I, Robot…You, Jane S1 E8

Buffy and the Art of Story Podcast CoverThis week on Buffy and the Art of Story: I, Robot…You, Jane. (Season 1, Episode 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

This podcast episode covers using prologues to raise the stakes, whether the demon here is a compelling antagonist, and how I, Robot weaves in action in quick bursts.

As always, the discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).

Story Elements in I, Robot

In this podcast episode we’ll look at:

  • Raising the stakes through a prologue  
  • Learning about strong chapter endings from Buffy
  • Weaving in action you don’t have time to show
  • What makes an antagonist less than interesting

Sorry, no Season 1 DVD commentary this time! (But there will be for The Puppet Show.)

Next Up: The Puppet Show S1 E9 (on December 30, 2019 after a short holiday break)

Last Week: Angel S1 E7

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Episodes will include Buffy-adjacent stories (such as key Angel episodes). Also films or TV episodes that are intriguing from a story, theme, or character perspective.

Episode Transcript of I, Robot…You, Jane

Hi, and welcome to Buffy and the Art of Story.

 

I am Lisa M. Lilly, author of The Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries, and the founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com. If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories, or just taking them apart to see how they work, you’re in the right place.

This Week: I, Robot, You, Jane

This week we’re talking about I, Robot, You, Jane, Season One, Episode Eight. Written by Ashley Gable and Thomas Ace Wyden and directed by Steven L. Posey.

In addition to the major plot points, we’ll talk about:

  • using a prologue to raise the stakes or at least let your audience know how high the stakes are;
  • chapter endings and what you can learn about them from Buffy;
  • weaving-in quickly action that you don’t have the time to show, but that the audience needs to know about;
  • and what makes an antagonist less than perhaps as interesting as we would like

There will be no spoilers, except at the end, to talk about some foreshadowing. But I will give you plenty of warning.

Listener Comments

First, though we do have a couple listener comments. Both relate to the spoiler section on The Harvest.

But I can talk about this point now. Because last week we found out in the episode Angel, that Angel is a vampire and that he, over 100 years ago, was extremely dangerous.

Angel, in The Harvest, meets Buffy in the crypt. She is about to go down and face the Master. He says that he’s afraid when she asks why he won’t go down there.  I questioned that, given what we later find out about Angel and how strong he is and how feared he was.

Steve commented that he thought perhaps Angel just wasn’t ready to reveal yet that he was a vampire, and he knew that was going to come out during the fight and also that he was confident Buffy would be fine.

So he didn’t feel that he needed to go with her.

Similarly, Kerry thought Angel’s facial expression and his tone showed he was clearly lying about being afraid. And she says, “I think he just says it to get her to go on her own and realize her own strength.” I love that reading of it.

I love both readings of it because they suggest Angel has a lot of confidence in Buffy. I like that my listeners had more confidence in the writers than I did at that particular moment.

If you have thoughts on the show, you can email me [email protected] or you can tweet me on Twitter @LisaMLilly.

Okay, let’s dive into the Hellmouth.

I, Robot

I was a little bit surprised when I re-watched this episode for the podcast. I always remember it as one that I’m not that excited about. The whole Internet-demon-who-turns-into-a-robot thing is what sticks in my mind. While I don’t think it’s terrible, I felt like it isn’t that intriguing of an episode.

But there was so much more fun in here than I remembered. Also some really interesting things about technology, looking at it from a perspective of 20 years later.

In addition, a little more foreshadowing than I remembered. And I’ll talk about that, mostly in the spoiler section. There are some great storytelling things in here, so let’s get to it.

The Prologue

We start once again with the prologue. I also had forgotten how often we get prologues in Buffy, so this will challenge that idea that I mentioned in the first, I think in the first episode, that many writers, viewers, readers are not too fond of prologues.

This one is an example of one that I didn’t find super compelling. I feel like it’s part of why this episode sticks in my memory as one that I don’t particularly like, when it turns out I kind of do.

The first part of the prologue, I don’t know that it is necessary, we find out were in 1418 in Italy. The characters are speaking Italian but we get subtitles and we had the demon Moloch. He asks his follower who is dressed in a robe, so perhaps some type of monk perhaps not. Moloch asks if the follower loves him. Even though the follower professes his love, Moloch snaps his neck.

Then we switch to a group of monks who are saying, “Moloch walks again,” and people are falling under his power.

They may even call him by his full title, Moloch the Corrupter, and they need to form a circle and bind him. We switch back to Moloch. He sensing this is happening, he’s weakening, and he disintegrates into tiny little pieces that are captured in a book, which is slammed shut and put into a box.

Raising the Stakes

Here are the things that the prologue does well. Initially I was thinking it raises the stakes, but I guess what it does is show us the stakes. Because we see that people fall under the sway of Moloch. He claims to only want their love, but even when they give him what he wants, he’s going to kill them anyway. He snaps his followers necks.

