15:01 – 30:00
Previously on 15-Minute Hellmouth . . .
Moloch was a demon who, in the year 1418, was trapped in a book by a group of Italian priests who formed something known as a Circle of Kayless. Don’t know what that is? It doesn’t matter.
Because I am an unrepentant nerd, this made me think of Kahless, which is pronounced “Kayless” (you might understand why I made this connection). In Trek worldbuilding, Kahless is an important figure in Klingon history and mythology. I find it impossible to believe that no one in the writers room of BTVS knew about Kahless, who was—and I don’t believe that this is sacrilegious to say—the Klingon Jesus.
Moloch was released into the Sunnydale High School computer system after Willow Rosenberg scanned the volume. Moloch repaid Willow by catfishing her into thinking he was a young man named Malcolm Black living in a neighboring town. When this resulted in uncharacteristic behavior by Willow, as well as two new students we’ve never seen named Fritz and Dave, this alerted Buffy Summers’ strong-but-inconsistent Slayer Sense, which is a lot like Peter Parker’s Spidey Sense—only not.
When we left Part 1 of our gentle dissection of “I, Robot . . . You Jane,” Buffy was in the Sunnydale High School library, telling librarian/Watcher Rupert Giles that something strange was going on with Willow, Dave and Fritz.
Giles believes Buffy. It’s just that, when it comes to all things related to computers, he’s out of his element. He’d be more comfortable it it were an ogre. In fact, he admits that computers fill him with a “child-like terror.”
He suggests that Buffy tail Dave Kirby and see if he’s up to something.
That’s just what Buffy does. Wearing dark glasses and a dark coat, she tails Dave to the CRD building. What’s next? Cutting peep holes in a newspaper and pretending to read it on a park bench? She sees Dave talk to someone at the loading dock around back. The security cameras at this as-yet-unknown organization’s building focus on Buffy, the image sent to Fritz’s computer at the school.
“She’s too close,” Fritz says. “What do I do?”
To which Moloch responds: KILL HER.
Here is where we arrive at the conclusion of Act I.
Act II begins, once again, at the Sunnydale High library. Buffy believes Dave is up to something big. She says the name of the place Dave went to was CRD, but she couldn’t get close enough to see exactly what it was.
Xander Harris, surprisingly, provides us with some necessary exposition this time. He says that CRD is a computer research lab—Calax Research and Development. It was the third largest employer in Sunnydale until it closed down the previous year.
Giles and Buffy are as surprised as the rest of us that Xander actually has some knowledge. Turns out his uncle worked there. As a janitor, apparently.
Giles suggests that Dave, who is known to be wicked computer-smart, may be doing something on the up-and-up with CRD. Xander insists that if the lab had opened up again, it would have made the news. Buffy actually says that her spider sense is tingling, so she knows something underhanded is happening.
Giles doesn’t get the spider sense pop culture reference, of course. But the rest of us do.
Computer teacher Jenny Calendar shows up in the library to, she says, check on Giles’s database to make sure his “cross reference table isn’t glitching.” Methinks a romance is brewing.
A side note about Jenny: this episode is her first appearance in the series. I like Robia LaMorte, the actor who plays her, quite a bit. She’s an interesting person in her own right. Plus, her name was her real name, which was unexpected. By me, at least. Until she was 22 years old, Ms. LaMorte was a dancer, who toured with the likes of the Pet Shop Boys and Prince, and she appeared in several Prince videos, notably “Cream” and “Diamonds and Pearls.” She has spunk and spark and whatever else the “it,” as in “it girl”, is called. On BTVS, she appears in fourteen episodes both before and after her tragic character death.
Oh, come on now! This can’t be a spoiler. If you’re reading this annotated synopsis rather than watching the series for the first time, that’s just sad. I think everyone in the series dies at least once, if not in reality then in dreams or alternate universes. Don’t hold me to this.
My point is that, for me, the introduction of Jenny Calendar is a bright spot in this subpar episode.
