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In the vast landscape of television series, there are few that have captivated audiences with the depth of their storytelling and the intricacy of their characters quite like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As one of the most beloved shows in the realm of supernatural drama, Buffy has consistently enchanted viewers with its blend of action, wit, and emotional resonance. One episode that stands out among the series' extensive repertoire is "Pangs," the show’s Thanksgiving episode which comments on the problematic origins of the holiday.
While the episode's main plotline revolves around Thanksgiving dinner gone awry and a native American group seeking revenge, it is the subtle nuances and hidden details scattered throughout that truly elevate "Pangs" to fame.
Originally airing on 23rd November 1999, "Pangs" sees Buffy Summers and her friends prepare for a traditional Thanksgiving feast but their plans quickly unravel as a vengeful spirit awakens, who is seeking revenge for the injustices inflicted upon Native Americans. What ensues is a rollercoaster of supernatural chaos, witty banter, and confusingly thought-provoking commentary on history and its lasting impact.
However, beyond the surface-level narrative lies a plethora of hidden details that reward dedicated viewers and fans of the show. From subtle foreshadowing to clever callbacks to previous episodes, "Pangs" demonstrates the meticulous craftsmanship from Whedon and the writers that made Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a landmark series. Here we’re delving into some of these hidden details, shedding light on the intricacies that might have escaped even the most dedicated viewers upon their initial watch.
Buffy Summers: “I still need to pick up a few things, so I'll check in. And keep your hands off the food.”
Rupert Giles: “Oh, I'll try and restrain myself from eating uncooked potatoes and cranberries.”
Pangs is the eighth episode of the fourth season and it marks the sixty-fourth episode in the series. It was written by regular Buffy writer Jane Espenson and directed by Michael Lange for The WB network.
What Happens In The Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episode, “Pangs”?
At the beginning of this memorable Thanksgiving episode, Buffy hunts down and slays a vampire while being observed by her ex-boyfriend and vampire-with-a-soul Angel from a hidden vantage point without her knowing. The following day, UC Sunnydale holds a ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the new Cultural Center building, with Xander as one of the construction workers. Buffy, Willow, and Anya attend the event, where Anya daydreams about Xander while Buffy and Willow engage in a conversation about the significance of Thanksgiving. As Xander starts digging, the ground unexpectedly collapses beneath him, causing him to fall into an old abandoned building, which happens to be the original Sunnydale Mission.
We also see that Buffy is disappointed that her mother, Joyce, will be out of town during Thanksgiving this year so she decides to take matters into her own hands and prepare Thanksgiving dinner for Giles and her friends. At the same time, newly neutered vampire Spike is in a desperate state and covered in a blanket, flees through the woods, trying to evade Riley and his team who are pursuing him. Before the dinner begins, Anya arrives at Xander's parents’ basement and discovers that he is extremely ill after his fall and immediately takes care of him.
A strange green haze emanates from the old Mission and travels to the Cultural Center where weapons are stored. Upon contact with a spear, the haze transforms into a large Native American man who kills Professor Gerhardt. Buffy and Willow conduct a covert investigation, questioning why the victim's ear was missing. They realise that a Chumash knife is also missing. Buffy informs Giles about the murder and gets ready to host Thanksgiving at his place.
After Giles agrees to research information about the Chumash people, Buffy leaves and Angel silently emerges from the back of Giles’ home. He has travelled to Sunnydale after receiving visions of Buffy being in danger. Angel and Giles discuss their shared responsibility of protecting Buffy and Angel confesses that he doesn't want Buffy to know he's there. Willow later goes out to get coffee and coincidentally encounters Angel.
Buffy goes to speak to Father Gabriel, a priest who might possess valuable information, but discovers that a Chumash spirit has killed him. With the unearthing of the Mission, the spirit has been unleashed to avenge the wrongs committed against his people. Buffy confides in Giles about the situation while they prepare dinner, and Willow arrives with a stack of books about the Chumash tribe. She reveals that the people of Sunnydale treated the Chumash poorly, despite their peaceful nature. Willow and Giles engage in a heated debate about the history of Native Americans and the individuals who seized their land and lives.
