In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
At first glance, these two early episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s first season appear to be settling into a complacent “monster of the week” – type formula after establishing its characters and basic premise in its two-part pilot. While these episodes are self-contained tales in which a threat is introduced and taken care of, they do feature a great deal of further character development and offer some innovative genre spins on some common themes found in other, more conventional teen dramas. If that’s the tone that the show, or at least this season, will continue to explore, then this introductory season will be quite enjoyable.
Episode Three of the first season, entitled “Witch,” not only further explores Buffy’s desire to just be a normal teenager despite her penchant for monster-killing, but it also gives us a nice twist on the idea of kids being forced to relive the glory days of their parents. “Witch” begins with our plucky heroine announcing her plans to try out for Sunnydale High’s cheerleading squad, ignoring Giles’ objections that it would interfere with her slaying duties. She arrives at the gym and meets up with Willow, who is there to cheer her on, and “Xandler,” who is there to ogle the girls. One of the girls trying out for the squad puts on an impressive routine until her hands suddenly catch on fire. Buffy helps extinguish the flame, and the girl is rushed to the hospital. After the trials are over, Buffy strikes up a conversation with a girl named Amy, who reveals that her mother was the star cheerleader during her years at Sunnydale and that she’s under a lot of pressure to follow in her footsteps.
Cordelia winds up making the squad, while Amy and Buffy are placed on the alternates list. The next day, Cordelia narrowly escapes death when she is suddenly struck blind while operating a Driver’s Ed car. Giles deduces that these unlikely accidents are the work of witchcraft, and everyone suspects that Amy is to blame, since both victims were her rivals for a spot on the cheerleading squad. As Giles concocts a potion that will deduce whether Amy is in fact a witch, we see Amy returning home from school, where she orders her mother to do her homework and walks upstairs with Buffy’s bracelet in her hand. The next morning, an overly-energized Buffy blows her chance at being on the squad when she accidentally tosses one of her teammates across the gym, which clears a spot on the team for Amy. We soon learn that Buffy is under a spell that is destroying her immune system, giving her mere hours to live. Giles and Buffy go to Amy’s house to try to retrieve her spell book, which contains the information needed to break the spell, and when they encounter what appears to be Amy’s mother Catherine, they discover that the mother is in fact the witch and that she has switched her body with Amy’s in order to relive her glory days and is trying to destroy anyone who gets in her way. Grabbing the spell book, the three of them return to the school to confront Catherine and are able to successfully break the spell on Buffy and return Amy’s consciousness to her body. Catherine’s body disappears as a result, and the episode ends with a close-up of the statue of Catherine in the trophy case, which now holds her imprisoned spirit.
“Witch” is a refreshing change of pace from the pilot not only because there are no vampires, but also because the plot deals with normal teenage issues in an original way. Buffy is still searching in vain for a way to fit into her new school, and with Amy we have a case of a teenager falling victim to the whims of a domineering parent who can’t seem to move on from her past. It’s a plot device that could easily be found in a more realistic teen drama and adds a nice layer to what could easily have just been a standard genre program. Using supernatural elements to tell elevated versions of standard teen stories is a neat approach that worked quite well in this episode. If “Witch” is an example of what a typical episode of Buffy is like, then I should have no problem plowing through every season. Even though the enemy was again easily dispatched here, the story was a lot more engrossing than the pilot and gave a stronger example of the kind of weird shit that Buffy has to deal with in this town that pretty much dashes any hopes she have of being a normal teenager. 4 out of 5 Choruses of “Macho Man.”
The following episode, entitled “Teacher’s Pet,” continues to explore Buffy’s attempts to eke out a normal life in Sunnydale while delving a little deeper into “Xandler”‘s unrequited crush on her. The episode begins with Xander daydreaming about saving Buffy from a vampire at the Bronze and then wowing her with a guitar solo before kissing her. He then is awakened from his fantasy by his biology teacher Dr. Gregory, who calls on him to answer a question. After class lets out, Dr. Gregory tells Buffy that she has quite a reputation around the school based on her past but that whatever she did at her old school means nothing to him. He tells her that he has all the confidence in the world that she can excel at his class and expects her to work hard. Pleased with Dr. Gregory’s encouragement, Buffy leaves for her next class. Later on, while working on lesson plans, Dr. Gregory is killed by an unseen monster, becoming yet another statistic on Sunnydale’s already high body count.
We are then taken to the Bronze, where Xander is teased by some of his fellow students for his lack of sexual prowess. Buffy is approached once again by Angel, who gives her his leather jacket and reveals a number of slashes on his arm. He warns Buffy about a new threat in town and tells her to not let her guard down. The next morning, the school is introduced to the interim substitute, a very attractive young woman named Natalie French who makes a great impression on all the male students. The decapitated body of Dr. Gregory is discovered by Cordelia of all people, and Buffy and her pals try to determine the cause of his death. That night, Buffy finds the threat that Angel warned her about, a vampire with a large claw on one hand. The creature retreats after a short battle and tries to attack Ms. French, who is returning home with a sack of groceries. Buffy watches as the vampire coils back in terror from Ms. French, which of course makes her suspicious. Her suspicions are confirmed the next day when she alone witnesses the sexy sub rotate her head 180 degrees to stare her down. She reveals to the class that she needs the help of a number of male students on a project at her house, and Xander eagerly volunteers. Having confirmed with Giles that Ms. French is some sort of praying mantis disguised as a human, Buffy warns Xander not to go, but Xander shrugs off the warning, claiming that she’s just jealous that an older woman is into him.
When Xander arrives at Ms. French’s house, she appears at the door wearing a revealing dress. She offers Xander a drink, which knocks him out, and when he awakens, he finds himself in a cage right next to a classmate of his named Blayne. Blayne tells him that Ms. French is really a She-Mantis who has killed a number of their fellow virginal classmates after mating with them. Buffy, Giles, and Willow arrive just after the Mantis picks him to mate with next. Buffy stuns the Mantis by playing a recording of bat sonar that Giles made and then hacks it to pieces with a knife. Xander then destroys the eggs that it laid after its previous conquests. The episode ends back at the Bronze, with Angel once again paying a visit to Buffy. She tries to return Angel’s jacket, but he tells her to keep it.
“Teacher’s Pet” has a lot more going on than “Witch,” and yet it’s much more of a mixed bag. I appreciated that it shifted some of the focus off of Buffy in order to spotlight Xander’s insecurity over his lack of sexual experience and his jealousy of Buffy’s obvious attraction to Angel, but the whole “sexy substitute teacher seducing teenage boys” angle is a bit off-putting in an era that’s seen a ton of real-life statutory rape cases. Perhaps it wasn’t such a taboo issue in the late-nineties, but this episode’s nonchalant attitude toward this issue was a bit odd. I’m also getting a bit annoyed at how no one in town is getting concerned that so many students and faculty members at Sunnydale High are getting killed or severely injured, not to mention the number of “regular” students who have witnessed all the strange goings-on around the town and haven’t alerted the media or anything. I’ve been told by many that these questions are addressed later on in the show’s run, so I’m willing to let it slide for now. Again in “Teacher’s Pet,” we are faced with a deadly foe that is easily defeated by Buffy’s superior fighting style and Giles’ knowledge on everything creepy and kooky, but at least we are given a little more of a close call as Xander is literally saved at the last minute. While not the strongest episode of Buffy I’ve seen so far, this episode provided an unconventional creature to fight and some much-needed attention to one of the more prominent members of the the show’s supporting cast, both of which make “Teacher’s Pet” a worthwhile hour or television. 3.5 out of 5 Hacked Mantis Limbs.