As far as male fantasies go, the one that starts this episode is . . . I’m honestly not sure how to describe it. It’s very in character for Xander at this point to be daydreaming like this, but at the same time, it also feels sort of contrary to the spirit of Buffy? I’m even more conflicted because Nicholas Brendan playing an assertive version of Xander is quite appealing, but is it worth it here when we get Hyena!Alpha!Xander in two episodes? I kind of feel like no, it’s not.
That’s not the only thing that bothers me about this episode either. I know it’s a filler episode in a mid-season replacement series that basically doesn’t find it’s feet until a few episodes into the second season, but “Teacher’s Pet” has always been an episode that just bothers me. And honestly, I’m kind of excited to unpack why.
Aside from the sheer misogyny of Xander’s daydream, the inciting moment in this episode is the one teacher aside from Giles who believes in Buffy getting eaten. All this guy has done is be a good, supportive teacher, and boom, he gets eaten by the She-Mantis. Maybe at the time it first aired this episode wouldn’t have been so bothersome, but in today’s culture where we’re getting more and more hypervigilant about bullying and how teachers treat their students, it seems flat out wrong that the teacher chosen to bite it–or get bitten, as the case may be–is the only other adult who isn’t Giles or Joyce we’ve seen treat Buffy well. Principal Flutie isn’t unkind, but he also doesn’t trust her. This biology teacher does trust her. He knows she’s living up to the perceived expectation other teacher have for her, but not the full potential she has, and that’s important. What’s also important is that he’s kind about how he deals with it.
When I was in high school, I got the “You’re not living up to your full potential!” speech at least once a year, if not more. Usually from a well-meaning but ham-handed teacher who did nothing but make me want to drop out of school altogether or disappear into the floor. Sometimes it was from a parent, which was somehow easier to take, but also more emotionally painful. The only teacher who sat me down and talked to me like a person he actually cared about, and not as just another student who wasn’t doing what they were supposed to was a math teacher who not only encouraged me by telling me he knew I could understand the subject, but also talked with my parents about it and (I think) helped arrange for a tutor so I wouldn’t fail his class. To this day I have no idea what a polynomial is, but I passed (barely) with a C-minus, which was much better than the E I’d been getting before. Having had that experience makes the biology teacher’s death seem unnecessarily cruel. This is before Joss started deliberately doing the “take away everything you love” thing with Buffy, so it’s also a cruelness that has no intent. It’s just cruelty for cruelty’s sake.
On the other hand, though, I can also see how Buffy wouldn’t have cared if it had been some other teacher. She wouldn’t have already been looking for a killer if she hadn’t liked the victim, would probably just have let the Sunnydale Police Department deal with it and gone on with her life, which would have meant more deaths before Buffy actually got involved. So, from a narrative standpoint I get it, but from a broader look at Buffy and her probably psychological condition at this point, it’s just really sad and frustrating.
Also frustrating me this episode: the extra skeevy teacher/student sexual assault vibes here. Like, if the genders were reversed, if Xander was female and Ms. French was Mr. French this would have been a Very Special Episode about what to do when your teacher tries to date rape you. But since Xander is male, and has been shown to be very, very interested in sex at the beginning of the episode, the logic appears to be that it’s fine. Until the She-Mantis tries to eat him.
This isn’t a consensual romance, though. This isn’t Grace and James from “I Only Have Eyes For You,” this is, frankly put, child abuse. Ms. French is using her appearance and her knowledge that Xander is a virgin and eager to change that in order to manipulate him into a situation where he won’t be able to say no. Ms. French gives him alcohol which she clearly mixes something else into; she lures him to her home and tells him he’s special and she likes him. This is textbook abusive behavior. It made this episode actually very difficult to watch and enjoy, particularly knowing Xander’s patterns with women. I’m not saying he seeks out abusive women, but he does seek out women who are aggressive and strong-willed. For better or for worse, I can’t help noticing that this pattern starts with Buffy and is true of everyone he has a significant relationship with, excluding Willow. Women who have been in abusive relationships often seek out similar men and end up in another abusive situation, would it be so inconceivable that Xander does the same thing?
Now, take this with a grain of salt, please. This isn’t supposed to be a significant episode plot wise, and as far as I can remember it gets mentioned once in season three in a joke about Xander and people who turn into bugs, and that’s it, never mentioned again. It’s canon, Xander got kidnapped by preying mantis lady, but he isn’t shown to be particularly traumatized by this later in the series. It’s just yet another thing that happens to him as “the Daphne.” And admittedly, a lot of my problems with this episode are flavored by personal experience, this included. Maybe it just wasn’t a big deal to Xander in a year where he’s already fought a witch and lost one of his best friends, and will go on to be possessed by a Hyena spirit, fight an angry computer demon, track down a ventriloquist’s dummy and an invisible girl, and have to help Angel bring Buffy back from the dead. He’s going to have an eventful life from now on, and in the grand scheme of things, I have to admit, She-Mantis just might not be all that memorable.
There are things I do actually like about this episode, though! This episode also gives us:
- Xander saying Angel looks pretty buff (is Xander kinda gay, too? We can only hope.).
- Angel in the classic white tank and black pants combo, giving us a lovely view of some very nice arms.
- Buffy wearing Angel’s jacket for the first time.
- Principal Flutie bullying Buffy into grief counseling while also massively oversharing.
- And, my favorite, Giles uttering the line, “Well, no, you weren’t right about your mother coming back as a Pekingese.” Which ranks right up there with “Tea is soothing, I wish to be tense” for me.
I think it says something about me that the line about the Pekingese is what makes this episode worth watching for me. Not hot, misogynist Xander, not Angel’s arms, but Giles being forced to utter the words “you weren’t right about your mother coming back as a Pekingese.” It’s Anthony Stewart Head’s delivery, I swear, there is something about that man saying ridiculous things in a clipped British accent that just gets me like nothing else.