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Standard disclaimer: I'll often speak of foreshadowing, but that doesn't mean I'm at all committing to the idea that there was some fixed design from the word go -- it's a short hand for talking about the resonances that end up in the text as it unspools.

Standard spoiler warning: The notes are written for folks who have seen all of BtVS and AtS.  I'll be spoiling through the comics as well.  Basically -- if you are a spoiler-phobe and haven't seen or read it all, read further at your own risk.
Standard Credits:  I've written the material in black; Strudel (aka my Bro) writes in blue;
[info]local_max  writes in purple.  Or at least, that's what they've done when I finish editing and formatting!

I Robot, You Jane, In Which Willow Finds Love and World Domination Through the Internet


After three episodes on Buffy’s love life, we get an episode on Willow’s love life.  Except the main lessons to be drawn (such as they are) are still about Buffy.   (Max: Well....)  Moloch is a demon who lures people with the promise of love and then kills them.   Buffy will know something about that midway through the next season. 

Like Buffy, Willow falls for someone without knowing he’s a demon.   Willow’s demon doesn’t have any redeeming features, alas, so the love is short-lived.   

We conclude the episode with Xander, Willow and Buffy reflecting on the fact that their love lives are doomed because they live on top of a hell mouth.   Thus we wrap the sequence of episodes running from Teacher’s Pet (Xander’s praying mantis), the three on Buffy’s love life (ending with Angel) and this episode on Willow. 

Sex is scary.  There is a countervailing note, however.  We meet Jenny Calendar, and while Giles’ love for her is doomed, it’s not because she’s a demon.

Buffy/Xander/Willow:  Again we reaffirm that Xander is not interested in Willow that way.  He is, however, a bit jealous when Willow falls for someone else.   The Scoobies aren’t always going to be very good at welcoming significant others into the group.   
 

Strudel:  both points are deftly done.  Xander makes no pretense of wishing to stay late in the library to help Willow with the scanning project.  Quite pointedly, he goes chasing after Buffy out of the library, clearly setting the stage for Willow to find comfort in the virtual arms of Moloch.   Max: He does make a point of saying that he loves Willow, though--Xander doesn't shy away from expressing his platonic affection. Strudel: It's also interesting how easily Buffy sees Xander's jealousy, and her jab at him -- "you are used to being the belle of the ball" -- once again returns to her consideration of him as one of the girls.

 

Another interesting little hint at the Buffy/Willow relationship:  Buffy seeks Dave's help saying, "well, you're a computer geek ... genius."  This little throw-away joke likely sheds some insight on Buffy's sense of social superiority over Willow, which is part of the resentment package that comes to a boil in Season Six.

 

Max: I'd note too that Buffy's attitude toward Willow, while reasonable from Buffy's end, must look pretty bad from Willow's.  Willow makes the point that she doesn't understand why Buffy isn't supportive of her--after all, she says, boys don't fall at her feet.  There's jealousy there, and also a sense of entitlement--after all this time of being ignored by guys, doesn't Willow deserve one?  After all this time encouraging Buffy to go out with Angel, whom Buffy barely knew anything about, why isn't Buffy encouraging Willow?  After all this time of being diligent and going to class and getting straight A's (which Buffy doesn't), doesn't Willow deserve to blow off some classes?  Willow is being unfair to Buffy here, but I get the sense that Buffy really doesn't get where Willow is coming from, and attributes all of it to Malcolm's manipulations.

 

Speaking of resentments, there's a telling Xander moment in the episode, when he supplies the information to Buffy and Giles about what CRD is.  They both look at him, stunned--is this the same boy whose idea of literary is "To read makes our speaking English good"?  (That line happens later in the episode, but you get my point, and I can't resist an opportunity to quote it.)  Giles states that Xander providing information is unprecedented, and Xander cops to the fact that his uncle worked there as a janitor, with some embarrassment.  There is some condescension in Buffy and Giles' reaction, and some shame in Xander's self-via-family-deprecating response.  Both Xander's shame about the Harris clan and the gap between his actual and perceived contributions to the group are going to get major play going on.

