Buffy 1×09: The Puppet Show

[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].




69 thoughts on “Buffy 1×09: The Puppet Show”

  1. [Note: LibMax posted this comment on July 14, 2007.]

    This is my least favorite of all the Buffy episodes, sorry. It’s a mystery without even one valid clue, a comedy that mostly made me groan (except for Snyder). But it’s the non-stop barrage of insults to the viewer’s intelligence that really put me off.

    Okay, so there’s this Demon Hunter. The episode implies that Demon Hunters are the counterpart to Vampire Slayers, but we’ll never hear of them again (excepting the lame title Wesley clearly makes up for himself in “Parting Gifts,” Angel S1). But he’s killed a demon, and the demon can curse him into an inanimate object (but not, apparently, in time to avoid being killed by him). So what’ll it be? Ashtray, doormat, toilet brush? No, a ventriloquist’s dummy, so he can walk and talk and wield a knife! What a considerate demon.

    Now another demon needs a human heart and brain to be able to stay in human form. The demon’s behavior clearly shows that it recognizes the advantages of stealth. But it decides to choose both of its victims from a very public high school talent show, and enters the show itself to maximize its chances of getting caught.

    The Demon Hunter, now in dummy form, tracks the demon to the high school. He can’t identify the demon by sight, so he derives no advantage from being part of the show himself – just much less freedom of movement and a reluctant partner who may or may not accidentally betray him. Said partner is a supersmart A student, not someone with a gift for gab or comedy who might make the act look natural.

    We might suspect that Sid has decided that the demon will go after the kid to get that smart brain, but we’re giving Sid too much credit – he pays no attention to his partner, and the demon gets him while Sid is occupied elsewhere. And it turns out (what are the odds!) that this A student has a brain disease which makes his brain useless to the demon so they can all get a second shot at him. Sid, of course, is completely unaware of this.

    Also, I could have lifted that chandelier, enough to get out from under it, myself. Buffy should have been able to throw it like a frisbee. And these are only the worst of the howlers this episode throws at us.

    The DVD commentary confirms that this episode was made because Joss and the other writers thought a ventriloquist’s dummy would make a creepy adversary. A) How original! B) The dummy itself and every effect involving the dummy were cheesy and campy and not the least bit scary, and C) Maybe it would be a better idea to come up with a story and/or a point first and then fit the monster to it, rather than the other way around.

    There’s no such thing as a Buffy episode with nothing good in it. This one has Armin Shimerman’s Principal Snyder, who is hilarious every time he’s on screen. There’s also the funny travesty of Oedipus Rex, but that was a piece of fluff very appropriately played over the credits, like Boreanaz and Denisof’s dancing dork contest in “Expecting,” Angel S1.


  2. [Note: LibMax posted this comment on July 23, 2007.]

    Oh, I forgot one. Compare the sequence in which the Scoobies question talent contestants in Puppet Show with the nearly identical sequence in Earshot, Season Three. The sequence in Earshot is hilarious throughout. The biggest laugh in the Puppet Show sequence is the bit about conflict between the swing band and the cheerleaders. Which is observational humor without the humor part – like if Jerry Seinfeld got up on stage and said, “Remember in high school, how much the swing band hated the cheerleaders and vice versa?” And then stopped.

    This is also a useful exercise for those who consider Season One to be as good as or better than the seasons that came after. YMMV of course.


  3. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on October 5, 2007.]

    I really like this one. The plot is average but the characters have a lot of fun with it. I love the introduction of Principal Synder, a character I love to hate. My favourite scene is the end credits and also Synder`s remark about being avant garde. That always cracks me up.


  4. [Note: OtterBear posted this comment on January 4, 2008.]

    LibMax, I think you miss what makes this episode fun. When we are talking about a plot involving a talking dummy, we are supposed to suspend belief for a while. The writers knew very well that this is a B-movie situation, and handled the material with the appropriate amount of tounge-in-cheek attitude. As for the dummy effects, well you have to remember that this is season one and the budget was small. Besides, I like that it is a bit campy as it adds to the B-movie feel. The only thing I agree with you about is the chandelier. It just doesn’t seem that heavy. But both Buffy and Angel’s physical strength varies over the episodes as required by the plot. BTW I love every scene in this episode involving Cordelia.


  5. [Note: Sam posted this comment on November 23, 2008.]

    I think Season 1 is underrated. Sure, it’s shorter due to being a mid-season replacement, but I think many of the episodes are very enjoyable, and it’s remarkably sufficient for a shorter arc. While this isn’t my favorite episode, I do think it’s very funny. Sid is corny, but the episode gets better as it goes along. I especially love Buffy’s “Ewwwww!” when she kicks the villain and his demon skin peers out from under his human disguise.


  6. [Note: Raskolnikov posted this comment on August 6, 2009.]

