The Puppet Show
Scene 01: We start with a dancer doing stretches, while someone is watching her in weird-color-vision. A rough voice says he will be new. Our color-vision goes back to normal, but we're still in POV-mode and watching the dancer stretch.
We see a shadow pass in front of us and then we're moving... sweeping through a gathering of kids. A violin "player" does so badly. We pass a tuba player (EVIL! - Oh, maybe not...) and then pass a magician practicing. Finally our roving POV rests on a kid with a ventriloquist's dummy on his lap. He's rubbing his head rather vigorously... I mean the human is rubbing his own head vigorously, not rubbing the dummy's head ... oh, brother, this one is going to be a fun recap.
He glances around, as if hoping nobody noticed.
Despite our POV being in front of junior ventriloquist (EVIL! No, really, evil. Not the monster - but evil...) he doesn't seem to notice that we've stopped right in front of him...? Is the evil force invisible?
Commentary: The answer is 'no'. Which is why I brought it up here... because we've been misled by the POV-cam and that always bugs me - it's cheating. We started with distorto-vision and there is no reason for us to, if we weren't deliberately supposed to think that we're in monster-POV. Worse, we heard the VO - clearly intending for us to be in monster-cam, except that we already saw the actual monster in the background as we panned through the kids... so... the whole POV-cam was a deliberate deceit; not honest trickery to hide our monster of the week, but a deliberate lie to think we're seeing through monster vision, when in fact we're seeing through objective camera man vision... which makes the distorto-vision both out of place and dishonestly deceptive. That is annoying, not a clever mislead.
Scene 02: Suddenly, we've switched to a more objective viewpoint - i.e. we are not being asked now to think we're seeing in monsto-vision, when we're in fact not.
Cordelia is, uh, warbling in some sort of torturous inflicting of pain on someone?
Oh, wait. She's singing... the torture isn't deliberate.
We pull back in view to see Cordelia is on a stage, not holding a note. She's attempting to sing Whitney's "Greatest Love of All". Ms. Houston has nothing to fear. Behind Cordy, we can see that students are putting decorating touches on a stage and more kids with their own accoutrements of infliction are milling about.
As Cordelia continues to not actually sing in any recognizable pitch, Giles sits in the audience seats with a stunned look of suffering on his face. We close on Giles' face as his mouth drops open a bit in stunned disbelief.
Ms. Chase insists on continuing to not hit any note that could be referred to as musical in nature.
Giles cuts her off with a nice word - though the look on his face belies the statement. Cordy tells him she didn't get to the part where she'll use her sparklers. He dismises her from the stage to her huff.
As Giles rubs in own head in torment, the (EVIL!) tuba player starts her audition.
Scene 03: For you see, with the introduction of the rest of the gang, we find here that Giles has been called upon to produce the annual 'talentless' show by the new principal, who has already gotten on Giles' bad side by foisting this duty upon him.
Buffy takes this chance to crack wise about his "destiny" and not escaping it, throwing his speech to her in Welcome to the Hellmouth back on him.
The kids mock him a bit for his obvious discomfort and then get up to leave....
Scene 04: But OH NOES! It's SNYDER - new principal extraordinaire. And, he is not at all pleased to have heard the mocking of the showing of school spirit that is the Talent Show. Snyder is even less happy that he knows that they had left campus earlier (for Slayer duties, which the gang must then suddenly try to back away from). Snyder labels them anti-social types and immediately conscripts them to participate in the Talent Show.
He mockingly tells them he cannot wait to see what magical act of supreme talents they display... the gang are mortified... Giles is, however, quite pleased.
As tuba girl makes her exit, Dummy Boy (look, his name is Morgan) creeps Buffy immediately... Xander is more terrified of Mime-Guy.
Willow reports that she thinks dummy's are cute... Buffy reports dummies give her wig. Willow senses a hidden tale and asks what happened.
Buffy: I saw a dummy, it gave me a wig. There really wasn't a story there.
Morgan introduces himself and his dummy as Sid. Except that Morgan's lips don't even attempt to not be seen moving... Giles' closes his eyes against despair.
Suddenly, though, Morgan's less than funny jokes are interrupted by a voice that he wasn't using for the dummy-voice... a gruffer and rougher voice. And Morgan's lips stop appearing to be obviously moving. Sid tells him they need a time out. He tells Morgan he's the worst at this and tells him he can see his lips moving (which they've stopped doing, as far as we can see). Everyone starts warming up to Morgan's act.
Giles shoots a snide, "I'm sure you three can come up with something ... equally exciting." He smiles self-satisfyingly, as Buffy's look of stunned dread returns.
Scene 05: We cut to dancer girl in the locker room, obviously already having 'auditioned' ... and I use the term very loosely as Giles apparently can't turn down anyone, no matter how awful their act (we'll see that Cordelia will be inflicting her 'inspirational song' on the parents).
Anyway, she's putting her ballerina slippers into her locker in the girl's gym locker room. As we know, Sunnydale has the most under lit, creepy locker room in the state of California (voted so for the past 4 years!) and ergo, we're not suprised when (dancer's name is Emily) Emily hears a creepy bang, even though she thought she was alone. Also in Sunnydale High, a lot of kids - including Buffy - have found themselves completely alone in the locker rooms.
