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Day: April 24, 2013

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch s01e08 “I Robot, You Jane”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone drink her coffee before it’s cool and end up with a mouth like the tattered red velvet curtain of a haunted theatre. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

This episode opens in Cartona, Italy in the early thirteenth century. A green demony dude gets a young Scott Baio impersonator on his knees, so right away you’re thinking, “Wait… is this the right show? Did I accidentally put on some really weird porn?”

The focus on love in this monster porn makes me emotionally uncomfortable. Just get to the fucking.

No, you’re fine. The demon tells (in subtitles, in case you can’t understand poorly accented Italian) Chachi (who inexplicably has Joanie’s haircut) that all he wants is his love. Chachi tells the demon no troubles, I totally love you, and the demon kills him. Isn’t that just like a demon? They get what they want and then they’re just done with you.

A very passionate monk with a great big book starts talking about how Moloch the Corruptor is walking the earth again, seducing people to their deaths. The monks do a spell and trap the demon in a book that conveniently has his picture right on the cover. So you know some monk was like, tirelessly working on that all night.

Yeah, come, demon, and see what a nice job brother Ethelbert did on this scrapbook.

The monk puts the book in a crate and says he hopes it’s never disturbed or something ominous like that, I’m flicking back and forth between windows. The point is, of course it’s going to be disturbed, because:
The library is in chaos, dear readers. There are computers set up on the table, and Giles is all flustered about which books go where. He tells Buffy that after he’s examined the book, Willow can “skin” it. And this is how we meet computer sciences teacher Jenny Calendar:

Jenny: “Scan it, Rupert. That’s… scan it.”

Giles: “Of course.”

Jenny: “Oh, I know our ways are strange to you, but soon you will join us in the twentieth century. With three whole years to spare!”

Die-hard Buffy fans who are a thousand years old, like I am, will remember Jenny Calendar better as “Pearl,” one of Prince’s character concept dancers from his Diamonds and Pearls album. She’s not just on the cover, but in at least three videos that I can remember:

This was in the olden days, when three-ways were still shocking
I’m a huge Prince fan, so right away, I love this woman. The character can do literally no wrong, in my eyes, even when- no, especially when- she’s teasing Giles for being an old fuddy duddy.
And Giles makes this face at her:
Damn, baby, tell us how you really feel.

Giles does not like computers. At all. He even incorrectly calls them “the idiot box,” opening himself up to more teasing from Jenny. But even she isn’t as passionately intense about computers as Fritz, a student who declares that if you’re not “jacked in,” you aren’t alive. I think Fritz needs to do a little less jacking in and a little more jacking of another kind, if you get my meaning. It’s a stress buster.
His top three internet searches are murder, murder, and fly fishing.
Jenny tells the kids it’s time to wrap up, but Willow is going to stay behind to finish scanning the books. She asks Xander if he’ll stay behind and help, but even their friendship isn’t enough for him to voluntarily spend more time in class, and Giles gets torment by Ms. Calendar some more:

Giles: “I’m just going to stay and clean up a little. I’ll be back in the middle ages.”

Jenny: “Did you ever leave?”

So, you know they’re going to do it, right?

Jenny Calendar is kind of an important character in terms of evening out the creepiness of an adult man hanging out with teens all the time. If Giles has a hot lady teacher to be interested in (even if he doesn’t realize he’s into her yet), and that hot lady teacher has a similarly close relationship with her own band of misfit students, they form a unit unto themselves that seems a lot less weird, because their primary relationships aren’t with, you know. Students.

Willow is hard at work using all the blistering technology 1997 can provide to scan in the book containing Moloch.

Interestingly enough, the most outdated thing in this picture is the book. Paper? What, are you new here?

