Teacher’s Pet
Directed by: Bruce Seth Green
Written by: David Greenwall
Air Date: March 24, 1997

Ok. So Season 1 of this show is full of stinkers. And this episode proves that point, 100% – with ease.

“Teacher’s Pet” is all about the anxiety of sex, from a male perspective. Particularly the “first time” – Xander and his classmate Blayne are targets of a monster (a giant praying mantis lady) that wants to get them back to her place, drug them, drag them into a dark and dank basement, have her way with them, and then eat their heads. How do we know this? In the form of a substitute teacher, she tells her class – and thus the viewers at home – all about how a mantis finds a mate, has intercourse, and devours the head. This is after we find out she killed a teacher this way (Cordelia finds him stuffed in a school freezer, the worst job of stashing a body I’ve ever seen). The fact that it takes the Scoobie gang more than half the episode to piece this together is spellbindingly atrocious. The fact that they go all Batman and use a handy assortment of sonar tools, bug sprays, and the like is equally embarrassing.

The most embarrassing thing, though, is that the actress playing Ms. French, Musetta Vander (who also played Sindel is… Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) isn’t attractive enough to really be this sought after and fawned over. She’s not ugly, by any means, but she really, really must have been utilizing her pheromones, here.

In a lot of ways, the episode does its best to make use of the shoestring budget the show had at the time (mostly from Joss Whedon’s own pocket, if I remember correctly), but here it just isn’t enough. All of the effects bring the episode down, from the awful Mantis model used, the real horrible effect of Ms. French turning her head around backwards, and even horrible opening egg which signifies that – yes! – this ends on a cliffhanger. One that never amounts to anything or is even mentioned again for the rest of the series. Other parts of the production bring the episode down, too. The night scenes are still too dark and thus the action, what little there is, yet, is weak and hard to follow. Two times in this episode I had to just guess at what could be happening in the black of night; once while Buffy was rummaging through some brush to try and stalk a vampire, and another time when Xander attempted to escape the mantis’ basement. I have no clue what really happened, but I know it couldn’t have been that inspired.

The fight scene with the actual She-Mantis at the end is equally horrible and poorly directed. I understand that they had a giant, hard to move mantis prop that probably didn’t work right and was a bitch to control. But at what point to do you say “screw it, we’re committed to this idea, even though it is going to be awful” instead of saying “let’s call this one, boys” and moving on? If this were the end of the season, sure, but this is episode four. You’re still trying to convince people to watch the show, to get invested in the characters, and to care about their lives and their struggles. All the good character work in this episode (Giles frantic yelling over the phone at his now institutionalized friend, Xander’s stammering and yammering whilst nervous around Ms. French, Willow’s subtle-but-really-not-subtle hinting at feelings for Xander, etc.) is meaningless when you consider how lame the episode is and how boring the hour of television had to have been for new-viewers. With this episode, and a few of the upcoming episodes, I don’t know how this show made it out of the first season. Thank god it did, though!

Otherwise, the same things I’ve praised the show for thus far are all present and accounted for, namely the humor: Willow being cute – repeatedly, this time, particularly when miming answers to Buffy in class, poking fun at school cafeteria food (thank god they didn’t do a whole episode on that… though they come close in season 3…), Cordelia’s ranting at the grief counselor and Buffy’s reaction, and Principal Flutie being such a genuinely nice dude at this point, while maintaining¬† his role within in the school. Also? The interaction the group has with the real Ms. French? Priceless. Also, its the first time in a long string of incidents in which Xander is a “demon magnet” – something we’ll see plenty more of in seasons to come.

I guess what this all boils down to, really, is that these monster-of-the-week episodes are real weak. Laughably so, actually. It was almost painful to watch this episode for what is probably only the third time. I usually skip it entirely if I do a series long re-watch and, well, I can see why. Many people badmouth the show because its “for girls” or “cheesy” or what have you, maybe because its just “another Charmed” – and while these are all valid points to make against BtVS, its episodes like this that should be ammunition against it. There is no way to defend this episode, no way to justify its placement within the chronology at all, period. There are a few, rare callbacks, but only in jest. If this episode was removed entirely, no one would be the wiser.

Episode Rating: 50

Death Count: 10
Annoying Scream Count: 7

Additional Notes:
-Xander’s dream sequence is so… selfish. And really awful. His guitar playing is so corny, Nicholas Brendon must have hated filming it
-Having said that, the quick-cut to his dream-guitaring when Ms. French asks him to her place? Gold.
-The science teacher that dies is a cool dude, real nice and helpful to Buffy, the kind of dude the make inspirational movies about. But totally a virgin.
-Speaking of virgins, when the gang finds out She-Mantis only eats virgins, Willow’s “he’s dead” in reference to Xander is hilarious and perfectly timed.
-Angel is a creepy dude this whole episode.
-The fork-hand vampire, who I’ll just call Vega, is dumb and a poor way to throw the viewer off. Especially since Ms. French is obviously creepy and the bad guy.
-Principal Flutie tells Buffy she needs to see the grief counselor and she refuses. He tells her to “HEAL!” and she sits and “heels” like a dog. Good writing.
-Whoever is playing Blayne is an overacting jerk. He’s either too vulgar, too brash, or too frightened all the time. Real poor.
-This episode sucks.