Thursday, 1 November 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.11 & 2.12 – 'Ted' & 'Bad Eggs'

Thursday, 1 November 2012
Giles: Whatever the authorities have planned for [Buffy], it can't be much worse than what she's doing to herself. She's taken a human life. The guilt is... it's pretty hard to bear. It won't go away soon.
Cordelia: I guess you should know, since you helped raise that demon that killed that guy that time.
Giles: Yes. Do let's bring that up as often as possible.

I loved "TED" for many reasons, but mainly because it represented the show's best example of the supernatural colliding with Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) home life. It also mined a simple idea very effectively, as Buffy was introduced to her mother Joyce's (Kristine Sutherland) new boyfriend Ted (John Ritter); a friendly software salesman who's a whiz in the kitchen. Ted makes Joyce happy and proves an instant hit with Buffy's friends—by geeking out with Willow (Alyson Hannigan) over a 9GB hard-drive (oh, the '90s!) and baking Xander (Nicholas Brendon) delicious cookies (um, okay)—but naturally both Buffy and the audience are suspicious of "perfect dad" Ted. And what a brilliant idea to get John Ritter (who's now sadly passed away) to play the eponymous role; given his strong association with lovable husbands/fathers on TV/film. This was a rare villainous role for him and he did great work.

I have a stepfather myself, so could identify with Buffy's initial suspicion and awkwardness around Ted, which was excellently portrayed by Gellar. If I'm honest, I guessed Ted's secret fairly early—noting the metallic leg he tapped with a golf club, then clinching the theory when Ted's co-worker referred to him as "The Machine"—but that didn't really dampen my enjoyment. Even when the story delivered its main twist, with Buffy killing Ted after a domestic fight and having to deal with the repercussions of killing her mother's chance of happiness, while being seen a murderer by the kids at school, I found I could compartmentalise my own theory. It probably would have worked even better if there hadn't been any foreshadowing, though.

So yes, there was much to enjoy here. The show seems to have settled on a style that works and is more enthralling than the random monsters thrown Buffy's way last season. "Ted" was a preposterous story about a homicidal cyborg posing a step-dad, sure, but there was more stewing beneath the surface, and that's exactly what good sci-fi should do. I'm also loving the Xander and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) pairing far more than I thought possible, and it was great to see Giles (Anthony Head) and Jenny (Robia LaMorte) forced to become bumbling vampire slayers in Buffy's absence. I only have a few niggling questions: so does this mean Buffy's mother is being prepared to accept other craziness in her daughter's life? Have the authorities closed Ted's potential murder case after discovering his metal corpse? And will the robot-Ted situation be explained to the student body, or will everyone now always believe Buffy killed her stepdad?

Xander: You gotta take care of the egg. It's a baby. You gotta keep it safe and teach it Christian values.
Willow: My egg is Jewish.
Xander: Then teach it that dreidel song.

Marti Noxon returns to pen "BAD EGGS" after her backfiring "What's My Line" two-parter, and concocts something of similar quality. I thought we were in for an episode exploring sex and equating it to something ungodly, since this episode feature a tonne of smooching between Cordelia/Xander and Buffy/Angel, but it was instead a more typical "mind-controlling parasite" storyline. After the sex education teacher tells the student to take an egg home and care for it, as a means to prepare them for the responsibility of looking after children, Buffy soon realises the eggs contain tiny purple squids that can attach themselves to human hosts and control their minds. Interestingly, this was the first episode to weave two very different storylines together, as Buffy also made enemies with two red-neck vampire brothers, who eventually stumbled into the brainwashing egg-critters story by the end (to amusing affect).

"Bad Eggs" felt like a season 1 episode, albeit more proficient and confident. I would have liked something more compelling about teenagers and their sexual awakening than what we got, but I'd be surprised if that's something Buffy the Vampire Slayer will keep avoiding as a TV series. For an episode heavily influenced by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Children of the Corn and Alien, this was a fun way to tackle similar B-movie territory. It was just a shame the episode didn't really do much with the idea of people losing their identities and minds, while also making Buffy's mother into a really irritating presence at the same time. (It didn't help that this episode followed on from "Ted", so you couldn't help but feel Joyce's reactions were too harsh considering what she'd just put her daughter through with that insane cyborg daddy.) The fact the brain-like Bozoar creature wasn't explained very well also harmed the episode, because for all we know those tiny squids would have relaxed their grip on everyone after its mother was safely dug up from beneath the school. This wasn't a bad hour, but it was definitely very patchy and needed a stronger backbone.

written by David Greenwalt & Joss Whedon (2.11) & Marti Noxon (2.12) / directed by Bruce Seth Green (2.11) & David Greenwalt (2.12) / 8 December 1997 & 12 January 1998 / The WB