story: The Pack, Season 1, Episode 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This episode includes how to build the character of the victim to make the loss greater while misdirecting the audience regarding who the victim will be.
As always, the discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).
Story Elements in The Pack
In this podcast episode we'll look at how The Pack handles:
- All major plot points
- Creating a victim the audience likes
- Misdirection regarding the victim
- Characters' responsibility for what they do while possessed
Highlights from the Buffy Season 1 DVD commentaries by Joss Whedon are also discussed.
For more on the 5-point story structure the podcast covers, check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel.
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The Pack Episode Transcript
Hello and welcome to Buffy and The Art of Story.
If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories or just taking them apart to see how they work, you're in the right place.
I am Lisa M. Lilly, author of suspense, mysteries, and supernatural thrillers, and founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
This Week: The Pack
This week we'll cover Season One, Episode Six: The Pack. It's a standalone episode, so we'll talk about all the major plot points, as well as interweaving storylines, and building the character of the victim to make the loss greater, or more serious, for the audience. We'll also talk about the use of misdirection as to the victim.
Okay, let's dive into the Hellmouth.
We start with Buffy at the zoo alone. A group of four mean kids teases her.
And one of them says, “Were you this popular at your old school before you got kicked out?” This particular line feels to me like a backfill for the audience. Not the, ‘were you this popular at your old school?’ because I feel like that works, but the ‘before you got kicked out,’ seems like something thrown in there, to remind the audience or inform a new audience member, that Buffy was kicked out of her old school.
I say that because these four kids don't seem like ones who would mock Buffy for being kicked out because they appear to always be on the edge of being kicked out themselves.
It seems more like they might think she was cool for that. I could be wrong, but that's just my feeling from it. It's one of the rare times, or I guess first time so far, that I felt like the opening dialogue back and forth was a little bit obvious in being there to fill in the blanks. However, I do really like that these kids are teasing Buffy because we see that she feels bad that she doesn't have the social network or the friends or the standing that she had in her old school.
Opening Conflict in The Pack
We then see the main kids picking on Lance, who I noticed as I watched this time is in a red shirt. Which I think is kind of fun and might or might not be a reference to the red shirts in Star Trek who always end up getting killed.
This scene is part of what initially makes us think that Lance is going to be the real victim here. And certainly these students do victimize him, but he survives the episode, which I did not expect.
The first time I watched it, and even this time, um, my initial thought was, ‘Oh yeah, this is the kid. They're gonna throw into the hyenas and kill him,’ which doesn't happen.
So they steal his notebook.
He doesn't rat them out when Principal Flutie intervenes, and they take him to the hyena exhibit. This interaction between Flutie and these kids starts the building up of Principal Flutie as someone who we like.
In the pilot I liked him a lot because we saw how much he cared about the students and about Buffy and how he was dealing with his internal struggle to both be supportive for her and yet protect the other students from this newcomer who burnt down the gym at her old school.
Here, there's this nice interaction where Flutie shows some self awareness.
Because the student starts to talk, one of the mean kids, and Flutie says, “Did I ask you to speak?” And then he realizes he did just ask, “What happened?”
And so Flutie says, “Okay, I guess I did.”
So we get a little humor and a little awareness on his part of conflicting directives he's sending, which I like because often we see authority figures never wanting to acknowledge that they either are wrong or that they are being confusing, and that that's kind of not a fair thing when they yell at someone after that. We also see that he would like to protect the weaker student.
And again, we ought to expect this from school authorities, but it doesn't always happen.
Story Spark in The Pack
So we've talked in previous episodes, and I'll continue to talk about our Story Spark or Inciting Incident. Usually it comes about ten percent into a movie or book or TV episode.
And in Buffy, so far it's been right about at that ten percent mark, about four minutes, 30 seconds into a roughly 43, 44 minute episode, and that runtime includes credits.
Here it comes a tiny bit later, it's at five minutes, eight seconds.
The kids grab Lance as if they're going to throw him in. Xander has followed these kids in to try to help Lance and he tells Buffy, you know, he'll go because this doesn't require actual slaying. Because so far Willow and Xander have both said that these kids are mean, but not physically dangerous, although Willow kind of second guesses herself on that.