Xander and Buffy make some awkward conversation with Miss Calendar, who has noticed that the teenagers hang out in the library a lot, and then leave. Their plan is to break into the CRD building to find out what’s going on. The lesson here, kids, is that committing felonies is okay if you’re doing it for a good cause.
Meanwhile, Willow is in the computer lab, chatting with Malcolm online. At one point, Malcolm mentions that Buffy was kicked out of her last school, a fact that Willow knows she didn’t share with her mystery boyfriend. This makes Willow a bit wary, and she soon signs off, even though Malcolm doesn’t want her to.
Back in the library, Miss Calendar and Giles are engaging in more witty meet-cute banter. The computer teacher thinks that the librarian is a snob because he has a healthy aversion to all things computer related. His point of view is that just because something is new doesn’t necessarily make it better. One of us should interject that computers weren’t exactly new, even in 1997. But I understand the sentiment. Jenny’s contention is that computers aren’t just a fad, that the computer-literate are on the verge of creating a new society.
She wasn’t wrong. By 1997, however, this was really a fait accompli, wasn’t it? This episode feels like it would have been more at home if it were set in the 1980s. You know, when movies like WarGames, Tron and The Last Starfighter were all the rage.
At one point, she indicates the Moloch tome while continuing her rant against “musty old books.” When she notes that the pages are all blank, she asks if this was some kind of diary or something. Giles, who’s pretty quick on the uptake, notes the image of Moloch on the book’s cover and says that it is, indeed, a diary. Then he brusquely dismisses the pretty teacher, saying that it’s been nice talking to her.
“We were fighting,” Jenny Calendar says.
“Must do it again sometime, yes,” Giles says. “Bye, now.” Then, he disappears into his office, leaving a perplexed Jenny behind.
Throughout this episode, we get subtle reminders that Moloch has been doing more than just on-line chatting with Willow. He’s an ancient demon, with mad multitasking skills. He’s been plotting with Dave and Fritz, it seems. Also, a school nurse is frantic because she apparently administered a dose of penicillin to someone who was allergic because their computer records didn’t indicate an allergy. This suggests that Moloch is a trickster god, not above small but potentially deadly pranks.
I am no authority on school nurses, but I have no memory of any student saying they were given penicillin when I was in school. Sure, the football coach could set you up with steroids, but penicillin? Nah. I’m willing to admit that I may be severely behind the times. Besides, things may be different in California.
Outside the high school, Buffy runs into Dave Kirby, one of the new Sunnydale High students we’ve never met before this episode who are suddenly ubiquitous. Dave apologizes to Buffy for snapping at her the day before, and then lets Buffy know that Willow told him to tell Buffy that she was looking for her and would be waiting for her in the girls’ locker room.
Fritz Siegel, presumably following Moloch’s orders, has set a trap for Buffy in the locker room. There are exposed electrical wires in the running shower, meant to electrocute the Slayer. It may have worked, too, if Fritz’s best bud Dave didn’t burst in at the last second to warn Buffy off. She’s still left with smoking sneaker soles, so it was a close call.
I should remind you that Dave was also the same person who set up Buffy for Fritz’s trap.
Dave heads for the computer lab and attempts to communicate with Moloch through the PC. The demon wants Dave to continue to do his bidding. Dave wants out.
So, Moloch decides to help Dave out. The demon writes out Dave’s suicide note on the screen while Dave watches. Here’s the note:
I’m sorry. I’ve been a terrible person.
I’m a coward, and I can’t go on living like this.
Forgive me, Mom and Dad. At least now I’ll have some peace. Remember me.
As Dave backs away from the computer in horror, we see that Fritz is waiting behind him by the window.
We cut away from the anticipated mayhem to join members of the Scooby Gang in the high school library. Buffy sits at the table while Xander paces nervously.
“I’m gonna kill Dave,” Xander says.
“He tried to warn me,” Buffy offers.
“Warn you that he set you up?” Xander says. My thoughts exactly, Xander ol’ boy.
Giles thinks he knows why Dave has been acting oddly. He retrieves the Moloch tome from the cage.
