April 28th, 2010
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What strikes me about “Ted” is that it was entirely possible that the story within the episode could have been real. Being that this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and not Buffy the Normal Teenage Girl, we presume that Ted is some sort of demon, and that his sudden intrusion on Buffy’s life as an unwanted father figure is some sort of dastardly plot. However, the less-than-malevolent stepfather figure is both a real circumstance and a fairly familiar trope independent of the supernatural, which means that for much of the episode we’re wondering whether this could really just be Buffy and her mother being victims of an angry, abusive man rather than a robotic Frankenstein monster obsessively trying to recreate his creator’s wedded bliss.
It results in the right kind of standalone Buffy episode, one which captures a unique tone that differentiates the episode from the rest of the series while still fitting into some ongoing storylines and the dominant themes of the season.
You can tell that this was co-scripted by Joss Whedon when the show actually, at least briefly, kills Ted before we learn for certain that he is some form of demon. Whedon loves death, not because he’s some sort of masochist but because the way people respond to death says a great deal about their characters. Even though Buffy knows that Ted hit her, and even though she knows that Ted was dangerous, she nonetheless feels intense guilt over killing someone who wasn’t a demon. Even if he may not have been innocent, there is still that barrier to killing someone who isn’t trying to destroy the world – her guilt isn’t over his death so much as it is over the misuse of her powers, letting her Slayer-side infilitrate what at that point seemed like a human problem which could have been dealt with through human channels (the police, for example).
Ultimately, we learn that Buffy’s instincts were correct: Ted rises from his grave his normal, robotic self, and the episode shifts gears into your traditional “stopping the monster of the week” scenario. However, Whedon and Greenwalt maintain the façade of normalcy long enough for Buffy to feel what it’s like to kill someone who perhaps didn’t deserve that fate, lingering on Ted’s humanity long enough to make us wonder if this is really a life lesson for Buffy rather than just another Hellmouth-powered phenomenon. John Ritter was perfectly cast as the eponymous robot, able to transition between pleasant and threatening at the drop of a hat, and the battle between Ted and Buffy ends up feeling much bigger than your basic fistfight as a result of the character work he does in the episode. It’s another piece of Ritter’s work which makes me sad all over again regarding his much too early passing in 2003.
The episode also balanced the robotic heartbreak within the A-Story by having Giles and Jenny Calendar rekindle their love affair. It wasn’t a particularly complex story: she remains distant, he remains earnest, she shoots him with a crossbow, and they decide to call it even. The show, even at this early stage, is very clearly interested in how people overcome these sorts of hangups, how they move past the challenges of this life and maintain some form of human connection. In this case, as we learn in “Surprise” and “Innocence,” this is only one part of a larger journey for these characters, but it’s a nice way to sort of balance the darkness and guilt of the A-Story with something that finds some levity amidst the carnage.
The Scoobies were for the most part placed into a supporting role here (helping the unlock the mysteries of the robot situation, largely for the purpose of exposition late in the episode), but I really liked the moment where Cordelia discovers the location of the secret room by noticing that the rug was aesthetically out of place – it’s a small moment, but it really stuck me with as a way that Cordelia’s character has been adapted into this setting rather than changed in order to reflect the scenarios involved.
“Ted” is just a sharp little episode: it doesn’t try to fundamentally change the series, or explicitly create any sort of patterns, but it works hard to make us question the show’s central premise and delivers some powerful emotional moments that may eventually be undone but which linger on with characters in a way that Whedon is very fond of, and which makes for a compelling hour of television.
- The storyline nicely plays with the idea of food as the way to a woman’s heart, or in this case the way to forcing women to be compliant while you plan to kidnap them and lock them in a basement to play out a nearly half-century old life that your creator once lived.
- Kristine Sutherland is always pretty good as Buffy’s mother, but it’s weird for her to be quite as absent as she is at times – I know she’s off buying art and the like, but if she only shows up when it’s convenient or to be placed into danger it’s going to become a bit too transparent, even if it’s probably as much a budgetary concern as it is a creative one.
- I don’t think I’ll be quite as bad as Ted (I certainly wouldn’t threaten them), but if my would-be stepchild was that bad at mini-golf at Age 16 I would certainly NOT let them take a mulligan. They should know better by then, gosh darnit.