1.4 Teacher's Pet
1.5 Never Kill a Boy on the First Date
1.6 The Pack
First, rather than put my spoiler comments in white, I've decided this is a better home for them. Go here first to read the full rewatch post (only spoilery stuff is here; everything else is in the other post). And my brief comments will be followed by the uncensored version of David Lavery's post from this week. (I've put his credentials in non-spoiler post above.)
• “Never Kill a Boy”: I howled when Giles popped up from the tombstone and immediately began reading off his criticisms (“it should be plunge and move on, plunge and move on!”). It’s the very kind of behaviour he’ll later roll his eyes at Wesley (my beloved Wesley) for doing, and he’ll tell off the Watcher’s Council for being so damn stuffy.
• The Master slams the book shut and says, “Here endeth the lesson,” a line that will be remembered by Buffy fans more as the way Spike ends his backstory in “Fool for Love” when he tells Buffy all about who he really was.
• Cordy’s line, “Hel-LO, salty goodness!” will later be used in the Angel episode, “Spin the Bottle,” when everyone reverts back to their 17-year-old selves and she once again sees Angel for the first time.
• David Lavery makes this same point in his essay below, but I also wondered why Buffy seems like a bit of a dullard in the library, and yet in S4 she’ll be making references to William S. Burroughs.
“Can I just say one thing? HEEEELLLLP! HEEEELLLLP!”
— Xander to Mrs. French (the she-mantis) in “Teacher’s Pet”
When the episodes I’ve just rewatched originally aired, I was paying no attention. (You can read a brief account of my “coming-to-Buffy” in Season 4 experience here.) Nor have I ever been a big fan of BtVS S1. I have even been known to discourage potential future adherents to skip the entire season and begin their Buffy immersion with S2 (in the hope such a navigation of the verse would more likely lead to love/addiction).
My critical opinion of two of my three rewatchables was, nevertheless, high: I’ve long considered “Never” and “Pack” among the strongest from Buffy’s rookie season. “Teacher’s Pet,” on the other hand, I had filed away in my memory as a BBF (Buffy Bottom Feeder), an episode every bit as lame as, say, “Inca Mummy Girl” or “Beer Bad.” (I know, I know: judging television episodes is an exercise in critical relativity, and the worst Buffy may still be pretty good television.) I am happy to report that while “Never” and “Pack” remain worthy, “Pet” has improved with age.
That Joss Whedon half-expected Buffy to be canceled after only one season is well known. The series’ signature “flexi-narrative” formula (the term is Robin Nelson’s) — one season = the struggle with and defeat of a singular Big Bad, punctuated with “Monster of the Week” episodes — was a fortunate side-effect. Like most initial seasons of long-running series, Season 1 BtVS shows Whedon and company uncertain about a number of other matters as well, still calibrating, if you will, its most basic assumptions. In my three episodes the calibration is almost audible.
For example, Buffy’s Summers’ IQ is still in doubt. Though her verbal kicks are as quick and accurate as her physical ones, the young woman who will later earn an SAT score good enough to gain admission to Northwestern does not always seem the sharpest tool in the shed. Consider the entrance of Owen Thurman into the library in “Never”:
Owen: I lost my Emily. Dickinson. It's dumb, but I like her around. Kind of a security blanket.
Buffy: (awkwardly) I have something like that. Well, it's an actual blanket. Uh, and I don't really carry it around anymore . . . So! Emily Dickens, huh? She's great!
Buffy: She's good also.
Even allowing for her smittenness with Owen’s Owenocity in this scene, this level of dumb seems incompatible with the intelligence Buffy exhibits in her smack down of a vamp in the episode’s teaser:
We haven't been properly introduced. (pulls out a stake) I'm Buffy, and you're history!
or later in the same episode in the following exchange with her Watcher:
Giles: If your identity as the Slayer is revealed it could put you and all those around you in grave danger.
Buffy: Well, in that case I won't wear my button that says, “I'm a Slayer. Ask me how!”
Nor have Whedon and Company, or David Boreanaz for that matter (who shows little evidence of acting ability until Season 2), yet figured out Angel. Though it is abundantly clear (as Xander notes in “Pet”) that he is “a very attractive man,” radiating “salty goodness” (Cordelia in “Never”), it is by no means certain yet that he is a hero. Angel in my rewatchables reminded me — nota bene: odd comparison ahead — of Kramer in the first two partial seasons of Seinfeld — before Seinfeld, David, and Richards realized the character’s potential as a “hipster doofus.”
Nor is the continuity precisely calibrated yet. When Giles tells his charge (in “Never”) that he always wanted to be a fighter pilot, the confession seems a bit odd coming from the Ripper of “The Dark Age,” and his insistence that he has no instruction manual is of course contradicted by Kendra’s knowledge of one (“What’s My Line,” Parts I and II). And what’s with the vampire look? All vampires at this point seem to be Master lookalikes. Later, John Vulich and company will go lighter on the latex.
On the other hand, Xander and Cordelia are already fully and completely themselves. It is revealing, is it not, that two of my three rewatchables (“Pet,” “Pack”) — from the middle of Season 1 — are Xandercentric. I suspect so much Xander so early in BtVS reflects a great deal of comfort in the writers room with both Mr. Harris and Nicholas Brendon’s portrayal of him.
