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Monday, November 7, 2011

Teacher's Pet

[Updated April 29, 2013]


Teacher’s Pet is widely considered one of the weaker episodes in the whole history of the show, an opinion I share. Still, and consistent with my view that all of S1 was carefully planned to lead us to the conclusion we’ll see in Prophecy Girl, let’s see if perhaps there’s at least some small point in its favor.


In Witch we saw that Buffy had to understand the type of adult she needed to try to become. It wouldn’t do any good for her to get older without actually leaving childhood behind. Catherine Madison was the metaphor through which (heh) Buffy came to this understanding.
Teacher’s Pet presents us with another form of false maturity, one that all teenagers struggle with: sexuality. The fake Natalie French was aggressively sexual, to the point that she was about to destroy Xander, Buffy’s friend and metaphorical heart. We see here in metaphor that Buffy has doubts about what becoming an adult might mean for her sexual behavior. Why is Buffy so concerned about sexuality in this episode? I think we can figure that one out:

Cut to the Bronze. Buffy is at the bar wearing Angel's jacket. Angel comes up behind her. Buffy senses him and looks up at him.

Angel: (smiles) I heard a rumor there was, uh, one less vampire walking around making a nuisance of himself.

Buffy: There is. Guess I should thank you for the tip.

Angel: Pleasure's mine.

Buffy: Course, it would make things easier if I knew how to get in touch with you.

Angel: I'll be around.

Buffy: Or who you were?

Angel just smiles and moves around to the other side of her.

Buffy: Well... Anyway, you can have your jacket back.

Angel: It looks better on you.

He turns and leaves. Buffy stares after him. Angel gives another look back and disappears into the crowd.

Buffy: (to herself) Oh boy!”
 

If Buffy’s going to reach her destination, she has to head in the right direction. By defeating the challenges posed in Witch and Teacher’s Pet, she knows that she can reject those distorted versions of adulthood.
Trivia notes: (1) This is the only episode which mentions Xander’s middle name. (2) It’s possible that Dr. Gregory got his name from Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, which I mentioned in my comments on WTTH/The Harvest. (3) The real Miss French was played by Jean Howard, Ron Howard’s mother.

10 comments:

  1. Try substituting "adulthood" with "maturity." Speaking from experience, growing older doesn't always equate to growing up.

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    1. Oh yeah. I've kept using "adulthood" but I'm implying "the right kind of adulthood", which means maturity.

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  2. William B/local max (I can't get it to publish non-anonymously).

    I had an urge to revisit some of your s1 posts (which I didn't comment on). I agree with mostly everything and I think you lay out the child vs. adulthood stuff very well (much of which I didn't catch beforehand).

    I don't rate "Teacher's Pet" very highly either, but I think it still works thematically. First, "Ms. French" and Dr. Gregory are two models of teachers and thus of adults who offer to help teens in their own becoming. Dr. Gregory holds Buffy to high standards and tells her it's because he thinks she can meet them. The other uses her practiced allure as an adult to lure and entrap teens -- and in particular, by flattering them that they already are mature. Xander's big flaw in this episode is that he wants very badly to believe that he's already a man and that being a man means that he gets to save the damsel and be attractive, so much so that he ignores obvious warning signs when someone *does* apparently find him attractive.

    I think the "DR. GREGORY TAUGHT ME TO DO MY HOMEWORK!" ending with Buffy defeating Ms. French through study is really, really on the nose and kind of embarrassing, and those special effects, and why would a praying mantis pretending to be a teacher turn her head all the way around in the middle of class anyway? But the point that maturity comes from work and to be wary of excessive flattery is fine. Xander's own character arc in the series involves him coming to terms with his never being the hero that he wants himself to be, and eventually being permanently the damsel, but by the time of (e.g.) "First Date" he is less emotionally devastated by having to be rescued. His drugged acknowledgment that he loves Buffy shows that there's more to his feelings for her than a pretty face, since Ms. French is that and more.

    I think the case could be made that if we want to compare these two models of teachers to the main adult advisors who have introduced themselves to Buffy, Dr. Gregory is more like Giles and Ms. French is more like Angel, though obviously Angel is more complex (and Dr. Gregory is probably not dark in the same ways as Giles is).

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    1. I can't believe you never commented in S1. Huh.

      All good points. Dr. Gregory works perfectly well as Giles in S1. I very much like the comparison of Ms French to Angel, since he is in the process of seducing Buffy and SPOILERS

      we learn later that he will lose his soul if he succeeds and could well eat her afterwards. Wish I'd thought of that.

