October 9, 2021

Buffy 1.8, I, Robot…You, Jane: Reading Is Fundamental (to Releasing Demons)

Posted in TV tagged , at 1:12 pm by Jenn

The first of many, many, OH SO MANY horrible Willow outfits

Summary: Cortona, Italy, 1418. (Yes, I originally typed “Corona.” Sigh.) A demon asks a guy named Carlo to love him, in exchange for anything Carlo could ever want. Carlo submits, and the demon kills him. Elsewhere, a monk tells a group of monks with pitchforks that the demon’s name is Moloch the Corrupter, and he keeps mesmerizing people to follow him. The monks need to bind him and send him away. They do a ritual that puts him into a book, then hide the book so it can never be read, which would release Moloch.

Almost 580 years later, Giles receives that book in a shipment of new arrivals. A few students, including one named Dave, are helping him scan books into the computer system. They’re accompanied by Jenny Calendar, Sunnydale High’s computer science teacher. Giles isn’t thrilled with this project, since he thinks people are too reliant on modern technology. A guy named Fritz rants that information is an entity and “the only reality is virtual. If you’re not jacked in, you’re not alive.”

Jenny tells Giles that people are sending email more than mail now, and using phone lines for digitized information instead of just phone calls. Giles doesn’t care. Willow’s working on the scanning project, too, and she invites Xander to hang out with her. He goes off with Buffy instead. Giles heads to the stacks to hang out with the actual books, telling Jenny and Willow he’ll be in the Middle Ages. “Did you ever leave?” Jenny teases. Later that night, Willow scans Moloch’s book. She doesn’t notice when the text from the book then disappears. “Where am I?” appears on her computer screen.

A few days later, Willow tells Buffy that she spent the previous night on the phone with a guy. His name is Malcolm, and he’s smart and romantic, and they agree about everything. Buffy’s excited for her, then confused when Willow says she doesn’t know what he looks like. In the computer lab, Dave says, “Yes, I will. I promise,” to his computer screen. Totally normal. Willow clarifies to Buffy that she met Malcolm online. She gets an email from him that just says he’s thinking about her.

Buffy thinks they’re rushing things, especially since they haven’t met in person. What does Willow actually know about Malcolm? As they’re talking, a surprisingly modern web cam scans Buffy and looks her up on a computer somewhere else. It brings up her academic file, which Fritz takes a good look at. “Watch her,” the computer screen tells him.

Willow tells Buffy the few things she knows about Malcolm, but Buffy doesn’t think it’s enough to build a meaningful relationship. Not that she’s shallow or anything, but she doesn’t want Willow dating an ugly, hairy guy. She tries to be supportive. Jenny mentions to Fritz that he and Dave have been using the computer lab a lot. He says they’re working on a big project. She’ll definitely be impressed by it – in fact, she’ll die.

Some random student on campus is unhappy with what he sees on his delightfully chunky mid-’90s laptop: His paper about Nazi Germany has been altered and now says it was “a model of a well-ordered society.” Yikes. Good thing he reread it before submitting it. Xander asks Willow if they’re going to the Bronze that night. Willow claims she wants to go to bed early, but he guesses she really wants to talk to Malcolm.

He complains to Buffy, whom he figures will have to slay that night, that everyone deserts him. Buffy teases him for being jealous of Malcolm. They agree that he might not be who he says he is. Willow could end up axe-murdered by a circus freak! Buffy decides Xander is overreacting, and in turn making her overreact.

“I’m jacked in,” Fritz says over and over as he does something computer-y. He’s also carving a letter M in his arm. Willow is late to school the next day, having overslept after a late-night chat with Malcolm. Buffy tries to be gentle as she comments that this isn’t like Willow. Willow accuses Buffy of not wanting her to be happy. Buffy says she just wants Willow to be sure that Malcolm is really Malcolm. Willow thinks her new relationship is more important than school. Malcolm told her that Buffy wouldn’t understand.

Buffy goes to the computer lab to ask Dave if it’s possible to trace an email to its sender. He tells her she can look into someone’s online profile, but since the user writes that profile, that wouldn’t be helpful. Buffy asks if there’s a way to find out where an email came from. When she mentions Willow and Malcolm, he orders her to leave Willow alone. Buffy guesses that he’s Malcolm, but he denies it. As Buffy leaves the lab, Fritz glares.

