Episode title: Teacher’s Pet
Original air date: January 24, 1998
“No, you’ll just give me a cryptic warning about some exciting new catastrophe, and then disappear into the night. Right?” – Buffy
Am I wrong in thinking that this show has always been at its strongest when it ironically doesn’t feature vampires? I know a controversial opinion especially when vampires are currently riding high in the fantasy charts alongside cowboy’s, firemen and medieval stable boy (you know depending on what works for you) meaning that they are always treated with way more fanfare than I felt they deserved. Still you only have to look at some of the best episodes of the series to realise that a large quantity only featured vampires as a background threat if at all. I guess the fact that the show never limited itself to just vampires is where it strength lied and again we get another week free of the fanged menace as well as one of the first stories to put one of the group other than Buffy as the lead as here we get a Xander-centric story.
Opening at the Bronze as Buffy is faced with the sudden appearance, only to be suddenly saved by Xander, who quickly despatches him before leaping on the stage and busting out a kick-ass guitar solo as a doe eyed Buffy looks on. Sadly for Xander this is all a dream as he finds himself waking up biology class and still faced with being the underdog and target of several students who have taken to taunting him about his abilities with the ladies. Still being Sunnydale he along with the rest of the gang don’t have time to dwell on such everyday things and more so when the school science teacher suddenly turns up in the cafeteria freezer minus his head. Could this missing head have anything to do with the sudden arrival of a mysterious substitute teacher Miss French?
Marking the first of Xander’s dalliances with ladies of supernatural backgrounds, which it would seem, be everyone he gets involved with over the course of the series. Its easy to understand what they would see in him as he is frequently the funniest person on the show, even if he’s using humour often as a defence to cover for his fear or general clumsiness. Okay true Miss French does fall into more of a grey area, seeing how she is an older woman and his teacher, but somehow the episode manages to dance around such concerns and plays it simply from the perspective of her being the fantasy woman for Xander to get involved with. The bad news for him of course is that she is also a shape shifting She-Mantis.
Miss French is probably one of the worst reveals of the series especially as there is little attempt to disguise the fact that she isn’t as she seems, even randomly turning her head 180 degrees while in human form, so when she is revealed to be a giant praying mantis it’s doubtful anyone was shocked by the big reveal. At the same time the She-Mantis is possibly one of the easiest fights that Buffy has had as she basically just clumsily waves her arm around before being hacked to death by a machete while Giles blasts her with Bat Sonar. A lot of this is down to the puppet work required for this character, but despite these minor issues it’s still an enjoyable episode.
Plot wise the episode moves at a enjoyable pace with Xander more than capable of leading the action, even I have to question if inter species breeding would actually work or not, let alone why its so important that all of Miss French’s victims had to be virgins. This being said I love that the first instant of denying anything strange is happening in Sunnydale is under threat of the group being sued if they mention it to anyone. We also get to see in this episode the range of Sarah Michelle Geller as she manages to show us seemingly everything from doe eyed innocence through to her usual feistiness while never betraying her character.
While the ending hinted at the return of the She-Mantis, we never did she the monster again and so I can only expect that this was intended as a throwback to 50’s b-movies which equally is never a bad thing.
Next Episode: Never Kill A Boy On The First Date