“Don’t get sniffly on me, sis. I’ve lived a lot longer than most demon hunters . . . or Slayers for that matter. Of course, if you want to snuggle up for company . . .”
-Sid, Buffy the Vampire Slayer S1E9: “The Puppet Show”
Brief synopsis: A girl at school turns up with her heart ripped out of her chest. The Scoobies’ suspicion falls on a increasingly agitated young man and his eerily sentient seeming dummy.
Title significance: “The Puppet Show” is obviously referring to the sentient dummy, Sid, who acts at first as an antagonist before teaming up with the Scoobies as an ally. The episode is pretty focused on Sid, so it makes sense that the title would reinforce the role he plays in this episode. He’s similar to Buffy in that he’s a demon hunter, and I think that relation (which I think has been pretty unexplored in a non-enemy capacity) is also what makes him important enough to be part of the title.
The show part of it does feel like it’s a wink toward how the episode is set at the talent show, but I think it’s more than that. A show is a production, it’s not really real. Sid is not what he seems. He’s not really a puppet (or rather wasn’t always a puppet) and he’s not evil or a demon either. Shows play with your perception, and this episode is the same way.
Girl Power: The demon requires both a human heart and a human brain in order to remain in human form. The episode leads us to believe that he needs a human brain that is intelligent, at its peak. One of the people the Scoobies are the most concerned for is Willow. I was happy to see a girl be one of the smartest.
Due to this belief about the brain, I assume the heart needed to come from someone in peak physical condition. Instead of going after a football player or any sort of male figure, the demon chooses a female dancer. I thought this was really cool, as men are generally seen as the more physically talented of the sexes. Dancers are super fit, so I think it fit well, while celebrating women at the same time.
Success of girl power: It was subtle, but I noticed and appreciated it.
What “The Puppet Show” does right:
- Atmosphere – There is an incredibly eerie atmosphere about talent shows if you play it right. There’s something a bit circusesque about the musicians and lights and performers, and I think they played this just right, especially in the beginning scene, and once that beginning atmosphere is there, it lingers throughout the episode, even during the sillier portions of the talent show.
- Fear – Buffy is afraid of dummies. That moment when she thinks that Sid is in her bed with her, she shrieks. When her mom comes in, Buffy doesn’t think like a Slayer, she doesn’t think she should try and protect her mother. She needs her mom to look under her covers and tell her there’s no monsters in her bed. I thought it was a great humanizing moment, and really added to Buffy’s character.
- Camp – This is a supernatural show from the nineties. Of course there’s going to be some camp. I think camp doesn’t really hold up all that well most of the time, but I think this episode does. The silliness of the puppet fighting is just the right amount without going over the edge into pure awfulness, I think due to the fact that they don’t so overly much. They embraced what they were doing, and I thought it turned out much better than it could have.
What “The Puppet Show” could have done better:
- Conversation – At one point, Buffy’s mom pokes her head into her room to make sure she’s okay. She asks if anything is bothering her, and Buffy says nothing. The thing is . . . a classmate of Buffy’s just died that day, her heart carved out of her chest while at school. I know Sunnydale has this way of forgetting about things like that, but it’s too soon for everyone to be acting like it didn’t happen. Why was this not brought up in this conversation. I actually expected it to, for some reason, and when it didn’t, I was annoyed.
- Knives and demons – It’s still early in the show; we haven’t even reached the tenth episode, so I suppose some mythos that is not completely formed is to be expected. However, as I know intimately from Angel, there are many sorts of demons with their own rituals and own temperaments. Some are actually really nice. To claim that the killer is not a demon because of the knife seemed so weird to me because of this, but probably because I’m looking through the lens of five seasons of Angel and three seasons of Buffy. There are plenty of reasons a demon could use a knife to kill and cut.
- Talent Show – The talent show is kind of made out to be a bit of a joke. I wasn’t a fan of this decision. Maybe it’s because my high school’s annual revue was usually something everyone enjoyed, but I felt that actually showcasing some talent could have set the stage really well and added some pretty cool moments.
Overall:Not one of my favorites, but I am always surprised I don’t hate this episode.