Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ted

“Hey, Freud would have said the exact same thing. Except he might not have done that little dance.”

Wow. That was a beautifully done piece of television, packing so much subtext about patriarchal attitudes and abusive relationships (parental and spousal) in to forty-two minutes. We’re looking here at something so finely crafted that it features the perfect ending: a mother / daughter viewing of Thelma and Louise. Take that, patriarchy. This episode filled me with a sense of feminist fellow-feeling, and I have a y-chromosome. And not only that: we have wit too. Aren’t Joss Whedon scripts great?

The clever thing is how the episode starts by showing Ted as a charming, nice, likeable guy who cooks, and is therefore symbolically in touch with his feminine side, and only gradually reveals his nasty, authoritarian tendencies. First he seduces Joyce, a vulnerable single mother, by turning on the charm, and then he charms all of Buffy’s friends. At first it’s only Buffy who’s the target of his abuse, but the final scenes between him and Joyce show him in all of his violent, controlling ways. He is- literally, as it turns out- a man from the 1950s as far as gender roles are concerned.

Of course, there’s a deliberate contrast with Giles, Buffy’s real father figure, who is shown as being particularly understanding here. His reconciliation with Jenny is incredibly sweet, and very fitting for this episode as his behaviour endorses a very different kind of masculinity. Guys may wear the tweed, but he’s not too old-fashioned to let Jenny wear the trousers. He also gets one of the best lines in all of television, ever: “Er, Buffy… I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming a… a text.”

This episode is very noticeably lacking in the supernatural element, other than the occasional perfunctory vampire, but it’s great how that gets used. At the moment where Buffy is most alone, with everyone liking Ted except her, she desperately wants some vampires to use as punchbags. But none appear.

The apparent climax comes as Ted discovers Buffy’s slaying paraphernalia, and is clearly just about to completely ruin her life. Buffy snaps, and kills him. What’s nice is that Buffy’s moral responsibility for what’s happened- and what she’s done to her mother- isn’t ducked, but the metaphor here seems to be the homicide of an abusive partner, which leads to many women being controversially imprisoned.

There’s a nice bit of contrast at this point, though. Buffy may have lied earlier about the frivolous matter of her hole-in-one at miniature golf. But when it comes to important matters, she’s honest. She confesses to the killing in spite of her mother offering her a way out. This is terrible for Joyce; she has a boyfriend to mourn and a daughter who may be going to prison.

Kristine Sutherland is simply extraordinary here, and the silent scene of her driving Buffy home is very, very powerful. Now it’s her life that’s potentially ruined, yet never is she anything other than a loving and well-meaning parent.

There’s another metaphor, I suppose, in the fact that the embodiment of 1950’s masculinity should turn out to be a robot: without feelings or any true empathy, and probably not the greatest of sexual partners because of this. Normally, I’d protest at the use of a kind of science fiction which, unlike in the case of Some Assembly Required, doesn’t belong to the horror aesthetic, but the subtext is so powerful that it hardly matters.

Oh, and aren’t Cordy and Xander adorable? Their relationship is great fun, which means that very serious things must be about to happen. And that kiss between Giles and Jenny… aaah!

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