This has been quite a break, but I've been busy with moving into another apartment these last couple of weeks, and I had to wait to have my Internet reconnected. And on top of that, even my computer needed some fixing for a while...
1.04. Teacher's Pet
This is is exactly the kind of episode that you don’t want to show your friends if you want to get them to watch Buffy. It has all the cheese of season 1, but with very few redeeming qualities, not even that many witty lines. Good season 1 episodes use monsters to highlight a real life problem (like being bullied or ignored at school or having over-competitive parents or coaches), but this one is about… predatory women looking to mate and find a father for their babies?
It also doesn’t help that the vampire from the B-story is one of the least scary monsters in the show, and that “Ms French”, the femme fatale teacher/praying mantis, is really slimy and smarmy to the point that she has 'you can't trust her' written all over her, which makes Xander look all the stupider for falling for her seduction. (And why is she speaking in a British accent, BTW? It’s fortunate that Giles is on the show, or it would look like another case of the Hollywood British Baddies cliche.)
I'm not too fond of Xander playing the role of Horny Drooling Idiot Teenage Boy (all the more so since these are the moments when it hits you that Nick Brendon looks a bit too old for the part). Way too many bad teenage comedies cliches there (see Worst Lines). It was funny to find out that Blaine, the guy bragging about his 'conquest' was a virgin, but I don’t get why Buffy was so surprised that Xander was a virgin, and the scene in which Xander and Blaine get ridiculed for their virginity (despite the fact that both Buffy and Willow were the same age and virgins as well at the time) seems like an example of a gender double standard. It would make more sense if they had heard a lot from Xander bragging about his alleged sex life, but as far as we know he only vaguely and unconvincingly tried to do it once to prove himself in front of Blaine when Buffy and Willow weren't even present.
Buffy keeps being the one to think of the solutions to all the mysteries, which is usually great, but at this point I started feeling it was too much - she is the brains and the leader and pretty much perfect, while everyone else's contributions were minor; I started yearning to see some flaws and quirks of hers, which we fortunately get to see more later on. I don't like Giles' characterization in this episode, he is more of a fussy librarian than a mentor and doesn't even seem very useful. The only new things we find out about him are a bit of info about his past friends that doesn't matter much, and... that he's interested in women. (As if Xander's drooling idiot act wasn't enough, we also get Giles making comments about Ms French's attributes throughout the episode.)
There is still some good stuff in this episode - like Xander's hilariously unrealistic fantasies (I think this is the first time we see a character's fantasy on the show). There's some development in the shipping area: Xander says (to Ms French) that he loves Buffy; he is obviously jealous of Angel; we get the first hints that Willow has a crush on Xander; and there's also a little bit of romantic tension between Buffy and Angel, who seems to have dropped his cheeky attitude here and is in full broody mood. Flutie is really good in this episode - I'm realizing in this rewatch how funny he was, he was a bit like a high school David Brent/Michael Scott. I think he just got overshadowed in my mind by Snyder, who was even funnier and more memorable. And it was nice to see a good and supporting teacher (Dr Gregory, the biology teacher) who was aware of Buffy's intelligence (he judged rightly that she was "smart and thinks on her feet") and could have made her high school experience better; so of course, he had to get killed in a gruesome way right after the first scene. His faith in her seems to have meant a lot to Buffy since she cried over his death. (Season 1 Buffy is so much more open with her feelings than the hardened later seasons Buffy, who will need days to be able to turn her grief over her mother's death into tears.)
Other things I noted about this episode, besides having the first character fantasy scene, is that it's the first episode that uses a science lesson to propel the main plot (in a similar way that, for instance, psychoanalysis will be used in "Beer Bad") and that it features the first case of the Xander Demon Magnet
trope, as well as an example of Xander Damsel in Distress
. It's an ironic inversion of Xander's fantasies where he is the hero who saves Buffy, while Buffy is scared and acting like a classic damsel in distress. He may be in love with Buffy, but he doesn't really seem comfortable with her strength, fighting skill and courage, and fantasizes about a more traditional scenario where he could play her swashbuckling hero. Other silly moments for Xander include accusing Buffy of being jealous when she warns him about the teacher, and acting as if a) he has already told Buffy how he feels about her or asked her out, b) she has already rejected him, and c)there is reason to think that she is secretly attracted to him; neither of which is the case. It's hard not to feel some sympathy for him when he asks if it's so incredible that an attractive woman could want him. His insecurity might actually work as an explanation why he acted so gullible.
