Well, it truly has been a sad last few days for any true Buffy fan this week. John Ritter, our very own famed robot Ted, passed away at the age of 54. He will be greatly missed. And although it’s already been said once before on this site, I’d just like to reiterate that all us here at HMC send out our thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of this amazing actor as they go through this painful time in their lives.
I had been planning to send in a Ted article in a few weeks, mostly because my take on that episode seemed to be far different than what I was gathering the vast majority of fans thought of it. And although the article in question wasn’t quite finished, I decided to put in a little extra time over the weekend to go ahead and have it up for this week instead.
Initially, John Ritter was an interesting actor to see appear on the show. Partially I think this is because he was one of the very first established actors to appear as a temporary guest star. I remember when I first found out Ritter was going to be on the program as a robot I had to ask twice just to make sure I had received that information correctly. But it all worked out…and produced for the series was our very first glance at human-looking robots in the Buffyverse.
But not only did Mr Ritter do an episode of an up-and-coming series and put up with their make-up department for a week…he also came back to do an interview for the Season Two DVD release. I think that says a lot about an actor when they’re already established in their field yet come to do an interview piece for a show that they only appeared in once.
So, with all these thoughts in mind, here are my words on the episode Ted…
While I didn’t include Ted into the robot article I wrote some time back, I can truly say that of all the Buffy robots…Ted seemed the most realistic out of any of them. If you look back at the reasons I criticized the approach taken with April…it’s not hard to see why I have come to that conclusion. I know the episode wasn’t exactly the most favorite among many fans to the series…and often times it is located on the very bottom of the totem pole when ranking all one hundred and forty-four screen eps…but when have I ever been in the majority about anything?
When I first watched “Ted” I had a far different take on it than what I’ve gathered other reviewers thought of it. If you really look into it, though, “Ted” sort of took us all aside for a brief moment, away from our usual scope of who Buffy was (a young, yet larger-than-life slayer who battled demons)…and into the uber-fun universe of a robot mystery adventure. While robots are a predictable adversary in just about any science fiction masterpiece…there are still different approaches which can make them seem original yet still redundant at the same time. Ted employed many characteristics that made his character seem like both these traits in one.
For instance, the idea behind a psycho robot/computer going mad and trying to kill people…is rather redundant. But bringing in a robot as a step-father figure for the main character without the main cast of characters knowing it…was a bit more an original approach. Since Buffy mimics a lot of real-life instances of growing up…it seems appropriate that a robot was put in place for the “step-father episode.” When you think about it, often times the “step-father” role is portrayed as just that…someone who is trying their best to appear perfect in the eyes of the children of the woman they intend to wed. Yet also someone who is imposing their own values and interests on those same children as he gets closer to that day. Often times by force. It’s sort of an “assimilation stage” when you think about it.
The fact that Buffy refused to accept anyone to replace her father is a very normal defense mechanism for a person in her position to employ. However, one must also think of the similarities to another instance of this series…when Wesley Wyndam-Pryce first appeared. As many of you know (actually, as all of you should know by this point), at Season Three, Buffy was regarding Giles as a father figure. In fact, many of you will recall the specific moment when Buffy asked Giles to do something with her that beforehand only her father and she had participated in (a sort of tradition, if you will). Shortly after her Cruciamentum, Buffy felt as betrayed as a daughter would to her own father…had a father done such a thing to his child. One can see the way in which this relationship had changed over the course of three long years.
In other words, when Wesley first came into the series, Buffy had a very similar reaction to the way she had treated Ted. It was like someone was coming in to replace Giles (actually, that’s literally what was happening)…but also someone was coming in to replace her “father.” The same instance that was pre-established early on in Season Two with Ted appeared in Season Three with the new British Watcher. As we can clearly see in the instance with Ted, as soon as Buffy’s mother began to get serious with another man…Buffy put her reflexes and suspicions on high alert. Granted, this all came before there was any hardcore proof of Ted not being in the “right of way” too.
And this leads us to a far more important issue that arose in the episode “Ted”…an issue that had never been addressed before….Buffy killing a human.
Although it didn’t occur here, it was still the first time we ever saw the slayer battling with that kind of an emotional burden. This was the same burden by which Faith would have to deal with and eventually be driven into dark territories because of. Regarding Ted, though, it was the first time we ever saw Buffy was capable of killing a human…if they pushed her too far. And that by itself is why I don’t understand how anyone could underrate this episode. No time before (nor really since) have we ever really seen Buffy battle with that same emotional scar. She even spared Ben during the final moments of Glory’s apocolypse some three years later. No burden to carry there. Giles, on the other hand…
Well, one has to wonder about Giles in this instance, because he killed Ben without really ever second-guessing or hesitating in the slightest. Now, while this did prevent Glory from doing more damage…there is still a problem I’m seeing. How many here (by show of hands) honestly believe that Giles would have killed Willow in that same instance? The reason I’m saying Willow and not Xander is simply because we actually have an example in the series to look to for reference in regards to her….The box.