    I love this one. Partly because it was the first full episode of Buffy that I saw. But even beyond that it’s a great comedy with so many great lines and little character moments. The ending pre and post credits are awesome, it takes real talent for Geller and the others to portray such bad acting convincingly. And Snyder was hilarious from the start. “There are some things I won’t tolerate in my school. Students loitering after hours. Ghastly murders with the heart removed. Also, smoking.”

    One thing I noticed in rewatch is how spooked and nervous Buffy was towards Snyder. Quite a contrast to S2 when she’s so openly dismissive of him (especially I Only Have Eyes For You) and downright threatening in Becoming. There is growing.


  7. [Note: Beth posted this comment on September 8, 2009.]

    “The Puppet Show” is my favorite Season One episode. Yep, that’s right. I find it very funny, with great character interactions, plot twists and overall silliness. I can see why some people might not like it, but it just happens to work for me.


  8. [Note: Red posted this comment on September 10, 2009.]

    The episode is a bit ham-handed, but totally worth the end when Synder says, “I don’t get it. What is it, Avant Garde?”

    Best line in the episode. And also the credits with the poorly acted drama and Willow running offstage.


  9. [Note: Smallprint posted this comment on March 4, 2010.]

    This episode I liked a lot. It was great because of the twist who was the murderer. It also of course reminded me of the horror flicks “Chucky” and Argento’s giallo “Deep red”. In this film the killer sends a automatic controlled doll to another victim with a knife in his hand.


  10. [Note: Max posted this comment on March 20, 2010.]

    I was about 8 when this aired on British television. I vaguely remember already hating dummies (R.L. Stine & Goosebumps may have had something to do with that) and this episode completely freaked me out. Now, almost 21, I find this episode hillarious, but it brings back great memories.


  11. [Note: Ellie posted this comment on September 16, 2010.]

    I like the fact that the dummy wasn’t evil. Dummies scare me, and I don’t need any more nightmare fuel about them. I thought the episode was kind of funny in places, though I mostly find myself not caring what happens when I watch it, which is a bad.

    I also love the horrible play the Scoobies put on at the end. They can fight monsters but they can’t act.


  12. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on September 16, 2010.]

    This is one of the few episodes I saw live. I was so conditioned to believe that the puppet would be the baddie that I remembered the show that way, and was surprised to find Sid innocent upon rewatching!

    So good on the show for fooling me twice, good on the Snyder/Giles interaction, and good on all the bad bits of the talent show. This was one of the better silly romps.


  13. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 2, 2010.]

    ADMIN NOTE: This episode review has been completely rewritten. In light of this, references to the old review have been edited out of the the above comments.


  14. [Note: Paula posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    I somehow feel the need to jump in this episode’s defence, as I feel it’s one of the most watchable “normal” S1 episodes as a whole, but I do get your points, Mike. Whedon & co. should feel flattered that the fans’ standards for a good Whedon show episode are as high as they’ve come to be.

    Yes, pretty inconsequential. I’ll always love the way they wrap up this episode, though!


  15. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    It is harmless but I like it mostly for the character interaction and dialogue.

    Also, Principal Synder rocks!


  16. [Note: Paula posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    Thinking a little bit further, I figure there’s one not-totally-inconsequential aspect in this episode, although it has perhaps more to do with AtS than BtVS. Meaning, isn’t this the first episode where it came up that there are such things as demon hunters out there, and that therefore the Slayer and the Watchers’ Council aren’t the only people fighting supernatural evil in Buffyverse?


  17. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    I suppose it’s nitpicking to mention that for Xander to show how smart Willow is by instantly solving the square root of 841, that Xander instantly had to know that 841 *was* a square. Which is actually harder than Willow’s problem. (Because Willow could reasonably guess “29” in knowing that 30×30 = 900, so 841 yeah that’s probably 29. Whereas Xander can only state 741 after having done the math.)

    Alright, it’s nitpicking. Amused me, though.


  18. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    Wow. This episode really went down in your second review (wasn’t it a B minus before?)

    I always kind of liked it. I mean, nothing brilliant… but it was an inoffensive and harmless stand alone with some neat twists and funny moments. B/B minus would be where I’m at, although I’m sure it loses something on multiple viewings.

    And the tag scene was priceless.


  19. [Note: MrB posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    Harsh review! Is Puppet Show really in the same league as Beer Bad? (I happen not to hate BB by the way.)

    A fair amount good stuff happens here and the story, by Mike’s own admission, isn’t all that horrible. Why the hate, Mike? I am NOT saying this is a great episode. I am saying it is better than how it is rated here.

    It seems that our gentle reviewer is a HUGE fan of character over plot. I understand that. But as a plot episode, it wasn’t that horrible, especially at this stage of the show.

    If this were a 7th season episode, then I could more understand the ranking.


  20. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 3, 2010.]

