15:01 – 30:00
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Gregory, a Sunnydale High School science teacher who seemed like he would become another positive adult role model in Buffy’s life, was viciously murdered by a giant praying mantis monster, and his headless corpse was discovered in a school cafeteria refrigerator. Coincidentally, Dr. Gregory had already been replaced with substitute teacher Natalie French, a smoking hot brunette who seems to have a thing for praying mantises and young high school boys.
When we last left our nascent Scooby Gang, they were hanging around the school libray with librarian/watcher Rupert Giles, discussing poor Dr. Gregory’s untimely demise. Xander Harris, the patron saint of nerdity, had just asked the question on minds of every viewer: “Where did they put his head?”
Did I mention that Dr. Gregory was missing his head when his body was discovered? Well, he was.
Buffy Summers, the Slayer, tells the rest of the gang that Angel warned her that something was coming.
Giles says that, in his research into the Master—who is Season 1’s Big Bad and the overarching seasonal storyline—he discovered a reference to a vampire who displeased the vampire and cut off his hand in penance. Buffy asks if the vampire replaced his hand with a fork, but Giles can’t answer that question.
You may remember that the existence of Fork Guy was introduced to us by Angel in Part One. We are still entertaining the notion that he’s relevant to the episode’s plot, although I strongly suspect that he’s a red herring.
“So, why would he come after a teacher?” Xander asks.
Giles admits that he’s not sure that Fork Guy is responsible for Dr. Gregory’s death. There was an incident in Weatherly Park, two nights ago, in which a homeless person was murdered. Practically shredded, like pulled pork. Nothing like Dr. Gregory.
The “pulled pork” part was all me, not Giles. Still, it’s an effective image if you’re a fan of southern barbecue.
Buffy piggybacks on her Watcher’s train of thought. She says that Fork Guy doesn’t do heads, and she also points out that Dr. Gregory’s body hadn’t been drained of blood. Doesn’t sound like a vampire killing.
Buffy and Xander lampshade the series fact that living on a Hellmouth is the same as living on Monster Island. Vampires aren’t the only threat out there.
Giles tells Buffy that now’s not the time to go hunting and gets her to promise not to do anything rash.
“Cross my heart,” Buffy says.
But, of course she lied.
Later that night, Buffy is patrolling outside the closed gates of Weatherly Park, where the homeless man was killed. A sign on the fence announces that the park hours are sunrise to 10 p.m. Since the gates are closed, we know it’s after ten at night. Buffy climbs the fence to enter the park. A brown-bagging homeless guy startles her, saying, “Shouldn’t be out here at night, Little Lady. Dangerous.”
The Foreshadowing Jump-Scare Bum leaves and Buffy notices another homeless person on the ground in front of a bench. He’s just asleep, not dead. Dogs bark in the distance as the Slayer continues to stalk her prey. Buffy’s Slayer-Sense leads her to a sewer access, which is the entrance to Fork Guy’s lair.
Naturally, Fork Guy attacks Buffy, swinging his claw hand with purpose. The two spar for a moment, until the police arrive on the scene. Fork Guy manages to avoid being dusted this time and makes his escape into the night.
As Buffy continues to track the claw-handed vampire, we arrive at the other reason we are in Weatherly Park this evening. Natalie French walks down the sidewalk outside of the park. Fork Guy, having made his escape from the Slayer, is now stalking the pretty substitute teacher. The vampire hops the fence, and Buffy is in a position from which she can witness what happens next.
Miss French turns slowly and the look in her eyes is enough to send Fork Guy scurrying into the sewers through a manhole. The teacher, unperturbed, turns back around and continues walking.
End of Act I.
The next morning, we’re back in the school library.
Giles states, matter-of-factly, that Buffy went out hunting the previous night. Buffy gives her Watcher a glib apology. Giles asks her if she saw anyone with a fork.
Buffy says it was more like a jumbo claw. Buffy says she saw something else. Something “much more interesting than your average run-of-the-mill killer vampire.”
