Mon
Mar 19 2012 2:00pm
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: What to Expect When You’re a Robot Momma Bezoar

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

“Ted” and “Bad Eggs” are the kind of episodes that should have their own Jonathan Coulton anthems, don’t you think? (Actually, The Future Soon would almost do it for “Ted.” Is there a candidate for “Bad Eggs”?) They’re the stuff of classic campy horror; “Bad Eggs,” in particular, draws on the rich tradition that includes things like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.

What these episodes have in common is they’re about responsibility, specifically parenting.

“Ted” is all about the Daddy action. Buffy’s mom starts dating a decent-seeming if retro guy, played with fluffy-haired evil brilliance by John Ritter. Buffy’s not so keen on the prospect of Mom having anyone in her life who isn’t her biofather. This is hardly surprising, and it doesn’t help that Xander and Willow are only too happy to climb aboard the Ted-Wagon of fun and homemade pizzas for a round of mini-golf.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

Soon it turns out that Ted’s friendly guy persona is just a latex mask; when Joyce has her back turned, he’s whipping out an authoritative bad dad rap, going so far as to threaten to slap Buffy silly. He’s folding Buffy out of the pictures of Joyce on his desk at work. He’s turning up in her room, reading her diary. Oh, and there’s the little matter of the drugs he’s putting in the food he’s giving everyone in Buffy’s life. (Except Principal Snyder, which seems arbitrary and unfair.)

The intersection here of real-world teen experience and a berserker robot stepdad wannabe is genius stuff. When Ted does lash out, Buffy reacts to the threat as any Slayer would, with total commitment of her considerable resources. This is the moment when she could easily have become Faith, but for one lucky break: in the end, Ted’s a) not some human guy after all; and b) he’s probably a serial killer-o-matic. I guess that’s two lucky breaks, isn’t it?

In “Bad Eggs,” we move from evil dadding to more of a momster. It’s that week at school where you have to Srsly Consider Teen Pregnancy, by coddling an egg for a week. (Buffy, in an echo of Joyce’s situation, gets an egg and no partner.) Sunnydale being Sunnydale, it turns out that the eggs are full of mind-controlling... aliens? demons? Cthulu-esque? baby monsters called Bezoar, or perhaps Bezoars, who want the kids to get an A in Health so they can dig up their big momma monster in the basement.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

Also in “Bad Eggs,” Angel and Buffy talk reproduction; the upshot is vampires are sterile and doomed to childlessness, a claim he should have checked out with a paranormal fertily expert, but anyway Buffy still loves him. Joyce, meanwhile, is on a tear to teach her beloved offspring the rudiments of being a responsible proto-adult. And, just when things couldn’t get any weirder at the mall, a couple vampires named Gorch have come to town to see if they can knock Slayer-killing off their Bloody Bucket list.

There are a lot of caretaker roles jammed into this pair of episodes. Ted is an old-fashioned Poppa Bear type, exuding masculine authority and seratonin uptake inhibitors in his quest to bring Joyce and Buffy to heel, all for their own good. The elder cowpoke vampire, Lyle Gorch, is a parent-figure to his not-so-bright younger brother. The kids have their eggs to raise, and then of course they’re possessed by a one-eyed purple Ubermom of Death.

This leads them all to the Sunnydale High Official Mining Equipment Closet (Seriously. Watch it again. Angel can’t have babies and S.H.S. has a room full of pick-axes and sledgehammers!) so they can check out the equipment they need to free their mother.

InBad Eggs,” interestingly, it’s the crummy parents who carry the day: Buffy kills her hatchling before it can suck the life and free will out of her. Xander boils and almost eats his young, which I find oddly endearing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

(Before this makes you worry, it’s cool—I have no human kids.)

So. Two episodes about parenting. It’s little surprise that they showcase Joyce... and she’s at her best and worst written in this pair.

First, let me say: Kristine Sutherland rocks. Whatever she gets in terms of script, she works it. She’s a great performer and does a terrific job as Joyce, always. But Buffy’s the point of BtVS, and in shows focused on teens who fight demons or crime or each other or curfews, sometimes the Mom role, thankless though it is, is to be an arbitrary hardass.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

TV parents tend to be a means to an end, in other words, and that end is being unfair to show that life is unfair. (Or, more succinctly, ramping up conflict.) It’s always interesting when the adults in a show about teens get to be more. The Keith Mars/Veronica Mars relationship was a complex tangle of pride, love, partnership and protectiveness. These days I’m loving Burt Hummell, on Glee.

