Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 1, Episode 4: “Teacher’s Pet”
We meet Buffy’s nerdy science teacher, who is completely different from any other authority figure we’ve seen thus far, in the sense that he’s caring, attentive, and respectful of personal space. So of course, he immediately gets dragged away in the dark of night by some mysterious tentacled creature, and Cordelia finds him decapitated in the school kitchen. RIP.
Then there’s this weird misdirect, where Angel and his wifebeater warn Buffy about some sort of creature with a “big fork” for a hand. You might think this is connected to the monster-of-the-week, but it’s really just an excuse for Angel to give Buffy his leather jacket and make Xander irrationally jealous and possessive of a girl who has shown no interest in him.
Anyway, back to the dead science teacher. The substitute science teacher is gorgeous, in a cougar-y kind of way, so we have to deal with Xander drooling over her the whole episode. She starts meeting with male students one-on-one, and Xander gets all excited that he’s going to lose his virginity to a teacher, Pacey-style. But then, weird things start happening: the first boy who worked with her goes missing, and then Buffy sees Ms. French turn her head all the way around in a “full Exorcist twist.” Since Ms. French is conveniently teaching the class about insects (we love this trope!), Buffy, Willow, and Giles easily figure out that she’s actually a giant praying mantis who likes to eat virgins. Okay, sure.
Buffy tries to warn Xander before his meeting, but he’s all bitter about Angel and his wifebeater, so he accuses her of being jealous. (The WORST.) He goes to Ms. French’s house at night, and things get weird and rapey. She answers the door in a black cocktail dress, offers him wine, and tries to suss out whether he’s a virgin. Yuck! Then she turns into a giant praying mantis and throws him into a cage to be her sex slave, which is almost less disturbing.
Remember the fork creature who sounded so ominous? Yeah, he’s just a vampire with a claw for a hand, and he’s only relevant to the plot because he gets scared of Ms. French. So Buffy captures him and basically puts him on a leash so she can find Ms. French’s hideaway. They find the house right before Ms. French tries to mate with Xander (as a praying mantis, yeah it’s gross), and Buffy hacks her to death with a machete. But naturally, all Xander cares about is that everyone knows he’s a virgin (as if that weren’t obvious to begin with). They should just let him die already.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Xander smarms that he’s going to kiss Buffy like she’s never been kissed before. EW! I know it’s implied that it’s Xander’s dream, but are we sure it’s not one of Buffy’s infamous nightmares?
- Aw, I had a feeling this teacher was too good to be true! I was expecting him to turn out to be a demon or something–not to watch him get hauled off to his doom by what looks like the tentacle of a giant Venus flytrap.
- Angel’s taking off his jacket and baring his shoulders–is this Riverdale?
- They almost have chemistry in this scene.
- Xander is wearing a SHORT SLEEVED VELOUR POLO SHIRT. It is so hideous.
- Buffy really is such a badass, going into this park at night to look for someone who has been going around cutting off people’s heads!
- Principal Flutie offers Buffy a hug, but not a real hug, because he doesn’t want to be creepy. Maybe Giles should take a lesson from Mr. Flutie. And the substitute teacher is also pretty creepy herself!
- I actually didn’t realize Willow was a hacker before starting to watch the show! I just knew she was supposed to be bookish. That’s kinda cool.
- Xander admits at the end that he’s an idiot. How long do you think that realization is gonna last?
- Wait, there are going to be a bunch of little baby sexy-lady-praying-mantises?
Notes from a True Stan:
- This episode is polarizing among Buffy fans, and many even cite it as one of the worst episodes ever. Personally, I don’t hate it. It’s ridiculous, obviously, but it’s so ridiculous that it’s almost awesome.
- When Xander stakes a vampire during his fantasy sequence, the stake is nowhere near the heart (and on the wrong side of the chest). I like to think they did that on purpose.
- Xander creepily puts his arms around Buffy and Willow to “prove his manliness” (ew) and poor Willow is so into it.
- Angel is so annoying in these episodes! Like, maybe give her a proper description of the fork guy, if he’s so dangerous.
- Instead of telling Xander he’s being creepy and delusional about Ms. French, Buffy and Willow make fun of her “surgical enhancements.” Dislike.