Later on, as we get into Willow and what’s happening with her, we are aware from the outset that if this is Moloch, she’s doomed. Because he may claim to be devoted to her, but that’s not what he does — he kills people is what he does.

The prologue also tells us how do you capture Moloch and why is this book dangerous.

These are all things that I think we would have gotten from the context of the rest of the episode. All of that is woven into it in a really effective way, so I don’t know that this was necessary.

Perhaps though, the show also wanted to signal, especially in these early episodes, with each one what kind of episode is this going to be. In this one gives a clue that this is a monster the week episode. It isn’t going to be focused on the Master.

Opening Conflict in I, Robot

The other thing the Prologue does is give us our Opening Conflict. Opening Conflict can relate to the main plot. And this Prologue, it does.

But it also could be an entirely separate Opening Conflict relating to our protagonist. The idea is just that we need some sort of conflict to draw the reader into the story before we get to that Inciting Incident or what I think of as the Story Spark that gets our main plot moving.

So here we do get that Opening Conflict with Moloch, which didn’t draw me in all that much. We also have a first scene of our present-day story, which has some Opening Conflict that does draw me in. It is not about a monster of the week.

It is between Giles and the high school computer teacher, Jenny Calendar.

Meet Jenny Calendar

So this is the first time that we meet Ms. Calendar, as the students call her and Giles calls her, I think through all of this episode. He may say Jenny towards the end. I love that she called him Rupert.

I think she’s the only want to call him by his first name so far in the show. Which makes sense because we see him mainly interacting with the students. He does interact with Joyce, but she knows him as the high school librarian and calls him Mr. Giles. She doesn’t know him that well yet, so she’s not calling Rupert.

This makes a nice dividing line. And sets up that perhaps there is going to be a little more of a relationship between Jenny and Giles — I’m going to keep calling him Giles because that’s how I think of him. It also draws a nice line between the teachers and the students because of course the teachers don’t call each other Mr. and Ms., at least once they know each other. They might in front of the students, as Giles does call her Ms. Calendar.

That she calls him Rupert also gives us a sense that she is a little more informal, a little more relaxed. He’s using the Ms. Calendar, very formal approach. And she is coded as more current, or more fun, which we will also see some other hints of that later.

Technology as Villain?

Interestingly, while this opening scene with Jenny and Giles isn’t specifically about the monster in the sense of being about Moloch, it is about technology.

When I really think about it, technology, in a sense, is the antagonist here, or the villain. If we see this from Giles eyes. He has several times mentioned feeling afraid of computers of technology and these changes.

Storytelling through Scene Cuts

We have a nice cut between these opening scenes. At the end of the 1418 scenes in Italy, we get the monks putting the book in a box and saying “May this accursed book never be read again”.

Cut.

We’re in the library, Buffy opens the box and says “Oh, great, a book.” We have lots of these kinds of cuts in Buffy. Where one character is saying one thing or something is happening and you get a cut and the other character either is saying something very similar that perhaps relates to a different situation. Or is actually handling a book when we’ve just mentioned a dusty old book, or here where it is the same book, so we have that connection.

You can use this in your novels as well. It can be a really nice way to draw the reader from one scene to the next and create connections between characters even if they are in very separate scenes or situations.

In her podcast Still Pretty, Lani Diane Rich gets a little bit tired of some of these cuts. She calls them the ‘irony smash.’ And I guess I can see that if it really stands out to you, it might start to bother you.

I personally love it every time that it’s done, so quite possible I do it too often in my writing as well. I don’t know, I’ll have to look back at that and see.

An Opened Book

So Buffy opening up the book, sets the scene. Or she doesn’t open the book at that point, but taking out the book. It opens up our scene with Giles and Ms. Calendar.

The reason she is there is they are apparently scanning a lot of books into some sort of repository on the computer for the school or onto the Internet. Giles confuses the word ‘scan’ with ‘skim,’ which is kind of fun. Obviously today, even someone who was not particularly, didn’t use computers a lot, not that computer savvy, would know the difference.

But I really enjoy that Giles does not.

Technology as Antagonist

You see these computers that were big and boxy, where the monitor is quite large. I definitely remember having one of those, and working on those. So it really fits when Giles calls it the ‘Idiot Box’ and Ms. Calendar tells him, “That’s the TV.” Not sure if anyone calls the TV the ‘Idiot Box’ anymore, either. TVs also generally are not boxy.

All around, it’s kind of a fun recollection of what technology was like then.

This whole scene is a great example of a separate smaller conflict that draws the reader or the viewer into the story before you get to the Inciting Incident. That tension between Jenny and Giles, they are not at each other’s throats, but they’re coming from very different perspectives.

