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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Pangs

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 4

Episode: “Pangs”

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Spike: James Marsters
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Riley: Mark Blucas
Angel: David Boreanaz


After Buffy dispatches a campus vampire as usual, we spot Angel-- who’s supposed to be in LA, spying on her in the bushes.

Act 1

UCSD Dean Guerrero introduces Professor Gerhard, who’s breaking ground on a new Cultural Center. Xander, an honorary ground-breaker, breaks right through to a tunnel below, which turns out to be a lost “Sunnydale Mission,” swallowed by an earthquake long ago.
Buffy senses someone watching her (it’s Angel.)
Despite Willow’s hatred of Thanksgiving and Buffy’s mom being out of town, Buffy decides to invite all her friends over to her Mom’s place, including Xander’s new love, Anya. (This irritates Willow.)
Xander turns up sick the next day, and Anya insists he spend the day in bed.
And at the University, a Chumash Indian, (long destroyed) manifests itself, seizes a Chumash ceremonial knife and immediately slices Professor Gerhard’s throat.

Act 2
Professor Gerhard turns up sans one ear, so Buffy and Willow suspect a witch, but they put Giles on the importance of the knife. Giles, meanwhile, is harboring Angel. Angel has come to Sunnydale because his mystic friend Doyle had a vision of Buffy in danger.
Meanwhile, Spike, essentially vampirically neutered by the Initiative so that he cannot feed, wanders like a lost soul until he finally goes back to Harmony, who tells him to “get out,” and threatens to stake the pitiful vampire.
Angel finds Willow, tells her he’s got to keep his presence a secret from Buffy, and is troubled to see Buffy flirting with New Guy Riley.
Buff goes to consult with priest Father Gabriel and finds the Chumash, Hus, skewering him. He’s out for justice, he says, and disappears in a cloud of ravens.

Act 3

Buffy’s conflicted about having to Slay the warrior of Chumash, who were a peaceful tribe slaughtered by the Europeans and herded into the disease-riddled mission. Yes, yes, very sad, Giles says, basically, but he still can’t get away with killing people. Xander, meanwhile, shows up at Thanksgiving complaining of various diseases he’s contracted from the ghosts of the Mission. “He’s a vengeance demon,” Xander says. “You don’t talk to vengeance demons, you kill them.” Giles agrees: “Hatred is a cycle; all he will do is kill.”
While the whimpering Spike turns to Buffy for help, the Chumash conjures a whole army of his former comrades.

Act 4
Buffy lets the neutered Spike come inside, but only if she can tie him up. Giles realizes that Xander is the only non-authority figure the Chumash has killed. The Gang decides that since they have an hour before dinner’s ready, Xander, Willow and Anya go check out the Dean. He's fine; but they run into Angel, who tells them the Chumash arsenal in the museum is missing. Meanwhile, the Chumash have decided Buffy is the head warrior of the conquerors and lay siege on Giles’ place with volley after volley of arrows.

The rest of the Slayer Gang arrive (on bicycles-- cavalry, see) and full war breaks out. The Gang fights admirably while Spike tries to avoid an arrow through the heart. Angel kills almost all the Indians but stays outside Buffy’s house and unseen by her; the Gang wins using Chumash weapons, the only weapons that can kill them.

Afterwards, the Gang reflects on its prowess over Thanksgiving Dinner, and Willow says it was “just like old times.” “Yeah, especially with Angel being here and all,” adds Xander, before he realizes he’s just given away the secret. (Angel, by now, is long gone.)


Whereas Buffy’s Christmas Episode last season was a fairly traditional seasonal tale, this Thanksgiving episode is more along the lines of what one might expect from Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Which is to say, it’s a satire on Thanksgiving Episodes of other shows.
As with all humans on television, the characters' families are conveniently dispensed with so our family, the characters we see each week, can end up at a table together. It’s wonderful that, although Angel can’t join them, Spike can, even if he’s tied to his chair lest he try to bite someone.
I also enjoyed the fact that this episode makes a genuine effort at reconciling the family feast tradition with the newer PC concept that the beginning of colonial conquest should be regretted, not commemorated. Every character gets to comment on this, with Buffy falling in the middle as the conscience of the show, Willow taking the extreme left, Xander moderate left, and Giles and Spike (Englishmen, therefore subjects of a once-thriving empire) falling to the right. And as always, it’s handled with humor. (And violence; how wonderful that the episode slyly includes a debate about the treatment of American Indians and yet involves a siege from face-painted, arrow-shooting redskins.)

A few other thoughts, no particular order:

*I like Anya’s blithe pronouncement of Thanksgiving dinner as a “blood sacrifice:” “To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It’s a sacrifice of blood.” The former man-killing demon is integrating herself nicely into the group, but Willow’s grumbling about it. Hmmm.

* Why is Xander a groundbreaker? Because the plot says so, that’s why.


* Giles and Angel now have something in common-- it’s not either of their jobs anymore to be looking after Buffy, and yet they both do it. It was interesting to see them in collusion.

* It’s Hilarious when Spike looks wistfully through a window on vampires killing, a wonderful visual play on the old chestnut of the poor vagrant, complete with a blanket around his head, who usually pines away at happy diners in holiday movies where a rich man learns to care, or something. Spike is the best part of the whole episode and has all the best lines, including a brilliantly cynical speech about the plight of the Indians. His take is that the Europeans had better learn to live with their own aggression because they wielded it very well. “You had better weapons and you annihilated them,” he says.

* This is more a question. Several times characters use the term “Indian,” and are corrected by others who seem to want them to say “Native American” (the gag is, no-one ever gets the term out). But I wonder is what’s behind this constant play is that we seem to have had yet another cultural shift, and the group involved, formerly known as Native Americans, now prefer the term “Indian” (or at the very least, resented a new term being foisted upon them. I have no idea what’s the correct term.


“It is a sham, but it’s a sham with yams.”
--Buffy, on why we continue our insensitive Thanksgiving ritual.

“I’m still trying to not call you lot “bloody colonials.”
-- Giles, struggling with his terms

“I’m saying that Spike had a little trip to the vet and now he doesn’t chase the other puppies anymore.”
-- Spike himself, trying to explain what the Initiative did to him (the made him unable to bite.)

“You won. You came in, you killed them, and you took their land. That’s what conquering nations do.”
-- Spike, laying it all out for us

“Hey. Sorry. Sorry about that, chief.”
-- Spike once more, changing his mind and apologizing to the Chumash in hopes they’ll not shoot an arrow through his heart, and incidentally quoting Maxwell Smart.

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