\m/15-Minute Hellmouth\m/: Buffy the Vampire Slayer DeepWatch: Season 1, Episode 8: “I, Robot . . . You Jane” (airdate: Monday, April 28, 1997): Part 3 of 3

30:01 – The End

Previously on 15-Minute Hellmouth . . .

Moloch the Corrupter had been trapped inside a book since the Dark Ages. Willow Rosenberg scanned the book into the computer at the Sunnydale High School library, which released the demon into the computer system. Moloch has since spent his time attempting to catfish Willow as her computer boyfriend “Malcolm.” He’s also attempted to kill Buffy, corrupted some computer nerds (staging the “suicide” of one of them), and conducted some secretive evil business with Calax Research and Development, a computer research lab in Sunnydale that supposedly closed the previous year.

As Part 2 reached the 30-minute mark, Willow had returned to her house, to her bedroom, where she was hearing the “You have mail!” audio alert designed to remind the viewer of AOL. Last we heard, Buffy and Xander were also on their way to Willow’s house, while Rupert Giles had been encouraged to solicit help from Jenny Calendar, the pretty computer teacher, to find a way to remove Moloch from the ‘Net.

We’re still in Act III as we begin this part, but Act IV can’t be too far ahead. We’ve seen the road signs clearly.

Willow reads her email from “Malcolm.” He’s become even creepier, telling Willow there will be no more waiting—he needs Willow to see him. By this point, Willow is already suspicious about the as-yet-unseen Malcolm. Along with Giles, Willow represents the brain trust of Sunnydale, which means she’s a pretty smart cookie. She turns off her monitor and returns to her bookbag.

The monitor switches itself back on. Then, the doorbell rings and she goes to answer it. She thinks her father forgot his keys again. There seems to be no one at the door. I imagine there’s a whole lot of Ding Dong Ditch being played in the proximity of a Hellmouth. As Willow turns to go back inside, Fritz comes up behind her and chloroforms her.

Fritz says, “No more waiting.” Fritz has had a busy night, what with helping a computer demon kill his best friend and all.

Back at the library, Giles is listening to the radio while conducting his research. We hear a piece of a story about an archbishop blaming computer error for some “financial discrepancy,” plus another one about all of the FBI serial killer profiles being mysteriously downloaded from its central computer. This is how we know that Moloch is busy sowing digital mayhem while terrorizing a few of the locals.

Jenny Calendar shows up at the library. She received a message from Giles. It seems our stuffy, rather tweedy English librarian actually did what the Slayer told him to do. We are getting Miss Calendar firmly established as a main character and potential love interest for Giles.

The expectation already established was that Giles would have some trouble convincing the computer teacher that an actual demon had been released into their system. That expectation is subverted (our standard operating procedure on this show). Jenny says that she already knows when Giles tells her.

Meanwhile, Buffy Summers and Xander Harris arrive at Willow’s house, finding the front door open and their friend missing. They decide that CRD, the defunct computer research lab, is probably Moloch Central and think they’ll find Willow there.

Back at the library, Giles says to Jenny, “You already know? How exactly is that?”

“Come on,” Jenny says, “there’ve been portents for days. I mean, power surges, on-line 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—”

“It’s Moloch,” Giles says.

“The Corrupter? Oh, boy.” Jenny exhales. “I should’ve remembered. I just don’t—”

“You don’t seem exactly surprised by . . .” Giles begins. “Who are you?”

“I teach computer science at the local high school.”

“A profession that hardly lends itself to the casting of bones.”

“Wrong and wrong, Snobby,” Jenny says. “You think the realm of the mystical is limited to ancient texts and relics? That bad old science made the magic go away? The divine exists in cyberspace same as out here.”

“Are you a witch?”

“I don’t have that kind of power. Technopagan is the term.”

I’m almost certain that the term technopagan didn’t exist before this episode. The message is clear. Computers are here to stay. So, if we’re going to have stories about the supernatural, we’re going to have to incorporate computers into them. That was beginning to be true to a certain degree even before BTVS, but it was increasingly so after. Just consider how the evolution of the smart phone has changed any story set in modern times.

