Sunday, August 25, 2013
Buffy, the Vampire Slayer - 1.08 - I, Robot…You, Jane - Retro Review
Hey guys. Welcome back to the Buffy Roundtable. Today's discussion is I, Robot….You, Jane, which despite its terrible title has a lot of good points. Today we had John and Dahne for the discussion. We both thought the episode was a fun standalone but the technology aspects were distracting now that 16 years have passed. Thanks for joining the conversation. Can't wait to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Participants: John and Dahne
Spoiler Warning - Although we discuss specific episodes in these roundtables, all episodes of Buffy and Angel are fair game. There may be spoilers ahead for those who have not watched both series in their entirety.
Technology and Introducing Jenny Calendar:
John: Alright then, shall we begin?
Dahne: So what did you think overall of this episode?
John: Well, first of all, I totally thought we were doing Angel this week. I had positive things to say about Angel and to be fair, I do have positive things to say about this episode. Unfortunately, this is also one of those incredibly awkwardly dated episodes. You?
Dahne: I like this episode. It is one of my favorite "bad love" episodes but I agree that it is very dated. Any episode about technology is bound to be.
John: Absolutely. That kind of ruined some of the magic for me, but overall, I thought it was very well written. In particular, Willow has been getting funnier - as well as more chances to shine as a dramatic actress.
Dahne: Being a Willow-centered episode was a plus, but one of the biggest plusses for me is the introduction of Jenny Calendar.
John: Yeah, absolutely, it was great to see Ms. Calendar. I wonder if she was supposed to wind up recurring. Introduced as a technopagan for a stand-alone episode, but then retconned into member of the Roma clan involved with Angel somehow.
Dahne: I don't think originally they expected her to become Roma. I will say that the retcon actually worked for me though. Usually they don't blend seamlessly but because Jenny was still such a mystery as a character I could buy that she had a large back story we didn't know about yet.
John: Yeah this retcon definitely works.
Dahne: I also loved the idea that a monster could be locked up in a book and then released into the world when read. Being a book nerd who also loves computers I thought the debate between Giles and Jenny was interesting.
John: I was totally on GIles' side for a while, but then Jenny pointed out how accessible the internet is versus books - she mentions them being for snobbish old white men or something - and I suddenly felt like I got her.
Dahne: That was a powerful argument for the technological age and one that has a lot of truth into it. As a librarian I get a lot of "real" books versus e-books debate but there is room for both.
John: Oh, you're a librarian!? Cool. I've been working at a circulation counter part-time for the last 3 years. Giles' ending monologue about how books smell nice spoke to me.
Dahne: Me too. There is nothing like the smell of a classic bookstore to bring back great reading memories for me. This was also the first show I had seen which incorporated the supernatural with the information age so that was a bonus when I first watched it.
John: Yeah, I suppose it must have been pretty novel to have the book "read" by the scanner, only for the demon to be released INTO THE INTERNET. Which sounds silly now, but must have been interesting at the time. Mostly though, it was cool that the demon was both a literal computer virus and also a catfish-style "bad love" as you put it.
Dahne: True. One of my favorite lines is: Giles: "Couldn't you just stop Moloch by entering some computer virus." Jenny: "You've seen too many movies." I liked how he was presented as a virus but that they didn't go all cheesy to stop him.
John: I guess what felt dated to me - besides references to technology such as "e-letter" - was the presentation of the subject matter. This whole scenario, minus the hyperbolic turns out he was a demon twist, totally happens today. Probably with more frequency. But the presentation of the discussion was clearly one that was happening for society for the very first time, which I found slightly unnerving.
Dahne: Good point. It was the first time I can recall hearing about internet safety on TV except for the "after school special" type movie. Nowadays it is on every TV show with pre-teens and teens. I teach an entire unit about it too. The novelty of the subject has definitely worn off. Another thing I found interesting on first watch that may be dated today is how shocking it was to realize how much information there was about us stored on the internet, which anyone with talent could access. I never really thought about traffic lights or health information being stored digitally or how much havoc someone could create with that kind of access until I saw this episode in 1997.
John: Yeah, eh? They had a whole discussion about how he could hack his way into possession of nuclear launch codes. It was a slightly heavy-handed way to remind us of all the possibilities.
Dahne: The nuclear launch codes was cheesy for sure. Way over the top.
Dahne: Fritz was a big negative for me. I knew people into computers big time in the 90's but none of them ever sounded so militant about it.
