This week, Xander is mesmerised by an unattractive middle aged woman. Is something magical going on, or is this simply a representation of a teenage boy who is a slave to his hormones? Actually, it’s both, one literal and one metaphorical(ish).
Teacher’s Pet is another episode dealing with teenage issues through a fantasy lens, which is kind of the point of the whole series. It’s just that it’s being done with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer at this early stage in the show. Fake Natalie French is a “virgin thief”, and the revelation that one of her victims is boastful Blayne will come as no surprise to anyone who was once a teenage boy. Like 99% of schoolboys who boast about his seven (nearly eight) conquests, the truth of the matter is zero (nearly zero). He’s all talk.
Xander himself is another stereotype this week, the teenage boy in love who hasn’t got a clue what to do about it except fantasise. The dream sequence at the start shows what he wants from life: he’s the cool hero and Buffy falls in love with him. He transfers his affections quickly, and that probably doesn’t even need the fantasy explanation. Love at first sight happens frequently and easily for the average teenager, and perhaps also never really happens at all. Then when he actually gets a chance for something physical, it’s shown to be dangerous. In a literal sense this is just the monster of the week, but bubbling under the surface is that teenage boy nervousness of the physical act of sex. This also plays into a theme that has been established right from the start of the series: desire is dangerous, especially when it is separated from love. We saw that in the very first scene of the first episode. Meanwhile, Angel is working his moves on Buffy, and she’s starting to fall for him…
However, this is far from being a story that is just about the physical stuff, because there’s a strong emotional content to the episode as well. That hails from the tragedy of Dr Gregory. He is immediately established, via some very efficient dialogue and strong acting performances, as a nice guy who sees the potential in Buffy. At the same time, she is clearly touched by his kindness. And then he doesn’t survive beyond the pre-credits. Occasionally Buffy is a cruel series, and this is our second major example, following on from the death of Jesse a couple of weeks ago. Importantly, we later see Buffy in tears. She is far from being an emotionless super being. This is a girl who has all the emotions of a normal teenager, but just happens to be the Slayer as well.
A word about Cordelia. So far she seems to have very little purpose in this series and I can’t stand her. I remember being confused the first time I watched the series about why she is a title sequence character, when she is entirely separate from the main action of each episode, and seems to exist just to be mean. Last week she basically threatened Amy, so she’s clearly a bully. This week she says some catty things and then screams. Not much of a character at this stage. I guess we’ll have to reserve judgement.
The episode ends with what appears to be a very silly use of that old horror trope, with a last minute reveal that the threat is still lurking around in some form. This is such a monster-of-the-week episode that it seems pointless. After all, we are hardly going to get another episode next week with giant ants (please, no – that actor inside a monster suit nonsense is far too sci-fi for this series). However, I think it hints instead at a different monster about to return very soon: Xander’s desire… and it was made pretty clear last week that Buffy just isn’t going to be interested. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
It’s a well known fact that to become the Teachers Pet, there’s usually an apple involved. Well I may not be the teacher but I am sort of grading these episodes and so far, Buffy is immensely fun but not very realistic. No, I don’t mean I was looking for a drama about real life, but this show so far is very tongue in cheek; it lacks the seriousness of a “real” dramatic science fiction/horror show. That said, Joss Whedon didn’t just give me an apple to win me over with this episode… he gave me an orchard.
The first “apple” is given to me in the form of Ms. French, played by genre icon Musetta Vander; one of my favorite femme fatales. Later, Buffy and friends go looking for Ms. French only to find the real woman – not the she-mantis – played by Ron Howard’s real-life mother. Then came the rest of the orchard: when Ms. French is shown as a giant praying mantis, I said out loud, to an empty room, “Oh, my God, it’s Na’Grath!” Let’s rewind. I started watching Buffy largely because I was told that this show was like Babylon 5 in that season one is a bit weak but the series gets immensely strong later. Visitors of the Junkyard know my love of B5 and, though I don’t dislike season 1, I wouldn’t say it’s the strongest season of the series. Still, I didn’t actually expect to find so many connections in just one episode!! Vander played Felicia in Babylon 5 in Between the Darkness and the Light. Ron Howard’s mom is, unsurprisingly, married to Ron Howard’s dad, Rance who played John Sheridan’s father in Babylon 5. But the real shock was a total fluke! I have been watching Buffy on Amazon Prime which has a trivia section which I normally don’t bother with because I don’t like being taken out of the episode. The only reason I hit it at all was to stop the next episode launching and it was faster to move the mouse to the “trivia” button than the little X in the upper corner! Well, who would have guessed! (Well, actually I did…): “The praying mantis puppet is actually a re-use of the Na’Grath prop from the first season of Babylon 5 (1993), which used the same make-up company!” You bet I punched the air! I know my mantis creatures!
Besides the beauty of Vander and the awesomeness of Na’Grath, the episode is immensely funny. From the opening where Xander is asleep in class and starts drooling on himself, I was laughing out loud. The laughs continued throughout the episode too. When he’s invited to Ms. French’s house at night, the flashback to him being a guitar wizard cracked me up. When he’s asked if he’s ever been with a woman, Xander asks, “you mean like in the same room?” He compliments Ms. French’s hands with, “your hands are so… serrated!” Cordelia’s visit to the counselor was great too. “I’m not saying we should kill a teacher every day!” Giles is sent on a mission to get bat sounds with this line: “There are no books, but it’s dark and musty. You’ll feel right at home!” Even Principal Bob has a funny line about being available for hugs, but not literally as the school is “sensitive to touching!”
The problem is that with all the jokes and the rather silly use of a giant praying mantis (Na’Grath benefitted from the misty atmosphere of B5’s alien sector!), the bits that are supposed to be serious were not that strong. Xander and “replacement Jesse” (episode 1), seem too casual about what’s happening to them. The fact that they were about to be mated with and then decapitated didn’t seem to bother them that much. The fight with the vampire, even though he actually made me jump when he first attached Buffy, seemed like a joke. All you need to do to kill a vampire with a wooden stake is have it touch him it seems. Forget piercing his flesh! And his clawed hand looked nothing like a clawed hand. (And Angel’s desire to show Buffy his scars played out like a teenager’s fantasy. I heard this in my head: “Here take my jacket, you look cold… oh, whoops, I forgot about those bloody scars! Want to kiss me?”) ((PS: Angel is a bit larger than Buffy but his jacket must shrink to fit the person wearing it because it doesn’t look to big on her! Was he always wearing a woman’s leather jacket? Maybe that’s why he said it looked better on her anyway??)) Vander’s neck twist in the classroom is also idiotic because was she totally ignoring the fact that there was a room full of students who could have seen her. So this episode does amusing well, but also unintentionally amusing and I think the latter was not what they were aiming for! And what is it with Sunnydale anyway? People die or go missing and the school just keeps on chugging! We had a death in my school back in my day and they closed the school and had a period of mourning. (This school throws a blanket over the body and keeps teaching. California, am I right??)
On the other hand, I won’t deny that I was impressed by the maturity of the subject matter; namely that the she-mantis was there to mate and was looking for a virgin. The show has the seriousness of a kids’ cartoon yet the message about abstaining really felt like it was aimed at a more mature demographic. And the fact that there was a counselling session did give me pause to think, maybe they do realize that trauma needs to be addressed! So I’m stuck in a weird place because the show teeters between being silly, teen-y fun and having an important message. And goofy special effects only detract so much when you have likeable characters and this cast is likeable. I still can’t say I think the show is like B5, present connections notwithstanding, but I’m not ready to condemn the show completely, either. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s never to kill a series on the first season… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date