Teacher's Pet

Season One, Episode Four

A bug's life.

Teacher's Pet: The Review

Our hero.

Teacher's Pet gives Xander his first dedicated exploratory episode. Having established that he is attracted to Buffy, and, by the rule of opposites, possibly to Cordelia, both strong and magnetic personalities, it should come as no surprise that he would be dazzled by the new teacher, Natalie French, an epitome of adolescent males' fantasy women.

Xander is readily reduced to a drooling idiot whenever he tries to impress a beautiful woman. The viewers had garnered that much information from his first protohominid mode of address to Buffy in the hallway early in Welcome to the Hellmouth. Suavity is a fantastic quality that he possesses only in dreams. Thus, the episode begins with the familiar device of a dream sequence that is presented as reality. That it is a dream should be evident as soon as Buffy's fearful and hapless resistance to the vampire is shown. If any suspicions of reality remained, they are rapidly dissipated, first, by Xander's competence and cool, and second, by Buffy's rapt gaze of adoration. The reverie appears to have been fashioned from the memory of the siege of The Bronze and Buffy's account of her near miss with Luke in the crypt in The Harvest. Xander has been indulging in hero worship, and the hero he emulates in the daydream is Buffy. The sense of unreality does not stop there.

After catching Buffy out, she having neglected her homework, Dr. Gregory proves to be the first adult since Giles who discerns her superiority. He divines it in a curious manner, by perusing her permanent record and assessing her potential from the sheer flamboyance of her actions. A teacher who perceives her exceptional abilities, he is written almost to suggest that his perspicacity has penetrated something of her secret, that he suspects, at the very least, that she had some valid excuse for torching the gym. One wonders what he knows about the doings in Sunnydale after dark. Someone who appears to have eyes in the back of his head, he must know something. Yet he doesn't have eyes in the back of his head, for he is decapitated from behind only moments after Buffy departs with his pedantic encouragement buoying her confidence. Too late, the viewers realize that Gregory was the designated sacrificial victim, that their emotions have been cruelly manipulated. He was a clone of Giles, down to the ritualistic cleaning of the spectacles, and was dispensable where Giles was not. One regrets his demise, nonetheless.

Miss French is presented as a sexual predator. Even before Buffy has evidence that Natalie is not human, she passes judgment on the desperation and naiveté of the student and the predation of the teacher who takes advantage of that emotional immaturity. Buffy's Slayer sense manifests itself humorously when she observes that Natalie is in some part unnatural. This is the second time in the first four episodes that young men have been shown to be the victims of their own sexual nonage. As in WttH, a boastful boy is undone by very youth at the hands of an older woman. It is gently suggested, by way of Giles' description of Natalie, that this immaturity is not confined to an age group, but that all men are merely boys sexually and thus susceptible, although adults to a lesser degree than teenagers. Giles, in fact, can temper his erotic fascination with experience and intellect, and does make the connection to Carlyle and his research. (One of the episode's funnier lines is thrown out gratuitously at the end of the telephonic conversation between Giles and Carlyle. "Y-you were right all along about everything. Well, n-no, you weren't right about your mother coming back as a Pekinese.") Still, there is no doubt about the attitude toward Natalie after Buffy remarks on her fashion sense.

The creamy filling.

Sensibly, the episode does not attenuate the mystery of Natalie. Before the end of act one, she has sent the Clawed Vampire skittering off in a panic, thereby removing any possibility that further misdirection is intended. To render the picture altogether transparent, nevertheless, Natalie conveniently rotates her head, seeming not to care who might have been watching, in or out of the classroom. The cricket sandwich is more laughable than repulsive, given the overt fastidiousness, or squeamishness, that Musetta Vander betrays while preparing it. She is rendered despicable, however, only when, not trusting to hormones and pheromones, she seduces Xander in her home, using alcohol to dissolve further his inhibitions, which has the side effect of unmasking her.

The episode then has the task of making the suspense last for two additional acts before the climax in act four. The rest is all "slice and dice" plotting. Having already padded out the action with a return engagement of Principal Flutie's mock sincere educational nostrums, the command to heal being delivered as its canine homophone, and Cordelia's counseling session, in which weight loss is the silver lining to homicide, there is not much more that can be done in that way. Cutting between Natalie's basement and the library or the street breaks the remaining time into quickly consumed morsels for the short-attention spans of the viewers, merely simulating suspense. Flashbacks to Xander's dream have the effect of vamping for time. The brief, obligatory frustration of the search with the visit to the aged Miss French is uninspired. It offers an opportunity for the show to give one of its peculiar readings of a run-of-the-mill dramatic device, but nothing is done with it. Xander's drug induced confession that he loves Buffy is sad in the circumstances. It states the obvious for no other reason than to kill a few more moments of undead air. Buffy's scattered meetings with Angel are tolerable, however, because of their brevity. Her caution, or control, is placed in contrast to that of Xander's involuntary sexual subservience to Natalie. The best that can said of the prolonged preparation and search is that it allows Buffy to exhibit some more of her astonishing powers of intuition and to justify the late Dr. Gregory's faith in her acuity. She has done her homework and come up with countermeasures. Furthermore, she works the vampire into the plan on the spur of the moment, confirming Gregory's opinion of her ability to think on her feet.

In Sum

The battle with Natalie is practically the definition of anti-climactic. Buffy's tactics prove effective, barring the glitch with the tape recording of Giles' lecture on the Dewey Decimal system. More time is devoted to Blayne's discomfiture than to Natalie's. Whatever else might be said of Natalie, she did have the decency to die without revealing Xander's middle name.

The poignancy of the last scene is marred somewhat by the conventional scare shot of the hatching egg, but, all things considered, the episode does produce a feeling of loss, despite the moralizing. In some ways, the school system is depicted as the real villain, for it is a breeding ground for predators and droning rote educators. The true teachers, those who know how to motivate their students, are devoured by the system, replaced, instead, by those who play the percentages, no more, no less. Buffy's wit and her intuition are related expressions of her mental quickness, but the system does not recognize that fact. (If one entertains the possibility that this interpretation is valid, a better and more satirical examination of the faults of the educational system and a more scathing treatment of inappropriate student-teacher relations can be found in A Room with No View, a second season episode of Millennium, first broadcast 04/24/98, written by Ken Horton — perhaps with some influence from Teacher's Pet. There are some interesting correspondences, viz., the conversation between the two captive students. Teacher's Pet was broadcast originally 03/25/97. Also, Howard Gordon, the name of one character in the Millennium episode, was a Fox producer working both on the Mutant Enemy and the 1013 series.)

Horace LaBadie

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