“The Puppet Show”
Written by Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel
Directed by Ellen Pressman
This episode opens with a creepy, threatening voice. The camera roves around a bunch of performers backstage, finishing on a kid with a wooden dummy on his knee. Then it cuts to Cordelia valiantly butchering “The Greatest Love of All” on the stage while Giles watches, cringing. Buffy, Willow, and Xander arrive to tease Giles for being forced to run the talent show.
Enter Principal Flutie’s replacement, Principal Snyder. He is quite the opposite of his predecessor. Short and balding, Snyder is very strict, very suspicious, and very fond of creative punishment. Such as forcing Buffy, Willow, and Xander to participate in the talent show! They are horrified. Giles is enormously smug.
Morgan, the boy with the dummy, is the next to demonstrate his act for Giles. Buffy shudders; she doesn’t like dummies. At first, Morgan merely seems to be a super lame ventriloquist, but then the dummy starts making his own jokes in a much different voice. Everyone present thinks it’s a great act, but across the fourth wall, we’re aware that we’re watching a horror show, so we know that dummy is definitely alive.
In the locker room, the girl who was stretching for her dance performance in the first scene is being pursued by the creature with the sinister voice. The camera is from the perspective of the thing chasing her, so we have no idea what it looks like.
After the credits, a very inept magician is practicing his act. The camera pans back and we see Buffy, Willow, and Xander practicing a dramatic scene and despairing over their lack of performable talents. In the background, a lone flute plays, but we never actually see the person playing it. They notice Morgan and his dummy and stop for a little chat. The dummy’s sense of humor is rather ribald.
Giles is walking into the auditorium with Snyder, who monologues on how much he dislikes children and how things at the school are going to change now that he’s in charge.
If Snyder intends to keep those campaign promises, then he might want to look into some better security measures; the body of the dancer has been found, minus a heart. The Scoobies discuss what could have killed her, and they see a butcher knife being put into an evidence bag. This makes Giles, Willow, and Xander think the killer might be human, but Buffy still has the feeling it’s a demon. Giles talks about the difference between demon killers and human killers, in terms of moral implications. With demons, things tend to be black and white, but with humans it gets a lot more complicated.
They all go around questioning the other performers for clues about what happened to dancer girl. All the trails seem to lead to Morgan—except Cordelia’s, which merely circles around and around herself in an endless loop of self-absorption.
Buffy goes looking for Morgan and finds him having a conversation with Sid the dummy. She asks him about dancer girl, and Morgan starts holding his head like he's in pain. She’s concerned, but Sid snaps at her. Morgan puts him in the trunk, his eyes facing the ceiling. When Buffy looks down again before Morgan shuts the trunk, Sid’s eyes are pointing at her. Creepy.
They all discuss the evidence they’ve found. Looks like Morgan is their prime suspect, but Buffy is skeptical, holding onto the theory that a demon is behind this. Ironically, Giles is the one least invested in the mystery this time, thanks to his talent show responsibility.
Buffy goes to have a look in Morgan’s locker. She busts it open with Slayer strength, and Principal Snyder shows up and gives her a menacing little speech. Sid the dummy isn’t in the locker like she’d hoped. He and Morgan are actually watching the scene from a nearby classroom. They go back to the stage and Sid says if Morgan can’t deal with Buffy, he will.
At Buffy’s house, Joyce is excited to see her daughter perform in the talent show, but Buffy insists that it's going to suck and she shouldn't attend. Joyce asks if there’s anything wrong, and Buffy says no. (Which is true. There’s really no Plot B to speak of this episode, apart from Snyder and the unappealing prospect of the talent show.) Sid is outside her window! Buffy goes to sleep, and Sid comes inside and tries attacking her in her sleep. She wakes up and freaks out. Joyce comes in and convinces her it was probably a nightmare, except that the window is open. She never opened it.
The next day, all the performers are working on the dress rehearsal or something. Magician guy still sucks. Cordelia is complaining about her position in the lineup, and Giles shakes her off by making her think her hair is messed up. Buffy tells Giles, Willow, and Xander about Sid’s visit to her room. They think she might just have dreamt it because they know she finds dummies creepy. Giles does have information, though, to support Buffy’s demon theory. It could be a demon that needs human organs in order to masquerade as human. Morgan is officially the prime suspect.
In history class, Sid stares at Buffy, but the teacher confiscates him from Morgan when he sasses her during the lesson. He comes back for Sid the second school ends, but Sid’s missing from the cupboard! Morgan is very upset.
It turns out that Sid’s missing because Xander has him in the library. He still firmly believes that Sid is inanimate. Buffy goes to talk to Morgan. Xander has way too much fun playing with Sid. Willow and Giles continue the research.
Principal Snyder catches Buffy on her search for Morgan and is menacing again. (Wait, is he a suspect?) In the library, just when Willow and Giles find information about organ-harvesting living dolls, Sid vanishes from where Xander put him! They all freak out.
Backstage, Buffy finds Morgan at last. He’s dead. Before she can go tell anyone about this, a heavy iron chandelier crashes down on top of her, knocking her out. When she comes to, she’s pinned under the chandelier. Sid the dummy comes charging at her with a knife not unlike the murder weapon from dancer girl. She manages to get out from under the chandelier and pin Sid against the wall. They trade insults until they realize that they’re actually on the same side, and they both mistook each other for the organ-harvesting demon.