- We see Buffy’s first proper patrol in this episode, and it’s–weirdly gritty. She runs into a drunk guy who gets in her space, a homeless man, and the Sunnydale police. Who knew Sunnydale even had a police force?
- The effects are all charmingly bad this season, but the praying mantis suit is a new level of camp.
- Oh, God, when she says “Kiss me,” and her feelers are all over his face–cringe!
- It’s so weird in retrospect that Giles explicitly compares the She-Mantis to the Sirens and other mythological seductresses. No one in that writers’ room thought that this might demonize female sexuality?
- It’s also weird that the writers are basically making fun of these sixteen-year-old boys for being virgins. Some of the humor comes from Xander and Blaine’s embarrassment, and that’s funny, but the punchline about their “purity” irked me. They’re children!
- Xander is, as always, the worst, but I like that the show uses him to critique toxic masculinity. Once again, he has gross fantasies about being Buffy’s savior, but in the end, she the’s the one who needs to save him from his own male ego. At one point, he tries to help fight Ms. French, and Buffy actually pushes him out of the way. Heh.
- Even though I don’t exactly hate this episode, I am so curious what their thought process was for picking this as the monster-of-the-week. Like, “Okay, we’ve done vampires, we’ve done witches, now… giant praying mantis?”
Season 1, Episode 5: “Never Kill A Boy On the First Date”
So Buffy meets a cute boy named Owen who loves Emily Dickinson (classy!) and invites her to the Bronze literally while Cordelia is trying to ask him out (burn!). But unfortunately, Giles realizes that there’s a prophecy that exact same night. The prophecy is complicated, but basically, there’s a group of vampires called the Brothers of Aurelius, and that night, five will die so that something called The Anointed will “rise” and take the Slayer to hell. Seems dire, but Buffy really wants to go on that date.
Unfortunately, during said date, Angel shows up to warn her, then Willow and Xander (who followed Giles to the funeral home, where he was overtaken by two vampires) also show up to warn her. So they leave, only the puppy-dog-like Owen follows them to the funeral home. So Buffy tells the three to barricade themselves in a room while she and Giles hunt for a vampire. Only then the dead body in the next room totally comes back to life and breaks into their room, at which point Owen finally, finally, realizes that something weird is going on.
Then there’s a big fight, where the vampire bashes Owen’s head into a locker door Ross Geller style. An angry Buffy finally throws him into the fire, and Owen wakes up. He turns out to find Buffy’s bad-ass lifestyle kind of a turnon, but she reluctantly has to turn him down for a second date because she doesn’t want to get him killed. But she and Giles have a nice moment where he manages to stay mostly out of her personal space bubble, so, you win some, you lose some.
Notes from a New Fan:
- “Plunge and move on,” Giles instructs Buffy. Dirty! (Gee, maybe I just didn’t like Buffy before because I hadn’t reached my present heights of immaturity.)
- Buffy promises Giles that she won’t wear her “I’m a Slayer” button, and supposedly she’s being sarcastic, but honestly she is SO BAD at not saying she’s a Slayer that she might as well be wearing such a button.
- Sunnydale had kale before anyone else. Gee, California really is ahead of all the trends.
- The two dresses Buffy holds up as shy versus sexually aggressive are literally the exact same: they’re both pastel silk mini-dresses. What?!
- Xander uses the word “easy” non-ironically to describe a woman’s sexuality. SHUT UP XANDER.
- I am extremely annoyed by Xander trying to spy on Buffy changing via her vanity mirror. Which makes me a huge hypocrite, because when Pacey does it I’m all, “Awwww, true love!” [I had the EXACT same comment, down to the link. –Janes]
- I like Buffy’s argument that getting some is going to make her a better Slayer because it will make her less cranky. An argument also beloved of creeps and quote-unquote sex addicts the world over.
- “If the apocalypse comes, beep me,” says Buffy. YES. THIS IS THE MOST NINETIES OF ANYTHING EVER.
- Cordelia sees Angel and says, “Hello, Salty GOODNESS.” Hee!!
- Ah, Owen pulls a “you’re not like those frivolous OTHER girls” line on Buffy. Yet he also spends a bunch of time raving about Emily Dickinson being a genius. Can’t decide whether to hate Owen! So. Torn.
- Buffy has NO CHILL when the boy she likes crashes her date. Unfortunately Owen is too slow to catch on to how INCREDIBLY AWKWARD Buffy is about introducing him to Angel.