John: Definitely an odd combination of poorly written and poorly acted character.
Dahne: I actually didn't think Chad Lindbergh as Dave was particularly well-acted in some parts either although that character grew on me during the episode.
John: Agreed about Dave, although was it just me or did they call him Dave because of 2001: A Space Odyssey. There was a very Hal-like moment right before Dave was murdered.
Dahne: I thought the computer voice was pretty movie directed also. I think they were deliberate choices that added to the fun.
Dahne: Another scene that I really liked was when Buffy and Xander are trying to cheer up Willow and they
all laugh only to get stopped by how depressing it is that what they are saying is true. It was well acted by all three of them.
John: Yes! That was a fantastic way to end the episode. And I agree about their acting. I particularly enjoyed Xander's forced laughter.
Dahne: I think that ending scene really brought home how different their lives were going to be and how much more they would have to weigh their choices being on a Hellmouth. It is somewhat encouraging to know now that they all would find people that made them happy. At this point in the series, it did not look like that would be the case.
John: I mean, I suppose people were already love triangling, or at least hoping that Xander would notice Willow or something, but yeah, it certainly was a good way to drive home the point that A) finding love as a teenager is HARD and also B) these kids don't live normal lives.
Dahne: I was never into love triangles but I do know people who had that as a main focus for awhile but then stopped when Oz came into the picture.
Dahne: I wasn't crazy about the emphasis on how much Willow changed because of her relationship with Malcolm. I get that it was a "high school as hell" theme but I hated the idea that she would start losing interest in things that mattered to her in order to spend more time with her boyfriend. Although I certainly know that is a typical reaction for a while in a relationship.
John: Especially given how she had never had a boyfriend before and felt that her friends were holding her back. I definitely had some experiences like that with friends in high school, but it was still odd to see Willow of all people stop believing in her friends. To be fair though, it didn't last long. There was one confrontation with Buffy and then she stopped listening to Malcolm.
Dahne: Exactly. I guess it is a way of growing into yourself by going through that first relationship and truly finding what matters to you. You are right that it didn't last long and that was cool. It showed that while Willow may be infatuated, she didn't check her brains out at the door.
Dahne: Bwah! That was one of the best nitpicks about this episode. I also liked how Buffy walked into the computer room and did not see Dave's giant hanging body in the corner. How does that happen?
John: The magic of television :P?
Dahne: Plus the whole Slayer as fast as a car thing always stands out to me. I mean she is the Slayer but come on. Sometimes the nitpicks add to my enjoyment of classic episodes because they bring back some of the nostalgia too.
John: Agreed. Although! Remember how Buffy was able to jump that fence super easily in the pilot? This episode, they only showed her descent, implying that she had to jump up and then down.
Dahne: True while poor Xander couldn't do either gracefully.
John: A fact he was able to point out in episode. That was definitely fun. I think I like competent helpful Xander over hypercompetent Army Guy Xander. That was kind of a cheap way to give him a "thing". I liked that it wore off and that he was always just this guy who cared about his friends.
Dahne: I was fond of Army Xander because it did give him some special knowledge and a bigger part later on. However, I too preferred how he was more seamlessly integral to the group in these episodes. They didn't have to try to keep him from becoming obsolete and his loyalty was shown as a real strength.
John: Yeah, that's fair. I certainly liked Xander as a character and enjoyed seeing him take on a more important role within the group. I guess I had a love-hate relationship with Army Guy.
Dahne: I had a love-hate relationship with Witch Willow so I get where you are coming from.
Dahne: I was looking at this episode from an "impact" standpoint but besides the introduction of Jenny, I
really couldn't think of much. I just like it as a fun, one-off episode.
John: I agree. I thought it had lots of amusingly written moments and discussed some big themes, but didn't really leave much of an impact story wise.
Dahne: It doesn't help that it followed Angel which had a huge impact on the overall story.
John: Lol, yes, absolutely. Like I said, I had LOTS of positive and useful things to say about Angel.
Dahne: Angel is one of my favorite episodes so I'm sorry you couldn't make it to that roundtable as well. There was a lot to talk about with it.
John: Of course, Ms. Calendar being introduced like this was awesome. I loved how much she and Giles didn't get along. It didn't even necessarily seem like they were initially being setup to get together in a love-hate kind of way. They legitimately did not seem to like each other.
Dahne: I would agree somewhat except for that ending scene when they were definitely flirting. Her whole "that's not where I dangle it from" made me certain they were heading in that direction.
