Saturday, July 10, 2010

Buffy 2x11 - "Ted"

After a fairly long run of episodes centering on the serialized aspect of the show, Buffy takes a breather from Spike and Drusilla for a mostly self-contained episode focusing on Buffy's home life. A standalone Buffy is not necessarily a bad Buffy, though, as this episode proves by uncovering some interesting themes and making great use of its first celebrity guest star, sitcom actor John Ritter.

"He was a person. And I killed him."

- Buffy

As a fan of Doctor Who, I'm quite familiar with "stunt casting", but it's something Buffy never really engaged in very much, as far as I can tell. Off the top of my head, John Ritter is the only example I can think of, and it's one that turned out pretty well. His performance in this episode manages to convincingly oscillate between his warm, funny side and his menacing side. And, y'know, his malfunctioning robot side.

It helps that "Ted" is a really strong episode even if we ignore Ritter. The episode is structurally pretty interesting, shifting between two very non-fantasy stories: first, the story of a two-faced, abusive boyfriend who seems normal and likable to everyone else, and then, the interesting dilemma of how Buffy reacts to killing a human being. The latter is slightly undermined by the discovery that Ted was a robot all along, but  I think the implications of Buffy actually having killed a person are something that the show couldn't really have dealt with as it was.

I think one of the strengths of the episode is that it needn't have had the science fictional robot concept to work as well as it did. It's sufficient for Ted just to have been a really messed up guy... which of course is Joyce's understanding of the whole thing. And the relationship between Buffy and Joyce is one of the best things about this episode, picking up from their little "moment" in "School Hard."

The episode is fleshed out with a minor B-plot involving Giles and Jenny Calendar, revisiting their relationship for the first time since "The Dark Age" as they try and figure out where they stand, which by the end is a lot better than where they were in the beginning. Their fight with a vampire in the graveyard is nicely juxtaposed with Buffy's second confrontation with Ted. Meanwhile, there's even a C-plot with Xander and Cordelia trying to figure out where they stand. Apparently, they stand in a utility closet making out. Although standing is optional.

It's these little subplots that tie the episode to the ongoing arc of the series, and which allows a mostly standalone episode to feel like it's moving things forward in a real way. So all in all, it's a great episode. I don't know if I would put it on my top ten list, as Joss has, but it's certainly enjoyable.


  1. I really enjoy this episode, and I think Ritter is prefect in the role. It's interesting to think about how the idea of Buffy killing a human is dealt with here, given what happens in season 3 and even later on in seasons 6 and 7. The taking of human life in Buffy is always a serious subject and always has consequences. As you say, mercifully Ted turns out to be a robot--which absolves Buffy of legal guilt, though perhaps not moral culpability. After all, when she killed him, she believed him to be a human, which is really what matters.

  2. That's right, I had forgotten that she thought he was human! That's a great precursor to what's to come, and an indication of how clear-cut the "no killing humans, even awful ones" rule actually is. This works at this point in the series, because vampires and demons are, as of now, portrayed as completely evil (with the exception of Angel, who is the way he is solely--ha!--because he has a soul). However, when the theme resurfaces again in seasons 6 and 7, this rule suddenly seems not to make as much sense anymore, and it seems to be interpreted in a very arbitrary manner, in light of some new characters and events. But, I'll save my rant about that for season 7's "Selfless."