- Sunnydale’s cemetery has a tag line: “We’ll take care of the rest.” Is that normal for cemeteries? It seems hilariously cheesy.
- I love how Owen is like, “Oh, sure! Let’s join Willow and Xander on a double date at the funeral home, sounds fun!” He’s… not the brightest guy, for a poetry buff. (Although now that I think about it, since the title of the episode is about killing a guy on the first date, I am guessing he’s not actually that dumb and is actually a Brother of Aurelius, or possibly the Anointed One himself.)
- Giles busting out of the locker in the morgue is pretty funny.
- Willow and Xander barricade the door with… a lampshade. Good job guys. The terrifyingly strong vampires will never break through that.
- The Anointed One comes after them yelling “Pork and beans.” Ooh, scary?
- “He tried to bite me. What a sissy!” Owen says. Um, rude!
- I like how Buffy does a cartwheel off the morgue table just to … stand there and punch the vampire. Hopefully like Janes says, the fight choreography is going to get better.
- I totally thought the little kid from the bus was Haley Joel Osment. In my defense, he was in everything.
Notes from a True Stan:
- Buffy’s fighting noises are my favorite thing, especially when they’re captioned. According to my subtitles, Buffy actually says “Hyah!” several times this episode.
- Beware of men who refer to woman authors by their first names.
- Giles says Emily Dickinson is a good poet, not “for a woman,” but “for an American.” Hee!
- I love that Buffy gets on Xander’s case for talking about “slaying” in the cafeteria, when she literally just called herself the “slayer” in front of Owen in the library.
- Buffy fat-shames Cordelia! That’s such a–Cordelia move.
- Buffy’s date outfit is cute, but isn’t really appropriate for a club (especially with the pink blazer). But after her first attempt at a clubbing outfit in the pilot, this is a vast improvement.
- “When the apocalypse comes, beep me.” Remember when this line was in EVERY promo, and it really wasn’t all that funny? I mean it’s cute, but it’s like the “moo point” of quotable lines.
- While Buffy was definitely feminist for its time, and gets more feminist as it goes on, this whole “I can have it all!” schtick is very 90s Ally McBeal-esque non-feminism.
- Cordelia’s crimped 90s hair is wild.
- Even more wild: this extra’s feathered knee-length vest and feather boa.
Season 1, Episode 6 “The Pack”
The kids go on a field trip to the Sunnydale zoo, where a bunch of bullies lure a nerdy kid into the hyena enclosure to torture him. Xander defends the nerdy kid, and he and the bullies all get possessed by the hyenas in the process. Just go with it.
At first, the kids’ behavior is indistinguishable from regular obnoxious kid behavior–they make fun of fat people, pick on unpopular kids in dodgeball. Xander tortures Willow for having a crush on him, and sniffs Buffy’s hair. Then they get to the weirder stuff, like eating the school pig (poor Herbert!) and walking around in black clothes to ominous 90s pop-rock.
Thanks to a convenient coincidence (Giles saying that boys “prey on the weak,” just like the zookeeper said about the hyenas) and even more convenient spidey sense, Buffy figures out that Xander and co. have been possessed by hyenas. That’s all it took? I guess she really is as smart as Dr. Gregory thought. Giles does some research, and finds out that a fictional African sect of animal worshippers called “primals” like to draw the spirits of predatory animals into themselves. (Yes, this is all fairly racist.) The possession eventually causes death–somehow, so Buffy goes to find Xander so they can cure him. When she finds him, he tries to rape her, and she knocks him out. Meanwhile, the other four are called to Principal Flutie’s office, and they eat him (!).
Buffy and Giles lock Xander in the library cage and leave Willow to watch him while they go talk to the zookeeper. The zookeeper takes the news that the kids are possessed by hyenas in stride, which would be suspicious except that everyone treats it pretty casually, and tells them to bring the kids to the hyena cage so they can do a reverse trans-possession. When they tell him that they only have one hyena-child at the ready, he says the rest of the pack will find him. In a pretty scary sequence, the rest of the pack ambushes the library and breaks Xander out of the cage. Buffy gets there before they can eat Willow, and runs to the zoo to lure them there.
