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.

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