“Pangs” opens with a quick staking, just another day at the Slay office for Buffy – but for one minor detail. Angel is sneaking around campus, watching her work and declining to make contact. A guy can only go for so long without stalking the girl he loves and lost.
Work is also the order of the day for Xander, who has gotten himself a construction gig building a new cultural studies center at, guess where, UC Sunnydale. All three Scooby girls turn out for the groundbreaking, and Anya is profoundly excited about watching Xander dig the entire pit himself. Willow is seriously unimpressed with the speeches and hoopla, whose content boils down to a bundle of warm fuzzy sentiment about cultural melding. Willow, having super-hearing and a most excellent brain, hears this as: “Up with imperialism! Genocide go!” In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty much with her on this.
Digging begins. Anya is brimming with desire as she contemplates imminent sweating. Maybe it’s the weight of her passion or just the weakness of the old roof, but Xander falls into the Sunnydale mission, disturbing the spirits and, we learn later, catching their germs.
Buffy wants to be on board with Willow’s analysis about the whitewashing of European settlers’ slaughter of North America’s indigenous people, but her sense of longing for a normal life has kicked into overdrive, and she has turkey on the brain. Joyce is out of town, which means that if she wants to revisit her childhood via the delivery mechanism that is the traditional Thanksgiving gorge, she’s going to have to cook the feast herself.
I can’t help thinking that this is a savvy choice, as rites of passage to adulthood go, for our beloved Scoobs. We’ve had the bad roommate and the first epic drunk. Making your own Thanksgiving seems very much a piece with this, as does evaluating whether you want to blindly follow the traditions of your family of origin.
To this last question, despite imperialism, Buffy buys into Thanksgiving – in a big way. Her resolve to have a flawless traditional holiday harkens back to her decision, last year, to ensure that the gang has a perfect prom: when she’s missing something herself, she spreads her arms wide and tries to give it to her gang. This isn’t her worst quality, not by far. It’s generous, I think. It’s not just I want this for me – which, frankly, would be reason enough given how much time she spends saving the world and all. But no, it’s I want this for all my loved ones, too.
As for the Initiative, Forest and Riley are out hunting Spike and coming up fails. That’s not gonna stop them from taking the long weekend, though. Why shouldn’t they? Spike’s chipped and a danger to nobody. He’ll be easier to catch when he’s hungrier. Or so you’d think.
Speaking of things that are catching, Xander has incubated a whole bunch of magical, sexually transmitted diseases from his pitch into the old mission. The professor in charge of the project, meanwhile, has come down with an even worse case of having her throat cut by an angry ghost.
Buffy and Willow look into the murder and then fill in Giles, all while organizing Thanksgiving dinner. Buffy appoints Giles patriarch, which is cute, and shows off her razor-sharp Nancy Drew skills with regard to the murder weapon, which got stolen out of one of the artifact cases despite a wealth of handy alternatives. After Giles sends her off in search of a priest with historical knowledge, Angel lurks in, and he and Giles have a little whisper about how Buffy’s in soooo much danger. More danger than ever before!
Needless to say, this is unconvincing. Remember the Master, Angel? Remember you?
Giles, possibly sensing the flaw in this logic, tells Angel that the sneaking is asinine, and possibly cruel, and that he should just fess up. Angel retaliates by whining about how hard it is to look at Buffy while knowing they can never be. He just doesn’t want to tell her he crushed the Gem of Amara, is my guess. (Thanks for the invulnerability, hon. So, I’m wondering, do you still have the receipt?) But it is hard, very hard, especially when he sees her smiling at Riley and comparing Thanksgiving plans. Poor Angel. Can you say “suck it up!” to a vampire?
Harmony can. Back at the lair, she threatens to stake Spike when he comes moochin’ around for food and shelter.
By now Buffy has discovered that the vengeance spirit, whose name is Hus, has killed her next would-be info source – the priest. They fight, but she cannot quite bring herself to strike a killing blow. As she says later, in my pick for the episode’s best line, she likes her evil like she likes her men – evil. You have to hope Angel overheard that one.
Must Hus die? Giles says yes, citing two recently killed and mutilated people so far. Willow says no, pointing out that the mission and settlers brought the local Chumash people a peck of diseases, slaughter, slavery and woe. It’s a good argument with no good answer.
Buffy is avoiding the clash by cooking as much and as frantically as she can. Thanksgiving will be perfect, she declares! Even when Xander shows up with all of the fatal diseases in the catalog, Willow’s desire to see a non-violent outcome for Hus is not shaken. But we all know that Buffy’s going to kill some big monster in pretty much every episode, and Hus makes it easy on her and us, in this one, by rounding up his ghost friends and invading Chez Giles.
All of the Scoobies are more or less off their game in “Pangs.” Buffy is invested in the family togetherness of the holiday, and though she feels guilty as all get out about what happened to Hus’s tribe, she’s not really going to let him get away with mass Scoobycide. Giles and Willow are going at each other tooth and nail about colonialism (and, of course, Willow is also still heartbroken). Xander’s TV-dying, and Anya isn’t interested in anything not-Xander. As for Spike, he’s got a clear-if-appalling argument for slaying Hus, but he’s more than half-starved and far too tied to a chair to do anything about it.
All of this culminates in a scene where Spike is tied up in the living room, getting shot a lot, while Buffy and Giles are fending off an invasion of bow-wielding indigenous people. Angel, meanwhile—and I will point out that Angelus, being 250ish years of age, might actually have some direct crimes against the Native Americans to answer for—is out in the yard, helping pick off the extra ghosts.
The big story development in “Pangs” is that Spike throws himself on the gang’s mercy and is taken in by them. It’s an admirable tactical move on his part: it keeps him alive and brings him closer to Buffy. Whether you think he’s still hoping to kill her, already in love with her or in transition from one state to the other, that can only be a good thing from his point of view.
Spike brings many things to the Scooby mix: there are his fighting skills, once he realizes he can turn them on demons. And he’s oddly clear-headed in some ways – he sees things the others don’t, because of his emotional distance and general lack of soul. (Next week, he’s the one who sees that Willow is emphatically not recovering from her heartbreak.)
There are few other developments of note in this episode: the Initiatrio is on the holiday sidelines, Hus and the issues he brings with him are easily resolved and left to fade into the background, and the only other fact that really carries forward is that Xander’s got what appears to be his first construction job.
Next week: Lips of Marriage!!
A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes up here on Tor.com. Her ’baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.