Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving "Classic" Recap: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer": Pangs

“To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It’s a ritual sacrifice. With pie.”

Joss Whedon and the rest of the creative team behind “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” only produced one Thanksgiving episode in the show’s seven season run. I guess they figured with “Pangs,” they milked all the supernatural connections to the holiday that they possibly could. The episode was written by Jane Espenson, which means there’s more than plenty of humor mixed in with more serious discussion of how Native Americans were treated by European settlers and the very serious threat that Buffy and the rest of the Scoobies face. I don’t remember especially loving this episode the first time I saw it, but I saw it again this past summer at a bar in DC that shows episodes of Buffy on a regular basis, and I enjoyed it a lot more, mostly due to the humor Espenson works in throughout the episode. This episode also somewhat furthered the transition from Angel to Spike as the main vampire who has contact with the Scoobies, although I found Angel's presence overall to be kind of extraneous. This fourth season episode ran concurrently with the first season of “Angel,” however, so there is a great deal of character cross over between both series, most likely in an effort to build a fan base for the new show. Overall, though, the episode is a rather enjoyable watch.

The episode opens on the UC Sunnydale campus, where they’re having a groundbreaking for a new Cultural Partnership Center. Xander’s construction company will be doing most of the digging (although an anthropology professor gets to do the actual, ceremonial dig), so the gang is all there to watch. Buffy is sad that her mom is off visiting her aunt, so there won’t be any Summers family Thanksgiving. Willow explains how in her family, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving because it’s really all about the death of the Native Americans. Buffy later decides that she wants to host her own Thanksgiving for all her friends (at Giles’ house, of course, because she doesn’t want to have to do clean-up), and this will set up a side conflict for most of the rest of the episode. Anyway, as he’s digging, Xander falls into a sinkhole. He’s a little bruised but otherwise okay, and he’s made an important archeological discovery. The would-have-been site of the cultural center is the actual site of the long lost Sunnydale Mission.

Everyone at UC Sunnydale, especially the anthropology prof, is really excited about this find. Soon, though, it turns dangerous. We see a noxious green gas rise from the Mission site and coalesce into a Native American from the Chumash tribe. He then proceeds to kill the anthropology prof with a knife from her Chumash exhibit. The anthropology prof isn’t the only person to suffer the ill effects from opening the mission, though. Xander is very sick. The Scoobies figure he’s got every disease the Chumash caught when they were forced to live in the Mission long ago…including syphilis. This is one of only two episodes of television I’ve seen that successfully make syphilis funny. The other would be the first season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Who’s Zoomin’ Who.” The Soobies, in between trying to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, figure out that the culprit is a Native American vengeance spirit. He was awakened by the unearthing of the Mission, and he wants vengeance for all the horrible things settlers did to the Chumash. This discovery leads to quite the disagreement between the Scoobies, because Willow wants to find some way to stop the spirit without killing it, given that he has a pretty good reason to want vengeance. Giles and Xander are in favor of killing it just to stop the present-day bloodshed.

It can’t really be a classic episode of “Buffy” without vampire action of some sort, and there’s plenty in this episode, although it’s sort of on the periphery. In the episode of “Angel” that aired before “Pangs,” Angel was told about a vision of Buffy being in serious trouble, so he’s come back to Sunnydale to keep an eye on her. Various Scoobies, including Giles and Willow, interact with him, but he is adamant that Buffy not know he’s around. Spike has is part to play as well. He’s got a chip in his brain now, thanks to The Initiative, which prevents him from being able to harm humans, so he’s kind of wandering around Sunnydale not knowing what to do and with no idea how to feed himself. He tries to go back to the place he shared with Harmony, but Harmony kicks him out in a rather funny (in a pathetic way) scene. He winds up on Giles’ doorstep, and the gang reluctantly takes him in, although they don’t give him any blood. He spends the rest of the episode just mostly being cranky and providing the opinion that the Scoobies should just get over feeling bad about the Chumash. The Europeans were a conquering society, and they were doing what all conquering nations do. It doesn’t quite convince Willow, but it calms her down enough that the Scoobies do what has to be done.

The vengeance spirit uses some old Chumash weapons to call up some spirit buddies, and they all descend on Giles’ house. Because Buffy is the best fighter they’ve encountered, she thinks she’s the leader of current-day Sunnydale. That’s why they want to take her out. The house comes under siege while Willow, Xander, and Anya are out trying to warn the UC Sunnydale dean that he could be in danger (which was really kind of a dumb move). Giles and Buffy manage to hold off the spirits for a little while (while Spike becomes kind of a pin cushion for arrows because he’s still tied up in a chair), and eventually the rest of the gang return to help in the fight. They’re still floundering until Angel joins in outside where Buffy can’t see him. Buffy gets a hold of the lead vengeance spirit’s knife, and that actually does permanent damage to him. Unfortunately, the next thing he does is turn into a bear, which has the humorous effect of really freaking Spike out. Buffy stabs the bear with the knife again, and the spirit is finally dispatched. Xander starts feeling better, and the gang finally sits down for their Thanksgiving dinner. Xander observes that Buffy pretty much got it right. There was a big fight, then everyone ate themselves into food comas. Happy Thanksgiving!

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