    Well, plot-heavy episodes can still have critical merit (see “Witch” for an example of that). “The Puppet Show” has none. The primary purpose of my site is to analyze each episode of the show within the context of the rest of the show, which inevitably includes how the episodes hold up to multiple viewings. “The Puppet Show” played a lot better for me the first couple times I saw it (while the plot was still somewhat new), but now it just holds no interest to me anymore within the scope of what my analysis is based on.

    The name of this review network, Critically Touched, represents the two major elements I’m looking for in my television. I want there to be something worthwhile to think about (preferably connected to the characters), and I want to be emotionally stimulated by what I see. Usually Buffy is the rare show that really manages to balance both aspects to near perfection. Not here though.

    Critically, “The Puppet Show” gets maybe a 5/100 for offering nothing but a see-it-twice-then-forget-it plot. Emotionally, I’d probably give the episode a 75-80 considering that I found parts of it moderately amusing. Together, I arrive at the score above. This isn’t exactly a scientific calculation, and other aspects usually play into the score, but it helps give a background for why this was scored the way it is.

    While “The Puppet Show” isn’t that horrible in terms of passive enjoyment, it is that horrible critically. There’s just nothing there. I literally had only two brief talking points in my notes about the episode. The rest of the notes were filled with minor pros/cons and quotes.

    All in all, I don’t “hate” the episode, I just find it completely irrelevant. Its fun factor is solely what’s keeping it from getting a F. 🙂


  21. [Note: Sam L posted this comment on December 5, 2010.]

    I was pretty shocked by the new grade, but MikeJer’s last comment answered all my questions about it.

    From an entertainment perspective, “The Puppet Show” provides moments of fun, humor, and heartwarming character interaction that this show specializes in. From a critical perspective, however, it has nothing to offer except introducing the Principal Snyder–he provides most of the best parts–and the series’ only end credits sequence, which is so great I often wonder why they didn’t make more. This is still one of the S1 episodes that I enjoy watching. Buffy’s “ewwww” when she sees the demon’s skin under its human disguise is priceless.


  22. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on December 8, 2010.]

    Fair review enough (even if I’ve already seen Sid being compared to Angel successfully I don’t believe this was on the writers’ minds).

    Is it foreshadowing that Xander’s playing Oedipus, aka the most famous eye-poked man?


  23. [Note: JohnnyW posted this comment on January 4, 2011.]

    Not sure I buy the “there’s nothing critically to talk about” line. Stand-alone episodes can be annoying, but as stand-alone episodes go, this was definitely one of the better ones. Especially in the first season.

    The are great character interactions, wonderfully funny dialogue, and most importantly; something unique and interesting happening in the plot. I’d go so far as to say that this episode actually begins to pave the way for where the show was heading.

    The unique slant in the show’s universe, not to mention funny dialogue, are light-years ahead of the previous episodes, which, despite slight movements towards bigger arcs, were really just pale retreads of television tropes. Even in the episode “Angel”, which in theory has a big twist in it, didn’t really offer anything that unique or interesting to an educated television watcher.

    “The Puppet Show”, however, had the most innovative twist on the universe since the show’s shock opener (where the girl turned out to be the vampire). Since that moment Buffy felt like it was finding its feet, wondering where the next interesting and unique twist might come from. In theory, as I’ve said, the love interest with Angel should have been it, but, and I hope I’m not going to incite hatred here, the “big moment” (and especially those moments that followed it) was predictable, dull and heavy-handed.

    Finally with this episode we got a hint that, a) This show had a mythology much bigger and far-reaching than what the characters were immediately facing, b) The show _could_ actually invert the clichés you’ve seen so many times, and c) It could do all these things with a lightness of touch that was really missing from the earlier shows.

    I’ve probably not done a great job of explaining myself here, but basically, despite the lack of overall progression, despite the lack of character progression (which, to be fair, had been practically zero in the season to this point anyway), there was a real evolution in _execution_. This evolution was, for me, the first time that the writers successfully inverted my expectations, whilst at the same time succeeding in doing something else (letting the characters be gleefully entertaining). This opened the door for doing them doing same thing with a plot that had higher emotional stakes, and really, the best moments of Buffy.

    So yes, I’d say you’ve undervalued this episode’s importance in the progression of the show, but I’d also say that you’re undervaluing comedy for the sake of comedy… even if, as you say, this episode doesn’t offer much enjoyment for repeated viewings.


  24. [Note: Emmi posted this comment on February 3, 2011.]

    My favorite part of this episode is the fact that Xander was playing Oedipus at the end in the skit that they performed. Okay, maybe i’m reading too much into it and finding foreshadowing where it doesn’t exist, but if any of you know the story of Oedipus..basically, he stabs his own eyes out.


  25. [Note: CoyoteBuffyFan posted this comment on February 5, 2011.]