Xander arrives with Anya at Giles' home place, and after conducting some research, they come to the conclusion that he is likely afflicted with malaria, smallpox, and syphilis - diseases that had devastating consequences when introduced to native populations without immunity after being brought from Europe.
Spike also arrives at Giles' place seeking assistance. Buffy hesitates to offer help, but when Spike offers valuable information about the Initiative and Willow explains that he can no longer bite anyone, they allow him inside and restrain him to a chair. A heated argument ensues among the group about what they should do to stop the vengeful spirit. Willow opposes killing him, but the others argue that it may be the only solution.
The spirits launch an arrow attack on Buffy, Giles, and Spike. Helplessly bound to the chair, Spike can only attempt to dodge the arrows. On their way back, Willow, Xander, and Anya come across Angel and realise that the Chumash spirits have targeted Buffy. The Scooby Gang arrive on bicycles to assist and fight back against the Chumash spirits with shovels. Buffy discovers that their own weapons can harm the spirits when she uses a Chumash knife to strike one of them. The vengeful spirit transforms into a large black bear, which Spike desperately tries to evade, toppling the chair. Buffy engages in a struggle with the bear and eventually stabs it, causing all the spirits to vanish.
Angel discreetly departs without being noticed by Buffy, and later, the gang gathers for their Thanksgiving dinner. Spike, still tied to the chair, joins them and complains about not having been fed yet. Xander accidently reveals that Angel was in town to Buffy marking the famous shot at the end of the episode of all of the characters staring at Buffy/the camera while sat around the table.
Hidden Details In The Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episode, “Pangs”
Pangs Marks Back To Back Crossover Episodes With Buffy And Angel
In the preceding Angel (Buffy Spin Off) episode "The Bachelor Party," the character of Doyle receives a vision of Buffy in distress causing Angel to return to Sunnydale in the series Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Later, in the Angel episode "I Will Remember You," Buffy follows Angel back to Los Angeles and the pair rekindle their relationship for an intense and brief period of time.
Xander Now Has Another Job
Xander transitions from his previous job as a bartender in the episode "Beer Bad" to working in construction. This career path continues until the end of the series (One Year Later). As he is the only member of the core Scoobies to not attend UC Sunnydale or be a Vampire, he is seen as trying out many manual labour and traditionally “unskilled” jobs such as sales, construction, selling ice cream and bartending.
The Chumash Ruins Foreshadow Willow’s Temple Raising In Grave
With the discovery of the Chumash ruins underground, Willow becomes fascinated with the possibility of other hidden locations in Sunnydale, such as the church where the Master was trapped. This foreshadows her later impressive involvement with raising the buried Temple of Proserpexa in "Grave" after her mental breakdown.
Harmony And Spike Have Both Staked Each Other
Harmony's threat to stake Spike harks back to his own action of staking her in "The Harsh Light of Day" where the pair seek the Gem of Amara (a magical ring that would grant a vampire wearer invulnerability).
Willow Knows Cordelia Works For Angel
Willow inquires about Cordelia working for Angel, a role she has taken on since the episode "Lonely Heart." When the Sunnydale High School was destroyed at Graduation, Cordy and the Scoobies went separate ways. She travelled to Los Angeles to pursue acting after Xander cheated on her and her parents lost their fortune. She encounters Angel in the first episode of the spin off series “Angel” where we see her keeping up the facade of her rich lifestyle only to really be a struggling artist. The way the Scoobies know she works for Angel could be attributed to Oz's visit to Angel Investigations in "In the Dark."
There Are Many Syphilis References
Xander's bout of syphilis, caused by the Chumash people, will be mentioned again in the episode "Buffy vs. Dracula." Anya later also alludes to syphilis during their song “I’ll Never Tell” in the musical episode, "Once More, with Feeling."
The Last Time Angel Is In Giles’ House
This episode “Pangs” marks the last time Angel appears in Giles' house since being reinvited in "Amends."