Emily calls out for anyone else and when receiving no reply creeps through the locker room - from floor level, we receive distorto-vision, again, as something watches her.
Distorto-POV suddenly lunges up at Emily as she spins around and screams...! As Emily's scream is cut off, we hear creepy voice say that he'll be flesh....
Commentary: No, no, no! We've already seen by the distorto-vision in the first scene that this isn't Monster-Cam. It isn't fair to now use it as monster-o-vision, when they've already cheated before by it not being monster-o-vision! CHEATERS! LIARS!
Of course, what we're meant to think is that this distorted view is Sid - but, since they've pissed me off with their deliberate cheat, I'll tell you now the big twist is that it isn't. Sid plays a big part in the episode, but he's not the bad guy ... so there Cheating-Director-Woman (Ellen S. Pressman) *sticks out tongue at her*
Oh, and let me say, too that the opening scene would have worked fine if there were two monsters. Buffy could have killed one and then thought that the threat was over, only to find that there is another one when a new body turns up... except that would have taken away from all of the effort to cast Sid as the student-butchering monster-of-the-week. So they couldn't do that, so they just plain cheated....
Cue Rock Music & Credits
Scene 06: We come back from credits back on the Sunnydale High Auditorium stage. A magician is attempting to pull a rabbit out of his hat... but he's lost his rabbit. It's okay, though, I was already distracted from his act by the hideous shirt he's sporting (Really - what sort of person did wardrobe on this show?!).
As magician runs off looking for the bunny, we pan past juggler-kid, a return of tuba girl still walking around lugging that thing (EVIL!) and finally come to rest on our gang. They are practicing a scene from a play.
Xander complains that he cannot do this in front of an audience - but Willow tells him that a 'dramatic reading' will be the least painful way to do what Snyder wants. As the girls try to point out to Xander that they don't have any actual talents they can put on stage, Sid starts cracking crude at Willow and Buffy, Morgan looking embarrassed.
Willow and Buffy are suitably impressed with Morgan's act... until Sid continues with the crudeness.
Scene 07: Meanwhile, Snyder is accompanying Giles and complaining that kids don't have enough discipline. He pontificates on how today's wooly-headed liberal thinking about kids needing understanding leads to being eaten (Oh, Mr. Flutie!).
He also mentions the reputation that Sunnydale High has gotten - suicides, disappearances, that incident with the spontaneous cheerleader combustion (Amber Grove in The Witch)....
Well, that sort of nonsense is at an end, now that Snyder has arrived (Yeah, okay....) to whip things into disciplined shape.
As Giles listens to these pearls of wisdom, Snyder targets Buffy, Willow and Xander as 'bad apples' and snorts, "Kids. I don't like 'em."
So, you can see that School Principal was an obvious career choice.
Scene 08: We cut to Random Girl screaming (thankfully it isn't Aura, who I am still trauma'd by). Poor, little Emily has been located, I'd guess.
Scene 09: Girl scream carries over to the next scene, in which Emily's (oddly bloodless) body is being carried out on a sheet covered stretcher by paramedics. Giles also slips out of the locker room to update our gang on the sinister doings.
The gang knew 'dancer Emily' and Xan expresses his hate for the school. Buffy asks if it was vampires (which, other than Darla seems to generally avoid school grounds), but Giles reports 'no'. Dancer Emily has lost her heart.
Giles' and the gang's immediate assumption is that this isn't demonic, as a butcher knife was found next to the body. It appears that they've run across a regular, human, murderer.
Commentary: BTVS will for the most part avoid 'human evil', only touching on it when worshipper's of demons get involved. Even the fact that Buffy fights, and clearly kills, a few Knights in S5 is glided over without comment until Warren and the Trio in S6... and there Buffy will expressly state to Xander and Dawn that she can't 'punish' or 'slay' humans (conveniently ignoring the Knights I mentioned, so there is an exemption for warriors) for their evil deeds. To this point, we only had the Zookeeper who threatened Willow, but didn't actually kill anyone before he was stopped. If this were a human killer (I'll spoil - it isn't), it would be the first time that Buffy would have to deal with someone she can't just hack-n-slash. That's a bit too messy for a S1 Buffy episode to deal with, though. As is shown by the fact that no one ever mentioned the fact that Buffy pushed Zookeeper to his death in the Hyena pit.
Buffy tells the others that she isn't completely buying the human-killer angle. The 'remove heart' sort of screams demon activity to her, but Giles takes this reluctance to be wishful thinking, mostly. Demon Evil is simple (for now - the demons get much more complicated later - especially when it comes to Angel the Series) while humans who can murder are a much more complex situation. Giles says they'll need to investigate Emily's death, anyway, and asks that they question their schoolmates associated with the Talent Show, as one of them must be the last to see her alive.
