[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Rebecca Rand Kirshner | Director: Rick Rosenthal | Aired: 10/15/2002]
This is a very difficult episode to judge, because it’s a very solid production with very little character and story relevance. “Help” feels a lot like an old school stand-alone which, I suppose, is alright from time to time, but just doesn’t have the lasting impact to the season as a whole that I crave. How is what happens to Cassie in any significant way relevant to the characters who are still alive? With that said, I still found an emotionally compelling story here. The actress who plays Cassie, Azure Skye, does an excellent job with the role given to her — I found Cassie to be a likeable and sympathetic enough character. So, I definitely enjoyed the episode, but it just can’t score much higher than it does here because of its lack of relevance.
The episode’s not a complete loss for character relevance though. It’s neat that the first person who stops by Buffy’s desk is an unknown Potential. The manner in which Amanda has been handling her problems is amusing (pounding her bully in the face), but also very much hints at the truth of what’s going on inside her. It’s also entertaining watching Buffy’s reactions to all these kids and their problems or excuses. I chuckled when Dawn showed up just to tell Buffy about all the things that she does to annoy her.
Obviously, though, the episode decides to hone in on Cassie, the girl who thinks she’s going to die. This is the crux of the episode: are there times when there’s just nothing you can do to help someone? If that’s true, should you even bother trying to help? I do see some light parallels to the impending Potentials situation and the apparent hopelessness of the fight ahead. Yes, it’s cool Buffy learns something about the nature of helping people, but it just doesn’t connect as well with the rest of the season as I’d have liked it to.
I like seeing Dawn thrown into the mix more. Here’s yet another example of Buffy living up to her promise of including Dawn more in her life. Although not initially slayer-related, Buffy’s making a consistent effort to include Dawn in research, investigation, and even the solution, even if it doesn’t work out so well (e.g. posable Dawn in “Same Time, Same Place” [7×03] ). Although, they’re not quite treating her as an equal yet. Admittedly, her idea here about the friend of Cassie potentially being her killer was dead wrong.
I appreciated that Willow went to visit Tara’s grave. It’s a very somber moment, but one that I feel was very necessary to actually see on screen. Willow’s conversation with Xander en route was also nice, as it further illuminates Willow’s central dilemma this season. She tells him, “I don’t know what I can do. I mean, frankly, I’m scared of what I might do.”
Xander, back to classic form this season after a slump last season due to personal issues, has a great analogy for Willow, “Yeah, I get that. Figuring out how to control your magic seems a lot like hammering a nail. Well, uh, hear me out. So you’re hammering, right? Okay, well at the end of the hammer, you have the power, but no control. It takes, like, two strokes to hit the nail in, or you could hit your thumb … So you choke up. Control, but no power. It could take like ten strokes to knock the nail in. Power, control. It’s a tradeoff.” Willow, thankful, amusingly points out the difference in consequences between Xander’s analogy and her reality, “That’s actually not a bad analogy … Except… I’m less worried about hitting my thumb, and more worried about going all black-eyed baddy and bewitching that hammer into cracking my friends’ skulls open like coconuts.” I think these two sum up Willow’s struggle very nicely in this conversation.
That’s really about all I have to say about this one. I appreciated the bits of foreshadowing we got, loved the usual top-notch continuity, enjoyed the one episode stint with Cassie and actually wish she would have hung around longer, liked all of the surrounding character material — especially the Willow and Xander interaction and the visit to Tara’s grave, and thoroughly enjoyed Buffy fully realizing that she just can’t save everyone, which doesn’t mean she should stop trying. This is a perfectly respectable episode of television that, sadly, just doesn’t have enough lasting relevance to the story or the characters, and is a bit shallow on complexity (although I did appreciate all the red herrings to Cassie’s actual death). In summary, not bad, but not particularly memorable either.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ I’ve got to point it out again: the characters are talking about what happened in the previous episode! 😀
+ Buffy being more nervous about her first actual day on the job than a potential vampire in the coffin behind her.
+ Cassie’s dad being extremely temperamental over Buffy’s implication that he’s going to beat on his daughter. I sympathize with Buffy’s concern, but I also sympathize with the dad’s point of view here.
+ The robed guys in the high school brought back unfriendly reminders of “Reptile Boy” [2×05]. Fortunately, in this episode they’re just a red herring for the real danger.
+ Spike trying to not listen to anything around him anymore, because he’s worried if he listens to all the voices — most of which are likely the First — he could hurt someone.
+ Spike wailing on Peter — head robe guy — despite the pain it causes him due to the chip.
* Cassie tells Spike, in one of those brilliant little moment, that “she’ll tell you. Some day, she’ll tell you.” Obviously Cassie is referring to Buffy telling Spike she loves him, which happens in “Chosen” [7×22].
* Buffy tells Cassie “See. You can make a difference.” Cassie replies, “and you will.”