infinitejest: (buffy: the wind speaks)
[personal profile] infinitejest
Episode Title: "Teacher's Pet"
Writer: David Greenwalt
Episode Number: 1.4

Spoilers, as usual.

Demon Lore

And so our assortment of demons and creatures continues to grow, supplemented by real-world mythology. In this episode, we are introduced to the She-Mantis:

Giles: "Dr. Ferris Carlyle spent years transcribing a lost pre-Germanic language. What he discovered he kept to himself until several teenage boys were murdered in the Cotswolds. Then he went hunting for it."

Buffy: "It being..."

Giles: "Uh, he calls her a She-Mantis. This type of creature, the Kleptes-Virgo, or, or virgin-thief, appears in, in many cultures. The Greek sirens, the Celtic sea maidens, who, who tore the living flesh from the bones of, um..."

Buffy: "Giles, while we're young!"

Giles: "Uh, well, basically the, uh, the She-Mantis assumes the form of a beautiful woman and
then lures innocent virgins back to her nest."

We also learn how to kill it:

Giles: "Uh, Carlyle recommends cleaving all body parts with a sharp blade."

That's pretty sensible and applicable to most dangerous supernatural creatures. If you can't kill it easily, just lop it into pieces and make sure you bury or burn those pieces separate of each other. That way at least it can't pull itself together.

So, this demon (or monster or whatever you want to call it), apparently has the power to either shapeshift or bend perception. Considering that her form begins to fluctuate in Xander's eyes when his perception is altered by alcohol, we're going to go with her being a perception distorter.

In the context of the show, this is just bad science. She does all sorts of things that a mantis-shaped creature shouldn't be able to do (so I'm thankful they go more with the actual shapeshifting for most demons later in the show-- though, I must also admit that they're light on the non-humanoid demons later in the show). Anyway, a mantis-shaped creature should not be able to hand out tests, make a sandwich, open a tupperware container, etc. Unless, of course, the perception filter extends to her actions and manipulation of objects, with humans continuing to see what they think makes sense.

Also, if vampires aren't as vulnerable to perception-bending as insinuated later in the show (e.g. when Spike can locate Rack's hidey-hole, ostensibly without trouble), why is the "Fork Guy" vampire fooled until he comes within ten feet of her?

The She-Mantis' modus operandi is to advertise her presence in the form of an incredibly attractive female and thus lure young virgins back to her nest. The modern world offers all sorts of easy ways to do this, including masquerading as a high school substitute teacher and preying on the copious amount of high school boys steeped in raging hormones. Natalie French does this without fail.

And yet, what is it in the nature of villains and demons that they must always give way to foibles that lead to their undoing? (Yes, yes, narrative ploy.) This villain gives a lecture on the mantis her first day substituting, taking strange offense at Buffy's suggestion that mantises are butt-ugly creatures. She eats cricket-sandwiches between classes. She turns her head a full 180 degrees, with students sitting behind her. As the Master would say in that wonderful Metcalf-way: "Careless." It's no wonder Buffy made a few easy intuitive leaps and had the presence of mind to do her homework, packing bat sonar and bug spray when she went to take the She-Mantis down.

All that said: exactly how the hell did she manage to mate with human males? The whole point of the entrapment is that she needed male seed to fertilize her eggs. I get that she spewed the eggs and then apparently needed a human male to ejaculate on those eggs, but, er... she wasn't exactly getting the two males she had confined to any point where ejaculation was imminent. That procedure would be when she needed her perception distortion the most, honestly: so the boys wouldn't realize what they were doing, and perhaps just think they were participating in some kinky love games.

Suitably creepy ending to this episode, anyway: a close-up on an egg hatching in the science room closet. I'm guessing it hatches and gets out of town, though, considering we don't hear about it anymore.

Vampire Lore

There's not really much added to the vampire lore in this episode, but I wanted to make a note of the fact that they mentioned the Master and brought in "Fork Guy" to keep vampires involved in the show:

Giles: "I've been trying to gather more information about the Master, our, uh, local vampire king. There was one oblique reference to a, a, a vampire who displeased the Master and cut his hand off in penance."

So, we know that the Master is big about requiring body parts from those who fail him. He took an eye from a subordinate in, er, "The Harvest." Here, he's apparently accepted a hand before allowing the vampire to go off in shame.

Besides this, we find that vampires can sense perception distortion (in varying degrees, throughout the show) and can be counted on to know where the local She-Mantis keeps her lair.

Sunnydale Lore

Apparently, Sunnydale always has great weather:

Giles: "God, every day here is the same."

Buffy: "Bright, sunny, beautiful, how ever can we escape this torment?"

Giles: "Really."