Scene 10: Buffy questions 'tuba-girl' who relates she didn't hang out with Emily because of the infamous band/dancer rivalry that has been all over the news. Giles questions magician-kid in his awful shirt (Which, according to tuba girl, it's the next day - so not only did he wear that atrocity to his 'audition', but he wears it multiple days out in public! Is this a hint? Is he our monster?). Magician guy tells Giles that Emily seemed happy and was psyched to be doing the show (One - that's sad. Two - I don't think it's relevent to who might have killed her unless the murderer had something fierce against school spirit or talent shows and in that case, they really should have gone after... magician guy, or tuba girl or especially, Cordelia and her sparklers).
Magician guy tells Giles something a bit more relevant. The last time Emily was seen by Magician-guy, she was talking to Morgan. Which is exactly what Willow also finds out by questioning juggler-kid. Juggler-kid also mentions that Morgan was acting a bit strange.
We cut to Xander, who for some odd reason has chosen to question Cordelia! Hello? Ms. Self-Involvement is going to know anything?
Anyway, she goes on about the tragedy, telling Xander that Emma was like her best friend. Xan has to correct her - it was Emily.
In the meanwhile, Tuba-girl has also jumped on the Morgan is one weird guy bandwagon. Poor Morgan (I'll tell you - he's not the killer, either).
Everyone is saying how Morgan acts paranoid and rubs his head and moans a lot... plus, he seems to spend a little too much time talking to his dummy, alone. I'm sorry, did I say everyone? Not Cordelia, of course, who is a font of "all about me, all about me".
Scene 11: After her talk with Tuba-girl, Buffy returns to the auditorium where she sees Morgan's doll case sitting unattended.
Commentary: Okay, seriously, what effing school would allow Buffy to where her barely-a-dress-at-all dress to school? Just how much inner thigh is too much for Sunnydale High??
Anyway, Buffy overhears voices talking. It's Sid, sitting alone on a stool. Suddenly Morgan comes from behind stage, talking back to Sid before he stops himself short as he notices that Buffy is giving him a "wth" look. Buffy starts questioning Morgan about Emily the day before while he goes to put Sid away. He suddenly grabs his head and sits down. When Buffy asks if he's okay, it is Sid that answers, telling her to back off.
Morgan stuffs Sid in his case and Buffy apologizes to Morgan for making him mad, but Morgan tries to tell her that it was Sid, not him. As he goes to close the case, Buffy gets a start as Sid is glaring at her, his head in an entirely different position from when she watched Morgan put him away. Morgan quickly closes the case, swoops it up and makes his rapid exit.
Scene 12: Back in the library, the gang reconvene to share what little they found out. Everyone has come to the same conclusion - Morgan. Except, strangely, Buffy is still trying to stick to her it's a demon theory (Slayer intuition, or Buffy's natural reticence in confronting that people can do very bad things?), but Giles can't devote time to researching organ harvesting demons because Snyder is all up on his case about the Talent Show night preparations.
Buffy wants him to do a priority check, but he points out that Snyder could make their lives very difficult, if he so chooses. And right now, he's watching them very closely. They have to play their public role and that means "the show must go on". He sends her off to check out Morgan's locker for anything odd... like a girl's removed heart, maybe.
Scene 13: Buffy is next scene sneaking her way down a hallway of school. A classroom door opens and someone is spying on her. She looks behind her, sensing something, but fails to notice the door cracked open or eyes peering out at her.
She goes to Morgan's locker. A little Slayer strength allows her to punch the locker combo-lock in. This allows her to reach in and pull up the latch. As she's picking through Morgan's locker, she gets a surprise when a hand reaches from offscreen and grabs her wrist.
It's Principal Snyder. He doesn't like that she's 'loitering' after school hours. Buffy uses the "friend wants me to grab his case" card, but the case isn't there. She makes her exit. All of this is watched from the classroom and we see that the watchers are Morgan, holding Sid.
Scene 14: Back in the auditorium, Sid is again on his stool and Morgan is insisting that he can't do something. Sid tries to convince Morgan that "she's the last" and once she's dead, "I'll be free", but Morgan balks. Sid says he'll take care of it himself.
Scene 15: That night we see the Summers' home. Buffy is preparing for bed when Joyce comes in to chat about her day. She scares Buffy by mentioning coming to the talent show, which Buffy begs her not to do. Joyce asks her if there is anything bothering her, excepting her 'debut', but Buffy just tells her that there is a lot going on.
Commentary: I think this is obliquely trying to reference the fact that Joyce is still worrying over whether Buffy is going to fall back in with a bad crowd, like she allegedly did in Los Angeles - but the scene feels pointless.
Anyway, Buffy turns in - and amusingly, she wears more to bed than she does to class. As she turns out the bedstand light, we see Sid's little, wooden face staring in at her.... And, a production crewman shadow....
Scene 16: After coming in from a commerical break, we're still in Buffster's room, where she is sleeping comfortably. She comes to with a start, hearing the pitter-patter of footfalls on the floor around her. She goes for the bedroom lamp, but it doesn't turn on.
From the darkness, and for the realism the director bravely films this too dark to actually see much, a vague shape comes at her and she give a short scream and pushes it away.
