Once again our expectations and identifications have been subverted! Darla first set this stage in the opening scene of Welcome to the Hellmouth by turning out to be the vampire rather than the simpering blonde victim, and in Witch the pattern continued when episode’s the title character was revealed to be not Amy, but her wicked mother. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by the identity of the demon in The Puppet Show, yet I was, at least in my initial viewing.
Armed with that foreknowledge in my second go-round, I found the ruse still entertaining, but this time also deceitful – as in “hey, they cheated.” The stalking of the dancer in the locker room (is there a more dangerous place to be at Sunnydale High? – I should be tallying the attacks there) is shot partially from the point of view of the demon, and the camera hovers near the ground, maybe at the sight level of a Schnauzer, which would be similar to that of a ventriloquist dummy but preposterously low for that of the evil magician boy who we later learn committed the murder.
Otherwise, great twist – ventriloquist dummies have that creepiness factor of not-quite-humanness while at the same time mocking real humanness in a cruel and repulsive representation that I instinctively reject but that nonetheless creeps into my consciousness as a reminder of the ugliness and perversity that exists in some measure in everyone. The disconnect between mind and body is exploited in ventriloquism, where a vacant chamber, the dummy, takes on the mannerisms and language of a human without possessing them, rendering all that outer artifice with no inner source into a shell of mannerisms that become freakish in their normality. Dummies cause me existential angst.
Except that in this twist, it’s the goofy, likable magician boy who carves out hearts and brains, while Sid dummy is the hero hunting him down. Sid, despite those sinister, gaping, expressionless eyes, that rigid, snapping jaw, and his eerily rotating head, winds up the true Scooby ally.
Sid almost makes me feel better and less unsettled by ventriloquism, except that his only goal is to finish a task so that he can die. Now who’s suffering existential trauma?
NOTE: The casualties in the Sunnydale student body are mounting: two more more students murdered inside the school – with vital organs lifted from their cadavers. Yet the talent show, despite losing two of its performers to horrifying murders possibly involving vivisection, goes on with no postponement. Giles seems more preoccupied with the show than the demon!
NOTE: Two solid endings!
First, the rise of the curtain just after Giles had been rescued from the guillotine, an operation that entailed decapitating the demon and sadly terminating the existence of the dummy Sid. That alone made for completely bananas spectacle – which then bested itself when the curtain rose to transform it into the opening act for the school talent show: accidental avant garde performance art presented before Cordelia’s version of The Greatest Love of All.
They must have hastily cleaned up the mess on the stage because the tag showed us the absolutely terrible dramatic performance by Buffy, Xander, and Willow. I think this worked so well because at this point we already know the characters so well. Geeks, yes. Theater geeks, never.