    This episode was not THAT bad in my opinion. Yes, it was pointless and the story was cheesy but there was some serious comedy gold:

    The introduction of Snyder — He has some great lines in this episode

    Giles’ face when he is listening to Snyder tell Buffy, Xander, and Willow that they have to be in the talent show is PRICELESS! He is trying to hold his snickers back when they come back to sit near him. Great, great scene.

    The puppet stabbing the demon with the knife that is so obviously a prop since it is, literally, bouncing off the demon is hysterical.

    The final scene as the credits roll (I think this is the only time they do this in the show, right?) is probably my favorite comedy moment in all of Buffy. The “passionate acting” in the dramatic reading followed by Willow bolting has me cracking up every single time.

    I understand why you gave the grade you did and I mostly agree with your assessment but the comedy part of it would have me bump it up to maybe a C.


  26. [Note: deadlego posted this comment on April 18, 2011.]

    i think the puppet show is about something- the assumptions we make about people and how misleading it can be to judge someone just on an aspect of their outward behaviour rather than taking a wider look at all their behaviour and who they really are on the inside-their intentions and personality. the demon is choosing who he kills for what they have on the inside – hearts and brains – and finds value in intelligence, not wanting just any old brain and so presumably the girl killed for her heart was chosen for some trait which made her heart valuable. the scoobies judge morgan incorrectly, presuming him to be the bad guy initially due to his ‘weird’ behaviour noticed by them and the other school kids. actually his strange behaviour is due to dealing with sid and that he has a brain tumor. sid presumes buffy to be a demon due to her strength and so perceived odd behaviour but, instead of trusting morgan who seems to know her better and thinks she’d be able to help, he tries to kill her. After this attempt on her life, buffy, albeit for a good reason, thinks sid is a ‘bad guy’. His presumptions and consequent actions are the cause of a ‘good guy’ fighting ‘good guy’ situation. The cheesy moral of the story is that we need to look deeper to find out what kind of a person (or demon, or puppet!) someone really is. look beneath the surface and you might find something unexpected, whether it’s good (both buffy and sid are heroes) or bad (a demon who cuts out internal organs, a brain tumor).


  27. [Note: Jeff posted this comment on May 10, 2011.]

    This is a few years too late, but I wanted to comment on an early comment: I don’t think “demon hunters” were meant to be a mystical counterpart to the slayers. It was just an early introduction to the idea that, in the Buffy mythos, there have been normal humans who aren’t with the Watchers but also know about the supernatural and fight against it, and Sid was one of them back in the 1930’s. He was a freelance hunter like Holtz, or Principal Wood or post-Connor Wesley, that’s all. There’s not much to the episode, and having the possessed dummy as a good guy isn’t a sustainable enough plot twist to carry the episode all by itself, but I think it was pretty good for Season 1, and it did help set the stage for later demon-slaying characters. And of course, the closing credits scene alone would’ve made even the worst episode worth the price of admission. And Buffy’s account of why she became scared of dummies as a child is so funny and true to life: “I saw a dummy. It gave me the wig. There really wasn’t a story there.”


  28. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on December 6, 2011.]

    i love this episode! I can see what Joss was endeavouring to do; finding the balance of humour with plot. I can agree with many of the comments above with regards to the plot being a little slow and a tad deficient but it confounds me when people proclaim that this episode has nothing to say, it does. It signifies that not all evil acts are committed by monsters in the literal sense but in that human beings can be monsters themselves. This stand alone episode that doesn’t feature any vampires i hasten to add is one of the best of the inaugural season. Plus i want to point out Sid is a cool character. A demon hunter in puppet form! Classic. Who new how fun a talent show could be! The puppet show goes along in planting the seed that Buffy as a show doesn’t take itself to seriously but still be suspenseful, Flash to the scene in Buffy’s bedroom with SId running along the floor. It is my own preference to be found of this episode for the aforementioned reasons in addition to the one-liners and comedy moments. All the actors do a tremendous job in this episode. A real corker of an episode with laughs a plenty. Buffy is going in the right direction. I also want to add that this episode manages to foreshadow over events well, the investigation in Earshot from season 3. Willow’s shyness on stage repeated agin in Nightmares and Season 4’s Restless in her choosing drama as a major in college. Also the episode some assembly required could be considered to be foreshadowed by this episode with regards to the evil that people do. In summary i appreciate this episode!


  29. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on February 1, 2012.]

    The position of my rating this episode hasn’t changed; i love it. Its so unexpected, a demon at a talent show! Its the only time i have ever EVER enjoyed a school talent show or production, and i was a part of a few not in any means by choice i hasten to add.

    My heart goes out to the gang when they realise the true horror and uncaring nature of a head teacher or principal forcing such a task on you so my favourite scene is when the credits are rolling and Buffy, Xander and WIllow are performing a dramatic piece, Buffy’s i don’t care or want to being doing this approach was mine! I adore WIllow, running off like that!

