A funeral home with a woman displayed in a coffin. Everyone leaves and the lights are turned off. Buffy and Xander climb out of coffins they have been hiding in. There is a knocking and Buffy opens a coffin with a gasping Dawn in it who is angry she was in the child's coffin even though she is not the shortest. They are here because Buffy believes the dead woman is a potential vampire due to reports of marks on her neck. She awakes as a vampire and Buffy immediately stakes her.
At school, Buffy is in her cube sharpening her pencils. Her first student arrives, a girl sent by Mr. Miller who says it is because a guy was picking on her. We see another, a boy who says he doesn't want to talk to her. The third is a guy who just seems to be skipping bio and says he has family issues about divorce. Buffy tells the bullied girl that bullies are just insecure. The girl has heard this many times before and is tired of all the insecure people around her. Quiet guy is just quiet. Annoying guy admits he's just bored and goes to bio. Buffy tells bullied girl, Amanda, she has to stick up for herself. Amanda reveals she did. She jumped him in the parking lot and slammed his face into the pavement. Which may be another reason she was sent to see Buffy.
Willow and Xander are walking and Xander says he's confident Buffy is doing a great job. They start worrying about the evil beneath them and Willow wonders when it comes will she be able to help. Xander thinks yes. He makes a brilliant analogy between her struggle with magic and hammering in a nail. You hold the hammer at the end, you have lots of power but no control. You hold it at the top, you've got lots of control but no power. It's a trade off between the two. Willow is impressed. They arrive at Tara's grave and Willow goes there alone. She puts some pebbles on the stone.
Quiet guy tells Buffy he's scared for his brother who is signing up with the marines. She tells him it's not messed up to worry about your brother. He says he doesn't want to talk to his brother about it. Another guy shows up saying he things he's gay, but he's not sure and wants to date her to find out. Buffy talks to a girl with a controlling sister. The camera pulls back to reveal it's Dawn. Next she talks to Cassie, who tries changing the subject by complimenting Buffy's shirt and eventually admits that next Friday she's going to die. Buffy thinks she's talking about suicide, but Cassie denies it. She says she just knows some things and one of them is that she will die next Friday. She says she also knows there will be coins, weird ones, and that Buffy will go somewhere underground and try to help. Cassie leaves, but first tells Buffy to put on a sweater so her shirt doesn't get stained.
Buffy goes to Wood, who says she's done all she can by telling him about it. He says kids often say things. He talks about being suspended when he was in high school (in Beverly Hills) for making a threat. He was just scared and he says these kids are, too. But he'll inform the teachers and search lockers and try to figure out what is going on. He gives Buffy a coffee. Agitated, she bumps into his desk and spills the coffee staining her shirt. She thinks back to what Cassie said.
Buffy appears at Dawn's locker and says she has a job for her. Cassie is talking to a boy in the library and Dawn is lurking and listening. The boy asks Cassie to the dance, but Cassie says she already said no. He says he thought she was kidding. Dawn interrupts, saying she's in pottery class with Cassie and wonders whether Cassie remembers what the homework assignment is. The boy, Mike, introduces himself and leaves to study for his history test. Cassie says he'll get a B. She asks Cassie about the book she is reading and Cassie says she isn't reading it for class, just herself. She says she's stopped reading her homework. She realizes Dawn is Buffy's sister and says she saw Buffy. Dawn asks her what about, then apologizes for prying. Cassie admits Mike has asked her to the dance, but she says she won't be around that night.
Willow, Xander, and Buffy are looking through Cassie's records. They show a well adjusted good student who suddenly starts skipping class and whose marks have declined. There are references to apathy and depression. They are trying to figure out what changed. Willow and Xander suggest the spilled coffee was just a regular accident and Cassie is just a normally depressed girl and not a precog. Willow does a Google search and finds Cassie's web site and they find some really depressing poetry. Dawn arrives. Xander suggests Cassie is just depressed and in love with death. Dawn says she believes Mike is the guy, because he is angry over Cassie's rejection. Willow finds information on Cassie's father, who has a number of drunk and disorderly charges. Buffy and Xander go to check him out. He's upset at their insinuation. They discover he's separated from Cassie's mother and only sees her one weekend a month, and it's not the day she thinks she's going to die. Buffy believes him when he says he wouldn't hurt his daughter. Outside, Cassie is waiting for them. She tells them her father isn't the one, but she appreciates their help. They think she's giving up, but she says she really doesn't want to die. She wants to go to the dance and graduate and do things like backpack across the country and fall in love. But she knows she won't. Cut to robed guys doing some ritual and burning a picture of Cassie.
Buffy is in her office looking at Cassie's web site. The principal comes by and says he's glad it's Friday. Cut to a montage of Cassie, Mike, and Dawn having lunch; Buffy and the gang researching; and Cassie in her room writing poetry. Buffy goes to visit Spike. He's trying not to move or think, saying that way it doesn't hurt much. She tries to ask him about Cassie. She asks if there is an evil in the school and he says yes, but he's talking about himself. He starts talking about hurting the girl and he must be punished and he punches himself in the face. He's talking about Buffy. She realizes he knows nothing about Cassie and turns to leave. He asks her to stay and help him stop hurting. She says she thinks it's worse when she is there.