New Characters in I, Robot

We also meet a couple new students. Dave who was helping out and seems fairly helpful, kind of quiet. And Fritz who goes into a rant about the only reality is virtual reality.

Jenny comments on that, something like, “Thanks for making us all look crazy.” So we get this distinction of yes, Jenny is very into technology. But Fritz is represented as the extreme.

So we get a little hint about Fritz maybe being a little bit out there.

Jenny makes the point to Giles that more email than regular mail was sent the year before. This is when Giles says that is a fact he regards with genuine horror. Jenny teases him about being in the middle ages. So we’ve definitely drawn lines about views about technology.

I also had forgotten when email was not so common, the idea now that you would get more regular mail than email seems so strange when we all have In Boxes full of it.

The Story Spark

We’re coming up to our story Spark, which sets off the main plot. It does happen here slightly past 10%, but not much, right around five minutes into the roughly 42 minute episode.

Willow is in the library late, by herself, scanning books. She scans in the Moloch book and the symbols, it is a — I forgot the word for what type of alphabet this is, but it is what looks to us like symbols — disappear as she does that.

She does not notice. Then right at five minutes we see the screen and this typing, “Where am I?”

So right away we know something very serious is up because the symbols disappear the screens says “Where am I?” and we go to the credits.

That keeps the viewer engaged.

After the credits, we see Willow and Buffy in the hall. Willow looks very happy. She says she met a boy and Buffy says “When?” And she says a week ago, right after the scanning project.

So, if we’re paying attention, we might make the connection to that “Where am I?” in the computer. But maybe not because it takes a while for it to come out that Willow met this boy online.

Technology at the Time of I, Robot

That was not so common then, so we get this joke where they are now in the computer lab. Willow says, “I met him online,” and Buffy says, “Online for what?” Again, very fun, because no one would say that now.

I’ll also note that the joke would work best somewhere where people say they ‘stand online.’ In Chicago, where I’m based, we would say we ‘stand in line.’ So I don’t recall if I thought that line was funny even at the time.

It does give us an idea that meeting people online was very new then. Because Buffy is serious when she says that. It takes her a second to catch up and realize what Willow’s talking about. She does already express a little bit of concern about Willow not actually having met this boy in person.

Willow just wants to be happy and excited about this boy so there is a little bit of tension.

More Jenny, More Technology

We have a moment with Jenny that shows a nice characterization because she says,
“Buffy, are you supposed to be somewhere?”

Buffy says she has a free period. Jenny says, “Cool, but we have lab, so make it a short visit.”

This is a nice quick way to show us that Jenny has a good relationship with her students. She is relaxed about rules. You have to think many other teachers would tell Buffy to leave. Also, seemingly the students more or less listen and respect her because while Buffy does sit down, and she and Willow do talk, they aren’t disruptive about it. We don’t get a sense that it’s a problem.

More Old I, Robot Technology

We have some more old technology here because Willow is — you know, no one has cell phones, so there isn’t texting on a phone — Willow is typing in messages back and forth with Malcolm. And we’re getting this computer voice reading his messages.

Generally speaking, you didn’t have a computer voice read emails or messages to you or chats to you. But I’m pretty sure that at that time my computer could do that. And that is definitely how the voice sounded. So this very mechanical sounding voice. And we have Willow saying what she’s typing.

Most of this is a device for the viewers. Because it would be very boring to just watch people type back-and-forth. But it is fairly true to the technology. You certainly could do it that way if you wanted to.

I admit to sometimes talking back to my computer, even now. But that is usually when I’m swearing at it because it’s not doing what I wanted to do.

Buffy Questions Willow

Buffy questions more strongly, she says, “What you really know about this Malcolm?” And this camera sitting next to the computer focuses on Buffy. It kind of moves and focuses. That is not something I recall most people having, a separate camera. But you might have had it in a computer lab.

Now we see a different computer bringing up information about Buffy.

I stopped it to look and see what it tells us about Buffy. One thing is that her GPA is 2.8 and another is it says, ‘Athletics: none.’ Which tells us a bit about Buffy right there. She is so capable and strong and clearly athletic, but she obviously doesn’t have the time or the room to be involved. She is not part of that. And her GPA is not that great though we have seen that Buffy is very smart.

So if you caught this, it’s a nice, quick thumbnail of what Buffy’s school life is like. And how Slaying affects her.

I love it because it’s such a small thing, and I would never have seen it if I weren’t stopping it because I am talking about the episode. Yet yet somebody thought about it and figured out what would that say.

We see Fritz looking at the screen and “Watch her,” shows up on the screen.

So already we are getting that connection, if we didn’t get the Malcolm/Moloch connection, we are getting that Buffy’s question about Malcolm has put her in the sights of our villain

Creating an Interesting Villian/Antagonist

This is a good moment to talk about villains.