(Hmmm, maybe TV Dads get more latitude to not suck. Who are the rocking TV moms, folks? There’s Sarah Connor... but John’s not really the point of that show, is he? Who else? And Amy Pond doesn’t get to truly be a mom. Kind of like Angel doesn’t truly get to be a dad.)

(Also, now that I’m well off on a tangent, I’ll note that Glee’s a bit exceptional—the kids seem to be the point, but it’s obvious, especially from what’s happening this season, that they’re meant to come and go. We’re not following Rachel, Kurt and the gang to college, are we? The school, the adults in it and the idea of Glee Club competitions are the things that are going to endure as that first round of singer/dancers graduates this year.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

My point—I did have one—is that despite the many moments of awesome in her years on BtVS, Joyce Summers also had many moments of being a kneejerk, platitude-spouting authority figure.

In “Ted,” she rocks. She’s in pursuit of romance and personal fulfillment—she’s getting a life—and she’s doing her best to introduce New Boyfriend to Daughter in a sensitive way. She’s not giving up being a parent, and she’s not being a martyr to it either. Okay, she defers to Ted a lot too much, but in her defense she is stoned. If someone was lacing your sugary treats with Ecstasy, you’d be easier to get along with too. (Bon-bon?)

But when violence breaks out, when Ted ends up dead at the bottom of the staircase and the cops ask what happened, despite the fact that she’s so horribly upset, Joyce’s instinct is to protect Buffy—even if it means lying.

I love that.

I love it even more when she isn’t a saint, either, and can’t deal with Buffy once they’re home together. That’s the Joyce stuff I love. She’s a people, not a curfew dispenser. It’s solid gold characterization.

In “Bad Eggs,” for me, all that nuance is gone. Yes, Buffy forgot her dry cleaning and seemed to be breaking some rules. I get that these are grounding-worthy offenses. But Joyce going on about responsibility, responsibility, responsibility—it all bounces off me, dramatic irony and all. Her lectures never really resonate. She’s been flattened, ironed down to Parent as Plot Obstacle, and in those moments I have to work not to actively dislike her.

Because I have such fondness for “Ted,” I’d remembered it as good and remembered “Bad Eggs” as well, bad. On review, they come together somewhere in the middle. “Ted” has flaws, most notably the deus ex oh-he’s-a-machine resolution.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bad Eggs and Ted

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of fun in “Bad Eggs.” Possessed Willow and Cordelia knocking out Buffy and Xander. Zombie Giles pretending everything’s business as usual. Jonathan’s screaming run through the corridors of Sunnydale High is hilarious, more so once we know he’s Jonathan, Superstar! Even the Gorches are fun.

Also? Buffy kicks serious monster butt. The Aliens homage in this is very fine indeed.

Even so, I am partial. The first time I saw S1 of BtVS, it was all at a shot, at a friend’s house in Texas, just after the season had aired. I’d (mistakenly) thought the show wasn’t airing in Canada and hadn’t paid its existence much mind; Snuffy insisted.

I’d liked what I’d seen, liked it a lot, enough to figure out when S2 was on at home. Let’s be friends, BtVS, was my thought.

“Ted” was the moment when I fell in love. That yawning gulf between mother and daughter, the high cost of Buffy’s secret ID—it got to me. Joyce lying to the cops and Buffy stepping up to tell the truth, and most of all the scene the next day at school, when she admits to Xander and Willow that she lost control and killed (as far as she knows) a normal guy, for normal teen reasons... wow.

“I had no right to hit him that hard,” she says, taking responsibility despite the cosmic unfairness of it all... right there, something clicked for me. I realized that Joss and Company understood exactly how crummy a superhero’s life can be. My level of involvement in the show increased, exponentially, in that instant.

That was the point when I started making people watch taped episodes (do you all remember videotapes?) at my place. “Ted,” for me, was where my serious like for the show was transformed to mad fannish devotion.

Hey, when was yours?

And all this parental nurturing happened when? Why, just in time for Buffy’s birthday. What could be better?