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    2. I might not have had much time at the time (s1).

      Giles saying he liked Dr. Gregory and considered him civilized builds on the similarities between the two. There's also the moment where Buffy accidentally plays Giles droning on on tape instead of the relevant bat screeching information she found while doing research, which may or may not play into how Buffy's attitude toward Dr. Gregory (thinking he's sort of an uncool old man before she finds she really respects him) tells us about how she sees Giles. I think Giles admiring someone for being civilized is very Giles, as well as SPOILERS maybe very relevant to what he doesn't like about himself and his own past.

      You do allude to the Angel/Ms. French connection when talking about why Buffy is concerned with sexuality.

      Also, the threat to Xander is that he'll lose his head, which really does play in with the episode's (very unpolished) "study hard and think" message.

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  3. I definitely picked up on the Angel / Ms. French connection on rewatch, and I came here to talk about it, so I'm glad to see you and local max beat me to it in the comments.

    SPOILERS BELOW

    I think there's definitely a reading of this episode that is a warning to Buffy about Angel. Not necessarily for what happens in S2, though you are totally right about that, Mark, but just that he's dangerous and not what he appears to be — something that we'll learn in just a few episodes.

    Like Ms. French, Angel's an older guy who's distractingly hot (at least to Buffy … and me!); like Xander, Buffy is inexperienced and could be blinded to that danger by her attraction.

    There were two parts in the episode that got me thinking along these lines.

    1) The scene where Buffy gets distracted by seeing Angel while Xander is talking to her and Willow is directly followed by the scene where Xander gets distracted by Ms. French while talking to Buffy and Willow.

    2) Buffy says about Ms. French that "her fashion sense screams predator." Which is funny because when we saw Angel he was wearing the leather jacket he gave Buffy over a white tank (“wifebeater," we called them back in the day), which is basically the bad-boy uniform.

    Buffy can't see that she's being drawn in by Angel like Xander is by Ms. French (though I don't ascribe intentionally bad motives to Angel).

    So the episode is offering Buffy advice that she'll kinda try but ultimately fail to take … just like she doesn't take Dr. Gregory's advice to do her homework (she only does the reading once he's dead) or Angel's advice not to let her guard down with Fork Guy (she definitely turned her back on him) until it's a matter of life or death.

    I actually find this episode hilarious, but I understand that it's objectively not very good. I'm just a sucker for corny humor.

    (And, Mark, I mentioned before I was going to start my rewatch in March … but I couldn't wait!)

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    1. I'm still trying to come up with the perfect 20th anniversary post, but inspiration hasn't arrived yet. I hope it's aware of the March 10 deadline.

      Thanks for the good points.

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    2. I hope so too! I can't wait to read it!

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  4. I actually loved Teachers Pet a lot on the first watch-through :) and I think it fits well with on of the overall themes of Buffy which is to say the subversion of themes and tropes - in this case hammering home the point of Buffy not being the ditzy blonde damsel in distress. I mean could there have been subtler ways to make that point? sure, but when I was watching Buffy for the first time, having never reaaally seen another series that was so "explicitly" feminist, this episode sure made me giggle and cheer out loud!
    In a related point I also love a lot how it pokes fun at/subverts mainstream ideas of masculinity aka Blaine and especially Xander.

    Now on my second go around while I still like these aspects of the episode a lot, I also had some mixed feelings. Namely what exactly it teaches us about sexuality.
    So. Basically Ms French raped her students - which is obviously horrible. In the episode however, I felt that it often didn't read that way which is what I found somewhat problematic and tried to crudely sort out below: A) sometimes it read a lot like the trope of the desperate woman who is totally ugly but tries to appear beautiful and haha isn't that funny how ugly she is, ugly women are sooo undesirable- which plays into B) the trope of the woman that gets SO desperate she tries to rape someone and haha isn't that funny women totally can't rape people which I felt was also sometimes linked to C)sexually promscuous women are evil and just want to lure in innocent men and D) haha look at these desperate guys - men can't reaaaaally be raped because they always want sex

    So... I don't think that was the point the writers tried to make at all but idk maybe I'm overtly sensitive but it sometimes felt that way to me watching it now...

    I did however actually quite love the wacky production value :D

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    1. I was always unsure if I should state upfront that I thought an episode was weak. Somebody always likes it. :)

      I think the show occasionally got away with some problematic stories precisely because "well, it's a monster". Making them demons works because demons are supposed to be evil. It's like the trope on TV that only bad guys smoke.

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