Friday, 2 December 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I, Robot... You, Jane

“My Spider-Sense is tingling.”

“Your… Spider-Sense?”

“Pop culture reference. Sorry.”

I really, really love the title to this one. It isn’t just the coolness; it’s the metatextual comment that it’s making, and long-time readers of this blog will know how much I love that sort of thing. The title mixes the title of a very well-known science fiction novel with a reference from early Twentieth Century cult magazine culture- two genres in collision, none of which belong in the modern-day horror / fantasy / teen drama series which is Buffy. We have a provocative clash of genres, both with each other and with the show.

Except… cool though that sounds, it isn’t what we end up getting, not quite. Yes, the story has a robot in it, but the sense of threat is strictly occult- and our first “proper” non-vampire demon story to boot. It feels very Buffy. No, the trappings of science and technology are merely the medium through which a tale of evil demonic seduction can take place, much as though the medium is indeed the message in this case, with the Internet being this episode’s theme.

That the Internet is pretty much just a medium through which human beings do the same old stuff, albeit more quickly and with a more globalised bunch of people than before, is something which both Giles, with his rather silly and exaggerated technophobia, and new character Jenny Callendar, with her rather more realistically drawn technophilia, fail to realise, so caught up are they in their increasingly absurd and hyperbolic claims.

Robia LaMorte is great, incidentally, and so is the character; strong, forceful, but also very likeable and able to undercut her own forcefulness with humour. I like her. I’m sure she’ll enjoy a long and happy time on the show. The sexual chemistry between her and Giles is there from the start, although at this point they haven’t progressed much further than, er, arranging the sexual test tubes.

Anyway… the opening spiel is present and correct, but then we launch straight into a flashback from centuries past which establishes the supernatural threat we are soon to face in a modern context; thus a trope is born. We have a demon who exists as text in a book, waiting to be read and brought into physical being, but rather fortunately vulnerable to a binding spell which turns him right back into ink. That must be a fairly boring way to spend 579 years. Unfortunately, the book has reached the library of Sunnydale High, which has a scanner. Yep, there’s a demon loose inside the internet. Metaphor much?

Let’s pause for a moment and remember that it’s 1997. This is not very long ago, really. I was twenty that year. But, in terms of the Internet, it was the Dark Ages. I’m no Luddite, and I was three years away from properly using the Internet. You can tell how long ago it is here- Buffy, who is young, mentions an “e-letter” and fails to understand the word “online”. It’s clear that the Internet is seen by her and most of the students as something for “nerds”. So we shouldn’t be surprised if some of the obvious real life metaphors- online romances ending in axe murdering tragedy, or the hilariously literal “demon” let loose within the Internet. But, alongside the quaintness, there’s stuff that still speaks to us. Willow skips classes because of the time she spends online- this sort of reminds me of World of Warcraft and the like. The fact that Moloch cannot simply be “deleted” seems particularly redolent today, when we all leave so much personal stuff in all sorts of places online. And chatting to people you haven’t met online can still be just as self-conscious as it is for Willow.

The revelation that Jenny Callendar knows all about demons and stuff, and that the mystical can be modern, is a great moment. It turns out that she, and what she represents, are the medium through which demons can be defeated- a nice little message there, I think. In spite of the occasional quaintness, the story’s attitude towards the Internet is not reactionary.

We obviously have a new semi-member of the semi-Scooby gang, which is nice. This episode is great, possibly the best since the opening two-parter; kudos to the newcomers Ashley Gable and Thomas A. Swynden. It’s just a shame that Giles comes across as a bit too fuddy-duddy; he would definitely get the Spider-Man reference.

The final scene (“Let’s face it, none of us are ever going to have a normal, happy relationship”) is an even more fantastic moment of metatextuality, as our three Scoobies suddenly realise that they are trapped inside a drama for which Joss Whedon is showrunner. They are, indeed, doomed.

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