Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 7, Episode 4: Help
Written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner; Directed by Rick Rosenthal
As I write this review, it occurs to me that, despite being one of the weakest seasons of Buffy ever, Season 7 actually has the longest run of solid episodes at its start. Looking at these early episodes, it seems clear that the writers at least were earnest in their intent to move away from the depression of Season 6 and go back to a more light-hearted style of show. It also seems fairly certain that, at this stage, they really weren’t sure whether or not this would be their last season, because it’s probably fair to say that, had they known for certain they were on their way out, they wouldn’t have done so many filler episodes. In that regard, I suspect that at least some of the blame for Season 7’s overall suckage should be laid at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s feet, since she took so long to decide she wasn’t coming back that the writers ended up with very little time to wrap things up.
Anyway, good things about this episode: Willow and Xander visit Tara’s grave. This is one of something like three episodes in which Tara is directly referenced (although her name isn’t actually spoken here), and the scene manages to be quite touching. Also, the main plot, involving a young girl called Cassie who can see into the future and predicts that she’s going to die on Friday, is a little different from usual and is dealt with well. It’s not the most uplifting of episodes, but it is poignant, and probably Rebecca Kirshner’s best writing effort. The actress playing Cassie, Azura Skye, is also excellent. I know that the episode is filled with all sorts of timeframe errors, but I can overlook these. Interestingly, too, this short-lived mini Scoobie gang of Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Xander is quite effective, getting away from the sometimes overcrowded nature of of the last couple of seasons in favour of a more concentrated approach. Where’s Anya, though? She’s not in this episode at all, which is pretty indicative of the way her character ends up being treated throughout the rest of the season.
On the downside, the writing may have got better, but the directing certainly hasn’t. If anything, it’s got worse. So far, every episode of this season has looked bland, flat and anonymous, with drab lighting and very uninteresting camerawork - and, as far as I can remember, this doesn’t change. It’s serviceable, that’s for sure, but when I look back to something like Bad Girls in Season 3 and think how good the lighting, staging and stunts were, it becomes really obvious how much the show’s technical standards have slipped.
Overall rating: 8/10.
Next time: Selfless.