Now we have added layers of characterization to Jenny Calendar. She still has her secrets, as we’ll find out in upcoming episodes, but—at least in this episode’s story—she turns out to be exactly the sort of character that’s required. She seems to confidently straddle the line between computer science and the mystical-supernatural. The same role that Willow herself is growing into.

As Giles and Jenny are talking about possible courses of action, Buffy calls and lets her Watcher know that Willow is missing. She also tells him that she’s outside of CRD, following up on her hunch that Willow is inside. Giles tells Buffy that he and Miss Calendar are working on a way to get Moloch off-line. Buffy tells him to hurry, which is always helpful advice.

Of course, Buffy is correct. Willow is inside of CRD, where she regains consciousness on a lab table. Fritz and another technician are nearby, as is a computer monitor. As the camera pushes in on the monitor, we hear Moloch say, “Welcome, my love.”

We’re being led to believe that the voice may be coming from the computer.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to see you . . .,” Moloch begins, as we get a closeup on Willow’s terrified face. When the camera cuts back to the computer monitor, we see a metal hand reach into the frame. Then a quick pan up to Moloch’s face. He is now a robot. “. . . with my own eyes.”

And this is where the episode loses most of its value. In my opinion.

It’s not that the robot demon looks terrible. I think it looks good, for what it is. It’s more about the simple fact that the demon is a robot. A friend of mine once made the comment that, when it comes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was easier to accept the existence of vampires, werewolves and witches than robots and cyborgs. I’ve discovered that I agree with this sentiment. But Joss Whedon wasn’t through trying to blend the supernatural with technology, even after BTVS was over.

I’m surprising myself by admitting that the sudden appearance of Moloch the Robot jars me rudely awake from the fictive dream that is Buffy. I’m normally more at home in the world of science and technology in my science-fantasy, and it’s usually the introduction of pseudoscience, magic or the supernatural that bugs me. The central premise of BTVS is mystical/supernatural in nature, however. So, it is the incorporation of technology that seems out of place here.

From a storytelling perspective, there are other things that bother me about this turn of events. We’ll talk more about those in a moment. The big reveal that Moloch is now a robot marks our transition out of Act III.

Act IV resumes inside Calax Research and Development. Willow is scared. She also now realizes that this robotic creature is the Malcolm she’s been on-line chatting with, which is a little heartbreaking. This show is always great about hitting the emotional notes.

Fritz and the unnamed lab technician take Willow by the arms as Moloch the Robot approaches.

“The world is so new. So exciting,” Moloch says. “I can see all of it. Everything flows through me. I know the secrets of your kings. But nothing compares to having form again. To be able to walk . . .” Moloch puts his metal hand on Fritz’s head. “To touch,” he continues, as he casually breaks Fritz’s neck.

“To kill,” Moloch finishes, as Fritz’s body crumples to the floor.

Buffy and Xander are outside of CRD. Buffy leaps over the fence while Xander bumbles his way over, and then they make their way around to the back of the facility. With no pretense at subtlety, Buffy kicks the doors open. Moloch already knows they are coming.

Back at the library, Jenny Calendar lights candles and talks with Giles about forming a Circle of Kayless.

“Form a circle?” Giles says. “But there’s only two of us. That’s really more of a line.”

“You’re not getting it, Rupert,” Jenny says. “We have to form the circle inside.” She goes to the computer terminal. “I’m putting out a flash,” she says. “I just hope enough of my group responds.”

“Won’t Moloch just shut you down?”

“Well, I’m betting he won’t figure out what we’re doing until it’s too late.”

“Hoping and betting. That’s what we’ve got.”

“You want to throw in praying?” Jenny says. “Be my guest.”

Robia LaMorte, the actor who portrays Jenny, later became a born-again Christian after she received a sign from God in the form of a Christian motorcycle gang. Really. I can’t make this stuff up.

Back at the CRD lab, Willow wants to know what Moloch wants with her. He says that he wants to give her the world, because she’s the one who gave him life by releasing him from the book. He still insists that he loves her.

In the lobby of the building, Buffy and Xander walk up to the guard. Apparently, he never heard Buffy kick down the doors and is caught by surprise. Buffy punches his lights out. Xander notices Willow on the guard’s security monitor.

