Written by David Greenwalt
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
We open on an extreme close-up of a screaming lady. A vampire is attacking the Bronze! Buffy (who is wearing a very lovely red dress) uses Stake! It isn’t very effective. Xander uses Fist. It’s super effective! He turns to Buffy and uses Cheesy Line. It’s super effective! He uses Stake on the vampire. K.O.! Wait, what? Oh, this is a dream sequence, right? Swooning, fancy-dress-wearing Buffy, smooth but extra cheesy vampire slayage, and guitar solo. Yep. Dream sequence. Xander’s dream sequence. Crap, is this a Xander-centric episode?
When he returns to reality, it’s biology class. Dr. Gregory, the same teacher from “Witch,” is asking students about insect facts. Buffy has not done the homework, and she’s sitting next to Douchey McLetterjacket (who definitely doesn’t look high school age). Dr. Gregory keeps Buffy after class to give her an unexpectedly encouraging scolding. He sees her potential and he expects her to rise to it. I really like this teacher, and so does Buffy. It seems that this episode will be touching on the academics side of Plot B.
Buffy leaves the biology lab feeling very inspired, but we don’t cut to the next scene. Instead, we stay focused on Dr. Gregory. The main character leaving a scene before it ends is never a good sign. Aaand…yep, he gets attacked by some kind of monster. Hello, Plot A! What are you this week?
After the opening credits, Xander is at the Bronze, where a band that wishes it was Blink 182 is playing. Xander is trying very unsuccessfully to seem cool. Douchey McLetterjacket is also there, boasting about his sexual prowess to a friend. They notice and taunt Xander, who attempts to one-up them by pretending Buffy and Willow are his friends-with-benefits. There’s a really hilarious moment where Willow responds to this by dramatically draping herself against him, but it’s not funny enough to distract me from how little I like where this is going so far.
Buffy spots Angel across the dance floor and immediately abandons Xander and his ridiculous masculinity problems so that she can go exchange banter with her shadowy mystery guy. This is the first time Willow and Xander have seen Angel, and Xander instantly recognizes a serious threat to his chances with Buffy. (Xander, the fact that Buffy isn’t interested in you is why you have no chance with her, not the fact that Angel exists.)
Buffy gives a very slight shiver while she’s bantering with Angel, and he immediately gives her his leather jacket. While I’m as much a fan of gratuitous jacket-gifting as the next girl, this action was actually connected to Plot A! Now that Angel isn’t wearing his jacket, we have an unimpeded view of an amazing pair of shoulders. Oh, and also three deep cuts running the length of his left arm. There’s a new vampire in town, and he’s sporting one seriously nasty accessory. Angel leaves before Buffy can get a whole lot of information out of him on this new threat.
It’s the next day at school. Buffy (who is wearing Angel’s jacket) teases Giles about his British-ness until he walks away, and Xander arrives to inform Buffy and Willow that Dr. Gregory is missing. Buffy is worried, but before Xander can offer to help, his attention is entirely consumed by a definitely-not-a-student lady walking up the front steps. She’s looking for the science lab. Douchey McLetterjacket swoops in and assists her before Xander remembers how to talk. Yep. Definitely not liking where this is going.
The new lady turns out to be the substitute biology teacher, Miss French. Her knowledge of biology seems suspiciously specialized to praying mantises. Also, she has yellow/green eye shadow and light green nail polish—a color scheme that basically never exists without ulterior motives. She makes come-hither eyes at all the boys in the class the entire time she’s teaching while all the girls exchange bemused glances with each other.
By lunchtime, Miss French has been fired as a substitute teacher and will have to go to a hearing to address several complaints of sexual harassment. Just kidding. Xander is crushing on Miss French even harder than he’s been crushing on Buffy. Douchey McLetterjacket is getting ready for his “science project” with Miss French later that afternoon. Rather than pointing out that it’s gross and wrong if Miss French is encouraging and participating in inappropriate teacher/student interactions, or maybe reporting it to Principal Flutie (who is very sensitive to wrong touching), Buffy and Willow merely tease Xander about his crush.
