"Smile Time"
Written and directed by Ben Edlund

A little boy watches a TV show called Smile Time, which includes puppets singing songs about learning. While the boy’s mother tries to get her mother to come over and take care of him, one of the puppets, Polo, separates from the others and talks directly to the boy, making him put his hands on the TV. When the boy’s mother gets off the phone, she’s horrified to see that the life has been drained out of the boy and his face is frozen in a weird smile. In the science lab at Wolfram & Hart, Knox brings Fred files on 11 children in L.A. who have been hospitalized in the same condition as the little boy. Knox also gives Fred a valentine (despite the fact that the holiday was a week earlier) and tries to get her to discuss their potential relationship again. She gently declines his advances. Up in the lobby, Nina (see “Unleashed”) arrives to spend the three nights of the full moon in the firm. She encounters Angel and they chat a little before Angel takes her to her cell. Gunn asks Harmony for a receipt from a filing, but she tells him that he filed the wrong papers. Gunn tries to hide how worried he is about his mistake. In the basement, Nina flirts a little with Angel and asks him what he’s doing for breakfast the next morning. Uncomfortable, Angel leaves. He heads up to Wesley’s office and relays the fact that Nina asked him to breakfast, not sure how he feels about their platonic friendship turning into something else. Wesley tells him that Nina has been sending him signals, and Angel is apparently the only person in the entire firm who hasn’t noticed them.

Angel says that he can’t pursue a relationship because he’ll achieve happiness and turn back into Angelus, but Wesley says that he can’t hide behind the gypsy curse when he has a chance to be (somewhat) happy. Angel wonders if Wesley’s only talking about Angel and not himself. Fred arrives and fills the guys in on the bizarre case involving the kids. Angel notes that all of the kids were watching TV when they became ill, and he and Fred wonder if that might be important. After Angel leaves, Fred tries to give Wesley some signals but he overlooks them as blindly as Angel overlooked Nina’s signals. In Angel’s office, Lorne tells Angel that “Nina definitely wants a piece of Angel cake,” then tries to help him with the case. He notes that Smile Time is on at the time when the kids were watching TV. Angel heads to Smile Time’s studio, ignoring signs about the set being closed and passing a janitor who doesn’t seem to notice him. He follows a rumbling noise through a hidden passage and, ignoring a “don’t” sign, enters a hidden room. In the room, a man with a towel over his head sits under a large egg-shaped thing in the wall. The man warns that Angel shouldn’t be there as the rumbling sound gets louder. The egg starts to open, forming a glowing smile. Something shoots out of the smile and throws Angel across the room and into some boxes. After the egg closes, Angel pulls himself out of the boxes…only now he’s a puppet.

Fred gets a call from Puppet Angel, and though she tries to tell him that the epidemic might not be mystical after all, he assures her that it is. Later, she heads to his office with Wesley and Gunn, and they get their first glimpse of Angel as a puppet. Fred calls Puppet Angel cute and he tells her she’s fired. Lorne arrives and Puppet Angel tries to piece together what happened. Lorne suggests that he has puppet cancer, but Puppet Angel doesn’t think so. He starts to tell the others how serious this situation is, then suddenly realizes that Smile Time is on. He fumbles with the remote, then turns on the TV to watch Polo mope about his “case of the grumpies.” Fred gets someone in the lab to start recording the show so she can analyze it. As the puppets sing about self-esteem, Puppet Angel asks for a special ops team, declaring war on the puppets. Lorne tells him that they can’t, then lets him know that Smile Time was created by Gregor Framkin, who started out with a small group of puppets and turned his show into a goldmine. Puppet Angel sends him and Gunn over to the studio to talk to Framkin, then tells Wesley and Fred to try to figure out what Framkin did to him and the kids. He also asks everyone to keep quiet about his condition for a little while. Not too long after, Nina arrives and Puppet Angel ducks under his desk so she won’t see him. She tries to ask him if everything’s okay, but he kicks her out.

Spike arrives, wanting a new car since he drove his last one into some body of water, and is shocked (and amused) to see that Angel’s a puppet. Puppet Angel tries to get him to leave, but Spike remains fixated on Angel being “a wee little puppet man.” The two fight, winding up in the hallway, where Harmony and a bunch of other employees see Puppet Angel. Puppet Angel and Spike take their fight into an elevator, where Puppet Angel appears to win the unseen fight. Gunn and Lorne arrive at the studio and meet with Framkin (played by David Fury), who’s fixing a puppet. Framkin has heard of Wolfram & Hart and sings the guys a song about courage and pluck, since he thinks Wolfram & Hart has demonstrated both. Gunn tries to tell him what he’s violated, but can’t come up with the number of the right statute. Framkin thinks that if they go to court, he stands a better chance of winning than the firm does. After Gunn and Lorne leave, we see that Framkin has a hole in his back and was being controlled by Polo. After he makes Framkin collapse, Polo summons the other puppets (including Groofus the dog, a girl without a name, and a tooting purple guy named Ratio Hornblower). They decide that Angel broke into the “don’t” room and messed with the “nest egg.” Polo is angry about this, and the girl suggests that they remove the zombifying spell on some of the employees so that they can see future intruders. Polo announces that since their “system” has now been perfected, they’ll go on air the next day and drain the life from all of their viewers at once, instead of one kid at a time. The puppets are excited about making enough money to build their own Hell. Framkin begs the puppets to kill him, but they’d rather mess around with him some more.

