15:01 – 30:00
During Part 1 of our 15-Minute Hellmouth exploration of first season episode, “The Puppet Show,” we were introduced to the new principal of Sunnydale High School, the very Ferengi-like Mr. Snyder, who has positioned himself as the Anti-Flutie, a man placed in charge of children who seems to, in fact, hate children. Also, we learned that Sunnydale High has a student talent show, and we are forced to accept that Librarian/Watcher Rupert Giles and Buffy and her small circle of friends were all roped into participating in the show.
Coincidentally, one of the students auditioning for the talent show, a dancer named Emily, is murdered, her heart cut from her body with a knife. While Buffy’s Slayer Sense insists that a demon is involved, circumstantial evidence suggests that a student named Morgan should be our prime suspect. He is, after all, a ventriloquist, and we all know that ventriloquists are sketchy. Besides, his dummy Sid is a lecherous doll with a suspiciously outdated Vaudeville act.
We rejoin our show already in progress, still in Act I for a few additional minutes.
Buffy just pointed out to Giles that their priority should be the murder investigation, not the talent show. Since no one wants to be involved in the talent show in the first place, the Scoobies are more than ready to take Buffy’s side in this debate.
“Principal Snyder is watching us all very closely,” Giles says. “Now, if he chooses, he can make all our lives extremely difficult. A Slayer cannot afford that. We will find this murderer, but, in the meantime . . . the show must go on.”
Giles tells Buffy to watch Morgan, and to check his locker to see if there’s any evidence there.
“Like a heart?” Willow asks.
Willow, whose superhero name is still Computer Girl, goes to the computer to pull up Morgan’s locker number.
After school, Buffy roams the hallways, searching for Morgan’s locker. She attempts to use the combination, gets frustrated, then punches a hole into the locker door. The astute viewer has already noticed a door opening behind her. As she is about to remove the case containing Morgan’s ventriloquist dummy Sid, Principal Snyder grabs her hand.
“What are you doing?” Snyder demands.
“Uh, looking for something.”
“School hours are over. You, therefore, should be gone.”
“And I’m going any minute now,” Buffy says, laughing nervously.
Snyder continues: “There are things I will not tolerate. Students loitering on campus after school. Horrible murder with hearts being removed. And also smoking.”
Armin Shimerman is a skilled comedic actor. I already like him more than Principal Flutie. We know he won’t get eaten by a pack of hyena-possessed high schoolers. Of course, I’m not saying he won’t get eaten. That’s dangerously close to spoiler territory.
Buffy tells the principal that a friend asked her to get something out of his case. She opens it, but Sid is not inside. Morgan and Sid are, in fact, watching from behind the door we saw open earlier. We were misdirected into thinking that’s where Principal Snyder emerged from.
Snyder tells Buffy to get along home now. This made me think of that dreadful “Move Along Home” episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, also featuring Armin Shimerman, that aired a few years before this Buffy episode. This line of dialogue might have been a coincidence instead of an Easter Egg, but we take our fun where we can find it.
The next scene is a conversation between Morgan and Sid. They are having this conversation on stage, it seems. Morgan paces while Sid the dummy tries to convince him to do . . . something.
“She’s the one,” Sid says.
“You saw what she did, how strong she is.” He’s talking about Buffy punching a hole in Morgan’s locker, I think.
“I know, but—”
“She’s the last,” Sid says. “Just this one more, and I’ll be free.”
“I won’t,” Morgan says.
“I will,” says Sid. All of this makes it look like Sid—and, by association, Morgan—are responsible for the ballerina’s death, doesn’t it?
We cut to a scene in Buffy’s bedroom. Joyce Summers is trying to be supportive and talks about Buffy’s participation in the talent show. She says she looks forward to seeing her act. Buffy, who frequently comes across as self-absorbed and ungrateful, tells her mother that if she truly loves her, she’ll stay away from the talent show. Far, far away.
Maybe she’s trying to keep her mother out of harm’s way. I could be misreading the point of this entire scene, and Buffy isn’t a self-absorbed ingrate after all.
After Joyce leaves the room and Buffy switches off her bedside lamp, we see that Sid is outside her window playing the Peeping Tom. Okay, this was the real point of this scene, wasn’t it? A sort of hokey jump scare to end the act. Which it does.
Act II picks up in Buffy’s bedroom again, where she is asleep. She is awakened by the pitter-patter of tiny feet. She sees something go under her bed and she leans over to look under it. Nothing is there. When she comes back up, Sid is there for another jump scare. Buffy screams and knocks the dummy off the bed. Sid scurries away.
This scene reminded me of a similar one in the movie Poltergeist. You know the one. Another scary doll, this one a clown. It attacks a kid trying to go to sleep during a storm. I may be confusing this with another scene, with the scary tree outside. No matter. There was a scary clown doll. That, I remember.
Joyce, woken by Buffy’s scream no doubt, enters Buffy’s bedroom and turns on the lights. Buffy is still shaken by the encounter, blurting out that something’s in her bed. Joyce rummages through Buffy’s bedcovers, determining that there’s nothing there. She suggests that Buffy was having a nightmare. Buffy reluctantly agrees and apologizes for waking her mom.
