Oct 8 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: You Made a Bear!

You made a bear! Undo it! Undo it!

“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.

You Made a Bear!

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.

You Made a Bear!

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.

You Made a Bear!

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. 

You Made a Bear!

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.)

You Made a Bear!

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 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.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

1. NullNix
This gets my vote for the funniest Buffyverse episode of all. Almost every single line is a gem, with multiple superb uses of simultaneous unrelated conversations to add to the chance for one of the characters to misinterpret. Sure, the plot may make even less sense than usual, and Angel's reappearance is basically pointless, but for sheer humour value you just can't beat it.

Spike clearly has a very strong eye for people. We see it over and over again, but perhaps most clearly when he turns it against the Scoobies at the end of this season, setting them at each others's throats when he's not even present with a few well-chosen lines.
2. Shamm
This is a pretty controversial episode due to the way it handles certain issues, but what I find interesting is which people criticize certain aspscts. The ep gets a lot of flak for depicting Hus as a stereotypical warrior, but the lone criticism of this story written by a person from the Chumash nation that I've found came from the opposite perspective: they took offense to the line "fluffy indigenous kittens" because it played down the role the Chumash had played in raids and uprisings against the settlers.

Personally, I take offense to the fact that this is the only conflict that gets Angel's attention. Really, PTB? A single missile warrants the Champion's intervention but Glory and Ubervamps don't?
john mullen
3. johntheirishmongol
I think this is a cute episode but I have to admit this is one of the ones where I just found Willow annoying. She's got as much native american heritage as Elizabeth Warren, and that part was just silly. I did love the ending though, where Xander opens his mouth up about Angel having been in town. Spike as a pincushion was very funny. And poor Xander is once again the butt of all jokes.
Emma Rosloff
4. emmarosloff
I liked this episode because each character is clealy in the midst of some personal crisis (as Alyx aptly pointed out), on top of the not so cut-and-dry issue of the veangeful spirit. And I could actually sympathize with Angel... Buffy's got plenty to think about without Angel there to distract her. While it would be bad if she found out (and she did), I actually felt like he was being rather selfless. It's not like there's anything he can do to change their situation. He loved her enough to leave, and he still loves her enough not to make his presence known. Personally, I never saw anything wrong with that (except that it puts the other Scoobies in something of a tight spot).

I also agree that Willow's reaction to the whole thing was heavyhanded. Not Alyson's fault, though... I get the sense the writers wanted to amp up the conflict, and bring to light the two sides of the issue. It's not that I disagree that it's terrible how the Chumash were treated, but Gile's point seems self-evident -- this spirit is savagely killing people. Two wrongs don't make a right. But... one could argue that this plays into Willow's views on magic. She's often trying to make a right with another wrong. So maybe it's not so strange that she's so pigheaded about this.

As always, Spike steals the show (although props to Xander for bearing the brunt of those bad diseases... love Anya's callback to that in their musical number: "his penis got diseases from a Chumash tribe!"). When I was reading James Marsters IMDB last week, I came across a quote where he was talking about the fact that after Charisma Carpenter started on Angel, Joss decided to bring Spike back to Buffy because he needed someone around to tell Buffy week-to-week how stupid she was being (formerly Cordelia's role).

Spike does that expertly in this episode. I also find his new role in their lives pretty hilarious. Tying him up in the bathtub, feeding him animal blood through a straw in a novelty mug, letting him sit at the Thanksgiving table. It really does speak to Buffy's sense of fairness that not only will she not kill him, she won't hand him back to the Initiative (even when it causes strain between her and Riley), because he can't defend himself.

