00:00 – 15:00
On this Monday in 1997, Puff Daddy (with Mase) still topped the US charts with “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down,” which didn’t make the English teachers happy. Spice Girls still reigned in the UK with “Mama.”
This same Monday night, Billy Crystal hosted the 69th Academy Awards. The English Patient won Best Picture. I still haven’t seen it.
Between today and March 26, 1997, the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult all committed suicide in San Diego. The Jim Carrey vehicle Liar, Liar and the Selena biopic were both released in the theaters the previous Friday, while The Partner, by John Grisham, sat at the top of the NYT fiction best sellers list.
Now that I’ve transported you gently back in time with my personal Wayback Machine, let’s rap about this particular Buffy episode, “Teacher’s Pet.” This is another monster-of-the-week episode. Even a show with the word “vampire” in its title isn’t always going to be about vampires, not when the proximity of a Hellmouth offers so many different narrative pathways. Our previous episode—”Witch”—was a monster-of-the-week about witchcraft and witches. This one is about a giant praying mantis.
Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up, but, fortunately, someone can.
This episode won’t end up on my all-time best episode list when I get around to compiling it, but it is still a great example of how these sorts of stories can be structured in this particular corner of the Whedonverse.
The teaser opens inside The Bronze, which has already become a familiar setting in the series. Buffy Summers, the protagonist of the overarching story of the series, is facing off against another vampire.
Okay—I know I said this one was about a giant praying mantis monster-of-the-week, and it is. But, vampires are our go-to generic badguy in this show, and they’re going to occasionally show up even with the episode’s focus isn’t on their particular tribe. Besides, the word “vampire” is in the series title.
Buffy gets backed into a structural column. Then, the vampire throws her onto a pool table.
At this point, Xander Harris quips, “Can I cut in?” and then grabs the vamp from behind, by his shoulders, and proceeds to solidly trounce him. Buffy, still on the pool table, smiles up at Xander, who may have just saved her life.
This is a Xander we’ve never met before. Heroic. Competent. Self-assured.
Buffy notes that he hurt his hand during the fight. Xander says that should be no problem. He’ll still be able to finish his solo. He kisses Buffy like she’s never been kissed before, gives her a rougish wink and turns to head back to the stage.
The vampire rises from the floor. Xander breaks off a chair leg and throws this makeshift stake at the vampire, dusting it. Then, he plays an amazing guitar solo on stage.
Buffy approaches the stage, an adoring Xander-fan.
“You’re drooling,” she says.
Which causes Xander to wake up in his high school science class, because this is—of course—a dream sequence. A quick glimpse of how Xander wants Buffy to see him. We all knew this was a private Xander fantasy the first time Buffy smiled at him. It is a humorous prelude to the story, and a deft bit of characterization.
The science teacher is Dr. Gregory. He’s showing a slide show about ants today. He puts Buffy on the spot by asking questions about ant communication that was in their homework assignment (it’s through touch and smell, by the way). Willow uses pantomine to attempt to help Buffy answer the questions, but Dr. Gregory is no dummy. He knows that Buffy didn’t do the homework. He tells Buffy he needs to see her for a few minutes after class.
Dr. Gregory tells Buffy that he knows about her problems at her last school. Uh-oh. Buffy being berated by adults is becoming a series trope already. But, our expectations are subverted, because Dr. Gregory doesn’t care what happened in Los Angeles. Instead, he wants to encourage Buffy. He thinks she has a “first-rate mind,” and he knows that she can excel in his class. And, he expects no less.
The subtext of this scene—or perhaps the text itself, what do I know?—is that Dr. Gregory is a kind, supportive adult character being introduced to the show. Buffy’s not used to this sort of adult in her life, except perhaps for Rupert Giles, and her mother Joyce on occasion.
Which means, of course, that he has to die.
He does die, just moments after Buffy leaves his classroom. A giant insectile claw enters the frame and cruelly dispatches the obviously too-liberal and too-progressive Dr. Gregory. So long, Doc. Glad we knew ye.
The opening credits montage rolls as the Nerf Herders rip through the gnarly Buffy theme music. I’m playing the drums on my desk surface as the track comes to a percussive end.
Act I opens, once again, inside The Bronze. Xander isn’t so suave this time, so we know we’re in the real world.
Over at the bar, Blayne—a male student character we’ve never seen before this episode—is bragging about his romantic conquests to another young man.
Blayne asks Xander how many times he’s “scored.” Of course, Xander’s knee-jerk response is to make a joke about it. I can relate.
“Are we talking today,” he says, “or the whole week?”