Joyce comes in and turns on the main light, asking what happened, in reaction to Buffy's scream. She immediately tells her mother that something is in the covers. The two Summers ladies look, but of course there isn't anything there. Joyce suggests nightmare, which Buffy at first strongly denies, but then remembering that she's talking to 'out of the loop' mom, admits she was probably right. She apologizes to her mother for getting her up - but Joyce admits that she was dreaming about bills....
Commentary: I wanted to mention this part because it gives some insight into Joyce in an under-the-radar way. For 5 years, we'll see Buffy, and later Dawn, living a pretty comfortable life. But after Joyce's passing, we'll come to realize that Joyce was working and worrying very hard about the costs of living. She just kept these struggles away from her daughters - starting in this season's 'Prophecy Girl' when she buys Buffy a Spring Fling dress she saw her admiring and blowing off Buffy's concerns about the costs with a little joke. Joyce's challenges of raising a family with less and less support from her husband doesn't really come to light until S6, when the Slayer gets a taste of just how difficult small, financial non-Slayer things like upkeep on a house can actually be.
Of course, this will be acted out by SMG who has probably never had to choose between the electric bill or groceries.... Anyway, I just think it is another tiny bit that gives Joyce an actual characterization in S1 and wanted I like to bring them into notice because until the end of S2, Joyce is really on the outside of the bubble.
As Joyce says good night and leaves for her own room, she comments that the nights are a bit cool for her to keep her window open. Buffy whispers to herself that she hadn't....
Commentary: Which leads to an observation that I always make in these sorts of situations... I was watching a movie early this morning on HULU, which I'll probably get around to reviewing - perhaps the next movie review... anyway, the plot is that a group of school brats are transformed by a nuclear cloud into zombie-ish sort of monsters with a burning touch. They hug non-infected to death. Anyway, one of The Children is let in by this other child into his bedroom window - and it doesn't have screens either.
Does anyone in movies believe in having SCREENS to keep out the misquitoes and bees and flies when they have the window open to the weather? Because I think the vast majority do not and I'm wondering if I'm some sort of freak for actually having these on my windows?
Okay - you're right. These two points are much commentary-ish, but there just isn't much to discuss until the twisty in the episode and the end of the tale....
Scene 17: The next day, there are rehearsals going on for the pageant with Xan and Wills in the audience laughing. The Magician Guy has attempted the magic box trick, but his assistant didn't leave the box like she was supposed to.
In the meanwhile, Cordy is following Giles and complaining that she has to follow a band and the mood is going to be all wrong for her song. Apparently, "The Greatest Love of All" is about dignity and human feeling... and also "personal hygiene or something". Something seems to occur to Rupert, because he stares oddly at Cordelia.
Cordy continues to complain that her song is sappy, but no one will feel sappy after listening to some rock band on stage (but not "Dingoes Ate My Baby"... alas, Oz is sometime off yet). Cordy notices Giles' odd look at her and asks him what his deal is. He apologizes and mentions something vague about her hair (which is perfectly fine because BTVS has hair stylists to ensure things like breezes in no way make people's hair frizz or anything unless it is artful).
After a few seconds of feeling at her hair, with Giles just looking oddly at her, she says, "Oh, my God," and runs from the auditorium for the nearest mirror.
Giles gets a huge grin on his face with a "Xander was right, worked like a charm".
Commentary: This is probably the only real laugh in the episode... although Snyder's bon mots do give me smiles. And Charisma is really funny when the writer's make her shallow or cutting without being a mega bitch (see my review of Welcome to the Hellmouth for commentary on the difference between snarky and just mean-spirited).
Scene 18: Rupert notices Buffy walking down the aisle, having just arrived. She asks after Morgan and when Giles expresses concern (seeing her demeanor) that he tried to do something to her, she spills that even though it sounds stupid, she thinks Sid - without Morgan - was in her room the night before. But, she's forced to admit she didn't actually see him - she only knows that something was there with her. She gets some slack about maybe she was attacked by a wandering cat by Xander - how quickly we forget we live on a Hellmouth, even if it was a cat, you can bet it was being evil in some way, and some Doubting Thomas from her Watcher and Best Girl Friend, but she points out that she isn't just some crazy girl - she is the Slayer.
She decides she needs to see Morgan for a bit, without Sid.
In the meanwhile, Giles' research has come up with a demon - should the killer not just be a human psycho. There is a class of demons who look human, but have to replenish their disguise every seven years by taking a human heart and a brain from different victims in order not to revert to their own form. If there is a demon stalking about, Emily may have lost her heart for this purpose, meaning that they are being stalked right now for a prized brain.
Commentary: Why they would want to live out life as a human - and I'll spoil: it is a classmate who is the killer - and attend High School is not addressed. The reason why the demon(s) would be in High School not withstanding, at least the episode pushes the gruesome factor to give a pretty silly episode overall some edge.
Willow wonders if all of this just means that they're dealing with Demon-Morgan, instead of Crazy-Morgan, but Buffy's focused attention remains on Sid. Giles makes the observation that according to his texts, the demons are supposed to be strong, while Morgan appears to be getting weaker, as far as he can see - and he's still doing a lot of his suspicious head-rubbing.
