I Robot, You Jane
Directed by: Stephen Posey
Written by: Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swyden
Air Date: April 28, 1997

If there are three things to say about this episode, it is that it is insanely antiquated, old, and awesome. Fellow BtVS reviewers aren’t that kind to this episode as time has gone on, likely because of how it doesn’t hold up in a lot of ways and can’t stand on its own as an episode today. That’s fair: in another “monster-of-the-week” episode, Buffy and the gang find themselves going head-to-head with a demon that has been locked in a book for hundreds of years, only to be scanned and transferred to… the internet! From here it plays as a kind of warning against internet dating, another “high school life” metaphor the show was/is known for. Only, the problem here is that when you watch this episode over 14 years after-the-fact, much of what was once “fresh” in the tech world is now, understandably, outdated and generation upon generation upon generation old. While this is a hang-up that is easy to have, the fact of the matter is that even things in The Matrix or – to a grander extend – movies like Hackers or Swordfish are equally outdated. Getting past this, you are left with… surprisingly a great episode.

I say surprisingly because I thought this episode was way worse than I it ended up being. I really remember thinking the techno-speak was really lame and out of place when I first watched it, back when it was only six years old. And I remember the robo-demon looking a lot worse than it ended up being. But, at the end of the day, I remember not caring about the narrative at all, that the characters’ plight wasn’t that interesting or engaging in any fashion. I was dead wrong.

This is a Willow episode and, as such, its all about her being a young, cute Willow. This is pre-witch, in the time when Giles and newcomer and techno-pagan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technopaganism) Jenny Calendar are left to solve any and all magic issues in the world (in what ended up being a pretty cool concept, in the end, and executed as well as could be). This is a time before she liked other ladies, in which the prospect of a man being interested in her, even 80-miles away and over the net (the characters refer to being online as being “jacked in” by the way. Oh, 1997…!) is exasperating and new. In the first season we’re given tons of time with Buffy and even plenty of time with Xander, but no time with Willow. Here, we get to know her very, very well. And, I must say, having not seen this episode in years, I was stunned to pick up on things I’d never noticed before. Like, who has a picture of herself and a particular librarian posted in her locker, rather than any poster of a boy band or something like that? Two guesses:
Protip: It's Willow

Say what you will about this episode, but its got production values that are showing the gradual increase in quality the show had over the first season, back when Whedon and co. were learning their craft as they went along. The flashback sequence that starts the episode, showing a pre-robo-Moloch, is well done. The makeup and prosthetics on the dude are equally great. Its a fine step up in terms of facial makeup for the show, and – seeing as how its the show’s first on-screen demon – its a step in the right direction. Some of the stunt work is good, too. The leap Buffy has to do to escape the classic “lead the girl to into the running shower and then drop a frayed electric cable into the puddle she stands in to fry her ass”-trick is believable, if only in Slayer terms. Even the robot suit they had some other dude in is not as bad as I remembered (and even commented on in a previous review). Its not great, but it sure as shit is ten times the costume when compared to the dreadful mantis woman… thing from “Teacher’s Pet” a few episodes back.

The standard stuff is all the same, here, of course: the music still sucks; when its dark, its too damn dark; peripheral characters come from the depths of nowhere and, thus, return — if they aren’t killed off; the “monster-of-the-week” formula once again leads to narrative content that is never referenced again in the following 136ish episodes; the effects of people getting killed aren’t all that impact-ful on the main characters; etc. These things drag the episode down, but not as much as you might think, which is saying something, really. This is an episode I skipped when I’d re-watch the series, so its been longer than most episodes, true, but not so long that I wouldn’t remember some parts better than I did. The jokes are funny, the wit is on time and sharp, and the commentary – while dated – is at times both biting as well as pointed and intriguing. And the supernatural aspects of dealing with the BtVS version of internet dating are better handled than they could have been, and the best handled stuff from the first season, thus far (at least). And the episode brings Jenny into the fold in a comical way (she guessed there was a demon in the internet, after a clever bait-and-switch moment).

Yes, parts of the episode are archaic and laughably bad, such as the tech-lingo, the kid overreacting to Giles hating on the internet, and that giant fucking laptop. But the character interactions and the concept of the episode more than make up for it. I’m OK with the fact that that kid’s name was Fritz because the other kid was named “Dave” – an obvious nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I don’t care that Willow trying to out-Buffy Buffy through pun utilization is cringe-worthy writing and line-delivery because Giles make a beautiful rant about the value of smell in regards to books (and he gets told where Ms. Calendar “dangles” things). And I don’t care that the internet we’re shown here is outdated and depressingly “yesteryear” because Moloch uses the web to change people’s school reports to praise the Nazis, attempts kill kids in various ways, and eventually gets bigger ideas like trying to find the top wanted serial killers for reasons unknown and messing with the Arch Bishop, even. See, these awful things would bog the episode down into deep levels of intolerability if the content of the episode wasn’t stellar and/or if the writing wasn’t good. But we’re treated to an episode that didn’t screw it all up. And, for a guy that hadn’t seen this episode in near a decade, it was a treat.

Episode Rating: 82

Death Count: 27
Annoying Scream Count: 9

Additional Notes:
Xander’s “PORN STAR” t-shirt is comical on hundreds of levels
“You have……………. mail.”
-Why do the kids talk to the computer while they type at the same time. From a “televised-show” perspective, it makes sense. But in real life? They wouldn’t. Here, they just look stupid as hell
-Giles doesn’t get a Spider-Man reference… which reminds me… who would win in a brawl? Buffy or Spider-Man?
-For being a demon that was trapped in a book for, like, ever, Moloch picked up all of the internet(s) pretty quick, didn’t he?
-Xander knew info about the computer engineering company and everyone is shocked that he provided useful information. Comical, again
-Moloch is a terrible liar
-Best line: Xander: “Yeeeuungh!” (as he falls over the side of a chain-link fence)
-While the robot suit was OK, the electricity effect looked like something I could do in Powerpoint
While I love Xander’s guttural fall, the real best line is:
Buffy: “Let’s face it: none of us
are ever going to have a healthy, normal relationship.” Xander: “Yep, we’re doomed!”
This line is
so damn prophetic!
-Those damn outfits Buffy wore in high school?