He leans on top of Buffy and is going in for a bite, while Buffy lays there helplessly - and if that didn't give you a clue that something in this scene is very wrong - Xander walks up behind the vampire, grabbing him by the shoulders and easily pulling him off our heroine with a quip.
Slamming the vampire's head on a pool table, and delivering two powerful punches - the vamp is laid out on the Bronze's floor (which is probably really sticky with spilled drinks). Xander pulls Buffy up by the hand asking if she's alright - which she acknowledges with a "thanks to you" - And, okay - if you don't start thinking something is really wrong here, you haven't paid attention over the last three episodes....
"You hurt your hand," Buffy tells him. "Will you still be able to...."
"... Finish my solo and kiss you like you've never been kissed before?" Xander finishes smoothly to her adoring look.
With this he gives her a wink and turns away. In the background, the vampire has revived and is sneaking up behind her again, as the crowd starts to do more screaming in panic. But, Xan, being so smooth, easily snaps off an overturned chair's leg and throws it lazily, striking true (except not - it's nowhere near this guy's heart, but the point is he's saved Buffy again).
He then jumps back on stage for his rockin' electric guitar solo as Buffy watches all with her big, doe eyes of love and admiration. Okay, even as thick as a brick me can tell where this is going by now.... Buffy looks up the stage at Xan with his guitar riffing and says what he's been longing to hear basically since day one,
"You're drooling". Okay, it's possible that isn't what Xander has been hoping to hear... at least, I'm really hoping not.
Scene 02: Buffy calls Xan's name, and of course, they are not in the Bronze - they're in class. She points out that he has a little drool. Obviously, the preceding scene was entirely a dream from the dozed off Xander Harris.
We're in Dr. Gregory's (who we saw last episode) science class where he is lecturing on ants. He points out that if they read the homework, they should be able to tell him how ants communicate, and naturally picks on Buffy to provide the answers - which, you know, she doesn't have.
Behind Dr. Gregory's back, Willow amusingly pantomimes 'touch' with Buffy gets, but the next part throws her off. Willow sniffs at Xander and Buffy answers,
'Uh..., B.O.?" with this utter look of confusion.
Commentary: This extended teaser scene is unusual for Buffy, as it remains light and comical and I especially like this part of it. It's laugh-out-loud funny, especially Buffy's utter clumsy and obvious staring over Dr. Gregory's shoulder the entire time and the looks on SMG's face through it.
Anyway, Willow rolls her eyes. Dr. Gregory asks her if there's anything else that Ms. Rosenberg would like to tell her, leaving Willow looking caught and embarrassed. We also meet Blayne Mall here, who will figure in a bit later - obnoxiously. The bell rings and Dr. Gregory releases the class, but tells Buffy he wants to see her a moment. Oops.
Scene 03: When Buffy and Dr. Gregory are alone, he surprises her by telling her that he can't wait to see what she'll do at Sunnydale High, being familiar with her last school transcript. Further taking her off guard, he then compliments her 'first rate mind' and her ability to 'think on her feet'. He tells her that she could accomplish great things, if she'd only do the 'homework thing' and further tells her that if she put her mind to it, she could make Principal Flutie 'eat that transcript'.
Commentary: Being that he's the only teacher that has shown any positive opinion of her, of course he'll need to die.
Scene 04: With Buffy leaving, buoyed by his opinion of her and inspired, Dr. Gregory turns out the lights and peers over his slides - he's between classes, since other kids don't come in. Alas, a large claw comes from off screen and drags the Doctor to the floor.
Commentary: There are problems with this scene - more than one - but right now I want to talk about his attacker appearing behind him. It would appear, considering the shot of the door swinging open and the very inky shadow our bad guy comes from, that this would be a closet rather than say the main door of the classroom heading out into the hallway. Unfortunately, a) no frickin' closet is THAT dark. And, b) Dr. Gregory already opened it just a few seconds earlier while he was talking to Buffy and clearly there'd be no way that something as large as the bad guy could hide within without being noticed. And c) Buffy's Slayer-instinct should have detected the monster if it was only a few feet from her (but I could let that go - her Slayer-senses have been hit or miss and they made a point of Giles being annoyed in 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' of her not honing). There's another whopper of a problem, but that's for the end of the episode....
