Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 8, I Robot, You Jane

“So, you’ve been seeing a guy, but you don’t know what he looks like. Okay, this is a puzzle. No, wait, I’m good at these. Does it involve a midget and a block of ice?”

Let’s just put this out there right now: this episode is kind of a dud. It has the feel of the producers going “˜Hey, we haven’t had a Willow centered episode yet, and she’s kinda cute, so”¦’ It should be a good episode ““ we get introduced to Jenny Calendar, Cyber Wiccan and Computer Science Teacher, and Willow does some fun computer stuff, um.. some other things happen.  But it feels very blah in the end.

Despite all the big reveals in last week’s episode, neither The Master nor Angel make an appearance. The first season is only twelve episodes long, but that doesn’t mean the run is wasted on strictly A-team storylines. Filler has its place.

We open with a group of Italian monks binding the demon Moloch into a book. Instead of burning the book or hiding it away somewhere, the monks just whisper a hope that no one ever read the words, less the demon be unleashed upon the world again. I’m not going to slam the monks, really, but you’d think their precautionary measures would be a little more thorough.

The cursed book makes its way to the Hellmouth, as is only fit. Why there’s a cursed book ““ an obviously antique cursed book ““ in the public collection of the public high school library is unexplained and uncommented on. The high school computer teacher, one Ms. Jenny Calendar, who used to be Diamond or Pearl, Prince’s back up dancer, is having her students digitize the library’s collection for online access. Not the helpful texts, of course, just the weird ones from Giles’s personal stash. Since Giles is both British and a librarian, he doesn’t understand these new fangled idiot boxes. Jenny is American and young, so she’s the voice of the Internet Age. Paper is the past! Online is the future! Everyone is still using beepers!

Clearly, there is love in the air.

Giles: “Miss Calendar, I’m sure your computer science class is fascinating. But I
happen to believe one can survive in modern society without being enslaved to
the idiot box.”
Miss Calendar: “That’s TV. The idiot box is TV. This is the good box.”
Giles: “Well, I still prefer a good book.”
Fritz: “The printed page is obsolete. Information isn’t bound up anymore. It’s an
entity. The only reality is virtual. If you’re not jacked in, you’re not alive.”
Miss Calendar: “Thank you, Fritz, for making us all sound like crazy people.”

Fritz hadn’t even heard of Facebook yet. I bet he’d plotz over it.

After everyone leaves for the day, Willow stays to finish up a few things, scanning the Moloch book with a nifty handheld scanner that only covers a third of the page. Not that she needs to make another pass over the page ““ as soon as the text is “˜read’ it disappears. Three ominous words appear on Willow’s screen ““”˜Where am I?’

TNMAS Buffy corners Willow in the hallway on the way to computer lab, wondering what’s going on with her friend. Willow’s met someone one the internet. A boy.  At least he says he’s a boy and he’s nice and sweet and into her. Certainly more into her than Xander has been. Buffy is a responsible friend, expressing concern and happiness.  Maybe a bit more on the concern angle ““ one of the computer lab’s webcamera’s catch the conversation, and we see another terminal scrolling through the school records, matching up Buffy’s image with her permanent record.

Buffy would be 31 this year, you guys. And only 1 absence? They have terrible record keepers at this school.

Fritz and Dave, the other kids working on the digital library project, are also in the computer lab. Buffy’s information pops up on Fritz’s screen with the message “˜watch her’.

Xander makes an obligatory appearance in the episode in order to get blown off by Willow when he asks her to hang out. Willow never blows Xander off, and his lizard brain is having a hard time processing the idea that his friend isn’t always going to be moping around making googly eyes at him. This makes Xander uncomfortable. So many things make Xander uncomfortable.

Willow continues to exhibit signs of IM addiction, showing up late for school, referring to a guy online as her boyfriend, which I think is the internet age equivalent of having a boyfriend in Canada, so Buffy approaches Dave for help in tracking Wil’s mystery man down. Dave is aggressively unwilling to help ““ hello, suspicious!

Giles suggests that Buffy tail Dave, because he’s unsuited to investigating these new-fangled computer problems. Dave trots off after school to a heavily guarded warehouse. Where there is a camera surveillance system that catches Buffy following Dave and transmits the image to Fritz, watching Buffy follow Dave on his computer. Fritz is a little creepy. He’s also mumbling ominous things about Buffy’s interest in Malcolm. Malcolm agrees with a perky little IM  — Kill Her.