Angel Continues To Watch Over Buffy
Angel expresses the frustration of watching over Buffy without being able to help her, a duty he has fulfilled since she was called as a Slayer at a young age in "Becoming, Part One." He continues to keep an eye on her from a distance throughout the remaining series including in Angel Season 5 (after the main series had ended) in episodes like "The Girl in Question."
Angel Plants A Seed Of Doubt In Giles’ Mind
Angel reminds Giles that overseeing Buffy is not his responsibility, as he was fired from the Watchers Council in "Helpless" so is no longer officially her Watcher. He questions whether Giles would walk away from Buffy, a notion that Giles himself ponders in "Buffy vs. Dracula" and ultimately acts upon in "Tabula Rasa."
Where Is The Unidentified Monastery Filmed?
Buffy seeks out Father Gabriel at an unidentified monastery in “Pangs”, and later in "Empty Places," it is revealed that the mission is located in Gilroy and contains a secret room with a message about the Slayer. The exterior shot of the monastery is from Mission San Juan Bautista in San Juan Bautista, while the interior scenes were filmed at Mission San Fernando Rey de España in Los Angeles.
The First Time Angel Encounters Riley
This episode marks the first time Angel encounters Riley, displaying a degree of suspicion regarding his interaction with Buffy. After learning about their relationship in "Sanctuary" (Angel episode), Angel recognises Riley as Buffy's boyfriend in "The Yoko Factor." The pair get into a physical spat which Buffy is horrified to see!
Anya’s First Time Meeting Spike Not Angel
Anya behaves as if she is meeting Angel for the first time in “Pangs” but they did briefly cross paths during the ritual to send Vampire Willow back to the Wishverse in "Doppelgängland". This is however the first episode in which Anya and Spike meet - they would later get very close with each other after her relationship with Xander breaks down.
Who Are The Chumash People In Real Life?
In real life, the Chumash people were historically situated along the California Central Coast, including areas around present-day Santa Barbara, which is a likely real-life counterpart to Sunnydale. They once numbered around 20,000 individuals before European contact. Today, the tribe survives as the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash, a Native American tribe officially recognised by the U.S.A. The Chumash people have a reservation and casino in Santa Ynez, California which may be the inspiration behind the out-dated line said by Buffy regarding casino ownership in this episode.
Stunts Were Performed With A Real Bear!
The brilliantly talented Sophia Crawford performed many of Buffy's stunts in this episode with a real bear named Bonkers in the studio!
The Final Scene Runs Into The Credits
The audio from the final scene of “Pangs” continues briefly into the closing credits, a technique also employed in episodes like "I Robot, You Jane," "Lie to Me," "Homecoming," "Helpless," "Doomed," and "Out of My Mind," among others.
The First Of Three Episodes With All Of Buffy’s Boyfriends
Pangs is the first episode of three to feature Buffy's three primary love interests: Angel, Spike, and Riley. The other episodes are "The Yoko Factor" and "Fool for Love," although Angel only appears in the latter in flashbacks.
4.2 Million Households Watched “Pangs”
Upon its initial broadcast, "Pangs" gained an audience of 4.2 million households.
There Are Fine Art References In “Pangs”
Willow draws a parallel between the act of ear-cutting and the renowned painter Vincent van Gogh, who famously mutilated his own ear. Eek! Riley also has an art reference in this episode where he likens the environment he grew up in Iowa to the scenes depicted in Grant Wood's paintings, which often portrayed the rural American Midwest.
Joss Whedon Really Wanted To Explore The Native American Storyline
According to Buffy scholar Rhonda Wilcox, "Pangs" delves into a theme that Joss Whedon had long desired to explore - the poignant portrayal of a deceased Native American during Thanksgiving, serving as a poetic reminder of the unsettling conquests that shaped the USA.
Buffy’s Cowboy Themed Costume Is On Purpose
Buffy Commentator Sally Eamons-Featherston observes that "Pangs" stands out among other Buffy episodes due to its exploration of racial issues. The moral complexities within the episode are symbolically represented by Buffy's initial appearance in a black hat, traditionally associated with Western (genre) villains. The episode incorporates references to the Western genre, adding depth to its narrative.