Cue the Theme and Opening Credits - long, long intro of this episode!
Scene 05: The Bronze. We get a song which I dig, but this obsession with acts during the first season bugs me because it eats up running time. Xan really tries to turn me off to him by wearing a bad shirt (doesn't work - he's adorable) and uh... I guess I'd have to describe it as 'bopping' to the music, badly ...
He gives a nod at the singer as he makes his way through the dancing crowd. But, funnily, the singer gives him a "get out of here, geek" look.
Blayne Mall is expounding on his hotness and the amount of play he's gotten from the chicks. Xander makes a comment that the only girls who'd be interested in him would need lobotomies, and Blayne immediately questions the amount of sex Xan has gotten.
I suppose this is all very high school, but it's still tacky and we spend too much time with the ego-tripping. Xander is saved from making an utter fool of himself (almost) with the arrival of Willow and Buffy. He runs up to them and throws his arms around them calling out 'Babes!'
Buffy is all like, 'wtf', but Xan explains that Blayne is questioning his manliness. Willow, throws her arms around Xan even tighter with a "we'll show him!" which is like so sweet and so pathetic all at once, considering her obvious love for him that he remains utterly clueless about.
Angel shows up just then, however, and Xan is quickly forgotten by Buffy so she can go over and talk to the mysterious stranger. This is where Xander expounds on the fact that Angel is 'buff' and 'very attractive', which he finds irritating.
Commentary: This would also be the scene that I complained about in 'The Harvest' in which there was no flippin' way that Angel and Xander hadn't already met in the crypt leading to the underground tunnels. I won't rehash it here, except to say that I still find it distractingly annoying continuity-wise, especially when we know that Angel was stuck in that crypt with nowhere to go.
Scene 06: Buffy strolls up to Angel. (And, Angel smirks... which later is going to make this seem really Out of Character.) I love Buffy's snark here though: "I'd say it's nice to see you, but then we'd both know that's a big fib."
Angel notes that Buffy seems cold and gives her his leather jacket, which further drives Xander's jealousy. In the meanwhile, Buffy notices a huge rake mark down Angel's arm (again, later this will seem highly suspect when we see Angel's ability to kick ass on his own). Angel warns Buffy (in his irritatingly half-assed way - God, I hate his character until after the episode 'Angel') about 'Fork Guy' and then takes off into the night.
Scene 07: The next morning, Buffy and Giles are walking up to the school and Buffy tells Giles that 'Cryptic Guy' warned her about 'Fork Guy' which causes Giles to laughingly say that there are too many 'Guys' in Buffy's life. But the next little bit is amusing (and this episode really needs all the amusing bits it can get - not a favorite, folks).
Giles: God, every day here is the same.
Buffy: Right, sunny, beautiful, however can we escape this torment?
Xander comes up as Giles walks off to the library. He informs the girls that Dr. Gregory is a no-show, meaning he wasn't so dumb after all for blowing off the science homework. Buffy expresses concern about the unexplained absence, and Willow points out that he's the only teacher that doesn't believe Buffy is a felon. Xan starts to express his condolences to Buffy about her favorite teacher missing, but is suddenly very distracted by the arrival of a woman in a short skirt. She slow-mo strolls to a stop in front of the flummoxed Xan and asks the way to Science Room 109, which Xan has trouble remembering the location of, causing Blayne to slip in smoothly and lead the replacement teacher off - leaving Xan looking foolish.
Commentary: God, could Alyson and Sarah be any more adorable?
Scene 08: In the science class, Natalie French has introduced herself following Buffy finding Dr. Gregory's glasses still lying on the floor adding to the bad feeling about his being 'missing'. Natalie starts to lead a discussion of the Praying Mantis and when Buffy makes a comment on their being 'bug-ugly', she seems to take it a bit too personally.
In addition, Natalie sure does admire them as a species.... Natalie decides that they should make model egg sacks after school for the science fair and asks for volunteers. Now, you'd expect there to be zero interest (well, except maybe from Willow) to this plan, but Buffy looks around with a 'what the heck' on her face as all of the MALE students enthusiastically express interest.