In the library, Sid tells the Scoobies his story. He was a demon hunter who got turned into a dummy decades ago by the same demon they’re looking for. Now that the demon has a heart and a brain, they think it’ll be gone. They just have to figure out who’s missing from the talent show.
They go to find out who’s missing, and Sid tells Buffy about a Slayer he knew in the ‘30s. Also, killing the demon will break his curse—meaning, he’ll die. He's resigned to his fate and ready to kill the demon.
There’s a flaw in their plan. Nobody’s missing from the show. Also, Buffy finds Morgan’s brain tucked away on a shelf. Snyder’s still creeping around in a sinister fashion. (Seriously, is he a suspect? I thought Giles said earlier that these demons take on the form of young humans.) Willow and Xander are back to suspecting Sid, but Buffy doesn’t think so. They check Morgan’s records and discover he was dying of brain cancer. So his brain would’ve been no good to the demon. It still needs a really smart brain. Buffy and Xander think Willow’s in danger.
Cut to Giles, who is explaining the physics of pulleys and counterweights to Crappy Magician Guy, who is impressed by his intelligence. Hey wait a second. In the library, Buffy and Xander still think it’s Willow, but on the stage, Magician Guy is showing Giles how his guillotine works. What does he need a guillotine for in a magic act? He convinces Giles to lie down on the table with the top of his head in the guillotine. (If Giles is this gullible, is he really the best candidate for brain harvesting?) Yep, Crappy Magician Guy is the demon. His human skin is starting to get holes in it.
In the library, they realize Giles is also in danger, and they run to go protect him. Crappy Magician Guy almost finishes cutting through the rope when Buffy arrives and tackles the demon. While they fight, the rope snaps, but Xander catches it before the blade can slice the top of Giles’s head off. Willow works on unstrapping Giles from the bench while Xander keeps holding the rope.
Crappy Magician Guy, now entirely in demon form, keeps fighting Buffy, but Sid shows up to help, stabbing it repeatedly on the shoulder. They knock it onto the guillotine bench and Xander lets go of the rope. Thump goes the demon’s head. Sid stabs the demon’s heart. It’s dead, and now so is he.
The curtain opens with Buffy holding Sid, a demon corpse on the guillotine bench, and Willow holding an axe. The audience is very confused. The Scoobies are very mortified.
During the credits, we get to enjoy Buffy, Willow, and Xander’s terrible dramatic scene from Oedipus Rex. It should be no surprise that these characters are all very bad actors. Willow is terrified, Buffy is sulking, and Xander tries his hardest but can’t remember his lines. It’s the best part of the episode.
“The Puppet Show” is better than “I Robot, You Jane,” but not by much. There are a lot of funny lines and we get to meet Principal Snyder for the first time, but it’s essentially a straightforward mix of Goosebumps and whodunit. It benefits from the absence of painfully blunt metaphors, but that’s because there are no metaphors. The story doesn’t even really focus on a particular character. Buffy and Giles kind of share it equally, but we still don’t learn anything new about either of them. There is no real Plot B to give Plot A deeper meaning. The only source of everyday conflict is Principal Snyder, but he doesn’t actually do anything except glare, lecture, and make groundless accusations. It’s essentially a mildly entertaining but ultimately pointless filler episode.
Buffy continues to have excellent instincts. She knows something’s up with the dummy and she doubts that Morgan is the bad guy long before they can actually prove either of those things. Once she has a chance to talk to Sid, she knows he isn’t the demon. But this is just more of the same stuff we’ve already seen with Buffy. What else is going on in her life right now? Her conversation with Joyce was the perfect opening to insert some Plot B material, and so was Principal Snyder’s suspicion of her. They could’ve used this episode to do more with Buffy’s criminal record and how that’s a big hindrance to her schooling. It would’ve given a purpose to Snyder’s antagonism, and a plotline about Buffy trying to rise above the suspicion surrounding her would have fit well with Sid suspecting she was the demon.
Still no sign of Xander’s crush on Buffy. The longer the show goes without including that, the better I like Xander. He’s pretty funny in this one, playing off Buffy, Willow, and Giles well. I suppose one good thing about this episode is that the core four feel particularly comfortable around each other.
There’s really nothing new for Willow, although I do like the scene where she and Giles divide and conquer with the research. They work together very well.
Giles’s complete exasperation with the talent show yields lots of funny moments, but that’s about it. It’s also kind of interesting to see the contrast between him and Snyder. Jenny Calendar is a peer (and love interest), but Snyder is a foil. Giles dislikes spending much time with students; Snyder actively despises all of them. The contrast helps keep Giles’s asocial attitude from seeming too hostile.
Cordelia is back! But only to be ridiculous.
Still no Angel. *pouts*
“Our new Fuhrer, Mr. Snyder…”
“I think they call ‘em principals now.”
“He thought it would behoove me to have more contact with the students. I did try to explain that my vocational choice of librarian was a deliberate attempt to minimize said contact, but he would have none of it.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.