When he sees Buffy and Willow coming down the stairs, Xander goes over and puts his arms around them, asking them to go along with him because Blayne has questioned his manliness.
Buffy sees Angel doing what he does best, standing apart from the crowd, looking like a male model in a cologne advertisement. This is the first time Xander and Willow have seen Angel. Xander, obviously jealous, says that he’s buff and attractive.
Angel tells Buffy that she looks cold, then takes off his jacket and puts it around her. Angel is suave, but he’s had a lot of time to perfect it. Under the jacket, Angel wears a strappy wifebeater t-shirt.
Buffy predicts that Angel is going to give her some cryptic warning about some upcoming catastrophe and then vanish into the night. That’s his schtick.
Buffy notices the wounds on Angel’s arm. She asks if he was wounded by someone with a big fork, because that’s what the wounds look like. Snikt! Snikt!
Angel warns Buffy that Big Fork Guy is coming. She shouldn’t let him corner her, and don’t give him mercy or he’ll rip her throat out. Buffy gives Angel improved marks for not being cryptic.
Characteristically, Angel says he has to go. The Irish goodbye.
Wait. The Irish goodbye would be leaving without saying you had to go. And, you don’t know that Angel is Irish yet.
The next day, at Sunnydale High School, Buffy walks toward the entrance with librarian/watcher Rupert Giles, who is eating a Granny Smith apple. Buffy is talking about “Fork Guy” and “Cryptic Guy,” which causes Giles to quip that Buffy has too many “guys” in her life. It’s almost as if Giles is gently slut-shaming Buffy.
Buffy stops beside where Willow sits as Giles says he’ll see what he can find out. Then, Giles bemoans the fact that everyday in Southern California is the same. Television has taught us that British folk can’t abide by consistently perfect weather.
Xander walks up and says that Dr. Gregory has gone missing. This seems to bother Willow and Buffy much more than it does Xander, who’s just happy because he didn’t complete his homework. Willow makes the comment that Dr. Gregory is one of the only teachers who doesn’t think that Buffy is a felon.
Xander tries to seem more sympathetic, but then his jaw drops as he notices substitute teacher Miss French walking towards the entrance. She is a smartly-dressed brunette, attractive. She walks toward Xander in slow-motion. She asks for his help finding the science class. Xander is naturally flustered, tripping over his own tongue. The suddenly ubiquitous Blayne, in his letterman jacket, swoops in to save the day and escort Miss French inside.
When Willow and Buffy enter the science class, Buffy finds Dr. Gregory’s glasses on the floor. With her enhanced Slayer senses, Buffy has a nose for clues. Natalie French introduces herself to the class. She doesn’t know when Dr. Gregory will be back, she says.
We know when, though, don’t we? Never.
Miss French begins her lecture about praying mantises. She says mantises are forced to live alone because they are cannibals. She calls the insects “noble, solitary and prolific.” The females are larger and more aggressive. The California mantis lays her eggs and then finds a mate to fertilize them. She looks at Xander as she says this. She suggests that they make some model egg sacks for the science fair after school. When she asks for volunteers to help her, every male student’s hand goes up.
Later, in the school cafeteria, Buffy, Willow and Xander are in line waiting to receive their heaping helping of hotdog surprise. Xander is talking about Miss French. Blayne approaches to gloat to Xander that his one-on-one with Miss French is today. Xander’s own assignation is for the following day. Blayne comes in first; Xander second. Blayne calls it “natural selection.”
Cordelia Chase shows up to get her medically prescribed lunch from the cafeteria fridge. When the cafeteria worker opens the door to the refrigerator, we find the headless body of Dr. Gregory inside.
Note: the cafeteria staff doesn’t seem that startled. I imagine that a lot of corpses are discovered in close proximity to the Hellmouth.
The next scene is in the school library, Giles’ domain.
Giles pours water for Buffy. She and Willow sit on the steps, and both seem deeply upset. Giles says that he liked Dr. Gregory. Well, of course he did. All of the “good” adults are required to like each other.
Buffy says that Dr. Gregory’s corpse was wearing the same clothes he was when they last saw him in class. Another example of Buffy’s near-unconscious Slayer super-sleuthing powers.
We reach the 15-Minute mark, still two or three scenes away from the end of Act I, as Xander says: “This is a question that no one particularly wants to hear, but . . . where did they put his head?”
Where indeed, Mr. Harris?
Join me in Part 2 of our three-part dissection and annotation of “Teacher’s Pet,” where we’ll talk about the rest of this library scene and ease our way into Act II.