Buffy can’t kick down the door to the lab. She says it’s heavy steel. Xander offers the helpful advice that they should try to find another way in. An alarm begins to go off and red lights flash. Then a gas is released into the hallway.

Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Buffy.

At the Sunnydale High School library, Jenny and Giles continue their flirtatious banter.

“Almost there,” Jenny says, still at the computer.

“Couldn’t you just stop Moloch by entering some computer virus?” Giles says.

“You’ve seen way too many movies,” Jenny says.

One of these movies must have been the 1996 science fantasy action flick Independence Day, starring Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, where uploading a computer virus prevented a full-scale alien invasion.

While this is a humorous line of dialogue, it’s also a good example of lampshading, a storytelling meta-commentary that draws attention to shortcomings in plot or just plain ridiculous story events. In a strange way, this adds verisimilitude to the story if handled well. When not handled well, it makes everything seem like a joke being played on the viewer.

We’ve all seen movies—even popular blockbusters like Independence Day—where something like a computer virus defeats a seemingly unbeatable foe. What makes this scene in the episode even more humorous is that—even as Jenny Calendar is telling Rupert Giles that he’s seen too many movies—they are both using a computer to cast a technopagan spell to defeat a demon who is now a robot. Does the computer virus idea seem that ludicrous to you now?

Giles begins reciting the appropriate spell while Jenny types.

We return to CRD, where Buffy and Xander are pounding on the doors. Xander has begun to cough. You know, from the gas.

Inside the lab, Willow finally convinces Moloch the Robot that she will never belong to him. Moloch lowers his head and seems to mull this over. When he raises his head again, he says, “Pity.”

At the library, Giles and Jenny are finishing up the spell.

In the CRD hallway, Xander slumps to the floor, almost unconscious. Buffy seems to be growing weaker.

This is good, fast-paced Act IV stuff going on here.

In the lab, Moloch puts his hand on Willow’s head and says, “I’ll miss you.” We all remember what just happened to Fritz. Is this the end of Willow Rosenberg?

Willow screams.

Back at the library, Giles says, “Demon, Come!”

In the CRD lab, Moloch screams and releases Willow. The spell seems to be doing its job.

Buffy and Xander are somehow galvanized into action, probably by Willow’s screams. Buffy bursts through the lab door with Xander close on her heels. Buffy executes a flying side kick that staggers the robot demon a little.

Buffy falls to the floor and says, “Ow . . . guy’s made of metal.”

The lab technician grabs Xander. While Moloch is still reeling in pain from the techno-spell, Buffy gets Willow out of the lab quickly. Xander punches out the lab technician’s lights and follows quickly behind.

Back on Giles and Jenny. Smoke is pouring out of the computer monitor.

“He’s out of the ‘Net,” Jenny says. “He’s bound.”

Giles opens up the tome that once served as Moloch’s prison. “He’s not in the book,” he says.

Jenny looks at the book’s pages also. “He’s not in the book. Well, where is he?”

As you’ve no doubt guessed, Moloch is no longer jacked into the ‘Net (did we ever really refer to the Internet as simply the ‘Net?). Instead, he is trapped inside his robot body. He could still inflict some major damage as a robot, however. He crashes through a wall and backhands Xander, knocking him unconscious and adding to our traumatic head injury tote board. Willow officially breaks up with her online boyfriend, attacking him with a fire extinguisher. Moloch shoves her down the hallway to crash into Xander, who is in the process of recovering from his concussion as he and Willow both hit the deck again.

It’s all up to Buffy at this point. She notices an electrical junction on the wall. She lures the robot demon over, adroitly evades his telegraphed haymaker punch, which lands in the junction box. We get a high voltage electricity effect as Moloch is zapped. The robot explodes and Moloch’s head lands just in front of our huddled Scoobies.

Well, that’s that.

The next day, at the high school, Giles delivers a curly earring he found in the library to Jenny Calendar at the computer lab. He just as quickly begins to leave and Jenny teases him about not being able to get away from the computers fast enough.

“Truthfully,” Giles says, “I’m even less anxious to be around computers than I used to be.”

“It was your book that started all the trouble, not a computer,” Jenny says. “Honestly, what is it about them that bothers you so much?”

