The Puppet Show

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"The Puppet Show"
Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode
Buffy 1x09.jpg
Xander with Sid the Dummy
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 9
Directed by Ellen S. Pressman
Written by Rob Des Hotel
Dean Batali
Production code 4V09
Original air date May 5, 1997
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"I, Robot... You, Jane"
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"Nightmares"
List of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes

"The Puppet Show" is the ninth episode of season 1 of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The episode was written by story editors Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali, and directed by Ellen S. Pressman. The Scooby Gang becomes involved in the school talent show through the machinations of new Sunnydale High principal Mr. Snyder. When one of the students involved in the show turns up dead with her heart removed, the gang begins to suspect another talent show performer, Morgan, and his ventriloquist's dummy, Sid, which appears to have a life of its own.

Plot[edit]

The episode begins with a typical horror-movie shot from the POV of the villain, seeing a ballet dancer (Emily) as a demonic voice whispers "I will be flesh".

In try-outs for a talent show, Cordelia sings "Greatest Love of All" off key; Giles, wincing, stops her. Buffy, Xander and Willow join Giles, and tease him as he complains that the new Principal (whom he calls the Führer) put him in charge of the talent show, against his wishes, so he could have more contact with the students. As Snyder overhears the Scoobies making fun of Giles, he punishes them by forcing them to participate in the talent show. The next try-out is Morgan and his dummy, Sid, and Buffy confesses to being freaked out by dummies. Morgan's act takes a turn for the better when Sid suddenly develops a personality and starts making sarcastic comments about the act.

The scene cuts to Emily, who notices the demon (unseen by the audience watching her) and screams.

The talent show rehearsals continue with Marc, an unsuccessful magician. Buffy, Willow and Xander debate what to do for the talent show, and settle on a dramatic scene, since it does not require any actual talent. Sid watches and makes rude comments. Snyder explains to Giles that he will run a safer, more disciplined school – but is interrupted by the discovery of Emily's body, whose heart has been cut out with a knife. The Scoobies debate whether the killer is a demon or a human, eliciting Willow's comment that a human murderer is scarier since it could be anyone — even herself.

The Scoobies split up to interview people from the talent show to find the killer. Everything seems to point to Morgan. They decide to check Morgan's locker after school hours. As Buffy is busy breaking into Morgan's locker, and finding nothing, Snyder finds her almost red-handed, and admonishes her for being in the school after hours. Morgan and Sid turn out to be hiding, watching Buffy. Sid tells Morgan that Buffy is "the one", saying that her strength is evidence of it.

As Buffy goes to sleep, Sid waits until the lights are off and sneaks into her room. When she wakes up, he quickly scampers out. Naturally, Buffy has a hard time convincing the Scoobies that Sid broke into her room. Giles, on his part, suggests that the demon responsible might be needing the heart (and later, a brain) to keep a human guise, which means the demon could be anyone, once again. When a teacher confiscates Sid, Xander steals him so that Buffy can talk to Morgan alone. As Buffy searches for Morgan backstage, Snyder is again displeased with her being where he does not think she belongs.

In the library, just as Willow finds references to another possible explanation — animated dummies might harvest organs to become humans — Sid is gone when Xander stops paying any attention to him. The scene cuts to Buffy, finding Morgan's body, missing a brain, just as a chandelier falls on her. When she wakes up, Sid attacks her, but during their fight she realizes that Sid is a good guy and they realize they are both working for the same goal: to stop the demon.

Sid explains he is a demon hunter, cursed to dummy form until he kills the last of the Brotherhood of Seven, those demons which harvest a heart and a brain. Realizing the demon has what it needs, they theorize it will be moving on, and so it will be whoever is missing from the show. Sid suggests to Giles to form a "power circle" to find out who is missing, but Giles sees everyone there. As they watch from above, Sid tells Buffy that once they kill the demon, he will die, as he no longer has a body to return to. When Sid is again missing, Buffy finds Morgan's brain when she looks for him. Buffy, Willow and Xander discover Morgan had brain cancer and was already slowly dying, therefore his brain was inadequate, which is probably the reason the demon did not use it, and the demon is now looking for someone with a healthy, smart brain - like Giles.

At the talent show, Marc the magician tricks Giles into strapping himself into a guillotine, ostensibly a magic prop, so that he can take his scalp off and get his brain. Buffy, Xander and Willow rush to rescue Giles, and with Sid's help they kill Marc — who was the demon all along — by putting him on his own guillotine and save Giles. Sid finishes the demon by driving his knife through the heart and collapses as his soul is freed from the dummy. A moment later the curtain rises and the Scoobies are unwittingly centre-stage before an audience waiting expectantly for them to begin.