And then Moloch is all:
You’re in Windows 95! Run, Moloch! Run!
After the opening credits, we see Willow strolling dreamily through the hall. Buffy catches up to her and says that she tried to call her the night before, but the line was busy. Willow tells Buffy that she met someone and was talking to him all night and… WHAT THE FFF-

Red flag, guys. Jesus. “I have this picture of this male teacher I hang out with all the time in my locker. I don’t have pictures of like, anyone else I hang out with. Just this adult man I spend a lot of time with.” #8

As they walk to Willow’s computer class, Willow explains that she has never actually seen Malcolm, the boy she’s into, in real life. They’ve been talking online. Then Ms. Calendar comes in late, looking fine as hell and tells Buffy to make the visit short so she doesn’t disrupt class time. And she does it in a really cool, not condescending way that cool teachers use to talk to students like they’re adults. I AM IN LOVE.
As Buffy warns Willow of all the dangers of internet dating in 1997, the computer’s webcam takes a photo of Buffy’s face. Then, on a computer elsewhere in Sunnydale High, Buffy’s student information randomly pulls up:
And transmits to Fritz’s computer:
And Buffy somehow got a year older and skipped a couple grades. Also, my fellow fanatically obsessed people will note that if Buffy were born in 1979, she should probably have been at least a junior in high school in 1997, provided she didn’t get left back or fucked over by some state headstart rule. Also, neither of the birth dates shown in this episode match up to the one that is ultimately put on her headstone when she dies, which puts her birth in 1981 and fits a little better with Buffy’s educational timeline of graduating a year behind me. Yes, my graduation year is the gold standard I’m using, damnit.
Moloch is communicating with Fritz through the computer, and he tells him to watch Buffy. Meanwhile, Buffy is hung up on the idea that Willow is falling for a boy she’s never seen. Willow is unconcerned with his appearance, saying that stuff like that doesn’t matter if you really care about each other. I used to think that, too, before I hooked up with a guy through Yahoo! Personals.
Jenny confronts Fritz about the amount of time he and another student, Dave, have been spending the computer lab. When she asks if she’ll be excited by the secret project they’re working on, Fritz says, “You’ll die.” Which, in Sunnydale, should really be a clue that something is up. Get your shit together, Ms. Calendar.
In the school courtyard, a student using the laptop handed down by his great-great-grandpappy is stressing about his school report suddenly reading like pro-Nazi propaganda.
You know what? I actually had that laptop.
Xander catches up to Willow and asks her if she’s going to The Bronze later, to which she replies that she’s calling it an early night to talk to Malcolm some more. Oh, in case you’re wondering why Buffy couldn’t get Willow on the phone while she was online with Malcolm, that’s because in the hellish dark ages of the internet, we used to have to choose between the phone and internet. It was awful.
Willow isn’t interested in Xander anymore. How does he take this?

Buffy: “She certainly looks perky.”

Xander: “Yeah, color in the cheeks, bounce in the step. I don’t like it. It’s not healthy.