 


A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on Tor.com — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. She also has a second story up here called “Among the Silvering Herd.”

16 comments
Bo Balder
1. Bo Balder
Oh, Buffy, how I loved thee. I'm so happy Tor is doing a rewatch!
Bo Balder
2. Gwailouh
I got really hooked after watching the "Passion" episode where evil Angel narrates. It started with great music and a great atmosphere while Angel was stalking Buffy and her friends and then ended with Giles swinging a baseball bat that was on fire. Amazing episode.
Alyx Dellamonica
3. AMDellamonica
Bo--me too!

Gwailouh, I just got to rewatch that amazing, wonderful, mind-blowing episode, actually. (I'm watching a few weeks ahead of when the rewatches get posted. And I Tweeted as I watched "Passion", using the hashtag #buffyrewatch. Which has other stuff because other people, you know, rewatch.
Bo Balder
4. Gardner Dozois
As I said, neither episode is my favorite, although I like "Ted" better than "Bad Eggs," which reminded me too strongly of Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS, although it did have funny comic-relief vampires in it (one of whom showed up again later). Like all TV/movie heroines and heros, and even heroes in novels, Buffy is lucky that they just knocked her unconscious rather than killing her when she was helpless and they had an opportunity to; must have just been carelessness on the part of the monsters, since it certainly wasn't because they had a high ethical regard for human life. Although when you think about it, it takes a lot more time and effort to drag her to a closet and lock her into it than just to hit her a few more times with the shovel and flatten her skull. (Private detectives, in both books and movies/TV are particularly prone to getting hit over the head and knocked out; you'd think by now they'd all be addled and brain-damaged. The only time I've seen this handled realistically, was in a Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald, where Travis gets hit severely over the head, and spends the next month or so in the hospital; far from shaking off the effects of the blow and continuing with the case he's on, he's sick and shaken and forgets all about the case until he happens to run across a strand that leads him back to it several months later. The similar "getting shot in the shoulder" and shaking off the effects motiff also irks me, since in real life, getting shot in the shoulder with a heavy-calibre handgun might well either kill you or cripple you for life.)

Yes, the "jaintor's closet" full of shovels and pickaxes was hilarious. Considering what you're likely to run into at Sunnydale High, it would make more sense to have it full of automatic weapons.

Buffy didn't succumb to the alien parasites not only because of bad parenting but because Buffy almost never obeys the RULES--in fact, you could make a case that she's an unusually effective and long-lived Slayer BECAUSE she never obeys the rules.

Ted was an especially effective villain because of Buffy's Daddy Issues, and because not only was he trying to replace her daddy, but he seemed to be taking Joyce away from her, someone she'd always depended on in spite of their squabbling, as well as turning the rest of her support staff against her to some degree too.

We've discussed before Joyce's total and stubborn oblivion about the fact that Sunnydale is a strange place with strange stuff going on in it, although you'd think that having her boyfriend turn out to be a killer robot would have made some kind of impression. (I always wanted to find out how Ted was in the sack--"his movements were a bit mechanical"--but Buffy didn't ask, and probably didn't want to know.)
Andrew Love
5. Andy Love
Ted the episode creeped me out because Ted the character creeped me out - he's a falsely-affable control-freak who insuiates himself into Buffy's home life. I still remember the relief I felt when he turned out to be a robot - he was much less disturbing that way.

P.S. Great dialogue in this episode: as Buffy's complaints about vampires become more and more transparently about Ted, Giles drily notes "What was subtext has rapidly becomes text."
Alyx Dellamonica
6. AMDellamonica
Ewwww! How was Ted in the sack? Now I will wonder forever. Eww, eww, ick.

John Ritter always gave me the creeps, but the floppy Seventies hair in this episode made him especially effective as a bad guy.
john mullen
7. johntheirishmongol
John Ritter was very creepy, almost as creepy as he was in Three's Company. Maybe this is what he turned into after that show. Between this guy, and her outing with Ripper, it's no wonder Joyce was celebate until she got ill.

I don't know when the taking the egg home thing started up but I must have seen it in 20 tv shows by now. No one ever gets the eggs back to class safely, and something weird always happens.