The hyenas eyes flash when there's this threat to throw Lance in. And then the kids' eyes flash, including Xander's, and they all turn on Lance and Lance runs away.
So this is where, in my memory, I'm always thinking they actually threw Lance in and he died, but he does get away and we go to the credits.
After the Hyena Pit
So now we're at The Bronze, and this moment was Xander's eyes flashing in the prior scene was another example of dramatic irony. That's where the audience knows something that the protagonist or other characters do not.
And here it's that Xander has been affected by whatever happened. Xander acts strangely at The Bronze, he sniffs Buffy his hair, he grabs Buffy's food and he laughs when these mean kids make fun of another student who is overweight and Xander shrugs and says, “Ah, the kids fat.”
Character Development: Principal Flutie
Our next scene shows, it's from the point of view of this little pig, I think his name is Herbert. And he is running through the hall and I just kind of enjoy that perspective.
Then we get Principal Flutie. He is trying to catch this pig and Buffy grabs the pig for him. And again we, I at least, like Principal Flutie. He's so excited about this pig and he has put this little razorback on it. And tried to make it look fierce.
He's insistent when Buffy says the pig is cute, he says, “No, he's fierce. He's a Razorback, he's our mascot.”
And we also get the, he is a little afraid of the pig because Buffy tries to hand it to him and he backs off and says, you know, “No, you, you take him.”
So Buffy carries him to the room where he is in a cage. It's this nice moment of vulnerability for Principal Flutie and that's another reason that we like him, he shows a little bit of fear, he shows his human side.
And he starts talking to her about the old days and school spirit and things were better. And then again, we got this self awareness on his part that yes, there were old guys telling him how things were much better in their times. So that is also very nice.
We get a little bit of a hint of the later conflict and of what Xander is. Because the pig squeals when Xander walks by.
This is a hint to Buffy. She doesn't know it at the time, but it adds to her feeling of strange things around Xander.
The One-Quarter Point Turn in The Pack
All of this is building up to our first major plot turn. That turn usually happens around a quarter way through an episode or a story.
And it turns the story in a new direction coming from outside of our protagonist. So here we should see it roughly twelve — twelve and a half — minutes into the episode. And so far it's often been coming slightly later than that.
Here we've got a few things that could be that One-Quarter Turn in the story. Right at the 11, 12 minutes is that pig squealing. So we could see that as a bit of a turn, but I don't think that it's enough.
It doesn't really change anything. It just adds to Buffy’s awareness of weirdness around Xander.
So where I see this turn is about 14 minutes in there's two things that happen.
Willow and Xander
We have dodgeball in gym class and Xander throws really hard at Willow to get her out.
And you can tell how hurt she feels. Yes, it's a game. But one, he didn't have to throw it at Willow. There are plenty of people on his team, he could avoid throwing the ball at her. But also, even if their deal, because we don't know, is, ‘Hey, yeah, if we're playing a game or playing a game, we're both going to try to win,’ he doesn't have to throw so hard at her.
So we see how upset she is.
This really is a turn in the emotional arc or subplot between Xander and Willow because she is seeing this, as we'll see in a moment, as part of perhaps he has feelings for Buffy and that he doesn't really want her around anymore.
The Hyena Kids
The turn in the story of the hyena kids is that all of them, once Buffy is left alone on the other side, so she's the only one left, all they have to do to win the game is hit her.
And with that many of them, they probably could. It might take a while. But they instead, they are left with Lance on their side. And they turn on him and throw all the dodgeballs at him and he falls on the ground.
So this happens 14 minutes, 43 seconds in. I feel like this is the plot turn because this is what truly tells Buffy, our protagonist, that something is seriously wrong.
Both with Xander and even with these kids.
Because at least my sense is, you know, we haven't seen them before, we've been told they're mean kids, we see them being mean. But this seems a little over the top even for them. Because you would think they probably would want to win the game.
And also they don't know Buffy’s the Slayer. All they know is she played dodgeball pretty well, so it doesn't make sense that they would turn on the person on their own team.
Moving Toward the Midpoint
From there, everything escalates as we move toward the Midpoint.
We have this scene with Xander and Willow in the hallway. He is so very mean to her, telling her he doesn't need her anymore because he's dropping geometry.