During the end credits, Buffy, Xander and Willow perform a scene from Oedipus Rex with remarkable lack of talent, which ends abruptly when Willow succumbs to stage fright and runs off the stage without a word.

Production details[edit]

Cut scenes[edit]

Two dialogue exchanges from the original script were cut due to length:[1]

Buffy: And I don’t think we’ll be featuring Xander’s special gift...
Xander: Okay, some people are jealous that they can’t burp the alphabet.


Buffy: ...so we’re back to drama. We’ll just do it quickly. Get in, get out. Nobody gets hurt.

Buffy: Pretty good. I never heard ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on the tuba before.
Lisa: Most people aren’t up to it.

On the original airing of the episode, the closing credits was split-screened with a scene in which Buffy, Willow, and Xander perform a scene from the play Oedipus Rex. This scene was excluded in repeat airings until the series left the WB Network. It is included in the DVD Collections, and in present television reruns. Cordelia sings her talent show song "Greatest Love of All" again in the Angel episode "Slouching Toward Bethlehem."

Numerous ad-libs were included in the final cut. Such unscripted bits are when Willow runs off the stage terrified and when Xander cries “Redrum! Redrum!”[1]

Cultural references[edit]

  • This episode plays with the idea of an evil, human looking toy, and is probably influenced by the Child's Play series, in which a serial killer (Charles Lee Ray, better known as Chucky) uses voodoo to transfer his soul into a doll. It may also draw on the 1978 motion picture Magic (in which a schizophrenic ventriloquist's dummy is actually alive) and an episode in the 1945 British anthology film, Dead of Night.
  • "Redrum! Redrum!": Xander’s line here is taken from Stephen King’s The Shining, in which the word 'redrum' is 'murder' spelled backwards.
  • Xander asks if "anyone else feels like they've been Keyser Soze'd", referring to the character from The Usual Suspects.
  • The piece the Scooby Gang perform at the end of the episode is a scene from Oedipus the King (Oedipus Rex), an Athenian Tragedy by Sophocles.

Continuity[edit]

  • Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) was so popular with fans that he appeared regularly in the series until "Graduation Day." He later reappeared in Xander's dream sequence in the Season Four finale "Restless".
  • Principal Snyder claims that Principal Flutie's "woolly-headed, liberal thinking" led him to get eaten, a reference to the episode earlier this season, "The Pack".
  • Snyder also references "spontaneous cheerleader combustion", a reference to the events of "Witch".
  • Cordelia's ironic and horrible rendition of The Greatest Love of All would be repeated on the Angel episode "Slouching Toward Bethlehem".

Arc significance[edit]

  • Principal Snyder is introduced, after Principal Flutie's death in "The Pack".
  • Willow succumbs to stage-fright in the episode's epilogue, a fear that is further explored in the following episode "Nightmares" and in her dream sequence in Season Four's "Restless".

Broadcast and reception[edit]

"The Puppet Show" was first broadcast on The WB on May 5, 1997. It received a Nielsen rating of 1.9 on its original airing.[2]

Noel Murray of The A.V. Club gave "The Puppet Show" a grade of C+, calling it "a reasonably entertaining, better-than-average piece of horror-comedy, even as it recycles the hoary old 'killer dummy' routine." He praised the twist and the comedy, but felt that its problem was that it "has nothing to offer beyond a few laughs and a few shocks".[3] DVD Talk's Phillip Duncan wrote of the episode, "it seems like standard fare until the plot nears the end and the truth is revealed. It's another reversal of roles that keep [sic] the show's format interesting."[4] A review from the BBC called it "a very inventive episode, and one of the best of the first season". The review praised how the direction was ambiguous in showing whether Sid was really alive, and praised the running joke of Buffy, Willow, and Xander having to participate in the talent show.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Golden, Christopher, and Nancy Holder. The Watcher's Guide, Vol. 1. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.
  2. ^ "Nielsen Ratings for Buffy's First Season". Archived from the original on 23 August 2006. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Murray, Noel (19 June 2008). ""Angel", etc.". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Duncan, Phillip (21 January 2002). "Buffy the Vampire Slayer — Season 1". DVD Talk. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Puppet Show: Review". BBC. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 

External links[edit]