Another thing we see for the first time and that we'll see many times later: Xander commenting on another man's attractiveness with a mix of jealousy and fascination (seeing Angel for the first time and saying that Buffy didn't tell him what an attractive man he was) is something we'll get to see often in later seasons (he'll make similar comments about Oz, Riley and Spike).
Flutie: We all need help with our feelings, otherwise we bottle them up and before you know it, powerful laxatives are involved. I really believe if we all reach out to one another, we can beat this thing. I’m always here for you if you need a hug, but not a real hug, because there is no touching, the school is sensitive to wrong touching.
Buffy: Factoid three: her fashion sense screams ‘predatory’.
Willow: It's the shoulder pads.
Honorary mention goes to Xander asking what kind of girly name is Angel.
Xander: No, no, this is the most beautiful chest… dress I’ve ever seen.
- one of the worst episodes of the show
1.05. Never Kill A Boy on the First Date
If I was giving additional points for episode titles, this episode would get a higher score.
This time the Buffy’s Slaying, the Master and his minions are the B-story while Buffy's attempts to date are the A-story. The prophecy of the Anointed One is very well done in this episode, the fake Anointed One is a good and quite scary character with his ‘religious’ fanaticism (vampires having something like their own evil religion is consistent with season 1 and Master-lead vampires; this will pretty much disappear in season 2 when we meet very different and non-traditional vamps), and the twist of the real Anointed One being a child is a good one. Appearances being deceiving is one of the recurring themes of the show. ("Gingerbread" will also play with the idea that the tendency to see children as innocent and good by default can make people blind to the evil hiding in the shape of a child.) Of course now we know that this storyline went nowhere and that the Anointed One was probably the lamest villain on the show, which makes the scary prophecies about him ring hollow, but I'm not going to hold it against this episode.
On the other hand, the A-story introduces a theme that will run throughout the show - Buffy’s difficulties of reconciling her romantic life with her calling. The purpose of this episode was obviously to establish the dangers and difficulties of Buffy dating a "normal" human (before having Buffy get involved with Angel only 2 episodes later). However short-lived and fleeting this story was, on rewatch I think Buffy did really like Owen (unlike for instance Scott Hope in S3, who – IMO – she only dated because she thought of him as ‘safe'), even though Angel was her main love interest, as we are reminded when Angel makes another appearance in the episode and Buffy is clearly interested in him but blows him off because she is disappointed that he seems to only want to talk to her about her “work” rather than being interested in her for herself. Buffy at this point only sees slaying as her job and is very far from thinking of it as a part of herself. Owen saying that Buffy is like "two people" introduces a theme of Buffy being split between her "Buffy, ordinary girl” persona and her Slayer persona, which she'll struggle a lot to reconcile throughout the show, with the Slayer part of her personality becoming stronger over years. We'll later see Buffy having a problem with a “regular” human boyfriend (Riley after losing his supersoldier powers in season 5) because of his feelings of inadequacy - that he can’t keep up with her; with Owen we see the opposite problem: not only he isn’t threatened or freaked out by Buffy's dangerous 'job', he likes it and is all too happy to throw himself in because he finds it exciting – which makes Buffy realize that she has to break up with him for his own good, because he would get himself killed. (Incidentally, I think this is the last time Buffy breaks up with someone until Spike in season 6 - Scott Hope, Angel and Riley all broke up with her, not to mention Parker).
