Buffy: Teacher’s Pet
So I watched three episodes: Teacher’s Pet, Never Kill a Boy on a First Date and The Pack all in one go. Mostly because I knew I wanted to see The Pack again so much, and seeing it in context like this makes me realise what an amazing ep it is and how much there is to learn from it. In fact, The Pack is hands-down the best episode of Season 1, the only one really worth re-watching, and although I expect there’ll be moments to enjoy in the rest of the season I feel kind of annoyed to have to slog through the rest of the season before I can get on to juicy Season 2.
HOWEVER, a commitment’s a commitment, and therefore, sigh, I have to write about Teacher’s Pet first. But I suspect I’ll be spending the rest of Season 1 explaining in detail what each of these episodes get wrong that The Pack gets so right.
Teacher’s Pet. First off, it is not a great name for an episode. This stuff is important: as we saw with the name Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a great name can indicate the kind of clarity a show has. It can show up an essential tension, raise a question that the show needs to answer. This is not a great name. The teacher is not a pet – she, Natalie French, femme fatale biology teacher, turns out to be a giant insect of some sort. But not the kind of insect that anyone involved in the episode keeps as a pet. And her major plan isn’t to keep any of her students as pets either. She wants to mate with the male, virgin students and then bite their heads off. Xander is caused to swoon by her bodacious body, pheremones, and his desire to lose his virginity. The gang have to save him. But, going back to the name, Xander isn’t *even* the teacher’s pet. There’s another student Blaine she likes better, captures first. So at the very best, the name “Teacher’s Pet” indicates that Xander would *like* to be the teacher’s pet. But only in a metaphorical way, not a literal one.
What I’m saying is, this episode title has one level of meaning *at best*. And that’s pretty much the case with the episode too.
Witch dabbled in some dark psychological territory – things we don’t like to talk about – like how mothers can be murderously jealous of their daughters, and growing old can make you bitter and resentful of youth. Teacher’s Pet, meanwhile, keeps things extremely light, psychologically. Boys want to have sex with beautiful women, is about the limit of it. Boys like to pretend they’ve lost their virginity when they haven’t. Xander wants to impress Buffy by being strong, but hasn’t yet realised that this is never going to work out for him. (There’s also a little misogyny in the “beautiful women are out to control and eventually destroy helpless men” subtext here…)
No one’s motivations in this episode are complex. There’s no urgency to any of them, no dark needs – unless you count ‘wants to have sex’ as a dark need, which really this ep seems to do. If you’d wanted to push it with Miss French you could have done a bit of biological ‘ticking clock’ in which she *needs* to get some boys to mate with her before her eggs go off. Or you could have really pushed the inappropriateness of the teacher/student relationship, the ‘teacher’s pet’ angle, by having Miss French get Xander to do one or two things which he “can’t tell his friends about”, feeling isolated and confused but still horny as hell. But no, instead it has a sub-plot with a vampire with a rake for a hand, who Buffy eventually uses as a sniffer dog to find Miss French when Willow’s generic ‘hacking’ of the school computer fails to turn up the right address. There is a nice moment, though, when the teacher who Buffy had felt understood by turns up dead; it darkens *her* experience a little bit, which is nice.
What I really want to talk about though, is the ‘wink wink’ ending. It’s so X-Files. We’ve killed the insect-teacher, we’ve rescued Xander. And then under the desk, in the final scene, there are some of her eggs! Hatching! Dun dun dun! The End. It’s very similar to the end of Witch. The mom is in the cheerleader statue! Forever! Dun dun dun! The End.
Why are these sting endings X-Files-ey*? Because they imply that the story’s not over, and no final victory has been achieved – something more could happen later, maybe something scary for us (the eggs) or just for the person involved (the statue). X-Files lived and breathed this lack of finality, the suffocating sense that however much Mulder and Scully did, it’d never be enough and the darkness would always overcome them. (In fact, it’s quite Lovecraftian; the unsettling ending.) And those endings worked quite well in X-Files. Yes, you’ve killed the monster but one day it might come back… maybe for your successors at the FBI, maybe to terrorise some other family in rural Indiana. But they’re not so great for Buffy, because Buffy is set *in the high school*. If those eggs hatch, Buffy’s going to have to deal with them, and we’ll have to have another boring episode about a giant insect.
Now, The Pack has a very different sort of ending, which works so much better. Xander has been involved in some very horrible happenings. (If you haven’t watched The Pack, please do. It’s like £1.89 on iTunes. Go and get it and watch it now.) At the end of the episode, the monster is defeated, all seems well, Xander says he’s forgotten all the things he did while under its influence. EXCEPT HE HASN’T FORGOTTEN, which is the final sting. This isn’t a plot sting. It’s a character sting. We’ve learned something about Xander which sits like a timebomb under the character: he’s a liar. That timebomb will just sit there, like the mother in the statue, like the eggs under the desk. But unlike those stings, the writers can bring this back at any time without committing themselves to a whole plotline, or a recurring monster. A single line will make us remember that Xander is a liar, and that he’s still got the same personal identity and memories as a much more horrible person. It deepens the character without committing the writers to anything.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the many many reasons that The Pack is better than Teacher’s Pet.