We see Xander with the pack and they're stealing food. Then we see, about 18 minutes in, that the pack is going to eat this pig. And that is off screen, but it's clear what's happening. Xander is not with them because we find out he is — actually, I'm not sure on the timing on that, why he's not with them, because he does later confront Buffy, but that's not happening yet — but for whatever reason, he is not with them.
Buffy goes to Giles and says, you know, ‘Xander is acting in this terrible way. He's mean,’ and she's describing everything. And Giles really downplays it and says he's a teenage boy and what is Giles supposed to do about it?
Buffy keeps arguing with him and she says, “Get your books, look stuff up.”
And she remembers that the pig is scared of Xander. Giles says, “Well, boys prey on the weak.” And right around here, Buffy remembers the zookeeper talking about hyenas preying on the weak.
The Midpoint in The Pack
So this is roughly our Midpoint in the episode and nothing really — there isn't really a — for Buffy, there isn't really that moment at the Midpoint that we typically see. One with our protagonist fully committing to the quest, throwing caution to the wind, or suffering a major reversal.
We don't really have that here.
We do have a sort of caution to the wind with the pack eating this pig. I mean, that is definitely committing to, ‘they are hyenas now.’
The problem with that from a storytelling perspective is they are not the protagonist here. This is a little bit like the issues with Teacher’s Pet, where we had a very Xander-centric/Xander point of view episode. Yet he wasn't exactly the protagonist.
And even more so here, this episode is about Xander to a large extent, because we don't know the pack. They aren't drawn in a way that we care about them.
We care about Xander, but he isn't our protagonist because he is entirely carried along by events. Like yes, he makes choices, but it is while he is possessed. So it's not really Xander.
And it's not Xander's actions that get him out of that. It is mainly Buffy’s actions and that of Willow, Buffy, and Giles combined. Also, if we use the moment of the pig as that, you know, kind of point of no return, Xander also wasn't part of that.
Issues with the Midpoint
So our Midpoint here is a little bit weak and I'm not saying — and I think I said this last episode or the previous one — I'm not saying you have to use this structure. But you see what happens when that Midpoint isn't all that strong.
We definitely have things changing here. We do have a new direction.
It is out of Buffy’s realization, it hitting her and her actively putting together the ‘preying on the weak’ with the zookeeper's comments.
Buffy is the active protagonist here. Her realization does take the story in another direction and drive it forward to the next major plot turn and the Climax.
So we do have a Midpoint here, but it isn't super strong and compelling.
Right after this, Willow comes in and says, “Herbert the pig is dead. And he was eaten.” Willow asks Giles what he's going to do.
And in a really nice repetition of Buffy's line, but with a different inflection, Giles says, “Get my books, look stuff up.”
So he is acknowledging that he was wrong.
The End of Flutie
Our next series of scenes intercuts between the room where the pig was kept in the cage and Principal Flutie interacting with the rest of the pack. Because Buffy goes to that room to look around. And that is where Xander creeps up behind her and she doesn't hear him. Which is significant because we know Buffy has Slayer senses, heightened senses, and she doesn't hear Xander creep up behind her.
He tries to sexually assault her. You could argue to some extent he succeeds because he does pin her and I think that he licks her face.
I wasn't overly worried for Buffy because she is holding back because she doesn't want to hurt him, but eventually she will because she has to stop him.
Flutie and the Hyena Kids
In between this, we cut back and forth to Principal Flutie who finds the rest of the pack, takes them to his office. And we see this interaction, which is really tense. They are a physical threat to him. But also I feel like this scene embodies the fear of any authority figure, which is that their authority will be ignored.
To a lesser extent, I imagine any principal or teacher feels this way because what if the students decide to just not listen to you?
There is a limited amount you can do if the student doesn't care about sanctions, like going to the principal's office or being suspended or having their grade dropped.
The control that the authority figure has is dependent on the student being invested in that system.
And here we get students who, Principal Flutie doesn't know it, but they are no longer students. They have become hyenas. They are just toying with him and then attack him and he is so shocked. Initially, I feel like his initial shock, as they're approaching, is less that he really fears physical violence and more that he just doesn't know what to do with them flouting his authority and ignoring it.