Willow & Abstraction: Max: Buffy and Xander live in the physical world, but Willow lives abstractly; she falls for Malcolm because of his spell, yes, but it's significant that Buffy, who fell for Angel's wicked energy, is completely flabbergasted that Willow could fall for someone without seeing him or knowing what he looks like, whereas for Willow this is natural.  "He might have a hairy back!" Buffy exclaims, perhaps thinking of how much better smooth, tattooed backs look.  Willow responds that when you care about someone it doesn't matter if they have a hairy back.  This hints at Willow's ability to distance herself from the physical reality of her situation, which sets her up as a spell-caster and as being able to slaughter a deer, a geek, and (nearly) a planet without blinking.  It also is a trait that helps make later revelations about her sexuality play particularly well: while her feelings for Xander and Oz were no doubt genuine, it isn't until Tara in "Hush" that there is a highly emphasized tactile component to her relationships.  (Compare: in "The Pack," Willow describes her attraction to Xander by saying that he "makes my head go tingly.")  On the Dark Willow watch, we also see Willow's capacity for revenge at the episode's end, though nothing that Moloch doesn't clearly deserve.

Strudel:  I love this point about the abstracted nature of Willow's love here. The episode makes clear that there is an ominous shadow over this love of the abstract.  Fritz is decidedly demented by it ("the only reality is virtual.  If you're not jacked in, you're not alive") and of course we get plenty of previews of the nature of Moloch's abstracted power as he sets about making the world over in his image, meddling with databases worldwide (from altering student records to messing with church finances to tinkering with the FBI's serial killer profiles).  It's rather amusing when Buffy and Giles one up each other on the list of horribles that Moloch could achieve on the internet (with Giles conceding that Buffy got the better of him with the nuclear War Games scenario).

 

Max adds: The emphasis on abstraction, and tangible vs. intangible, actually runs throughout the ep--notice the mentions of riddles ("Oh, I know this one...does it involve a midget and an ice block?") on the one hand, and construction companies on the other.  Moloch's desire to have physical form with which to snap people's necks, in addition to his abilities to seduce through words, prefigures the First Evil as well.  And this all connects with Giles speech to Jenny, which you quote below, as well: Giles is a creature of the mind but he wants his learning to be associated with the senses.  Moloch is defeated in two different ways: either by binding him so that he no longer has physical form, or by binding him to a physical form and then destroying that form.  I think the message, if one exists, is that the physical and the ethereal are both necessary.

Willow and Power: Strudel: The interesting thing to come of this is that Moloch offers this power to Willow and she rejects it out of hand.  Ah, these were the days of the good Willow.  She may have been smitten by Moloch/Malcolm, but once she sees through him, she has no problem rejecting him and everything he has to offer.  Of course, by Season Six, Willow will once again have the controls of the world at her beck and call.  And she was so far gone by then that she is willing to use her powers to destroy the world.  So, the question to watch going forward is what happens to Willow to make her lose this sensibility she once had.  Maybe one superficial correlation to note between here and the ultimate Xander/Willow confrontation at the end of Season Six is that Willow isn't swayed in the least by Moloch because she knows he doesn't love her.  In Season Six, Xander brings her back from the edge of the destruction of the world by repeatedly telling her that he does love her.

 

Max again: Great catches!  To go further, Willow's role in the show (summarized in season four as "spirit") is all about the non-physical--she's good with computers and then with witchcraft, both of which are about concepts and words.  As I said, the disconnect from the literal, physical world is part of what allows her to do what she does later in the show.  But you're right that she's not there yet by any means.  Note that when Moloch tells Willow he loves her, the way she knows he doesn't love her is because he lied to her--interesting in terms of later developments with Tara, on both sides, though more notably deceptions from Willow.  Xander's utter honesty on the bluff does contrast well.

 

One crucial difference between Moloch here and Willow in "Grave" though: Moloch doesn't make any bones about his reasons.  He wants power and destruction, and he presents it as such to Willow.  Willow's averted apocalypse comes out of a desire for those, too, but it's also connected with wanting to end other people's pain.  No matter what evil things Willow does, there's always some in, even if slight, that allows her to write it either as good or harmless, or coming from an (already referenced) sense of entitlement.  (It'll be interesting to track the way, over the next five years, Willow gets better and better at the sorts of mental gymnastics that allow her to be a good person when erasing her girlfriend's memory.)  Anyway, Moloch is very bwahaha villain, with no in at all.  Regardless, Moloch offers Willow "knowledge and power"--it's a very common association, but interesting in light of the way Willow's drive for power initially presents itself as an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

 

Maggie replies:  Wow, guys, I go off and leave a document sitting around and come back to find all this cool discussion.  It’s incredibly useful to contrast Willow’s easy rejection of power here, with her later seduction by it.  Max is right that part of the difference is that Willow tells herself it’s for good purposes.  But underneath that, I think there’s also a growing hunger for the power because Willow is jealous of Buffy’s powers and all that comes with it (not least Xander’s attraction to her).  Everything that gets spewed out in season 6, basically – and which we’ll find is clearly set up from very early on.  Here in season 1, Willow doesn’t yet have that power, and isn’t going to make the leap to infinite power.  It wouldn’t occur to her to think she deserves it.  What she does do is incrementally acquire power (to help), and with each step up the power ladder comes an increased sense of entitlement to the status that goes with it – and with that status comes more confidence in reaching out for yet more power.  It is a remarkably well-crafted character arc!

