My Buffy re-watch brings me to The Puppet Show, with spoilers. Like many Season 1 episodes it is often criticised. Some Buffy fans would even go so far as to say skip it. But not me. I am a firm believer that watching every episode helps in appreciating the relationships and humour between the key characters.
Ok, so this episode has a corny talking dummy, but the character’s reactions to it make it well worth the watch. When I first saw this episode I particularly loved the awkward final dramatic scene played out by Buffy, Willow and Xander. This was a moment when I thought, ok, this TV show is really on to something.
Less said about the horny dummy the better. Looking back, what stands out from this episode are the funny and creepy moments. There is also a healthy dose of foreshadowing.
Is it just me?
Or is the scene where Cordelia rehearses The Greatest Love of All reminiscent of Dirty Dancing when Baby’s sister rehearses?
Both Lisa and Cordelia are confident, but their singing is off-key, their confidence misplaced. Cordelia seems to be a character who is in control of her life at this point in Season One of Buffy. But it turns out that her character has a lot of growing to do, a lot of depth and confidence to find.
Also, there’s just something so identifiable about the cheesy off-key talent show song. This is a funny moment, but also an endearing one. Just me then? Ok, moving on…
The introduction of Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder
Shimerman was well-known for his role as Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. To have him appear in Buffy at this early stage added to the show’s sci-fi credibility. Shimerman has spoke about how working on both DS9 and Buffy at the same time informed his portrayal of both characters.
Snyder makes it clear he hates kids. Yet the principal insists Giles should work more directly with students. Snyder is a brilliant addition to the show. He is a stern principal, replacing “touchy, feely” Principle Flutie who, unfortunately got eaten. Snyder won’t tolerate gruesome murders on campus, but they are unfortunately still a regular occurrence. Sinister from the outset, in this episode he is a red herring murder suspect who frequently lurks ominously in the shadows. He has just appeared at the school as a series of horrible killings have begun. It turns out he is not the murderer, but there is definitely something off about him.
It is clear from Snyder’s first appearance that he will make Buffy’s already complicated life more difficult. The “something off” about him continues to fester throughout the rest of seasons one, two and three. Eventually it becomes clear there is a connection between Snyder and Mayor Wilkins. Snyder continues to be a thorn in Buffy’s side until the end of Season 3, when … like Principal Flutie, who he so derided for getting eaten … Snyder gets eaten.
Giles running the talent show – and Willow’s stage fright
The task assigned to the librarian by Snyder leaves Giles like a fish out of water, but he reluctantly rises to the task. When Giles reassures the performers and gathers the “power circle”, the episode foreshadows scenes in Willow’s dream sequence from the season 4 episode Restless. Willow shows a high level of performance anxiety in the Puppet Show. This is shown again in Nightmares, the very next episode of Season One. Being on stage in front of everyone is seen to be one of Willow’s worst nightmares. Her dream in Restless again picks up on Willow’s stage fright. It shows her anxiety is rooted in being herself and the fear that her true self will be revealed. She fears she has been acting all along.
The gruesome moment we realise who the killer is
Quite late in the episode it is revealed that the killer demon who is disguised as a student is the previously unsuspected useless magician Marc. His magic show includes inexplicably strapping Giles to a guillotine which will slice off the top off his head. Thankfully Buffy comes to the rescue just in time, phew…
The ensuing fight and defeat of the demon which leaves the stage in a mess leads to a wonderful moment as the curtain rises. Armin Shimerman’s reaction as Snyder is perfect as he views the debacle which appears to be the talent show’s opening.
And if that wasn’t enough, then there is this…
It’s a perfect ending to a not entirely perfect episode, but still one that you definitely should never skip.