Cordelia arrives and once again brings Plot A with her. While looking for her “medically prescribed” school lunch, she discovers Dr. Gregory’s body. Which is headless. Buffy is quietly distraught (I really like Sarah’s acting with that), and the Scoobies assemble in the library to exchange theories. Could this be the work of the vampire Angel warned Buffy about?
Giles thinks Buffy is too upset to hunt effectively that night, but she ignores his warning and goes out anyway. She finds Angel’s vampire, who has a giant claw grafted onto the stump of his right arm. They fight, but the police show up looking for the maniac who shredded a homeless man in the park the other day, and Claw Vamp runs off. Buffy follows and sees him encounter Miss French on the street. Instead of making short work of the frail human woman, he hisses like a frightened cat and skedaddles. This is helpful, because now Buffy knows there’s more going on with Miss French than just being a total creeper.
The next day at school, Giles agrees that Miss French is seeming pretty suspicious, but before Buffy can go to Biology to investigate, Principal Flutie makes her attend crisis counseling. She overhears Cordelia’s counseling session, in which Cordelia’s particular brand of optimism surpasses self-absorbed and approaches sociopath territory.
In Biology, Miss French is helping Xander cheat on his test, delicately touching his shoulder, and reminding him of their “science project” later. Buffy looks in through the window and sees Miss French turn her head 180°. Yikes. This is an important lead for Buffy’s investigation, though. Ironically (and heartwarmingly), to beat this monster, she will have to do the homework Dr. Gregory assigned her.
Miss French invites Xander to her house to do the “science project” there. At no point is he creeped out by this. He leaves her office punching the air in triumph. Meanwhile, Buffy has cracked the case: Miss French is a praying mantis. Giles knows of another lead for more information, and Willow discovers that Douchey McLetterjacket has been missing since his own “science project” (no, I’m not getting tired of that euphemism yet, so stop asking) with Miss French the previous day.
Willow continues her computer research while Buffy (once again wearing Angel's jacket) runs to warn Xander about Miss French. Xander is so wrapped up in himself that he thinks Buffy is just jealous, even though it’s hilariously clear that he’s the one jealous of Angel. He completely ignores Buffy’s warnings and storms away, leaving a flabbergasted Buffy in his wake.
At her house, Miss French is wearing a Little Black Dress and mixing grown-up drinks when Xander arrives. He’s still not hearing the warning bells, so now we have underage drinking as well as statutory rape. Great! Only after he drinks the martini and answers her oddly specific questions about his sexual history (he has none) does he start thinking something’s wrong here. And he would be right. Just as he’s passing out from the drugged martini, Miss French transforms into a giant praying mantis and drags him off to the basement.
When he comes to, he’s in a cell in the basement, and the giant praying mantis is working on those egg sacks she mentioned in class. In the library, Giles and Buffy are still working on getting the information they need to fight Miss French, and Willow is starting to panic over Xander’s fate. Back in the basement, Xander realizes that Douchey McLetterjacket is in a neighboring cell. In the library, Giles has learned from his insane friend in England about the She-Mantis, one of many types of virgin-killing monsters in the world, which is what Miss French is. For some reason, Buffy is surprised when Willow reveals that Xander is a virgin, meaning his life is in danger. They gear up and head out to do some exterminating.
Finding her is not as easy as they’d hoped. Turns out, the Miss French on record is actually a very elderly, slightly senile retiree. We can now add identity theft to the She-Mantis’s rap sheet.
In the She-Mantis’s basement, Xander has been chosen as the next victim. He tries to subdue the She-Mantis and escape, but she catches him before he reaches the top of the stairs.
It occurs to Buffy that she can use Claw Vamp as a tracking device for the She-Mantis, so she finds him, ties him up, and drags him along a neighborhood until they get to a house that really freaks him out. They have their location! Thanks, Claw Vamp, you can go poof now.
In the basement, the She-Mantis has started some extremely unsexy foreplay with Xander, but Buffy’s here to save the day! With…tiny cans of bug spray. Giles plays bat sonar recordings on a tape player, which paralyzes the She-Mantis with fear. Buffy proceeds with the slicing and dicing.
Xander and Douchey McLetterjacket are saved! In possibly the stupidest moment of the episode, Douchey McLetterjacket threatens to sue them if they tell anyone he’s a virgin. Xander apologizes to Buffy and takes the machete to the egg sack.