In the library, Buffy tells Giles that something weird is going on. Not that he can really help, since he knows nothing about computers. He suggests that Buffy tail Dave and see if he’s up to anything funny. Buffy scoffs at that idea, but after school, that’s exactly what she does. She follows him to a company called CRD, where he talks to a guy in a white lab coat before going inside. A security camera spots her and sends her image to Fritz in the computer lab. He says she’s too close and asks what to do. “Kill her,” his screen tells him.

Back at school, Buffy tells Xander and Giles that she was only able to follow Dave for a little while. Xander ID’s CRD as a computer research firm. It was the third largest employer in town until it closed down last year. Buffy finds that interesting, since it didn’t look closed. Giles notes that whatever’s going on might be legitimate, but Xander says that if the company had reopened, it would have been on the news. Plus, Buffy’s spider sense is tingling. (Not that Giles gets that pop culture reference.)

Buffy and Xander decide to break into CRD that night. Before Giles can caution them not to break the law, Jenny enters the library. They bicker a little, in that way where you just know they have the hots for each other. Jenny notes that Buffy and Xander spend a lot of time in the library. “To read makes our speaking English good,” Xander says.

Willow chats with Malcolm in the lab (his voice is computerized), and she asks if he thinks they should meet. Awww, it’s just like You’ve Got Mail! Willow says that Buffy doesn’t understand how comfortable and happy Malcolm makes her feel. Malcolm mentions that Buffy was kicked out of her previous school. Willow is surprised that he knows that. Malcolm says she must have brought it up, but Willow disagrees and logs off.

Back in the library, Giles and Jenny are bickering again. She’s trying to convince him that modern technology isn’t a fad. Giles doesn’t like that people can be manipulated by it so easily. Jenny opens Moloch’s book and sees that the pages are blank. Giles is surprised, then concerned when he realizes what the book is.

More computer wackiness on campus: A student’s file in the nurse’s office no longer mentions that he’s allergic to penicillin. Buffy runs into Dave, who apologizes for being weird with her the day before. He tells her Willow’s looking for her and said she’d be in the girls’ locker room. She’s not there, but Fritz is, and he turns on a shower so Buffy will step into the water to turn it off and get electrocuted by some wires on the floor. Dave warns her just in time, and she’s able to leap out of the shower before any harm is done.

Dave goes back to the computer lab and tells a screen that he’s not going to do this anymore. Moloch’s voice tells him the project is almost complete, so he won’t have to hurt Buffy again. Moloch has shown Dave a new world full of power and knowledge. He just wants Dave’s love. When Dave won’t submit to him, Moloch writes a suicide note for him. Fritz is lurking in the shadows, ready to do Moloch’s bidding.

Xander is furious with Dave for trying to hurt Buffy, who’s more concerned with her post-shock hair than with the fact that a classmate almost killed her. Giles shows them Moloch’s book and tells them that in the Dark Ages, demons’ souls were sometimes trapped in books to render them harmless, as long as the books weren’t read. Moloch must be out, trying to gain followers again.

Buffy wonders how no one’s noticed a big, horned demon walking around Sunnydale. Xander doesn’t get why the demon used Dave to attack Buffy instead of doing it himself. Giles doesn’t know, and he also doesn’t know who would have read the book, which wasn’t in English. Buffy and Xander realize that it was scanned, which put Moloch’s soul in the Internet. Giles suggests that they delete the file Willow scanned, in case that does anything. Buffy tries that, but that brings up Moloch’s face. He tells her to stay away from Willow.

Xander doesn’t think Moloch can do much harm inside a computer. Buffy and Giles list the possibilities: screwing up medical files and traffic signals, and launching nuclear missiles. They need to find Willow. Buffy heads to the computer lab, where all the screens turn on at once. That’s disturbing, but not as disturbing as Buffy finding Dave’s body hanging from the ceiling, “his” suicide note pinned to his shirt.

Buffy returns to the library to share the news with Giles and Xander. They guess that Fritz or someone from CRD killed Dave. Buffy tells Giles to figure out how to get Moloch out of the Internet while she and Xander go looking for Willow. Giles may have to ask Jenny for help, though he’s not sure how to do that without telling her that they’re dealing with a demon.

