Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Principal Flutie was eaten by a pack of students possessed by hyenas. Cordelia's a complete cow. That's pretty much all you need to know for this episode.
Giles finds himself roped into producing the Sunnydale High's Talent Show by the new principal, Snyder (Armin Shimerman) much to the amusement of Buffy, Willow and Xander. Unfortunately, after they watch and mock and laugh at Giles, Snyder forces participation upon them too. Of course, it's not long before dead bodies start showing up with bits missing, namely the heart of the ballet dancer Emily. Buffy immediately assumes supernatural showbusiness is afoot and suspicion quickly falls on Morgan Shay and his ventriloquist's dummy, Sid, who the gang think might be trying to become human again.
After the dire I Robot, You Jane, The Puppet Show is quickly back up there near the top for Season One episodes, featuring a whip-smart script and a genuinely creepy storyline. Of course, it doesn't turn out to be Sid who is the bad guy, but the last of the Brotherhood of Seven, a demon who must assemble human body parts in order to remain in human form. That being said, before Sid's true identity as an entrapped demon hunter, there are plenty of shudder-inducing moments, particularly the scoot across Buffy's floor or well, the fact he is a ventriloquist dummy. As Buffy observes, they give me the wig and the prospect of a dummy coming to life is just "eeeeurgghh".
Sid is one of the more nuanced secondary characters to appear on the show and is given a fairly tragic past, trapped in that form until he can track down and kill the final demon. Tom Wyner's vocal performance isn't all that nuanced, but he puts across the mournful air of Sid's past well alongside the more comedic moments. One of the quieter scenes in the episode is between Buffy and Sid in which she realises that killing the demon would result in Sid's death. There's a weariness in Sid's plight that, although doesn't mean all that much upon first viewing of this episode, takes on a whole new meaning when you consider the upcoming trials and tribulations for our very own vampire slayer. Death is her gift after all.
The comedy in this episode is so perfectly pitched; written by Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali (who are responsible for Never Kill A Boy On A First Date and some truly great second season episodes), The Puppet Show is consistently funny and picking a Quote of the Day was near impossible. In the end, I had to go for one of Snyder's first great lines with a special mention for this one: "I know Principle Flutie would have said kids 'need understanding, kids are human beings'. It's that kind of woolly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten." Equally, there are plenty of Buffy lines that could have been in there. There's also a couple of brilliant adlibs in there, including Nicholas Brendon improvising Sid saying "Redrum! Redrum!" a la The Shining and Willow's mid-scene dash during the credits scene in which we bear witness to the gang's prepared scene from Oedipus Rex for their talent.
Perhaps the funniest moments though in the entire episode belong to Cordelia. The episode opens with her singing Whitney Huston's The Greatest Love of All. No, singing is the wrong word. Horrifically massacring would be more appropriate. Then there are two moments in the questioning montage in which the Scoobies try to learn more about Emily's death; Cordelia refers to her as Emma and makes the entire thing about herself naturally. The final moment, and possibly the crowning glory, is when Giles uses a trick of Xander's and gets Cordelia to think there is something wrong with her hair: "Working like a charm." Charisma Carpenter gets one of the meatier arcs across both Buffy and Angel, but it's really great to see her just being a bitch in these episodes. She does it so well.
It's been a long while since I've watched this episode, but it is one of the more enjoyable returns with an ace script and some truly great character moments. There is also a decent amount of foreshadowing with Buffy's clashes with Snyder, as well as on a smaller scale, the gang's fears in preparation for next week's nightmarish episode.
Next Time: Nightmares
Quote of the Day: Snyder: There are things I will not tolerate; students loitering on campus after school, horrible murders with hearts being removed. And also smoking.
Demonology 101: The idea of someone being trapped in a puppet will return in the Angel episode Smile Time. It's awesome.
Let's Get Trivial: Less trivia, more goof but look at the violin player when Giles announces the power circle backstage - playing the instrument with the bow a good three inches from the strings with a rather hilarious facial expression.
You can read Becky's look at I Robot, You Jane here.
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