Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | January 3, 2011

Robin’s Review: S1, E09 – The Puppet Show

Synopsis: New school principal Mr Snyder puts Giles in charge of the annual talent show. To their horror he then insists that Buffy, Xander and Willow join in too. A girl is killed in the locker rooms and her heart is cut out. Suspicion falls on Morgan and his dummy Sid who seem a little too convincing an act. Giles looks into the alternative explanation: demons who harvest organs to maintain a human appearance. When Morgan is found dead Buffy confronts Sid who turns out to be a demon hunter and they try to discover who the real killer is before he takes anyone else’s brain.

The Good: The twist that Sid the dummy was actually a demon hunter kept this from being as straightforward as it might otherwise have been.

The Bad: Otherwise this was awful.

The writers have done an admirable job so far of keeping a level of subtlety and reality to a show about the supernatural. However that all goes out of the window here. The first problem is the complete lack of reaction to a girl being killed and having her heart cut out. Imagine if that actually happened in a school. Not only would classes be cancelled but the police would be investigating a potential serial killer. Instead the students of Sunnydale seem blissfully unconcerned, continuing their preparations for a frivolous talent show without any concern for the brutal murder. I imagine I may need to get used to this attitude on a show where death is an ever present threat. But in previous episodes there was more of an effort to deal with the practical results of death such as the grief counselling which followed the death of Dr Gregory (104). An example of how this weakened the plot came later when Joyce asks Buffy if anything else is wrong beside nerves surrounding the talent show and neither think to mention the girl who was so horrifically killed.

Then there was the portrayal of Morgan and Sid. Sid’s sentience was telegraphed instantly and Morgan was poorly scripted to blatantly acknowledge this in a way that made Buffy look stupid for not recognising it. Morgan played his anxiety and headaches with no subtlety either. His constant fretting made a mockery of the history teacher who enquired politely whether he was ok as he practically had a nervous breakdown. As with last week’s computer geeks Morgan was an undeveloped character which undermined the show’s attempts to make the viewer take the plot seriously.

Which of course brings us to Sid. It was tough to take the dummy seriously even though I had no particular problems with the way he was animated. The misdirection about his true motives probably went too far and seemed too obvious to be enjoyable. I felt like I was just waiting and waiting and waiting for him to try and kill Buffy and be defeated. The scene where Xander held Sid and taunted Buffy about her fears was clumsily written. It seemed out of character for Xander to be so cocky and it was clearly engineered just to make us fear the dummy would slice him up any second even though that would obviously not happen. The revelation that Sid was a cursed demon hunter rather stole all the interest from the actual demon threat. When Marc the magician was revealed as the true culprit it was a complete anti-climax.

Another poor line came early on when Buffy almost admitted to Snyder that she was out fighting demons. There seemed no reason for her to slip up in such a blatant way. It added to the sense that the writers just weren’t switched on during the production of this episode.

The Unknown: Principal Snyder seems like a nice contrast to his predecessor Mr Flutie. He seems to be more of a nemesis for the Slayerettes and may provide plausible problems for them to overcome. However it seems like there’s something off about him. Giles comes across him loitering around the backstage area for no good reason and he seems to follow Buffy around. When he finds her alone around the changing rooms he says “I’m not sure how safe it is for a girl like yourself to be here…alone.” It was a statement which had really creepy undertones to it. I’m not sure that was intended, at least I hope it wasn’t.

Apparently there was a Korean Slayer in the 1930s which is an interesting bit of trivia.

Best Moment: Cordelia is badgering Giles about the placement of her song in the talent show. Losing patience with her he stairs intently at her till she asks “What?” He plays dumb but then mentions her hair in a vague way. She becomes instantly paranoid and rushes off to check it. “Xander was right” he says “worked like a charm.”

The Bottom Line: As the season has gone on these monster-of-the-week episodes have got progressively more tiresome. It’s a formula which needs a lot of attention from the creative team to make it work and there wasn’t nearly enough here.




  1. I have to agree with how awful this episode was. I love the ‘best’ moments you both picked, but have to say the very last scene makes me laugh out loud every time. They’re so good at acting badly. And we see how uncomfortable Willow is when she’s in the spotlight, which comes back later in the episode about nightmares coming to life. Love the podcast!!

  2. This episode wasn’t very good, but my favorite moments are the two that most-accurately replicate high-school talent shows:
    1) Cordelia singing Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” never fails to make me laugh, even after Whitney’s recent passing. As a high-school singer, I know many performers who aim for “sappy highlight of the show” and fail. Charisma Carpenter nails this.
    2) Buffy, Willow, and Xander performing their scene from “Oedipus the King” is hilarious. I just love how monsters, demons, and vampires don’t frighten the Scooby Gang as much as public speaking. This really exemplifies how high-school students struggle with prioritizing and making sense of the world.

  3. I can see how this episode would do poorly under a grading rubric like yours, but I still like it a lot better than the last two episodes because it’s funny. IMHO, it’s the funniest episode of the season, so even though the plot and character development was weak, I didn’t feel like it wasted my time.

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