Scene 19: Later that day, in class, Buffy stares across the room at Morgan and Sid. Sid's head suddenly turns in her direction, and he seems to be staring right back at her. She quickly looks away, creeped out.
Cordelia is sitting next to Buffy and notes Sid's attention on her. She thinks it's so cute and now Buffy has a possible date to join the freak show with. Buffy isn't amused.
The teacher, who so far has been a lot more patient with Sid even being in class, is pushed too far when she asks Morgan a question while Sid appears to be whispering to him. He answers in Morgan's steed and gets Morgan in trouble. Not finding Morgan's continued 'act' very funny, she takes Sid from him and stuffs him in the room closet so that everyone can focus on actual class work.
Morgan seems way too bereft over his dummy not being to hand....
Commentary: A weak spot in this script is Morgan's place in this story. There is another horribly weak plotting/writing point, too, but I'll wait until the denoument before I discuss it. Here, let's focus on the Morgan/Sid team up. It is obvious by this point that Sid is independent of Morgan, and that Morgan is being pressed as a red herring really hard. But, Morgan DOES know that Sid is not just a dummy - which makes it weird that he insists on carrying him around so much. You'd also think that Sid would have spent far more amount of time away from Morgan, stalking through the school if he was the monster (but he's not - I'm just not ready to reveal the twisty yet, even though I'm sure you all know it already). So, what is up exactly with Morgan's weird behavior?
Obviously, storywise, it is to cast as much suspicion that he is the demon, or that he's helping Demon-Sid up to scene 18. But that scene very clearly told us that our demon bad guy is a) a demon threat, not a human psycho and b) looks human and will revert into a reptilian humanoid if he doesn't get his brain to go with Emily's heart. So, why is Morgan still be so pressed into this story as a possible red herring and why is Sid still being pushed as the bad guy, here? More, within the Buffyverse, why is Morgan acting so co-dependent on Sid?
I could see Morgan wanting to do a good and important deed (for reasons we will find out in a bit), but his reaction to the dummy being put in the closet for the rest of class (though the teacher is holding it until end of the day) is just ... nutty. And we don't get an explanation for why Morgan feels the need to never let Sid out of his sight. I could almost accept that he's worried that Sid is trying to hurt Buffy (for reason we'll find out in a bit, too) and is trying to protect her by keeping Sid in his sight, except that his reaction here doesn't support that. No explanations I can come up with support Morgan's discombobulated turmoil over Sid's not sitting with his hand up his back in this scene, except that he is just plain weird. I'd like a better, more sympathetic read on Morgan's reaction here if anyone would like to exposit and discuss....
Oh, and if I'm not mistaken, Morgan is wearing the same outfit again... it's been what three or four days? If only wardrobe had paid as much attention to making sure the day players changed their outfits dependant on the script as they did with Buffy....
Scene 20: After school - Morgan marches in, nearly fiending for Sid (just how close are these two?!) as he demands him back from the teacher. She goes to get him out of the closet, but asks after Morgan's health. He isn't interested in small talk and is acting like a drug fiend needing a hit....
When teacher opens the closet door though, Sid is gone, sending Morgan into a near panic.
Scene 21: As Morgan has his little freak out, Sid is sitting in the library with Xander's hand up his back. The others come into the library carrying costuming for the Talent Show. Xander admits to stealing Sid so that Buffy could have her chance at questioning Morgan without Sid's presence. He also takes the opportunity to mock Buffy for her wiggins over the dummy's presence and his manipulation of it.
Xander bangs Sid's head on the table and then 'knocks' on his forehead to prove Sid is just a dummy made of wood. We wonder if Xander is setting himself up to be hurt later.
When Buffy says she'll go find Morgan and orders Xander to keep his eyes on the dummy, he replies in bad-dummy-voice, "Bye-bye, now. I'm completely inanimate", to her glare.
As Giles and Willow continue to search for "organ harvesting demon" possibilities (just how effing long does it take for the demon to find a damned brain, anyway), Xan lays Sid down in a chair and goes off to do... something.
Scene 22: In the darkened auditorium, Buffy calls for Morgan. She heads back stage....
Commentary: And we get another misplaced roving POV-cam, since it is following Buffy - there is no one behind her, and ergo, if you're going to use the POV-cam in this circumstance, you should really be using it in place of Buffy herself - not swinging around onto her back as if there is someone behind her. This isn't as egregious as the Scene 01 distorto-vision, but it is still a wrong choice for the director.
Buffy heads below stage through the dressing rooms, when she hears a banging noise coming from deeper in the rooms. She heads cautiously to investigate. (And, she would have seen Principal Snyder - who is about to startle her - if he was the roving POV, proving my point that it was a pointless roving POV cam seconds ago.)
She senses something behind her, and we see Principal Snyder at the top of the stairs, staring at her suspiciously. He joins her on the floor and makes what could be interpreted as mildly threatening statements about how unsafe it is for her to be wandering around in the stage area alone. She responds by making a veiled statement that she knows how to look after herself.
When he says, "alright" and leaves her there, she stares after him in thought. Could the Principal be the demon? (Oops - I already answered that, didn't I?)
