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What's the Difference Between a Playground and Season Seven?

Buffy Episode 7.4 Help
AirDate: 15th Oct 02

In what appears to be a developing tradition, I'm going to open this week's Buffy round-up by addressing two points from last week that drew a literal flood of reader response.

  1. Apparently if the network that airs Buffy and Angel in my area didn't monkey with the end credits most weeks, I would have been able to read the names of the actresses who played the two young girls killed in the opening sequences of the first two episodes. If I had, I would have discovered that neither one was Sarah Michelle Gellar Prinze Jr (Cox-Arquette, etc). I didn't start the rumour, but let's call it dead now.

  2. In my eagerness to give praise to the writer of 7.2, I credited Doug Petrie – specifically for his masterful scripting of the closing scene in the church. Apparently this was inaccurate and the scene was masterful because it benefited from a last-minute rewrite by the master himself. No, not The Master (sorry Mark Metcalf), I'm referring to Joss Whedon. Word is that Joss (and possibly SMG) wasn't entirely happy with the tone of that scene, so he not only rewrote it but directed it as well. Now. Many of you will read that explanation and think, "Well he can't be faulted for identifying Petrie as the scene's writer, since Doug got the writing credit on the show as it aired." Seems logical to me. Why would I be expected to know about something that transpired totally behind the scenes? I'm sure all sorts of rewrites and switcheroos go on that we, as the audience, aren't aware of. Imagine my surprise when I received 50 or 60 emails from people drawing my attention to this inaccuracy. Many of you were friendly enough about it, passing on the information without any implied hostility. But there were people who were seriously irritated because I didn't take the time to READ THE SHOOTING SCRIPT, or at least visit the many spoiler sites where this item was widely discussed. "Check your sources!", they cried. "Next time get your facts straight before you print any more false information!" One person told me that this oversight (as well as my use of the term "nutcase" to describe Spike) made the review the worst she'd ever read. So now, fresh from my flaying at the hands of the internet militia, I come before you today with the following message: Get. Over. It. If those of you who came at me with Guns A-Blazin' are going to expect me to now devote more time to tirelessly researching the inner workings of Mutant Enemy so as to keep up with the most obsessive among your number, you might want to stop reading my reviews. I love Buffy and Angel and I have a lot of fun sharing my opinions on both shows each week. When tidbits like word of Joss' rewrite come my way I'm definitely interested, but my "sources" begin and end with watching the episodes on television. I don't have any contacts on either set (as some of you do, by your own admission), I don't see the shooting scripts, I've never had brunch with Marti Noxon (although she has a standing invite), and I don't intend to beat up Willie the Snitch to find out what David Fury takes in his coffee. I'm trying to avoid spoilers and enjoy the show purely on its own merits, and sometimes I might not be aware of things the Bronzers are discussing. So if we're 5x5 on that…
For me, the difference between a playground and a season of Buffy is that, with Buffy, I hate the slide. What slide, you may ask? It's the one I start noticing when I didn't like last week's episode as much as the week before, and I enjoyed this latest episode even less. In my opinion things are feeling a touch downhilly, but I'm confident that it's temporary.

As I said last week. Every episode can't be the best of the season, and I'm definitely not hitting the panic button. What are there, 19 or 20 more to come? Even the best season (and I'm sure I'd hear drastically varied opinions as to which one can lay claim to that title) suffered brief periods where things were a little less spellbinding. It seems Joss is going to be tapping a larger rotation of scribes for both Buffy and Angel this season, so this will inevitably lead to a mixed bag of styles. Obviously some will cater to our individual tastes more than others. But enough musing on the season in general thus far. Let's get on to episode 7.4, ‘Help'.

