[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: Bruce Seth Green | Aired: 03/25/1997]
Clunk! Where “Witch” [1×03] came together as a coherent, albeit relatively unimportant, stand-alone story, “Teacher’s Pet” simply can’t work out what it wants to be, and is further bogged down by stale exposition, heavy-handed messages, and a ridiculous plot. While the episode gives Xander his first moment in the spotlight and establishes his tendency to be, as Willow will later put it, “a demon magnet,” it doesn’t really tell us much about him that hasn’t already been established in prior episodes. With a lack of good character work, a shoddy plot, and little depth, the episode fails at what it’s trying to do on pretty much every level.
One glaring problem is structural: “Teacher’s Pet” splits our attention between an overly silly “fork” vampire and the ridiculous she-mantis, neither of which is anything but a schlocky stock villain. The purpose of the vampire is to (1) create some (what ends up being failed) misdirection on who the primary villain is, (2) increase the sense of mystery surrounding Angel, and (3) (too conveniently) expose and then later locate Ms. French. The only worthwhile purpose of the she-mantis seems to be thematic, representing the potency and immaturity of teen sexuality and how it can all-too easily be abused by people in a position of power. The episode, in general, highlights how a child’s notion of the sexual process — through detailed conversation about how the she-mantis reproduces — can actually be one of disgust mixed with desire. These themes do resonate a little due to both Buffy’s romantic rejection of Xander in “Prophecy Girl” [1×12] and Season 2’s focus on adolescent sexuality, but unfortunately the execution and presentation of all of it is downright laughable.
“Teacher’s Pet” does earn a few points in its nuggets of insight into the nature of Xander’s interest in Buffy. This doesn’t cast a particularly positive light on Xander’s motives or personality. In the opening dream sequence he paints Buffy as a girl who is significantly weaker and less assertive than he knows she really is. Xander seems to have also given himself a boost of confidence, assertiveness, and borderline arrogance that Dream Buffy swoons over. While I totally understand how raw sexual desire can easily manifest in a dream, and his desire to prop himself up to what he thinks Buffy sees in Angel, what concerns me is Xander’s subconscious need to weaken Buffy to make him feel manlier. This is doing Buffy, as a person, a great disservice, and shows an incredible amount of immaturity. Knowing this makes me glad that Buffy isn’t interested in Xander in this way, as he’s simply not mature enough yet to sustain a sensible, healthy relationship. Then again, neither is Angel.
Even though Xander still has a lot of selfish traits to work through, I do have to give him props for largely dropping the “I’m not man enough” shtick after this on account of Buffy, once again, saving his life. “Teacher’s Pet” doesn’t even seem aware that this bit of growth is happening though, as nothing in the episode seems to indicate any change occurred — it’s his actions in following episodes that indicate a change!
“Teacher’s Pet” has a few half-baked ideas that fail to coalesce into something coherent, enjoyable, and smart. It’s thematically relevant, but not thematically resonant thanks to a heavy-handed approach. It’s broken story-wise and weak character-wise. These failures, combined with Season 1’s trademark loose-change-in-Whedon’s-pocket production values, make for one of (if not) the very worst episode(s) in not only the season, but in all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 😦
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Mr. Gregory gives Buffy the best advice possible: “Don’t be sorry; be smart.” I really liked him! 😦
+ Buffy wearing Angel’s leather jacket to school the morning after he gave it to her.
+ The slop they feed the high school students. My high school treated me better, but nothing replaces home-prepared meals by parents that know how to cook.
+ The scene where Principal Flutie forces Buffy to see a grievance counselor.
+ Willow shooting off a cute smile when Buffy says she’s going to do her homework.
+ The quick-cut to Xander playing the guitar when he thinks he’s “scoring” with Ms. French.
+ The ridiculous, but hilarious, scene of Xander fumbling his words all over the place to Ms. French.
+ The fun role reversal of the girls coming to rescue the trapped virgins — both boys. Subversion returns!
+ The message that being a virgin is nothing to be ashamed of, despite what society at large pushes.
– Killing off the biology teacher so soon after establishing a nice connection with Buffy. I’d have liked to have seen that connection grow into something more lasting and substantive.
– All the guys (and Xander) going nuts over Ms. French. Maybe it’s the supernatural influence, but I just don’t find her to be all that attractive.
– Abysmal prosthetics and special effects work.
– The actor who plays the other guy in the cage with Xander overacts up a storm.
– ‘You can learn things in school, kids!’ Heavy-handed messages like this play a hand in the episode’s demise.
– The ending ‘action’ sequence is incredibly poorly directed. Oh, and bug spray and bat sonar? Really?
– Mr. Gregory’s glasses and coat are left in the classroom for a comically long time. You’d think after a teacher got decapitated at school the classroom he taught in would have been searched by someone.
– Lamest. Cliffhanger. Ever. Although I begrudgingly admit that it can be read as thematic foreshadowing for Season 2.
* Buffy’s “oh boy,” in reference to Angel, is a wonderful moment of self-reflection. It’s as if Buffy is self-acknowledging that getting involved with Angel will be problematic, but she can’t stop herself from getting swept up by her emotions anyway.