Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I Robot, You Jane

Xander: "We read about it all the time. People meet on the net, they talk, they get together, have dinner, a show... horrible axe murder."

Willow becomes involved in an online romance with a fifteenth century demon that escaped from a book. Uh huh.

This may be the worst episode in the entire series. The computer-related plot elements are poorly done; computer-captive Moloch is not scary; and the metal monster at the end is downright silly. It's amazing that the cast can speak their lines with a straight face.

This episode is notable mainly for the introduction of Jenny Calendar, the computer science teacher and techno-pagan, who immediately generates some wonderfully antagonistic and romantic sparks with Giles. As a librarian, I particularly enjoyed their book vs. computer argument; Giles has a good point about books having odor and texture, while Jenny is also right about how the computer has changed the world.

I also particularly like the plot point of Giles approaching Jenny for demon-fighting help, expecting her to know nothing, and discovering that she is already way ahead of him. Good writing there, since it saves exposition and immediately makes her a more interesting character.

Bits and pieces:

-- It's fun seeing Buffy's version of dark glasses and a trenchcoat. But she follows a car on foot here? Please.

-- Buffy is wearing a leopard-spotted-type coat as she fights metal Moloch. Is this a metaphor for the natural versus the machine?

-- Xander again acts as Buffy's Boy Wonder. Not content to just be jealous of Buffy, Xander also shows jealousy of Willow's new romance.

-- Charisma Carpenter does not appear in this episode.

-- The book scanning is done incorrectly.

-- Why is there a photo of Willow and Giles in Willow's locker? Does Willow have a crush on both Giles and Xander?

-- There is a flashback to 1418, Cortona, Italy: this is the first flashback in the series.

-- In the scene where Giles is listening to the radio, the announcer's voice is recognizably that of Joss Whedon.

-- Edgar Rice Burroughs' ape man is famous for saying in the movies, "Me Tarzan, you Jane." For what it's worth, this never happens in Burroughs' original books; Tarzan teaches himself to read very early and is fluent in French and English. Yeah, I know, pointless trivia, c'est moi.

-- One conversation between Moloch and Dave the blond nerd is a deliberate homage to Hal the computer and Dave the astronaut in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And "I Robot" is most likely a reference to Isaac Asimov, who wrote the original robotic rules.

Quotes:

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?"

Buffy: "So, you've been seeing a guy, and 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?"

Giles: "Things involved with a computer fill me with a childlike terror. Now, if it were a nice ogre or some such, I'd be more in my element."

Buffy: "Besides, I can just tell something's wrong. My spider sense is tingling."
Giles: "Your spider sense?"
Buffy: "Pop culture reference. Sorry."

Jenny: "The first thing we have to do is form the circle of Kayless. Right?"
Giles: "Form a circle? But there's only two of us. That's really more of a line."

One lousy stake,

Billie
---
Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.

21 comments:

Gus Brunetti said...

I actually enjoyed this ep for all its cheese factor. It was so bad, it turned out to be entertaining.

I think it's one of the worst eps of any Whedon show; but I still think "Beer Bad" is worse.

Billie Doux said...

This one is probably worst from a writing/acting/story standpoint, but I think I hate "Listening to Fear" in season five the most.

ChrisB said...

As bad as this episode is, there were two things I found amusing this time through.

The first is how dated all the computer jargon is. It's now funny to think that in 1997 the internet and computers were still relatively new toys. Hence, Jenny's comment about more emails than regular mail. It made me smile to think about how the world has changed in the intervening years.

The second was to see Chad Lindberg (who some of us have come to know and love as Ash) in an early role.

Billie Doux said...

The BUFFY RE-WATCH is on! Post your comments! Remember, no spoilers for future episodes. If you'd like to talk spoilers and foreshadowing, you can post them here. Do me a huge favor and tweet the link and/or like this review on Facebook? Even though it's a terrible episode?

Jess Lynde said...