Scene 23: In the library, Xander is researching at the table. He glances over at Sid (impression being that Buffy's wiggins is rubbing off on him), but the dummy is still just as he left him. In the meanwhile, Willow tells Giles that she found something interesting regarding toys and magic - obviously not completely discounting Buffy's "Sid was in my room and attacked me" story the way Giles and Xander seemed to.
Willow puts suspicion back on Sid by finding a passage that there are rare occassions when dolls who possess magically induced consciousness have been able to act on their own volition. More even, that they can become human themselves if desired, by - yes - harvesting human organs.
Meanwhile, Xander gets up to grab the book that Giles originally referenced, stepping in front of our view of the room. When he sits back down, a musical sting makes sure we look for something out of place. We can see that Sid is no longer sitting in his library table chair. (Unnecessary shot of empty chair makes sure we got it.)
We get a shot from panning up from Xander's feet on the floor - giving the impression that Sid might be about to give some pay back for his mocking and beating his head against the table earlier. Xan's glance happens back toward where Sid was supposed to be and he lets out a yelp of panic as the dummy isn't there....
Willow and Giles come out of the stacks to find Xan standing on the table - with the report of Sid's disappearance, everyone panic-ing-ly looks around the floor....
Scene 23: Meanwhile, Buffy is moving deeper into the costume racks area of the space under the stage. She hears something rustling and calls out for Morgan. She comes across Morgan, alright... or at least his body. Alas, Morgan has fallen victim to the brain stealing demon.
As she backs away, realizing that they may never catch the demon now that it has the needed brain to go with Emily's heart, she hears a noise above her head... an iron chandalier falls down on top of her!
Scene 24: Coming back from commercial break, we find that Buffy has been pinned in a most unrealistic manner from the falling chandelier (I'm choosing to believe this thing is hanging down here not for use, but for a prop and it was stored hanging to keep it out of the way).
As she is dealing with her being stunned (nice directorial work here, I'll admit), above her on the catwalk she sees little feet pattering. This gives her the adrenaline rush she needs to fight off the stun effect. She struggles to get out from under the iron chandelier.
Sid attacks the pinned Buffy with a large butcher knife. She's able to keep from being stabbed while working a hand free to push him away with her Slayer strength.
Commentary: Unfortunately, this scene is horribly clumsy. Sid is entirely incompentent when it comes to trying to jab Buffy in the throat. And her 'Slayer push' is entirely unconvincing. Now, obviously Buffy can't be stabbed - but this might, MIGHT, have worked okay if she'd been at least slashed. Here's how I would have handled this - if I just had to film the attack sequence at all - I'd have had Buffy work an arm free first, then had Sid jump on top of Buffy's pinned form and slash at her with the knife and leaving a non-serious knife mark across her forehead and then going for the serious stab. This would have given a bit of danger to Buffy's actual situation that being menaced by a dummy can't achieve on its own. As Sid goes to plunge the knife into her, Buffy tilts the wheel-shape chandelier enough to make him lose his balance. As he falls over, her free arm grabs him and gives him a Slayer-throw, giving her the time she needs to get out from under the pinning so that they can again confront one another.
Then, in Sid's second attack, I'd have him jump at her, she high side kicks him, he loses the knife and skitters away and the scene plays out as filmed from there. The way the scene is handled here just doesn't look convincing. Plus my way, Snyder could ask Buffy about the cut on her head, she could "admit" she bumped into something below the stage and Snyder could have gotten in another snark about "didn't I warn you so"....
But, back to the actual scene: Sid runs up on Buffy as she struggles out from under the chandalier, but she's able to side punch him and sending him flying away and causes him to lose the butcher knife.
Buffy quickly pins Sid with a forearm and he admits that she won. They both accuse each other of trying to be changed into a human, and then realize that neither one of them is the demon that they're both apparently looking for.
Scene 25: Cut to the library and the Scooby Gang's stunned faces as Sid, having given up the pretense now of being only a dummy, gives us his history. He was a human demon hunter and was chasing down the organ stealing demons. He ended up falling victim to a curse and got stuck inside a dummy sitting on some guy's knee. Ever since, he's been back on the hunt, trying to finish his task - he's down to one more demon to go and tracked it to Sunnydale. When he saw Buffy's being too curious about Morgan and him, and then her display of Slayer strength at Morgan's locker, he naturally assumed that she was the demon-in-human form trying to complete her metamorphosis.
He shares that he knows if the last demon can be found and killed, his curse holding him entrapped in the wooden body will also be broken. A plan is formed - even though the demon now has his heart and brain, Sid instructs Giles to summon all of the Talent Show participants together before the show starts, then whoever doesn't show up must be the actual demon, whatever they happen to look like.
Commentary: This is actually flawed logic, if you give it a moment of thought. Just because Emily and Morgan are both participants doesn't mean that the killer is also. After all, both the locker room and the space below the stage are publically available and provided a private space for the killer to do his work. On the other hand, I suppose it's the best plan they can follow - if the demon isn't hidden among the talent show participants, then there really is no way to determine who it is....
