Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Puppet Show"

Previously on Buffy: Principal Snyder refers to the cheerleader combustion of “The Witch” and Dave’s suicide, faux suicide, from “I Robot…You Jane”.
“Puppet Show” is largely a standalone. It is one of those Twilight Zoney type of episodes and I mean this as a complement. Buffy, like the Twilight Zone, does, in my opinion, wonderful standalones grounded in fantasy, science fiction, horror, parody, and satire, all of which have precedents in literature and film. “Puppet Show”, however, as is often the case in Buffy, however, if full of foreshadowings of the Buffy future and backshadowing on the Buffy past.

Playing with genre: Buffy does the evil puppet motif but with a spin. The puppet who we at first think is “evil” is actually a good, if rather horny sort of guy (“once you go wood nothings as good” says puppet Sid) who seems to have stepped out of noir and walked into Buffy. Another motif Joss and Company play with in this episode is the talent show motif.

Misdirection: It’s Morgan, no it’s Sid, it’s the last of the seven demons, it’s Sid, no it is Marc, the last of the seven demons.

Character: Neither Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, or Cordy have much in the way of talent. Willow is smart. Willow plays the piano. Puppets give Buffy the “wiggins”. Mimes give Xander the “wiggins”. Giles is smart. Cordy is still focused on the me (“such a tragedy for me”). Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) is suspicious of the touchy feely liberalism that, in his mind, got the previous principal killed.

Buffy versus Cordy: Cordy says, at one point, in the episode that she is afraid of being “judged like some kind of…Buffy”.

They’ve Got the Look: Love the look on the Scoobies faces as Sid tells them about his backstory. Sid was put into a puppet by seven demons and has been killing each one of them off so he can free himself from his puppet prison and die.

Foreshadowings: Willow has stage fright. She says she can’t play it in public. At one point she has the look of stage fright on her face. During the Oedipus sequence during the end credits Willow runs offstage presumably because she has forgotten her lines. We will see more of Willow’s state fright and its consequences in the very next episode, “Nightmares”. Xander’s “wiggins” about mimes comes into play in the next episode as well. This is the first but not the last time that we will see Giles play the role of a theatre director (see season four’s “Restless”). Cordy’s obsession with her hair will be referenced again in “Nightmares”. Principal Snyder is keeping an eye of the Scoobies. He regards them and especially Buffy as “anti-social” types who “[get] into one scrape after another”. We will find out why in season two.

It’s a Greek Tragedy: Buffy, Xander, and Willow brilliantly doing Sophocles badly during the credits at the end of the episode. Awesome.

Shakespeare: Is the Master’s mocking of Buffy “Where are you jibes now?” a reference to Hamlet?

Tone: the transition from tragedy when Sid dies after killing the last of the seven demons to sets himself free through death to the comedy of the carnage after the battle between the Scoobies and the demon (Marc) as the curtain opens to the talent show crowd at the end of act four is pure Buffy.

Slayer Lore: Sid tells Buffy that he once met a Korean Slayer in the 1930s.

The Afterlife: Once Sid dies he becomes “dust and bones”.

Theodicy: Demons are driven by evil.

Acting: Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder) is fantastic and fantastically snarky. Joss and Company had a great nose for character actors.

Cinematography: The purplish almost black and white pov of the demon as he is about to kill Emily (the dancer). The fuzzy, wavy, and colour drained pov of Buffy as Sid is pins her under a chandelier and attacks her with a knife. Eerie visuals: Sid’s eyes, the way Sid looks at Buffy when Morgan puts him in the case, Snyder lurking in the shadows at several points during the episode. Snyder’s lurking and spying symbolizes something we will discover about Principal Snyder in season two. The wonderful scene where Xander, who has taken Morgan’s dummy Sid from a closet Mrs. Jackson, the history teacher, has put it in because Morgan is misbehaving with it, to the library. Xander puts Sid in a chair and turns his head to the right. Eventually Xander gets up to look something up in the dictionary. As Xander moves forward toward the screen we see Sid in the background. When Xander gets to the dictionary he physically blocks our view of Sid. When Xander moves back to his seat restoring our view of the seat Sid is sitting in Sid has disappeared. Nice old school horror technique.

Sound: the sound of Sid’s fast moving and light feet in Buffy’s bedroom during his attempt to kill her in act one.

Scoobies in Peril. This time it is Giles.

Xander to the Rescue: It is the Xanman who grasps the guillotine rope thus keeping the blade of the guillotine from slicing through Giles’s skull.

Poetic Justice: The demon who tried to behead Giles is killed when he is beheaded by his own guillotine.

Word Play: love the play with “watch”, “mock”, and “laugh” in the teaser of the episode, words Buffy, Willow, and Xander aim at Giles, who is forced, by Principal Snyder, to direct the Sunnydale High talent show. Snyder shoots these back at the three Scoobies later in the teaser.

Personal hygiene: Giles gets rid of Cordy by following Xanders’ suggestion and implying that something, something not so good, is going on with her hair. Cordy says “personal hygiene or something” at one point. Cordy’s hair, as I mentioned earlier, will come into play in the next episode, “Nightmares”.

Popular Culture: references to the film The Usual Suspects and the book and film The Shining (Xander’s “Keyser Sozed” and “redrum”).

Trivial Pursuit: First appearance of Principal Snyder. First time Buffy says she is not crazy. Second appearance of the history teacher, Mrs. Jackson. She was also in “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest”. Giles’s teakettle makes it first appearance. We hear it whistling in the background.

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