Willow goes home, where she gets an email from “Malcolm” saying he wants to see her. She ignores it, but she gets another email right afterward. Just then, Fritz shows up and chloroforms her. As a newscaster talks about various computer-related disasters around the world, Jenny arrives to help Giles. He can’t figure out how to explain what’s going on without saying it straight out: There’s a demon in the computer system. “I know,” she replies.

Buffy and Xander get to Willow’s house and are concerned when they find the front door open. They see Malcolm’s message on the computer and guess that Moloch wants to meet Willow at CRD. Back in the library, Jenny tells Giles that there have been portents about something bad for days. She guesses they’re dealing with a mischief demon. He tells her it’s Moloch, whom she’s familiar with. Jenny calls herself a technopagan and tells Giles there are more of them than he’d think. Whatever Jenny is (basically a witch who doesn’t actually practice magic), she may be able to help.

Buffy calls from CRD and Giles tells her that he and Jenny are trying to get Moloch “off-line.” Inside the lab, Willow’s surrounded by computers, plus Fritz, the guy in the white coat…and Moloch. He’s now less demon, more Iron Man. He’s thrilled to have so much knowledge, but it’s not nearly as thrilling as having physical form again. It allows him to touch things and walk around. Oh, and also to kill people. ‘Bye, Fritz!

Xander and Buffy climb the fence around CRD and break into the building. Moloch knows they’re coming. In the library, Jenny sends a message to her fellow technopagans so they can do a ritual together as a kind of cyber-coven. At CRD, Moloch tells Willow he wants to give her the world. She gave him life by freeing him from the book. Willow doesn’t appreciate how he lied and pretended he loved her, though Moloch claims he does love her.

While Buffy and Xander spot Willow on a surveillance feed, Moloch tries to convince Willow to take him up on his offer of knowledge of everything going on in the world. For example, a guy in Beijing is putting out a hit on his mother. “Good for him,” Moloch says. A security alarm starts going off, so Buffy and Xander know they’ve been busted. Gas starts spraying into the hallway.

Jenny and her cyber-coven form a circle of sorts so they can perform the binding ritual to put Moloch back in the book. Buffy tries to break down the door to the lab where Willow’s resisting Moloch. She tells him she’ll never submit to him or be his. Xander falls unconscious from the gas, and Buffy’s losing the fight to stay conscious. Moloch tells Willow he’ll miss her, then starts to kill her. Fortunately, Jenny’s cyber-coven comes through, and as Malcolm feels the effects of the ritual, Buffy overcomes the gas in time to save Willow. Also, Xander punches out the guy in the white coat. He’s very excited that he got to hit someone.

Jenny confirms to Giles that Moloch is out of the Internet, but the book is still blank, so he’s not there, either. He’s still running around CRD, and Buffy isn’t much of a match for him. Moloch complains that he’s now trapped in his metal body. Willow hits him a few times with a fire extinguisher, sarcastically saying that maybe they can still be friends. This gives Buffy the chance to get up and take on Moloch again. She gets him to take a swing at her, then moves out of the way so he punches an electrical panel instead, shorting himself out. Success!

At school the next day, Giles overcomes his hatred of technology long enough to visit Jenny in the computer lab and return an earring she lost in the library. He tells her he’s less interested in being around computers now than he used to be. Jenny notes that a book caused all this trouble, not a computer. Yeah, but the computer read the book and released the demon, so…

Giles tells her he likes the smell of books – smell brings up memories and reminds us of wonderful experiences. Knowledge in computers has no texture; it’s not tangible. Jenny teases him for being old-fashioned. Giles says he doesn’t dangle a corkscrew from his earlobe like she does. “That’s not where I dangle it,” she replies. Guys, guys – just kiss already!

Buffy and Xander try to convince Willow to go to the Bronze that night. She’s feeling down from learning that her first relationship was all a lie. They remind her that they haven’t had much luck in the relationship department, either – Buffy fell for a vampire and Xander fell for a giant praying mantis. They laugh over the fact that none of them will ever have a healthy relationship. “We’re doomed!” Xander exclaims. The three realize it’s not that funny after all.

Thoughts: Dave is played by Chad Lindberg.

The monk’s name is Thelonius. Clever.

Sunnydale High may have a computer lab and a computer science teacher, but its Internet technology seems lacking even for 1997.

Murderous demon or not, Moloch is still less scary than some people I’ve encountered online.

Ah, the ’90s-ness of this episode. Someone says “the net,” and Xander notes that Willow can’t be online at home because the phone line isn’t busy.

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