Scene 26: Behind the curtain, Cordy is having a minor freak out over going on in public, which Giles tries to calm. He calls for the forming of the 'power circle' while above the stage, Buffy and Sid try to determine who is missing. Buffy tells Sid that she is the Slayer and he tells her that he had known a Slayer back in the 1930's. Buffy broaches what will happen after Sid's curse is broken. He admits with is human body being dust and bone, he'll die - but warns her not to be soft. He tells her that he's lived a lot longer than most in their line of work, again hinting at the Slayer penchant for dying far too young.
Following the power circle, Buffy easily jumps down from the catwalk to the stage and Giles points out that none of the kids are missing, which shoots their plan of identifying the demon to hell.
Scene 27: Following the conversation for Giles, Buffy looks for Sid but he's missing from where she told him to wait. In the meanwhile, Snyder is stalking suspiciously in the shadows backstage, suggesting he may be the demon. Giles runs into him. He silently walks away, and Giles follows.
At the same time, Buffy is also backstage (it's really big back there) calling for Sid. She suddenly gets dripped on by something on a shelf above her. When she reaches up to a rack to find out what it is, she pulls down a human brain... Morgan's!
With a yelp, she drops it so it splats on the floor.
Scene 28: Buffy joins Willow at the computer in the library, complaining that she'll never stop washing her hands from now on. Willow is looking into Morgan's school file. Meanwhile, we see Xander is also there, and he suggests that Sid gave them a line of crap and that the way he has disappeared conveniently, it appears he is the demon, after all.
Buffy wonders why the demon rejected Morgan's brain and Willow points out that Morgan had been making straight A's, so it doesn't make sense for the demon not to have wanted it. But then she and Xan note that he was out for half of the year with sick days. They turn attention to the school nurse's reports. We discover that Morgan, though very smart, also had a fatal brain tumor - explaining his weird behavior with the headaches and the head rubbing and the general withdrawal from school society (I think in retrospect, it also explains Morgan's deep involvement with Sid's mission, if not his bizarre behavior in the class room - which you could make the argument is also explained by the tumor).
This means, of course, that the demon is still on brain-hunt. Buffy suggests that he'll be going for the smartest person in the school - and she and Xan stare at Willow.
Scene 29: In the meanwhile, the Magician Guy is drafting Giles into being in his magic act when his assistant "backed out". The trick involves cutting off the top of Giles' head with a guilotine... just a trick, of course... *ahem*. Back in the library Willow asks why a demon would want her brain, which Xan shows by asking her the square root of some random number and she knows the answer off the top of her head (actually, this just made me realize that Willow isn't just gifted at computers and magic, but also at math too - why didn't she ever get accused of being a Mary Sue, do you think? Is she one? Discuss....).
We also see that Magician Guy is the demon when his hand is looking bumpy/scaly.
Commentary: So, here is where we discuss what else is wrong with this episode... This kid has been such a background presence that we, as the audience, was never allowed to consider him as a possibility. With Morgan, Mr. Snyder and Sid the Dummy all being played up as the possible demon-in-disguise, it seems unfair that Magician Guy wasn't also presented as a possible suspect/red herring so that at least this reveal wouldn't have come out of left field. This is one episode where I think, considering the way the episode was set up as a 'who done it' type mystery, the Scoobies should have had their parts reduced to allow more time for the possible suspects to each have a real scene where one could think 'ah-hah, that's suspicious'. Among these should have been Magician Guy, but they also could have put Tuba Girl and Juggler Guy in the same position, instead of wasting minutes at a time with scenes that really didn't need to be there (sorry Joyce, but your scenes I'd include in this). They did this with Snyder's stalking around Buffy below stage, so it wouldn't have taken a lot of time and they could have reduced the overkill of setting up Morgan as the way-too-obvious red herring, thereby adding the possibility that he really was the guilty party, as well. The way it is presented, wondering if it is Magician Guy would be just as random as wondering if it was any of the day players... there were no clues presented, except that Magician Guy had more than one scene, that would allow us to suspect that maybe it could be him, which seems like a real cheat in the mystery - especially since in the beginning distorto-vision POV, this kid/demon was one of the extras we saw in the camera pan while hearing the voiceover/thoughts ... I really kind of resent this episode now that I'm really analyzing it.
Scene 30: Buffy is pacing, impatient with waiting from the demon to wander in after Willow's brain so she can fight it. She complains that there must be another way of figuring out who it is they're after, since they've ruled out any of the Talent Show kids. But, Willow points out that the only reason they've ruled them out is because they were all there in the power circle, but that was before they discovered that Morgan's brain was taken but not used. The demon could still be among that group, after a new brain.
Everyone realizes that the demon is probably backstage right now, and that so is Giles, who is as brainy as Willow!
They dash out of the library....
Scene 31: In the meanwhile, Giles is lying on the very real guillotine waiting for Magician Guy's turn on stage. Naturally, he's been securely strapped down. Giles asks after the trick, but Magician Guy says, "Trick?" and walks away. He takes a small hand axe to the rope holding the blade up as Giles lies waiting for it to cut the top of his head off - he realizes he's not in a trick a little late....