I had entirely forgotten till this rewatch that “Pet” begins with a “Superstary” dream sequence in which, like Jonathan Levinson in Season 4, our beloved Zeppo takes over the narrative and becomes the Slayer’s savior, kicking a vampire’s butt, and then, in a “Restlessy” moment mounting the stage in the Bronze to perform. (When Buffy awakes him from his biology class nap with the words “You're drooling,” the omniscient among us can’t help but flash forward to Buffy’s own “minimal drool” in “Hush.”)
If Brendon excels as dream-Xander, he shines as well as the virgin about to be the recipient of Mrs. French’s eggs in the final scene of “Pet” and, even more significantly, as the Hyena-possessed bad boy of “The Pack.” (Like Boreanaz, the dark side serves for Brendon as a performance enhancer.) I find “The Pack” difficult to watch, genuinely scary.
And what are we to say about Charisma Carpenter’s role as the poster child for meanness? Consider her Principal Flutie ordered (“Heal!” “Heel!”) meeting with a grief counselor (after finding Dr. Gregory’s corpse):
I don't know what to say, it was really, I mean, one minute you're in your normal life, and then who's in the fridge? It really gets to you, a thing like that. It was . . . let's just say I haven't been able to eat a thing since yesterday. I think I lost, like, seven and a half ounces? Way swifter than that so-called diet that quack put me on. Oh, I'm not saying that we should kill a teacher every day just so I can lose weight, I'm just saying bright side. You know?
I am sure I am not alone in identifying this kind of black humor one of the things I love most about Buffy and no one brings it better than Queen C.
Giles, too, with the exception of his possibly inconsistent backstory, is recognizably Giles. Consider, for example, this wonderful exchange with Buffy in “Never”:
Giles: Alright, I-I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the twelfth century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and a show.
Buffy: Okay, at this point you're abusing sarcasm.
Gilesish to the max.
Thanks to this rewatch I don’t think I will be recommending “go directly to Season 2” in the future. “Teacher’s Pet,” “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date,” and “The Pack” may not be my favortist Buffys, but they remain inescapable — like puberty.
Miscellaneous Notes, Queries, and Observations
• Buffy will give us several mean teachers over its run, but “Pet” give us perhaps its nicest, Dr. Gregory (“one of the few teachers who don’t think Buffy’s a felon”—as Willow observes) and then, in classic Whedon fashion, immediately kills him. It will come as no surprise in “The Prom” (3.20).
• Will we ever again see Xander as one of the girls (as he is in “Never”)? Take note, in a further act of emasculation, Xander (in the epilogue of “Never”) sips on a juice box in a very Andrew-like manner.
• In her attempted extrication from Owen’s interest in the life of danger at the end of “Never,” Buffy insists “It’s not you, it’s me.” Has Buffy been watching Seinfeld and fallen under the influence of George Costanza?
• In “Never,” we get the following exact duplication of lines (both, of course, describing Buffy):
Giles: She is the strangest girl!• In case you did not know: Musetta Vander, the South African actress who plays Natalie French in “Pet,” would later play one of the Sirens in Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou? (Nikki note: She also played an Amazon on Xena among many other small roles in genre TV.)
Owen: (to Angel) She's the strangest girl!
• I had forgotten that key School of Whedonite David Greenwalt (an essential Angel contributor as well) wrote “Pet.”
• When the vampire (with a giant claw) runs in terror from Natalie French, did anyone else hear?
• Xander: Generally speaking, when scary things get scared: not good. (“Dead Man’s Party,” 3.2)
• In “Restless” (4.22), Xander tells Apocalypse-Now-Principal-Snyder “how glad I was you were eaten by a snake.” On the other hand, I was really, really sorry to see Flutie eaten by The Pack. Wonderful character, played by Ken Lerner, the brother of Michael Lerner, the actor (yes, another Coen Bros. reference) who gave us mogul Jack Lipnick in Barton Fink.
• Some very nice indie music at the Bronze in all three episodes — a Buffy trademark.
• Perhaps it’s just me, but I would lose the “to be continued” ending of “Pet.”
• Television directors tend to be invisible. (Whedon would not himself direct an episode until the Season 1 finale, “Prophecy Girl.”) Two of my three episodes were directed by Bruce Seth Green, a twenty year industry veteran, who came to Buffy with an impressive resume that included assignments on the following TV series: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, American Gothic, Xena: Warrior Princess, Babylon 5, Law & Order, I'll Fly Away, Swamp Thing, Doogie Howser, M.D., Baywatch, MacGyver, T.J. Hooker, V, Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I. After Season Two (in which Green helmed “Some Assembly Required,” “Nightmares,” “Halloween,” “The Dark Age,” “Ted,” and “Phases”), he would never work for the series again.
• On the DVDs, activation of each episode is accompanied by a Buffy witticism. When you play “Pet,” Buffy announces “We’re talking full-on Exorcist twist.” With “Never” we hear “If the apocalypse comes, beep me.” Nice.