Back at the Bronze! Angel shows up to congratulate Buffy for how she handled Claw Vamp. She’s trying to downplay how happy she is to see him, and he’s so happy to see her that he actually smiles! She hints that she’d like to know more about him and maybe get some digits (strictly for Plot A purposes, of course), but he evades. Sexily. She offers to return his jacket, but he tells her she wears it better and leaves. Sexily. Buffy knows she’s a goner. So are many of the female audience members.
Back at school, there’s a new biology teacher, who is clearly going to be no fun at all. Buffy has a bittersweet moment remembering Dr. Gregory, and the episode closes on a pair of mantis eggs in the closet that didn’t get squashed. One is hatching!
If “Witch” is about mothers and daughters, “Teacher’s Pet” is about teachers and students. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do nearly as good of a job. I love the parts about Dr. Gregory. He is the best kind of educator. He’s encouraging, expects no less than his students’ best, and refuses to limit them with labels. He genuinely cares. His influence in Buffy’s life lives on after his death. I think the intention was for Miss French to be on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: the terrible teacher who uses her position to take advantage of her students. The problem is that teacher/student sexual abuse is an extremely serious issue, but it kind of gets played for laughs here, and, even worse, it seems like the only reason anyone is seriously concerned about Miss French’s behavior is that she’s not actually human. What was the point of bringing up this particular issue if they were going to be so weird with it? What were we supposed to get out of this? That it’s ridiculous for teenage boys to believe that sex is the prerequisite to manliness? That it’s important to be sexually responsible? No wait, that can’t be it, because Xander and Blaine were only targeted in the first place because they hadn’t had sex with anyone. Was Xander supposed to learn never to let a teacher hit on him again?
So yeah, this episode is kind of a trainwreck. I like Buffy’s story in it (and of course Angel’s scenes), but I really hate Xander’s. This was the wrong issue to attach such a ham-fisted metaphor to.
Buffy is the best thing about this episode. We get the sense from how she interacts with Dr. Gregory and how she responds to the guy who replaces him at the end of the episode that she has it in her to be an excellent student, but she only feels motivated to make the effort for teachers who respect and believe in her. Her reaction to Dr. Gregory’s death is very moving and sad. Also, her attraction to Angel is building at a believable pace, and their scenes together are very compelling.
Giles doesn’t get much character development in this one, but we do find out he went to Oxford (I’ll be paying attention to see if they slip up and change it to Cambridge later), and the stuff with his insane friend in England is entertaining. Once again, Buffy beats him to the punch on figuring out what’s really going on. His increased respect for Buffy’s instincts from “Witch” holds when she consults him about her theories regarding Miss French. Their bond as Slayer and Watcher is definitely getting stronger.
Xander doesn’t come off any better in this episode than the previous one, but it feels at least as much like a writing problem as a character problem this time. He wants to be the cool guy who Buffy would be interested in, but instead of trying to work on obtaining some cool qualities or resuming his attempts to ask her out from the previous episode, he just switches focus to Miss French as soon as she shows more interest than Buffy. His crush on Buffy is still all about him.
There’s pretty much nothing new to say about Willow or Cordelia in this one. Willow is still the smart girl with a huge unrequited crush on Xander, and Cordelia is still extremely self-absorbed.
I wondered in my review of “The Harvest” why Angel seems so keen on being super cryptic all the time, but now I have a possible answer to that. When Buffy talked to him in the Bronze at the beginning of this episode, he seemed anxious to get out of there quickly and not to be noticed. (Spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t watched the show, why are you reading this anyway? Go watch the show and come back later.) The writers knew from the beginning that Angel would turn out to be a vampire, so it’s entirely possible that he’s spending his off-screen time hanging out with other vampires. This would account for how he gets his information, as well as his skittish behavior in the Bronze this time. If any other vampire ever catches him hanging around Buffy, his cover would be blown. Even Darla hasn’t crossed paths with him yet. And if he tells Buffy too much information, they’ll realize there’s a spy in their midst.
“Yes, she’s lovely. …In a common, extremely well-proportioned way.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.