Buffy asks Giles if he knows Miss French, the substitute teacher who replaced Dr. Gregory. Giles, not immune to feminine charms, says, “Yes. Yes, she’s lovely. In a . . . a common, extremely well proportioned way.”
Buffy tells Giles about Fork Guy—now dubbed “Claw Guy”—running for cover from “Miss Well Proportioned.”
Giles seems very interested in this turn of events. He suggests that it would be a good idea to keep an eye on Natalie French.
On her way to class, Buffy runs into Principal Flutie in the hallway. Since Buffy saw Dr. Gregory’s body in the cafeteria, he insists that she needs to see the “crisis counselor.” While she sits on a bench outside the counselor’s office, Buffy can hear Cordelia from inside, talking to the counselor.
Cordelia tells the counselor that she hasn’t been able to eat since discovering the body. Sure, she’s lost seven-and-a-half ounces, but she’s not advocating killing a teacher every day to help her lose weight.
A little Cordy humor and an excuse to make Buffy late for Miss French’s science class.
Speaking of the science class, where the class is taking a pop quiz, Miss French comes up behind Xander’s desk and helps him with a question. She also tells him that she’ll see him after school.
Buffy, late for class, approaches the closed classroom door, looking through the window. Oh great, a pop quiz. Inside the room, Natalie French straightens up and rotates her head 180 degrees, towards the door. Buffy rolls away from the window, her expression shocked.
This feels like an act break, but it’s not.
Later, Buffy is telling Willow about Miss French doing a full-on Exorcist neck twist as they walk into the library. Buffy also wonders, aloud, where Blayne is. He had his one-on-one with Miss French the day before, and she hasn’t noticed him in class today.
Giles says he’s had little luck in his research finding anything that strikes fear in the heart of a vampire. Buffy suggests looking under things that can turn their head all the way around. Giles points out that nothing human can do that.
Buffy says some insects can. Buffy bounds up to the library stacks, vowing that she’ll be prepared for Miss French, whatever she is. She asks Giles where to find the books on bugs.
Xander shows up in the science classroom just as Miss French is making herself a snack.
“Oh, Xander,” Miss French says, “I’ve done something really stupid. I hope you can forgive me.”
“Forgiveness is my middle name,” Xander quips. “Well, actually, it’s LaVelle, and I’d appreciate it if you guard that secret with your life.”
Miss French says she has a parent-teacher conference in a half hour, and she left the paint and papier-mâché at her house. She gives Xander her address and invites him to come to her home at seven-thirty tonight.
This excites Xander the way it would any hormonally-driven high school boy.
After Xander leaves the classroom, Natalie French dumps a container of live crickets onto the buttered bread of her “snack.” The sandwich crunches as she bites into it. Yum.
During her fifteen minutes of research in the library, Buffy has determined that only the praying mantis can rotate its head 180 degrees. Plus, a vamp was scared of Miss French and her fashion sense screams “predator.”
“It’s the shoulder pads,” Willow says, which is even more funny if you remember shoulder pads.
All of which leads to a new, admittedly rather weak, rule.
Vampire Rule #7: Vampires are afraid of giant praying mantis monsters.
Giles suggests that, if Buffy is correct, then Miss French would have to be a shapeshifter or a perception distorter. Fortunately, Professor Exposition happens to have a “chum” at Oxford named Carlyle, who has advanced degrees in entomology mythology (which, as you know, concentrates upon bugs and fairy tales). Carlyle went mad, as one does, but just before that happened, he made claims about some beast—
This potentially interesting thought is interrupted because Willow finds out, on the computer, that Blayne never came home the previous evening. His mom called the school, and, apparently, all calls are logged on the school’s intranet. Willow is concerned because Xander is supposed to be helping Miss French right at this moment.