John: Oh, yes, as the episode wore on it started to become apparent, but those first few scenes were legitimate fights about legitimate issues. Not flirtatiously pleasant disagreements.
Dahne: True and I think they were good discussion points at the time the episode aired. Now only the biggest Luddite would argue that computers were not important sources of info.
Social Issues and Theme:
Dahne: So any social issues you would like to bring up?
John: Hrm. Nothing stuck out to me as particularly problematic this episode. I think they handled the issues explored well if at times melodramatically. You? Or anything in particular you wanted to discuss theme-wise?
Dahne: Mostly I think we talked about them. There were salient points about cyberstalkers and the problem with divulging personal information on the internet that are still relevant today. It did make an interesting point about how the internet can makes slaves of us all that I think is actually more of a problem now then it was back then. Mostly when I watch this from a theme standpoint these days I think, "Beware the cloud."
John: Lol, yes, absolutely. I have concerns about technology, but at the same time, the concerns Giles had are concerns I find hilarious. Probably because I grew up in the 90s. So I guess we'll see what comes of "the cloud".
Dahne: I love how it shows how our technology fears have changed but they are still there.
John: Willow had all of my favourite lines this episode. In particular this exchange was expertly delivered: Willow: "Xander, you wanna stay and help me?" Xander: "Heh, you kidding?" Willow: "Yes... it was a joke I made up." I guess it doesn't translate well, seeing it written down…Alternatively, when Willow senses Buffy's judgment: "You're having an expression."
Dahne: My other favorite lines are when Buffy and Xander start feeding off of each other until they are both in a panic.
John: Ooooo, also, this: Malcolm: "Right now, a man in Beijing is transferring money to a Swiss bank account for a contract on his mother's life. Good for him."
Dahne: I loved that Moloch line. It makes me laugh every time but also feel a little guilty because I am laughing. I agree Willow was great in this one too.
John: They've been upping the banter as the season has worn on. I remember the same thing happening with Firefly, although Buffy was certainly much funnier off the bat.
Dahne: That's one thing I always remember most about Buffy - the quick wit. It still makes me listen more closely after umpteenth rewatches. One I normally wouldn't like but for some reason find funny here is: Jenny: "You here again? You kids really dig the library don't you?" Buffy: "We're literary." Xander: "To read makes our speaking English good." Buffy: "We'll be going now." I love Buffy's expression.
John: It's all in the delivery ;). I guess to end the quotes, this was one of the funniest things I've heard all week. I did a legit spit-take: "THERE'S A DEMON IN THE INTERNET!"
Dahne: My ending quote would be: Buffy: "She certainly looks perky." Xander: "Yeah color in the cheeks, bounce in the step…I don't like it. It's not healthy."
Dahne: So, last thoughts?
John: I don't know. I guess I wound up liking this episode more than I thought I would and that's becoming apparent to me as we have this discussion. When we started watching S1, this was the episode about which I was the most concerned.
Dahne: I'm glad that you discovered more to love about the episode. It has always been one of my favorites but I've discovered that there is less meat to this episode than I originally thought.
John: These actors are going to become great. It's starting to show.
Dahne: They did a great casting job on this show. I think of how many shows have teenagers that bring the show down. In Buffy, the entire show was on the teens' shoulders and that's part of what made it great.
John: Even when the actors were finding their way, the writing was largely spot on. Then the actors found their way. Except Anthony Stewart Head. He was amazing from day 1.
Dahne: Agreed. Anything with ASH in it is already better. Any last words on this episode?
John: Oh hey, there was no Cordy this episode! I didn't even notice! That's too bad, she's hilarious.
Dahne: Funny, I didn't miss Cordelia either until you mentioned it and usually she's one of the snarkiest so I always notice she's there.
John: Alright, good chat :). See you next week. For the doll episode xD. That should be... fun. I don't remember much, but I suspect that it was odd.
Dahne: Thanks so much for the discussion. It's been fun. Next time is The Puppet Show, which I don't like much at all. Here's hoping everyone else likes it better.
Screencaps and more at Buffyverse DB, Wikipedia, SyFy, Journey Through the Verse, Angelfire, Chad Lindberg Fansite, Non Modern Blog, Goodbye Piccadilly, Buffy Screencaps, Little Trouble Grrrl, Spectaculackular Moosketeer, Tumblr, Grange 85, Eserehtstherese. Mocking Sarcasm, Giles Jenny Tumblr, Currybet, and Mixtress Rae.