Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1x08 Review: 01100110 01100001 01100011 01100101 01110000 01100001 01101100 01101101
“I Robot, You Jane”
Written by Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swyden
Directed by Stephen Posey
We open in fifteenth century Italy, where a demon named Moloch has a cult of human followers who are obsessed with him. Wait, is this the Moloch real life ancient civilizations used to worship by burning human children alive? That would be horrifying. But perhaps the name is just a coincidence. This Moloch rewards his followers' devotion by snapping their necks. Elsewhere in Italy, some monks are fed up with him. They do a ritual trap him inside a book, which they lock in a chest, praying it will never again be read.
From the perspective of the inside of the chest, we cut to the present, when it is opened again for the first time by Buffy, who is just thrilled to find a super dusty book inside. Since this is the era of Modern Technology, they are undertaking the task of scanning some of the library’s collection into PDF files (or whatever the ‘90s version of PDF files was). Heading up this project are Giles and the computer science teacher, Jenny Calendar, whose favorite thing to do is mock his old-fashioned ways. Giles will never ever trade in his books for computers, thank you. An insane computer science student scoffs at Giles as well. (Side-note, has anyone ever actually used the phrase "jacked in" to mean connected to the internet?)
Most of them leave the library, including Xander (who is wearing a shirt that says Porn Star on it???). Jenny gets in one final zinger at Giles. Willow is the last one there, and she scans the demon book, the text of which looks like it was written with a chisel-tip Sharpie that was running out of ink. When she’s not looking, the text vanishes from the pages, and when she leaves for the night, the words “Where am I?” appear on the screen. Oh hey there, Moloch2.0!
The next day, Buffy asks why Willow’s line was busy all the previous night. That would be because those were the days of dial-up internet. How quaint! It turns out Willow is blushing and happy because she met a boy! His name is Malcolm. Hmm. Malcolm…Moloch, she met him online the same night the demon was uploaded. I’m sure there’s no connection.
In the computer lab, a couple of the other guys are acting really weird. Buffy is confused when Willow says she’s never seen the amazing guy she met, and then she’s disturbed when she finds out this is because they met online. The webcam on Willow’s desk focuses on Buffy, and then we cut to another computer in the school, where Buffy’s files are being accessed from within.
The computer screen shows her information, and whoever had the job of visual continuity that week gets a D-, because the numbers are different in the two shots. First, her birthday is 10/24/80 and she’s a sophomore. Then, her birthday is 5/6/79 and she’s a senior. The correct answer is none of the above: Buffy’s birthday is actually January 19, 1981 (the first answer gets half credit for correct grade level). Also, how is it possible that she only has one absence? Moloch2.0 sends this false information to Fritz, Mr. Jacked-In from before.
Buffy tries to make sure Willow has really thought about who this guy Malcolm is. Willow takes offense. Fritz is clearly up to something, but Miss Calendar doesn’t seem to be involved. Around the school, we start seeing signs of Moloch2.0’s influence. Xander finds Willow, and for the first time all season, she’s not interested in spending time with him. He seems slightly put out that her attention is elsewhere.
Buffy is amused by Xander’s attitude; she thinks it means he’s jealous. Xander denies this and points out that he’s just worried that this Malcolm guy could be some kind of dangerous weirdo.
The actual dangerous weirdo is Fritz, who is carving an M on his arm while muttering “I’m jacked in” over and over. (Seriously, has anyone used that expression in real life ever?)
Willow doesn’t show up at school the next day until after lunch, and Buffy’s worries seem more justified now that Willow's behavior is changing so much. Willow takes greater offense. Buffy tries to find out how to trace an email from Dave, the other weird computer science guy from earlier. He seems much less insane than Fritz. As soon as Buffy mentions Willow, though, Dave tells Buffy to back off. Buffy’s spidey sense starts tingling.
In the library, Buffy is pitching her concerns to Giles, who, while not as skeptical as he has been about her theories in the past, feels completely out of his depth because the problem involves computers. He suggests that she tail Dave to see what’s up, which is proof that he has never witnessed Buffy attempting subterfuge.
