The plot of this standalone is very similar to Joseph Ruben’s 1987 thriller The Stepfather
with Terry O’Quinn: a teenage girl’s divorced mother finds a new, too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, a guy who seems to be an embodiment of the 1950s sitcom dad, all traditional and fatherly and nice and into “family values”, and only the girl is suspicious of him, and rightly so, because he’s actually a creepy serial killer obsessed with finding a perfect new family. Although in this case, Ted is less about family and kids and more about the perfect wife/marriage. Oh, and he’s actually a robot.
Buffy is in the position of being the only one who sees that Ted is not such a good guy, but everyone is dismissing her suspicions because they think she has other reasons to hate him, for dating her mom and replacing her dad, which is true, but Buffy is still right about him (like Xander and his dislike of Angel perhaps?). It’s not that Buffy’s instincts when it comes to ”nice” men she is interested in dating are so great (see: Tom, Parker, Ben). But I think Ted was more obviously “off”. I remember that he was possibly the character I hated most in the early seasons. He’s so smarmy, trying to be liked by everybody, you just know that something has to be wrong with the guy. It’s good that we get the explanation that everyone but Buffy was so besotted with Ted because he put an Ecstasy-like drug in his cookies, so they don’t all look stupid. I get that Joyce finds it hard to find a boyfriend as a single mother, as she says, but still, she could do much better than Ted. If she was gonna make a disastrous choice in men, couldn’t she, like Buffy, at least pick someone hot?
Seriously though, she was obviously happy to find someone who seemed to be a good guy and really love her, and have a nice conflict-free relationship, after her marriage with Hank. She won’t ever find another boyfriend, apart from the Band Candy
one-night stand with bad boy Teenage Giles (and when she finally seemed to be on the brink of a new relationship, typically for a Whedon show, she died).
This is the first time we see Buffy feeling guilty for killing a human (or rather, someone she at that point believes to be human) – a topic that will come up again in season 3 with Faith, and in season 6 Dead Things
. Although both times Buffy didn’t really do it, both times she wants to give herself up immediately to the police. Vampires and demons are seen as killable, but humans, no matter how bad, aren’t – something that will come up again in season 6 with Warren. The incident with Ted nevertheless is a reminder that a Slayer can be very dangerous if she uses her Slayer strength on ordinary humans, intentionally or not, and it also shows that Buffy sometimes has a very violent temper when someone gets her really angry, although she keeps it check most of the time. Buffy has a sense of morality that tells her she mustn’t be above the human law – she is “the law” in the supernatural world, but she can’t overstep that. Cordelia, morally challenged as usual, gets to voice the opinion that Buffy and superheroes in general should be above the law (the same thing that Faith believes in season 3), which Willow points out would be a fascist society. (Cordelia’s reply is completely honest, sarcasm-free: “Yeah! Why can’t we have one of those?”)
I quite like this episode, even if the twist feels like a bit of a cop-out as it lets Buffy off the hook. I like seeing John Ritter as a bad guy, he does a good job making me hate Ted, and he’s very funny in the scene where the damaged robot is malfunctioning during a conversation with Joyce. The twist about Ted being a robot works as a commentary that nobody real can be that “perfect” (which was also a point of the contrast between Buffybot and the real Buffy in the season 6 opener. Interesting how robots on the show went from dangerous villains to sympathetic robots being used and exploited by humans or vampires, like April and Buffybot. ) Ted is an embodiment of insidious paternalism and sexism lurking beneath the niceness and traditional “family values”, which gets gradually revealed throughout the episode, with more and more worrying statements like “Don’t I always tell you what to do” to Joyce, or comforting her by saying “Daddy’s here”. A man treating a grown woman as a little girl and calling himself his lover’s “Daddy” (or a grown woman calling her lovers “Daddy”, which is also what Drusilla calls Angel and Spike) is disturbing. (Warren in Seeing Red
will also refer to himself as Daddy to the women he wants to seduce, while having his big macho act in the bar.) Among other things that Ted says are “Right is right, and wrong is wrong” – after Lie to Me
, another hint that we shouldn’t trust a black and white view of the world; and “Husband and wife are forever” (also a belief of his maker, the human serial-killer Ted, who was trying to find the same woman, over and over). Maybe the hint is that, besides the flawlessly nice people and those who think they know what’s best for everyone and can make decisions instead of their partners, we should also be suspicious of the “forever love” talk (which at this point brings to mind the Spike/Drusilla relationship, but will later also become the staple of Angel/Buffy).
In the B-plot, Giles and Jenny finally get back together at the end of the episode (which actually ends on the shot of two of them kissing in the empty classroom). Their relationship is the positive counterpart to Ted/Joyce throughout the episode, Giles being caring but not controlling and Jenny a strong independent woman. Although Buffy and the others freak out at seeing grownups kiss and run away – which really always seemed unconvincing to me. I never knew any teenagers who were horrified by the sight of two adults making out (unless maybe it’s their parents), teenagers in my high school would have loved to watch the teachers make out and there’d probably have been snickering and naughty comments, not running away in disgust.
Giles (after Buffy’s rant about vampires who are evil and kill people and come into your home and take over your house and start making mini pizzas that everyone likes…): Uh, Buffy, I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming text.
I think this is the first occasion that we see Buffy’s rapid Slayer healing, which in this case works against her as the police don’t believe her story that Ted punched her first, since she’s got no bruises.
Recurring characters introduced:
Detective Stein, who will return in two more episodes to investigate other deaths.
Pop culture references:
Captain & Tenille, 1970s the husband-and-wife pop duo. In the opening scene, Xander and Willow are discussing who the real driving force was in the duo, while Buffy has no idea who they’re talking about (which according to Xander is shocking and means she knows nothing about “culture”).
– Buffy says her mother is acting “Stepford” around Ted.
Cordelia compares Buffy to Superman
Thelma and Louise
- After the bad experience with Ted, poor Joyce (who doesn’t know he was a robot, just that he was a psycho murderer) decides to take a break from men and wants to have some mother and daughter time with Buffy, watching a movie, but only something without any horror, or romance, or men. Buffy describes that as “we’re Thelma and Louise
-ing it again.”
Buffy says she likes to play nursemaid to Angel (who’s still recovering from the events of the last episode), which Xander interprets in a kinky way, asking if it’s better than playing a naughty stewardess. Buffy is annoyed, but in season 8
There is foreshadowing of the robot twist within the episode itself:Ted’s colleague at work says that Ted is known as “The Machine” for his incredible work results; Ted says that he doesn’t take orders from women because he’s not “wired that way”.
A villain with an all-American traditional father persona is something we’ll see again, in a lot more charming but also a lot more dangerous version with The Mayor. Ted making everyone pliant and happy and adoring through chemical means is a bit similar to Jasmine making everyone happy and pliant and adoring through a spell.
Willow is really impressed with Human Ted’s scientific skills for making such a human-like robot, and even thinks of keeping some parts “for study”, which makes Buffy worried: “Will, you’re supposed to use your powers for good!”
And a piece of fake foreshadowing/ red herring: The conversation about Captain and Tenille is written that way to make us think at first that they’re talking about Spike and Drusilla. In an obvious follow-up to the end of What’s My Line
, the discussion whether “she” is the real power from the shadows and “he” was just a puppet ( though it touches on the fact that Dru is not that weak and helpless and that a lot of what Spike does is for her) seems designed to make us think that Drusilla would be the real Big Bad of the season – before we finally learn in Innocence
who the real Big Bad is.
Gee, I wonder if we’ll get another story in season 2 about a loving, apparently nice boyfriend turning evil…?