Written by Ben Edlund
Directed by Ben Edlund
We open on young Dean Winchester watching a muppet-y TV show. His mom seems overworked, particularly with her son sick. Oh, and his name is actually Tommy. He’s just the actor who would play Dean in childhood flashbacks a few years after this episode was filmed. Now if only young Sam had been in an episode; then we’d have all three of the Winchester men on the show. One of the puppets wanders away from his singing friends towards the screen, then speaks directly to Tommy, instructing him to come touch the screen. Tommy doesn’t want to, but the puppet persuades him (angrily), and he does it. The puppet seems to get an indecent amount of pleasure from whatever the TV is now draining out of Tommy, who collapses. His mom finds him unconscious, but with a manic smile frozen on his face.
At W&H, Knox finds Fred in the lab. He has some files and forms for her. She’s already on the case of the child epidemic in town. There have been eleven smiling coma children so far. Knox gives Fred a Valentine, but she gives it back, reminding him that they already discussed how she won’t be dating him. She sends him off to do his work.
In the lobby, Nina is here, looking surprisingly dressed up for showing up to spend the night in a cage. She runs into Angel, and they chat. She still hasn’t told her sister the truth. Her sister is starting to think she’s some kind of New Age weirdo. Harmony offers to show Nina to the “suite,” but Angel has it covered. Judging from Harmony’s smile, she ships it. Gunn comes by to ask her about some paperwork, but apparently he filed it super wrong! Whoops.
Angel and Nina reach the wolf cage, and Nina goes from the heavy hinting side of the spectrum to the actually asking the guy out side over the course of a few awkward lines of dialogue, which Angel rebuffs equally awkwardly. Then he goes to discuss the matter with Wesley. He’s baffled by the possibility of Nina being interested in him, but Wes kind of rolls his eyes. According to every woman in the office, Nina hasn’t exactly been subtle about it. For months. Angel panics. What the heck is he supposed to do about this? He’ll turn evil if he gets too happy! Wes rolls his eyes again. Perfect happiness is super rare, so he probably doesn’t need to worry about it. Angel still thinks he’s not the best option for Nina, and Wes rapidly loses patience with him about it. Because he’s thinking about himself and Fred, and he doesn’t think Fred’s been sending him the kind of signals Nina has been sending Angel. Angel realizes Wes isn’t talking about him and Nina anymore.
Fred comes in to give them her case. They’re both relieved to have work to do. She’s found no hints about what’s causing this, but it takes Angel just a few seconds of looking at the file to spot a pattern in that all the kids collapsed at the same time in the morning, in front of the TV. Angel leaves to go look into it, and then Wes and Fred briefly discuss Angel and Nina, which Fred uses to segue into hinting her interest in Wes, which he utterly fails to pick up on. *facepalm*
There’s an excellent transition wherein we get a Lorne voiceover at the tail end of Wes and Fred’s awkward failure to launch. Lorne’s talking about how the signs are there regarding Angel and Nina. Angel would like Lorne to focus on the case, not his love life. He realizes that there’s a show called Smile Time that airs at the same time as all these kids have been falling into smiley comas.
So Angel goes to check out the operation of this show. He finds an extremely glassy-eyed janitor ambling about the halls in a thoroughly oblivious way. He goes in farther. Some kind of mystical force comes over him, making him dizzy and making the colors a bit overexposed, but he powers through it and goes in deeper. He finds a cabinet and can tell it’s hiding a hole in the wall. He moves it and goes through. The oppressive background noise indicating mystical energy gets steadily stronger the farther he goes. Next, he gets to a room with a chipped, burned sign that says “DON’T” on it and nothing else. He rips the padlock off and goes in. There’s a dude inside with a towel on his head, sitting beneath a giant metallic egg. The man twitches. Then the egg opens a brilliant smile of light and blasts Angel across the room into a pile of boxes. When he comes to and climbs out, he has been TURNED INTO A MUPPET! This is the BEST THING EVER.
