In every generation, there is a hot blonde chick who kills things with a detachable penis”¦
I really can not wait until we get past the opening monologue. From the above witticism from my husband, I’m pretty sure he can’t either.
So we’re onto the 4th episode of the 1st season, “˜Teacher’s Pet’. If you’re like me, you’ll totally forget this one exists and spend a while trying to figure out what the 4th track is on the dvd without looking it up, because you pride yourself on your encyclopedic knowledge of Buffy, and when you finally give in and check the title, you groan out loud, “˜Oh, dammit, it’s the one with the preying mantis’.
So this is the one with the giant preying mantis. Look, it’s a show about vampires and mystically empowered superheroes, so you just got to go with some things.
On the bright side, this is a Xander-centric arc. That’s readily apparent from the first scene:
Buffy is in a dangerous fight with a vampire in the Bronze. She seems to be having some trouble with this foe, more than usual, and that may be because she’s in a skin-tight satin dress and the height of hair might be messing with her peripheral vision and oh! noes! The vampire is going to get the best of her! Until Xander swoops in to rescue his tiny blonde love interest, deliver a witty and charming one liner, and then jump onstage for a bitching guitar solo that is impressing Buffy with it’s virtuosity, so that she seductively tells him, “˜You’re drooling.’
Xander’s dreaming. His hyper manly-man fantasy reveals a lot about his character and about the interests of the show.
While the primary focus of B:TVS is on women’s stories and women’s heroism, Whedon certainly seems interested in talking about anxious masculinity as well. Xander is the primary vehicle for this exploration, but we see issues about manliness and strength crop up repeatedly throughout the series in various characters. Often this is framed in opposition to Buffy’s role as superhero ““ because she is transgressive in her abilities and gender expectations, the people around her are forced to question their own roles in their world. Frequently it’s the men in her life who feel like they come up short. Not only can they not surpass Buffy in “˜manly’ attributes, they also can’t seem to break out of the narrow expectations of modern manhood. Riley, Warren, Scott, any number of male enemies, and even Angel all measure themselves against Buffy throughout the series. Jonathan’s amazing 4th season episode, “˜Superstar’, is essentially an extension of Xander’s dream here, with him co-opting for himself Buffy’s strength and skills, putting himself as an expert to her bubbling girl sidekick. Spike, who we’ll meet next season, is the only male peer she has that doesn’t bother with the whole “˜Buffy unmans me’ whining and fantasies and that’s because he’s pretty transgressive himself ““ and I certainly can’t wait to dive into that character when we get there. But it’s Xander’s episode, so let’s get back to talking about how inferior he feels to his best friend. (And what a stinking jerk he can be about it.)
Xander is drooling in biology class, where a white haired teacher you don’t need to know the name of is lecturing on insects. After class he pulls Buffy aside to talk to her about her chaotic schoolwork and her terrible permanent record (which the principal is apparently showing around school). While Buffy hang-dogs her reaction, biology teacher surprises her by expressing faith in her intelligence and wit, and giving her a “˜you can do it’ speech. This is the first positive thing a non-Giles adult has said to Buffy in this handful of episodes and it’s clear that she appreciates it. Buffy leaves with a spring in her step.
If only she had stayed despondent and longer, she might have been able to save the kindly biology teacher from the shadowy monster lurking in the classroom.
The next sunny morning, Buffy and the gang are hanging out in front of the school when the new science substitute teacher, Ms. French, shows up. She’s a bit femme fatale for the job, not that any of the guys gawking at her seem to mind. Xander misses his opportunity to show her around Sunnydale High when one of the football players sweeps in while he’s standing there gawking and moving his mouth uselessly. We all know this strikes deeply at the heart of his manhood, because he complains about it later.
In biology, Ms. French talks lovingly about the charms of the preying mantis and is personally affronted when Buffy describes them as “˜bug ugly’. This is the least subtle foreshadowing on the show so far. Hey, viewers! She’s a preying mantis! And she needs volunteers to help her make “˜egg sacks’ for “˜the science fair’. All the guys volunteer, because teenage boys are willfully dumb, particularly in Sunnydale.