I think this is worth noting and considering in the later light of the Mayor. Is this his doing or something innately peculiar to the Hellmouth? Because, intuitively, I'd think the Hellmouth would stir up a different sort of weather. (I speak beyond the stereotype of California just having great weather, obviously.)

Characterization:

Buffy: Buffy is the "typical woman" in that she's oblivious to the feelings of men that she's not romantically interested in. She is completely blindsided in this episode when Xander blows up on her about Angel and women actually being attracted to him (Xander).

Buffy also recognizes this episode that she's falling for Angel: it's quite obvious in her little reactions to him. She's hurt when he only comes by to give her information, yet she looks forward to seeing him. She's disarmed by a simple kindness (e.g. him giving her his jacket). When he tells her that it looks better on her at the end of the episode, walking away with his self-satisfied smirk, all she can do is mutter an "Oh boy." She knows she's hooked.

Buffy continues exercising initiative in the group and the related power confluences are addressed in the Themes section.

Also, in this episode, we are treated to an absolutely beautiful scene between Dr. Gregory and Buffy. This scene accomplishes much: it's an awesome example of a good teacher, reaching out to his students and knowing how to encourage them. It also is the first time that someone outside of Buffy's support group really believes in her and sees her potential. And, more than that, he leads Buffy toward believing in her own potential-- her own "mundane" potential, outside of her supernatural powers and destiny. It's a beautiful, real-world moment and one that deeply affects Buffy. It makes it that much more emotionally affecting when Dr. Gregory's eaten by a giant insect shortly thereafter. (Joss' point, no doubt.)

Oh, and this is the first episode where they see such a mangled body (and of someone who meant something to them, or at least to Buffy). SMG does an excellent job of shocked grief: the tear-streaked vacant look on her face, and refusing the glass of water from Giles even as she takes it and sips from it. (Just to note the others' responses to this situation: Giles is solemnly matter-of-fact; Xander is unhinged and focused on doing something; Willow is very sensible, but deeply disturbed.)

Buffy easily climbs/jumps a tall, tall fence in this episode. She also uses part of a picket fence as a stake. Buffy also exhibits her excellent intuition in this episode by figuring out that French is an insect and sticking with it despite the other's initial and insistent doubt.

Willow: It's somewhat of a pity that so much of Willow's characterization in the first season funnels into her unrequited love for Xander. Besides her continuing amazing abilities on the computer and her support of Buffy, she's just moaning over the possibility that Xander might be harmed. Of course, it's fine for one to be concerned for their friend. I'm just saying that almost all she seems to do is think about Xander.

Xander: We are treated to more of Xander's raging hormones and deepening attachment to Buffy in this episode. "Teacher's Pet" actually opens with a dream sequence in which Xander is the amazing bad-ass who kills a vampire (with a chair leg!), has a guitar solo, and has Buffy fawning all over him. Besides that, his hormones are in a constant state of excitement over Natalie French and following them heedlessly is what gets him into trouble.

Also, there's some of that vaguely homosexual subtext in this episode which could have been harnessed later to lend credence to Xander being gay (if they hadn't gone with Willow):

Xander: "Well, he's buff. She never said anything about him being buff."
Willow: "He's buff?"
Xander: "He's a very attractive man. How come that never came up?"

Xander's a bit dense, as well. He still hasn't grasped that "disappearance" in Sunnydale usually translates as "dead, dismembered, or demonically engaged." He's pretty happy about the lack of Dr. Gregory before Buffy and Willow reminds him what it might mean.

In Season 6's "Once More, With Feeling," Anya complains that Xander always hides behind his Buffy. Well, the promotion of that behavior begins here: when Xander is bull-headed and goes off on his own, Very Bad Things tend to happen to him. And, more often than not, Buffy is the one who saves him. It's no wonder that he comes to rely on her so much, trusting in her to lead him right and keep him relatively safe (except for the regular apocalypses).

Oh, yeah, and his blow-up at Buffy further cements his inferiority complex. He snipes at Buffy because he feels inferior to Angel and he's defending the thought that a woman could actually find him attractive.

Giles: Giles is still trying to find his power base-- he's definitely the information man, and he performs in that role pretty admirably. He's also beginning to relax into his place in Sunnydale, making more quips, etc. But he still doesn't have any power over Buffy, as I address in the Themes section.

Cordelia: There isn't much added to Cordelia's character in this episode, though they make sure to throw her in a scene or two to keep her included on the show. She apparently takes medicated lunches, which we later discover may be in the pursuit of weight loss. She's also remarkably self-involved and vapid in her discussion of Dr. Gregory's death: "It was... let's just say I haven't been able to eat a thing since yesterday. I think I lost, like, seven and a half ounces? Way swifter than that so-called diet that quack put me on. Oh, I'm not saying that we should kill a teacher every day just so I can lose weight, I'm just saying when tragedy strikes, we have to look on the bright side. You know?"