And then it becomes clear that they are going to attack him. We get that cut to his picture and we hear him.
Surprise and a Shift
So again, we don't see this awful act, just like we didn't see the pig being eaten, but we know what's happening. And there is some playing for — I guess I would say for the comedy here — because Principal Flutie throughout his voice has become higher, it becomes squealing. He's clearly being likened to Herbert the pig.
I was probably surprised the first time around by this. At some moment in the scene, before Principal Flutie realizes it, we realize they're going to attack him. Because we know they're the ones who ate the pig — well, I guess he knows that too — but we know they've become hyenas where he is still thinking they're just dangerous students, or unbalanced students, however you want to put it. He doesn't know they're possessed.
But I still think until that really started to shift, I didn't necessarily expect them to do that.
Because Lance had been set up as the one who was not going to survive here. And because I like Principal Flutie. And from the pilot on we see him as this continuing character that we're expecting will be part of the series for a while. This is about 27 minutes in and this, even more than the pig, is the throwing the caution to the wind moment for our pack because they have now killed and eaten a human.
Buffy and Xander
We next see Buffy dragging Xander into the library. She says he tried to commit felony sexual assault. She also says she hit him with a desk.
So we didn't see that happening, but we know she's subdued Xander. I also think that's a deliberate choice by the writers because we don't want to see Buffy hitting her friend with a desk, no matter that he's possessed or behaved terribly.
These days, if the show were made, perhaps we would see that.
Buffy and Giles
Giles comes in and tells them that the pack ate Principal Flutie.
And Buffy says maybe the zookeeper can help. And she comments that perhaps he didn't quarantine the hyenas because they were ill.
This is the first time — she did connect to the zookeeper before and the hyenas — but this is the idea that he can help them. So I think I might've mistakenly said that she realized the zookeeper was the person to go see and earlier it was just she made the connection to the hyenas and preying on the weak.
Three-Quarter Point Turn
Here we've got this idea that perhaps the zookeeper knew there was something wrong with the hyenas. Willow says she will stay and watch Xander.
So we have a few things happening here, and we are right around the Three-Quarter Point in the episode, which should be about 33-ish minutes in. And there are some really nice turns here. The turn at this moment in the story should grow from the Midpoint and it should spin the story in a new direction.
So it's not coming from outside the protagonist, but it's growing organically from our Midpoint and spinning the story yet again, which happens here.
Two things: in our Willow and Xander story, around 32 minutes 45 seconds, he tries to trick her into coming close enough so that he can take the key. And she likewise, he doesn't realize it, she is testing him.
She is well aware of what he is doing. When he does lunge for the key, after saying all the things Willow would want to hear: how he cares about her, how maybe this is all — I guess she wouldn't want to hear this — but he's saying, it's really Buffy that's the problem. Our lives didn't need saving before she came here, and so forth.
But he is saying how much he values his friendship with Willow.
This is what Willow would hope Xander would say. But she recognizes that he may be manipulating her. And when he lunges for the key — because he says, “Well, why did you stay?” She says, “I wanted to see if you're still yourself.” And after he grabs for the key, she says, “Now I know.”
The Xander and Willow Subplot
So that is right around our Three-Quarter Point. It's really nice because it's a turn where now Willow is certain that it is this hyena taking over Xander. And I feel like she distinguishes between, she believed that perhaps Xander would be mean to her. There's that point where she says to Buffy, “Maybe three isn't company anymore.”
She feels perhaps, you know, Xander is so into Buffy that he just doesn't want Willow around, which is an awful thought for her. But she can believe that that might be Xander. It's Buffy who is convinced that that's not Xander.
And I feel that's because Willow has that vulnerability over how she feels for Xander.
Here, though, she knows that even if he were being a little bit mean and swept up in his feelings for Buffy, he would not physically try to hurt her or attack her. And he here shows that that's what he's willing to do.
So she knows it's the hyena.
I love that too, because it's this very mixed thing for Willow. On the one hand, it shows that Xander, her friend, still cares about her. That it wasn't his choice to be so mean to her. But on the other it puts him and everyone in terrible danger.
