Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 9 - The Puppet Show

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The Puppet Show is the ninth episode in Season One of Buffy and is one of the best episodes of the first season. It, along with the final three episodes (Nightmare, Out of Sight, Out of Mind and Prophecy Girl) make up a terrific third of the season, and leave viewers wanting more Buffy.

This episode centers on the annual Sunnydale High talent(less) show, which Giles has been forced into producing by the evil new Principal, Mr. Snyder. One of the talent show contestants has her heart violently removed; leading the Scoobies to think that there may be a demon on the loose. All fingers begin to point towards the suspicious ventriloquist Morgan, and his dummy, Sid.

Although the idea of a dummy coming to life and killing people has been done many times before, it has never (to my knowledge) been done quite this way. Viewers are led to believe that it was Sid who ripped the heart out of the unfortunate student, only to find out that Sid is (or was) a demon hunter, now trapped in the body of a wooden dummy as a result of a demon’s curse. He is searching for the demon that killed the student and cursed him, so that he can kill it before it manages to kill anybody else, and so that he himself can be released from his wooden confines. This was a fresh, unexpected twist on the traditional ‘dummy goes psycho and kills everyone’ plot and did a very good job of undercutting traditional stereotypes within the horror genre.

This episode marks the introduction of Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman), who is a better villain than many of the demons featured in the show, and who remains the principal of Sunnydale High up until he gets eaten by the mayor in the Season Three finale. Snyder is as different to the previous principal Mr. Bob Flutie (who got eaten by hyena-possessed students – anyone else seeing a pattern here?) as is possible. Snyder is the character that the audience continuously loves to hate, and he adds a new dimension to Buffy. Under the absent-minded instruction of Mr. Flutie, Buffy and the Scoobies could get away with sneaking off campus to hunt demons during school time. However, from the beginning, the audience realizes that Principal Snyder will be running things very differently. Buffy and the gang will have to go to extra lengths to make sure that Snyder doesn’t expose their little secret.
However, Snyder’s apparent ignorance of all things supernatural is broadcasted at the end of the episode, when the stage of the talent show is revealed and Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles are caught red-handed with a freshly killed green demon stuck in a guillotine. After a bemused ‘I don’t get it. What is it? Avant Garde?’ from Snyder, the real show begins.

The character of Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) was very funny in this episode. Cordelia has been a constant presence throughout Season One and she knows that Buffy isn’t exactly a normal teenage girl; but due to her extreme vanity and selfishness, she doesn’t give much thought to the matter. In this episode, her self-absorbed nature was used to hilarious effect, providing much of the comic relief for the episode. Additionally, Cordelia becomes a more central character throughout Season Two and Three, and through episodes like these Whedon can properly introduce her character to viewers and enable the audience to understand her relationships and interactions with the other Buffy characters.

This episode didn’t really have any weak points as far as the plot or acting went; the only thing that I didn’t really like about it was the identity of the demon. The audience was aware that the demon would appear to be a student in the talent quest; we just didn’t know which student it was. I didn’t have a problem with the student who was found out to be the demon, (a boy who did magic tricks); I just thought a few subtle hints could have been put through the episode pointing to the identity of the real killer, so that on a second viewing the audience would know who the demon was, and could look out for any strange circumstances surrounding them. Apart from this, The Puppet Show had the right mixture of suspense, comedy and drama, making it one of the better episodes of the first season.


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