Giles says, “In the Dark Ages, the souls of demons were sometimes trapped in certain volumes. They remained locked within the book, harmless, unless the pages were read aloud. Unless I’m mistaken, this is Moloch the Corrupter. A very deadly and seductive demon. He draws people to him with promises of love, power, knowledge. Preys on impressionable minds.”
Giles, ever Professor Exposition, continues on to tell Buffy and Xander that Moloch is no longer inside the book. He says that “dreadful Calendar woman” found the volume and the pages were already empty. Giles doesn’t know who could have read the book and released Moloch. The book wasn’t even written in English.
Buffy and Xander figure out that the process of scanning the book actually sent Moloch into the computer system, as well as to every computer connected to it by modem. Since the book was scanned to Willow’s file, Giles suggests that the proper course of action might be to simply delete it. Buffy goes to a computer to do just that when Moloch’s gnarly demon face appears on the screen and says, “Stay away from Willow! It is none of your business.”
After Moloch’s image disappears, Buffy says, “So that’s what Malcolm looks like.”
With an economy of words, the scriptwriters get across the message that Buffy has already made the logical leap that Willow’s catfishing boyfriend Malcolm and the demon Moloch are one-and-the-same. We already knew, of course, and didn’t need an entire scene where the Slayer’s deductive reasoning was explained. Moloch is in the computer. Someone on the computer has been cyber-romancing Willow, causing her to act out of character. Therefore, Malcolm is Moloch. QED.
This is a good place for an act break.
Act III begins where we left off, still in the library after Moloch made a computer appearance. The plan to delete the file containing Moloch failed. Buffy, Xander and Giles are now reacting to this. Maybe, according to Xander, overreacting.
“Are we overreacting?” Xander says. “He’s in a computer. What can he do?”
Buffy says, “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 says, “Randomize traffic signals.”
Buffy says, “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.”
“Right,” Giles says. “Yours was best.”
With this simple humorous exchange, the stakes have been effectively raised. Moloch isn’t just a danger to Buffy or Willow. He is a danger to the entire world outside of Sunnydale, California.
Naturally, our main concern is Willow Rosenberg. Buffy doesn’t want to wait to find out what Moloch wants with her best friend. She sets out to find her, heading to the computer lab after telling Giles and Xander to try to call her at home.
When Buffy enters the computer lab, all of the screens suddenly come to life and Buffy literally runs into Dave, who is hanging from the ceiling with his suicide note pinned to his shirt. Compliments of the demon Moloch and Dave’s best friend Fritz.
Buffy heads back to the library, telling Giles and Xander about Dave. She tells Xander that the two of them are going to Willow’s house. She tells Giles that he needs to come up with a way to get Moloch out of the ‘Net.
The Net, by the way, was a dismal 1995 movie starring Sandra Bullock. It had a lot of computer gobbledygook that’s now more outdated than the Tandy TRS-80 computers I used to sell at Radio Shack.
“I have records of the ceremonies,” Giles says in his stammering British accent. “But that’s for a creature of the flesh. This could be something completely different.”
“Then get Miss Calendar,” Buffy says. “Maybe she can help you.”
The universe—or, at least, the Buffyverse—is pulling out all stops to push Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar into each other’s arms.
Our next scene is at Willow Rosenberg’s home. Willow arrives at her house and calls out for her parents, who do not seem to be there. She goes to her bedroom and puts her bookbag on the bed. A computerized female voice from Willow’s PC says, “You have mail” as we reach the 30-minute mark.
You see, my young friends, in the late 1990s, AOL was the dominant ISP. When you had email—still a novelty in the early days of the Internet—you often heard the audio announcement “You’ve Got Mail.” This announcement, and several others on AOL, were recorded by veteran radio and television announcer Elwood “El” Edwards. “You’ve Got Mail” also became an execrable Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie. Some things are better left in the past.
Join me next time for Part 3 of “I, Robot . . . You Jane,” and we’ll finish up our discussion of the episode. An already weird premise suddenly takes an even weirder left turn and the whole thing falls apart a bit.