Back at Wolfram & Hart, Nina is about to prepare for her second wolfie night when Puppet Angel pays her a visit to apologize for the way he treated her earlier. She’s shocked to see that he’s a puppet and he notes, “I’m made of felt. And my nose comes off.” She tells him that he shouldn’t care what people think of him, since he’s a hero. As he tries to tell her that he’s working on dealing with people, Nina wolfs out and attacks him from her cage. Upstairs, Lorne comes across a tattered Puppet Angel and yells for a doctor or Geppetto. Gunn heads to the medical wing to see Dr. Sparrow (see “Conviction”), explaining that he’s losing all of his law knowledge. Sparrow examines him and tells him that the implant is failing; the Senior Partners gave it to him in the first place because they wanted him to have it, and if it’s fading, they must have wanted that as well. Gunn says that he doesn’t want to go back to the person he was, so Sparrow makes a deal with him - he’ll give him a “permanent upgrade” if Gunn signs something out of customs for him. (That will be important in “Shells.”) In the science lab, Fred and Wesley watch Smile Time, noting that they like it, though that may be because they haven’t gotten much sleep and it’s 4 a.m. Knox brings Fred coffee and starts to argue a little with Wesley, so Fred tells Knox to go home. Knox isn’t thrilled to leave Fred and Wesley alone, watching the puppets and sharing coffee. Wesley asks about Fred and Knox, and she tells him that they’re not right for each other.

Wesley notices something strange on the TV and, after muting the sound, notes that Polo is separated from the other puppets and seems to be talking to the audience. He and Fred realize that the song the puppets are singing acts as a cloaking device so that Framkin can use Polo to address the audience. Puppet Angel is trying to sew himself up in his office when Wesley and Fred arrive to tell him what they’ve found out. They add that Framkin seems ready to take out the entire audience with the next broadcast. Wesley says that the “nest egg” must hold the life forces of the kids, so if they can break the magic on it, they’ll save the kids and turn Puppet Angel human again. Puppet Angel is incredibly happy to hear this and tells them that they have to move quickly, since Framkin probably knows they’re coming. Gunn, who’s regained his law knowledge, arrives and announces that the puppets are actually running the show now - after some low ratings, Framkin made a deal with some devils to make it hot again. (Apparently the same thing happened to Happy Days.) Puppet Angel grabs a sword and leads the march down the hall to go take out some puppets. Elsewhere in L.A., a little girl watches Smile Time and gets the message from Polo that all of the kids in the audience should put their hands on the TV. Puppet Angel and the MoG interrupt and prepare to take out all of the evil puppets.

The fighting begins and Polo sends Ratio to guard the nest egg. Fred and Wesley rush to the “don’t” room, where Ratio fights Wesley and Fred has to take over breaking the spell on the nest egg. Gunn struggles with his puppet foes and Fred keeps working on the nest egg, trying to help Wesley at the same time. “I’m gonna tear you a new puppet hole, b%$@#!” Polo shouts at Puppet Angel, who vamps out and kills him. Wesley defeats Ratio, Gunn defeats the girl puppet, and Fred makes the nest egg explode, saving all the kids. The next day, Nina wakes up her in cage with fabric around her and fears that she ate Puppet Angel. He shows up and tells her that he’s okay and will be back to normal in a few days. They agree to have breakfast together. Fred goes to Wesley’s office, where they congratulate each other on what they did. Fred tries to subtly tell Wesley that she’s been trying to send him signals, but she decides to just grab him and kiss him. He happily returns the favor as we hear the puppets singing their self-esteem song again.

MORAL, or CRAMMING COMPLEX ISSUES INTO A NUTSHELL: Don’t mess with puppets.

GRADE: A+ The best ever episode of Angel. Just try to watch it and not laugh.

MEMORABLE QUOTES: Puppets: “In our secret backyard we can
Make your day more fun and less hard
No more frowning, let’s get learning
ABCs and 123s
Everything from words to weather…”
Groofus: “We’ll discover them together.”

“Nina’s down there right now, turning into a werewolf and liking me.” - Angel

Lorne: “Maybe it’s some type of puppet cancer.”
Puppet Angel: “I do not have puppet cancer!”

“Stupid plastic piece of crap!” - Puppet Angel, re: the remote control

“Self-esteem is for everybody
Self-esteem is for everyone
You can dream and be anybody, but
Self-esteem is how you get it done.” - Puppets

“Stupid limey piece of crap!” - Puppet Angel, re: Spike

“We have a song here at Smile Time that reminds me of your courage and pluck. It’s called, uh, ‘Courage and Pluck.’ Goes a little like this: ‘Oh, courage and pluck, courage and pluck….’” - Framkin

Groofus: “So, tomorrow’s gonna be a pretty big show, huh?”
Polo: “The biggest.”
Groofus: “Cool. ‘Cause I’ve been workin’ on this great new song about the difference between analogy and metaphor….”
Polo: (throwing a mug at Groofus) “Are you out of your mind?!”
Groofus: “Well, we want it to be good, don’t we?”
Polo: “We eat babies’ lives!”
Groofus: “And uphold a certain standard of quality edu-tainment.”

“Make him swallow his tongue again!” - Groofus to Polo, re: Framkin

“Is there a Geppetto in the house?!” - Lorne

“Our top story this morning…2 plus 2 is 4! And in related news, 4 plus 4…is 8!” - Groofus

“Stupid fingers. Stupid string!” - Puppet Angel


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