Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Puppet Show

“That’s the kind of woolly, liberal thinking that leads to being eaten.”

I love, love, love this episode. It’s not just the ventriloquist dummy demon hunter with the wandering hands. It’s not just the introduction of the fabulous Principal Snyder. It’s not just the perfect banter between the Scoobies. It’s the wit of the script and its sheer sense of fun. Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel impressed with Never Kill a Boy on a First Date, but with this one they become the first writers to approach the high standards of Joss Whedon himself.

Principal Snyder is an utter delight, and Armin “Quark” Shimerman is perfect casting. This character, as Giles acknowledges, is an authority figure with the power to make life very difficult for the Scoobies, and it’s essential that he doesn’t end up turning into a character who exists purely to annoy and frustrate the viewer by placing arbitrary obstacles. There are good signs that this isn’t going to happen, though; while remaining a character with real presence, he’s a brilliant comic character. He lays out his position from the start (“My predecessor, Mr. Flutie, may have gone for all that touchy-feely, relating nonsense. But he was eaten. You’re in my world now.”

In hindsight, though, there are two rather interesting sides to the character. Firstly, with this being his first episode, the writers are able to have fun by using him as a red herring. Secondly, much though his lines about recent weird events and being eaten are played for laughs, they could be taken as hints that he already knows perfectly well about the Hellmouth, and what’s going on. Two of his run-ins with Buffy, where he asserts his presence assertively while not actually stopping her from doing anything, might also be taken as hints that he knows more than he’s letting on. It’s tempting to speculate that the episode title may be clever than it seems and be referring to him as puppet master, although sadly I think this might be going way too far.

Great though this is as a comedy, it also works brilliantly as a surprisingly layered whodunit. I for one had no idea of whom the demonic murderer would turn out to be, and the attempted method of killing Giles with a guillotine was delightfully over the top.

Sid’s great, isn’t he? If a fight scene between him and Buffy isn’t cool enough, the big reveal is even better. We also learn of a previous, Korean, Slayer back in the ‘30’s with whom Sid, er, had relations. And the scene where Buffy removes his naughty hand from her leg is priceless. All the same, though, there’s real pathos at his tragic death.

The ending is wonderfully witty; both the demon and Sid have literally died on stage before the curtain opens; now it’s the turn of the Scoobies to do the same in public!

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