It's not surprising that Buffy was attracted to Owen - he's exactly the kind of guy smart and secretly romantic girls fall for in high school (he reminds me quite a lot of a guy I used to have a crush in high school): brooding, mysterious, poetic, looking older and more mature for his age, which is all incredibly attractive to many girls at the time when most high school boys act very immature and tend to put on silly and unconvincing macho acts. (Even though the same kind of guy might start looking a bit dull when you get a bit older.) With Owen we get another idea of the things Buffy is attracted to in men – obviously Angel also has a "certain Owenosity" – he can rival Owen for brooding, and he's also older-looking, mysterious and a romantic soul. But in many ways, Owen is most like another one of Buffy’s later boyfriends, as he is a poetic, reclusive guy who turns out to be a major adrenaline junkie who gets off on danger and dreams of transforming himself into “danger man”. Owen’s line “I never thought that nearly getting killed would make me feel so…alive” sounds very much like Spike’s line from “Fool For Love”: “Getting killed made me alive for the first time.”
Cordelia is still a stereotype and particularly OTT in this episode with her aggressive come-ons to Owen and her jealousy and bitchiness to Buffy. I don't find it too surprising that Cordelia was after him too, she and Buffy seem to have a somewhat similar taste in men (both are attracted to Angel and Owen) and in high school, girls like Cordelia are tend to go after any guy who is considered attractive by other girls, especially if it’s a girl they have a rivalry with. Speaking of jealousy, this is the first time Xander speaks to Angel, and his dislike for Angel is obvious. Xander is jealous of Angel, and they are both jealous of Owen in this episode. This is also the first time Cordelia sees Angel, and she is immediately attracted to him (but at this point, he still doesn't pay attention to her.) Her line on seeing him: “Hello, salty goodness” will be repeated in AtS S4 "Spin the Bottle”, when Cordelia, after losing her memories and reverting back to her teenage self, gets a glimpse of Angel. There’s an ironic moment here: Cordelia saying about Angel: “That boy is gonna need some serious oxygen once I’m through with him”. Actually, he doesn't and hasn't for 200 years!
The characterization of Giles is much better in this episode than in the previous one, for once he really seems capable, and a good mentor to Buffy, rather than just an awkward and fussy librarian. The relationship between him and Buffy gets a nice development here, in this episode it shapes up as a real mentor/student relationship, and there are signs of him as a father figure as well. For most of the episode, Giles is trying to get Buffy to do her duties while she’s trying to find time to have some fun and go on a date, but later on she choses her duty over dating, and they end up relating better to each other in their last scene. We learn about his background which is also important for the show's mythology: his father and grandmother were also Watchers (which confirms that Watchers, unlike Slayers, can be of either gender); being a Watcher was nothing something he chose, he was 'chosen' in a way, just like Buffy, learned about it when he was even younger (10 years old) and just like Buffy, did not want to accept his calling at first. But unlike the Slayers, the calling of the Watcher runs in the family and is a job passed on from one’s parent (and unlike the Slayers, the Watchers are "ordinary humans" with no magical superpowers).
There's another 'subverting the expectations' moment when we're lead to believe that Giles is being sexist and has prejudice against Emily Dickinson for being a woman, but it turns out he has prejudice against Americans... Which, uh, is better? Well, marginally so, I suppose…
I had forgotten that Master said “Here endeth the lesson” to his minions in this episode, because the exact same line was later used by Spike to Buffy in "Fool for Love", and Buffy to the Potentials in “Showtime”. Did Spike meet Master at some point? Quite probably - but he never seemed to care much about him or his minions, then again maybe he just thought the line sounded cool.
Willow (about Owen): He can brood for 40 minutes straight. I've clocked him.
Xander (to Owen): You should probably know that Buffy doesn’t like to be kissed…Actually,. she doesn’t like to be touched...
Xander: In fact, don’t even look at her.
Giles: Two more of the brethren came in here. They came after me. But I was more than a match for them.
Giles: I hid.
I can’t think of any.
But I guess in-universe, Buffy’s “It’s not you, it’s me” breakup line is pretty bad... although here it is actually true, in part at least (it really is about her, but it’s also about him being so reckless and not understanding the gravity of the life and death situations the way Xander or Willow do).
Buffy worrying that her love life could get someone close to her, specifically Giles, killed.
Willow and Xander pretending to be dating: “We knew it was going to happen eventually, so why fight it”.
Buffy fighting the fake Anointed One while yelling “You killed my date!” is pretty awesome moment - we see how she gets strength from her emotions. Xander makes a decision not to tell her Owen is alive so she would stay as determined – which may be seen as foreshadowing his big lie in the season 2 finale.