The next day, back at Sunnydale High School—in fact, back in the high school auditorium, where the lame student magician fails to make his lovely assistant vanish from a box—Cordelia Chase is haranguing Giles about having to follow Brett and his stupid band. She thinks all that rock-and-roll music will ruin her sappy song. Giles manages to get Cordy to leave him alone by suggesting that something’s wrong with her hair. In sotto voce, he gives Xander credit for teaching him that trick. Vanity thy name is Cordelia.
Buffy shows up and tells Giles, Willow and Xander about Sid the dummy being in her room the previous night. They have trouble believing her, suggesting—as Joyce did—that it was a nightmare.
You know me. I’m an old hand at suspending my disbelief for the sake of story. Even so, I have trouble accepting that people who believe in vampires, witches, demons, giant praying mantis monsters and hyena possession would be so skeptical of ventriloquist dummies that can operate independent of their ventriloquists.
Giles—AKA Professor Exposition—does offer up the fact that he may have found a possible demon culprit in one of his beloved books. He discovered a reference to a brotherhood of seven demons who take the form of young humans. Every seven years these demons need human organs—a brain and a heart, to be precise—to maintain their humanity. Otherwise, they revert back to their demon forms.
Willow says, “So Morgan could still be the guy. Only demon Morgan instead of crazy Morgan.”
Morgan and Sid are nearby as this conversation is going on.
Giles isn’t certain that the Morgan-demon theory holds up. He says, “It’s said that these demons are preternaturally strong. And Morgan is . . . Well, he seems to be getting weaker every day.”
It’s true. Buffy can see Morgan putting his hand to his head, as if he’s suffering from a big headache. Morgan does not seem well.
Cut to history class, where the students are learning all about the Monroe Doctrine. Buffy seems less interested in the Monroe Doctrine than in observing Sid the dummy. Sid turns his head to look back at Buffy. Cordelia, as ever, is handy with a mean girl quip, saying to Buffy, “Looks like someone digs you. That’s adorable. You and the dummy could tour the freak show.”
Morgan gets in trouble for talking to Sid during class. The history teacher confiscates Sid and puts him in a cabinet. She tells Morgan he can get it back after school.
Fast-forward to after school. Morgan returns to claim his dummy. The teacher tries to talk to Morgan, expressing concern because Morgan hasn’t seemed like himself lately. Morgan insists that he’s okay, he just wants Sid now. When the teacher opens the cabinet, Sid is no longer inside.
“He knew to wait for me!” Morgan says. “He knew I’d be back.”
Of course, Xander stole Sid from the history teacher’s cabinet. He has the dummy with him in the library as Buffy, Willow and Giles come in. Xander says that Buffy wanted a chance to speak with Morgan alone. Well, Morgan’s alone now because Sid is with him. Buffy is weirded out by Xander playing with the puppet. Xander insists that the dummy is harmless, inanimate. He demonstrates this by pounding the dummy’s head on the table.
Giles and Willow hit the stacks to do more research into organ-harvesting demons while Xander remains with Sid. Buffy goes to find Morgan. Xander places Sid in a chair at the end of a table, turning the dummy’s head so he won’t be staring directly at him.
Buffy looks for Morgan in the auditorium. She goes backstage. While she is in the dressing room, a rendering of a demon is clearly visible on the wall over her shoulder. Not sure why that’s there.
Principal Snyder provides another cheap horror-show jump scare by appearing on the staircase backstage, creepily underlit the way some arsehole with a flashlight will do while telling ghost stories around a campfire.
“Looking for something?” Snyder asks Buffy.
“Have you seen Morgan Shay?”
Snyder comes down the stairs. “You know, with everything that’s been going on recently, I’m not sure how safe it is for a girl like yourself to be here . . . alone.”
Snyder does creepy and menacing quite well.
It’s difficult to intimidate the Slayer, though. Buffy says, “Well, I was just leaving. And I know how to take care of myself.”
Buffy seems sure of herself, resolute. “All right, then,” Snyder says, defused. And then he leaves back up the stairs.
Back in the library, Xander glances up from the pages of his own book to see Sid still in the same position in his chair at the end of the table.
Up in the stacks, Willow has found something interesting in the section on toys and magic. She reads a passage to Giles: “’On rare occasions inanimate objects of human quality, such as dolls and mannequins, already mystically possessed of consciousness, have acted upon their desire to become human by harvesting organs.’”
“Emily’s heart,” Giles says.
“Morgan’s dummy,” Willow says.
Turning our attention back to Xander. As he gets up from the table to get a reference book, the viewer can see that Sid is no longer in his chair. Xander doesn’t notice yet, though, and since it is here that we reach the 30-minute mark, we’re not going to witness his reaction scene until next time. We’re still in Act II for a few more minutes, but it looks like things are coming to a head.
Sid the dummy is obviously harvesting organs in order to become a real boy like Pinocchio. Right? Right? We’ll have to wait and see.
Join me again next time at the library. You know the one. We’ll conclude our discussion, dissection and annotation of “The Puppet Show” in Part 3 of this Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode DeepWatch.
One thought on “\m/15-Minute Hellmouth\m/: Buffy the Vampire Slayer DeepWatch: Season 1, Episode 9: “The Puppet Show” (airdate: Monday, May 5, 1997): Part 2 of 3”
I too find it too convenient the team would be so skeptical of ventriloquist dummies operating independent of their ventriloquists in light of all the other stuff they’ve experienced. For the story, of course…😁
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