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Monday, January 9, 2012

Ted

[Updated April 29, 2013]

Ted is an episode which seems to generate radically different views among fans. Some rate it near the bottom, others like it. I’m in the latter category. I thought John Ritter was terrific as Ted, and I liked the way the episode explored the limits a Slayer needs to observe (though, admittedly, this will be done much better in S3). I agree with the way Myles McNutt summarized the episode in his review:

“Ted” is just a sharp little episode: it doesn’t try to fundamentally change the series, or explicitly create any sort of patterns, but it works hard to make us question the show’s central premise and delivers some powerful emotional moments that may eventually be undone but which linger on with characters in a way that Whedon is very fond of, and which makes for a compelling hour of television.”

The episode is also important for a key scene in the season finale of S2 and for the turning point moment of S3. And yes, I do believe Joss had things planned that far ahead, at least in outline. Ted will have more immediate importance too. There’s a clue to what I mean in the scene with Buffy and Giles in the graveyard.
Since I can’t discuss those points yet, let’s go back and consider Buffy’s mindset when Ted attacked her and see how we should judge her behavior. I think part of the reason she felt so guilty is that she knew she was spoiling for a fight with Ted: “I was *so* hoping you'd do that.” Admittedly, we’re talking about an adult man (to all appearances) in the room of a 16 year old girl, where he had no right to be, and he physically assaulted her after invading her privacy. He started the violence and she surely had the right to respond in some way, but she had to think that reacting as the Slayer rather than as a person led her to kill someone.
It could also be argued that she should have backed off once she had the upper hand and that her anger at Ted led her to continue. Joyce pleaded with her to stop and Buffy herself said later that she “lost control”. Plus, we have her behavior with the vampire earlier in the episode. Slaying demons in metaphor is fine, but taking out her emotions on a real person would be highly dangerous.
On the other hand, Ted wasn’t human after all. She sensed something was wrong with Ted, as she said even before they went miniature golfing, and her instincts are very good. Those instincts may have guided her reaction. Then too, his behavior at the golf course confirmed her suspicion that something was wrong with him. There’s another reason I could mention along these lines but it involves a spoiler for S6.
It’s also quite possible that Buffy used Slayer strength because Ted didn’t react to anything less. She certainly didn’t try to kill him, but his blows were obviously more than human judging by their impact on her (confirmed by what we later saw in the second fight); she must have sensed that and it does appear that she escalated the violence in response as she felt threatened. Her hardest blows, remember, came after he knocked her to the floor (not an easy thing to do to a Slayer) and began choking her. The blow might well have killed an ordinary human being and the chokehold showed a possible intent to do so.
Ultimately, in my view, Buffy’s own issues did affect her reaction, as Giles told her earlier when he noted that the subtext was becoming text. Buffy’s at risk of demonizing someone who’s not actually a demon simply because she’s upset by the situation. That’s dangerous in a person, much more so in a Slayer; in a way, this is the flip side of the coin from WML where Buffy encouraged Kendra to use her anger as a weapon.
What really vindicates Buffy is her willingness to take full responsibility for what she’d done. When Buffy accepted her destiny as The Slayer in Prophecy Girl, that meant she had to accept the consequences of her actions as the Slayer. This is the first time we see Buffy arguably misuse her power, but she passes an important test when she takes full responsibility for her actions.
Trivia notes: (1) Captain & Tennille, the subject of Willow’s and Xander’s conversation in the teaser, were a pop music duo from the ‘70s. The more interesting question, though, is just why the episode opens with this whimsical and seemingly random dialogue about which of the two was in control. I saw it as a reference to the end of WML, with the rise of Drusilla. (2) Ted’s ability as a cook is probably a joke based on John Ritter’s role in Three’s Company, where he was a cooking school student. (3) Buffy described her mother as “like Stepford” when Ted was around. The Stepford Wives was a book and movie about robotically happy wives who were kept that way by their husbands as a form of control. (4) Buffy decided that she and her mother would watch the movie Thelma and Louise. That would be the perfect movie after a day of dealing with abusive men.

4 comments:

  1. I love "Ted", and I totally agree with you about it being one of the most divisive in fandom. But I love John Ritter, and I love the moral dilemma for Buffy, and as a daughter of a single mother who found some really bad guys who looked good on paper, so to speak, I love that it addresses that too. I also LOVE that it introduces the possibility of superscience(as the ability is called in the tabeltop RPG) so early in the show's mythology.

    SPOILER

    As I've stated before, I started the show in the later seasons. My first ep was Fool for Love, and I caught later S5 eps, but I started watching in earnest after the switch to UPN, watching the previous season in reruns on FX at the same time. So I was slightly irritated when I was first introduced to the show's usage of robots, as I thought it was ludicrous to have sci-fi on a fantasy show out of the blue. But seeing Ted showed me that the sci-fi aspects were there from the start.

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  2. I've never been a big fan of Ted, but I found that it was effective because I've been creeped out by John Ritter in other roles since then, so he clearly did a fantastic job in the role...and my curiosity is now highly piqued by your references to the foreshadowing in this ep...

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  3. Ok, this is weird. I got email notification of a comment but it isn't showing up here. Responding anyway....

    Thanks very much groovypants. One of the best parts about this for me is rewatching the episodes for each post.

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