Xander complains to Buffy that everyone is deserting him, and Buffy calls him on the fact that he really liked having Willow’s attention, even if he isn’t interested in her romantically. Good call, Buffy, and we’ll see this happen a lot throughout the series. Xander is never interested in Willow romantically until she’s in a relationship with someone else. He clearly views her as a “back burner” girl, someone he can fall back on if he ever gets desperate enough. Because #5.
However, Xander makes a good point about something: Willow is devoting a lot of time and emotion to a guy she’s never seen in person. Xander says that he could pretend to be an elderly Dutch woman on the internet and people would believe him, and this line of thinking devolves into Willow being axe murdered by a circus freak in Buffy’s imagination.
The next day, Willow is late to school because she overslept. When Buffy points out that she’s altering her normal behavior patterns, Willow becomes defensive. She doesn’t understand why Buffy can’t just be happy for her in her new relationship. Buffy tells her that she wants to be happy for her, but she thinks Willow is throwing caution to the wind when she should really be more careful. Willow tells Buffy that Malcolm warned her that Buffy wouldn’t understand, and Buffy tells Willow that Malcolm was right. Buffy, you are an awesome friend.
Buffy approaches computer geek Dave to grill him about talking to people on the internet. Dave confirms that you could pretend to be anyone on the net, and tells Buffy that it’s a “challenge” to find out which physical location an “e-letter” came from. This episode is like a beautiful and unflinching time capsule of the early days of mainstream internet use. But when Buffy brings up Malcolm, Dave gets defensive and tells Buffy to mind her own business. Buffy thinks “Malcolm” is really Dave, but he denies it and shuts down the conversation.
When Buffy goes to Giles for help, he doesn’t have any answers, owing to his admitted terror of computers. He suggests she follow Dave, and Buffy makes a joke about wearing dark glasses and a trenchcoat to spy on him, and tells Giles to never mind, she can figure it out on her own. So naturally, the next time we see her, she looks like this:
No one else is wearing a coat, Buffy. You look ridic.
Dave pulls up outside of a building with a fence and armed guards, and talks to a guy in a lab coat. For future reference while watching this show, a lab coat is shorthand for evil. In fact, now that I think about it, we need to add a new number to our list. #13, Science and technology are not to be trusted. A security camera points at Buffy, transmitting the image back to Fritz in the Sunnydale computer lab. He tells the computer that Buffy is too close, and asks what he should do.
We all knew that was coming, right?
The building Dave went to is a research and development company Xander’s uncle worked for before it shut down. Buffy points out that it didn’t look shut down, and Giles insults Xander really unnecessarily: 

Xander: “What, I can’t have information sometimes?”

Giles: “It’s just somewhat unprecedented.”

We already know that Giles has a pretty low opinion of teenage boys, from what he said about them in “The Pack.” But what is it about Xander, specifically, that Giles doesn’t like? I’ve watched this show a thousand times, but I can’t figure it out. Unless it’s that Giles can recognize the “Nice Guy” aura radiating from Xander.

Buffy and Xander want to go to CRD, break in, and have a look around, and Giles is warning them against taking such action when Ms. Calendar comes into the library. She accuses Giles of not checking to make sure the new database is working, and he snaps that he was too busy cleaning up the mess she left. Then she notices Buffy and Xander standing there and says:

Jenny: “You guys here again? You kids really dig the library, don’t you?”

And she makes this face:

So at least ONE teacher in Sunnydale thinks that maybe these kids spend too much time with their grownup man friend.

Over in the computer lab, Willow is inexplicably talking out loud as she types messages to Malcolm. He tells her that Buffy only causes trouble, and that’s why she got kicked out of her old school… but Willow doesn’t remember ever telling him about Buffy being kicked out. When she questions him further, Malcolm replies that it was on Buffy’s permanent record, then says Willow must have told him. Uneasy, Willow signs out and leaves the lab.

Back in the library, Jenny and Rupert are fighting like Sam and Diane:

Jenny: “You’re a snob.”

Giles: “I am no such thing.”

Jenny: “Oh, you are a big snob. You think that knowledge should be kept in these carefully guarded repositories where only a handful of white guys can get at it.” 

Giles: “Nonsense! I simply don’t adhere to a knee-jerk assumption that because something is new, it’s better.”

Giles is terrified of the internet and its power to manipulate people. He says “musty old books” have more to say than webpages, and Jenny picks up the Moloch book, which is now blank, owing to the fact that the demon has been scanned into the computer. When she points out that it doesn’t have a lot to say, and Giles realizes what it is, he can’t wait to get her out of there:

Giles: “Well, it’s been so nice talking to you.”

Jenny: “We were fighting.”

Giles: “Must do it again sometime. Bye now.”

In the courtyard, the school nurse is freaking because penicillin allergy wasn’t on a kid’s chart. WTF is a school nurse doing prescribing antibiotics, anyway? Dave catches Buffy and says that Willow was looking for her in the girl’s locker room. Buffy knows something is up. Dave knows that Buffy knows something is up. Shit is about to go down.