Buffy tells Willow not to panic. She’ll warn Xander. She needs for Willow, in her team role as Computer Girl, to hack into the coroner’s office to find out the details of Dr. Gregory’s autopsy. Buffy’s Slayer instincts are telling her that the marks she saw on the teacher’s corpse were made by teeth and will be a match to those on the picture of a mantis in the book. Seems like a stretch; but, she is the Slayer.
Buffy didn’t forget that Giles was talking about his poor mad chum Carlyle at Oxford, and asks him to continue talking about Carlyle’s beast. Giles says he needs to make a transatlantic call to a collegue. Almost as an afterthought, he asks if the computer thing that Willow is doing is legal. Willow and Buffy both lie to Giles (something he may have to get used to) and say it is.
“Right,” Giles says. “Wasn’t here. Didn’t see it. Couldn’t have stopped you.”
Buffy catches up with Xander outside the school. She tries to warn him that Miss French is actually a giant bug.
I know that I’ve already admitted that Xander is the Buffy character I’ve always most identified with. And, this is still true. But, I also have to admit that I don’t always like him. There is a darkness to the character that always seems to be simmering just beneath the surface, when it isn’t completely boiling over the top. He is often petty, mean, self-centered, and stupid. Since he’s the character I most identify with, I suppose that says something about me as well.
I try to keep the art and the artist separated in my mind, but I can’t help but think about the troubles that actor Nicholas Brendon has experienced during his post-Buffy life. Brendon has also seemed to stuggle with personal demons. I wonder how much of Xander Harris’s perceived darkness actually came naturally from the actor himself.
After Buffy tells her friend that Miss French is probably a giant bug, we get another dose of Dark Xander.
“I completely understand,” Xander says. “I’ve met someone, and you’re jealous.”
“What?” Buffy says.
Xander says there’s a certain chemical thing between him and Miss French. Buffy says she read about that. It’s called a pheromone, a chemical attractant that insects give off.
“She’s not an insect!” Xander says. “She’s a woman, okay? And hard as that may be for you to conceive, an actual woman finds me attractive. I realize it’s no mystery guy handing out leather jackets—and, while we’re on the subject, what kind of a girlie name is ‘Angel’ anyway?”
In many ways, a typical Xander rant. Maybe a bit more bitter—”caustic” may be a more precise adjective—than normal, but consistent with what we know about the character so far in the early goings-on.
Xander walks off while Buffy stands there, dumbfounded. Poor Xander. He’s got it bad.
Later that night—around seven-thirty would be my guess—Natalie French is pouring two drinks from a cocktail shaker as her doorbell rings. Soft jazz plays in the background, and the lights are seductively dim.
Miss French is wearing a slinky dress displaying a generous amount of cleavage, which Xander is looking directly at as the substitute teacher answers the door. She offers Xander a martini, saying that she has to relax a little because she’s a little nervous around him.
Xander babbles like an idiot, mentioning Greek food and shawarma, and then gulping down his martini.
Miss French asks him, “Have you ever been with a woman before?”
“You mean, like, in the same room?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Oh, that,” Xander says. “Well, let me think. Um . . .”
Xander attempts to lie—badly—and then admits that he’s still a virgin.
“I know,” Miss French says, “I can tell.”
Xander hears muffled yelling from somewhere. He says it sounds like someone crying.
“I don’t hear anything,” the teacher says, and then touches Xander’s hands. “Your hands are so hot!”
Xander flashes back to his earlier daydream, in the teaser, in which fantasy-Buffy says, “Oh, you hurt your hand!” The drink Miss French gave him is beginning to take effect. Xander leans back on the couch, as if in a daze.
“Buffy,” he murmurs. “I love Buffy. Wow! So, that’s a martini, huh?”
As we reach the 30-minute mark, just shy of Act III, Miss French says,”Would you like to touch me with those hands?”
Join me next time, when we’ll return to our in-depth discussion of the episode “Teacher’s Pet” in the final part of our three-part 15-Minute Hellmouth segment.