Main Storyline Plot Turn
We also have a plot turn in our main plot of Buffy trying to stop these hyenas and save Xander. Because here is where, about 32 minutes 52 seconds in, — and I say ‘about,’ I actually check that exact point on the DVD — the zookeeper tells Buffy and Giles, he's telling them about the hyenas being vicious. And there being rituals.
Right then Giles mentions the predatory act part of the ritual. And the zookeeper is surprised and says, “Oh, you know, where did you find that?”
Buffy cuts off this discussion. Not because she realizes right then that the zookeeper is the perpetrator, but because she's annoyed they're just talking about books and ‘Hey, we've got stuff to do.’
And I love that because the story has just spun in a new direction, but Buffy doesn't realize it and neither do we.
I don't think I caught the zookeeper perking up at the predatory act moment until I rewatched, knowing what was coming. But this definitely takes it to a new place. Because now the zookeeper knows how to make this ritual work, and he did not know that before.
Now it will become about him trying to take over this power as Buffy is trying to stop him. So she has a more formidable foe that she is not aware of yet.
Danger and De-Possession
Also, during the first watch, what looks like a plot turn is that the zookeeper says the pack will find its missing member.
So we all realize Willow is in great danger because the pack is going to go after Xander. There is a shift right there.
In addition to this plan to try to de-possess everyone, they also have to save Willow. And we get one of the hyenas calling Willow's name, her thinking it’s Xander and telling him to shut up,. Right then is a cut for the commercial break.
So we talked about cliffhangers last time. This is a little cliffhanger right before the commercial break.
The pack frees Xander, they go after Willow, she hides.
Xander is there when she comes out from the desk. Buffy and Giles arrive in time to help save her. And Buffy goes to try to lure the pack, while Giles and Willow go separately toward the zoo.
Moving Towards the Climax
So all of this is moving very fast toward the Climax. Eventually we get to the zoo and the zookeeper is there in ceremonial paint and garb.
Giles sees the design on the floor, catches on right as a zookeeper knocks him out. Once again, I think Giles has been knocked out in two-thirds of these episodes so far. And he will continue to get knocked out. He would probably have some really serious brain injuries from all of this.
Happily in the Buffyverse that isn't a problem.
So Willow comes in, she doesn't know where Giles is. But she lets the zookeeper tie her up because she thinks this is part of the plan. We then get to our Climax.
The Climax of The Pack
Willow has a knife to her throat. She has realized what's happening because she says to the zookeeper, “Oh, now you're going to pretend to predatory act?” And he says, “Something like that.”
So she yells out that it's a trap. The zookeeper becomes possessed by the hyenas. Xander tackles him to save Willow. And this is a nice Climax to the Willow/Xander relationship arc, that Xander does this. Because immediately when the hyena leaves him, he goes to save Willow.
Then we have Buffy, the Climax of the plot itself.
Buffy is continuing to fight. The zookeeper runs at her. She's in front of the railing walling off the hyenas, and he goes over and they kill him.
The Villain's Death
So as in The Witch, we see that Buffy doesn't kill a human being, despite that he is doing evil things and things beyond, beyond the reach of the human justice system.
She still doesn't kill him, although she is instrumental in his death.
But it is again, a sort of poetic justice because he wanted to have this power of the hyenas, and now the hyenas are killing him. So yet again, we have this theme of he is his own undoing. Therefore, I think in the show's sort of moral compass or moral universe what happens to him is okay. And we're not having Buffy kill somebody.
The Predatory Act
Something I found interesting as I watched this time, I was thinking about the predatory act aspect, and I thought, ‘Well, is the zookeeper, or does he commit a predatory act?’
Because while he has the knife at Willow's throat, he doesn't actually kill her. Clearly, we don't want Willow to be killed.
So is that really a predatory act?
But I remembered that Lance also, the predatory act was the mean kid pushing him up to the guard rail and threatening to throw him over. And that was enough of an act to trigger this possession. So here, the zookeeper threatening Willow likewise triggers this.
Falling Action in The Pack
So now we have our Falling Action. There is conversation about Principal Flutie and when he'll be replaced. Xander pretends he doesn't know what he did and nobody tells him otherwise — not otherwise, sorry — nobody tells him that he tried to assault Buffy or anything else.
