Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Pangs

This is a triumphant and hilarious episode for reasons I will get to, but let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Pangs is extremely awkward in its approach to the topic of Thanksgiving and Native Americans. It’s a good thing to try to tackle the issue, and even having some of the characters acknowledge that they are celebrating something a bit dodgy is a brave move, but the story stomps all over any guilt concerning the treatment of Native Americans. They don’t really have a voice here, and are shown to be violent and monstrous to the point where it’s kill or be killed for the white Americans. There are two ways to communicate a story: show or tell. That’s the showing bit dealt with. As for the telling, Willow is the voice of guilt and concern, and that’s not a bad choice. University is a time when young people often start to understand that the world is all about shades of grey, for the first time. However, on the other side of the debate sits just about every character who is more fun and charismatic than Willow. Heck, the kill or be killed argument even has Xander and Spike agreeing with each other.

A much more clear-cut negative for this episode is the reappearance of Angel, who has no valid reason for being here. This is no more dangerous a situation for Buffy than she faces every week, so the vision stuff that links to the spin-off series is all apparently nonsense, presumably there to enable a crossover episode to follow in Angel as well. But the parent show should not be there to serve the needs of the spin-off, and this doesn’t work in isolation. Angel and Buffy don’t even interact, and there is little point to Angel’s encounters with the others. The only good thing about it all is the closing moments of the episode, with Xander spilling the beans and the mischievous look of delight on Spike’s face stealing the final scene of the episode. James Marsters will, of course, continue to steal every scene in which he appears for the remainder of the entire show.

That brings us to the main reason this is a triumph of an episode, because it’s the moment Spike becomes part of Buffy’s gang. The implant in his brain is a stroke of genius, because it allows him to fully interact without being a threat. It might feel like we’ve lost something, by defanging the best enemy Buffy has ever had, but we haven’t. That story is all told, and Spike is no longer a credible threat, but he remains hugely entertaining and hilariously funny. That’s his only reason, for the time being, for being part of Buffy’s life. Families are often dysfunctional, and Spike’s the hilarious black sheep of this family, and then some. His arrival shakes up a group that was coming back together after spending most of the season divided.

“At least we all worked together. It was like old times.”

That’s a lovely message for Thanksgiving, but the reinstatement of the old status quo is the point at which character development within the group dynamic could stagnate, so Spike has arrived to mix things up. Anya is part of that process too. She’s brilliant and also very funny, but her role in the group is entirely dependant on her relationship with Xander. It’s lovely to see him moving towards a place of happiness at last, but Spike becoming part of the group is the really big win here. You can pair him with anyone, and it’s going to be funny. He’ll also insult literally everyone else in the group, but unlike Cordelia, he’ll do that in a way that’s always entertaining, and never stops him from being the most likeable blood-drinker ever to appear in any television show. In just this episode, he has very many funny moments.

“I came to you in friendship, well, alright seething hatred.”

Even before he arrives at Giles’ home, we are being encouraged to think of him as one of the heroes, and feel sympathetic towards his plight, with sad music accompanying his pathetic stumbling around looking for a place he can belong, following on from Buffy’s comment that “everyone has a place to go” at Thanksgiving. In other circumstances, making the viewers love a monster would be a hard sell, but this is James Marsters. This is Spike. We don’t need Thanksgiving to say welcome to the family. Buffy’s world is never going to be the same again. It just got a whole lot more fun.   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

I have been pleasantly surprised with this series since it matured beyond its first season, but one thing that really has jumped out at me is how often it addresses very real issues.   I think that’s a really spectacular thing for the audience, especially if teenagers actually can get into this show and get something from it.  But Pangs is a weird episode to me because I didn’t feel like it was actually addressing a real teen issue.  If anything, it felt like an opportunity for writer Jane Esperson to soapbox on the treatment of Native Americans.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and frankly, after some of the stuff I’ve watched from Chris Chibnall (lead writer for Doctor Who  from 2018-2022) this was handled positively outstandingly.  However, it still felt forced.  Luckily Buffy herself addresses the issue by saying Willow is basically saying the very things her own mother says, which is a really clever way to write it in.  We often learn from our parents and, I can tell you from personal experience, sometimes we realize we’ve become our own mother or father.  So it makes sense in a character driven series like this that Willow might behave say what she says, but as episodes go, this was one I really disliked.

To the plot… Xander is helping to break ground at a new Anthropology site when he falls into an old mission and magically releases a spirit entombed there.  Said spirit, Hus, manifests and starts killing people before summoning a tribe to help.  Then it gets really silly with a bunch of Native Americans shooting arrows into Giles’ home before finally breaking in realizing that their arrows are simply not working well.  Yawn.  When Hus transforms into a bear, it was hands down the worst fight I’d ever seen in this series, managing to make Kirk vs. The Gorn a battle royale worthy of any WWE match ever.  So bad was it that they clearly had to film quick shots of the bear in the hopes he looked threatening.  Let’s just chalk that up to a fail.  The Gorn was better!  And throughout the episode, Buffy is so obsessed with cooking Thanksgiving dinner that she fails to really care about the threat of the week.  I love this cast, but I just wasn’t buying it.  To compound matters, we just saw in Angel that Angel was going to come check on his former girlfriend so I was expecting a really great episode with a team-up/crossover like we get in today’s television series like Arrow and The Flash.  Instead, everyone knows he’s there except Buffy and his presence really feels tacked on.  (The best scene of the episode was actually when Xander blurts out that Angel was there and the room goes quiet, the screen goes black, and you hear the utensils drop!)

Now I can complain about the episode but that doesn’t meant it’s without merit.  For instance, I loved the parallel Willow draws to Oz while discussing things with Angel about his relationship to Buffy.  The idea of running away is never the right option and Willow calls Angel out on it.  Kudos for good writing in the midst of a lot of weak stuff.  Unfortunately, I never got my laugh out loud moment, but like some of my jokes, I realize they can’t all be winners!  Contrast that against Spike getting arrows to his entire body and somehow being ok, and I have to laugh that every other vampire to date has been dispatched with a splinter within 6” of the heart but Spike can take a dozen!  Yeah, I know, she’s the slayer and happens to get the heart every time.  I still would have been happier to see the arrows in just his arms and legs; no need to draw attention to it.

Actually there’s one personal thing I really liked about this episode.  My wife is from Ireland and had shared with me that one of her favorite veggies is something we rarely have on this side of the pond: mushy peas.  So when Giles says he likes mushy peas, I knew exactly what he meant.  I wonder how many viewers thought he simply meant peas that were not cooked correctly.  (As it happens, I too like mushy peas!)   When I started this show, I had hoped for something that I wasn’t expecting to find and I’m pleased to say, it has defied my expectations; I look forward to watching this more than almost anything else I’m following right now.  The show I used as the golden standard for arc storytelling was Babylon 5 and while I’m not sure Buffy is hitting that level yet, it’s absolutely winning me over.  I was reminded of that comparison when Angel says “Everything’s different now.”  In fact, it’s said twice in this story.  That’s significant because right before Babylon 5 launched into season 2, when things really started to ramp up, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair said, “nothing’s the same anymore.”  Different words that mean the exact same thing and gave me pause for thought.  Considering how strong Buffy The Vampire Slayer has been up until now, if this is the start of a new era, so to speak, this is going to be amazing.  So it really made me feel blue bashing this episode so badly considering it may be the start of some great things.   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Something Blue

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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