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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: "Ted" / "Bad Eggs" / "Surprise" / "Innocence"

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I have one major qualm with "Ted," a generally entertaining MotW episode with some solid emotional underpinnings. That qualm is this: Even though Buffy's innate sense of danger sets off alarm bells when her mom starts dating the too-good-to-be-true Ted (played by John Ritter), she's still way-too-hostile way-too-quick to the idea of her mother having a romantic life. I'm sure Buffy loves her daddy, and still dreams of getting the family back together, but while she herself realizes that she's being childish, that doesn't make her knee-jerk negativity any more credible.

On the other hand, it does lead to lines like Buffy's mediation on vampires: "People are perfectly happy, then vampires come along, making mini-pizzas." There's an awful lot of cute in "Ted," whether it be Buffy forlornly calling, "Here, vampires…" when looking for some ass to kick, or Xander and Willow debating whether The Captain or Tennille had the real power in that duo. Not to mention the one laugh-out-loud moment in the episode, when Jenny tries to come to the rescue of a vampire-fighting Giles but instead shoots him in the back with a crossbow, leading Giles to quip that he was saved by his "layers of tweed."

The Jenny-shooting-Giles moment is fairly typical of an episode with some unexpected twists and turns. While I guessed that Ted might be a robot (if only because of someone's offhand The Stepford Wives joke), or an autocrat (because of the occasional nods to one of my favorite horror movies, The Stepfather), I sure as hell didn't expect Ted to hit Buffy and then for Buffy to accidentally "kill" him, with only half the episode done.

Buffy then decides she can't excuse her involuntary manslaughter–"I'm the slayer…I had no right"–which means much of the back half of this episode has to do with her guilt, leaving little time for revelations or explanations regarding Ted's robot-itude. His backstory is left for a closing walk-and-talk, and I wish he'd gotten a little more play. (Question: Can Ted, you know, "do it?") Or maybe it's just that I miss John Ritter. After all, nobody beats The Machine.

There's also a lot of business in this episode regarding something Angel says at on point: "Loneliness is about the scariest thing there is." That's what has Giles still fumbling to reconcile with Jenny, and what has Xander and Cordelia still getting their smooch on in any dark corner they can find. In Xander's case, his attraction to Cordelia can be partly explained by a comment he makes about Ted's opiate cookies: "I sometimes like things that are not good for me." As for Cordelia? I'm still figuring that one out. I'll say this though: I'm starting to think Cordelia leads a more interesting double life than any other character on the show.

"Bad Eggs"

Much as "The Dark Age" was practically a post-script to "Lie To Me," so "Bad Eggs" offers a lighter, more action-packed take on the themes of "Ted"–so light and action-packed in fact that at a certain point it just lets the themes go and becomes a fairly conventional horrorshow. (And a pretty good one, in my opinion.)

Continuing on with the question of what makes a good parent, "Bad Eggs" offers the spectacle of Buffy, Willow, Xander and Cordelia toting around eggs, in order to learn about adult responsibility. Trouble is, these eggs ain't full of yolk; there be mind-controlling beasties inside. (Actually, I think any parent will tell you that this is a fairly accurate description of pregnancy and child-rearing.) Soon the egg-slaves are working hard for a mother Bezoar, while Buffy is simultaneously fighting off the Gorch brothers, two cowboy vampires who rode into town looking for trouble.

I don't have a heck of a lot to say about "Bad Eggs," because it's not an episode begging for intense analysis. It's a very tightly plotted 45 minutes, full of "Oh no, look out for that tentacle creeping out of Cordelia's teddy bear backpack!"-type thrills and "Isn't it just like Xander to hard-boil his egg?"-type humor. In a way, the primary function of "Bad Eggs" is to ease away from the themes of parenting and guardianship and ease into the major theme that the next two episodes are so smartly going to explore. Or put more plainly: This is an episode that introduces the idea of sex. Not in a giggly, Xander-makes-a-joke-about-being-horny way, but in a gee-these-kids-are-spending-an-awful-lot-of-time-together way. And while most normal teenage couples are relatively cautious when it comes to jumping into bed together, after a long stretch of boyfriend/girlfriend status, a certain level of comfort is established, and, well…these kids are only human, you know. (Well, most of them are.)

So in the middle of the action, there's Xander, commenting to Cordelia that "there could be a closet" they could explore. And then there are the eggs, meant to remind us that sex has consequences. Not necessarily the consequences of creating new life–but the consequences of destroying your old one. As we're about to see.


And then something fell.