Usually the most intriguing villain or antagonist is one whose motives we understand and perhaps at least in part, empathize with. A well-developed villain should be as layered and nuanced as our protagonist. Here what we have, both in Moloch and in Fritz, is the trope of the kind of mustache-twirling villain from the cartoons who is just evil for evil’s sake.

What is Moloch’s goal?

He says he wants his followers’ love but even when he gets it, he kills them. We get the impression, well, we find out through the episode, that he just creates chaos everywhere. Chaos, pain. Later he makes a comment about how great it is, somebody is plotting to murder, I think, of his wife. So he just loves evil for evil’s sake.

Likewise, Fritz, we don’t know anything about him other than he expressed these extreme views about reality — virtual reality being the only reality, and if not jacked in your something, you’re not alive. We don’t we don’t get any real sense of who Fritz is. Or why he so quickly will go along with what Moloch wants.

That I think is part of why, as a whole, this episode doesn’t stick in my mind as one that I really enjoy because our villain, our antagonist is not really that interesting.

Antagonist Need Not Be A Villain

Which also goes to the point that the antagonist does not have to be a villain. In Buffy, generally, the antagonist will be a villain because that’s the show it is. It’s horror. It’s meant to be partly scary so we are going to have a monster or some evil being as the villain.

But in your stories, the villain, the antagonist, can be simply someone who has a goal that is opposed to the protagonist. The antagonist and the protagonist should have mutually exclusive goals. That creates the most conflict.

Jenny makes a comment to Fritz that he and Dave are logging a lot of computer time. He says it’s a new project. She asks if she’ll be excited about it, and he says, “You’ll die…” in a very creepy voice.

I guess this is here just to heighten the tension. But we already know that Moloch kills people, so this is one of these moments that to me doesn’t really add anything.

Moving Towards the One-Quarter Point Twist

We are moving, as each of these scenes builds, to our One-Quarter Twist. That is the turn, usually a quarter of the way through the overall story that spins the story in a new direction and usually comes from outside the protagonist.

Generally, it does not make things easier for our protagonist. It adds something to the story for the protagonist to deal with or to look into.

Coming up on this point, we see Willow and Xander together. Xander wants to know if she wants to go to The Bronze. Willow brushes Xander off. She’s going to go home and talk to Malcolm. Buffy comes up later. She can’t go to The Bronze, either, because she has Slaying.

Xander is feeling a little bit left alone, and a little bit jealous, which Buffy calls him out on. He says, “No, I don’t feel that way about Willow.” But Buffy says, “You were used to being the belle of the ball.”

I feel like those are very real sentiments. That although Xander doesn’t want to date Willow, and I believe he wants her to be happy, he wouldn’t say, “Oh, I don’t want her to date anyone,” but he is used to being first in Willow’s life.

They have been friends for a long time. She had these feelings for him. He’s used to being, you know, the belle of the ball. The one that she cares about most.

The One-Quarter Turn in I, Robot

Around eleven minutes in, which starts out our One-Quarter Turn, Xander also says he is concerned. Because he could say he’s anybody online. And there’s a joke about, he could say he’s an elderly Dutch woman, and who’s to say different if he’s in the elderly Dutch woman chat room?

And Buffy at first says, “Oh I see your point.” And they both get a little spooked. Then Buffy says, “Oh, no, we’re overreacting,” and kinda says, ‘Look at you, getting me all freaked out.’

Despite that Buffy dismisses Xander’s concerns in the moment, I see this as the One-Quarter Turn. Because Buffy had these concerns earlier — she was raising them with Willow, ‘What do you really know about this boy?’  But now Xander has pointed out that he might not even be a boy.

I feel like before Buffy was more just picturing a boy who might not be good for Willow. Or she had some general concerns. But now it’s a lot more specific.

What Buffy Does Based on The One-Quarter Turn

Despite dismissing Xander’s raising very real danger, she does then start asking some more pointed questions. She asks Willow more questions. And she goes to Dave to try to find out, can she figure out who is sending Willow these messages?

So all of this, Xander really has sent Buffy to take this very seriously. And Buffy doing that causes Malcolm to accelerate his relationship with Willow and to focus even more on Buffy.

Some other things that happen just slightly past this quarter-point that really go with that new direction of the story, at 12 minutes: We see Fritz carving on his arm. We also see, at almost 13 minutes in that Willow comes to school late. She says she overslept. Buffy says, “To the fifth period?”

And Buffy says “This isn’t like you,” and Willow says “What’s not like me?” Boys don’t normally chase her, and she thought Buffy would be happy for her.

Buffy wants to be happy for her but she urges her to meet Malcolm face-to-face somewhere safe.

Willow says, so what she blew off a few classes. That worries Buffy even more. Willow says, “Malcolm said you wouldn’t understand,” and Buffy says, “Malcolm was right.”

Very nice example of conflict and tension between two good people, both of whom we like and whose points of view we understand and care about.

