In the eighth episode of the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the writers basically narrate someone using the Internet. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
This happened. At some point in time, this occurred:
Two people sat around a table. Maybe there were others, and maybe Joss was in the room as well. Either way, someone had a thought: “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if a demon infected the Internet?”
Here’s the thing: that idea has about a 5% chance of being pulled off. With the right writer, the right characters, the right context, the right actors and actresses, the right cinematography, I think it could be done. There is no idea that can’t be filmed well.
This idea was thought of. At the initial point in time, perhaps writers Ashley Gable and Thomas Swyden allowed a moment of silence in consideration. Could they do this? Should they do this? That moment of silence was broken, and one of them, or perhaps Whedon himself, shouted, “YES. WE MUST ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN.”
That in itself is not bad enough. Shaky ideas can develop into something wonderful. It’s what happened after this that makes me wonder what on earth anyone was thinking trying to bring this episode into existence. A demon-possessed Internet is bad enough. A demon who controls computer nerds through non-sensical and logistic-nightmare text updates is absurd. Having Willow, who I love dearly and just felt bad for the entire time, begin an online relationship with a demon with absolutely NO EXPLANATION FOR HOW THEIR COMMUNICATIONS EVEN STARTED is just blasphemy for me. No, I’m sorry, I refuse to let this go: Did Willow sign online to find that first email? Wouldn’t she say, “Hey, where the fuck did you get my email?” Were there no email attachments in 1997? (That’s not rhetorical. I didn’t have regular access to the internet until 2000 because I grew up hella poor and that shit was expensive.) Is that why he never sent a photo? The episode wants us to believe that Willow’s loneliness got the best of her. And that is an interesting premise that I would love to see done much better than this. But the first time we get an episode that’s largely centered on Willow, it’s an episode where she looks like a complete and utter fool.
But honestly, the whole episode may have been ahead of its time in 1997, and I honestly was willing to concede that. There are some slightly embarrassing computer references and stories in the full run of The X-Files that aren’t the best things ever. (Though I will defend the William Gibson-penned episodes until the end of time. DO NOT TAKE THOSE AWAY FROM ME.) I don’t expect this show to discuss the Internet in any way that we experience it in 2011. That’s why I liked a lot of what Giles spoke of and how oddly prophetic it was for things like online communities, Kindles, and iPads. (Lol I hate the REAL BOOKS ARE BETTER THAN KINDLES argument with every ounce of my heart. JUST READ HOWEVER YOU WANT.) There’s good stuff here! There are cute character moments!
And that’s why the bad stuff is just HORRIFIC. “I’m jacked in.” I’m sorry, I laughed so hard I choked. The entire plot that includes Fritz and Dave is just so confusing to me! So because they’re computer nerds who are Internet-savvy, they’re susceptible to evil demons? BECAUSE PEOPLE WHO USE THE INTERNET A LOT ARE LOSERS, AIN’T THAT RIGHT lol.
Oh my god, when Buffy tried to delete the file named “Moloch” and Moloch shows up all pixelated, I stopped thinking that this episode was terrible and just accepted it for what it was: one of the most entertaining narrative missteps in television history. I stopped being angry, and I accepted “I Robot, You Jane” with open arms, and I hugged it tight as it continued to make absolutely no sense. As Dave tried to electrocute himself and the show provided no real attempts to give us a straight narrative about how Moloch actually controlled a person, I gave it another squeeze of love. When they introduced a plotline that involved a recently-closed tech company building a robot/demon body for Moloch and absolutely none of this followed any sort of logic that currently exists on planet Earth, I high-fived the episode. When Fritz was killed by Moloch to show others of his power, which ignored the fact that he’d been showing us his power for the last thirty-five minutes, I proposed marriage to “I Robot, You Jane.” And when Moloch died by mere electrocution, I swore my life over to this episode without a second thought.
This is not the worst episode of Buffy. It’s so awful that it loops around to becoming an abstract art piece about the archaic nature of human interaction. It’s so awful that it’s as if the people made it specifically to appear on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s so awful that….well, it’s a waste of time and energy to spend one second hating it.
Plus, it’s very easy to pick out things that I did like in it. The conversation that Xander and Buffy have about Xander’s jealousy and then about their concern for Willow is witty, honest, and entertaining, and it’s a rare moment where I get a chance to like Xander for who he is. It’s a brief interaction that shows how he uses humor well with friends, and I think that as he gets closer to Buffy and Willow, he’ll probably drop a lot of his weird, awkward, and presumptive tendencies with them [And allow this to be today’s final word on the ridiculous Xander shit going on in the comments. I did not like Xander after a mere seven episodes. He is PURPOSELY portrayed to be kind of awful, and somehow, it’s the crime of the goddamn century that I felt this way. I was not influenced by any “cult” of anti-Xanderites, I am not telling people to post anti-Xander memes in the comments, and I am most certainly not going to stifle conversation about how Xander’s behavior is fucked up in these first eight episodes. Please, y’all, I have ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-SIX more to go, and I would really like to develop my own opinions on Xander and appreciate his journey for what it is. Just because I don’t like him in FOUR PERCENT OF THE ENTIRE SHOW’S RUN does not mean I will hate him forever. I have seen virtually none of this show so far, and I would appreciate it if I was allowed to see the rest on my own terms.–Mark]
The introduction of Jenny Calendar is WONDERFUL. Her reveal as a “techno-pagan” was a real surprise for me, and “I Robot, You Jane” sets up what I think will be an inevitable romance between her and Giles. But for once, Giles had someone more on his level to interact with that doesn’t inspire his eye-rolling or exasperation. Even more, she’s not the same as Giles and she clearly has her own life, her own opinions, and her own beliefs, so the show isn’t setting her up to be a copy of Giles at this point. Don’t forget, they both bicker and argue a whole lot in this episode.
But these “good” moments are few and far between. In fact, they’re distracting. No, episode, go back to discussing the Internet and modems and e-letters and making me feel quaint and lovely and warming me through your wonderful use of colloquial and dated terms that no one will ever use again. Go back to trying to execute a story about a demon who haunts the Internet but only once leaves the network at the school. Do you know how many Usenet newsgroups you could have infiltrated? Why did you think so small, Moloch?
There’s no way anything else can top this. I’m gonna go watch it again and yell sassy and witty things at my television again. OH NO YOU DIDN’T, YOU SILLY DEMON. Haters, please observe the left-hand evacuation procedure immediately.