Fritz is in the girl’s locker room, waiting for Buffy. He starts the shower, and Buffy, thinking it’s Willow in there, heads in that direction. She sees the shower on and nobody using it, mutters about droughts, and goes to turn it off, overlooking this:

Dave has apparently had a change of heart over the whole murder thing, and warns Buffy just as the water hits the exposed ends of the cable, and she’s blasted out, relatively unharmed.

Her boots, however…

In the computer lab, Dave is having a meltdown. He tells the computer that he can’t kill Buffy, and the computer tells him that all he wants is his love. So, any viewer who hasn’t figured it out by now knows it’s Moloch in there, and we’re all on the same page. Note how they never hit us over the head with the whole, “It’s that demon” thing? This a good episode for “Show, Don’t Tell.” Dave knows that what he’s being asked to do isn’t right. He continues to refuse, and Moloch starts writing his suicide letter, as Fritz stands creepily in the shadows behind Dave.

Anyone else reminded of Full Metal Jacket?
Giles makes tea for Buffy, because tea fixes everything including electrocution, and fills the kids in on Moloch, who is no longer trapped in the book. He sort of blames “that dreadful Calendar woman,” since she’s the one who found the book. They realize that someone would have seen a horned demon walking around Sunnydale, and pretty quickly put together that Moloch has been scanned into the computer and is running around on the internet. Giles suggests that they delete Willow’s file on the computer. Which probably sounded really impressive and tech savvy in 1997, but doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’d have to delete the specific file the book was saved as. Instead, they just find a folder on the desktop labelled “Willow” and try to move it to the trash icon.
It doesn’t go well. I think they need more RAM.

Xander doesn’t see what makes Moloch so dangerous, as long as he’s stuck in a computer:

Xander: “Are we overreacting? He’s in a computer, what can he do?”

Buffy: “You mean besides convince a perfectly nice kid to try and kill me? I don’t know. How about mess up all the medical equipment in the world?”

Giles: “Randomize traffic signals?”

Buffy: “Access launch codes for our nuclear missiles?”

Giles: “Destroy the world’s economy?”

Buffy: “I think I pretty much capped it with that ‘nuclear missile’ thing.”

Giles: “Alright, yours was best.”

Banter! I love it. Convinced, Xander asks what they can do about Moloch. Buffy says they should find Willow, since she’s probably talking to Moloch at that very moment. She goes to the computer lab. Despite the fact that it’s empty, all the computers turn on when she walks in. And then she finds Dave:

Everybody dies at this school. It must be haunted as all hell.

In the library, Xander tries to call Willow at home. There’s no answer, but he doesn’t get a busy signal so he knows she’s not on the internet. LOL, 1997. LOL. Buffy comes in and tells them about Dave, and says she thinks Fritz must be involved with CRD, as well. She asks Giles to talk to Ms. Calendar, since she knows about computers and Giles knows the ritual for binding the demon. When Giles points out that it’s probably going to be tough to convince the computer teacher that there’s a demon in the internet, Buffy tells him it’s that or come up with a new plan.
Willow comes home from school to find that she has email. She ignores it and turns off the monitor, but it comes back on by itself, insisting she has mail. Then the doorbell rings.
Surprise! It’s Fritz, your friendly neighborhood chloroform sample distributor!

In Giles’s office, he’s listening to the voice of Joss Whedon over the radio. Joss announces that the FBI’s serial killer profile database has gone missing, and there’s all sorts of general chaos involving computers. Jenny Calendar shows up and says she got Giles’s message. He tries to dance around explaining that there’s a demon in the internet, but then settles for, “There’s a demon in the internet.” To which Jenny says, “I know.”
Xander and Buffy arrive at Willow’s house, find the door open, and come right in. They find the email message from Moloch, saying he wants to meet Willow, and they decide to head to CRD.
Meanwhile, Giles learns that he has grossly underestimated Jenny Calendar:

Jenny: “Come on, there have been portents for days. I mean, power surges, online shutdowns… you should see the bones I’ve been casting. I knew this would happen sooner or later. I mean, it’s probably a mischief demon, you know, like Kelkor or-“

Giles interrupts her to tell her that it’s Moloch, and when she totally knows who that is, Giles grills her on where she got her knowledge. Jenny gives him a dressing down for his snobbery, insisting that magic exists in cyberspace just as much as in the real world. Jenny is a “technopagan,” and she’s willing to help Giles cast the binding ritual. Buffy calls from CRD to tell Giles about Willow being kidnapped, and asks him to hurry.