Cut to Dave leaving school, and Buffy following in a trench coat and gigantic sunglasses with ‘90s spy music playing in the background. Dave goes to some kind of computer research company in a car, and somehow Buffy manages to keep up with him on foot, but a camera swivels around and spots her. She’s been made! Moloch2.0 instructs Fritz to kill her.
Buffy debriefs Giles and Xander at the library, and Xander actually knows what’s up with that company, which shocks the other two. (Oh hey, this is actually the episode where Buffy says her spider sense is tingling! Nice.) Just when they’re trying to figure out what to do, Jenny Calendar comes in to see how much progress Giles has made on the scanning project. Xander turns out to be just as bad as Buffy at keeping a low profile.
In the computer lab, Willow is speaking her romantic texts out loud as she types them, and an awkward computer voice is reading the replies as they appear on the screen. Moloch2.0—I mean Malcolm—slips up and mentions something about Buffy that he couldn’t possibly have known, and this gives Willow the wiggins.
In the library, Giles and Jenny Calendar are yelling at each other about books versus computers. In the course of this argument, Jenny points out that Moloch’s book is empty as part of one of her retorts. When Giles takes a closer look, he realizes what the empty book means.
Dave lures Buffy into a trap. Fritz attempts to electrocute her in the locker room, but then Dave has a change of heart and warns her in time for her to jump to safety. (Not entirely sure, but wouldn’t those super thick rubber soles on her stylish yet affordable boots have insulated her from the electric current?) The only consequence is that Buffy’s hair is now a static-y nightmare.
Dave tells Moloch2.0 that he’s not willing to kill for him. Moloch2.0 tries to convince him, but he refuses, so the computer starts typing up a suicide note for Dave. Fritz is lurking behind him.
In the library, Giles shows Buffy and Xander the book that formerly held Moloch. He has figured out that Moloch is their culprit. Buffy is the one who realizes that the demon is in the internet, not in physical form. They try deleting the original file, but a pixelated Moloch face appears on the screen and yells at them. They discuss what could happen if they don’t stop Moloch (he'll end the world, basically).
They all go looking for Willow. Buffy finds Dave’s body hanging in the computer lab, the "suicide" note pinned to his chest. Giles’s job is now to work with Jenny Calendar to get Moloch2.0 out of the internet while Buffy and Xander go to Willow’s house.
Willow is just getting home, and “Malcolm” tries contacting her. She shuts off her computer, but it keeps turning back on. Willow is officially no longer interested in her online admirer, but Fritz rings the doorbell and chloroforms her.
In the library, we hear from Giles’s radio that Moloch2.0’s influence is continuing to having broader consequences. Jenny shows up and instead of accusing Giles of being crazy when he explains about the demon in the internet, she says she already knows. Le gasp!
Xander and Buffy arrive at Willow’s too late, but they see the front door open and Moloch2.0’s email on her screen, and they head for CRD headquarters.
Jenny reveals that she is not a Muggle, but a “techno-pagan”! She thinks Giles is a snob because he doesn't believe technology and magic can coexist. She is willing to help. Buffy calls to touch base.
Inside CRD, Willow regains consciousness in time to witness the activation of Moloch2.0’s hilarious robot body. He uses it to kill Fritz the same way as his Italian acolyte from the cold-open: swift neck-snap. Buffy and Xander make it inside, looking for Willow.
In the library, Jenny and Giles perform the same binding ritual from the cold-open, except this time, they do it in cyberspace. It cuts back and forth between their progress with the ritual and Willow and Moloch2.0 talking while Buffy and Xander close in. Moloch2.0 attempts to gas Buffy and Xander, and he realizes he won’t be able to win Willow over. He moves in for the kill, but Buffy breaks into the room at last, and Giles and Jenny finish the ritual.
To everyone’s surprise, Moloch2.0 does not get sent back to the book. He simply gets trapped in his robot body, with no more access to the internet. Now he’s at a level Buffy can fight. He’s made of metal and very strong, knocking both Willow and Xander aside, but Buffy tricks him into punching a circuit breaker, and he electrocutes himself and falls to pieces.
