Episode title: Ted
Original air date: December 8, 1997
“Trust me, he’s on the scrapheap… of life.” – Buffy
Another of my favourites this week as all appears to be quite in Sunnydale with Spike and Drusilla assumed to have been defeated there is a distinct lack of vampire activity. Of course this being Sunnydale it’s not long before there’s a crisis which this week comes in the form of Buffy’s mother Joyce being caught making out with her new boyfriend Ted who Buffy soon starts to suspect of hiding more than a few secrets.
Ok let just start by highlighting that spoilers lie ahead on this one and while some might query that knowing the twist here doesn’t take away from the episode, I personally really love its big reveal which is really an effective one which comes completely without any warning.
Right off the bat one of the real strengths of this episode is John Ritter who appears here as the titular Ted, while at the same time wheeling out his usual soft spoken nice guy charms as he projects the image of being the perfect boyfriend for Joyce. The fact that Buffy instantly dislikes him surprisingly has the same effect for the audience as we also find ourselves distrusting him, even when all he’s done is such heinous deeds as making mini pizzas (ones he bakes and then fries for some bizarre reason) and cookies or Buffy and her friends. Needless to say it’s not long before his dark side starts to show as he proves himself a stickler for rules and discipline as he threatens Buffy for attempting to cheat at mini golf, while later attempting to use her slayer diary to have her committed as being delusional.
While Ritter might not be known for playing darker roles, it’s really fun to see showing us a darker side especially when its one he’s hiding under his usual nice guy persona. This equally makes the moments where he attacks Buffy all the more shocking as he suddenly goes from threats to giving her a nasty looking slap. This shocking moment soon quickly escalates into a full blown brawl in one of those rare moments Buffy is fighting a human opponent, making the fact that she seemingly kills him by knocking him down the stair and breaking his neck only the more shocking.
Thankfully this is not an after school special on abusive step parents as we find out that Ted is in fact a robot as he soon comes back looking to claim Joyce, who surprisingly isn’t more shocked by the surprise return of her seemingly dead boyfriend and seems more than happy to accept his half-baked reasons for why he’s not dead. Of course it during this return and inevitable second round with Buffy that it is revealed that he is a robot, first by a nasty looking gash to his arm and secondly by having the side of his face torn off by a frying pan to the face (best slayer weapon ever) which sees some really impressive effects work which still holds up now.
To stop things getting too heavy we do get some more development with the various character relationships as Cordelia and Xander continue their secret relationship with Xander causing inviting her for a make out session in the janitor closet (classy). At the same time Giles in this episode is attempting to rekindle his relationship with Jenny who still hasn’t quite gotten over her recent demonic possession, but at the same time it’s clear that they both still have feeling for each other, while they continue to hold the title for most complicated relationship on the show. Still it seems that a bout of spirited vampire slaying by Giles and Jenny accidently shooting him with a crossbow is what their relationship needed it would seem by the end of the episode, let alone Giles once more gets to show off his inner badass.
One of the other great things about this episode is the fact that we get to see more than a brief appearance by Joyce, a role which Kristine Sutherland really made more than the disposable support role it could have been resigned to, while always for the most part keeping to the background outside of the occasional mother daughter scene with Buffy or being counselled by Giles in the later episodes. Of course most of us wouldn’t realise just how important her character was until her sudden demise which still remains one of the most devastating moments of the whole series.
A fun episode which manages to perfectly balance the darker elements with some great moments of comedy, while John Ritter perfectly sells the character of Ted both in his human form and equally in his robotic form as he marks the first in a line of humanoid characters which would appear throughout the course of the series. Even knowing the twist this still stands on its merits, rather than just relying on the big reveal which is probably why it still remains a firm favourite.
Next Episode: Bad Eggs