 

Jenny Calendar: Max: It's significant that Jenny is introduced in a Willow episode.  The two don't interact much in this ep, but she probably represents a model for Willow's behaviour, and after Jenny's death by Angel Willow replaces her as computer teacher, technopagan/witch, and even (in "I Only Have Eyes For You") as Giles' confidante.  I believe that some of Willow's (subconsciously?) taking over Jenny's role has to do with Giles' proximity to Jenny, and Willow's admiration of Giles--blink and you'll miss it, but it's in this episode that we see that Willow has a picture of herself and Giles in her locker.

 

Giles and Jenny start off with antagonism, and then grow into a mutual respect as the episode goes on, aided in great part by the fact that, in spite of being opposed to each other in some significant way (book man vs. computer woman), they share work: they are both teachers and both are (ahem) jacked into the mystical, and on the side of good.  This is a fairly standard romantic trope, but it is notable (besides being effectively done) in that it somewhat mirrors Buffy & Angel, who are also opposed (slayer vs. vampire) but bond through their common work.  Jenny, like Angel, has a secret (technopagan/vampire) which masks a darker secret (Gypsy spy/vampire with detachable soul).  There are also parallels running the other way: Giles and Angel are the older, "Old World" partners to the more modern and younger Jenny and Buffy.  But Giles/Jenny is much healthier than Buffy/Angel, and the superficial similarities help to identify why.  Giles and Jenny ultimately do get to know each other quite well and are both adults, and deal with their conflicts sensibly.

 

Also, I just can't help but paraphrase a line from a TV guide review of "The Dark Age" here, when it comes to some (incidental) Jenny foreshadowing: don't get too attached to Jenny, because Ms. Calendar's days are numbered.


Strudel: While Giles is almost always under-written, he gets a very nice, almost poetic little speech to Jenny about the tangibility of knowledge derived from books, as epitomized by the smell of a book vs. the de-contextualized nature of knowledge stored on the internet.

A couple of other minor themes at play here

Buffy as a hero watch:
  Strudel: Once again, Buffy is wicked clever:  she figures out that Moloch was let loose on the internet, and then she comes up with a clever way to get him to destroy himself.  She also is rightly concerned about Willow's infatuation with Malcolm, and she takes charge and issues orders to Giles to get Ms. Calendar to help him remove Moloch from the internet.  I rather like noting that all this clarity takes place in an episode with hardly a mention of Angel.

How long ago 1998 [Max: Checked: It aired in April, 1997 apparently] wasBack then, you could make jokes like this: 

Willow:  I met him online.
Buffy:  On line for what?

Today, that would be ludicrously bad writing.

 

Max: Speaking of ludicrously bad writing--or at least widespread perception thereof--there's a few chance details that prompt me to begin:

 

Willow's addictive personality watchMax: Moloch the Corruptor's influence affects Willow, Dave, and Fritz.  We see Willow alternately euphoric and exhausted, having blown off classes and other responsibilities.  Dave seems in a constant hyperactive, paranoid state.  Fritz, as well as being generally crazy, happens to stick a needle in his arm--admittedly, as a tattoo.  All three of the above seem to relate to forms of drug use.  The drug connotations here are, I think, incidental (the central metaphor is obviously that "beware of internet stalkers, because they may be demon robots," plus the Buffy/Angel-related "don't trust anyone over 225"), but I'd still argue they are present and represent the first "Willow + drugs" story element.  Moloch's influence works on Willow because she wants to feel better about herself and has few internal ways of doing so.  But at this point, she is able, once she sees how dangerous and evil Moloch is, to say no.  I like too the way that Moloch's proposed exchange--power for his victims' love--seems like a very Season One version of Rack's similar trade of magic power for his mystical/sexual "little tour."  (Willow, of course, gets even with both of them, though Buffy delivers the killing blow here.)  A discussion of the interpretation and the merits (or lack thereof) of Willow's story in and about "Wrecked" are a long ways away in these notes, but I think it's worth keeping an eye on what resonances pop up until then

Maggie replies: I’ve always hated that metaphor, so it’ll be good to see how much it really gets developed as we go along! 
 

And that concludes the set of notes that I was sure was going to be the shortest one of the season.  Thanks to Max and Bro for showing how even the lamest-seeming episode has a lot worth commenting on!  I can’t wait to see what they manage when we get to Go Fish. 




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