All of Dawn's bubbly enthusiasm (much nicer than abrasive shrieking) for detective work and her steady droppage of gumshoe lingo seems bang on, as the Scoobs are operating more like a detective agency this season (see also the way they dealt with Nancy when Xander first brought her over). This episode opened with the gang trying to crack The Case of the… Vampire(?). It seems a bit excessive to spend a half hour hiding out in coffins just to see if a woman reported to have died of cuts and abrasions to the neck will rise again. People die by bloodsucker every night in Sunnydale, and we all know perfectly well that not every one gets turned into a vamp. I'm sure Buffy had reasonable cause to suspect this particular stiff, but I'm still wondering what it was. Let's not even get into the flimsy device of having three empty coffins conveniently arranged in the same room as the one containing the lady they were waiting on, and the further mystery of how three people managed to get into them during business hours. It's strange – I really enjoyed Rebecca Rand Kirshner's writing last season (she wrote Tabula Rasa, my favourite episode after Once More With Feeling), but there were points throughout ‘Help' where I was thinking things felt awkward and tacked on. I realize SMG bears an uncanny resemblance to Daphne, but this episode seemed more like a vehicle for that OTHER Scooby gang. "And it would have worked, if it wasn't for you meddling kids!"

This was another episode that was all Scooby and no Scrappy. Didn't it seem in ‘Lessons' like Dawn had found her new best friends and she, Kit & Carlos were going to be doing their own ghostbusting as an inseparable team? So what happened? Admittedly the previous two episodes were light on school time, but last night would have been a perfect opportunity to show the Scrappies hanging out and bonding (don't let it die already, I love the nickname too much!). Maybe Joss & Co never intended to keep those two around, and it was just an example of how we shouldn't assume we know where things are headed.

Which seems to be a recurring idea so far this season. First we thought we were getting a closer glimpse into this year's Big Bad when the ground "Beneath You" shook and Nancy's dog was first eaten in episode 7.2. Nope, it was just Ronnie the Worm, courtesy of Anya. Then something was skinning people in Sunnydale. Could it be Willow, or could it be the great evil that the mystically inclined are heralding? Neither. It was Gnarl – the demon world's answer to Hannibal. This week we were treated to a young girl in trouble, but this time she happened to have precognitive powers and knew her end was imminent. When we first saw the robed figures in the school at night, performing a dark ritual around a photo of Cassie, I thought we were maybe seeing the latest instalment of Cute Girls Getting Hassled By Guys in Robes (I'm sure you've seen the ads for the video on late-nite TV). If that was the case and those girls really ARE connected to the Slayer lineage as many of us suspect, we would have been in store for a major plot development since Buffy was on the scene this time.

But wrong again. It was just some greedy high school kids looking to make a fast buck by using Cassie as the sacrifice in a demon-raising ritual. One more potentially big development that ended up being just another case for Encyclopedia Summers, as the Big Bad remains in a holding pattern.

So what did I like this week? I'm sure I wasn't the only person who got a big lump in my throat as soon as Xander asked Willow, "Are you sure you're ready to do this?", and I realized where they were headed. My lip got quivery as she traced the letters of Tara's name on the headstone. It was a really touching and important moment, and months in coming. Unfortunately as one of the few scenes in the episode with any deeper resonance, it was all too brief as we were immediately whisked back to Sunnydale High and Buffy's Adventures in Guidance Counselling. Over the summer I wondered if we'd see some sort of memorial service for Tara, to help bring Willow a little closure, but maybe this is all we're going to get.

Spike was as captivating as ever (nutcase, nutcase, nutcase). Any time he's on screen it's absolutely electrifying, and I'm really enjoying the contrast whenever he pulls himself together and springs into action. It's funny, but when Buffy doffed her robe and broke up the ritual, my reaction was slightly in the direction of, "Oh, come on." But I involuntarily clapped my hands together when Spike came out of nowhere, torch in hand, to fight the demon and scare the pants off the ringleader kid.

Cassie's presence also contributed to some of the episode's better moments, the first (and possibly best) being her prophetic words to Spike when he removed her gag. "She'll tell you. Someday she'll tell you." My eyes got as wide as his at the juicy potential of this statement. And while I'm not so sure I respect the way Rebecca Kirshner had Cassie just drop dead even after the crisis was averted, her loss brought us to one final and meaningful thought for the evening. Buffy's whole life (now during the day as well as at night) is based around helping people. She crashes through the window in the nick of time to save the day and protect the innocent. But as we saw in the landmark season five episode ‘The Body', she's as helpless as the rest of us when pitted against an enemy that she can't fight with her fists. I really got the sense last night that when the Scoobs were huddled together in the living room, they were mourning the loss of more people than just Cassie and meditating on their own powerlessness when faced with the inevitability of death.

And on THAT happy note, I'll sign off until next week.

Take care, everybody.


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