You know, I kind of like the basic concept of this one. It was a fun idea to do a decidedly Buffy take on the whole 'Ghost in the Machine' or Skynet trope. It just ended up being exceedingly silly in execution. Plus, it is never fun to see Willow getting hoodwinked and separated from her friends. Don't toy with Willow's emotions, damn it!

But we did get Ms. Calendar. Yea! And I was mildly amused by them naming one of the kids Dave, just so they could do that 2001: A Space Odyssey reference. Plus, as Chris notes, Dave was played by Chad Lindberg (Ash, Supernatural). Fun to see him.

So what is worse? Demon Robot, Praying Mantis Woman, or Ensouled Vampire? These kids today and their doomed romances. Ha, ha ... Erg.

Scott Riggan said...

I would never have given this series a second glance if it weren't for Billie's other reviews. The first season (especially this episode and "Teacher's Pet") is really only enjoyable in light of what is to come. It just gets *so* much better.

Still, even in the worst eps there are at least some memorable Wheedonisms, so there's that.

celticmarc said...

ok. I see. Quoting you : "Uh huh". No wonder this is such a disappointment after Angel.

"If you're not jacked in, you're not online". Definitely written before the 3G and 4G cell technology. (Hum, I was still on dial-up until 2000) (eyes rolling; no more) (and no more of these screens, they take so much space !)

Good ! you noted the "middle Ages" répartie. "He's got binary on us." "Techno pagan is the term; there is more of us than you think."

BUT ! There is something EXCELLENT about this one ! Yes there is ! No, no, I'm not pulling any arms nor legs. The very last minute with the trio. Very good. Re watch that if you don't believe me. That 60 seconds is enough to make the rest...forgettable.

TJ said...

Yes, this is bad. This is really baaad. I think it's the silly computer story that just feels like it was 50 years old, though it is at the same time very 1997 contemporary.

Still, in a strange way, I have no trouble getting through this ep. It's probably Jenny Calendar's introduction that makes this watchable. She's a great addition to the cast.

When it comes to episodes I just can't stand, there's a couple coming up right now...

sunbunny said...

This episode makes me so angry because it could have worked really well. It's one of their real world issue (the perils of meeting people online) Buffified episodes and I always like those. Unfortunately, it's the absolutely worst executed episode in the entire series. The robot at the end is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen and the way the instant message conversations were translated for the screen did NOT work.

While the episode is, to quote another episode, "carbon dated," the idea of a demon in the internet is sort of awesome. It also stimulates the imagination: if this were today, how much damage could Moloch do? I'd say we'd all be dead inside twelve hours.

Another of the episode's redeeming features is Giles' smelly book speech which I quote all the time, mostly to people who have no idea what I'm talking about and think I'm crazy.

After Giles says "I don't dangle a corkscrew from my ear" they push in on him and you can see the hole where ASH's ear is pierced. I don't think it was intentional, but it's funny all the same.

Mrs. Darling said...

Yes, the Giles book speech is also a favorite of mine. I laughed so much during this episode for good reasons! Buffy: "Oh great, a book." When Jenny came on screen, I shouted, "Yay, Jenny!" Her arguments with Giles are fantastic. I also love that Willow falls for a guy she's never seen. People today can almost relate, except FB is like Amazon for people "buying".

The end scene is perfect. I just wonder if Joss had planned what all of them would go through with relationships at that point?

Mrs. Darling said...

Oh, and I forgot my favorite scene when Buffy effortlessly sails over the fence and seconds later Xander falls flat on his face. That limping walk made me think of Ace Ventura!

pucklady said...

Newbie report:

So this week, the MotW is real. It's all about the dangers of spyware and runaway surveillance. I liked how then enabler student's name was Fritz as in "On the ....", and looks like a young Joss. In fact, as I read that Joss was in this episode, I thought that was him until I looked it up. And the monster's name is Malware, er, Malcom.

It's also about social engineering.Buffy worries that the someone might have a hairy back. But Willow notes that the someone and she agree on everything, the someone is probably using social engineering for nefarious purposes. Wait, he's the MotW. Of course he's nefarious. He probably has plans to empty her bank account. Oh, that's Real Life. Nevermind.