The next day, Giles visits Jenny, and they flirt. Giles explains his aversion to computers, which is really quite profound. He feels that digital knowledge has no substance, but knowledge from books is real because it has a smell and a texture. Jenny is very intrigued.
Out in the courtyard, Buffy, Willow, and Xander commiserate over their romantic track records. Vampire, demon robot, and giant preying mantis. They’re doomed! Hahaha…ha…ha. End credits.
This episode is rarely left off people’s “worst episodes” lists. Even “Teacher’s Pet” isn’t this infamous. It isn’t entirely void of good stuff, though. It’s the introduction of Jenny Calendar, whose flirty antagonism with Giles is fantastic. The concept of a demon getting in the internet and causing problems isn’t necessarily terrible—it’s the plot of Age of Ultron too, and there’s a perfectly serviceable Supernatural episode in which a malignant ghost is trapped in the internet. However, there’s no denying that "I Robot, You Jane" earned its infamy. The most obvious problem is probably Moloch2.0’s robot body at the end. It’s hilariously awful. Putting so much focus on the technology of the day also guaranteed that the episode would become dated almost instantly (the same problem exists with all the ’97-chic clothing). Another major issue is that they get really heavy-handed with the “internet predator” metaphor, catapulting things into “very special episode” territory. Don’t trust anyone you meet online, kids! The episode forces on the viewers the assumptions that all online social interaction is dangerous, and everyone in a chat room is automatically worthy of extreme suspicion, which is jarring for anyone who doesn’t already make those assumptions. (J.K. Rowling handled this topic much more subtly and effectively with Ginny Weasley and Tom Riddle’s diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.) And finally, for an episode that returned to the quality of "Teacher's Pet" to immediately follow one as excellent as "Angel" is very grating. We know what this creative team is capable of now, so our expectations are much higher, and crappy episodes will be much harder to take in stride.
There’s not really much new I can say about Buffy for this one. She doesn’t really do anything she hasn’t done before, though it’s slightly interesting to see her struggling to adapt to a non-corporeal threat.
As soon as the focus is off Xander’s crush on Buffy, he instantly becomes a more enjoyable character. This might not be a great episode, but so far it’s the one that does the most for Xander since “The Harvest.” We get a glimpse of the protective best friend side of him that we haven't really seen since he went to help rescue Jesse. If more admirable qualities like this continue emerge to balance out the less awesome ones, then he might just become a well-developed AND likable character eventually.
This is the first Willow-centric episode. It’s kind of a shame that this is the story she got stuck with, but it doesn’t do absolutely nothing for her. Willow’s whirlwind courtship with “Malcolm” indicates that she won’t wait around for Xander forever. She seems to prioritize an intellectual and emotional connection with a significant other over the physical aspects. But this is also where she’s vulnerable: emotional manipulation. Xander recovered from the Miss French incident immediately, but Willow is very hurt over Moloch2.0’s deception, and needs cheering up at the end of the episode. Still, unlike Xander, who didn’t figure out Miss French wasn’t human until she’d already gotten him to her house and drugged him (despite Buffy’s warnings), Willow figures out there’s something wrong with Malcolm all by herself. Admittedly, she only realizes this on a Plot B level, but that’s not surprising after how she reacted to hyena Xander. It really seems like Willow might have inferiority issues, which is a shame, because she's super adorable and practically a genius.
Giles is excellent in this episode, and having a fellow faculty member, a peer, to play off of really helps with that. He had some conversations with Joyce in “Angel,” but those merely revealed more about his opinion of Buffy. Through his interactions with Jenny, we learn more about Giles himself. He wouldn’t be able to have meaningful arguments and conversations about books versus computers with one of the kids, but Jenny is an equal, and close enough to his age that he can’t dismiss her opinions as merely a generation gap thing. I love the insight into why he’s so old-fashioned. The writers aren’t leaving him to be just a stuffy British guy; they’re giving his traits motivation, meaning, and self-awareness. It’s lovely.
No Cordelia again. Also no Angel. Boo.
“Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is, er, it has no texture, no context; it’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be smelly.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.