Pangs gets my vote as the funniest episode in the whole series. “You made a bear” cracks me up every time.
As Richardson and Rabb point out in The Existential Joss Whedon, p. 162, the vampire’s comment to Buffy in the teaser – “Why don't you just go back where you came from? Things were great before you came.” – gives us the perspective of Hus. The fact that a vampire and Hus share this view may suggest how we’re supposed to view Hus’s crusade. No matter how sympathetic the original victims may be, the show will never justify vengeance, as we saw in Innocence, as we see here, and as we’ll see in the future. There’s probably a message in the “bickering and confusion” over what to do with Hus: vengeance can’t be justified, but it’s nevertheless true that Buffy faces serious moral dilemmas when she makes her decisions to slay and those can’t be simplified.
Pangs continues the “science v. magic” theme which Doug Petrie mentioned in his commentary on The Initiative. The anthropology department delved into something without truly understanding the circumstances. It wasn’t even aware that the buried mission still existed, and perhaps not of the meaning that mission might have had to the Chumash. The intrusion into the mystical without true understanding led to tragic results, foreshadowing events later in the season.
We see multiple examples of pangs in the episode, both metaphorical and literal. Hus suffers metaphorical pangs for the loss of his people. Angel suffers metaphorical pangs of loss for Buffy, as does Willow for Oz. Spike suffers literal pangs of hunger, and metaphorical pangs of loss for his identity as a vampire. The old Spike would have taken his share of the meal instead of staring wistfully through the window. He might even have driven the others off and taken the kill for his own. His trip to the vet means he’s no longer a member of the pack.
This brings us to Buffy. Spike wanted to participate in a feast with his fellows, but couldn’t. He did end up at a feast, but of course didn’t really belong there. Buffy desperately wants a family Thanksgiving, just like Spike wanted to join in the vampire feeding fest. Why? In my view it’s for a similar reason – she doesn’t feel as secure in her relationships. “Everything’s different now,” she told Willow. Giles and Xander aren’t as much in her life as they were before; her spirit (Willow) is still depressed at the departure of Oz. We saw in Fear, Itself that she feared being left alone and the dinner is her way of reassuring herself that she isn’t.
The bickering about what to do with Hus interferes with this goal and foreshadows later episodes. Then, at the end, she finds out that her friends kept a very important secret from her. “Wasn’t exactly the perfect Thanksgiving.”
Trivia notes: (1) Buffy’s “we have a counterpoint?” refers to the segment on the TV show 60 Minutes called Point/Counterpoint. (2) Willow’s description of the buried mission as similar to the church the Master was in, refers to The Harvest. (3) The Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh cut off his own ear, which is why Willow mentioned him to Buffy. (3) The Chumash were indigenous to the Santa Barbara area (the real life model for Sunnydale) prior to the Spanish settlement. The Chumash still exist today, though their population is small. (4) The visions Angel mentions were seen by Doyle in the AtS episode Bachelor Party. (5) Riley’s home town of Huxley, IA is a real town outside Ames, IA. No snark about Ames – I was born there. (6) The artist Grant Wood was born in Iowa and grew up there. His paintings look like, well, Iowa. (7) Riley’s quote about home being the place they have to take you in is a line from “The Death of the Hired Man” by the poet Robert Frost. (8) Buffy’s description of how she likes her demons (and her men) – “Tied to the train tracks, soon my electro-ray will destroy Metropolis" – references the Superman comics (most likely Lex Luthor) and (probably) Snidely Whiplash. (9) As Spike said, Caesar didn’t feel bad about any of his conquests. In Latin his famous saying is “veni, vini, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered). (10) For those of you who don’t live in CA, casinos are illegal except on Indian reservations. The Chumash operate one in Santa Ynez, CA, not too far from Santa Barbara. That’s why Buffy told Hus, “uh, you can have casinos now.” (11) Spike’s “sorry about that chief” was a line from the ‘60s TV comedy Get Smart and therefore a pun. (12) Gentle Ben – what Xander called the bear – was a movie about a bear of that name. (13) Does anyone not know the story of Custer? Well just in case, he was an American general who incompetently got his entire command killed in combat with the Sioux in 1876. Custer is infamous for his enthusiasm for “removal” of the Native Americans. (14) For a good technical analysis of the way the framing of the scenes supports the theme of the episode, see this A.V. Club essay.