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Standard disclaimer: I'll often speak of foreshadowing, but that doesn't mean I'm at all committing to the idea that there was some fixed design from the word go -- it's a short hand for talking about the resonances that end up in the text as it unspools.

Standard spoiler warning: The notes are written for folks who have seen all of BtVS and AtVS.  If they become relevant I'll spoil through the comics as well.  Basically -- if you are a spoiler-phobe and haven't seen or read it all, read further at your own risk.



Teacher’s Pet,  In Which Xander is Seduced by a Praying Mantis.


Xander’s turn to take the spotlight.  We discover that Xander's nerdy bumbling exterior belies his inner bravery.   We learn the answer to three questions in this episode:


What Buffy wants:  The episode opens on Xander’s dream about rescuing Buffy.  The episode ends with Buffy rescuing Xander.   Buffy doesn’t want or need to be rescued by Xander. 


But Buffy does want to be rescued by a man.  This is the episode where the short-lived biology teacher reaches out to her in a supportive way.  It means so much to her that she cries when he dies, and sentimentally tucks his glasses away at the end.  Buffy wants a father figure.   We’ll see this explicitly in Nightmares.


Strudel drops a footnote:  On a minor, random note, re-reading the transcript where Dr. Gregory challenges her to do better, I could very easily give his lines to Prof. Walsh.  In both cases Buffy responds well to these blunt challenges to live up to her potential.  And, per usual for our hero, both of these would-be mentors get killed. 

As a nice touch in this episode, anyway, we see that Dr. Gregory's imploring helped.  Buffy did do her homework and learned that bats eat praying mantises.  Whatever Buffy's challenges in the classroom, she is very good at weaponizing her knowledge, in this case using the bat sonar sound to disable the She-Mantis.  She then figures out how to use the Fork Demon as a homing beacon, and, voila!  she saves the day.  Smart girl, that one.


Buffy wants to be taken care of by a man.  Angel sees she’s cold and gives her his coat.  She loves this.  She’s into him.  He’s still carefully reeling her in, giving her just enough to hook her, but not one jot more.  He’s all smirky.  She sighs.   What Buffy appears to not notice is that Angel got thrashed by the fork vampire, who Buffy totally owned.    One of the first things we’re being told about Buffy/Angel is that there’s a large gap between what Buffy sees in Angel (a mysterious protective figure) and what Angel is (a seducer who has said he’s too afraid to fight and who isn’t nearly as strong as Buffy).


Bottom line:  Buffy wants a man she can look up to.  Bear this in mind when she never quite falls for Spike.  The fact that Buffy finally makes a move on Xander in season 8 is interesting in this regard.  Cause as much as Buffy comes to respect and value him, Xander is not the guy she looks up to.   The comics tell us, then, that being someone Buffy can look up to is no longer a non-negotiable requirement (making me all the more interested in what’s going to develop next in the Twuffy saga).


How Xander compares to Angel:   Angel may be mysterious and have a cool coat; but Xander is still the real deal.  Here we see this in the Blaine/Xander rivalry with Blaine (sexy exterior, cowardly interior) standing in for Angel.  Xander is much less suave than Blaine, but much cooler under pressure.  Indeed, he gets props for how he handles himself in the lair of praying mantis lady.


Strudel points out:  we see Xander's jealousy of Angel cropping up here.  He watches Angel's seduction of Buffy and notes the fact that Buffy failed to mention how big and good-looking Angel is.  Interestingly, when he's explaining why the praying mantis lady picked him out, he jokes, "I wonder what she sees in me? It's probably the quiet good looks coupled with a certain smoky magnetism."  He's almost describing Angel.


What Sex is:  Really dangerous!!


Strudel adds:

Since this is Xander's first starring turn, it's worth taking a closer look at the introduction ("In Which Xander Dreams Large, and Drools in Reality...").  What he dreams is that he gets to play the typical strong male, saving the helpless female.  In case there was any lingering doubt, this unsubtle exposition of his gender-based insecurity demonstrates that Xander is in truth under no illusions about his supposed rescue of Buffy in the Harvest.  Everything in his cultural upbringing tells him that he should be the strong hero to Buffy's damsel in distress, but he knows full well that, in truth, he drools.  So, let's not forget to give Xander full credit for being willing to sign on to this project as the weak sidekick to the female hero, and to satisfy himself for looking for little openings where he can be of use.  It's not always easy for the guys to swallow their pride like that.


(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-30 02:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love, love, love the representation of Buffy in school, and I think that's such an interesting connection between this teacher and Prof. Walsh later. *hugs Buffy*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-30 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Maggie Walsh ends up being quite interesting later on!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-30 03:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Fantastic observation about Buffy and Dr. Gregory and Angel. Buffy desperately wants a father figure and, squickishly enough, Angel fills that role in the early seasons. She responds to him for all the wrong reasons.

It's most noticeable to me in Reptile Boy. When Angel hears that Buffy's in trouble, he vamps out and acts all dashing and protective. However, Buffy saves herself with no help needed from him. Despite this, we see Willow afterward relaying the story of how Angel became heroic over her, and Buffy's practically swooning.