Scene 09: Lunch room and 'hot dog surprise' which, while that wasn't what it was called at my school, 'Franks-n-Beans' was a staple at my Junior High (thankfully, I rarely bought lunch). Xander pontificates on Natalie's attraction to him, but again, he loses out to Blayne who informs him that he's meeting with Ms. French - alone - that evening (obviously sex is on both their minds, just as obviously it's inappropriate for Ms. French to be meeting horny, male students after hours alone anywhere).
Buffy snarks - it's mildly amusing. Cordelia comes sweeping into the cafeteria, and naturally she's not about to eat the slop of the rest. She has a 'medically prescribed lunch' in the school refrigerator, which she opens only to have a body come tumbling out. Buffy notes that the jacket on the corpse has Gregory's name on it... and it's missing its head.
Scene 10: Meeting in the library, Buffy is in tears and Willow and Xander are in shock. Headless bodies is new. Giles and the rest jump to the conclusion that this involves Angel's warning of the 'Fork Guy'. Giles informs Buffy that he's been doing research into The Master, and he did run across a tale of a vampire who'd disappointed him and had his hand cut off in penance.
Buffy decides to hunt down 'Fork Guy', though Giles does mention that although a suspect, the vampire's other kill involved a homeless man who was 'shredded', nothing like Doctor Gregory. Buffy decides to stake out the park, but Giles tells her not to do anything rash until they have more information to work with. She promises... (yeah, right).
Scene 11: That night, Buffy is in Weatherly Park. Buffy finds 'Fork Guy' and engages, but their fight is broken up by the police who also have been staking out the park (interesting in hindsight, when we find out so much more about the Mayor). The vampire flees with Buffy in pursuit.
Scene 12: Vampire 'Fork Guy' begins to stalk a strolling with groceries Ms. French. We and Buffy think she's in danger, but as the vampire gets up behind her by leaping over a fence, she turns around without a trace of fear and looks at him. He hisses and draws back then runs for a sewer entrance, much to Buffy's shock.
Scene 13: The following day, Giles berates Buffy for ignoring his warnings and going off after the allegedly tough vampire (really, he doesn't do anything to deserve his reputation - just one more small issue with this episode that adds up to making this a bad one), but Buffy is far more interested in the Fangs reaction to Ms. French, which was out of the normal, to say the least. Giles tells Buffy to keep an eye on Ms. French, so she rushes to class.
Scene 14: And right into the arms of the Principal who's concerned that she saw Dr. Gregory's headless corpse and ergo insists that she see a Councilor immediately. Principal Flutie was so funny.
Cordelia is amazingly funny here as she's in a 'counciling session': "It was... let's just say that 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 that when tragedy strikes, we have to look on the bright side, you know? Like, how even used Mercedes still have leather seats!"
Scene 15: While Buffy is listening to Cordelia sound like a sociopath, Ms. French is giving a pop quiz in Science. She's wandering the aisle and ends up leaning against Xander's back to whisper to him that she thinks he meant 'pollination' for one of his answers. She also reminds him that she'll see him afterschool with her hand resting disturbingly on his shoulder (well disturbingly for us).
Buffy dashes up to the classroom door and expresses dismay about the pop-quiz. Ms. French, sensing she's being watched, clumsily blows her cover by twisting her head around on her shoulders (and in a full-on Exorcist twist), which somehow, everyone but Buffy misses.
Commentary: I get that this is the visual that will give Buffy another clue she needs, but I don't see how Ms. French could have survived this long if she so easily does things humans can't do in public every time she senses that she's being watched from behind. They really should have had her pull this gag on the vampire and had Buffy see it then. In addition, this is some AWFUL CGI. I mean truly, capital letters, AWFUL.
Scene 16: Buffy has immediately rushed to tell Giles about Ms. French's new ability. Willow is with her, so I guess it wasn't immediate after all. But, anyway, Buffy also mentions that Blayne met with the substitute teacher the day before for that egg sack project and now is absent today. Willow hops on the 'amazing early 90's Sunnydale internet' while Buffy hits the books on bugs.
