The Puppet Show
Directed by: Ellen S. Pressman
Written by: Rob des Hotel and Dean Batali
Air Date: May 5, 1997

Unlike episode 8, “I Robot, You Jane”, this is an episode featuring a series of circumstances that I just can’t get behind. And I didn’t used to hate this episode that much, to tell you the truth. I thought it sucked, but it was fun and – at times – very funny. This episode, though, features some of the worst material and some of the least impacting narrative aspects the show has ever seen. There is no mention of The Master, no mention of Angel, and only a passing reference to The Hellmouth, something we haven’t heard about, even, since the first episodes. Here, the mention feels more like a “remember, viewers at home? The Hellmouth? Mystical doorway to the underworld which draws evil things to it? We’re gonna need to you to keep up to speed on that thing.”

Here we have a lame “monster of the week” – during a talent show, kids start getting killed and organs are removed. Knocks vampires off the list of murderers. So the Scooby gang set out to play detective and solve the mystery. Only, the mystery is not really solvable, they just happen upon all the evidence as though it was left out for them. Everyone suspects it to be one of the talent show participant’s dummy, Sid, and the episode leads you to believe that, too. But then the episode leads to believe that its possibly Principal Snyder, the only real long-lasting thing that comes out of this episode.

Ah, yes, the replacement authoritative figure to take the place of the long-eaten Bob Flutie. Snyder, here, is expertly played for the first time by Armin Shimerman, giving the character a sense of the sinister, while still grounding him in reality for seasons to come. No, it isn’t Snyder killing kids, its a demon that needs hearts and brains to stay in child-form. Human child-form. And the dummy, Sid? Demon hunter from as far back as the 30’s (he not only knows of Slayers, but he knew an Asian one, too! We’ll get to meet her and learn her fate in 70+ episodes or so). This bait-and-switch-and-switch-and-switch maneuver works well, enough, I guess, and it does keep the episode interesting to a point, but it all feels lazy, especially with the twist ending and the reveal of who the real demon is.

There are just so many lame things that happen in this episode, too. For starters, the music – once again! – blows chunks. This is the norm, by this point, but only continues to be a negative spot against what is sometimes a great television show. Also, there are just so many things wrong about the way the staff at Sunnydale High run things; a girl gets her heart cut out of her chest and people are still in classes the next day? The teacher that takes Sid away… why did she let him have it in class in the first place? Likewise, why didn’t she react in any way to a kid grabbing his head, sweating, and stammering right in front of her? The school nurse had a fairly good idea about him having brain cancer… they even had an emergency phone number to use. So why didn’t these people get informed about any of his medical issues?

The effects were pretty pathetic; I like Sid. I think he’s very funny and the dude that did the voice work (Tom Wyner) was a real pro. But despite this, any time he was on camera looked kinda cheesy. A particularly bad moment would be when he attempts to stab Buffy while she’s stuck under the schools most ancient and ornate (and poorly secured) chandelier. But they do have the common sense to leave him sitting or his legs hidden most of the time, so you never get any creepy fake walk… thing. Like you do in “Smile Time”, an episode during Angel’s 5th season.

Good things? Some jokes are great, and most of the horror the Scoobies face are talent show related (of special note: I love how Willow runs off stage during the credits-sequence production of “Oedipus”). I particularly loved the one humanizing moment Buffy faced when she needed her mom, though, to help her check her room after Sid had been in it. Its humbling and it reminds the viewer that, despite the fact that she can fuck any one up, she’s still a teenage girl and things can creep her out, and that her mom is her mom and always there to protect her. Likewise, we get more time with Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mom. I love her and still, to this day, feel she is likely the best TV mom in history.

When all is said and done, though, this episode is just boring. And uneventful. I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about poor Sid’s plight. I want to get back to The Master and the lore of the narrative. I want to see Buffy start kicking some ass, again. And I want to see some goddamned bad-ass heroics from the supporting cast, as well. And I also want to see more of Cordelia in that ribbed sweater…

Episode Rating: 60

Death Count:31
Annoying Scream Count: 12

Additional Notes:
-Best line of the episode:
Buffy: “eeech, dummy”
Xander: “YAAAAH! Mime!”
-Cordelia, much like Joyce Summers, doesn’t have much to do these days. But what screen time they both get? Worth it
-Watching Willow piece together that she’s likely the next target of the demon is – as always – cute
-Most of the banter in this episode is acceptable
-Watching Giles have to stomach Cordelia’s vocal performance is hilarious and painful

-The episode hints at a few things, along the way, of note later. Primarily the aforementioned Angel-puppet episode, Snyder’s unfortunate end, and even Cordelia’s vocal performance is called back to again, only on Angel