Willow wakes up inside CRD, and she finally gets to meet Malcolm face-to-face:

This is EXACTLY what happened to me on Yahoo! Personals!
Moloch is some kind of robot now. I kind of wonder why he went with the horns look and such. I mean, he could have had a much better body that isn’t so, you know. Scary and demon like. He talks about how good it feels to have form again, so he can experience the world and kill Fritz. Buffy and Xander are still on their way, not-so-stealthily climbing the fence outside. Back at the library, Jenny tells Giles that they need to form a circle on the net, so she sends out a message to her fellow technopagans. Moloch tells Willow that he wants to repay her for giving him life again by scanning him out of the book. Moloch is legit in love with Willow, but Willow is not having it. He’s literally offering her the world, but she’s rejecting it. This is a brilliant moment where Willow gets to be a strong female character. She has a guy who is obsessed with her, wants to give her everything she’s ever desired, and she’s turning him down because it’s not what she wants for her heart. Go Willow, go!
Buffy and Xander try to bust into the room where Willow is being held, while Jenny and Giles do the ritual. All the while, Willow is going through the worst breakup of all time. The ritual works, the library computer explodes, and Xander gets to hit someone! Finally! Moloch is bound, and the world is safe.
Except, oh shit, he’s not in the book, and Buffy, Willow and Xander still need to escape CRD. Moloch busts through a wall, Kool-Aid Man style:
Oh yeah!

and punches Xander down. Buffy can’t really fight Moloch, because he’s a robot and therefore very, very strong. He monologues about how powerful he is, then tries to hit Buffy, slams his hand into a circuit box, and that is the end of poor Moloch Malone.
The next day, Giles comes by the computer lab to return Jenny’s earring. Which he says he found with some books, but… uh… wait, what was she doing in the library that her earring came off? Quick, to the smutfic machine!
Jenny teases Giles about his aversion to technology, and asks him what it is about computers that bothers him so much:

Giles: “The smell. 

Jenny: “Computers don’t smell, Rupert.”

Giles: “I know. 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 must and- and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is-it… it has no texture, no, 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, um… smelly.”

Oh, and he looks like this while he’s talking about how fucking much he loves books:

Pardon me. There are some things I need to do. ALONE.

Jenny makes a crack about him being old-fashioned, and he makes a joke about her earring and how it’s like “dangling a corkscrew” from her ear. Then she says that’s not where she dangles it from. Wait, so how did she lose it in the library? Girl has been spending too much time with Prince.

 In the courtyard, Xander asks if they’re all going to go to The Bronze, but Willow is still really upset that the only boy who have ever liked her turned out to be a demon robot. Buffy and Xander try to console her over the fact that Buffy fell for a vampire and Xander almost had sex with a giant praying mantis. Then they all laugh over the fact that they’re doomed to never have a satisfying romantic relationship.

And then they stop laughing.

This episode is a really good example of how something you write can get dated very quickly. A viewer seeing it for the first time today would probably think it was very cute and funny that there was a tv show in the 90’s talking about the dangers of internet dating, something that has become very commonplace now. It’s also a good reminder of how scared we as a society were of technology that we later embraced and incorporated into our daily lives. Rather than using the internet occasionally for things like researching papers or finding recipes, many of us spend our entire lives on the internet. We have friends we never meet in person, bond over common interests, all the stuff that Moloch was misguidedly trying to do when looking for love. So, in a way, aren’t we all kind of Moloch?