And I think the fact that in spite of her loathing for him, she still treats him like a person (within reasonable bounds), is what ultimately brings Spike over to her side. He never really got that kind of respsect when he was human, except from his mother (and we all know how that ended), and he spent a century or so as a vampire trying to overcompensate by being particularly ruthless. All he really wanted was for a woman to love him. A human woman. Buffy tolerating him because he's been neutered is actually the closest he's come. Wrap that up with his obsession with Slayers and you have the makings of Vampyre the Buffy Stalker, take two. What's great is we don't even get that particular window into Spike's past until season 5, but the shift is starting even here.
5. Gardner Dozois
This is one of the show's best comic episodes, although the episode that follows is pretty funny too. Although the season would darken considerably later, the first part of the season was one of the funniest stretches of the entire series, with "Beer Bad" and "Fear Itself" and this episode and the one that follows (and, if I'm remembering correctly, the episode where Giles turns into a demon), and I sometimes regretted that they lost that tone in later seasons when the show had become darker, grimmer, and more glum, with everyone bleak and tormented and Byronic. The scene where Spike is hopping along in his chair, punctured with arrows to the point where he looks like St. Stephen, is worth the whole episode. The scene where Spike is out in the snow looking tragically in through the window at the vampires eating a homeless person, all shot like a scene from The Little Match Girl or some other bit of Christmas sentimentality, was priceless too.

Emmarolrosloff, some very shrewd points about Spike and his evolving relationship with Buffy. I think they had to make him harmless and even comically helpless in order to wipe the taste of the ruthless killer he had been out of the audience's mouthes, before they could make it credible that Buffy would become romantically involved with him, showing that they were starting the process that would lead to that even this far back. Marsters's comments are fascinating, and spot-on. Spike has always had the ability to see right through everybody else's bullshit and spot and deflate the lies they're telling themselves, as demonstrated by his speech to Buffy and Angel in "Lover's Walk."

I too find it very hard to believe that Angel would rush back to protect her from a Chumash ghost but wouldn't bother with Glory and Adam, whom Buffy was in much more danger from. But they were doing crossovers, probably to boost the popularity of new show ANGEL, and this episode sets up a reason for Buffy to visit Angel in the next episode of that show, which is the real reason Angel shows up on this one.
Constance Sublette
6. Zorra
I loved everything about this episode -- disputing Issues is what happens in families gathered together for the Big Holiday Feasts.

Most of all I loved how all the characters at this Thanksgiving table are all at The End of all things in Season 7. It was as significant who wasn't there too. Riley wasn't there. It was only the inner members, the True Family, at that table.

Love, C.
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
This is one my favorite episodes of, well, tv. I grin just thinking through the plot (hell, I was laughing out loud just reading the title - which, of course, my brain read in Spike's voice) and it's turned into a Thanksgiving Day ritual. I know a lot of families like to eat their turkey while watching some big dudes toss a pigskin around but I end up peeling potatoes in the living room just so I can watch "Pangs" and "True Blue" with my kids (hey, I'll take whatever teen-bonding I can get away with!)

That said, Zorra's point now has added an extra little heartstring tug to it, tying it to the the end. Sigh.
Emma Rosloff
8. emmarosloff
Good point, Zorra. Tara's not there, either :/.

@Gardner Dozois: Great point about how he had to become comically harmless before we could accept him as a potential love interest (warped though his involvement in Buffy's life is). Not a lot of characters could come back from that (and not a lot of actors could pull it off). But it's not the first time Spike's done a 180. Sure, the last time it was easy, rising as an evil vampyre and all. This transition was a slower one, but that's another thing that I loved about it. He doesn't change overnight. He spends plenty of season 4 hating on the Scoobies, even after he's toothless and they've all taken pity on him. And he spends all of season 5 stalking Buffy without success. It isn't until season 6, when Buffy herself has risen from the dead (when she was never supposed to), that they suddenly have common ground, whether she likes it or not. He's always been there for her darkest moments.
Jason Parker
9. tarbis
First off, kudos for posting this on both Thanksgiving (Canada) and observed Columbus Day (U.S.). You can't beat timing like that.

Somehow I have the feeling that Angel was a last minute addition to the script. They tacked him on to set up Buffy's appearance on his show in a late draft. On the upside that kept the special guest star from taking over the episode which is often a problem.