Scene 17: In the Science room, Ms. French is preparing a sandwich for a snack (amusingly she's brought an entire jar of mayo and a whole loaf of bread with her that day) when Xander comes in for his after hours egg sack making.
The 'teacher' pulls the "oh, I'm so stupid" spiel by pretending that she forgot the supplies for the project at home and could he possibly consider coming over later that evening (chika-chika-bowow - as Xan immediately flashes back to his guitar cool-riff from the episode opening) to 'work' instead.
We also find out Xan's middle name, which he is embarassed about. Back at her desk after Xan leaves, she pulls open a plastic box that amusingly has 'FOOD' written on it, just in case she -uh- forgets what's in it?? I don't know... another negative point for lameness.
Anyway, it's crickets that she dumps on her mayo'd bread and eats.
Commentary: Do we understand yet that she's a Praying Mantis in disguise? And, does anyone else feel that the producers felt we were too stupid to put the anvil-like clues together on our own? It's really kind of insulting how we're being led to the answer, here. Oh, and I hate her nail polish.
Scene 18: In the library, Buffy advances her "Ms. French is a Praying Mantis" theory. At first, Willow and Giles are doubtful, but a little thought and the realization she could be a shapeshifter or a perception distorter reminds Giles that an old chum who lost his mind claimed something like this existed.
Of course, we'll also find out in a bit when Giles talks to him on the phone that he believes his mother came back reincarnated as a Pekinese, so you can see why the Council doubted his tale in the first place. While Willow invades the Coroner's computer system to confirm Dr. Gregory's wounds could have been caused by mantis bug-mouth-itis, Buffy rushes to warn Xan that his teacher crush isn't what he thinks.
Scene 19: He's not receptive.
Commentary: I'm going to go with Xan being heavily under the influence of Ms. French's pheromones here otherwise his totally blowing off Buffy's concern as 'jealousy' after all the weirdness of the Hellmouth already doesn't make sense. He really shuts her down here too strongly with a 'this is all you' for it to be natural as acted out by Nicky....
Anyway, he refuses to believe Buffy's tale of bug-women. He brings up Buffy's attraction to 'girly-named' Angel and you can tell he's pretty hurt by Buffy's refusal to see him as a man (but I do Xander, I do see you as all cute man!).
Scene 20: At Natalie's place, we see her pouring martinis (uh, inappropriate! But since she's a male-killing bug....). She's also pulling off the little black dress look with emphasis on her cleavage..., oh she's good! I hate her.
Xander... poor, sweet, pheromoned Xander, rings the door bell and can't remove his eyes from her breasts (I wonder if Nicky was embarrassed to have to stare at Musetta Vander's chest like that for this scene).
Natalie drops the 'egg sack' pretense by serving Xan the martini and telling him he has such 'hot hands'. Natalie also plays nervous around Xander... oh, you tramp! Xander, run!! No, no, don't drink that!
Xander nervously gulps down his drink, and unsurprisingly it turns out to have been drugged. Also, Natalie seems to take a great deal of interest in Xander's state of virginity (he is). We also hear a male voice from off screen and muffled (Blayne) yelling for help. It's too late for Xan to respond however as the drug takes affect. He gets dragged away by the large, serrated claws we saw grab Gregory earlier....
Scene 21: When we come back from fade-out (commercial break), Xan is coming around in a cell. He sees 'Natalie' tending to her eggs in the basement he's currently being held in.
Commentary: I wanted to get a screen shot of Ms. French in bug-mode, but the director keeps her in deep shadow throughout, which honestly was the best move. Especially during her fight scene with Buffy (would that count as a spoiler... I don't think so).
Scene 22: Giles in the library yells at a nurse. He has the convo I've already described with his nutty friend. While Giles is on the phone, Buffy and Willow confirm the mantis theory. Willow has a mild freak out over the thought that Xan is about to lose his head.
Scene 23: Back at French's, Xan discovers Blayne in a cell next to his. Blayne is terrified because he's already seen his fate. Natalie has had a chance to fertilize another batch of eggs earlier. Xan tries to get something intelligible out of Blayne.
