Ted, like Ford in Lie to Me, has negotiated an extension of his existence without regard for a soul. While Ford was willing to trade his soul for a corporeal continuance as a vampire, Ted took another avenue. Back in the 1950s, he programmed what he could of his being into a robot to extend his existence through artificial intelligence, yet as Buffy has warned us with vampirism, this does not equate to extending life. The core of the being, the soul, departs, and though all the wiring and circuitry, be it neurological connections or actual wires, remains, the essence of that person is gone.
Robot Ted is similar to a vampire in that he appears human but lacks humanity, a walking replica of himself without a soul. He’s a beginning stage Cylon, maybe a prototype of the Toasters from Battlestar Galactica. He’s nowhere near the level of the final models, certainly not D’Anna Biers, who discovered her own soul through the process of death – in the sliver of space between dying and resurrection. Instead of insistent on prolonging her life, D’Anna acquired a most unusual compulsion/addiction: suicide.
How the Cylons eventually developed their souls may have been answered in the series’ theistic conclusion. The episode of Ted makes no such excursion into the religious – or even into a deeper question of identity and soul, a major weakness in an episode already needs a boost, philosophical or otherwise. Ted “dies” much as D’Anna, but his return is merely predictable, and rather than experience a sense of wonder, he simply returns to the plot precisely where he’d left it. Never has a resurrection felt more mundane.
Ted is therefore just another robot replacement story, a trope that I usually enjoy, but one that Buffy should have made more of. I suppose we can read into the locked-up ladies scenario that the long-dead scientist’s identity was dependent on his relationship with/subjugation of a woman, which is why Robot Ted must cycle through cellar-imprisoned housewives in order to keep himself (itself? – no Ted is a boy) going. A wife (or succession of wives) anchors Ted to his former humanity and to his current self as make-believe-man.
But Robot Ted lacks nuance. There’s no there there, which Whedon & Co. may have intended, yet it makes him unengaging. We have no sense that Ted has much awareness of his state of being/non-being, so he mostly plods through the episode like a mechanical version of the monster-of-the-week with no motivation or conscious will, but rather just a general sense of malice.
Instead of exploring the robot’s relationship with mortality, they focus on Ted as a nemesis for Buffy, the only one of the gang who sees through the veneer of that soothing voice and the drugged homemade cookies. He’s the threat to Buffy’s bond with her mother that no one else perceives, something a therapist would jump on, except that Buffy’s right. Ted really is just a monster incapable of feelings who wants to separate her from her mom. How fascinating this might have been if they’d made him more than that.
Whedon wouldn’t let go of technological preservation of memory, however. He re-introduced it in Dollhouse years later to far, far greater success. Digital downloading of a facsimile of existence apparently needed its own series for a full sorting out.
Buffy‘s Ted really just represented a threat to Buffy’s home life; the Rossum Corporation in Dollhouse brought about the collapse of contemporary society. You see, Topher > Ted in every way, from personal charm to scale of destruction.
Finally, I should note that while I’m not a big fan of the episode Ted, I did have fun with the casting of John Ritter. What was happening in the 1990s with him? Just after finishing this episode, he rushed out for another highly unsympathetic paternal role – in the 1998 masterpiece Bride of Chucky, a film I continue to adore despite my better intentions.
Why were we lining up in ’97-’98 to see John Ritter meet grisly fates in the horror genre?