In the ninth episode of the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, there’s a demon in a ventriloquist dummy. It’s honestly nowhere near as bad as that sounds. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
So…I kind of liked this? A whole lot? And not ironically, either? Sure, there are some rough and unintentionally awkward moments in the bunch, but I think the intro set the bar really low for me, and everything after it just exceeded my expectations.
Like Buffy, there’s something about ventriloquist dummies that honestly freaks me out; I don’t like them, I don’t find them funny, and if one ever moved on its own, I would remove myself from Earth because I could not live another second on a planet where that was possible. So, for me, this whole episode (even after the “reveal” three-quarters of the way through) was just unsettling.
Well, first, let’s talk about the utter brilliance of the cold open. I really like it when this show put forth its wit and humor, and the trio teasing Giles is not only a sign of what this show does well, but it’s a way to show us how close they’ve all become. Truthfully, they’ve all been through some horrific shit, and it’s made them more tight-knit than ever before. Plus, it’s a school talent show, and those things breed awkward sentiments. I will not get over how fantastic it was to see Cordelia attempt “Greatest Love of All” entirely off key. It’s really the first chance for us to see her acting oblivious. She’s so hyper aware of her own status at the top of the social food chain that we don’t get to see any personality traits or behavior that might actually work against her. Look, I don’t care, I will grasp any smidgeon of character development for Cordelia any chance that I get.
This episode also introduces Principal Snyder. I don’t care that I fell for it. I don’t care that my own emotional reaction to him did not stray far from utter revulsion. I fucking despise Principal Snyder. Am I supposed to? Yep, totally am. I don’t care that I am reacting exactly as the show wants me to. At some level, I think a lot of people tend to react negatively to figures who demonstrate an aggressive level of authority. (Not everyone, obviously.) I, however, grew up with a vicious distaste for it. I grew up in an overly strict Christian household where I had no power or control, and I found that teachers or administrators who demonstrated anything close to that were always the ones I hated the most. I despised the rigidity of the school system because I also was in a school district where our school board was openly and virulently Christian. We had to fight to do anything that may have strayed from their idea of what every student should learn and know and how they should behave.
Though I suppose it was a little bit more complicated for me; I was a really good student and, as I’ve said in the past, some of my best friends and the people I went to for support were teachers. So I straddled the line in this sense because I knew they weren’t all bad and I could tell certain teachers meant well if they were being strict. But I was a burgeoning little activist in those days, and when I found a reason to have my own rebellion, it always was because I felt like I was being wronged or someone else was.
Oh god WHERE HAVE I JUST DRIFTED OFF TO. Basically, I hate Principal Snyder, but his introduction is not just to provide another antagonist to the kids and Giles, though that plays a large part. His whole role acts as a brilliant red herring on multiple levels. What “The Puppet Show” manages to pull off is a complex whodunnit mystery, one with so many plot twists and trope subversions that it’s enough to distract you away from the fact that the perpetrator for most of the action is a sentient ventriloquist dummy. Which is distracting once you stop and think about it for too long, but that’s why I ultimately liked this episode! Things moved so quickly that I didn’t stop and say, “Wow, that is the silliest idea ever.” Then I would have to correct myself because the previous episode was about a demon infecting the Internet. Oh, Buffy, will you ever come up with something worse? I await the day with glee.
(Quick side rant: I sort of hate that the show Glee just took that word away from the general populace because now it’s generally the only thing I think of whenever I type it. BUT IT’S A GOOD WORD! I like using it! It sounds great. OMG I should start a campaign to reclaim that word from goddamn Ryan Murphy. WHO IS WITH ME.)
Still, this is kind of a deeply disturbing episode and, as I said earlier, so many tropes in science fiction and horror are completely thrown out the window in the process. I was totally in love with the idea that Sid would begin talking within the first ten minutes. Usually an inanimate object doesn’t start moving around in the open for a long time, but that’s the brilliance of how Sid is executed: no one but Morgan is aware that his dummy is possessed. And for a guest starring role, Rich Werner does a great job of portraying a growing horror and discomfort at what’s going on. (One that is even more satisfying once you know the twist of Sid’s identity.)
There’s more of Joyce Summers in this episode and yes, I’m going to gush. When can I hug her? I mean COME ON. Look how much she cares about her daughter in this episode! (Technically, doesn’t she not show up to the talent show in the end? I don’t recall seeing her in the audience. omg she listened to Buffy <3<3<3) The concern is all over her face; she knows her daughter is overwhelmed by something, and I think she can sense that this time, Buffy’s not in trouble. Something is bothering her, and she just wants to help. UGH LOVE YOU FOREVER, JOYCE SUMMERS.
The truth is that Buffy really is overwhelmed in “The Puppet Show” because she’s got more than one thing to worry about. There’s a demon inside a dummy that murdered a student and she has no real way to prove it or stop it; Principal Snyder is so obsessed with Buffy that it’s borderline stalking (Seriously, that scene backstage between them has this really horrific subtext that he thinks he’s protecting Buffy since she’s a pretty girl, and I’m glad to see her rebuke that so fast.); and she somehow has to come up with a performance for the talent show. ALL AT THE SAME TIME. You know, I think it works as this wonderful representation of how school can be this ridiculous. I wonder if I would have retained more information if I didn’t have four separate teachers giving me two hours of homework per night each, four days a week. I took a lot of AP classes, to be fair, but I was a poor brown kid with absolutely no monetary support; I had to get scholarships or else I wouldn’t have had the chance to attend college. So I sacrificed a lot in order to be valedictorian. But I always wonder what cost that was for?
Okay, I SWEAR I WILL TALK ABOUT THIS ACTUAL EPISODE. So, Sid! I fell for it. I did! It made so much sense that he was a demon that I also shouted, “WHAT THE HELL” at the television when he and Buffy figured out they were both hunting a demon. WELL PLAYED, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. You totally got me! But not only is it a great way to completely ditch the trope of the Evil Possessed Object, it then made me start wondering what the hell was going on. I thought it would definitely turn out to be Principal Snyder, both because it would explain why he was such an awful person and then I wouldn’t ever have to deal with him again. But things are nowhere near this easy to figure out in “The Puppet Show,” because it’s the awkward magician who’s the actual demon AND HE WAS THERE THE WHOLE TIME. I’d like to believe that is why Marc was so awful as a magician and you can’t take that away from me.
Once they all figure it out, it’s honestly pretty tense as they try to save Giles’s life, the demon leaves his human body, and there’s a violent clash. I think the fighting scenes have gotten less choreographed than before, or they at least seem that way. However, the best part of all this is when the curtain opens post-demon death to a full auditorium, and Principal Snyder deadpans, “I don’t get it.”
Bless this show. And bless the ending credits, too, since there are few things funnier than the trio trying to “perform” a scene from Oedipus Rex. Willow, please run off the stage and into my life.
PS: So….where does Sid go? And how come we didn’t get to see him turn back into a man? Actually, he’d probably be naked, so nevermind.