The idea of a Cthululike big bad one year might open up a whole realm of possibilities Of course, with Buffy's budget, Cthulu might have looked like a cheesy squid.
Bo Balder
8. Gardner Dozois
There was a Lovecraftian detective movie called CAST A DEADLY SPELL, starring Fred Ward, on HBO one year. It was actually pretty good, until they made the mistake of showing Cthulu at the end, at which point he turned into a rubber octopus wreathed in dry ice smoke.

No, Joyce was never much good at choosing men. Her having a regular boyfriend would have changed the dynamic of the show, though, so I can understand why they didn't go there. There was a time when I thought they might hook her and Giles up as a regular item, but that wouldn't have worked for long.
Bo Balder
9. tarbis
"Ted" was a decent stand alone, but really did live and die on the casting of Ritter. He managed the switch from nice guy to villian from "The Stepfather" with just the right amount of gear crashing. At the end of the day it was a good creepy episode that addressed the target audience well. (Probably doesn't hurt that I have a soft spot for the Giles and Jenny subplot that made its comeback in this one.)

"Bad Eggs" I never really warmed to. It felt like two stories that were badly bolted together. Funny vampire cowboys in one story and "all my friends are acting weird for an unknown reason" in the second. The comedy in the first stripped all the possible creepiness out of the second. That and the climax felt really weak, giant immobile monsters tend to make bad television.
Michael Ikeda
10. mikeda
Gardner Dozois@4

The reason Buffy and Xander weren't killed in "Bad Eggs" is that the bezoar-minions wanted them to be converted. The locked closet that Buffy and Xander were dragged into also contained two bezoar eggs.
Bo Balder
11. Gardner Dozois
Ah, right! I'd forgotten that. At least it's a reason for their actions, rather than "we can't kill her, she's the star of the show!"
Alyx Dellamonica
12. AMDellamonica
It's Newt in the sticky webbing from Aliens, all over again.
Mouette
13. Mouette
I never really liked the Ted episode, for some reason. Maybe it was too much dealing with realistic issues for me? I don't know. But what I do find interesting is that we tend to dismiss Buffy's killing of Ted because he was a robot.

That sort of shouldn't matter. He ended up not being human, but she didn't know that at the time she reacted (in the completely understandable way she did). It was accidental and/or in self defense, but Buffy intended and believed she was attacking a human being when she hit him. She (and we) are relieved when this is not the case, and both the show and viewers tend to gloss over the fact that it is only happenstance, not choice, that kept her from killing a human being.

I think it could have been an interesting development if Ted *had* been human, and Buffy were forced to deal with all the realities of her actions there which get swept under the rug because he 'ended up' being a robot. And Ted would have been almost creepier if he were 'real'. It's easy to dismiss fear and dislike of him when we find out that he a robot monster, not a human one.

Not that I'm at all hating on the Buffster; I love Buffy as a character, and always have. I've never understood those who say they love the show but hate or dislike Buffy. But it would have been... interesting, to see her have to deal with being a 'killer' for once, instead of a Slayer. Might the whole Faith debacle have gone differently? Would she have become more tolerant, or less? Would she have developed more concept of a shades-of-gray, or would she have become more militant in her attitude? What would have happened to her personality and psyche - would she have externalized that or internalized it?

Of course, given the *rest* of the season, it's probably best Buffy didn't have to deal with killing a human Ted on top of it. A girl can only handle so much mental stress/damage.
Bo Balder
14. Gardner Dozois
Agree that it would have been interesting if Buffy had killed a human Ted, as justified as that killing might have been. It certainly would have put a different spin on the later Faith thing, since most of the ethical issues would have already been hashed out. Perhaps that's why they didn't do it.
Bo Balder
15. todzzgod
I liked Buffy the movie but didnt like Gellar as Buffy. She never had the physical chops to sell the roll. So I quit watching it. I didnt start back until angel was running and I saw the episode where Cordilia was wearing the "IDream of Genie" outfit (In the Pilea Arc. ps I miss Andy!). Then I started with Angel and went back to Buffy because there were so many tie-ins it was hard not to. What caught me about Buffy then was how Xander stood up to Angel. There was a certain malice in his eye and TV doesnt normally treat just one of the gang that well. That is where I fell for Buffy. Except for the whole fake sister thing. Dont get me started.

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