The episode also anticipates Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with a book that makes friends with a lonely adolescent girl. Giles even calls the book a diary. I had to check to see which came first, this episode or the Chamber of Secrets.

There were also references to "2001 A Space Odyssey" (Dave!) and also the Heinlein masterpiece "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" where the computer is sentient and spies on everybody.

Anyway, this episode seemed like a filler. There were some good ideas and inside jokes, but no vampires, and that is never good for a vampire show.

Suzanne said...

I always enjoy this one more than its reputation would seem to allow. The Monster of the week is lame and the scene of Buffy and friends fighting him at the end is ridiculous. I also thought that the two computer boys were underdeveloped. It would have been nice if they had had some personality.

However, any episode that introduces Jenny Calendar has to have something to it. I love her character, and she really shined in her witty dialogue in this episode. All of the other characters got in good lines, too. One of my favorites was Buffy's concern for her frizzy hair after almost being electrocuted.

As someone else mentioned, the ending scene is really great. I love these three friends. I also love the Giles and Jenny dynamic.

Annie said...

Yeah, I don't mind this episode either its just a bit of season one daftness but it does have some good too.

Jenny Calendar and Giles being a highlight along with the last conversation about their being 'doomed' in releationships. Xander, as always, made me smile.

ChrisB said...

This time through, Giles' speech about learning being a tangible thing really jumped out at me. I loved it.

Not the greatest, but yippee for Jenny who is simply awesome from the start.

a.m. said...

Phew! I survived and I'm now caught up on the re-watch!

I agree with most of what everyone else has said, but he main feeling I'm leaving with is just being impressed with the nerds of the world. Look at how far we've come in 16 years in terms of the computers in the plot and the production value. Was there ever a time when instant messaging actually appeared in quotation marks? Ahh..the 90s!

Now seems like the perfect place to tell you all that one of my 6th grade students told me that when she pictures "the 90s" she thinks of it as black and white! I should show her a scene from this show but it would probably only emphasize how archaic we were back then...

sunbunny said...

I picture the 50s and 60s in black and white (and the 70s in faded polaroid) but the 90s!? Oh GOD! I was alive then!!! Are you sure she didn't mean the 1890s?! PS. My dad teaches sixth grade too!

a.m. said...

The 70s were definitely in faded Polaroid with rainbows and glitter! And yes she meant the 1990s. Anything with a 19 at the beginning is so ancient to them, which is funny, because it doesn't seem that long ago to me...I still haven't figured out what to call the first decade of the 2000s (the zeros? The aughts? The ones? No idea...) and we're already in the middle of the second! As I'm sure your dad would agree, there's nothing like working with preteens to make you feel old:)

Annie said...

I go for naughties, and are we now in the teenies? It will be weird when the twenties arrive, as the 1920s are such a iconic era.

I think of the 50s and 60s in technicolor. The 90s I think of as the similar to now... then I see 90s TV and it hits me how much has changed since then.

Josie Kafka said...

For years now, I've marked my affection for Buffy with one scene: Xander, Willow, and Buffy sitting on a bench, mourning their sad love lives. I loved the willingness to admit that superheroinedom came at a high cost; it was the moment that made the show click with me.

I have always assumed this scene came at the end of "Never Kill a Boy..." (And was very puzzled when I realized a few days ago that it didn't.)

Last night, doing my re-watch due diligence, I was shocked and horrified to realize that "I Robot..." was, in fact, the episode that made me a Buffy fan. That's right: this is the episode with that delightful scene. This is the episode that made me love Buffy.

What is wrong with my brain?!

Anonymous said...

This episod is absolutely prophetic about the internet and IA! It is a masterpiece: in 1997 a scenario has predicted that an IA can inluence some people to kill others, be able to pass for a human and change the economy and personnal data.

It is the same scenario than the serie "person of interest" who has come in 2011. I just rewatched this episod in HD on 6ter in France and i was like Whooo, such a brillant perspective of the futur of the IA if utilised badly.