Written By: David Greenwalt & Joss Whedon
Directed By: Bruce Seth Green
Broadcast Date: December 8 1997
When Buffy’s mother is romanced by a computer software salesman named Ted, Buffy’s uneasy feelings cause her to launch a background investigation.
“Ted” sees the appearance a brilliant one-off villain played to a tee by John Ritter and uses him to create an excitingly tense and unsettling episode.
This episode, written by David Greenwalt and series creator Joss Whedon, is a great example of a story managing to build tension and excitement, sustain it for the middle section and then raises it further for a breathless climax. I have been critical towards the episodes of this show where it is obvious what the true nature of the villain is and what their plans are, as it completely removed the mystery of the narrative. Even though Ted (played brilliantly by the late John Ritter) is the villain of this episode from the start, viewers have no idea what his intentions are, except to get close to Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) and to remove her rebellious daughter Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar). The decision for Buffy to ‘kill off’ the character in a fight at the midway point was also a great one, as it brings another tone to the episode, being the almost macabre calm before the storm of the climax.
The climax is one of the best of the season to date, as viewers just know that Ted is going to return for Joyce and Buffy, not in a supernatural way but as the antagonist in a 90s slasher film. Viewers are just waiting for the big jump scare when he makes his reappearance, but it isn’t as big as was hoped for. Joyce was also knocked out relatively near the start of this sequence, though I don’t think her being present would have impacted on her knowledge that Buffy is the Slayer. If anything, it would have been great for mother and daughter to combine to vanquish this monster that has invaded their home. It would have still felt like a love letter to the slasher and home invasion horror film genres that have made a comeback in the last decade after being big in the 80s and 90s. Alas, a couple of hits from Ted’s own frying pan from Buffy was all it took, and Ted’s true nature was revealed to be… a robot.
It wasn’t a bad choice to go down this route, as the character seemed to be almost mechanically stuck in the 1950s, from the way he spoke, to the way he threatened violence against female family members. The brilliance of John Ritter’s acting allowed this reveal to feel like a good one, rather than one that would cause eye-rolling. In addition, robotic entities have been seen before on the show (most notably in Season 1’s “I, Robot…You, Jane”). It is a slight shame that the investigation into Ted’s background was done so haphazardly in order to make the robotic reveal a surprise. As Buffy is fighting Ted, the rest of the students in the Scooby Gang have broken into Ted’s house, where they find the bodies of his previous wives stuck in a closet… and that is it. The viewers are then given a massive exposition dump about a dying inventor in the 1950s creating a robot to keep his wife safe, which instead kept her captive and pursued other women. On the one hand, the power in Ted’s character is that we know nothing about him, and on the other more could have been found on-screen in Ted’s house to explain who he was; either way, the execution didn’t quite work. This can be overlooked though due to the great mystery and horror-movie-esque mood the episode created.
With this episode feeling so dark, the amusing and lighter moments were a welcome addition. Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is the unlikely character to provide the biggest laugh of the episode, where he decides to do the vampire patrols without the Slayer. Jenny (Robia LaMorte), who has been avoiding Giles and the Scooby Gang after the events of “The Dark Age“, comes to his assistance against a vampire and ends up shooting an arrow in his backside. This sounds so silly on paper but it was really needed to break up the gloom of the main narrative. They then end up kissing in the library and I guess it was the only real way for their relationship to go, after weeks of dodging around what they have and then the events of the episode above. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), the latter becoming more of a Scooby Gang member in every episode, once again go off to kiss in a supply closet (off screen this time) and I am already bored with that jokey coupling.
Verdict: “Ted” is a brilliant stand-alone episode that references the home invasion horror genre and manages to sustain the tension and danger better than the rest of the season. The success of this episode rests on the great writing of Greenwalt and Whedon, and also on the performance of the late John Ritter as the menacing Ted.
Star Rating: 8.5/10
The next episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduces a pair of notorious vampire brothers, as well as something deadly lurking in eggs the students are looking after… My review of Episode 12, “Bad Eggs”, will be published in a week’s time, on the 7th May.
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