    I also like that this ep has quite a few unscripted moments added in!


  30. [Note: JustJenna posted this comment on March 12, 2012.]

    Gemma, I think I speak for all of us out-of-the-loopers, when I say I would love to know what the unscripted moments are!


  31. [Note: Alex posted this comment on March 13, 2012.]

    I only know of one – Xander’s ‘red rum!’ lines were thrown in by Nicholas Brendan himself. Gemma, please enlighten us about the others!


  32. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on March 14, 2012.]

    When Willow runs of Stage at the end during the dramatic scene is another, The Red Rum bit….I also think the scene with Willow and Giles looking around for Sid was another..


  33. [Note: Zed posted this comment on March 18, 2012.]

    Well I for one enjoyed this episode just because it revealed an early example of the writers’ cleverness. The show leads you to expect a lot and imagine a final battle with the creepy puppet killer, but like half way through, it discards that whole tension and shifts it into another. That’s kinda cool, and makes for interesting tv. Who cares if you can’t watch it again? I for one can’t see myself watching this series again. The episodes are far too long for repeat viewing when you consider how much other stuff life has to offer…


  34. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on August 6, 2012.]

    I disagree Zed, personally for me S1 has a lot to other in terms of reasons to re-watch. Not only do you see the whimsical side to the characters and the show, its like a child seeing disney for the first time. Buffy and co have no burdens on them, no past disappointments or heartache. This season is a nice set up for what the show brings and is in later seasons.

    Its a lovely set up, delving into Buffy’s life in Welcome to the Hellmouth, Never kill a boy on the first date and her romantic life in Angel.

    All that aside i can’t think of a show that has an amazing first season as this one, the comedy, the writing, the concept and the characters/actors must importantly.

    I must point out though that this is my opinion and i respect yours i just wanted to put my view across. Oh and i’m glad you enjoyed this episode because its one of my favourites 🙂


  35. [Note: Summer posted this comment on December 12, 2012.]

    I just watched this again and it was a very creepy episode. I’ve seen it a few times and I was all wigged out, to steal a Buffy term. It had a horror type feel to it. So that’s a plus. All series need a couple of plain old stand alones. Also I enjoy any old episode with a Xander/Cordy interaction because I feel like it feeds at their growing sexual tension… well once Xander gets over Buffy, of course. Don’t fight it!


  36. [Note: Nina posted this comment on December 27, 2012.]

    You forgot: Forshadowing – Cordelia sings the same song ‘Greatest love of all’ in an episode in Angel (season 2 I think)


  37. [Note: Seele posted this comment on January 17, 2013.]

    I think it’s cool that, while Giles (who’s really smart) was the one in danger, the Scooby Gang (who are 2/3 Buffy and Xander) are the ones who figured out that he was :)Also (this may be slightly off-topic, and I have no problems with it being edited out if it is), I remembered the line from this episode half an hour after I finished watching The Usual Suspects for the first time, and I was very embarrassed that I didn’t figure the movie out sooner :(.Or possibly :)?


  38. [Note: telephoto1 posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    I think Mike’s being way too harsh on this episode, especially in his rewritten review (more on the rewriting subject later). When I watched this the first time, I thought that perhaps Joss was paying a Buffy-esque homage to some classic evil-dummy stories of the past… I immediately thought of the classic Twilight Zone episode for example. The plot held my attention throughout with a mix of suspense and humor with a splash of some slightly campy horror. Is it an A+ episode? No… but I think that a low B/high C would have been more appropriate.

    Back to Mike’s review… having read them all, no offense but I find he tends to be unduly critical of most of the stand-alone episodes. I think Joss strategically placed them where he did to purposely give the viewer a break from (and build suspense for) the season’s prevailing story arc…something that’s needed to keep the season from becoming tedious. I think that a season with nothing but Master-only, Angelus-only, Glory-only etc. episodes would become tiresome and the viewer would become bored halfway through the given season waiting for closure.

    One last thought… rewriting a review after watching something, say, two or three times is one thing-you might have missed some plot points, etc.-I can see that… but doing it again after watching something multiple times is an unfairness to the episode in my opinion. After watching something too many times (with a few obvious exceptions like the A+ episodes) one could understandably become jaded, and viewed through that prism, downgrading one’s review subsequent to that IMO is “unfair” to the episode, if you will. Hope that made sense.

    Great site for a great show. Thanks for the forum.


  39. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I think what you’re seeing here is more that I don’t think Season 1 is a quality season of television rather than any consistent harshness towards stand-alone episodes. If a stand-alone episode is capable providing character development/insight, earned emotional resonance, and depth of theme, it will score quite high in my grading system. Most Season 1 episodes cannot put it all together, but there are numerous examples in other seasons where I am favorable to stand-alones. (Heck, just look at my recent rewrite of S2’s “Phases” for an example.)