Dave and Malcolm in I, Robot

This is where Buffy asks Dave about how to find out who is sending an ‘E-letter,’ which I love. When Buffy mentions Malcolm, Dave immediately says, “Leave Willow alone.” And she thinks maybe he is Malcolm.

Buffy now goes to Giles and he says he doesn’t know what to tell her, computers frighten him.

So again, we get this fear of technology. And being a little bit sarcastic, he says, you know, “What am I going to do, suggest that you tail Dave?” Buffy says, “What, in a trench coat and dark glasses?”

Buffy Goes Undercover

The next scene, of course, we see her in the dark glasses. Not quite a trench coat, but something with a bit of that styling and being quite obvious. So of course she is seen by a camera at the warehouse where she follows Dave.

And I love this because I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that we will find out the Buffy pretty much is never good at undercover.

Dave is at the warehouse. He’s talking to a guy in a lab coat, lots of things are being loaded into the warehouse. Buffy can’t tell what those things are.

Back At The Library

Back at the library, Xander gives us the information that this company closed down. It was a computer research company. His uncle worked there’s a janitor and got let go. Buffy and Xander make their plans to break in, Giles is trying to plausibly deny that he had any knowledge of it,  when Jenny comes in.

She makes a comment on how often Buffy and Xander are in the library. It is kind of odd that these students are always hanging out in the library.

Malcolm and Willow are communicating. She’s telling him she never felt this way about anyone and Buffy doesn’t understand. Here Malcolm makes a mistake. He says, “Buffy is trouble. That’s why she was kicked out of her old school.”

This makes Willow pause because she knows she never said that to Malcolm. And she cuts off their chat.

Building Towards the Midpoint of I, Robot

Notice how this scene grows out of the One-Quarter Turn. And everything from that point on should come out of that turn and build toward the Midpoint.

It grows out of the Quarter Turn because Buffy’s further efforts to figure out what’s happening got her in Moloch’s crosshairs. He’s been checking Buffy out so much that he slips and just says this thing about her being kicked out of school. Without realizing that he and Willow never had that conversation.

It builds toward Midpoint because it is adding to Moloch’s seeing Buffy as the enemy. Because now Willow has stopped talking to him. Probably for the first time, she doesn’t want to talk anymore.

Technology and Conflict

We have a little more of Jenny and Giles talking about technology. They both make some really good points. Jenny accuses Giles of being a snob. That he wants to hoard knowledge in books, have it locked up somewhere for a bunch of old white guys. And he says, “Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s better.”

She says, “Computers aren’t a fad, we’re creating a new society.”

Giles says, “Where human interaction is all but obsolete? Where people can be completely manipulated by technology? I’ll pass.”

Predictions?

So was this predictive of our culture? Now information is so much more readily available if you have access to the Internet and not everyone has that. So there is still a divide between people who can easily get all that information and those who can’t. But perhaps not as much as when a lot of information, the only way to find it, was in books.

But we do have these issues Giles raises.

Human interaction, of course, continues. You get more interaction in a way. I can keep in touch with people who are all over the world so easily. Where I remember when my dad almost never talked to his siblings because they lived in Pennsylvania, we lived in the Chicago area, and that was a long distance call.

So you can have much more interaction. And yet less, in the one-on-one, in-the-same-room sense.

Then Giles makes a comment where people can be completely manipulated by technology. And we obviously see that, you know, there’s more info out there, but it’s perhaps harder to tell what is accurate. Or it takes a lot more diligence to find out what is accurate and what’s not.

But I think Jenny would say we have lots more points of view out there.

Strong Opposing Views

So, another great example in this episode of two people with opposing views, who both have really good points. And to ratchet that up, it is hard for them to come to the same place. Because they’re both devoted. Giles loves his books he is a librarian; Jenny is a computer teacher, so it’s also about their professions.

One caveat on that, even back when Buffy was airing originally, some librarians critiqued it. They said Giles would have to know about computers. There would be more computers in the library, and Giles does everything on paper.

That completely fits the show. As I mentioned in one of the other episodes, Joss said that Giles is meant to be that guy with the dusty books, who says “The vampires are coming!”

So in the world of the show, Giles and Jenny are completely opposed.

Jenny points out that this book doesn’t have anything to say, it’s blank, and asks if it’s a diary. Giles looks at it, recognizes Moloch. And he doesn’t want to let on to Jenny what this is about.

He says, “Oh, yes, yes it must be a diary.” Then he says, “It’s been so nice talking to you.” Jenny says, “We were fighting,” and Giles says, “Must do it again sometime.”

Very nice way to end that scene and move our story because now Giles is realizing this is Moloch.

Weaving in Action

We have a very quick flash where we see one of the problems that Moloch is causing. Because we see a nurse saying, “There was nothing in the files about a penicillin allergy.” This gets in that Moloch is already causing chaos by being in the Internet.