Thankfully, the axe is dull because it takes several tries to get the damned rope to sever, which gives the gang enough time to arrive. Buffy tackles Magician Guy, while Xan grabs the rope holding up the blade just as it frays away.
Marc (Magician Guy gets a name!) takes a few kicks to the face from Buffy, which reveals his scaly skin. Buffy is distracted by an "ewwww" reaction, so takes a punch that knocks her to the floor. While Willow works on freeing Giles before Xander loses the rope holding up the blade meant for his head, Buffy and Marc continue their fighting.
Marc, in the meanwhile, has fully transformed into his demon look and seems to be even stronger now. Buffy is lifted off the floor and slammed into a wall. As she's being throttled, the missing Sid makes his return by jumping on the demon's back with his butcher knife and jabbing at the demon's neck. Buffy takes the interruption in her strangling to knock Marc onto the place that Giles just occupied. She has Xander release the blade rope and the demon gets a blade to the face, grossing out Willow.
Sid jumps on the demon's chest and sinks his knife blade through its heart. With the destruction of the demon's heart, Sid collapses into an empty dummy - his soul released to the ether.
Buffy picks him up, sadly...
Scene 32: ... only to have the stage curtain finally open, leaving the audience staring at the tableau of demon killing and leaving Buffy and the others with a 'oh, shit' looks on their faces.
Snyder in the audience states, "I don't get it. What is it, avante gard?"
Scene 33: We get the Executive Producer: Joss Whedon credit, but the episode isn't over (at least if you're watching it on DVD - many tv re-runs maddingly cut this part off). In the best part of the whole thing (too bad it isn't actually part of the episode) Xan, Buffy and Willow are doing their 'dramatic reading'....
It's hilariously bad - especially when Aly ad libbed by having Willow run off stage in a panic in the middle of the scene and Buffy suddenly has to step closer to Xander with a look of "now what" on her face....
Really - this little coda/joke is 10x funnier than anything that happens in the actual episode and 6x better than any individual scene in the actual episode (I did the math, trust me).
The Good: Cordelia's comedy scenes were amusing, and it was great when Giles chased her away by implying that there was something wrong with her hair. I love it that Xander came across this trick.
I really felt for Morgan. Brain cancer and then being murdered? The poor kid didn't have a chance.
The fight scenes between Buffy and Marc were well done.
The after-episode coda was awesome and hilarious - if only the episode proper had had this sort of humorous touch, though Cordelia's horrible rendition of 'The Greatest Love of All' was a highlight.
I like the mention of a past Slayer and I like Sid's backstory.
The Bad: Pacing is a problem on this one. There are a lot of scenes that in retrospect don't seem to actually offer anything useful to the episode.
Sid's role in the episode - especially the amount of time he spends trapped with Morgan if he's so independant, doesn't make much sense.
Similar to pacing, it takes entirely too long for Marc to show his hand and go after a brain. And, his revealing as the demon comes with no prior clues pointing to him, which leads to...
... The episode being structured as a mystery of who the demon threat really is: It is handled badly. The red herrings are so red herringed (except for Snyder) that we can already assume it won't be Morgan and probably not Sid, though he's a bit more of a possibility until scene 18, when the audience is told it isn't going to be him, either.
Buffy's fight scene with Sid is just clumsily and unconvincingly handled. This really needed much more thought before it was filmed.
The big one though is the entirely random and nonsense use of POV and Distorto-vision shots that completely make trying to figure out who the demon could be utterly impossible since all of the possibilities are accounted for within the POV shots! This actually makes me angry because this implied monster POV is utterly unnecessary to the episode. I really wish that they had taken out the altered color vision, dubbed in Marcie's voice over the POV shots and then tied these wandering POV shots into 'Out of Mind, Out of Sight' in two episodes by mimicing the shots - now wouldn't that have been cool? It would have slyly introduced Marcie, the Invisible Nutcase prior to her actual arrival. Unfortunately, we can't retroactively interpret things this way because the demon voiced thoughts over the POV - a cheat in itself - and the weirdly color-filtered shot ruins that retroactive continuity re-write. The possibilities not taken just makes me a bit more bitter toward The Puppet Show.
Other Thoughts: On its own merits, this episode isn't particularly bad, nor good, it just sort of sits there like "I Robot, You Jane" which seems to get a lot more negative press than this episode. I think that one is stronger than this one, though, personally.
The Score: I figured this would be a 3.0, and story wise I'd stick by that, but the way it was directed with the deliberate cheating annoyed me. I also just couldn't get into the pathos of Sid's death scene or his threat to Buffy when he comes after her. The coda would raise the score because it's so funny, but it falls after the story proper and is not actually part of the episode - so it doesn't get to benefit.
Edited on 12/27/11: I have this thing where I do not want to go back and change a scoring because I figure that once I've done the review, it should be done. That only makes sense. In this case, though, I've made an exception. Doing the "Best of / Worst of" post for it and reading through my review just caused me to be pissy toward this episode - again. Anything that still makes me bitter due to the cheating director choices deserves to have another quarter point deducted: New Score - 2.50 out of 5.