[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali | Director: Ellen S. Pressman | Aired: 05/05/1997]
Well that was kind of… pointless. All the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so far have been about something. Whether they were good episodes or poor episodes, they all had something they were trying to say about, if not the characters, life in high school through the lens of the Hellmouth. “The Puppet Show,” alas, does not have much of anything on its mind. Beyond priming the viewer for the show’s ability to throw out a plot twist or two, there is absolutely nothing substantive to analyze in this slow paced all-plot outing where the only character relevance is the introduction of Principal Snyder.
With none of the reasons I love this show so much for present, there’s not much to talk about. Well, at least unlike “I Robot, You Jane” [1×08], “The Puppet Show” is reasonably pleasant to watch. This is mostly thanks to a good number of amusing scenes involving fun, albeit inconsequential, character interaction. This characteristic of the episode, in conjunction with that hilarious end credits scene, single-handedly keep this one out of ‘F’ territory, but not by much.
The first time I saw “The Puppet Show” the plot struck me as a mildly fun murder mystery in which a lot of characters are implicated, and the perpetrator turns out to not be the obvious candidate: the possessed dummy. The problem with all-we-have-is-plot episodes — like nearly every procedural out there – is that once you’ve experienced it once, maybe twice, there’s nothing more to do with it. Episodes like this simply offer no reason to ever revisit them, which is directly at odds with what Critically Touched as a site is all about. If you’re ever curious about how I might grade the common procedural show, look no further! Lasting relevance is a problem a number of Season 1 episodes have, but I think “The Puppet Show” might just take the cake. With any possible surprise removed from the plot, all that’s left are a lot of shots of Sid staring insidiously while on one-off one-note Morgan’s lap.
The only thing I can think of to take away from all this is what Sid’s role communicates to the viewers, and to Buffy. Sid represents the subversive nature of the show by appearing to be evil, but is instead good, like Angel. From Buffy’s standpoint, though, Sid is a reflection of her destiny: trapped in her circumstances and required to constantly sacrifice (eventually her life) to succeed.
Sadly, that’s about it. I found “The Puppet Show” to offer relatively inoffensive fun, but that fun has its limits. It is completely devoid of the things that I’m looking for in a quality episode of television: lasting relevance and resonance in story, theme, and characterization, along with some symbolism, subtext, and a nice dash of subtlety. If all you want in an episode of television is campy horror with a twist, along with some fun quotes, then “The Puppet Show” will satisfy. If you expect more — as I do — it will not.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cordelia singing horribly and Giles sharing in our pain.
+ Principal Snyder!
+ Xander completely freaking out over a talent show mime.
+ Buffy smashing the lock through the locker door.
+ The dummy running around Buffy’s room at night actually being a tad creepy.
+ Xander having way too much fun when he gets his hand on the dummy.
+ Xander, Willow, and especially Giles’ reaction to the dummy’s disappearance from the library.
+ Sid reminiscing about his time with a Korean slayer in the ‘30s.
+ The final scene: curtain rises; Snyder is very confused (“I don’t get it. What is it? Avant-garde?”).
– The tacky villainous voiceover that opens the episode.
– The knife used to rip out a heart was shiny new and without a drop of blood on it. Sure…
– Nobody seems all that concerned that a classmate got her heart cut out on campus.
– Morgan’s teacher completely ignoring his breakdown right in front of her.
* Principal Snyder’s immediate interest and suspicion of Buffy hints at something larger, that ‘something’ being that he is subservient to the Mayor and knows much more than he leads on about the supernatural forces that haunt the town. All of this eventually comes to a head in “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] when Snyder finds an excuse to expel Buffy.
* Principal Snyder makes specific mention of the last principal being eaten, thus sealing his own fate come “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22].