Friday, June 29, 2012

Classics: BtVS 7:4 - Help

Overall Rating: 7.6

This one had big aspirations toward greatness and wound up feeling a tad on the forced side.

Plot Synopsis:

A summary of this episode may be found at the all-knowing Wikipedia - at least for now.

The Skinny:

Don't get me wrong with my comments at the top there - I like what the episode tried to say about the importance of never giving up, even under the certain knowledge that you can't possibly solve every problem or help every troubled soul.  I like the actress they chose for the part of Cassie.  I like Cassie's broad character - she is very charming and endearing, and that has to count for something toward my emotional reaction to the episode.  I even like the twist (it turns out she has a congenital heart condition and dies despite all of Buffy's worldly efforts to save her) to a certain extent.  So...they did a lot of things well and should get credit for that.

My problems with the episode, however, are threefold.  One, Cassie's prescience is never explained and seems to be used to great convenient effect throughout the plot, making us feel like something larger is at work, when in fact it's all biological (the source of her fate).  Two, several of the scenes embedded within this episode don't fit with the plot in any way and don't add anything to it - they're there solely for the purpose of setting up other episodes, and I generally don't much care for that approach to storytelling.  When you drop info on us, it should be relevant in the hear and now as well as used for foreshadowing future events, IMHO.  Otherwise it just feels like we're getting a series of vignettes thrown at us.  Buffy's talk with Spike (shoehorned into the plot against all logic), Dawn's talk with Xander (having nothing at all to do with the plot), the coffin scene at the beginning of the episode...this all seems like transitional filler, not like good plot-building.  Not that those scenes shouldn't, at some point, be seen - some of that material was good - I just don't like how they were dropped in there at random.

And finally, I don't think enough of a service was done to the central question of the episode.  Cassie (who knows she is going to die) could have come to embody the virtue represented by the final scene (Buffy returning to work to try again).  She could have been EMBRACING life, even knowing that she had very little time left.  She could have been trying to help someone else.  The scoobies could have been remembering how hard she fought for her friends before the end came.  We don't get any of that...she dies, suddenly and illogically (as some people do), and the scoobies spend one five-minute conversation telling us the lesson of the story.  Sometimes you can't help, but it's the trying that is its own reward.  Told to us, rather than shown.

Net result - it's a very interesting and endearing episode that nonetheless feels forgettable (albeit enjoyable while being viewed), rather than popping as the writers may have hoped.

Writing: 6.5

What they tried to do was admirable - their product fell a little flat.

Acting: 8.5

Azura Skye does a great job with her one-time role - so good, in fact, that they opted to use her, rather than Tara (when they couldn't get Amber Benson) in the blockbuster feature "Conversations with Dead People."  SMG seems to have a bit of an off week, other than a few of her reaction takes during the less serious interviews with students.  The rest are msotly there for show, though I do want to give a little nod to a rapidly maturing and improving Michelle Trachtenberg.

Message: 7.8

The message is a crucial one...but I don't just grade on the content of a message.  I also score the effectiveness of the delivery.  This one is kind of flubbed.

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