There's such a disconnect between what Buffy wants and what she needs, especially when it comes to Angel. She wants someone who will protect her, guide her, make decisions for her. She doesn't need any of that, though, because we see her consistently do all that for herself. She's just unaware of her own potential.

That's why I've always felt that part of Buffy's "graduation" at the end of S3 is not just from school and the Council, but also from Angel, who is holding back her development rather than encouraging it. Though that makes me wish it were her own decision. But meh.

I rambled. I shall stop.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-30 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ooh, I love the way you put all this. Good rambling!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-30 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Great thoughts and observations. While the episode is kinda weak, I do love the fact that it introduced gender reversal -not to mention that Xander can look like Superman with the dark hair and good looks and somewhat tall figure -though he's more average height than tall- while Buffy looks like the tiny blonde virgins Superman always save.

Tiny blonde kicks the door open and saves tall, dark-haired, male virgin from being raped = win for me.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-30 11:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your last line nails it!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-31 03:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
One of the first things we’re being told about Buffy/Angel is that there’s a large gap between what Buffy sees in Angel (a mysterious protective figure) and what Angel is (a seducer who has said he’s too afraid to fight and who isn’t nearly as strong as Buffy).

See, that's why I like you doing these. I would have said it was just bad writing. Bad.

And bad Angel characterization.

And bad habit of talking up a threat only to have it not actually be much of a threat (see also The Three).

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-31 09:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Don't you feel like we missed a few scenes with Buffy/Angel? In the Harvest, Buffy didn't seem to like him and he was acting less broody and more snarky. Are they trying to say that Buffy got attracted to him after he told her he didn't have friends? I just think it's a jump from Buffy who exchanges snarky comments with Angel to Buffy who's so smitten with him, same with Angel changing into dark and broody all of a sudden. I guess by this episode Joss decided to make him the love interest.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-09-01 05:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was going to skim the transcript to see if I could find wacky insights about this episode (which I admit is not one I've rewatched very much) but it's late, and I figure I should comment on this post before the upcoming #36 maelstrom buries it! (Unfortunately, I probably won't be able to get the comic tomorrow; I'm out of town and there are no comic places overly near. :( ! )

So onto the ep: Buffy's need for a male protective figure, a father figure, is interesting and it's not something I'd connected with this episode. At this point, Buffy tentatively accepts Giles but doesn't seem to expect that she has much to learn from him; but Dr. Gregory hits the right notes. Maybe it's because Gregory is emphasizing Buffy-the-human (the great student she could be!) whereas Giles, at this point, treats her as The Slayer? And I like the observation about Maggie Walsh.

Angel-as-seducer: someone (I think Spring Summers) pointed out the parallel between Mrs. French and Angel here. Angel is the cool older guy, a demon, in a mentor position, which is made explicit with Mrs. French--teacher (and with gabs' IOHEFY poll out today I'm reminded it's not the only female teacher/male student coupling used in the show as an Angel/Buffy analogue), demon, seducer. French kills her men after one coupling, which is what happens with Angel & Buffy--after one sexual encounter, he tries to kill her and she succeeds in killing him. The flip where Buffy is the good one, and the one who ultimately succeeds in killing Angel, is interesting and complex and I have no idea where to start talking about that.

Great comparisons between Xander and Angel (and Blaine-the-Angel-analogue!). It's noteworthy that Xander's status as virginity contrasts with Angel's (we find out) rather extensive background.

Lastly I was thinking about the way you characterize this episode (in "The Witch") as the Introduction to Xander The Demon Magnet. I know you have also described this as one of Xander's defining traits (e.g. in showing how the Trio reflect the Scoobies, via Andrew's demon magnet-ness). Xander's demon magnet-ness struck me as mostly a joke while the show was on. But I'm wondering if you think there's a more significant function it serves? Certainly his biggest romantic relationship in the series is with Anya, and his arc wrapped up in that. So if it's important that he's the demon magnet (so much so that the episode that first gives him close study points toward that), then why?

Off the top of my head (and these are not necessarily all entirely true):

1) Xander is ATTRACTIVE to demons, because he is the damsel in the show, as well as the primary representation of "ordinary humanity" which the demons are expected to prey upon;

2) Xander is ATTRACTED to demons because he himself has figurative demons--centred primarily around feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy due to his gender issues, his feelings of mediocirty and his terrible home life (played out in full with Xander & Anya); and

3) Xander is ATTRACTED to demons because (within the show's meta-structure especially) he is attracted, both sexually but more importantly abstractly, to Buffy and her power--and the demonic side to Buffy is the side that he can't deal with consciously, so it gets dealt with through demonic Buffy analogues (most obviously Inca Mummy Girl).

4) Xander is a demon magnet because this story is a foil and contrast to Buffy being a vamp magnet; Buffy is herself drawn to vampires even as she slays them, and her central romantic stories are with Angel and Spike. Xander & Anya plays out some of the same material as B/A and B/S (and B/R) but more under-the-surface, until Hell's Bells and Anya re-demonizes.

Is there more? Is there a deeper function, or a modification of the above that works? I think it's an interesting question. I have a feeling that Teacher's Pet will not itself hold the answer, the way The Witch (in some respects) implied so much about Willow's story. Maybe I'm overlooking something interesting here. At any rate, I'm looking forward to tracking this as the show develops.