This is one of those examples of a very quick way to let your reader or viewer know of something that is going on that you don’t want to stop the whole plot to explain. Whatever happened here is not the key part of our protagonist story. But it’s important so we get that very quickly.

At 21 minutes in, we see Dave tell Buffy that Willow is looking for her in the locker room.

Buffy goes in the locker room. The shower’s running. She goes in thinking she might find Willow. And it’s just a shower running, nobody in there. She goes to shut it off out of concern about droughts, and Malcolm has set this up so that she will be electrocuted.

But Dave warns her away. So he has had an attack of conscience, he warns her away.

The Midpoint in I, Robot…You, Jane

This is our Midpoint in the story. So it’s a little after 21 minutes in a 42 minute story and here what we have is a reversal for Buffy. Rather than saving or protecting Willow, she is almost killed. What’s interesting here is we have some pretty big commitments by other characters.

Dave first makes a commitment to his quest or his cause by sending Buffy to the locker room. So he is going to set her up to die. But he then throws caution to the wind by following his conscience and warning her, which is going to lead to his death.

Pretty big reversal. So he commits, commits and has a reversal roughly all around this time.

Fritz Commits

Fritz too, very shortly will fully commit to Moloch’s cause by killing Dave. So that is definitely going all-in on the quest, throwing caution to the wind.

These are all very big things that are happening around the Midpoint.

And Moloch in a way he, too, does that because now he kills a student. That is something that Buffy cannot miss. This is part of what leads her to the conclusion she reaches about Moloch and Malcolm and so forth.

All these things roughly around the Midpoint, drive us forward with the story.

Back To The Library

Our next scene is in the library. Buffy hasn’t yet found Dave’s body. So we don’t know that Dave is dead but she is saying, “I don’t know what would make Dave do that.”

Giles says maybe he knows and explains about Moloch the Corrupter.

Buffy is the one who figures out that Moloch is in the Internet and how dangerous that could be. She tries to delete the file. Malcolm’s image pops up and he says, “Stay away from Willow.” This is our first time that Buffy and Malcolm, or Moloch, come face-to-face, and we have a cut to the commercial.

Writing Strong Chapter Endings

Buffy now understands that it’s Moloch is the enemy, Moloch is the one doing all these things. And we go to a commercial. So this is a great hook to keep viewers coming back.

I think of these types of hooks when I’m creating chapter endings.

The end of the chapter is a natural point for a reader to stop reading. How often have you said, “Okay, I’ll just read one more chapter”? If you can have a chapter ending like this, it makes the reader want to keep going to the next page.

Or at least if the reader does have to stop, keep thinking about wanting to get back to that book.

So watching where shows break, if you are watching a network show or one that was originally made for network and has those commercial breaks, that is a great way to study how to keep readers engaged and going from scene to scene.

In I, Robot The Protagonist Acts

So Buffy now says they need to find Willow. They have made the connection to Malcolm. And instead she finds Dave’s dead body.

She realizes it was set up, he didn’t commit suicide. Buffy tells Giles to get Ms. Calendar to help him and figure out how to get Moloch out of the Internet. He is arguing with her little bit. He doesn’t know how he is going to explain this. And she just says, “Well then figure something else out,” and leaves.

Note how Buffy, our protagonist, is the one who figured out, with help from her friends, but she figured out that Moloch was in Internet. She’s the one who says, ‘Hey, Ms. Calendar is one who can help us.’

Willow in Peril

Willow is at home. She gets the ‘You’ve got mail’ message from Malcolm. He says he wants to see her, and she tries to ignore it. And the computer turned itself on again.

The doorbell rings. She thinks it’s her dad who’s forgotten his keys. It’s Fritz. He drugs her, and he hauls her away.

Our next scene we see Giles. He is listening to the radio and again we have this very quick take on the chaos that’s happening. Because the news is reporting all these problems that are occurring, clearly from things Moloch is doing through the Internet.

Jenny comes in and interrupts that. He stutters through this explanation of what’s happening. And Jenny says, “I know.”

The Three-Quarter Turn

This brings us up to our three-quarter turn in our plot. This turns the story yet again. But it grows out of the Midpoint reversal or out of the protagonist’s actions at the Midpoint. So right around 31 and 32 minutes, we have a series of scenes that turn the story.

Buffy and Xander discover Willow is not home.

They decide to go to that warehouse. That is going to take us to a whole new venue. And they have a new aim, they are still trying to destroy Moloch and get him out of the Internet. Which has been the goal since our Midpoint.

They still want to protect Willow. But it is a new direction, because now it’s not convincing Willow that Malcolm is Moloch and he’s dangerous. It is that Willow is physically in danger and has been kidnapped by Moloch.