Back at the office Angel calls Fred in the lab. She’s starting to think this might not be mystical after all, and she rambles over Angel’s efforts to get a word in. He finally shouts that it’s definitely mystical. In his office, Fred, Gunn, and Wes all come in to see what the problem is. He turns his chair around to reveal his muppety self. Fred finds him adorable, which Angel considers a fireable offence. He tells them what happened as Lorne joins them. He’s extremely annoyed. Wes and Gunn are struggling to not burst out laughing. Angel sees that Smile Time is on and scampers over to grab the remote. Which his felt fingers cannot operate. He overreacts, and Wes theorizes that he’s much more excitable in puppet form than in his usual form. Fred gets one of her lab workers to record Smile Time so she can analyze it. They start singing a song about self esteem. Angel’s eyebrows get angrier and angrier as the chorus plays. It’s, again, the best thing ever.
Angel wants to go to war against Smile Time. The rest of the team wants to be a bit more cautious. They talk him down to doing research first. As they go to leave his office, he makes sure they won’t tell anyone else what’s happened to him. He walks back over to his desk. His next visitor is Nina. He turns off the TV and dives behind his desk, but accidentally knocks over the garbage can. This leads to the most uncomfortable/hilarious rejection situation ever. She leaves, both hurt and confused. He grumbles and emerges from under the desk...just as Spike strolls in to demand a new car. Spike has never seen anything funnier in his life, and Angel lunges at him, throwing him through the wall of windows and tackling him to the ground in the lobby. Everyone stares at him in bewilderment. Spike mouths off some more, so Angel attacks him into the elevator. By the time the doors open again, Spike is slumped against the wall and Angel comes walking out, straightening his little coat. Well, I guess that makes up for him losing the fight in “Destiny.”
Gunn and Lorne show up at the office/workshop of David Fury—I mean Gregor Framkin, the guy behind Smile Time. He’s frustratingly stuck in the edutainment mindset. Also, Gunn is showing still more severe signs of losing his law upgrade and ends up just flat out accusing Framkin of turning Angel into a puppet. The man isn’t fazed. He points out that he brings happiness to children while they bring acquittals to evil people. He isn’t the guy the public wants ruined. They leave, and the camera moves around to Framkin’s back. He’s being controlled, puppet-style, by Polo, the main puppet from the show. *shudder* Polo jerks his hand out and Framkin collapses, twitching on the desk.
So the puppets are all alive, and they’re trying to figure out how Angel got turned into one of them. Apparently that giant metallic egg thing has a mind of its own, because it did it without getting the green light from any of them. Polo is unsettlingly vulgar for a muppet. Also his eyes are rimmed with red, like he’s a junkie or something. Which makes sense, I guess. They decide that because Puppet Angel and his people represent a serious threat to them, they need to drain the life force/innocence out of their entire audience in one swoop and blow Dodge. Framkin manages to get a couple words out. He just wants to die. Polo would rather torture him more by sticking his hand back up there. It looks horrific.
Nina is about to get undressed for wolfing out, but Angel comes to apologize. She thinks he’s just too swamped with everything on his plate to deal with her crush, but he shows her that’s not the case by walking into view. To her credit, she doesn’t burst out laughing. She’s just shocked and concerned. Angel demonstrates that his nose is removable, then apologizes for being a dork earlier. She tells him he’s a sexy vampire hero, so why should he care what people think about him? He’s flattered, but not very good at thinking well of himself. She kind of likes that about him too. He turns around and mumbles about how he gets so bogged down in things that sometimes he forgets to live in the present. For example, right now, when he forgets that Nina is turning into a werewolf. And werewolves aren’t gentle with muppets.
Angel staggers out into the hall, holding half of his stuffing in. Lorne finds him and carries him hopefully to a doctor or seamstress or someone who can help.
Gunn goes to see the doctor who gave him the law implant. He’s just finishing up giving another dude x-ray vision. He checks Gunn’s eyes and can see that, sure enough, the imprint is fading. Gunn wants it fixed, but the doctor thinks it’s the Senior Partners’ will for him to lose it. Gunn doesn’t care. He needs it. The doctor might be willing to help him in exchange for a little signature on a customs release form. Gunn is reluctant, but the doctor reminds him how inferior he felt as regular Gunn.
Fred and Wes are watching Smile Time. They’ve been watching it for hours. They’ve found nothing strange about it and are kind of starting to enjoy the show. I can see why. The current segment is this adorable “Action Math News” thing. Knox brings Fred a coffee. He also has his own. Wes clearly wishes he had a coffee, and Knox apologizes. They discuss what to do next. Knox thinks there’s nothing else they can do, and he’s skeptical of Wesley’s insistence that magic is more complicated than that. Fred kindly sends him home. He watches Fred hand Wes her coffee and how friendly they are in a rather wistful way before leaving.
