In the eleventh episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, THIS WAS NOT IN THE AGREEMENT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS. I DID NOT AGREE TO WATCH BUFFY AND THEN FEEL ALL OF THESE THINGS AT THE SAME TIME. WHAT IS HAPPENING???? WHAT DID I JUST WATCH??? oh my god IS TED HIDING IN MY BEDROOM RIGHT NOW.
Look, straight-up, this is one of the most pervasively creepy episodes of television that I’ve ever experienced. It’s like “Blink” or “Home” or “Pusher” or Locke’s story in “The Man Behind The Curtain.” There are just so many brilliant things the writers set up here, and it’s one of those pieces of fiction that deserves multiple viewings.
But what I think I picked up the quickest (after it was over, of course, and I could breathe again) was that if you’re watching this for the first time, you have no goddamn clue what this episode is going to be about. In fact, it isn’t even until well beyond the halfway point that the story even attempts to inject something “weird” into the narrative. Instead, as Ted begins to creep closer and closer towards controlling Buffy and Joyce, we have to cope with the idea that there just might not be a “supernatural” justification for us. Even then, when that is revealed, the writers don’t toss aside the first twenty-five minutes of the episode either. This is still a story about misogyny, abuse, domestic violence, and how those elements of our society are utterly horrifying. I don’t think the episode is necessarily perfect in that regard, but I was impressed with how obvious that subtext was.
It was nice to get an episode about Joyce Summers, since y’all know I love her to pieces, and I thought that her subplot with Ted would remain that: a subplot. I was glad that it was clearly going to take up the main narrative focus. I only recently have had to deal with the fact that one of my parents is starting to “date.” It’s been over five years since my father passed and my mother is…sort of seeing someone? IDEK HOW THAT WORKS. I haven’t met him, but I don’t think I’ll have the same reaction as Buffy does here. Of course, I haven’t walked in on my mother making out with someone else, and I certainly haven’t done that and had the father be John Ritter. Still, I think the show tackles the issue well. Initially, Buffy is being unreasonable and unfair about the whole thing, and it takes Angel telling her such for her to admit that she’s got to support her mother. (Also: LOL his hand is injured all of a sudden.)
It’s here that the writers hark on a couple fears just to start things off: What if someone you love is dating someone that’s not a very good person, and what if they can’t see it? Oh god, how many of us have seen that? HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE BEEN IN THAT RELATIONSHIP??? I feel so bad for the few friends who told me very early on to ditch my first boyfriend because they were 100% right about him and how gross he was. Of course, I was so biased against it that I couldn’t see the truth of the situation. And that’s a genuinely awkward situation! You care about your friend, but you don’t want to be presumptuous, rude, or unfair. You start questioning what’s right and wrong in the context of the circumstances, and everything is so confusing.
The writers take it a step further: what if that person is actually horrific, but only to you and in private? When Ted started scolding Buffy for cheating at mini-golf, threatening to slap her, I just curled up on my bed and whined. Yeah, no thank you, John Ritter. It was such an awful thing to say, and it came entirely out of nowhere! I had guessed that this episode might just explore the difficulty between Buffy and Joyce by adding Ted into the picture, but in that one instance, the whole tone of the episode changed.
Of course, things get so, so, so much worse. It’s not just enough to address this fear; Buffy has to deal with the fact that Joyce doesn’t believe her own daughter. There’s a clear parallel to abuse here; I wouldn’t say that “Ted” triggered me, though. This is a totally different situation to me because Ted’s actions weren’t pervasive over many years. Still, I could recognize that fear very well; the first time I told a counselor that I was being abused, they flat out told me I was lying. (This is the same counselor in junior high that told me that if I acted less gay, I’d be bullied less. I hope he was hit by thirty busloads of kitties.) That’s such a horrifying thing, to be told you’re lying when you know something to be irrefutable and true!
And then this episode just ignores any attempts by the viewer to feel comfortable at all. I was simply blown away by how increasingly frightened I felt by every new twist, every new detail that I learned. I must admit that I did laugh when Buffy went to Ted’s work and this was just a totally natural thing and no one would notice a sixteen-year-old walking around an office like that. But Buffy played the part well, and in the process, she learns that Ted is basically perfect. Oh, and right, he’s marrying her mom. OH OKAY, THAT’S A HUGE DETAIL YOU PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED, TED.
Can we just talk about how horrifying the dinner table scene is? It’s so awkward. It hurts. It is painful to watch because Buffy knows there’s something deeply wrong with Ted, but she can’t share it. She can’t tell her mother because she doesn’t feel like her mom is on her side anymore. God, what an awful feeling, one I know too well from experience. But what can she do in this situation? I admit that she’s dramatic about the whole affair, but what sixteen-year-old isn’t?
