I, Robot—You, Jane

Season One, Episode Eight

The demon in the machine.

I, Robot—You, Jane: The Review

The Red and the Black.

In I, Robot—You, Jane Willow has her chance to be at the center of a story, but the reserved student has to share the stage with an assertive newcomer to the show, Jenny Calendar, the computer science teacher: it is the latter who hijacks the episode with her witty jousts against the Luddite Giles, whose opinion of computers appears to have been formed and fixed by HAL 9000.

Eclectic is the best description of the episode, for it draws upon, or alludes to, many originals from philosophy, popular culture, and science fiction. The two most obvious allusions occur in the title (titles are never broadcast, only published, and cannot be accounted a factor in the viewers' reactions, therefore), with references to creatures of both Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan) and Eando Binder (Adam Link). The Cartesian dualistic concept of "the soul in the machine" (or "ghost in the machine") can also be considered relevant. The world-girdling sentient Skynet computer network from The Terminator must be included in a list of possible influences. One might even find some hint of a reference to the old Twilight Zone episode A Thing About Machines, in which maltreated machines combine to exact their revenge on their abusive owner, Mr. Bartlett Finchley. (King's possessed Plymouth, Christine, must have been inspired in some degree by that episode, which features an homicidal automobile.) Machines with minds of their own are so common a fancy that the notion has entered the language as a phrase, no doubt primarily as as result of the popularity of "R.U.R" (Rossum's Universal Robots), Karel Capek's play about rebellious mechanical men, which also gave English the Czech term robot. Or one might cite any of the innumerable television plays which had at their heart a computer that masqueraded as a person (e.g., Landru, from Star Trek's Return of the Archons). The suspicion that many people have about computers is dwindling, but their hatred for them is still strong. Musings upon the benefits and perils of the dissemination of information in dialogue have some topical interest, if only as a reflection upon the times in which the dialogue is set.

All of the aforementioned becomes ancillary to the plot and of hypothetical interest only, when one understands that the story is about nothing more than a lonely, sad teenager who finds virtual love with a cyber-stalker. The episode is not imaginatively interested in the demonic potential of an Internet that is made self-aware by possession, but rather in the palliation of a message. The disinterest in the possibilities is evident in the elimination of all development of the personality of Malcolm after Moloch's transference and his influence upon the impressionable Willow: Malcolm and the fascination he holds for Willow are presented as faits accomplis. Moloch, the Canaanite deity to whom children were sacrificed, goes on-line after the book in which he had been trapped since the year 1418 is scanned into the library's computer system. What Moloch was doing in Cortona, Italy (the ancient Etruscan city Croton) in the late Middle Ages is not known, but he seems to have broken necks as an expression of courtly love. Once on-line in the 20th Century, Moloch discovers the advantages of Internet anonymity as a way to lure geeks into his service. After that, it is merely a matter of driving home the many dangers of cyber-relationships with as large and massive a hammer as possible, with interspersed bits of sly humor to relieve the moralizing, until the coffin is well and truly nailed shut on the message. The one moving bright spot of the episode throughout is the character of Jenny Calendar, who delights with almost every sentence she utters.

Her raillery at Giles' disdain for, and ignorance of, the jargon and the tools of the electronic age have the quality of a schoolgirl's teasing of a beau. Demonstrative, Feminist, and self-styled Technopagan, she takes his quietude for introversion and his disquietude for flustered misogyny, but she thinks that there is an attractive, perhaps an interesting, man concealed behind his spectacles and tweedy carapace. There is also the fact that Jenny suspects that Rupert knows considerably more than others about what is really happening in and about Sunnydale High. She is no fool, and can see for herself that Sunnydale is a very queer place. Perhaps the most prescient moment in the episode comes when Giles asks Jenny pointedly, "Who are you?" Her temporizing answer gives Giles reason to think that there is more to her than she is willing to say. The crowning moment is the scene in which Giles returns her "corkscrew". Not only does he deliver her ornament, but an heartfelt encomium on the dignity of his profession—both the public and private Giles are bound up in his books. Jenny, in return, gives him his due for his sincerity, as well as something to nourish his imagination.

The balance.

The episode does please in other ways, especially in that Buffy is at the top of her game. She is witty, alert, and in the lead. Her "spider sense" is at its most sensitive setting when her friends are imperiled. (Her subconscious, at least, is aware of the danger very early, when it prompts her to say, "You are a thing of evil for not telling me this right away!") She feels at once the change in Willow and knows it to be not for the better. While it takes Xander to point out to her the exact cause of her uneasiness, that an unseen cyber companion might be an ax murderer in digital disguise, she already has felt the strangeness of Willow's behavior and pointed out that Malcolm in person might be less than he seems on her side of the monitor. Once Buffy has identified the problem, she never is diverted from her suspicions. Her wit is particularly sharp in this episode. Her topping of Giles in the contest to list possible consequences of Moloch's cyber-terrorism is wry and dry. "I think I pretty much capped it with that nuclear missile thing."

Other glancing bits of satirical humor fly past almost too quickly to notice. Malcolm is evidently an AOL user, as is Willow ("You have mail."), summing up the general opinion that AOL is the work of the Devil.Under the sinister influence of Xander, Buffy leaps to the off-the-wall conclusion that Malcolm might be a circus freak.

Xander has several goofy moments, accentuated by his wild swings between "guy with knowledge" and "clueless guy". He seems to know more about the news than one would have suspected, but that knowledge comes with a price, as he appears to have suddenly forgotten that Willow is his oldest and closest friend. His lack of concern for Willow is out of character.

The great disappointment of the episode is that Willow is not herself, and contributes only marginally to the story in which she is nominally the better half of an affair that is never examined. Willow seemingly is creeped out when Malcolm mentions Buffy's history at Hemery, but she does nothing about it. She has only the breakup scene, fire extinguisher in hand, to show any of her spirit, and only the scene in the laboratory at CRD to show her feelings. Xander, whatever the defects of his characterization in the episode, makes more of an impact dramatically and comically than Willow, who is little more than the kitten in the storm drain.

In Sum

The main dramatic point of the episode, that personal contact is the source of all real human intimacy, rather than the impersonal contact of a virtual reality, is made. Jenny and Rupert meet and collide in a good-natured quarrel, and the sparks that they generate are human and vital. The all-electric connection between Willow and Malcolm creates sparks, but it is a simulated love affair, and the sparks are Galvanic. The hopeless romantic situation for the three teenagers, living on the Hellmouth, is more than a little grim, but there is humor and wit ("The idiotic box is TV."), and Buffy is stalwartly Buffy. I, Robot—You, Jane is a satisfactory, albeit unspectacular, episode, perhaps best in its foreshadowing of future events, following, as it does, Angel.

Horace LaBadie

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