What an extraordinary episode this is. It’s like the first half was written to make the viewers really, really angry, and boy does it work. Ted is immediately a character we hate. We’re with Buffy every step of the way, there. For a very brief moment we might think she is behaving unreasonably towards him, due to the shock of seeing her mum with a new man:
“There’s a guy out there that would satisfy you?”.
But those thoughts are immediately dispelled when he starts calling her “little lady”, which is horrendously patronising, and acting as if he is her father:
“I bet that means your grades will be picking up soon.”
At this point the writing is so clever that most viewers will probably be talking back angrily at their television set:
“I don’t mean to overstep my bounds.”
“It’s not just for looks. It’s for building strong bodies.”
Challenge him to an arm wrestle.
“Do you want me to slap that smart-ass mouth of yours.”
Fight back Buffy.
Oh. There we have it, the moment of absolute genius from the writers. We want nothing more than for Buffy to let loose with her super-strength, and then she does exactly that and a human being is lying dead at the bottom of her stairs. All of a sudden, Buffy is a killer not a slayer, and we wanted that. It’s a hugely shocking moment.
Last week Buffy was taught by Kendra that being the Slayer isn’t a job. It’s who she is. So what does that make her when she slays a human? This takes that message one step further. Being the Slayer isn’t just a calling, it’s a responsibility. That always has to go hand-in-hand with power.
Inevitably she gets a get-out-of-jail-free card, thanks to the old sci-fi idea of the week. There are two problems with that. Firstly, robots fall firmly into the realms of sci-fi rather than fantasy, and that’s always an awkward fit for the series. Secondly, whenever any series attempts a robot who can pass as a human being, all credibility immediately goes out of the window at that point. Mercifully, the revelation about Ted is saved until so late in the game that the episode manages to be 90% magnificent and that lame turn of events doesn’t matter too much.
There are so many highlights along the way. Xander and Cordelia are still sneaking around, and bizarrely provide us with the normal relationship contrast to Joyce and Ted. They might be an unusual couple, but that’s something to be celebrated in comparison with the revolting man-is-the-boss stuff that Ted inflicts on Joyce.
And we can’t ignore Joyce’s part in what happens here, because if Ted made you angry, Joyce’s actions should have made you furious, and here’s why:
“He threatened me. He said that he was going to slap my face.”
“He said no such thing.”
What an utterly horrendous thing for a mother to do to her daughter. Buffy is brave enough to do what so many abused children are too scared to attempt, and confide in an adult about an abuse she has suffered… and Joyce won’t listen. There is one simple reason for that: she is putting her happiness ahead of her daughter’s welfare. This episode has a message for single parents that is not just important, it’s vital. If you’ve got children, they come first. If you’re ever going to put your own happiness above that of your daughter for one single second, you don’t deserve to have one. The real monster here is Joyce.
“Loneliness is about the scariest thing there is.”
Angel rationalises Joyce’s actions, but he’s wrong. If Buffy hadn’t had her super-strength, Ted would probably have ended up killing them both. So it turns out there is something scarier than loneliness after all, and that’s the hidden side to a man you just invited into your daughter’s life. For Joyce the single woman to invite a new man into her life is completely understandable. For Joyce the single mother to invite danger into her daughter’s life, and then brush off her daughter’s abuse claim, is unforgivable. Ultimately that was the one thing missing from the episode. Joyce never quite understood what a horrible, selfish cow she had been. Worse still, nobody stepped up to tell her. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Well, we are now 23 episodes into Buffy. This is significant for me because of the sales pitch used to get me to watch this series, which I have mentioned on many occasions, that Buffy would remind me of Babylon 5. I realize there’s nearly 30 episodes more for this series, but from a starting perspective, we have now had more episodes of Buffy than the first season of Babylon 5. And so far, for all the flack I received from some of my friends about B5, I find that show vastly superior. Even if some of the episodes were weak, and no denying, some of season 1 was a bit lackluster, there was a constant world building that was going on and we didn’t have such silly ideas as Ted.
Now, while I’m sitting here saying bad things about Buffy, I do want to point out that there’s a big difference in Buffy’s favor. B5 was world building through straight stories. Buffy isn’t succeeding that well with the world building yet (barring minor references like mentioning that Spike and Drucilla are out of the picture due to the last episode) but it is focusing on things real teens face. This week we meet Ted, who is dating Buffy’s mom. While Ted’s nature is revealed to be a robot, it’s the idea that Buffy has a man intruding in her life. The result is that Buffy’s mom doesn’t believe her when she says things. We never get to the point of a sexual assault, but the message was pretty clear: daughter tells mom that step dad is doing bad things to her, and mom blames daughter for not trying harder. This is an awkward story in that it walks a line uncomfortably but I think it’s doing a good thing! I think we need more shows that tackle real life issues through allegory and story. It’s drawing a parallel to a real life issue that teens sometimes face. Being Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we were never going to have something as commonplace as that, but the message is pretty clear. While I don’t like the idea, I think the allegory plays very well indeed.
I admit, for the bulk of the episode we are dealing with pretty mundane things with everyone else loving Ted while Buffy steadfastly stays away from his food. During this time, I was a little bored wondering what was going on in Kendra’s part of the world (What’s My Line) if the Hellmouth is in Sunnydale. Surely it’s boring where she is! And why do vampires pop like balloons when staked? But when things kicked in, I was pulled back to John Ritter and how he was dealing with a bratty teen. While I desperately hoped for a “three’s company” pun, it never came but other deep things did. When Buffy believes she killed Ted, she says “he was a person and I killed him”. This was no longer a monster, which we see her dispatch without remorse. This was a man, and she is riddled with guilt, as our hero should be! In that regard, Buffy is doing things that B5 rarely touched on. This story is playing out with a moral message.
The bottom line is: I do have to throw the series a bone here. Not just that, Jenny Calendar is back! And the Xander/Cordelia story continues to very humorous effect. Cordelia also reminds Giles that he summoned a demon leading to his winning line: “yes, let’s bring that up as often as possible!” (A close second for best line is Cordelia asking “why can’t we have one of those” when she learns about a fascist society!) But the series still overlooks things that are glaringly obvious, like when Giles and Jenny leave the scene of a vampire attack without his bag. He had just mentioned it moments ago; it was important, yet when they leave, they leave it on the grounds for anyone to find. And the whole idea of Ted building a robot of himself and having a secret bunker is treated a bit too blandly. “Oh, he was a genius and built a replacement of himself” – huh?! (Although kudos to John Ritter! I didn’t see such a performance coming from him!)
So I’m not sure how to feel about the show in some ways. Some genuinely good messages and a great cast, but gaping holes in logic. I know there’s ample time to see improvements but I still find this series a “guilty pleasure”, not one I’m prepared to tell people I’m watching because it’s so goofy, so often. Don’t worry, I’ll be patient; I do believe that for it to have the reputation it has, it must do something right. I’m sure the really impressive ones are yet to come and right now, I’m just dealing with a few bad eggs. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Bad Eggs