Crickets in the Mayonnaise, Bodies in the Fridge: Thoughts on Teacher's Pet
Teacher's Pet has the unfortunate distinction of being one of my least favorite episodes of the series, somewhere alongside The Pack, Where the Wild Things Are, Superstar (sorry, Jane Espenson), and Him (despite the bazooka). I think this has a lot to do with how strange and unbelievable its plot is – not just for how hard Xander and everyone else crushes on Natalie French (plus the ick factor of high school boys being invited to her house for sex and a martini), but also because it always read as off to me that the Nice Guy science teacher was apparently a virgin up until his death (given Mantis Chick's MO – I mean, really? The guy was like 50, and he screams “dad.”). Maybe it's just the 90s coming up against the Now, but part of me always wondered why the statutory rape issue never came up. The episode almost plays out as if Xander's crush on the teacher would've been fine if she didn't happen to be a giant, shapeshifting bug, but this isn't something I've ever been comfortable accepting. (though, to be fair, this show never really seemed to care much about everyone's ages, given Buffy's relationships with Angel and Spike, and Xander with Anya)
But moving past the gripes, I'd like to pursue how the episode folds into Buffy's arc, both canonically and in my fic.
One of the things that struck me when outlining this episode was the fact that Dr. Gregory was one of the first and only adults early season who expressed any sort of confidence in Buffy's abilities as a person, not just a Slayer, and was then immediately killed off. Buffy Summers (the person) is viewed by most as a delinquent with a short fuse. The entire school seems to know what caused her expulsion from Hemery (the gym fire), and by The Pack even the morons of the school (Kyle and his buds) are aware that she's no stranger to physical violence. I used to think that Buffy's feelings of isolation are only really highlighted down the line, around s3+, but it's become fairly obvious to me now that they were there from day one. Teacher's Pet helps to expose this with Dr. Gregory, in the Peanuts world of s1, because of how surprising it is both to her and to the viewer to see an adult who isn't aware of her unique condition be kind to her. And while his death isn't in any way Buffy's fault, in my arc he's yet another dead (potential) father-ish figure, closely following her parents' divorce and Merrick's death (and only narrowly preceding Principal Flutie, one of the only other men in her life who was kind to her).
This makes Giles the only stable, dependable male figure in her life, and I think the fact that he's really the only one to fill that void is yet another factor cementing their early relationship. As far as I can remember, after Gregory and Flutie, Buffy's tenure at Sunnydale High is mostly marked by hostility (see: Snyder) and indifference between her and other adults. One incident that always stuck with me to that end is in Homecoming, when Buffy's favorite teacher (Ms. Moran) doesn't even remember who she is. This lack of connection between Buffy and other adult figures, as well as with other students, is what I think drives her early depression so heavily. Willow, who's been a social pariah all her life and so I think doesn't think about it so much, often seems to diagnose Buffy's depressive moods as being a result of her lack of a guy (as in “Angel”), but I think this is incorrect, since she's clearly projecting (because that's what's so often bothering Willow before Oz). I'd venture to speculate that it's the isolation that's getting to Buffy, who is currently occupying one of the lowest rungs on the social totem pole even though less than a year ago she was Cordelia. I'd imagine having to learn to accept her social isolation is almost as difficult as having to learn to be the Slayer, and because of this I think Dr. Gregory's death is more important than it's given credit. Would it have eased some of her pain to know there was at least one adult in her normal life who believed in her (as opposed to just in her Slayer life), and would it maybe have given her school life a bit more purpose if she didn't want to disappoint him? I'd be tempted to think yes. Yet he died, and so once again the only person Buffy can turn to is Giles, whose support is very rapidly moving from any semblance of professionalism to something like a father, a shift which both him and Buffy facilitate actively (and we see this very strongly by the next episode, NKaBotFD).
And perhaps I'm pointing out the obvious by saying that, but I think before I started this project I'd never really understood where precisely their relationship came from, and why it was able to develop as quickly as it did. But now I realize that even Teacher's Pet played an important part in driving them together, when Buffy's first impulse on finding Dr. Gregory's body is to run to Giles, not to call one of her parents.
Switching gears, I think this episode also very clearly illustrates a point I was stressing on Witch before: the role Buffy that occupies both strategically and intellectually as a Slayer, not just physically. It's Buffy who figures out what Natalie French is, and not just vaguely (as in “a demon”), but specifically (a giant preying mantis), and it's Buffy who devises how to weaken (bat sonar) and kill her (bug spray and a machete). Buffy also figures out how to find her when the Natalie French they locate turns out to be a grandmother – jumping into the sewers without hesitation to find and tie up the Claw Guy that shredded Angel, to use him as a sort of bug-sniffing radar – all while Giles stands there helplessly and theoryless (in fact, he managed to screw up one of his only jobs, to record the bat sonar, by not bothering to make sure the player was on the right tape). Buffy is on the ball the entire episode, both intellectually and physically, effortlessly striding beyond Giles and Angel's difficulties. To be honest, if anyone ever had any doubts on Buffy's ability to think, plan, and act quickly and accurately, they'd only have to revisit Teacher's Pet (or, indeed, pretty much any s1 episode) to get all the proof they needed otherwise.
I don't have a segue (maybe the picture's the segue), but there is one little moment with Xander that I found myself rewatching a few times, and I figure since I'm wrapping up anyway I'd just go ahead and give it a mention. During the fight with Mantis Chick (and I say “fight” pretty loosely, but I can forgive because, you know, budget and monster suit), Xander steps up and, for just a moment, tries joining the fight, which throws Buffy into jeopardy when she shoves him back in an effort to protect him. I'm not entirely sure why this stuck with me enough that I feel I have to mention it, but I think it's because it's a moment that very nicely illustrates the situation the Scoobies are in whenever they happen to trip and fall into the most dangerous aspects of Buffy's life (early on, but, to a lesser extent, even to the end) – that they literally can't do anything for her, and an attempt at aid may only end up getting her injured or killed. And given Xander had just professed his feelings for Buffy only a few hours before, I can't help but wonder if he didn't walk away that night remembering what he'd almost been responsible for, and if that's part of the reason he made no move at all to come to her aid in the following episode. What's also interesting (to me, anyway) is that just before this scene, Giles and Willow are presented with a similar situation, when Buffy is floored by Claw Guy, and all they can do is look on with horror, neither making any move to save her because they can't. And while this isn't exactly a mind-blowing revelation (like, at all), it seems significant to me just because of how early on in the series it is, because I think to some degree it very heavily reinforces that Buffy may be their friend, but she's also the Slayer – that no matter what she will always be removed from them by her power. And while it makes me feel weird for suggesting it, I'd wonder if part of the reason Xander is able to justify his (attempted) assault on Buffy in The Pack is because of how hyper-aware he is of her separateness. It's the “Slayer” he attacks (he only refers to her as “Slayer” in that scene), not Buffy, his friend, and when he later talks to Willow about Buffy while contained in his cage, he's once again talking about the Slayer, and not necessarily Buffy. Obviously, I'll be talking a lot more about this when (if?) I make it to The Pack, but I think it's interesting that some of the seeds that sprouted in that episode may have in fact been planted in a little moment in Teacher's Pet.
That's all I've got.
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