Wes asks Fred about her and Knox. She admits she ended it because she finds him a bit too W&H, and not that funny. Wes completely misses the next volley of hints she throws at him, but this time it’s because he noticed something about the show. When it’s muted during the songs, you can see that Polo has moved to the camera to address the audience directly. The music acts as a cloaking spell so that Polo can speak to individual audience members without drawing attention.
Angel is struggling to repair some of his rips and tears with string when Wes and Fred arrive to update him on what they’ve discovered. They also know that the signal’s strength has been increasing, so a lot more kids are going to be in comas if they don’t stop it. But they think they know how to stop it! It will not only cure the kids, but it’ll turn Angel back into his regular self! He’s so happy about this that he very emotionally hug-attacks Fred. Hehe! Best thing ever. Also, he, Fred, and Wes are all still under the impression that Framkin is behind everything. Gunn strides in, confident lawyer swagger firmly back in place, to inform them that it’s the puppets themselves. Framkin made a Faustian deal to save his show and paid rather dearly for it. So if they want to put a stop to this, they need to kill the puppets. Angel grabs a sword.
Next, we are treated to the most amazing group power shot of the entire show. Wes, Gunn, and Fred striding down a corridor, and then the camera pans down to show Puppet Angel in front of them, his sword across his shoulders. This episode is a treasure.
Smile Time is on! A little girl is watching it from her cute daisy beanbag chair. Polo announces that this is an extra special best show ever! He has all the kids watching come and touch their TVs and revels in all the childhood innocence pouring in. But it won’t be so easy! Because Puppet Angel is there to save the day! By making it distinctly PG-13. Gunn beheads the dog puppet and Angel fights Polo, who sends the honking purple thing to intercept Fred and Wes before they can destroy the Nest Egg.
The female puppet attacks Gunn. She’s terrifying. The kids are still getting drained as Gunn kills the female puppet. Fred stops reading the incantation to save Fred from the honking purple thing. She empties her gun into it, then smiles at Wes. Aww. Angel’s still fighting Polo. He vamps out with his puppet face and delivers the coup de grace.
Wes finishes off the honking purple thing, Angel switches back to normal puppet face, Gunn has completely dismembered the female puppet, and Fred is finishing up the spell. The Next Egg flies into pieces, and the little girl shoots back into her beanbag chair, totally fine and none the wiser.
Nina wakes up in human form, naked and surrounded by bits of fluff. She’s briefly distraught, until Angel knocks and asks if he can come in. She throws on a robe and lets him in. He’s optimistic; he’ll be turning back to normal in a couple days! Yay! (Noooooo, Puppet Angel...) He asks her out for breakfast. She takes his little felt hand and off they go. *snerk*
Wes is working on something in his office. Fred stops by to let him know that the kids are all coming out of their comas. She wants to celebrate romantically! But he’s still missing all her hints. She stops him from leaving and asks him if he’s noticed any of her signals. Then decides she’d rather skip this conversation and get straight to the kissing part. He’s stunned, but definitely okay with that. The “Self Esteem” song plays again as they keep kissing. Credits!
So yeah, I freaking adore “Smile Time.” It’s easily the best silly episode of either show, and there has never been a character more perfect for an unexpected puppet transformation than Angel. He’s serious, easily irritated, determined enough to get the job done even if the context is humiliating, and he’s also ridiculously adorable as a puppet. And it’s also the most perfect season of the show to do this to him, because it’s been a prevailing metaphor since the W&H takeover that Angel has become a corporate puppet. For bonus points, even the villain puppets have personalities. My favorite is Rufus the dog, because he keeps losing track of the big picture (that he’s helping to suck the innocence out of children) as he obsesses over how to create the best content for the show. Bahaha. The subplots are also good, and they’re effectively tied to Plot A through the motif of missed signals (whether in the show’s broadcast, in the form of romantic hinting, or in the form of DO NOT TAKE THIS DEAL CHARLES IT IS CLEARLY EVIL). We’ve got Angel/Nina juxtaposed with Wes/Fred, and Gunn’s bit about his decaying brain upgrade. Gunn’s is definitely leading somewhere unpleasant, because that’s how this kind of thing works. His free trial version of Elite Lawyer Extraordinaire expired, and now he has to subscribe if he wants to keep it. We just haven’t found out what the price is yet. Being the militant Buffy/Angel shipper that I am, I do not like Angel/Nina, but I’m fine with Nina herself. I really can’t blame her for having a crush on Angel, and bonus points for actually speaking up about it. But Wesley’s argument in favor of Angel/Nina seriously annoys me. Is he really arguing that it’s okay for Angel to have a “meh” relationship on purpose because it won’t endanger his soul? That seems even more depressing to me than remaining celibate because you’re not allowed to be with the one you know is your soulmate. And how does Nina feel about Angel only being willing to date her because he knows she isn’t “the one”? I might give Wes a pass on his crap reasoning because his own situation is an incredibly frustrating one, but that situation is still annoying. Unlike Wes/Fred, which is cause for major rejoicing. Unless you’ve reached the stage in your Joss Whedon fandom where you’re get a reflexive pit in your stomach every time one of your ships gets together, because you just know something horrible is about to happen to ruin everything. In that case, the rejoicing mainly comes in the form of compulsively knocking on wood.
