FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I Robot, You Jane
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy kissed Angel finally who turned out to be a vampire, but the good kind, "like a Care Bear with fangs" (sorry, jumping ahead there - kudos to anyone who knows which episode that quote is from). Willow has a major crush on Xander; Xander hasn't got a clue and is still trailing Buffy. It is a lot about love lives in this season isn't it?
Ah I Robot, You Jane. This episode bears the not-so-honourable title of being one of my least favourite Buffy out of the entire series, a cautionary tale about the dangers of the internet with all the subtlety of a large gold brick. After Giles decides to enter the 20th century and start cataloguing his books digitally, it turns out one of the books held a big old nasty demon in its pages, one who is now running loose on the world wide web. Yes, there's a demon on the internet. And he's set his sights on our Willow whilst picking up a couple of disposable Sunnydale students along the way.
To start on a positive note, it's not all terrible. It's the first episode to really showcase just how good the demon designs and prosthetics were for the show; Moloch's green visage is suitable impressive and it's a shame that we didn't get to see more of that. Though I did notice this time around that he bears a remarkable resemblance to Giles as a Fyarl demon in the fourth season's A New Man. It also marks a key episode in the development of Willow's character in particular as she finally gets a large amount of screentime, facing that teenage dilemma of potential new boyfriend or existing friends. Hannigan's earnestness in her early performances as Willow is so endearing, it's not hard to see why she's a big favourite amongst the fans. Plus, she hits Moloch/Malcolm with a fire extinguisher off her own back and isn't content to just be rescued. Go Willow.
It also marks the first appearance of Robia LaMorte as Jenny Calendar, techno-pagan and excellent foil to Anthony Head's still quite stuffy Giles. The pair form one of the many 'new versus old' binaries that hit you over the head in this episode in particular, though it's one of the central themes of the show. The introduction of Jenny gives Giles just that little bit more depth, going from being just a tweed-clad librarian with a handy line in exposition to moving towards a three-dimensional human being. Their flirting forms much of the comedy in the episode, particularly the moment with the corkscrew 'earring' (which I literally only just got in this viewing. Oh the naivety of youth).
And then we get to the bad. First up, that afore-mentioned theme of new versus old? You're going to be sick of it by the end of this episode; it doesn't just subtly interplay across the narrative, it tries to beat you over the head with the frankly gigantic computer monitors. It starts with an intriguing opening, all candlelight and chanting. There's a big demon fellow, a willing servant with a promptly snapped neck and some powerful monks who trap said demon in a big book. It's grandiose, but fits in with the general ritualistic style of the first season; bad guys don't just kill people, they recite scripture whilst doing it and good guys don't kill demons, they trap them in books. Said book is then transported to Sunnydale library centuries later and scanned into a computer, thus releasing the demon.
The 'new' in this case is the dread computer and the unspeakable evil that is the internet. The basic premise of a demon running around the internet is a decent metaphor for the dangers of meeting someone online, but it's over-egged to the point of just being ridiculous. Although Buffy and Giles are at pains to point out the dangers of having a demon running around the internet are quite large, there's no sense of peril involved at all because it's not a tangible evil and there's no great effort to make Moloch all that scary.
The dialogue, for which Buffy is most remembered for, is pretty terrible in this episode and while there are a couple of good back-and-forths, these are largely overshadowed by such clangers as 'there's a demon in the internet'. And then there is the central problem of the plot itself; the trouble with making a film or episode specifically about the dangers of contemporary technology is that tech advances so quickly these days. This episode is so fantastically dated, it's hard to take seriously and I remember struggling with it even nearer the time.
And Robot Malcolm is just silly.
Quote of the Week:
Xander: "To read makes our speaking English good"
Let's Get Trivial: The monk at the beginning is listed as Thelonious, an ace reference to the jazz musician Thelonious Monk. It's the little things.
You can read Becky's piece about previous episode Angel here.