    As I’m doing these early season rewrites, the scores — overall — have actually gone up a bit, especially in Season 2. Even in Season 1, “The Harvest”, “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”, and “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” all saw grade increases. So it’s not as simple as you are painting it.

    The entire purpose of Critically Touched is to analyze the episodes from a retrospective angle. The ones that hold up, both critically and emotionally, to repeat viewings — i.e. having staying power — are the ones that will grade highly. That’s really what this site is all about.

    When I initially reviewed the early seasons of the show, I had no experience as a critic and hadn’t yet developed the tools to dig deep into an episode critically — I was mostly focused on the emotional side, with some character observations thrown in. Those reviews were okay at times, but not a representation of what I want the site to be in the here and now. These new reviews reflect the kind of intellectual + emotional blend that I love. This may not be to everyone’s taste though, and that’s totally cool. 🙂

    I hope that explains the perspective of these reviews a little better.


  40. [Note: Other Scott posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    I find this episode a little more interesting than some of the episodes around it, in that it is actively trying to subvert expectations with the Puppet actually being the good guy, whereas almost all the episodes around it are pretty predictable. Unfortunately, the execution was sloppily done at best.

    One thing about Critically Touched that people may miss is that Mike grades almost entirely on rewatch value. This episode depends entirely on a surprise, so rewatch value is very minimal. This is a bit of an incongruous way of grading, because often the writers of the episode only intend it to be watched once, but it fits in with the mandate of the website as a whole, I think.


  41. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    On writers’ intent, I’m not so sure about your theory. If the writers truly only care about the first viewing, why ever bother stuffing an episode with the kind of thought, depth, and foreshadowing that many episodes in Buffy have? There’d be no reason to! Just have Buffy slay a new demon each week and pack the episodes to the brim with puns, right?

    Maybe other TV shows operate with this mindset, but that’s probably why I don’t like most TV shows. 🙂


  42. [Note: Other Scott posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    I don’t mean every episode. Just sometimes. And Season 1 of Buffy is a different animal from the rest of it.


  43. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    Perhaps, but then I’m not sure why this way of reviewing would by any more “incongruous” than any other way. 😉


  44. [Note: telephoto1 posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    Mike…I fully understand that the idea of your reviews is that they are retrospective in nature. I just saw elsewhere that you said that some reviews were done when you were in your teens (something I didn’t realize when I made the post above) so I can understand your wanting to polish things a bit. As to the standalone eps however, whether you upgrade or downgrade them I still think you tend to hold them to a different standard (perhaps not consciously) based on what I’ve seen.

    Other Scott’s comment about S1 being different seems valid to an extent; the show was finding a direction, and the cast was getting used to one another (and imo did a fairly decent job considering the short season). The acting was decent, particularly SMG who seemed almost born for the role. The rest of the cast became noticeably better commencing with season 2 onward to be sure. David Boreanaz gets my vote for most improved actor in the shortest time. He was very good from S2 forward but was, to be kind, a bit stiff in S1.


  45. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 7, 2014.]

    Well, I’ll certainly entertain the possibility that I have some kind of bias I’m not aware of, but it’d help if you could actually provide concrete examples of this. I do my best to judge each episode on its own merits, based on the same underlying criteria.

    Season 1 “finding a direction” is an excuse for poorer quality. Yes, it was, and that’s understandable. Objectively, under the criteria by which I judge the show by, it’s subpar to everything that came after it. That’s what the grades reflect. There’s certainly entertainment and charm to be had in this season, but it’s consistently lacking depth and evolving characterization. It’s very much a C+ season — not terrible, but not quite good either.


  46. [Note: TheTad posted this comment on March 13, 2014.]

    I think up there may be so e deeper significance to this episode. The writers play around with and introduce the idea that /slayers have a premature expiration date. There is a hint if some mirroring between Buffy and Morgan. Like Morgan, Buffy also has a kind of terminal illness, being the slayer. The ‘better half’ of Morgan is the demon hunter who actually die after killng a demon. This may be a symbolic way of introducing Buffy’s concerns over death or….as spike will later say, her death wish.


  47. [Note: Spuffy4eva posted this comment on April 6, 2014.]

    NOO! I love this one on a totally insane, non-existent basis. It’s fabulous because of its tackiness. Also Sid! Wow, he’s amazing. And the end credits are brilliantly hilarious. I know I’m wrong, I do, but I adore this episode.

    P.S. Love the font in the captcha 🙂


  48. [Note: Spuffiness posted this comment on April 30, 2014.]

    Mike must hate 90% of todays TV shows, because almost all the tv shows I watch today are extremely plot driven and barely focus on the characters which pisses me off a lot because like Mike, I happen to care more about character relevance than plot; albeit when the plot is occasional, non offensive, mindless fun like in ‘The Puppet Show’, I do not mind as much.