Oh, yes, Jon’s back on another “box” rant. We sacrificed Larry, Harmony, and a bunch of innocent graduates just for sake of our precious Willow. Hell, but it didn’t start there. Go back to the very first episode. How many here noticed how drastically Buffy’s willingness to save Mr Disco Vamp’s prey changed as soon as she figured out it was Willow and not some non-acquaintance. For some reason, we always give Will a greater amount of leeway. And if you don’t believe me there, just watch Season Six in it’s entirety.
Had Glory somehow (I don’t know how…but just play along so I can make a point) managed to merge with Willow…and if killing Willow was the only way to banish Glory…don’t you think Giles would have tried harder into finding a second solution? Yet he didn’t even bat an eye before killing Ben. And to be quite honest, I think Ben at least deserved some bit of sympathy. Sure, he gave in at the very end to the temptations of evil…but who wouldn’t quite frankly? It’s not like he was looking at a very good situation either way. He battled Glory harder than anyone up until that point, as well, I might add.
Hm…things to think about. Maybe I’ll write an article on it some day. In the meanwhile…back to Ted…
Perhaps Ted might have been the prologue to other such robots who would later enter our show…such as the April and Buffy bots. After all, in all truthfulness, it would seem very likely that Ted and April had come from the same family (and did I just say that?). Both had a certain vibe of cheerfulness that just didn’t set right on the inside. Both had very loose tempers when you messed up their mission objectives. Both seemed to only want to be loved…when you really boiled down to it.
But even so, April and Ted were quite different. There is a bit of a sense that the show’s writers were testing certain waters in the episode “Ted” that they’d not yet tested before. And after coming to the episode’s ending, they’d decided to make a few changes (or improvements) before the Season Five bots rolled around.
And what do I mean by these changes?
For one, Ted didn’t seem to be much of a match against the slayer at all. He got one good hit on her, and then it was downhill…err, downstairs…from that point on. While still a robot, Ted didn’t possess the superstrength that the writers seemed to want to employ for their kinkier bots as the show progressed. However, Ted indeed could withstand a golfclub jabbing against his leg for a good long while….And that’s gotta…ya know…count for something…yeah. And in the very end it took a little more than a single punch to knock him around. But still…compared to April, Ted was pretty damn weak.
Secondly, where was the sympathy card? It didn’t exist with Ted like it had existed with April. Could this just be a gender play? Or could it be just the murderous way in which Ted came off against the victimized way in which April was shown? While neither one truly had an inch of humanity in them, both portrayed different aspects of humanity in the very short timeframe by which we knew them. Ted showed us a very overprotective and dictating authority-driven father figure stereotype (typical step-father character found in after school specials and Hallmark hall of fame movies)…while April showed to us a head-over-heels-in-love needy girlfriend stereotype (Young and the Restless meets Saved By the Bell).
In our culture, we tend to have sympathy for anyone (or apparently anything) we link up to as a victim. And being as how we only saw Ted as the authority-driven father figure…there was very little room for sympathy toward the character being destroyed. He was an inhumane monster, after all…at least, some might say. And although April was just as inhumane…we still see her as a victim and therefore still grant to her a sympathy card. And that’s about as far in as I’m going to get with the psychological perspective on things.
Anyhow, obviously the writers didn’t want to take the same approach twice. The fact that we had two different robots with two different endings and two different emotions off from each one of their two different “death scenes”…very nice.
And obviously there were other things at play here. For instance, right after April runs out of batteries…we find Joyce Summers on the sofa. It’s kind of weird going from a superbowl celebration to the morgue like that…so we can understand why the writers would generate those emotions early on and keep us on a steady track. We were prepped for it when it came, in other words. Also, the series was still new when Ted first aired. The idea of the complexity that would have to surround an emotional twistie like that in that point of the show…maybe not such a good idea after all. Not that they couldn’t have pulled it off, because I know they could have, but still thinking not such a good idea for that point in the series. Comparing Season Five to Season Two…we see not only the story difference but also the ultimate feel difference.
To put simply, the writers seemed to take heed of Dr Ian Malcolm’s words and stopped to think if they ‘should’ rather than if they ‘could.’ It’s a completely different mood….High-School to College. Fun to depression. Fun, fun, fun…and now I’m out of time.
Well, we’ve reached the end of yet another Weekly Ascension. To summarize what this article was all about…don’t underrate the episode Ted. While it may not have been as enjoyable for some viewers to watch…it still gave to us some pretty important features in the Buffyverse. (1) It pre-established human-looking robots, (2) gave a more realistic approach to fighting such robots, (3) showed us Buffy dealing with the issue of killing a human, (4) and gave a pretty valuable life-lesson for just about anyone when dealing with a new step-parent (don’t push them down the stairs or they’ll come back to kill you). Take care, everyone.