Once again, Angel demonstrates pretty impressive detective work. I mean, I’m a bit surprised Fred missed the TV connection between all the comatose kids, but I guess she’s kind of training herself with all her fancy W&H equipment to look at everything through a microscope first, instead of just using her eyes. I also like that as humiliating as being a puppet is for him, it doesn’t get in the way of him working the case. It’s almost like he just kind of accepts that this is his situation after a certain point, then rolls with it. Actually, I think that point was beating up Spike in the elevator. Because it’s much better to be a puppet than to be the guy who got beat up by a puppet.
Spike drove his car into water? What the crap was he doing to make that happen? It couldn’t have been that he was following sucky GPS directions, because that wasn’t a thing yet back then. And why does he think he can just demand another car from Angel? I know Angel has a dozen cars and none of them is as cool as his old Plymouth, so he definitely has cars to spare, but still! It does seem less about him feeling entitled to anything Angel has and more about him just knowing Angel will give him a car this time, though. Also, he takes the humiliation of getting beat up by a puppet pretty well. And I have to applaud James Marsters’ ability to laugh convincingly for those scenes. By all accounts, laughter on cue is the hardest thing to do when acting. But none of that seemed forced.
Oh, Gunn, you’re falling right into W&H’s trap. You should have at least double-crossed that doctor by giving Angel and Wes the heads up about the doctor’s weird shipment, just to minimize the fallout from your own greed. Technically, the doctor only wanted the shipment to arrive at W&H; he didn’t say anything about what it would do when it got there. If Gunn had thought to take steps to intercept it, he could’ve prevented the consequences that are about to unfold.
I love that Fred is torn between finding Angel unspeakably adorable and being sympathetic, rather than wanting to laugh at him. I think I’d be right there with her. I’d squeal in delight and try to grab him and hug him, but after a few minutes of watching him lose it over remotes and people’s reactions to him, I’d switch to struggling to keep from laughing myself silly. It’s impressive that Fred can stay focused on finding a solution after the initial reaction.
Lorne, yet again, fails to pick up on what’s really going on. He can’t tell that Framkin is a helpless puppet of his own creations, and that he’s terrified and wants to die? FRAMKIN SANG WHILE HE WAS IN THE ROOM. There’s no way Framkin was taking that drug that makes you immune to Lorne’s powers, so why the crap didn’t he notice anything?
Wesley has gotten so used to not getting the girl that he seems to have trained himself to interpret everything Fred does as a platonic gesture of friendship. I suppose that’s better than the opposite habit, but it probably cut into what little time he would actually get with Fred. :/ But there’s also Wesley’s continued excellent friendship with Angel! I love that Angel went to Wes for advice about Nina. He perhaps incorrectly assumed that of Wes, Gunn, and Lorne, Wes would be the one most likely to sympathize with him about how confusing dating can be. I can’t figure out if he actually thinks it’s a good idea for Angel to try a relationship with Nina or if he’s just inadvertently attempting to live vicariously through his best friend’s love life.
“As Harmony put it, ‘Why else would a chick who’s coming to spend three nights in a jail cell dress like it’s her first date?’”
“Because I'm not that guy! That guy is charming and funny and...emotionally useful! I'm the guy in a dark corner with the blood habit and the two hundred years of psychic baggage.”
“GET OVER IT!”
“...Why are you yelling at me?”
“We eat babies’ lives!”
“And hold up a certain quality of edu-tainment!”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.