Scene 24: Giles wraps up his conversation with Carlisle, the friend in the nuthatch. Giles gives us the rundown on Natalie. Buffy assumes that Xan should be safe since he's not a virgin, but Willow knows better and tells her he's going to die. She rushes off to call him at home and make sure he's not going to be alone with Ms. French (far too late).
After Willow reports that Xan told his mother he was going to his teacher's house, Buffy sends her to look up Ms. French's address on the substitute lists, while she sends Giles to the A/V room to record bat sonar, which she read causes a mantis' nervous system to go crazy.
Scene 25: Going back to the basement, Xander manages to loosen a bar, but that only leads him into Blayne's cage, which was less than helpful. But, at least he's armed himself now. Natalie, in She-Mantis form, clumsily waddles her way over toward the cages.
Scene 26: Back in the library, Willow has the address and Buffy and Giles are ready for battle.
Scene 27: In the basement, Natalie finally arrives in front of the cages (yes, good choice on leaving this puppet-thing in the deep shadows) and Blayne rats out Xan for breaking the cage to Xander's disgusted glance.
Scene 28: Buffy, Willow and Giles arrive at Ms. French's house. But, the woman who answers the door is not the Natalie we're familiar with... it's a retired school teacher who's quite old (and amusing), leaving Buffy and gang totally in the dark as to where Xander is being held.
Scene 29: In the basement, the faux-Ms. French is playing a game of eenie-meenie-miney-moe to decide between Xan and Blayne on who will next fertilize her newest batch of mantis eggs.
Commentary: Which brings up a question about the mechanics at work here. I mean, guys are pretty horny, I realize, but how exactly do they manage an erection with this thing hovering over them??
Also, how exactly does Ms. French get them to ejaculate with death being imminent... not to mention the whole giant bug thing. Obviously there's some sort of demon-magic at work here, but I really don't understand how this can work. I mean, it's not like she could jerk them off with those serrated claws of hers... thinking about it further, I suppose she could re-assume human shape, use her pheromone power to overcome the fear response, have them mate with her then in mid-coitus, shape change back to bug form and chew their heads off right as they're ejaculating onto her clutch of eggs. It seems so highly inefficient however, that I'm not sure how she could have survived as a species if this is the brilliant plan to continue the line.... Unfortunately, we're not going to see Nicholas nude, so we have no idea how in hell this would actually resolve itself.
Scene 30: Xander gets chosen, but swings his bar and hits her in the face. He makes a dash for the stairs, but her long claws trip him up and he gets dragged back down.
Scene 31: With tracking down Ms. French being a big bust, Buffy turns to an 'old friend' to do some tracking of his own. Fork Guy... who will be able (she hopes) to track down which house the fake Ms. French is using. She heads down into the sewers with a rope.
Scene 32: In the mantis lair, Xan has been tied up to posts and Ms. French begins laying the eggs. Xan flashes onto her lesson in class about what the mantis does after she lays her clutch....
Scene 33: In the meantime, Willow is yelling down the manhole (where do we get names like this for objects?) for Buffy to hurry. Buffy comes out of the park, with Fork Guy tied up. They proceed along the block with Buffy haranguing the vampire to find Ms. French. I don't know why it bothers cooperating, but it just adds to the impression that Angel is a big, useless dork if he couldn't beat this guy on his own.
Fork Guy reacts strongly when he senses faux-Natalie's presence in one of the houses. But as Buffy is ready to charge it, he cuts his wrists free with that handy hand-fork and tries to kill her. Buffy takes him out quite easily (see above comment about Angel).
Scene 34: In the basement, Ms. French is asking Xan to kiss her....
Commentary: Which makes zero sense, since she is still in giant bug-form and ergo, doesn't have lips or a mouth built for kissing. And, Xan doesn't look the least bit ready to spring up and fertilize anything adding to the problems with the whole idea of this episode.
Buffy breaks into the basement through a window followed by Willow and Giles. She grabs up two cans of bug spray (arrgh) and sprays the air in front of She-Mantis' face. Giles and Willow free Xan while Buffy grabs her machete and bat sonar noises. Ms. French hisses in her direction and 'charges' (as much as the puppet can charge, anyway).