Willow is getting suspicious about Malcolm herself. He reveals something about Buffy that could only have been accessed from her personal file and Willow is smart enough to guess that something is up. Which is timely, since Dave and Fritz have set up a plan to electrocute Buffy in the girls locker room, using a live wire and a wet floor. Nice shoot guys, but no luck. Her name is on the title of the show. You need to bring the big guns to get one over on Buffy. Also, Dave wimps out on the plan and warns Buffy in time to save her life.

Too bad for Dave. Malcolm/Moloch writes a suicide note on his computer, and Fritz lurks around in the shadows of the computer lab, and we are saying good-bye to Dave.

Giles has finally pulled his weight and figured out the cursed book issue. What do we keep him around for? It’s a good 2/3rds into the episode before Giles “˜remembers’ that demons used to be locked into books and kept there for eternity, or until someone read the text. Worst. Demon. Cage. Ever.  He suggests Buffy delete the scanned file from the computer system but oh no! It’s too late! Malcolm/Moloch is on the web.

Gang, this is really the only computer-specific episode in the whole show, barring the robots, so you only have to put up with this once.

Giles turns to Ms. Calendar for help in extracting a demon from the net. She is only too eager to help because not only is she a modern woman wise in the way of computers, she’s also a Wise Woman, knowledgeable in the way of 21st century witchcraft. Giles is impressed. Jenny is “˜whatever, stuffy old man’, and I’m shouting at my tv screen, “˜Just kiss her already! Second season will be too late!’

Buffy and Xander have discovered Willow is missing and deduce that she’s likely at the heavily guarded building foreshadowed earlier in the episode. They rush off to rescue her. None to late, since Willow is getting introduced to her boyfriend Malcolm, who has downloaded himself into a spiffy robot-demon body. It’s great to have a physical form. It makes things like snapping Fritz’s neck so much easier. Bye Fritz.

In order to bind Moloch again, Jenny needs to get together with her virtual coven and form a circle to bind the demon again. Witchy! But they only succeed in knocking Malcolm/Moloch off the internet and into his robot body. So he’s no longer an omnipotent demon controlling computers and racking up fake charges on your cell phone bill, but he’s still a robot demon. Buffy, having fought her way through the building to find Willow, is finding that her usual stake-and-slay moves don’t work so well on reinforced metal.  Our girl struggles through the fight until she steals one of Malcolm/Moloch’s moves and tricks him into punching an electrical box, electrocuting himself.

TNMAS, the gang is doing their post-mortem wrap up by the fountains. The show loses these recaps after a while and I actually had completely forgotten this was A Thing in the early seasons of Buffy. They’re very “˜what did we learn this episode, guys?’ But I highlight the ending of the episode for its succinct summary of the romantic relationships across the course of the show:

Willow: “Malcolm. Moloch. Whatever he’s called. The one boy that’s really liked
me and he’s a demon robot. What does that say about me?”
Buffy: “Doesn’t say anything about you.”
Willow: “I mean, I thought I was really falling…”
Buffy: “Hey, did you forget? The one boy I’ve had the hots for since I moved
here? Turned out to be a vampire.”
Xander: “Right, and the teacher I had a crush on? Giant preying mantis.”
Willow: “That’s true.”
Xander: “That’s life on the Hellmouth.”
Buffy: “Let’s face it. None of us are ever gonna’ have a happy, normal
relationship.”
Xander: “We’re doomed!”
Willow: “Yeah!”

Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Bonus:

We love the 90s, or at least that’s what we’re supposed to think, since 90s fashion is making a comeback. But they only want you to remember the cool stuff. Anyone who has been watching Buffy knows what horrors the 90s wrought on fashion. So I’ll be highlighting the worst outfit of every episode. And there are some dooozies!

But, sadly, not in I Robot, You Jane. There’s some groaners, yeah, like all the plaid on the extras, but there’s nothing equivalent to the satin tie-dyed crop shirt Buffy wears in an earlier episode, or the tiger-striped velour hoodie, or”¦ Ok, let’s just leave it at “˜not as bad as any of that’.

Seriously, that’s as bad as it gets ““ one incredibly thin t-shirt, a very short miniskirt, and a flower print that I suspect was made out of my grandmother’s pillowcases.