Willow got on my nerves, but she did it in a very reality based way. The character sounded exactly like an undergraduate that just realized that life was unfair and reacts by parroting other people's idea of fair instead of developing their own. It suits the character's age and background.

This episode also had good set up for Riley. Buffy wants a traditional Thanksgiving. Riley is going home for a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. It was a nice way to illustrate how they want the same things without being too heavy handed.
Constance Sublette
10. Zorra
Even the first time I watched this episode, the thinker is just ticking away: "Spike is at the table! Spikes is at the table! What does this meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan??????" But I did like the episode a lot from the first viewing, because, from the start of becoming an adult, like Buffy, going off to college, Thanksgiving became our favorite holiday. It was when I began to understand that families could be chosen too, not merely imposed by fate.

But of course I didn't know what it meant until The End, and then re-watching the whole series from beginning to conclusion. That second re-watch was the best watching of all, because now I could see how brilliantly it was plotted and written.

Love, C.
Constance Sublette
11. Zorra
O, and I must add, that's why it's so important that Angel is there too, but outside, looking in, not at the table. He's not at The End, but he will have his own End.
This is skirting dangerously upon the sacreligious, but because all these characters are seated at The Table, one might think about the First Communion. But instead of an isolated Judas, we've got another Hero of the same War of Good vs Evil, Angel, looking in.

As well as sacreligious, it's probably too grave an observation.

Love, C.
Constance Sublette
12. Zorra
And yet one more thing -- the last, I promise!

Neither Joyce nor Dawn at the Thanksgiving table.

I have A Theory about this: Dawn's arrival was not without cost, or without sever damage to this other family of Buffy's.

Love, C.
13. Gardner Dozois
Although I agree with you about Dawn, and think your table metaphor works out pretty well, my own suspicion is that Dawn isn't there because they hadn't thought her up yet.
Alyx Dellamonica
14. AMDellamonica
Hi, all--

An odd coincidence: Thanksgiving happened this weekend past, here in Canada, and so instead of watching this thread, I was doing other things yesterday.

I'll catch up as I can over the next few days.
Constance Sublette
15. Zorra
Gardner -- I'd guess you are right about that not thinking up Dawn yet -- and oh I still wish to beat them severely about Dawn, but nevermind, I'm wrong and they were right, surely.

Dawn -- such a stick in the wheel. Like the unplanned last child for the rest of us, etc. etc. etc.

But Joyce paid such a huge price, and she was never consulted. The consequences of No Choice.

Loe, C.
16. DSB
A little unusually for the Buffyverse, the Chumash were a real tribe, and the area they inhabited is roughly co-extensive with Santa Barbara County. This link is the point in the series at which it's pretty much nailed down that Sunnydale should be considered as occupying the same space that Santa Barbara does in the primary world, something already hinted at in earlier episodes with the use of maps of Santa Barbara and vicinity to represent Sunnydale (on the wall of the Mayor's office, e.g.).
17. Gardner Dozois
Wonder if Santa Barbara is aware that they've collapsed into a huge pit in the ground? Wouldn't think that would be good for tourism.
18. Dr. Thanatos
Also unusual: Chumash is the Hebrew word for the printed (not parchment scroll) version of the Five Books of Moses (Genesis->Deuteronomy). Wonder which use of the word was in their minds, although the less intriguing answer (the Indian tribe) is more likely...
19. Gardner Dozois
Since "his penis got diseases from a printed version of the Five Books of Moses" seems unlikely, you're probably right.
20. Dr. Thanatos

I dunno. There are an awful lot of discussions of nasty disgusting diseases in there, some of which might be pertinent...
Alyx Dellamonica
21. AMDellamonica
Ah, Dawn... not there yet. Be interesting to know if she was written into their memories of that Thanksgiving, or into their memories of any of the big pitched battles.

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