Amusingly, Buffy presses the tape recorder play button and instead of bat sonar, she gets Giles' recorded notes on filing.
Commentary: Except, that it doesn't make sense. Giles recorded the sounds and then...? Took the tape, turned it over, put it back in the recorder and handed it to Buffy for battle? Is he trying to kill her or just make sure that Xander dies before she can intervene? See... no sense.
Between the gang, they finally get the bat sonar sounding which causes Ms. French to lose her coordination so Buffy can hack & slash her to death. Willow tells Xan that she's glad they were in time and that it was so unfair how she only went after virgins. There's some embarrassement from Xan and the threat of a lawsuit from Blayne if anyone spreads that tidbit around, but all is well that ends in hacking to bits. Xander takes up Buffy's dropped machete and goes after the eggs he was meant to fertilize (which hang from the ceiling, so Ms. French was really ready to be impressed by Xan's shooting range, I have to say).
Scene 35: Later (that night, next night... don't know) Buffy is sitting in the Bronze when Angel shows up. They do some flirting, with Angel telling her to keep the jacket as it looks better on her. (And, did they put lipstick on David? Because, I swear he's wearing lipstick here, which hey, nothing wrong with that if that's how he rolls).
After he leaves, Buffy says, "Oh, boy." So we can see that she's become uncomfortably aware of her own 'mating instincts' around the mysterious, and annoyingly vague, stranger.
Scene 36: The next day, back in science class, Buffy listens to the new instructor for faux-Ms. French drone on in a typical professor way. As she leaves following the bell, she stops to pick up Dr. Gregory's glasses which are still sitting where she left them (uh, doubtful!). She puts them into a pocket of one of his suit jackets hanging on the door hook of the closet, still (uh, doubtful!), while sad piano softly plays.
Obviously, she still misses him, which is a nice little touch that leaves us feeling like this episode mattered. And, which is immediately replaced by irritation as we pan into the too dark closet. Buffy closes the closet door, and we pan down behind a shelf to see eggs hanging... and one of them cracks open....
Commentary: And, just how wrong is THIS scene? a) When the hell were these eggs laid? b) How were they fertilized? c) They aren't exactly hidden, how were they not discovered? d) Since they went there, what ever happened to the She-Mantis hatchlings (thankfully, the threat to revisit them never came to pass)?
There are a few possibilities to resolve things: 1) Ms. French captured a victim that we never heard from, had the eggs fertilized in her love nest and then relocated them. 2) Ms. French did lay the eggs at the school, capturing a victim that hasn't been reported and then got rid of the body somewhere where it wasn't found. 3) The implied... Dr. Gregory fertilized them - which brings up a problem that you could explain away with a) despite his age, the Doctor just never had sex (perhaps he was just celibate... or had a medical condition that had made him impotent from a young age... or had a mental deficiency that had him only masturbating... it's possible, if unlikely. b) Or, Dr. Gregory had never been with a woman (i.e. he was gay) and that's why he could do the job as in many civilizations (the Greeks, the Romans, certain Middle Eastern cultures) sex between men was considered to be a way to release stress until they married and then had 'actual sex' - presumably the She-Mantis' are very old and ergo operate under these beliefs on a mystic level. Dr. Gregory could have had sex with men (especially if he was only a top) without 'losing his virginity' in this view.
Either way, it was a stupid ending. They should have just gone out on Buffy missing the only teacher that had believed in her.
The Good: Hah. Uh... hmmmm.
Well, there were some amusing lines - especially Cordelia's 'looking on the bright side' monologue.
I suppose Xander's daydream merging into Buffy's "you're drooling" moment in class was funny. Ugh, let's move on.
The Bad: Where to start? Look at commentary and most of it goes into the bad.
Along with all of that, I didn't appreciate the message that being sixteen and a virgin is embarrassing... okay, it is for high-schoolers (I do recall that vaguely) but the writers seem to take that view too.
Angel continues to annoy and irritate with his needlessly vague pronouncements of danger.
The Score: The worst episode thus far of the series (and to me, the worst of S1), I can only give this a 2.25 out of 5 stars.