Monday, April 20, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season One, Episode 4: Teacher's Pet

Written by David Greenwalt; Directed by Bruce Seth Green

Teacher’s Pet is the fourth episode in Season One of Buffy, and it is, in my opinion, one of the weakest episodes of the season. The plot is humdrum, the special effects are atrocious, and whilst the writing has improved from previous episodes; as season one continues the writing continues to improve, therefore making this episode unexciting compared to the rest of season one.
This episode centres around Xander who, along with the rest of the male population at Sunnydale High, seems strangely drawn to the substitute biology teacher, Ms French. Buffy suspects that there is something unnatural about Xander’s attraction to her and discovers that Ms. French is actually a ‘She-Mantis’, a giant praying mantis-like demon who assumes the form of a desirable woman in order to lure virgin boys into her home, mate with them and then, in true praying mantis form, bite their heads off. Buffy, Giles and Willow have to find the She-Mantis and kill her, before she can deflower and devour Xander.

It was interesting to have a storyline concentrating on one of the supporting characters (in this case, Xander) but the plot was predictable and tended to drag a little at times. This epsiode marks the beginning of Xander’s continuous attraction to demons (we later have a beautiful, life-force-sucking mummy in Inca Mummy Girl (Season 2, ep4), and the infamous vengeance demon, Anya (Seasons 3 through to 7) but contributes little else to the series as a whole.
A redeeming factor of this episode is the writing. In The Witch some of the dialogue seemed a little jarring, but in Teacher’s Pet it runs together very smoothly, indicating that Whedon and the other writers were beginning to gain an understanding of the characters they were writing for and how they should interact with each other inside the show. The writing continues to improve throughout Season One, as the personalities of the characters emerge and their relationships with each other shift.

Another positive aspect of this episode is the way in which Whedon created tension. There is a great deal of suspense in the last fifteen minutes of the episode, allowing the audience to be drawn into the story and keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. This suspense in this episode peaks during the final scene, when the audience sees fertilised She-Mantis egg sacs almost ready to hatch, hanging sinisterly in the cupboard of the Biology classroom; unbeknown to Buffy and co. This reinforces the idea that, although Buffy can kill countless demons, she can never eradicate evil completely, a message that Whedon repeatedly reminds his audience of throughout the series.
The worst component of this episode is definitely the special effects, especially the enormous She-Mantis shown towards the end of the episode. Admittedly it was the nineties, but the cringe worthy effects really detract from this episode, turning what was previously an episode with some decent suspense and a lacklustre plot into a comic spectacle with a demon who looked like she had stepped off the set of Star Trek. Thankfully, the creators laid to rest the idea of creating giant head chomping, bug-like demons.

Overall, this is probably an episode that most Buffy fans would rather forget. However, while the plot does drag at times, there is no doubt that this episode marks the beginning of the evolution of the writing. Also, this episode demonstrates that Whedon does not believe that evil can ever be completely eradicated from the world. Buffy can never stop evil; she can only try and hold it at bay. Sometimes good people will die in the fight against evil (such as the unfortunate biology teacher in this episode) and there is nothing Buffy can do to prevent that. This message is reiterated throughout the series, as the audience sees good people perish for no good reason. This episode, despite its flaws, is the first episode to demonstrate this message, which later becomes one of the central themes of the show.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 Episode 3 - The Witch

Written by Dana Reston; Directed by Stephen Cragg

The Witch is the third episode in Season one of Buffy and while it is not one of the best episodes in the season, it is very funny and marks the beginning of supernatural happenings at Sunnydale High.

This episode centers around a character named Amy, a student at Sunnydale High who wants to be on the cheerleading team to make her mum Catherine (who was the best cheerleader in the history of the school) proud. However, someone starts hurting individual members of the team, and Buffy and co. think it might be Amy trying to worm her way in so they decide to stop her before she actually does kill someone. The twist is, Catherine is an evil witch, and has used her powers to swap bodies with Amy in order to ‘relive her glory days’. However, when Buffy intervenes, she sets her sights on her instead.

The opening scene is particularly humourous, as Whedon contrasts the 90s’ pop culture that Buffy represents with the 19th Century British stereotypes that Giles embodies. One of the best things about Buffy is that it pokes fun at the culture in which it’s set and doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is demonstrated in The Witch, with the villain’s motives being based around something as trivial as cheerleading.
I personally didn’t think this episode was as well written as the previous two episodes, some of the lines seemed a little cheesy; it was almost as if Whedon was trying too hard to tap into the psyche of sixteen year olds, resulting in dialogue that was slightly jarring at times.
However, Whedon depicted the love triangle between Buffy, Xander and Willow very effectively, reminding the viewers of the fragile emotions high-school romances always seem to contain. It was also refreshing to have some unrequited love in amongst the drama as it allows the audience to relax and remember they are watching a show about teenagers and their everyday lives which are interrupted by monsters, not the other way around.

The emergence of Giles as a father-figure to Buffy is a key part of this episode, and the writers managed to work it into the storyline very effectively. Giles adopts a role as a father-figure, which works especially well as he knows all about Buffy’s little secret and is the only male authority figure in her life. Giles saves Buffy’s life whilst risking his own in this episode, displaying the beginning of a bond that is stronger than simply Slayer and Watcher. The relationship between these characters is very endearing and seeing a different facet of Giles’ personality enables the audience to humanise him, as well as demonstrating that he is more than just a source of information for Buffy’s destiny.

The most important feature of this episode is that it makes a point of stating that Buffy is not a vampires-only show; it is a show that will examine various mystical creatures, something that Whedon wanted viewers to be aware of early on in the series. In fact, it is the unique approach to the supernatural that made Buffy stand out among other television shows of its time. In the Buffy universe the problems that teenagers face become literal monsters. The Witch was the first episode to illustrate this concept, taking the age-old problem of parents living through their children to a supernatural level. This episode, although not fantastic by itself, was necessary for Buffy to make the transition from a show about vampires, to a show about the (often exaggerated) evils of real life, with some vampires thrown in.