    With a lot of today’s tv shows (TVD, Teen Wolf etc) it seems like they’re competing with each other on basis of who can have the better plot and who can have better action. They hardly seem to give us the amazing character development that most of us crave. Buffy excelled at characters, which is why it’s my favorite goddamn show, even today. Despite that, I happen to like this episode because having an episode that doesn’t have extreme deepness to it, or significance to it is very rare in the Buffyverse and thus, acceptable.
    I don’t know why I find myself sympathizing with a lot of BTVS Season 1, but oh well. I would’ve given this episode at least a C+, but I can totally tell where you are coming from and why you were a little harsh on this season.

    P.S I LOOOVE PRINCIPAL SNYDER. One of the most hilarious Buffy characters ever.
    P.P.S The end credits were so hilarious, and there was some nice (although maybe i’m reading too much into it) foreshadowing on Willow’s stage fright…Which is brought to light in Nightmares.


  49. [Note: alfridito017 posted this comment on April 30, 2014.]

    I just want to say that I believe there needs to be a balance between character relevance or character development and plot progression. It ‘s like saying plot is not important at all. It’s like a side note to everything else is happening. Plus I believe it depends on what kind of shows you’re looking for. Is it entertainment your looking for, action, plot driven shows, philosophical shows. For me, it’s just happens to be both.


  50. [Note: Luvtennis posted this comment on May 11, 2014.]

    I love this episode!

    The key theme is the danger of trusting appearances. Both Sid AND Morgan are heroes, and Morgan might haved been spared his fate if his weird behavior hadn’t caused suspicion. Notice that Buffy’s instincts are right. Morgan is neither weird nor a murderer.


  51. [Note: slayerfemme posted this comment on October 3, 2014.]

    Almost missed this quote while I was watching the episode:

    Xander: Anyone else feel like they’ve just been Keyser Soze’d?

    Usual Suspects reference. Great movie.


  52. [Note: Krssven posted this comment on June 4, 2015.]

    Just discovered the site and generally loving your reviews!

    I must have seen the last four episodes of S1 – as well as the first two – dozens of times but the rest maybe three times total (oh the joys of pre-DVD VHS video releases and not being able to find complete copies of seasons). The Puppet Show is actually one of my favourite S1 episodes. Ignoring the production values (most of the season suffers from that), it’s actually a well put-together Buffy episode in my opinion. We get another couple of vital pieces of Buffyverse mythology here – the discovery that other people (‘Demon Hunters’) exist that fight the supernatural and that demons can have different motivations (Moloch’s cult forming vs the Brotherhood of Seven’s magic that keeps them looking human). In addition we discover that Buffy is perhaps not the first Slayer to have fought alongside allies of some kind.

    On top of this we get another of the key genre subversions. One of the best things about the show after it’s dialogue and character studies is its subversion of classic horror; where in most horror genre pieces the dummy would have been the murderer, here he is the exact opposite and the culprit hides in plain sight.

    I love Willow and Xander’s interaction in this episode. Buffy seems to wander through it being ‘wigged’ by the dummy while W&X get a couple of really cute moments that reinforce the idea that they have been friends for years. I also particularly enjoy Buffy and Sid’s shared dialogue just after he tries to kill her, as they both stick to their assumptions that the other is the demon until they both realise what the other is actually saying. All great dialogue that might have fallen flat on its face in other hands.

    As for the main plot, aside from the subversion and the mythology tidbits, it’s a fairly average affair. It still stands above ‘Teacher’s Pet’, ‘The Pack’ and IRYJ, which for me are S1’s weakest episodes by far. This one is in the same area as ‘Witch’, in that it’s a standalone that is fun to watch and isn’t cringe-inducing to rewatch. The main area I disagree with the review on is emotion, which I feel is present throughout the episode – the comedy from Giles/Cordelia/Willow/Xander, the melancholic subtext when the gang realise that when Sid talks about being free, he means he free to die. And of course Armin Shimerman, who just wanders about giving everyone that ‘being watched’ feeling. I’d also say character deserves a higher score, given that most of the emotion in the episode comes from good character moments.

    In all I’d say this one deserves to be in the 65-70 range – still not as good as Witch but not far off at all.

    ”Yeah, exactly! But when I turned the lights on it was already gone. I think it went out my window.
    Like a cat.
    Yeah! No!”


  53. [Note: Jewel posted this comment on September 7, 2015.]

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes this episode more than a little. I get why you value it less than others, Mike, but I disagree about it losing its appeal after a few viewings. It’s a well-told premise, if a bit cliché, with lots of fun to be had.

    I am glad that you took the time to acknowledge Buffy’s connection to Sid. A mostly inconsequential point, but it makes for a lovely moment all the same as Buffy tenderly takes the lifeless dummy body into her arms.


