In the fourth episode of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s job as a counselor is already challenging enough as it is when a student comes to her and tells her something horrifying. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I’ve really enjoyed that each season of this show has a different feel to it. Season six was all about misery, so everything was awful forever; coming off of that, these first four episodes of season seven are so quiet. That doesn’t mean that things are happy so far, especially since the end of “Help” is fairly bleak. But the show already feels brighter. I think part of that might be a slight change in cinematography, but I also think it’s a conscious effort on the part of the writers. The Scoobies are actually settling into their lives. If the Big Bad for season six was Life, then this is our chance to see these characters accept that and try to move on. What “Help” examines, then, is what role each person plays in this attempt to do right. Even Xander subtly breaches the subject in the cold open, admitting that he does want to help Buffy despite being rather stressed herself. Really, though, this is mostly about Buffy having to face the fact that sometimes, she can’t help.
I just adored watching her as a counselor, and any worry I had about her performance was destroyed fairly quickly. I’m glad that the writers are addressing the fact that she hadn’t finished college, but this really shows what a natural Buffy is at this job. And I don’t think she was ever in a place to help others emotionally or socially like she does here before this season. Most of the concerns brought to her are strictly non-supernatural, so she’s left to use her empathy to try and relate to the parade of teenagers who come in. There’s Amanda, who was my clear favorite. SHE’S LIKE A MINIATURE BUFFY: super awkward and totally kick ass. THEN RICK GONZALEZ IS ON BUFFY AND I HAD NO IDEA AND THAT IS SO WONDERFUL. But for real, I cannot tell you how distracting it was that Zachary Ty Bryant was on this goddamn show. My parents loved watching Home Improvement, so by osmosis, I’ve seen practically every single episode of at least the first seven seasons or so. So as soon as he appeared on the screen, I just started laughing. It’s Brad Taylor! I can’t see him as anyone else. I TRIED. I REALLY DID.
But Cassie stood out from the all. She reminded me a bit of Luna Lovegood at times, but her name clued me into what was going on here: her story paralleled the seer Cassandra from Greek mythology. (Oh shit, I just realized that Delirium from The Sandman has a lot in common with Cassandra, too. FUCK, MUST RE-READ THE WHOLE SERIES WITH THIS CHARACTER PARALLEL IN MIND.)
The Slaughterhouse-Five reference pretty much spelled things out for me except for the ending, and that’s what kept the pace moving towards that final heartbreaking moment. Why did Cassie know she was going to die? Were those students in the red robes responsible for her visions? Was it her father or her mother? Is Mike Helgenberg cursing her because he can’t handle rejection?
Buffy (with the Scoobies in tow most of the time) then sets out to help Cassie. True to the episode’s title, this particular story deconstructs what it means when anyone helps someone. I think she certainly began to help the various students she saw over the course of her first couple days as guidance counselor. (I’d like to see more from these students, but I’m betting I don’t ever see any of them again.) We also see Willow reflect upon the same subject with Xander. She’s certainly in an awkward and uncomfortable place. She wants to help, but she has to be far more careful than any of these other characters. It’s nice to see her getting closer to Xander as well, and his hammer/nail analogy was really spot on. But Willow’s journey isn’t going to be that simple. If she does choose to use magic to help out the rest of the Scoobies, she’s always going to have to be conscious of the fact that she possesses the capacity to destroy. Oh god, now I’m having thoughts about parallels between Magic Willow and Alanna from Alanna: The First Adventure and I JUST BARELY STARTED THAT BOOK ON MARK READS. Help me, I am reaching a critical level of feels because of all the fabulous characters I have come to love. HELP.
So what’s Buffy to do? They research Cassie’s life by using Google. (OH MY GOD, I FORGOT THERE WAS A TIME WHEN YOU COULDN’T USE GOOGLE. That’s kind of sad. Also, perhaps Willow should have said that she was using her favorite search engine instead. The problem that they all run into is that they’re never quite sure if what they’re investigating is actually the cause of Cassie’s visions or if it’ll lead to her death. Her poetry is depressing, but what teenager hasn’t written angst-laden poems online or written Doogie Howser fanfic? (Willow writes fanfic THIS IS TOO MUCH TO DEAL WITH.) Her father is an alcoholic, but when Buffy and Xander confront him, their theory of abuse falls apart. Mike has already moved on from Cassie, setting his sights on Dawn. And this is not a case of Cassie giving up on life, either. Buffy kind of has a lot of experience in that realm, but Cassie denies that this is the case. (Ugh, how heartbreaking is that monologue she gives? It’s even worse in hindsight.)
Once Buffy figured out what was going on and infiltrated the demon raising ceremony, I started to wonder what factor disrupted Cassie’s visions. Something had to have changed to cause the visions she was having to fail to come true. Buffy was clearly going to kick ass here, and once she saved Cassie from death, I was totally confused by the logistics of what was going on. (ALSO, WHAT DOES “SOMEDAY, SHE’LL TELL YOU” EVEN MEAN???) Then Buffy saves Cassie from the bow trap, and I thought, “Holy shit, she made it out!”
Bam. She drops dead.
When the episode cut to the Scoobies discussing the tragic death of Cassie from a bad heart, I noticed that Joyce looked over them from her portrait. She is the only other character in this series whom Buffy could not help. She was always going to die, just like Cassie. And that’s something Buffy has to accept, especially in context with her job. She’s going to have students come to her, and she’ll be unable to help them. Not all the evils in the world are monsters, demons, and vampires. I’m reminded of Bad Religion’s “Billy,” a song whose conclusion is rather apt for this episode:
So where is the justice when no one is at fault and a human life is tragically wasted? How fragile is the flame that burns within us all to light each passing day?
There is no justice. Sometimes, we can’t do anything. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up, and it doesn’t mean what we did was pointless.
So, I do need to talk about one other moment that I glossed over. When Xander was talking with Willow and asked her if she was “ready for this,” I was completely lost. As soon as the camera cut to reveal a graveyard, I just started shouting NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. This is a pile of NOPE in a tub of NOPE on NOPE STREET in NOPEVILLE in the state of NEW NOPE in the Milky NOPE galaxy and I just totally lost it. No, stop, stop reminding me that Tara is no longer here, I hate you, show, you are hitting me right in the feelings. 🙁
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