But–twist–the zookeeper is evil. He’s the one who drew the mysterious African symbol (yeah, I know) on the floor, which caused the trans-possession. He puts a knife to Willow’s neck as the “predatory act” needed for the ritual, draws the hyena’s spirit from the kids to himself, and tries to eat her. Xander tackles him (ugh) and Buffy throws him into the hyena cage. Xander goes back to his normal levels of terrible, and says he doesn’t remember anything. Giles casually tells him in private that memory loss isn’t normal after an animal possession, and promises to keep Xander’s secret, because God forbid Buffy should get to process her sexual assault or anything.
Notes from a New Fan:
- OH HEY JIM FROM CENTER STAGE, playing one of the mean popular kids!
- So right around when the kids venture alone into the hyena exhibit I started wondering why no one seems to be scared to walk around alone in this town, given that people keep dying in weird ways and an entire nightclub was basically held hostage by a bunch of scary dudes like three weeks ago. But now Janes is telling me that essentially, no one ever remembers that Sunnyvale is scary. That makes no sense! But I guess I’d better roll with it!
- The special effects when the kids’ eyes go green is even more hilariously low-budget than the other special effects. I am so into it.
- So I knew going in that Buffy and Angel were headed for some kind of, like, star-crossed over-dramatic romance. I did not foresee Buffy calling him “a honey,” like she’s Bess in a Nancy Drew book. Hee!
- Oh NO! Is this adorable little piglet going to die? I have a bad feeling about this….
- “Come on. He’s not picking on you. He’s just sniffing you a lot,” says Willow. Wow, rejection is always humiliating, but that is rough. Poor Willow: she’s not even good enough for her hyena-infected crush to sniff.
- Buffy says that hyenas are “the schmoes” of the animal world. So… they’re the Xanders? How ironic. (Yes, yes, I know, that’s not the actual definition of irony. I just want to burn Xander at every possible opportunity, ok?)
- The principal’s scared face when he falls back on the chair is SO FUNNY. [Side note: I thought this was much funnier before I realized he was going to be eaten.]
- Oh my god they ate the principal?! That I did not expect. Poor Principal Flutie.
- I sent this text to Janes: “JIM FROM CENTER STAGE ATE PRINCIPAL FLUTIE?!?!”
- I’m upset we didn’t get to see Buffy hit Xander with a desk.
- I’m SO glad that lady’s baby didn’t get eaten. That would have been too dark.
- Buffy starts the episode in an orange velvet trench and a teeny tiny green scarf with no apparent function, like she’s on the cover of Anthropologie’s Fall 2001 catalog. She ends it in a black ski cap, a black T-shirt with some kind of cartoon lady on it, and a pink satin skirt held together with black pins, looking like Hot Topic Barbie. It’s all deliciously wacky.
- Ew what is with this Giles-Xander conspiracy at the end where Giles wink-winks at Xander that he won’t tell the girls that Xander remembers dissing Willow and sexually assaulting Buffy? Dislike.
Notes from a True Stan:
- What is up with all of the animal episodes? I don’t hate this episode either, it’s just–weird.
- I love the dodgeball. Dodgeball is such a classic teen movie trope, so it really hammers home this episode’s extended high-school-as-jungle metaphor. It’s like an entire episode of that Mean Girls watering hole scene.
- Also, “He’s turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Of course, you’ll have to kill him.” Love.
- There are several disturbing things about the attempted rape storyline, other than the obvious. First, everything Xander says during that scene is basically an exaggeration of how he feels when he’s not possessed. He resents Buffy for liking “dangerous” guys like Angel instead of “nice” guys like him, he wants Willow to “stop kidding herself that he could be with anyone but [Buffy].” Is that the point of this episode, that this is bringing out a “primal” side to Xander? Are we supposed to take Giles’ line about testosterone to mean that this is a weird metaphor for male puberty?
- In that same vein, if this is an exaggeration of how Xander feels, rather than just a straightforward demonic possession, then it’s even worse that he pretends he doesn’t remember. I don’t think that we’re supposed to hold him morally responsible, but he could at least give Buffy and Willow (especially Buffy) a chance to process their feelings about his behavior.
- I miss Principal Flutie! I wish he had stayed longer. I talk about him so often that when my partner finally watched with me, he was shocked to find out that Principal Flutie wasn’t there for the whole show.
- Speaking of racism–