Monday, April 23, 2012

Buffy: Help (7.4)

One of my favorite Buffy scenes is actually one without dialogue or even a whole lot of movement. It occurs mid-way through this episode, with Buffy, Willow, Xander and Dawn sitting around the dining-room table investigating pre-cog death girl Cassie and trying to unravel the mystery surrounding her. It's a brief moment, but feels so powerful. Here's a group of characters that we've been watching for so long now, all of whom are friendly once again and determined to solve a supernatural case. A lot of this episode feels pretty intimate, notably in that scene as well as the brief shots of Dawn, Cassie and Mike all hanging out and laughing together. There's so much happiness and teamwork here, which make Cassie's ultimate demise so much more affecting. I love Help, and it's that sense of together-ness that really struck me, not only as a viewer but as a long-term fan of the series.

The act of helping folds into every corner of this episode. The groundwork for all of this is Buffy's first day as Sunnydale High counselor, a job that immediately forces her to interact with a collection of teens, some flaky and obnoxious, others deeply troubled. The most arresting is a girl named Cassie, somebody seemingly together but ruptured by the vague psychic knowledge that she'll die in a week's time. Buffy does everything in her power to help. She becomes 'Buffy the counselor' instead of 'Buffy the vampire slayer', yet struggles with any results. She then embraces her slayer-dom and supposedly saves Cassie's life -- only for Cassie to perish anyway due to a sudden heart ailment. It's a devastating ending, but that final shot punctuates Buffy's motivation: even if the result isn't what you desire, you need to try your best all the same.

Azura Skye is a wonderful protagonist for the story. She plays Cassie as a girl who has already made peace with her impending death, meaning there's no anger there, but still pines for the things she'll never do and the emotions she'll never feel. She has strong chemistry with both Sarah Michelle Gellar and especially Michelle Trachtenberg, and you totally sympathize with their pain when Cassie finally passes. It's debatable whether the script gets a little bogged down in emo-poetry at certain points, but I never felt that it ever impacted the episode too negatively.

The sacrificial teen cult thing is appropriately vacuous, something Buffy makes clear with her casual undermining of their lameness. But that's not the story here. Help is an episode that is already strong on its own, but becomes so much more after watching the rest of the season -- Cassie's vague statements to Buffy and Spike, Buffy's emotional involvement in Cassie's plight and how her death ultimately changes her perspective. It all works so well, capped by other strong moments that aren't at all related to the main thrust of the episode, like the opening scene in the funeral home or that gorgeous moment with Willow visiting Tara's grave. Help is another ridiculously strong season seven episode, and another one of those unheralded classics. A+

Guest stars Azura Skye (Cassie Newton); Zachery Bryan (Peter Nichols); Glenn Morshower (Phillip Newton); Rick Gonzalez (Tomas); Kevin Christy (Josh); Sarah Hagan (Amanda); Beth Skipp (Lulu); Anthony Harrell (Matthew); Jarrett Lennon (Martin Wilder); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Rebecca Rand Kirshner Director Rick Rosenthal


  1. I agree with everything you've said here, particularly how affecting her death is, no doubt thanks to Azura's performance. I loved what you said about Buffy making fun of the lame sacrificial stuff, but like you said, its not the point of the story. And I love that final shot.

    Help also gets me thinking that had season 7 not been the final season, minus all the first, potential stuff, it could have been a much different season, with more episodes like this it could have gotten to darker places that season 6 never did, but not dive into a depress-a-thon like season 6 did sometimes.

    Can't wait for the Selfless review. One of my all time favorites.

  2. That's an interesting point. Because Help does cover darker ground, but it's not a particularly depressing episode. It's something that season six struggled to do, at all.

  3. It was that backdrop of normalcy that made it so good, quite refreshing to see Buffy tackle something like this and she comes good again- I've really warmed to her character again. I don't know what it is but her not getting hysterical over Spike is so commendable she just gets him to do what's needed and is able to step aside a bit. The working her feelings out with Spike definitely comes through, mulling things over with what to next next after everything that happened but she still gets the job done. It was a sad moment when she believed she hadn't helped this episode.
    I guess there was a bit of lagging cause they gave the poems a lot of time but I didn't mind too much either. I thought the graphics were fun and I liked the paintings. It was culturally grounding to see them using google- the things one forgets people had access to- it was also exciting to see Millie from Freaks and Geeks! (and I suppose exciting to see that angry guy from coach carter didn't like that film too much but anyway!) (While we're at it- who knew that Bernard and Jin from Lost had such evil relatives working for Wolfram and Hart all along..).

  4. This was a great underrated episode. For some reason it reminds me of season 2's Reptile Boy but obviously this script has much more weight to it.

  5. Oh, I definitely see the parallels, especially with the lame frat guys trying to raise a demon. But, absolutely, Help is far more compelling as an hour of drama. Even if Reptile Boy has a certain charm to it, too.

    Thanks for reading.