Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: S-M-R-T!

The Buffy Rewatch continues with "Teacher's Pet", "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date", and "The Pack."

"You have a first-rate mind and you can think on your feet." - Dr. Gregory, "Teacher's Pet"

A trio of mostly unremarkable, mostly stand-alone episodes this week. But we're getting closer to things getting really, really good, so let's power through this!

One thing I wanted to talk about this week is something I'm glad the show established this early in its run: Buffy's intelligence. In each of these three episodes, we are shown and told that Buffy's actually quite smart. Dr. Gregory said the line at the top of this post to her before his untimely demise; in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date", it's Buffy who recognizes the symbol of the sun and the three stars; and in "The Pack", Buffy's instincts about the pack are correct, even though Giles initially dismissed them. (This led to her immortal line, "I can't believe you of all people are trying to Scully me.")

Willow and Giles will, of course, be the main brains of the group - but it's always wrong to underestimate Buffy's smarts, and I'm just pleased to rediscover that the show established her intelligence as far back as the first few episodes of season 1.

The deaths of Dr. Gregory and Principal Flutie mean that she's lost two of her big supporters in the "real" world of Sunnydale High. Yes, Flutie was a bit of a doofus, but he's exactly the type of nurturing, supportive educator that would have enabled Buffy to excel. Flutie was definitely important in getting Buffy to attend Sunnydale High, but I don't think he would have worked as a long-term character. We need a good antagonist in a school administrator, and my goodness we're about to get one!

One other thing: I'm not going to be a person who complains about the special effects, and how cheap or fake or stupid they look. There's a quote by a film critic, and I'm pretty sure it's Roger Ebert, that's something like "If you need great special effects to get absorbed in a story, then you're not getting absorbed in the story." And it's so true. Especially as BUFFY's storytelling (very soon) gets so unbelievably great. (And if any of you know the source of that quote, I will happily update the post with the reference!)

"Teacher's Pet," like "The Witch" immediately before it, had a bit of an open ending, which the show could have returned to in a later episode. And I get it, at this point in the show's life. You're not really sure what's going to work, and you might want to add to these stories later: the premise of the show really lets them play around like this. It's also a horror movie staple to give the audience that one, final creepy bit. (THE X-FILES did this quite a bit in its early years - including its third ever episode, the amazingly creepy "Squeeze", which they famously revisited late in the first season in "Tooms.") 

This is a pretty straightforward episode, metaphor-wise: the hot substitute teacher who turns out to be deadly. I really liked the gender reversal aspect, with the MALE virgins being in danger. Nicholas Brendon's befuddlement is funny, but there are much stronger Xander episodes to come.

Rewatching "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," I was struck by the appearance of two lines that will reappear much later in the Buffyverse. Cordelia, upon seeing the still-mysterious Angel for the first time, says "Hello, salty goodness!". (Ok, so it's not until ANGEL's "Spin the Bottle" that the line is spoken again, but it's used to brilliant effect there.) And The Master uses the line "Here endeth the lesson", which appears (if I'm not mistaken) at least twice later in the series.

As for the episode itself, it's a good example of what the show would do again and again throughout its run: mix a stand-alone story (in this case, Buffy dating Owen) with the bigger arc of the season (here, The Master and The Anointed One). I generally like the Buffy vs. Cordelia episodes, and I like how the show resolved the Owen storyline. A solid episode.

"The Pack", meanwhile, is not a very good episode. I'm fine with the hyena pack as a metaphor for peer pressure and cliques, but the episode really overdoes it. The opening sequence establishes the trans-possession, and then we just get scene after scene of the pack behavior without much variation. (Newsflash: teenagers are assholes!) And we just had a Xander-in-jeopardy episode two episodes before this one.

Two things that would have benefited "The Pack": some advancement of the plot with The Master (to eat up screentime if nothing else), and some introductory stuff with Xander wishing he could hang out with the cool kids. Then again, the show had already established that hanging with Willow, Buffy, and Giles and FIGHTING EVIL is so much cooler than anything normal high school kids could do.

Also, I was rarely a fan of the Willow Likes Xander and Xander Likes Buffy storylines, which are both touched on here. (Though I can think of a couple of brilliant bits involving Willow Likes Xander that we'll see in seasons 2 and 3.) "The Pack", for a number of reasons, just doesn't work for me.

"Teacher's Pet": C+
"Never Kill a Boy on the First Date": B+
"The Pack": D

What did everyone else think?


  1. I think, in terms of Xander stories, The Pack is actually much better than you're giving it credit for. Sure, it's not reinventing the wheel in terms in terms of OMG TEENAGERS ARE ASSHOLES, but it;s done quite well and there's a certain interesting menace to the Pack as they saunter around campus that I think works quite well. But still, it's no Zeppo.

    Teachers Date is just dullsville to me.

    As for First Date, if you had asked me to guess the episode numbers of that and Witch, I think I'd never have guessed that they were that early in the run. (This may also be due to this being a half season so things had to move along quicker.)

    1. Whoops! I mean Teacher's Pet, of course.