He does say no one messes with his Willow. So that's a nice part of the Falling Action for the Willow and Xander arc.
Giles does tell Xander when he's alone that he couldn't find anything about memory loss with possession. Xander asks if Giles told Willow and Buffy that. Giles assures him his secret is safe.
So one of the things that is not tied up in the Falling Action is what happens to the rest of the Pack.
Because now we know that Xander has these memories. And the Pack therefore also must have them and they ate a pig and then killed and ate Principal Flutie. Which no matter sort of what kind of people they are would just be horribly traumatic.
And we just leave that, we don't deal with it at all.
I understand that it isn't their story. But I feel like that is part of what is unsatisfying about this episode. For me is it's just left hanging.
And we also don't deal at all that they too are victims of the zookeeper's scheme. It's as if the show is saying, ‘Well, because they're mean kids, who cares what happens to them.’ And I don't at all think that was the writer's intent. I think they were just focused on the story they were telling, but it does leave this open space here.
The Big Picture
Overall, this isn't one of my favorite episodes.
Like a lot of Season One episodes it doesn't contribute to the season arc. I don't mind that so much. I really enjoy some of the one-off episodes. But it also, for me, just doesn't have the same emotional resonance as other episodes do.
The possession, it's not so much of a metaphor for anything, and maybe that's it. As I said before, I like Buffy best when the metaphor works. And here, I'm not sure.
I mean, yeah, we have this metaphor of mean kids being like hyenas. But the possession isn't their choice. Yes, they do this predatory act that sets it off. So I guess you can argue that's partly their choice, but I don't know. I just don't know if it works that well.
I will take back something though. It does contribute to the story arc in the sense of Principal Flutie being gone now and that opening a space for someone new to come in. I won't say any more on that.
I do have a short spoiler section that is really more about hints and foreshadowing and some philosophical questions. So if you don't want to hear spoilers, thank you for listening.
I hope you will come back next week when we're going to talk about Angel, which is one of my favorite episodes.
In the meantime, you can tweet me @lisamlilly on Twitter or find me and my books on writing and articles on writing and also time management at WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
Spoilers in The Pack
There is maybe a tiny bit of foreshadowing here when Xander, as he is trying to assault Buffy, saying how Buffy only likes men, I think he says, “Who are dangerous and mean and guess who just got mean?” So he's referring to Angel, which is interesting cause we have not seen Angel being dangerous or mean.
But I guess he has an air of danger cause he's always coming to warn Buffy about terrible things.
And next week we'll find out that he's a vampire and she will keep seeing him despite the danger there. So I guess this is a little bit of a hint of that and it foreshadows Season Two where Angel does become a threat to Buffy and everyone else.
Which raises my philosophical question. I'm certainly not the first one to contemplate this. Why does Xander get a pass for everything he does while possessed by the hyena, but Angel's whole arc in Buffy and Angel is to make up for what he did as Angelus, when he was a vampire.
That's an interesting question to me because throughout Buffy, we mostly feel that people are not at fault for what they do if they are possessed. Now, one reason might be, as we'll see later, that Angel makes a choice in a way to become a vampire. It's unclear if he knows what it is he's choosing when Darla turns him.
We’ll have to look at it when we get that flashback because right now it's been a while since I saw it and I don't recall how aware he is. He's definitely portrayed as willing to go along with Darla, but I'm not sure you can argue he knows what he is going to become.
Maybe there's some aspect of that.
We do get a little, in Amends, where the first is Jenny Calendar comments on, not just comments, shows him the kind of man he was. Which sort of, now that I think of it, sort of echoes this idea with the rest of the mean kids that they were sort of behaving terribly and so this episode is not concerned about the fallout to them and what happens to them.
So they didn't choose to be hyenas, but they were acting like that and their predatory act set it off. So maybe there is a parallel there. Maybe that is sort of a principle or philosophy of the show or theme, I'm not sure, but we'll talk about that more as we learn more of Angel's story.
And there is that little foreshadowing here, going back to Principal Flutie that, you know, what will the principal's replacement be? And much as I miss Flutie is really fun to see Principal Snyder.
So that is it for this week. Thank you so much for listening and I hope to see you next time.
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