The two-part, two-night event that the whole of Season Two has been building up to definitely lived up to the hype, and if I was too short in my reviews of "Ted" and "Bad Eggs," it's partly because I wanted to hustle on down here and talk about an intense pair of episodes with a lot going on: Drusilla and Spike reassemble an unstoppable beast known as The Judge; Willow and Oz have their first date at Buffy's surprise birthday party; Xander and Cordelia's secret romance gets revealed; Jenny Calendar confesses that she's a member of a gypsy clan and has been sent to Sunnydale to keep an eye on Angel, and to make sure that her people's curse still holds; and oh yeah, Buffy loses her virginity to Angel, which causes Angel to lose his remaining humanity and turn evil.

Let's start with the sex. It's a longstanding tradition in horror fiction that sex equals death, and while Joss Whedon and company have tried to steer away from that kind of horror convention in the past, here they embrace it in an unusual way. Not only does the teenage girl have sex with her boyfriend and then witness him turn into a murderous beast, but she's also hounded by one of the other women her boyfriend has seduced in the past: poor, deranged Drusilla. "Surprise" and "Innocence" really play up the rot and perversion of vampirism, implying that an initiation into the world of decadent pleasure rots the soul and isn't the least bit lovely. (A word of praise here for Juliet Landau as Drusilla, oozing menace and madness.) It's bad enough to think about all the lovers your significant other has had before you, but it's worse when they hang around like a walking, talking cautionary tale.

Meanwhile, it's a longstanding tradition in romance fiction that sex signals the end of mystery, and subsequently the beginning of the end of a relationship. "Will he still respect me in the morning?" is the recurring question of such anti-sex hand-wringing. I can't imagine a moment more painful for a young woman that encountering the man you've lost your virginity to the next day and having him say–as Angel does to Buffy–that you really weren't worth the trouble. Ouch. Mega-ouch.

The brilliance of this two-parter though is that the broken trust doesn't end with Buffy and Angel. Giles feels almost as betrayed by Jenny, and when Buffy demands that she leave the room while they prepare for their assault on The Judge, Giles rather coolly snaps at Jenny to "get out." And then there's Willow, learning that her best friend (and secret crush) since elementary school has been sneakily snogging their sworn enemy. "Don't you remember the 'We Hate Cordelia' Club?" she asks Xander. "Of which you are the treasurer?"

These two episodes were especially satisfying for Willow fans, starting with her reacting to Oz saying he's thinking about asking her out by chirping, "I'm going to say yes, if that helps." (Oz's reply: "It does help. Creates a comfort zone.") I also appreciated the way Willow understands that Buffy has had sex with Angel before anyone else catches the hints Buffy has dropped, and I loved the way Willow tries to wound Xander's pride by noting, "Oz has a van."

It's also worth commenting on how funny that "you are the treasurer" line is. I don't know why that's funnier than "you are the president" or "you are the vice-president" would be, but it just is. And for all the tension and shock of "Surprise" and "Innocence," the episodes are hardly punishing from start to finish. There are wisecracks galore–I like Buffy mentioning that in addition to dreaming about Drusilla killing Angel, "I dreamed that Giles and I opened an office supply warehouse in Vegas"–and some clever audience misdirection when it looks like Jenny is leading Buffy away from her surprise party but is actually driving her to it. And man, what a way to dispatch The Judge. "No weapon forged can stop me!" he bellows in a shopping mall, just before Buffy challenges him with a rocket launcher. ("What's that do?" he asks before he explodes.)

Obviously, the repercussions of "Surprise" and "Innocence" are going to inform the rest of this season and my remaining blog posts, so there's no reason to speculate on what all this means just yet. I'll just that this 90-minute hunk of story all-but-perfectly realizes Buffy's ambition to tie horror clichés to real-life teenage fears–in this case fears that intimacy will lead to disgrace and personal pain. "Did you have fun?" Joyce asks Buffy, referring to her birthday. "I got older," Buffy mutters.

Indeed she did.

Overall thoughts:

As I mentioned way back in my first Buffy post, one of the reasons I've had trouble getting into the show in the past was that I couldn't get my wife interested. Well, after watching Season One by myself, I've been forcing Donna to watch Season Two with me. This week, when we got to the end of "Innocence," she asked, "Can we go ahead and watch the next episode?"

I think she's hooked.

Stray observations:

-After a while, every non-school, non-home set on this show starts to look like The Bronze.

-I love that Ted's office featured a couple of those big containers of snack mix and candy that you can find at any Office Depot. Or maybe I just love that grazing food qualifies as "office supplies" here in the states.

-Xander defies comedy tradition in "Ted" by not going along with the "we have that thing to go to" excuse.

-I'm sure this wasn't on anyone's mind at the time, but I couldn't help being distracted by the fact that Buffy and Angel's big showdown at the mall played out in front of multiple posters for the long-forgotten animated feature Quest For Camelot.

-Wait…wasn't Buffy grounded for life at the end of "Bad Eggs?" Joyce seems to have forgotten all about that an episode later.

-How badass is it that when Angel chomps down on a smoker's neck, he lifts his head up and exhales?