It’s New To Me – BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (“The Puppet Show” / “Nightmares”)

In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!

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The first season of Buffy has been labelled by pretty much all fans of the show as the weakest season in its entire run, but I’ve found myself rather charmed by it overall after a somewhat rocky start. Ten episodes in, I can say with great enthusiasm that Joss Whedon and company have endeared me to the title character and her entourage, whom I am led to believe are nicknamed “The Scoobies” online, and knowing that the show’s only going to get better and more engrossing as it goes along really makes me excited to watch more. This week’s episodes continue this season’s penchant for exploring standard teen issues with a good balance of comedy and drama while adding even more depth to the title character.

Episode 9 of Buffy’s first season, “The Puppet Show,” centers on a schoolwide talent show that Giles has been put in charge of by the tough, no-nonsense Principal Snyder. After hearing Buffy and her friends mock the participants, Snyder tells them that they too have to participate in the talent show, which makes all of them anxious at the thought of appearing onstage in front of their peers. While the new principal explains to Giles that he means to run a safer and more disciplined school than it was under the more permissive Principal Flutie’s administration, the body of one of the talent show’s participants named Emily is discovered in the girl’s locker room with her heart torn out. Giles immediately suspects supernatural activity (because, you know, Hellmouth and all), and Buffy and the gang begin to interview all of the students who were nearby at the time the body was discovered.

One of the main suspects on the Scoobies’ list is Morgan, a bright yet timid student who had demonstrated an uncanny knack for ventriloquism during the talent show tryouts. The gang suspects that Morgan may be under the control of his puppet Sid, whom they believe may be possessed by a demon. Buffy attempts to break into Morgan’s locker after school hours and is caught by Principal Snyder, who tells her that he has his eye on her. We then find out that she is being watched by Morgan and Sid, who mentions something about Buffy being “The One.” At home, Sid pays a visit to Buffy’s room while she is sleeping and escapes just as she wakes up. Having admitted a fear of ventriloquist dummies earlier in the episode, she shares this information with Xander and Willow, who for some reason choose not to believe her, because in a town where vampires roam the streets and demons can take over the Internet, apparently the idea of a living puppet is just too far-fetched.

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Anyway, Giles tells the Scoobies that Emily’s killer may be a demon who harvests human organs in order to maintain a human appearance. This theory is strengthened when Buffy later finds Morgan dead with his brain removed and is attacked by Sid, whom she fights to a standstill. Their ensuing discussion reveals that Sid is in fact possessed by the spirit of a deceased demon hunter who had suspected that Buffy herself was the offending beast. Sid is then brought into the Scoobies’ investigation to find and destroy the real demon. After finding Morgan’s brain, they discover that Morgan had a brain tumor and surmise that the demon is still looking for a healthy brain. We then find out that the demon is in fact a student named Marc, who tricks Giles into helping him with his magic trick for the talent show that involves stepping into a guillotine. Giles is saved right before his scalp is sliced off when Buffy and Sid team up to destroy the demon, and once the deed is done, Sid’s soul escapes the puppet’s body, having fulfilled his purpose. The episode ends on a very funny note when the auditorium curtain opens on the Scoobies right after the climactic battle, facing a very confused talent show audience.

There are enough cool ideas and entertaining moments in “The Puppet Show” to almost keep my mind off a few nagging questions I have about the episode. First off, if Marc was a demon all along, what was his history within the town? Was he a fairly new student or had he lived there for years, biding his time until he decided to start killing his fellow students and taking their organs? Perhaps Buffy and her posse should keep a list of all transfer students so they can be on the short list of suspects whenever weird things happen at the school, which of course they always do. Regardless, I liked the Pinocchio-esque character arc given to Sid, and I was especially amused by the Scoobies’ anxiety about being in the talent show, which is given a nice payoff during the closing credits as they botch their way through a scene from Oedipus Rex. It’s a funny thought that even though these kids face unspeakable horrors on a regular basis, the thought of looking foolish or otherwise uncool in front of their fellow students is enough to freak them out. “The Puppet Show” is yet another fun episode from Season One and earns 4 out of 5 Unsavory Puppet Come-Ons.

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The kids face even more fears to overcome in the aptly-titled “Nightmares,” in which the entire student body of Sunnydale High experiences real-life versions of their most terrifying dreams. The phenomenon begins when a student named Wendell opens his textbook in class to find several tarantulas crawling out of it. While this is happening, Buffy is puzzled to find a young boy standing in the doorway of the classroom, looking worried and apologetic. After showing up for history class and realizing that there is a test that she has not studied for, she runs to the library to ask Giles if he has noticed any strange activity within the school. Giles, however, is unable to help Buffy and appears anxious and bothered. These bizarre occurrences become even more severe when a student named Laura sneaks down to the school’s basement for a smoke break only to be severely beaten by a hulking, disfigured man with a bat for a hand who says nothing but “Lucky Nineteen.” While visiting Laura in the hospital, the Scoobies chat up her doctor who tells them that Laura got off lucky compared to another patient of his, a young boy who was beaten into a coma. Buffy looks into the boy’s room and sees that he is the same boy she saw in class when all this weird stuff started happening.

After Xander shows up in class in just his underwear and Giles admits that he seems to have lost the ability to read, the gang realizes that something is making the worst nightmares of the entire school come true. Buffy takes a break from all the craziness to meet up with her father Hank and is horrified when he tells her that she is to blame for his divorce from her mother. She then seeks out the astral projection of the boy, who introduces himself as Billy. They are soon attacked by the same monster that injured Laura and as they run away from him, Billy hints that the last thing he remembers before he fell into his coma was feeling like it was his fault that his team lost his most recent Little League game. Buffy and Billy then find themselves at the Sunnydale cemetery, where the Master overpowers her and buries her alive. Meanwhile, back at the school, Xander is chased by a murderous birthday clown and Willow finds herself onstage during a performance of Madame Butterfly and is paralyzed with fear. After Xander faces his fear by punching the clown in the face, he regroups with Willow and Giles, and the three of them run to the cemetery, where they find a fresh grave with Buffy’s name on it. Giles admits that this scenario is his worst nightmare, since he is responsible for protecting Buffy, but his mourning is short-lived when Buffy digs herself out of her grave, only to reveal that she has been turned into a vampire.

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The Scoobies hurry to the hospital, where they find Billy’s astral projection waiting by the bed where his comatose body lies. The monster appears again, and Vampire Buffy knocks it unconscious and tells Billy that he has to face his nightmare in order to set himself free. At that moment, Billy wakes up from his coma and everything goes back to normal, including Buffy. Billy’s Little League coach shows up, asking how his “Lucky Nineteen” is doing, which convinces the Scoobies that he put Billy in his coma after angrily beating him after his team lost the game, and they have him arrested. The episode ends with Buffy driving off to spend the weekend with her father, while Xander reluctantly admits that he was still attracted to Buffy while she was in vampire mode.

“Nightmares” is my favorite episode of the entire season so far, mostly because it delved deeper into the characters’ individual psyches than any previous episode. While some of the waking nightmares were admittedly silly and typical for most teens, most of the visions that Buffy experiences successfully make her a more sympathetic and relatable protagonist by showing that her experiences with these dangerous forces have not left her unshaken and that, deep down, she’s just a regular teenage girl who is anxious about her future. I especially enjoyed the moments with her father, which showed an additional burden her profession is placing on her personal life. Hopefully future episodes will continue to explore this facet of Buffy’s character and further develop the personalities of her supporting cast. 4.5 out of 5 Candy Bar Trails.

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Who ARE these people!?

Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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  1. “That’s the kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten,” is still one of my favorite lines.

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