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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a drama about a young girl who inherits the powers to fight the demons that threaten the Earth. She lives in Sunnydale, California which happens to be the Hellmouth and must learn to master her powers while also trying to have some semblance of a normal life. The WB 1997 - 2001. UPN 2002-03.

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Episode 4 - Help

18 November 2013

Buffy tries to save Cassie

Synopsis: Buffy begins work at the school and tries to offer good advice to the students. She is shaken when one of them, Cassie, says she is certain of her own impending death. Buffy asks Dawn to befriend her and furiously investigates.

The Good: What an extraordinary episode. This felt like a sort of amalgam between the roots of the show and the darkness of Season Six. A monster of the week episode that was actually about the tragedy of mortality.

The casting of Azura Skye as Cassie made the episode. Some actors have the gift of being able to play a recognisable person without much direction from the script. Her natural softness made Cassie's sad resignation seem even more touching than it might otherwise have been. Buffy's utter determination to save the day was typically strong and Dawn really shone here. I actually felt a lot of sympathy for her. Back in high school the other Scoobies would occasionally have to force their existing friendships to get information out of their classmates. But new to school poor Dawn was asked to encroach on someone else's business alone and that's a really intimidating mission. So for it to succeed and leave her with a new friend who was destined to die is very hard on her.

The structure of the story was very solid. The opening montage showing us Buffy's new job gave us hints of silliness in between real problems so that Cassie's revelation would stand out. Then the use of her poems, again in montage, as the group researched furiously gave the story depth and emotion. The picture was drawn clearly of her impotent frustration with the life she could never have.

The crescendo was a little clumsy. The revelation that Peter was trying to gain immense riches from a demon was thin and the subsequent fight, including Spike's involvement was too brief. However it did successfully distract the viewer long enough that Cassie's heart failure was enough of a surprise to grab the emotions. It was absolutely the right conclusion to an episode that lingered so long on tragedy that an upbeat ending would have been an anti-climax. To cap it all off the final shot was absolutely perfect. All the best Buffy episodes bring the story back to her calling. "What do you when...you can't help?" she asks. And then a shot of her back at her desk the next day. You just keep trying.

The Bad: After Gnarl stole the show last week we were back in the land of dodgy effects. Particularly the moment when the demon knelt with his arms out wide so that very fake fire effects could be transposed on to him.

The Unknown: Cassie predicts that Buffy will "make a difference" and will one day tell Spike something. It's something he clearly wants to hear and given his guilt ridden self mutilation I assume it would be forgiveness. As for Buffy making a difference well she's done more than enough already but I assume from beneath you it may not devour thanks to her.

Best Moment: Cassie's speech about all the things she'd like to do in life which she never will. Delivered like a sweet apology. That tone of resignation was the key to the tragedy. If she had played it angrily, railing against the world then the vibe would have been quite different.

The Bottom Line: This showed the kind of focus and intensity that I wish Buffy would use more often. However the story that was told and the actress who brought it all together made this something very special.

 

Cordia's Second Look
Help
Season 7, Episode 4
Original airing: 10/15/2002

My Rating: 55

The Good: In a lot of ways, this was an excellent episode with a powerful story. Seven years in, Buffy the Vampire Slayer still can’t save everyone. I really felt Buffy’s pain as she raced and struggled to understand Cassie’s fate and protect her from an untimely death. I was really drawn into this episode for the first three-quarters. Almost everything up to the reveal of Peter and his Red Cloaks was well paced and quite powerful.

There was some logical silliness. For instance, I’m quite sure Buffy would be in trouble for going to a student’s parent in the middle of the night and point blank accusing him of drunkenly assaulting his daughter. However, the majority of the story set up worked great.

Cassie was the perfect sweet note of external acceptance of her fate, while her repeated poems showed just how affecting the whole situation was for her. Her quiet, desperate speech to Buffy and Xander about her lost opportunities brought tears to my eyes.

I thought the show did an excellent job with Dawn’s small arc. Befriending Cassie was originally a mission, but became a goal in itself. Dawn’s desperation to help her and her powerful grief at the end of the episode were very well portrayed. I thought Dawn said it best with her comment that sometimes all you can do is listen and try.

The Bad: Obnoxious Peter’s random plan to summon a demon for riches was a very thin and out of the blue plot. Then, it was completely undermined by the obvious surprise and concern of his cohorts when he pulled Cassie from the shadows. It seemed none of them really knew what was going on and it added a weird layer to the scene that the show didn’t have time to deal with. I found it distracting to wonder what was going on there while the show was trying to move on to the fight with the demon and Spike’s appearance.

Speaking of Spike for a moment, it always felt before like his chip was quite consistent. Hit a human - feel blinding, debilitating pain. Here, he punches Peter in the face a few times and doesn’t seem all that bothered by the chip. It’s disappointing to see such a great, consistent prop be destroyed in its effectiveness for quick plot movement.

But back to the Red Cloaks. The real ending of the episode was ruined for me because of those contrite faces pulled in the library on random dude 1 and 2. Their confusion mixed with the realization that the booby trap was definitely intended to be deadly had me completely out of the show wondering what was going on there – then Cassie collapsed. The huge logical fallacy of the Red Cloaks and their intention to do harm versus their belief that this was a bloodless get rich quick scheme pulled me out of the episode just when the biggest emotional moment was happening. That actually makes me quite angry at the writing.

Favorite Moment: Cassie’s speech to Buffy and Xander outside her father’s home made clear just how terrible the whole situation was for Cassie. Her external acceptance is so peaceful, it seems inhuman. But inside, she’s torn up and experiencing precisely the emotions I would expect from someone who knows their life is going to end early without their choosing.

The Bottom Line: An awesome start crashes into a brick wall of terrible plotting and logical issues. This is unfortunately not the first time something like this has happened on Buffy. This time, it really struck me as a ruination of the end of the episode because the beginning was so very promising and everything after Peter’s reveal was so very poor. The episode did end on a powerful note with Dawn’s grief, but it wasn’t enough to avoid leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

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