So now they have to both get Willow somewhere safe and defeat Moloch.

Jenny and Giles Clash

Jenny and Giles continue their conversation. And Jenny says she saw portents for days. When he mentions Moloch, she says, “Moloch the Corrupter.”

Giles is very suspicious, he says, “You don’t seem surprised. Who are you?” She goes on to explain that just because she is the computer teacher and is into technology doesn’t mean she doesn’t know about magic. That technology and magic are not exclusive, mutually exclusive.

She says she’s not a witch. That she doesn’t have that kind of power, but she calls herself a techno-pagan. So all of this seems to reassure Giles. And she is clearly the one who can help.

As it should be, the story is moving very quickly now from that Three-Quarter Turn toward the Climax.

Fighting Moloch

Buffy calls using a payphone. She tells Giles what they’re doing.

We then see another part of this turn, which is that Moloch has a robot body. He is both in the Internet and controlling this body. In front of Willow, he kills Dave.

Seeing this part, again, I thought, “Why do people keep supporting these demons?”

So in addition to Moloch kind of being this mustache-twirling villain who just evil for evil’s sake, we also have that people support this kind of demon apparently just for evil’s sake? I’m sorry it’s not Dave, he already killed Dave. He kills Fritz.

So now Dave’s been killed for not doing what Moloch wanted, but Fritz, he kills Fritz just because he’s there. Because he’s a follower.

Characterization in I, Robot

I know we have been told in the beginning that Moloch preys upon those who are weak of mind. And he’s the Corrupter, that he has this way over people. So it is probably unfair to say that they are choosing to follow him.

But that feels a bit like weak storytelling to me.

It is less interesting to have a demon who just has this magic power of making people follow him. Rather than followers having some reason, some deep need that he’s filling, something that makes us understand why they would devote themselves to this demon.

Willow’s Turn

So Willow too has her own sort of turn in the story, in her personal story. Because Moloch is saying he wants to give her the world, he wants to repay her for freeing him.

She knows now that he’s evil. But she is so angry because she’s been deceived. When he says this about repaying her, she says, “What, by pretending to be a person?! Pretending to love me?!” It’s not just that Willow expresses this anger, but we are very worried for her because nothing good can come out of this.

The reality, though, is loving Moloch or rejecting him leads to death. Either way, she probably figures she’s gonna die, and she’s saying what she has to say. She’s probably not even thinking it through. She is just expressing how she feels.

Climax

We have Buffy and Xander there trapped by the security system in the hall. It looks like there is some sort of gas that is going to knock them out.

We switch back and forth between them and Willow yelling at Moloch that she’ll never be his, and Giles speaking, chanting, while Jenny types into the computer and connect with a coven online. Giles raising his voice to cast out Moloch.

Moloch puts his hand on Willow. He’s about to kill her and the chanting apparently works.

Moloch is weakened. His robot body sags. He’s out of the Internet. Looks like Willow is safe and Giles and Jenny have prevailed. This still is a victory for Buffy, our protagonist. Because she is the one who figured things out, set this in motion, told Giles to go to Jenny.

So this could be a very satisfying conclusion.

Ending in I, Robot With a Surprise

But we get the surprise ending, the additional part to the climax, the real climax, which is Moloch — surprise — he’s out of the Internet, but he’s not back in the book. He’s in the robot body.

So he’s not a threat to the whole world anymore. But he’s definitely a threat to our main characters. We have this ultimate fight.

Willow gets her chance to contribute because at a key moment. She uses a fire extinguisher and is hitting Moloch with it, giving Buffy a moment to figure out what to do. Buffy goads Moloch into punching her at just the right moment and just the right place. She ducks, he hits an electrical panel, and is electrocuted.

Note that once again, though Buffy’s strength is important, it is her wits that win the day.

She is not stronger than the robot, but she outwits Moloch. Kind of ironically, she does it by using technology in a way. Using the electrical panel and subverting his robot body, which is vulnerable to that in a way that the demon might not have been.

Falling Action

Now we have our falling action. We have Giles going to the computer lab. It’s apparently the first time he’s been there. Jenny teases him about being afraid of computers. He returns her earring. She points out that a book started all the trouble and asks what he doesn’t like about computers.

This too is such an interesting back-and-forth because he says ‘the smell.’ She says, “They don’t smell.” And he says, “That’s it. Smell is our most powerful memory trigger.”

Writing With All The Senses

That is something that is good to remember when you are writing fiction. Because a smell can evoke so much. It’s directly linked to memory, and putting in a smell that evokes feelings for the reader and a scene for the reader and can do so much more than a visual description.

Many of us, especially now, there is so much good longform storytelling on. I want to call it TV — it isn’t really TV — Netflix shows, Amazon Prime shows, Hulu that I watch much more than I used to, and I read a little bit less. I still read a lot.