  54. [Note: Big Time James posted this comment on December 10, 2015.]

    This was my favorite episode to this point in season 1, and I thought the last 4 of the season were the best episodes of s1 in general (this was the first of the last 4). Would give it an A+, loved it.

    From your review: “With none of the reasons I love this show so much for present, there’s not much to talk about.”

    Here’s where I can see that we are opposites. This show was a horror/comedy. That’s what it was. This episode had horror, and it had comedy. So you did not love a horror/comedy show for its horror or its comedy? I find that very odd. This was hands-down the funniest episode of season 1, and comedy was one of the main reasons I was watching.

    “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”

    And yet I must have seen this episode 10 times. And how many times did I watch most episodes of s6 and s7? Exactly twice, once when they first aired and again rewatching the series with my son 5 years ago.

    Do you never watch stand-alone movies more than once? I’ve seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” about 10 times too. “Die Hard.” “Christmas Story.”

    Why do I watch? For fun! Fun is the whole point!

    “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.”

    Well, now here is the thing. If a hilarious horror/comedy story with a very nice twist was so easy to write, TV would be full of them of this quality. But please tell me what TV show pulls off “Puppet Show” level fun on any kind of a consistent basis? Because if it exists, I want to watch it. I have not seen it. It doesn’t exist.

    There have been pieces here and there… the wishing well episode of Supernatural, some Vince Gilligan scripts for X Files, “Groundhog Fae” on Lost Girl, Jane Espenson scripts for several shows, some Moffat Dr. Who episodes (he has admitted to being a Whedon devotee as a writer though)… But none of these shows has been nearly as consistently fun as Buffy (until s6 and s7, when the fun train crashed and burned).


  55. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 12, 2015.]

    Why do I watch? For fun! Fun is the whole point!

    You seem to be misunderstanding the full purpose of this website and, particularly, my Buffy reviews. Buffy is, indeed, quite often a very “fun” show to watch, which is, quite correctly, one of the reasons to enjoy coming back to it. But if fun was the only reason to come back to it this website would not exist.

    Some of us watch television and film for more than a few laughs and a good time — we watch it to explore ourselves through relatable characters and complex themes. The best television out there not only entertains but also pulls at the heart, challenges the mind, and perhaps even stirs the soul. There’s a reason this website is called Critically Touched. It’s a place to champion shows that touch our hearts and our minds.

    The quote I pulled from you above is analogous to eating too much candy. Shutting off one’s mind for some empty entertainment can be a treat from time-to-time, but if one eats those empty calories all the time they’ll become malnourished. Buffy, then, is like being offered a candied apple — it’s got a tasty and shiny outer shell that initially draws us to it, but it’d be a shame to only eat the outer candied shell and then throw out all that nutritious (and still tasty) fiber beneath it.


  56. [Note: larryd posted this comment on January 24, 2016.]

    Mike – I like your reviews.

    I’m coming in so many years late because I’m a late-comer to the Buffy show, a late-comer who wonders how he could have missed something so amazingly great. It’s without question one of the ten best shows of all time.

    Anyhow, I believe you touched on the point of this episode but underestimated its importance. It’s about Buffy emotionally facing the fact that the life of a slayer is nasty. She has recognized this intellectually in earlier episodes but Buffy seems to see herself as a hero and kind of thinks since shes a hero things will work out. But once she gets to know Sid, she sees a man who was one of the REALLY GOOD GUYS. Yet Sid has spent decades trapped heart, soul, and mind in a ventriloquist’s dummy wondering whose hand will be up his butt next. Sid prefers death yet fights demons up to his last moment. Sid’s story is harshly sad and Buffy at his end sees that hers could be even worse.

    This episode is important because Buffy is coming to see how horrible for her the slayer calling may be. It moves her character along toward seeing the pain of “I’m sixteen and I don’t want to die.”

    I think this episode deserves a B. Not much better because some of the humor is too corny.


  57. [Note: J.C. posted this comment on January 24, 2016.]

    Always nice to see newcomers to the Buffy franchise.

    And I think you make some pretty valid points about The Puppet Show.


  58. [Note: LeQueenBe posted this comment on June 16, 2016.]

    An interesting point, the song that Cordelia is butchering here is also the one she sings for Lorne in the Angel episode “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” which could hint at a foreshadowing of a return of teen Cordy due to Lorne’s spell in “Spin the Bottle”


  59. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on June 16, 2016.]

    In addition, Buffy’s favorite song is said to be the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself,” which has a lyrical overlap with “The Greatest Love of All” that I’d rather not discuss right now.


  60. [Note: larryd posted this comment on October 3, 2016.]

    I like the Divinyls a lot but it is hard for me to see “I touch myself” as Buffy’s favorite. Really? Can you give a source for that?


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