Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I, Robot...You, Jane

Warrior Woman Wednesday

Willow pursues an online relationship that quickly turns sour when he makes an attempt to turn her against her friends.

The review for "Angel" can be read here.

Having seen her friends pursued by romantic interests, it's surely a relief for Willow (Alyson Hannigan) when she herself finally finds someone. For someone of her demeanor and social status, online dating seems like a very natural introduction to the world of romance for her as it's the one place she can truly be herself without fear of being outrightly judged and rejected.

This episode makes for an interesting use of technology, repurposing webcams as spy cameras, e-mails as threatening love notes from a stalker, and a scanner that accidentally summons a demon. The idea of cyberspace being some form of virtual world makes absolute sense here in the form of Moloch (Mark Deakins) and his release onto the internet; Moloch is initially an intangible being, unable to touch and able to communicate only through machinery, but due to the global connectivity of the net he's able to be everywhere at once without being seen, able to contact whomever he needs to without detection. Moloch is akin to the internet what Freddy Krueger is to dreams, and that's what makes him an effective villain.

Moloch's activities are subtly mentioned throughout the episode, such as a student's report having been changed to include reference to Nazi Germany being an example of a functional and well-run society, and a student's file being changed to remove any allergy warnings. Moloch makes his move very quickly, very precisely, and in such a way that anyone not looking for it would likely never see it coming.

For whatever reason, everyone here speaks exactly what they're typing, and while this is understandably necessary for this narrative, it's unnatural and especially strange when taken into consideration that the only people using computers here and those who know them well and would know how to use them better than this. With his control over everything connected to him via computer, Moloch very easily could have taken control of a webcam to have a live chat, calling up the image of a human in order to avoid suspicion, or at least have enabled a voice chat so that speaking to the computers wouldn't seem so alien.

Willow is intended to be computer genius, having hacked into the city's encrypted files in the earlier episodes, so it's somewhat painful to watch her here turning off a computer monitor and assuming that the entire computer had shut down. Also, in scanning the pages of Moloch's book she is missing either side of each page, though somehow the scanner still reads the full document; it's these moments of computer-illiteracy from someone extremely knowledgeable about the subject that take the audience out of the story.

While the supporting cast of this episode isn't great, there is an excellent chemistry between Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) and Robia LaMorte (Ms. Calendar.) The other regulars certainly hold there own here, but the rapport developed between Head and LaMorte is the highlight of the episode.

Stephen Posey adds some nice touches in his direction, such as a picture of Willow and Giles hanging in her locker, but the rest of the episode is a bit of a mixed bag. The flashbacks to Moloch's entrapment are very well done, setting a tone that could have been carried through the episode if not for the computerization of the story, but the ritual performed by Ms. Calendar and her online coven could have used more explanation. Most of the incidental music passed unnoticed during the episode, but the piece used during the ritual was cheesy and lent itself only to point out the ridiculousness of the situation. Moloch's robotic body was reminiscent of something from Power Rangers, but watching Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) launch herself at it and bounce directly off of it was quite amusing.

Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swyden team up to write this episode and together they provide a fairly divided view on the old-world versus new technology debate, voicing themselves through Giles and Ms. Calendar. The contrast between trapping Moloch in a book and trapping him within cyberspace is done in a very interesting way and it leads to an entertaining dynamic between the two authority figures in this story. Buffy's excitement over Willow having a steady boyfriend is a refreshing display of friendship, and her negative reaction to the news that it's online dating is also completely understandable. While Buffy's more than willing to give Willow the benefit of the doubt in the situation, she still finds herself getting riled up by Xander (Nicholas Brendon,) who manages to get her from believing Malcolm/Moloch is a nice guy to thinking he's an ax-murderer in less than a minute flat.

As she flirts with him in their closing moments, it's clear that Giles has found a romantic interest in Ms. Calendar, and if the final scene is any indication, it's unlikely that any of our protagonists will be so quick as to fall for someone new anytime soon.

The review for "the Puppet Show" can be read here.


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