Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | December 27, 2010

Robin’s Review: S1, E08 – I Robot…You Jane

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – 108 – I Robot…You Jane

Synopsis: In 1418 the Demon Moloch is trapped in a book. In the present day Willow scans the contents of the book into the library computer and Moloch is released into cyber space. He begins to seduce followers who do his bidding. At the same time Willow has a new online boyfriend Malcolm. Buffy is worried by Willow’s obsession with a guy she has never met. Computer teacher Miss Calendar spots the empty book which alerts Giles to Moloch’s escape. When Willow is taken by Moloch’s followers Buffy and Xander try to free her while Giles and Miss Calendar try to cast a new spell.

The Good: We don’t find out a great deal more about Willow than we already knew but it was still nice to see her get her own story. She plays her growing attachment to Malcolm well and seems genuinely scared and upset when face to face with Moloch.

Miss Calendar the computer science teacher is also well characterised. Her debates with Giles over books and computers didn’t feel like lip service to the Moloch plot. Instead their conversations felt real because they both defended their passions with conviction. That conviction meant her obvious role as love interest for Giles didn’t feel too contrived either. Now that they have worked together their antagonism can grow into respect as it begins to do here. She serves two other important functions as both a teacher and a techno-pagan. She adds context to the school by being more than a prop to be killed off as other teachers have been and deepens our understanding of how many humans understand the supernatural world of the Slayer.

The usual humour was present throughout and Xander’s hasty explanation for why he and Buffy hang out in the library so often was the best: “To read makes our speaking English good.” Xander and Buffy had one very good conversation early on when he raised the possibility that Malcolm might not be a high school boy. They managed to react concerned for Willow, then blow off their own concerns as you would expect them too because at that stage they had no reason to believe anything was wrong. All the while you could see Xander loved the chance to interact with Buffy one on one and didn’t want it to end.

The final scene of the episode was good too as the gang contemplate their awful hell mouth dating experiences (vampire, mantis and demon) and wonder if they will ever have normal healthy relationships. It served a comedic and serious purpose at the same time.

The Bad: Unfortunately this was the worst episode of the season so far. Despite all that positive stuff the Moloch plot was undeveloped, unsubtle and looked stupid. The last part is what all season has been threatening with giant bugs and hyenas but here manages to drain the plot of substance by feeling too unconvincing.

The biggest problem is the giant robot Moloch has built to be his corporeal body. In complete contrast to how gripping Angel’s story was last week Molock looks cheap and tacky. The final action scenes has a real cheesy 1980s feel to them including Willow being scripted to say “I think it’s time we break up” while hitting him which was so inappropriate considering he just smashed through a wall and could quite easily have killed her. Even Moloch’s pixelated demon face on a computer screen seemed silly and somehow it infested the whole episode.

It was never explained how he seduces humans, nor were Fritz and Dave given any characterisation before they began working for him. So their “evil” behaviour and even Dave’s death didn’t have the kind of impact which the hyena transformations did. I didn’t like Buffy asking about her hair after being electrocuted either, like Willow’s dialogue it undercut the seriousness of what was unfolding. Moloch’s interference in cyber space was pointed out in poorly signposted ways. The camera twice follows unknown characters so we can overhear them complaining about computer errors and then out of nowhere Giles has the news on the radio so that we can hear about further disruption. Once we meet Moloch he “subtly” congratulates a Japanese man who is having his own mother murdered. None of this paints a picture of why Moloch is so seductive and dangerous which should be the underlying theme. It also distracts from Willow’s emotional side of the story which could have received a lot more attention.

The Unknown: Is Miss Calendar just a techno-pagan? So far those with some mystical knowledge have turned out to be a lot more involved than they seem (the zoo keeper, Miss French, Angel).

Best Moment: Giles explains to Miss Calendar that what he doesn’t like about computers is the smell. She points out that they don’t smell. He goes on to give a wonderfully articulate defence of learning from something tangible. He explains that smell is a powerful trigger of memory and so books, smelling rich and musty, help connect one to the information you are taking in. It’s a fantastic bit of writing (and delivered well of course) which makes Giles seem far from stuck in his ways but a man capable of real passion.

The Bottom Line: It’s a credit to the show that there’s so much good stuff in an otherwise dud episode. Where Angel gave demons a fascinating and attractive form, Moloch did the opposite making them seem cheap and predictable.

52/100

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