I felt bad for both the Summers women in this episode. I wanted Joyce to be happy. I wanted Joyce to believe her daughter, too. That meant that either Ted had to go, or Buffy would have to tolerate having him around. It’s a tough and complicated situation, and I started to wonder where this was going to go from here. It was clear to me that this wasn’t going to be a supernatural demon or anything of the sort; Buffy was going to have to deal with a human, one she did not particularly like.
So you can understand my shock when she returns to her bedroom from a night of patrol to find Ted in her bedroom. It’s just….I could not believe that this was happening, and I couldn’t believe it was happening so early into the episode. It felt like the climax of the story; it was the big confrontation between the two of them! Ted slaps Buffy, I want to throttle him, and the two begin to fight.
And then I start freaking the hell out when Buffy kicks him down the stairs, Joyce takes Ted’s pulse, and she says that he’s dead.
HOW CAN HE BE DEAD IF THERE ARE STILL TWENTY MINUTES LEFT TO GO.
Before we get back to Ted being a life ruiner, I did want to address the entire subplot with Giles and Jenny. I swear to you that I did not know she’d be in the very next episode after I stated that I missed her. I really love how the writers deal with bringing her back into the story. At no point did I feel like they were disrespecting her decision to stay away from Giles. Yes, it was painful to watch Giles be so sad (and puppy dog eyes is a perfect way to describe him), but the important thing here was that Jenny needed her own space and her own time to come to terms with nearly dying. At the heart of it, the show was saying that she should be respected for that.
Sure, that process could probably be speeded up by JENNY SHOOTING GILES IN THE BACK ON ACCIDENT. Look, just to give it a bit more context, I was already freaking out because of everything else in this episode, and I honestly think that moment just sent me over the edge. I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at my Netflix stream more in my whole life. WHY IS THERE SO MUCH HAPPENING AT ONCE.
Anyway, back to Buffy. There’s a tenderness to the writing as Buffy has to start coping with the fact that she killed a human being. Even if he did hit her first, it doesn’t assuage her guilt. She killed him. I genuinely think it’s the best writing we’ve seen in season two. The choice to make her mourning so somber is brilliant because it’s clear Buffy is in shock, examining her own morality. Of course, it needs to be stated that Sarah Michelle Gellar sells this completely. That scene where she starts crying when she tries to talk to her mom about Ted? She instantly looks like a child who wants the love and approval of her mother. She’s so heartbroken because even if Ted was terrible to her, her mother was in love, and, as Angel said earlier in the episode, loneliness is a terrible thing to have to deal with. And now she’s alone again.
I was kind of in a fragile place. I’ll admit that. I really liked what this episode was doing with Joyce, Buffy, Giles, and Jenny. It was some of the most subtle and emotive writing of the whole season. And just when I am lulled into this comforting sense of introspection, HOW THE HOLY FLYING FUCK IS TED STANDING BEHIND BUFFY. WHAT THE FUCK. WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON. HE’S DEAD. HE. IS. DEAD. WE WATCHED HIM GET ZIPPED UP INTO A BODY BAG. THAT IS BASICALLY CONFIRMATI–NO, WAIT, ACTUALLY, IN SCIENCE FICTION, THAT IS NEVER CONFIRMATION. WHAT WAS I THINKING? OH, RIGHT, I WASN’T. BECAUSE TED IS ALIVE AND NOW HE IS CHOKING BUFFY AND THIS IS HORRIFIC AND I CANNOT HANDLE LIFE.
I simply resorted to shouting WHAT THE FUCK over and over again when Buffy stabbed Ted and wires were exposed. In an instant, so many clues came rushing back to me. His coworker called him a “machine.” He wasn’t “wired that way.” Joyce said that “every house should have one.” IT WAS ALL THERE. IT WAS JUST SITTING IN FRONT OF MY FACE THE WHOLE TIME, AND I GUESSED ABSOLUTELY NONE OF IT. The end of “Ted” is progressively terrifying on so many levels. He’s a serial killer (as we learn once the Scoobies go investigate his house GOOD LORD), he’s a ROBOT created by that serial killer, and he is UNBELIEVABLY MISOGYNIST. These three things, combined with John Ritter’s performance, made me feel like I would never stop thinking that Ted is going to just show up in my bedroom. It’s brilliant, horrifying, and something that’s going to stick with me for years. It certainly doesn’t help that the last image of Ted that we get is one where his face has peeled away to show his metallic jawline. Like….who thinks of this? Well, Joss Whedon does, obviously.
I’d like to see a day where Joyce does find out that her daughter is the Slayer; I understand why she couldn’t find out Ted’s true identity here. It’s early into this show, and there’s a whole lot left in the series’s run. I still feel sad for Joyce, but I like that we go out in “Ted” with two heartwarming images: Joyce and Buffy hanging out on their porch, and Giles and Jenny making out in the library.
But seriously, what the hell did I just watch. Also, Cordelia and Xander made out in a broom closet. I don’t know how I feel about that?