"I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming.. text."
Since I've started this blog, all of my secret Buffy fan friends have come out of the woodwork to talk episodes with me. Buffy fandom is quite humongous and scary, and I find it endlessly fascinating to hear the general consensus on different characters and episodes that I'm essentially seeing for the first time.
Case in point: Ted. Apparently, people hate this episode. It's icky and dramatic in a goofy way, which for me is usually a formula for disaster. But what can I say? I think it's a standout.
We open. SHE IS THE SLAYER!!! etc.
Normally I would not waste my precious time describing the mundane details of each episode, like Count the Unsuccessful Puns, or which lines of dialogue did Joss Whedon really hope were going to revolutionize teen jargon? But I have to point out Willow's outfit in the opening scene as the Scoobies walk home from a wild night out. It is the worst outfit of all time.
Buffy walks in on Joyce...making out with some GUY in the KITCHEN. A GUY! A MAN! John Ritter, in fact. Joyce introduces Buffy to her manfriend. "Hi," says skeptical Buffy.
"This is Ted," Joyce says. Aaaand, cue the opening credits.
The Scoobies instantly take to Ted, who seduces Willow with thoughts of computers with nine gig hard-drives. Xander is really obsessed with Ted's mini-pizzas. But Buffy is still skeptical, and takes out her unresolved rage for her mom's secret boyfriend on some vampires. Is there a term for like, and Elektra complex, but with your mom?
Angel, in a rare show of personality, tells Buffy that she should lay off and that Joyce needs a special someone, too. Grandfather Giles can tell something is wrong. Willow and Xander tell Buffy that she's just being goofy and has separation anxiety. At that exact moment, Ted pops up to invite the gang to go miniature golfing and have a picnic. Ted is played by John Ritter, who is eerily accurate as a straight-laced average Joe who is just a touch over-the-top.
Jenny Calendar comes back from taking a mental health month, but she is quite mean to Giles when he asks if she's okay. "You make me feel bad that I don't feel better," she says. Well, I guess Giles did inadvertently get her possessed by a drug-inducing demon. But look at this face!
The writers of this episode slowly introduce small details about Ted that are unsettling, but not necessarily obvious. He already knows a little too much about Buffy's bad grades and is a bit too involved in trying to teach her how to live her life. For a while it's unclear if Buffy is overreacting to his intrusion into her life, or if there really is something wrong.
For a while. At the gang's mini-golf date, Ted catches Buffy cheating, and threatens, "Do you want me to slap that smartass mouth of yours?" Then turns around and yells to the rest of the group, "Who's up for dessert?" God, I forgot how creepy this episode is!
Joyce, Xander, and Willow all side with Ted. Now that we know Ted is a creep, it becomes more and more frustrating to watch him drive a wedge between Buffy and the rest of the group. She's forced to go rogue, stalking him at his job, where he is top salesman and has a picture of Joyce on his desk--with Buffy cut out.
Buffy is mad as hell and she is not going to take it anymore. At dinner, she tells Ted that the idea of him and her mom getting engaged makes her want to kill herself. Joyce is outraged--but doesn't she find it a tad weird that Ted has taken over the family and already wants to get married? Get it together, Joyce. I hate how oblivious she is in the beginning of the series.
Buffy gets sent to her room, but she sneaks out to swing on a swingset and return to her childhood. When she comes back, Ted is in her room, reading her diary, asking her about slayers, calling her "little lady."
What happens next was SO SHOCKING to me the first time around that I could do nothing but laugh and laugh in disbelief. Ted threatens to have Buffy institutionalized, and then smacks her across the face. It's so brutal to watch, but Buffy takes it in stride and says, "I was so hoping you'd do that." She takes it as an invitation to fight back, but then she accidentally kicks him down the stairs in full view of Joyce.
And he dies.
BUFFY KILLS TED! HUMAN TED!
The first half of this episode somehow manages to be a fully realized family melodrama, totally different from anything else on the show. The whole thing is just so weird in the way that it's not supernatural, morally ambiguous, and creepy as hell. You're left with Buffy being questioned by the police, unable to convince them that Ted hit her first because her Slayer body heals so quickly. Even the music here, these pretty (and a 'lil cheesy) delicate orchestral swells, seems so out of place.
Buffy is totally traumatized. Xander and Willow want to believe© that Ted ended up being a demon, and that's why Buffy killed him. What happens to her entire moral universe if she kills a human? Was it really in self-defense, or did she let herself lose control because of her issues with losing her mother to a new boyfriend? Another thing to notice in this scene is that Sarah Michelle Gellar is truly a great dramatic actress, and runs rings around Xander and Willow, who are trying so so hard.
The rest of the Scoobies, who originally refused to believe that there was anything wrong with Ted, can't accept that Buffy killed a human, and do some research in an attempt to prove that there was really something wrong with him. Xander snacks on the last batch of cookies Ted will ever cook while Willow frets over Ted's lack of a criminal record. Xander stops her and says, "Don't sweat it, cute buddy! We'll work it out! Worrying isn't going to solve any problems!"
Willow analyzes the cookies and discovers that "the secret ingredient isn't love." Instead, it is a tranquilizer/ecstasy. Ted, you bad boy!!!
Back at home, Buffy and Joyce try to mend the pieces of, you know, Buffy murdering Joyce's boyfriend. But things are strained, so Buffy retires to her bedroom, where she sees...TED? Alive and well?
Oh thank god he wasn't really human.
(A dear friend of mine would like me to point out that when the evil guy from the first half of the episode returns, a moment that should be terrifying and climactic, we all breathe a sigh of relief. Why? Because the first half of the episode is so emotionally fraught and nerve-shattering, and the fallout would almost be too much to bear.)
Buffy stabs Ted with a nail file and discovers that he's secretly a robot. Okay, that's fine, the last robot we had was a demon on the Internet, so this is a definite improvement. The show loses steam after the first half, but they tie things up as well as could be expected given the fact that Buffy is not ready to delve into themes this deep until Season 3.
It turns out that mortal Ted built a Ted robot who, after his death, would continue to marry women, bring them to his 50s-style love dungeon, force them to be the perfect housewife, kill them, and hide them in the closet. This is really creepy, but abstract enough and handled with nuance that makes it seem less exploitative.
One thing I will say, however, is that I could tell without looking that this is a Joss Whedon episode. Why? Because Joss Whedon's villains are always just egregiously misogynistic dudes. The frat boys in Reptile Boy. Ted, as he tells Joyce, "I don't take orders from women. I'm not wired that way." Several Big Bads to come. He's sometimes successful at this (Warren in Season 6 springs to mind), but usually it falls flat. We get it, Joss. You are such a good feminist, and misogynists are bad. By making all of your villains misogynists, you have successful absolved yourself of being a dude. You get to be an honorary woman. Congratulations, Joss. High-five. Okay?
But you still have to apologize for Xander.
Favorite moment: Buffy is too emotionally fragile to go a-Slayin', so Giles takes over her place. Jenny Calendar follows him to apologize for being so harsh, and then accidentally shoots an arrow into his back instead of the vampire attacking him. After this tension release, a subtle way for them to move past the events of The Dark Age, we see them making out in the library at the end of the episode.