At first glance, this one is a bit of a shocker; very intense after the much more lighthearted episodes before it. But most of the gory stuff is left to your imagination, and it gets better every time I watch it.
Following the annual field trip to the zoo, Xander and four other students (the other four being total jerks) undergo radical personality changes. Xander begins sniffing Buffy, and acting coldly towards Willow, eventually rejecting her completely (and harshly!). As Buffy looks for a supernatural explanation, she remembers that Xander's odd behavior started after they encountered hyenas at the zoo. While Giles is at first dubious, Buffy's suspicions are proven when the school mascot, a pig, turns up eaten. Xander assault Buffy as his new 'friends' are called to the principle's office, where they attack and eat Principal Flutie. Buffy manages to subdue Xander, and she and Giles seek help from the zookeeper, after Giles concludes that Xander has been transpossessed by hyena spirits.
The rest of the pack shows up to free Xander from where Buffy has locked him up, with Willow on guard. She escapes with Buffy's help, and the three lure the pack back to the zoo, where they've set up a trap with the zookeeper. Unfortunately, Giles also figures out that the zookeeper set up the transpossession in the first place, hoping to steal the hyena's power for himself. Giles is knocked out, and the zookeeper takes Willow hostage as the predatory act needed to effect the transpossession. It works; the students come back to themselves, and Buffy and Xander together save Willow. Afterwards, Xander fakes total memory loss.
The fight between Buffy and Xander is a nice set-up for the whole Xander/Angel/Buffy triangle that really kicks into gear in 'Angel', with his comments about how she goes for the dangerous guys.
One helluva Xander episode. He very literally becomes a predator, intense and threatening. He turns on Willow, attacks Buffy, and more or less lets his Darker Side have free rein. And damn, but he looks good doing it! And of course, he reverts to the sweet Xander we know and love at the end. His 'memory loss' is the perfect way to help the girls deal with his actions -- if he can't remember it, then it really wasn't him. I'm not sure thought if he thought the whole thing out instantaneously, or just went into instinctive denial.
Willow gets completely and totally rejected by the guy who is not only her best friend, but the object of her affections. She deals; she doesn't blame Buffy, and she handles possessed Xander very well, not forgetting he's Xander, but not turning her back on him, either. However, letting the zookeeper tie her up at the end was carrying trust just way too far.
Buffy refuses to accept that Xander can turn into a jerk, and reaches for the supernatural; fortunately, she's right. She has a lot of faith in the Slayerettes.
Giles trying to convince Buffy that Xander is just being a guy.
Xander versus Buffy -- Xander actually feels dangerous during the entire scene.
Eating Principal Flutie. Darn it, I'd just started to like him. A really excellent job of not showing a thing, leaving it all to our imaginations. Creepy.
Willow not falling for Xander's escape attempt. She might be in love with him, but she's no fool.
Buffy and Giles rescuing Willow. I'm sorry, it is so cute to see Willow go racing out of the classroom right into Giles's arms, and he doesn't seemed inclined to let go of her.
Xander coming out of the trance and instantly racing to rescue Willow. He never even thinks, jsut immediately lunges for her.
The end scene, with Xander playing dumb for all he's worth, trying to make it up to Willow the best he can. Followed immediately by the scene with Giles; Xander feels so guilty! And Giles's sympathetic pat on the shoulder, and his smile after Xander. He obviously has grown to care for all of the kids, not just Buffy, by this time.
Who dressed Buffy at the end? That hat has got to go.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5. Very intense, but not particularly heavy; a wonderful acting job by Nicholas Brendon.
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