But not as much as I used to, and the downside of that is it is easy to really fall into only visual storytelling. Or perhaps visual and sounds, because that’s what we can get through the screen. But the sense of smell is so powerful. And having a key smell, like Giles says, ‘Books smell musty and rich’ that can bring me right back into that library. The local library I loved so much as a kid and spent so much time in.

Computers and Knowledge

Giles continues and says, “Computer knowledge is there and it’s gone. There’s no textured, no context.” And here’s a direct quote, he says, “If it’s to last, the getting of knowledge should be tangible, it should be smelly.”

And that goes with this idea that information is so much more readily available now. But there is that point that Giles makes, even from 20 some years ago, it doesn’t have context. A lot of times we are seeing quick blips of things with no context and the idea of ‘no texture, no richness, it’s there and it’s gone.’

Giles and Jenny Story Arc

So Giles and Jenny don’t really reach an agreement. But I would say they agree to disagree.

Jenny says he’s old-fashioned, but we get the sense she likes him. There’s a little bit more flirting. This raises a good story question to carry viewers through more of the season. Which is what will happen between Jenny and Giles?

I really like seeing Giles with a relationship with an adult. We only get to see him interacting with the kids. He is very important to their story and to Buffy as a father figure, but I like the Giles can also have a personal life.

Hiding The Question

This romantic tension between Giles and Jenny also does a little bit to obscure the question Giles asked, and his suspicions when he wondered why Jenny knew so much, why did she know Moloch? Why was she watching what was happening?

And he said, “Who are you?”

By the end of the episode we’ve kind of forgotten about that. Or at least I did the first time I watched because initially Jenny seemed a little bit suspicious. Well, not in the first scene but when she comes in and she already knows all these things.

But now I’m not worried about it because she and Giles seem to really be getting along and clicking. And because she helped defeat villain. So it sort of distracts us from that question that Giles asked.

I, Robot and Story Question on Love

Now we have the rest of our Falling Action which is Buffy, Xander, and Willow outside. Willow is very sad. This is the first boy who liked her and he’s a demon. And she says, “What does that say about me?”

Buffy and Xander are reassuring her, Buffy says, “We’re on the Hellmouth.” Like, this isn’t about you, and jokes about, “Hey, you know, I fell for someone new turns out to be a vampire.”

Xander says, “Yeah, and the teacher I had a crush on was a giant praying mantis.” And they all laugh, and then they get very somber when they realize that’s pretty depressing.

Then we end.

And that too, raises a little bit of a story question: Will love ever work out for any of them being on the Hellmouth?

Next Week

That is it for this episode. I hope you will tune in next week. We’ll be talking about The Puppet Show. We get to meet another new character, Principal Snyder, who himself is very ominous and perhaps is our villain. We’ll find out.

I’ll have a short spoiler section so if you would like to stay around, hang out for a minute, if not, in the meantime, as I said, you can find me on twitter @LisaMLilly. You could email me with your thoughts [email protected] and put Buffy in the subject line. It’ll help me make sure to pick out your comments.

One more thing before we go to the spoilers. I will be taking a two-week holiday break. But Buffy and the Art of Story will be back on Monday, December 30.

Spoilers in I Robot…You, Jane

All right, here we are for spoilers. I had completely forgotten both that this was the episode where we met Jenny and had forgotten that question that Giles asks Jenny,
“Who are you?”

As I mentioned, the episode does a great job of seeming to answer that question. It all seems good, Jenny chides Giles for thinking technology and magic can’t mix, and we think that is all that was about, that Giles was being a little snobby and at least stuck in his own viewpoint and not realizing that, yes, she could be tech savvy and know about magic.

So we think that’s all there is to it.

Season 2 Jenny

In Season Two, of course, we’ll find out that she is from this Gypsy clan — and I apologize for the use of the word, that really isn’t one that we consider appropriate anymore — it is how the show characterizes the curse for Angel that he was cursed by Gypsies, which is probably how Angel would have described that clan back when this happened to him, and the show continues to use the word.

Jenny is from the people that Angel hurt. We find out that she is there to watch Buffy and Angel. When that comes up in Season Two, I likewise wondered whether it was something that the writers decided on later because they liked Jenny or whether it had always been planned.

A Different Perspective

Now watching this episode from that perspective, I think it probably was planned. Or at least they had an idea that perhaps there would be something with Jenny later that was either questionable or that she might have a dark side. Whether it was specifically planned or not, this was a nice way to start out with it. I was very happy to see that initially, Giles was somewhat suspicious of Jenny.

So that is all for spoilers. Thanks for listening.

Just a reminder, before you go there will be a two week holiday break. But Buffy and the Art of Story will be back on Monday, December 30th.

I hope to see you next time for The Puppet Show.

P.S. For more on plotting, you can check out Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel (Book 1 in the Writing As A Second Career series).

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