The Chumash Were Portrayed In A Cliched Manner
The Truth of Buffy: Essays on Fiction Illuminating Reality (2008) criticises the episode for stereotyping Native Americans, particularly the Chumash, who possess a rich and intricate culture. The Chumash warrior's dialogue is portrayed in a clichéd manner, according to the critique.
Pangs Is Critically Named One Of The Best Buffy Episodes
The A.V. Club hails "Pangs" as an outrageously entertaining episode, praising its comedic moments while recognising the complex moral debate surrounding the portrayal of Native Americans as "evil". Persephone Magazine highlights "Pangs" as the start of a streak of three excellent episodes, which includes "Something Blue" and "Hush".
Pangs Is Also One Of The Most Controversial
Buffy scholar Rhonda V. Wilcox describes "Pangs" as one of the most controversial episodes in the series, but also notes that it is a personal favourite of Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy.
We Were Meant To See Spike Invited Into Giles’ Home
In an early script draft for “Pangs”, Spike was invited into Giles' apartment by Buffy, but the scene did not make it into the final aired version. Instead, the invitation occurs between acts. Notably, this was a year before it was established in "Real Me" (2000) that only a resident could invite a vampire into a dwelling.
All The Female Characters Sympathise With Hus
All of the female characters in Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Willow, Anya, and Buffy - express sympathy and empathy towards Hus and his tribe's suffering. In contrast, the male characters - Giles, Xander, and Angel - primarily exhibit a desire to destroy Hus.
Giles Actually Likes Mushy Peas
During the preparation of dinner, Buffy comments that Willow's frozen peas will turn out mushy, to which Giles expresses his fondness for mushy peas. Mushy peas are traditionally served with fish and chips in British cuisine.
A Conversation Between Xander And Anya Was Cut
An exchange between Xander and Anya discussing her past as a vengeance demon was cut due to length in “Pangs”.
The Scoobies Become Bicycle Cavalry
Willow remarks, "We're not at Fort Giles, with the cavalry coming to save us!" Four and a half minutes later, the mounted troops aka mounted bicycle troops, arrive to help save the day.
Anya Is Now Xander’s Girlfriend
In this episode, Xander now refers to Anya as his girlfriend, while Riley and Buffy are in the early stages of establishing their relationship.
Joyce Has A Sister Named Arlene
Joyce is mentioned as being out of town visiting Aunt Arlene and her family for Thanksgiving, implying that Darlene is Joyce's sister rather than Hank's (who has vanished off the face of the earth with a younger woman).
Sunnydale Student Joe Appears Here After Graduation
It is confirmed that Sunnydale High School student Joe survived the events of "The Harsh Light of Day" (1999), as he is seen in the stands during the opening ceremony. During the Graduation Day episode and battle, Joe fought by Oz's side shooting flaming arrows at the Mayor.
Angel Appears Without Cordelia
“Pangs” marks the first occurrence in either series (Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel) where Angel appears without Cordelia.
Why Is He Named Dean Guerrero?
Angel and Giles suggest that the Chumash spirit, Hus, is in search of the strongest warrior. Dean Guerrero briefly comes under consideration as the one being sought, with "guerrero" being the Spanish word for warrior.
"Pangs" is the memorable Thanksgiving episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer full of hidden details that deepen our understanding of the show's complex narrative.
From subtle foreshadowing to nuanced character interactions, this episode is a treasure trove of hidden gems for ardent fans to discover especially in terms of Spike’s involvement with the Scooby Gang, Anya’s character development and Angel and Buffy’s relationship.
The clever use of symbolism, such as the juxtaposition of Thanksgiving traditions with the dark history of colonialism, adds layers of social commentary to the supernatural storyline possibly with some now outdated lines.
Pangs is always a fan-favourite that is usually re-watched around the holiday as it has all the characters involved including Spike and Angel. It really is a large Scooby get together with some great twists and one-liners. Hopefully with these hidden details and behind the scenes facts you can wow your friends next time Pangs comes on!
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