Published by

[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

21 thoughts on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 8, I Robot, You Jane”

  1. These are such fantastic recaps–I’m always so excited to read them! Agreed that this is one of the, er, weaker episodes, though. I like your assertion that the writers clearly thought well, it’s time to have a ‘Willow’ episode, so let’s write some after school special about the dangers of Interweb Boyfriends. This may be one of the most dated episodes for that reason alone!

    1. @rah29 What I find funny about the ‘Willow’ episode in the first season is that they clearly didn’t know what to do with her — I think they might have intended Xander to be the main sidekick, but Willow really took off. And then the writers had no idea what to do with Xander as the seasons wore on. It’s quite the change.

  2. Yes, this episode was pretty weak and annoyingly preachy about the dangers of the internet (though to be fair, this message was probably less ubiquitous back in the good ole 90’s.) But I can’t hate it entirely because Giles and Jenny are just so. damn. cute. He turns into such a fluttery English schoolboy around her. I wish that relationship had lasted longer. Poor Giles never gets his grown-up love (just the occasional orgasm friend.)

  3. I forgot what my username was so this is going to seem creepy fangirl, but I love this feature.
    Also “I’m shouting at my tv screen, ‘Just kiss her already! Second season will be too late!'” made me LOL.
    I hope you’ll stay strong through the whole series because when it gets bad, it gets hilariously bad.

      1. I can’t wait! I wrote a paper for my gender and violence class about vampire folklore as a metaphor for rape going into the pop culture aspect and the new vampire trend with True Blood, Twilight and Buffy.
        As an accounting major it was the most fun I had writing a paper in college.
        Also that year my friends threw me a BtVS themed surprise birthday party.
        I just rewatched the series in 2008 but I’m psyched for your recaps.

        1. @willoween You know, I think in the end she really did love him. I don’t think she was lying when she told him that in the cave and I don’t think that Spike really thought she was lying either. It just made what they had to do easier.

          But, yes, the crook of my argument is that Spike is the only one who understood and accepted her for everything she was. He was also the only one who didn’t lie to her or hide his intentions — he’s surprisingly more mature for a soulless monster.

          1. I want to believe that she loved him.

            But since he’s always so good at understanding her, in the end when she said “I love you” and he responded with “No you don’t, but thanks for saying it.” I was all awww, he knows her better than anyone and if he’s saying that then it must be true. Although, in my mind she loved him and theirs was the best romance of the show.

            He IS surprisingly mature! I loved that. I loved how his innocent, gentle William past-self came through a lot. I also thought it was such a big deal for him to go and get his soul willingly! I did *not* like how they tried to make him a rapist like they did. Like that’s supposed to be what makes his character go get the soul. I thought they were reaching there…What did you think about all that?

            The only other time I thought he was as unstable as that was when he chained Buffy up and said he’d kill Dru and all that. But those two instances seemed so OOC to me. Like they weren’t sure what they were doing with him.

            1. @willoween I really hated the turn in his character in Seeing Red because I felt it was totally out of left field. But I’ve read quite a bit about that episode since then — interviews with the writers, with the actors and Joss — and I’ve begrudgingly come to agree with the decision. Spike was a monster trying to be human. Trying his best, but we all saw that the monster was still there. In order for Spike to come to accept this, to make this big change, he had to do something so horrible he couldn’t live with himself. And Seeing Red was it.

              Certainly he had done terrible things over the course of his life — he says this to Buffy in Season 7, that he would rather she not know what he had done — but this is The Thing he can’t back away from. Because he really loves her. And loving her isn’t enough, in the end. It’s not a chip that keeps him from harming people. It’s not consciousness. He can only be so good, so decent, without his soul. (Also, compare this to the rest of the vampires we meet — none of them want to be good or decent without their soul. This is one of the checks in evidence for ‘true love’.)

              1. I agree. They needed something to arc the character. But yea, it just seemed out of left field. Of course I don’t know what else would have made him leave to go and get the soul.

                I always felt that they weren’t clear about the whole “demon sets up shop in the old body” thing. Like Angel was a douche when he was alive, then turned into a monster when he was a vamp. Spike was probably a NiceGuy(TM) when he was alive and then turned evil. His mother was super nice and then turned REALLY evil. I felt like they left things unexplained with that. I remember a part where Buffy made a comment about how a person who turns into a vamp doesn’t keep any of their old personality and Angel replied, “Well actually…” But then stopped himself because they were fighting or something.

                But I agree, it’s just another one of those things that makes me believe HOW MUCH Spike loved Buffy.

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