Angel: Angel is showing up more, becoming a more well-rounded stalker. He comes by the Bronze early in the episode, pulling his typical mysterious "just hanging around" routine. He has this terribly self-satisfied smirk on his face throughout most of his chats with Buffy, and they're both still being pretty catty with each other. But then:

Angel: "You're cold."
Buffy: "You can take it."
Angel: "No, I mean you look cold."

And he actually gives her his jacket, disarming her and getting under her skin with that show of consideration. It's only when she snarks about his cryptic messages that he seems to take refuge in that role, disarming the personal nature of their conversation when she discovers he's wounded and pulling a "cryptic warning" out of his ass:

Angel: "I didn't pay attention."
Buffy: "To somebody with a big fork?"
Angel: "He's coming."
Buffy: "The Fork Guy?"
Angel: "Don't let him corner you. Don't give him a moment's mercy. He'll rip your throat out."
Buffy: "Okay, I'll give you improved marks for that one. Ripping a throat out, it's a strong visual, it's not cryptic!"
Angel: "I have to go."

This warning actually has pretty much nothing to do with anything, except that Buffy should've remembered it when she used Fork Guy to help her locate the She-Mantis' lair later. But the Fork Guy's not coming for Buffy: he's just hiding out in the park, minding his own business, and shredding homeless drunkards. So this just seems like a lame attempt by Angel to fulfill his role as cryptic-message delivery guy. He undermines this role even more later, when he shows up just to congratulate Buffy on a staking well-done.

Themes

Briefly, I'd like to observe that one of the main themes in this particular episode is that virginity isn't necessarily a bad thing (even though it does attract some kinds of monsters to you). There's a nice little feel-good moment at the end where Willow gets to deliver our virtuous message of the day: virginity is a smart and safe thing. Yay for safety in (not having) sex!

But there's a larger theme here that I want to mention: power. Much of this show is all about power and the shifting thereof. In these early episodes, Buffy and Giles are still working out where the power lay between them. Right now (and for most of the rest of this season, I think) the power is firmly in Buffy's hands. This continues to be evident in her taking control in the planning of taking down the weekly villain: she's always giving out the orders, sending Giles on errands (in this case, to record bat sonar). Also, witness the following exchange:

Giles, huffily pissed: "You went hunting last night."
Buffy, clearly unconcerned: "Yes."
Giles: "When you assured me you wouldn't."
Buffy, impatiently: "Yes, I lied, I'm a bad person, let's move on."
Giles: "Did you see someone with a fork?"
Buffy: "More like a jumbo claw."
Giles: "Oh. Well, uh, at least you're not hurt."

Previously to this, the only thing Giles had been able to do was weakly extract a promise from Buffy that she wouldn't go hunting. He couldn't simply tell her not to go and expect her to act accordingly. Obviously, she didn't act as she said she would. She's the one in control.

Miscellaneous

"It's funny how the earth never opens up and swallows you when you want it to." Ironic considering that the earth does threaten to open up and swallow them all later in the show.

This goes under "slice of life and pretty true":

Xander: "Miss French. You two're probably a little young to understand what an older woman would see in a younger man."
Buffy: "Oh, I understand."
Xander: "Good!"
Buffy: "The younger man is too dumb to wonder why an older woman can't find someone her own age, and too desperate to care about the surgical improvements!"

The She-Mantis does "eeny meeny" to decide which boy to mate with and eat first.

Favorite Quotes

Dr. Gregory: "Don't be sorry: be smart."

Mr. Flutie: "Don't say dead! Or decapitated, or decomposing, I'd stay away from D-words altogether."

Mr. Flutie: "We all need help with our feelings. Otherwise we bottle them up, and before you know it, powerful laxatives are involved. I really believe if we all reach out to one another we can beat this thing. I'm always here if you need a hug, (jumps back) but not a real hug! Because there's no touching, this school is sensitive to wrong touching."

Giles on Willow's creative use of the computer: "Right. Wasn't here, didn't see it, couldn't have stopped you."

Xander: "Need should definitely be met as long as it doesn't require ointments the next day."

Xander: "Wow, your hands... are really serrated."

Giles, on the phone: "Frankly, madam, I haven't the faintest idea what time it is, nor do I care. Now, unlock his cell, unstrap him, and bring him to the telephone immediately. This is a matter of life and death!"

Buffy: "Yeah, well he taught me: you do your homework, you learn stuff."

Links:

Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Movie
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Origin comic
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.1: "Welcome to the Hellmouth"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.2: "The Harvest"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.3: "The Witch"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Viva Las Buffy! comic

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