Buffy and Willow are talking about their new teacher in the lunchroom when Xander struts in full of swagger and ego. He is viral and manful! The new hot teacher is unable to resist his awkward teenage charms! He is quickly put back in his second tier status by Blayne, the football player, who was Ms. French’s first choice to “˜help’ with her “˜egg sacks’. Subtly is dead, people. Send flowers and cards.
Cordelia pushes past everyone in the lunchline, blabbering something about something that is pure malarkey but provides vague reasoning that she needs to open a freeze in the lunch room and discover a headless body. Buffy rushes over to check it out.
The headless body ““ headless, you know, because preying mantis’s eat their mates heads, whydontyoujusthitmeintheheadwithabrickcalledthisweekmonster ““ is identified as the kindly biology teacher. Buffy and Cordelia are forced into counseling to deal with the stress of finding yet another corpse on campus.
Cordelia’s self absorption in this exchange is so hilariously spot on for her character, I feel it should be quoted at length:
Cordelia: “¦It really gets to you, a thing like that. 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?
Over in the B storyline, Angel has previously warned Buffy that a vampire with a claw hand (or a big fork) is roaming around Sunydale looking for her. Ho-hum. Being hunted by vampires is par for the course for our Slayer, but it is a distraction from headless corpses, so Buffy heads out that evening to track this new vamp down. They have a brief fight in the graveyard during which Fork-Hand gets away from her. As Buffy gives chase, she sees the vamp run into Ms. French, walking alone at night. Ms. French gives the vampire bitch face and he hightails it into the sewer. Buffy is rightfully perplexed.
The next day Giles is furious that Buffy went out and interacted in the B plot, but she brought back useful information about Ms. French and Fork-Hand, which leads everyone back to A plot, so all is well in the world. Willow hacks into the corner’s office computer system to check out their notes on the dead bio teacher. Buffy notices that the autopsy photos show bite marks around the neck wound, and everyone knows Ms. French isn’t what she appears to be. Oh, right, and then there was this time that Buffy saw Ms. French twist her head completely around (“a full on exorcist twist), which, is, like, not normal and stuff.
Everyone but Xander is aware the substitute teacher is not who she claims to be. He furiously denies the possibility that she’s a monster when Buffy tries to warn him. Non-monsters can be attracted to him! Possibly at some point in the course of the series! Xander storms off angrily.
That evening, Xander goes to Ms. French’s house. To make egg sacks. For the science fair. Ms. French is wearing a killer LBD and pouring martinis. And Xander thinks he’s gonna get lucky, right up until the part he passes out from the drugs Ms. French slipped in his drink.
The Scoobies and Buffy are desperately researching information on Ms. French’s background. Giles arms himself with a recording of bat sonar because that’s what preying mantis(es? i?) are afraid of. Buffy and the gang head out to Ms. French’s house ““ only to find a the real Ms. French, an octogenarian who retired from teaching in 1972.
Xander awakes in the basement of Fake-Ms. French’s house. He’s caged up, as is Blayne, who disappeared the night before. Blayne is freaking out while Xander arms himself with a bit of the steel bars that separate their cages. The football player hides behind Xander as he hefts his weapon and prepares to fight off the Giant Mantis Fake-Ms. French has revealed herself to be. She plays Ennie-Meanie-Minnie-Moe with the boys.
Willow is freaking out when she realizes they have no idea what house Xander might be in. Buffy thinks for a moment and tells them to wait while she jumps into the sewers. And she returns with Fork-Hand tied up, resourcefully using him to sniff out the house the Mantis is in. She’s clever, our Buffy.
As the Mantis tries to get Xander to kiss her, something he’s not as keen to do now that she’s a really large bug, Buffy comes crashing through the basement window. Blayne yells in the background to rescue him first, not that she pays attention to him. Buffy takes on the Mantis while Giles charges in heroically to play his recording of bat sonar ““ except that it’s on the wrong side, and all we hear is Giles talking. Damn Giles.
Buffy and Mantis fight and Giles fumbles with his recording before flooding the room with bat sonar. While the Mantis is discombobulated, Buffy attacks her with a machete, saving the day (night, as usual). Blayne is freed, Xander apologizes for being wrong again, and Willow muses on how unfair it is that the Mantis only preys on virgins.
Xander and Blayne are mortified to be outed as virgins. Blayne runs off, Xander hacks at some egg sacks with the machete, and life returns to Sunnydale-normal the next day.