“The smell,” Giles says.

“Computers don’t smell, Rupert.”

“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. Musty and—” Giles stammers in his affecting way. “—and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer has no texture. 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.”

“Well! You really are an old-fashioned boy, aren’t you?”

“Well, I don’t dangle a corkscrew from my ear.”

To which Jenny Calendar replies: “That’s not where I dangle it.” Then she walks past Giles, smiling. ‘Nuff said.

Outside, by the picturesque fountain, Buffy and Xander are trying to console Willow. The one boy who liked Willow turned out to be a demon robot.

“What does that say about me?” Willow asks, forlornly.

Buffy points out that the one boy she’s had the hots for in Sunnydale turned out to be a vampire. Xander also adds that his teacher crush turned out to be a giant praying mantis. This seems to cheer Willow up a little.

“Let’s face it,” Buffy says. “None of us are ever going to have a happy, normal relationship.”

“We’re doomed,” Xander says, laughing.

The smiles on the faces of the three friends fade as they consider this statement. And then, we fade to black.

I’ve already said that “I, Robot . . . You Jane” isn’t one of my favorite BTVS episodes. In fact, it was my least-favorite of Season 1. While this remains true, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t parts of it that I enjoyed.

I particularly liked the burgeoning romance between Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar. It’s a case of opposites attracting. Call it the Sam-and-Diane TV relationship trope. Giles is Old School. Jenny is definitely a modern, independent woman with her own opinions and a secret wild side that we’ll see is probably closer to Giles’s own alter ego.

The title of the episode, however, sucked, and was an insult to both Isaac Asimov and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

If the episode had been written by Jane Espenson, I would have given it a begrudging pass. Unfortunately, Ms. Espenson doesn’t join the writing staff of Buffy until late 1998 in Season 3. So, no pass is granted.

Robots don’t belong in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I stand behind that opinion. Moloch’s demon guise in the flashback teaser was the more effective version of the character, in my opinion. Giving him a robot body simply made him a joke. A heavy-handed commentary on the computer revolution that was in full swing by this point in history.

From the perspective of story logic, I’m not sure why Moloch was even turned into a robot. He seemed to be wreaking havoc as an internet-bound entity, able to affect events worldwide, possibly through screechy telephone modems. Wi-Fi may have already existed when this episode originally aired, but it wasn’t something I remember anyone talking about. Becoming a robot seemed to expose a major weakness in the character. It was, in fact, the demon’s downfall.

Of course, Moloch didn’t have computers back in the Dark Ages. So, that’s what he was used to. In many ways, despite the robotic body, Moloch is even Older School than Giles.

This episode gets only 2-Stars from me. I prefer to regard it as noncanonical. A piece of misguided fan fiction, maybe.

Next time on 15-Minute Hellmouth, we’ll talk about the episode “The Puppet Show.”

That one doesn’t feature any robots, but it does have a ventriloquist dummy in it. Fair warning. But, hey, I already told you that this was my least-favorite episode, right? The next one has to be better.


2 thoughts on “\m/15-Minute Hellmouth\m/: Buffy the Vampire Slayer DeepWatch: Season 1, Episode 8: “I, Robot . . . You Jane” (airdate: Monday, April 28, 1997): Part 3 of 3

  1. The Lord works in mysterious ways…

    Love the quote from Giles about books v. computers. I plan to build a blog post around it at some point, despite the fact that I’m a writer deeply invested in computers, and becoming more so thanks to Kindle Vella, a bookstore where you cannot acquire a physical book if you want one. Ah, progress…

    This was not one of my favorite episodes, either. The premise was good, but the execution was severely lacking. A demon in the computer? Really, how would you know? Reference here my daughter’s four-month fight to cancel her Verizon account. Buffy and her writers were always most comfortable with stories of flesh-and-goo monsters, and here, instead of using its global reach to bring on the apocalypse, Moloch resorted to brainwashing high school kids to murder each other. On the one hand a lost opportunity, but had Moloch used the computer to its full potential, the story would have been far beyond the purview of Buffy and the Scoobys. All in all, a story that probably never should have been told in this venue, but a great recap as always. Looking forward to the next one already.

    Liked by 1 person

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