Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp.
Isn’t it a bit remarkable that we’re only 23 episodes into Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and we’ve already had not one, but two, honest to goodness robots? I don’t think anyone was expecting to see quite so much science fiction in a show about killing demons, but hey, when it works, it works. And in “Ted” it totally works.
I feel like the biggest difference between “Ted” and “I Robot, You Jane”, and ultimately what makes the former work, while the latter fails, is in how the plot element of the robot itself is dealt with. While technology, as a threat, is a major theme of “I Robot, You Jane”, “Ted” is a simpler story that succeeds by doing what Buffy often does: taking a real-life issue that teens might face and putting a literal spin on an analogous problem. In this particular case, the phrase in question would be “There’s something up with my mom’s new boyfriend!”
And indeed there is. Ted (played by the late, great John Ritter) is everything a teenage girl could possibly want in a new paternal figure. He’s warm, loving, a great cook, and a wonderful partner to Buffy’s mother, Joyce. Buffy, of course, resents him for not being her father, as any child naturally would, but as her friends, and boyfriend, point out, Joyce deserves to be happy as well.
It’s worth taking a second to point out that Angel’s only scene in this episode is one of his best. The fact that he’s the voice of reason in this situation totally fits, and is apt to the episode. Being that Angel is older than anyone else in the main cast, he has more life experience in turn, and, as he points out to Buffy, loneliness can be a curse of its own, especially when your life expectancy has no end in sight.
As a child of divorce myself, “Ted” resonates with me more and more with every re-watch. It deals succinctly with the conflict a child feels between their absent parent, and their replacement, in a way that never feels cheap or opportunistic. Of course, we eventually build to the reveal that Ted is actually a robot, but the emotion and feeling of the hour is still allowed to exist in that space, and that works to the major advantage of such a mythology-stretching episode of television as this one.
There’s a lot to unpack here, to be thorough, as “Ted” is a bit loaded in its themes. The way Ted behaves when others aren’t watching is a clear metaphor for domestic abuse, and the methods he uses to manipulate everyone in Buffy’s life who would normally have her back are classic psychological calling cards for serial abusers.
Also, the episode plays the fight between Ted and Buffy totally straight, as his accidental “death” is allowed to breathe for a good 10-15 minutes before the reveal that he is, as Buffy sensed, a malicious force after all, though not of the type we might have expected. Once the reveal comes, a lot of wind goes out of “Ted” but luckily that’s not until the final 7 minutes of the episode, so it still manages to retain a lot of its punch, even a near 20 years later.
We’ve got a few other things to look over though. One particular plot line is particularly relevant, as Giles’ attempts to rekindle his faltering romance with Ms. Calendar (after the events of “The Dark Age”) match the tone of the episode perfectly when you consider that Giles is easily the closest thing Buffy has to a legitimate father figure. Luckily “Ted” sees the two reconciling, even if Buffy is unlucky enough to walk into a room a second time, only to find two “grown-ups” making out, yet again, at the end of the episode.
Finally, speaking of troubled couplings, Xander and Cordelia are struggling to keep things under wraps as they continue to see each other in secret after the events of “What’s My Line”. Will these two crazy kids make it? Will anyone? Well, only time, and more episodes, will tell in that regard.
“Cristina Says,” is based on observations my fiancèe makes. This is my 4th time through the series, but Cristina is a first-time watcher with modern TV sensibilities.
“Ooooohhh, just taking it out on the vamps!” (Fellow child of divorce, Cristina, immediately picks up on the subtext of Buffy beating the ever-loving shit out of her problems while doing her slayer duty.)
Haha! Frenching!” (Cristina is quick to chuckle at a term only ’90s kids would possibly be familiar with.)
“I hope he’s a vampire!” (Cristina is clearly hoping that Buffy will have an excuse to pummel Joyce’s new boyfriend. After I pointed out that Ted had clearly been seen during the day, at the mini golf course, Cristina corrected herself with the following: “Well… I hope he’s something!)
“Okay Sam!” (Like all children of divorce, Cristina tends to see shades of their surrogate parents in others.)
“Is it something to do with his cooking?” (Cristina manages to beat Willow to the punch by about 38 seconds.)
“Gross!” (Cristina reacts to Ted’s shredded face at the end of the conflict.)
Whedonisms are a sort of term for (Buffy creator) Joss Whedon’s style of dialogue, and something we’re using as a catch-all for particularly fun or witty lines.
“How is Angel? …Pretend I care.” (Xander knows that being a good friend means asking about things your friend cares about, even when you don’t.)
“Hahah! He’s a clean clown! …I have my own fun!” (Willow responds cutely to Buffy’s assertion that “That clown is a bit too clean.”)
“I’m Bu-linda. Belinda!” (Buffy finds a quick pseudonym when questioned at Ted’s office.)
“I’d feel like killing myself.” (Well, Ted asked Buffy to be honest about how she’d feel if he were to move in permanently.)
“What was he? A giant bug or something? I mean, we’re talking creature feature, right?” (It’s interesting that Xander goes immediately to giant bug as a solution, just saying.)
“Sure, in a fascist society.”
“Well why can’t we have one of those?” (Willow points out why Buffy can’t just kill anyone she chooses, as an authority figure with a higher responsibility, but Cordy misses the point.)
Shit, if you thought Ted was a Bad Egg, then you’re going to see that was just the beginning when we pop back in 7 for “Bad Eggs.”