Wood is going through student lockers. Buffy stops Mike in the hall and asks if he's upset about anything. He says he got a B on his history exam. She says she knows he can't get a date to the dance. He realizes she is Dawn's sister and says since Cassie won't go with him he's thinking of asking Dawn. She realizes he's not angry at Cassie and she's a little upset Dawn is his second choice. Some strange coins fall out of a locker. Buffy checks the locker number and finds the student who has it. She asks him what he has to do with Cassie. He says he doesn't know anything and she's creeping him out. She says she returned to Sunnydale high to help. She says she'll smash in his face if he doesn't tell her what she wants to know. He says he knows the girl and some guys are planning to mess with her.
Dawn is leaving school with Cassie and offers to walk her home. Cassie says no. She says she knows Buffy asked her to pretend to be her friend. Dawn says she isn't pretending and Cassie says she knows and Dawn is her friend but to remember she's not as dumb as she looks. Cassie tells Dawn what will happen isn't her fault. Bio skipping guy calls to Dawn. We learn his name is Peter and he asks Dawn if anyone has asked her to the dance. She says no and he says he was just doing a poll. When she turns, Cassie is gone.
It's night time at Sunnydale high. The robed guys are performing a ritual. They are led by Peter. We learn they have boobytrapped the exits and are planning a ritual to make them rich. Peter drags out a bound and gagged Cassie. He says he chose Cassie because of her suicidal writings. He figures if she disappears people will just think she committed suicide. They begin the ritual to summon Avilas. One of the robed people stands up and reveals herself to be Buffy. She tells them how lame this is. But the demon has been raised and shows up behind her.
Buffy fights the demon. Peter tries to sacrifice Cassie. Spike shows up with a flaming torch. Buffy takes it to fight the demon and tells him to save Cassie. He hits Peter, repeatedly, clasping his head in agony with each blow to the human. Buffy sets the demon on fire and destroys it. Spike frees Cassie who tells him "She'll tell you". Buffy comes over. Spike leaves. Peter crawls to the demon. It's skeleton bites him, then explodes. Peter calls for help, Buffy walks out with Cassie. When she opens the door, the booby trap goes off firing a crossbolt at Cassie. Buffy catches it and saves her. She says you can make a difference. Cassie tells her she will and keels over dead from a heart attack.
The gang are at home. Buffy tells them Cassie's mother told her the family had a history of heart irregularities, Xander says Cassie would have died anyway, it didn't matter what Buffy did. Buffy says she failed her. Dawn says no, because she tried. She says sometimes you can't help. Buffy says what do you do then.
Buffy is at her office at the school. Sitting.
Seven years and Whedon can still sucker me. I thought the teenagers in robes were the robed guys from the first two episodes plotting to kill another girl. I thought Cassie would die, then she wouldn't, then she would, then she wouldn't - well you get the idea. I suspected principal Wood would be involved with the robed guys - he's just too nice to be good. In short, I was pretty much wrong all the way and that's the way I like it.
Cassie's predictions bear considering. She says she'll tell Spike. She says Buffy will make a difference. Tell what and make a difference how? Clearly not make a difference for Cassie. I'm not even sure if we'll learn what her predictions mean this season or if these are long term plans for Whedon. We know Spike longs to have Buffy love him, but is that what he wants to hear? And is the she even Buffy? Could it be another? Dawn? Or might the words just be an acceptance of Spike as a man? It's interesting that he uses that word to describe himself twice in this episode. A bad man, but a man. He's a monster no longer. When you come down to it, what Cassie does in her last moments of life is give hope to others. Hope that they can have the things they most desire if they just stick it out.
Last week, in Same Time, Same Place, the gang confronted despair and conquered it. That same week in the Angel episode Deep Down, Angel also deals with despair and says that champions exist because the world is not the way it should be. He says they are not there to make the world better, but to show that it can be. We get echoes of those themes in the final scenes of this episode. We have Buffy questioning her actions, considering herself a failure. But Dawn notes that she tried, she functioned as a champion, she lived in the world as if it were a better place. Because of her, Dawn had her friendship with Cassie. Buffy could not stop Cassie's death, and ultimately we will all die, but she could make her life and the lives of others a little better. That's what she does as a slayer and that's what she will do as a counselor. She says she has taken the job because she wants to help and she will. She did help Cassie and the boy who was afraid for his brother and probably many others before and many others to come. But they'll still all die and she has to learn to accept that.
Cassie's prediction about Buffy making a difference clearly speaks to this despair and the approach Buffy must take toward it. And to her career choices. Maybe Buffy will make a difference in Sunnydale high, making life better for the students. Maybe she'll defeat the great evil which is brewing in Sunnydale. Maybe she'll just help Dawn grow up and find her way. Maybe she'll help her friends Willow and Xander heal. Maybe all of those things.
I'm glad Buffy is actually doing some real counselling work and I hope this turns into a career for her. She can go back to school and get a degree in psychology or social work. This would let her help people in all aspects of her life. And that's really her destiny. A point Xander makes when he says she's perfect for the job. I appreciated the fact that most of the kids who came to see her did not have demonic problems but just regular ones. You've got a kid worried about his brother joining the marines. He's embarrassed to tell anyone he's frightened for his brother. He's ashamed of what he sees as cowardice when his brother seems so brave because of what he is doing. In a town where you are more likely to be killed by demons than mugged, being worried about your brother going to war is refreshing. So is the bullied girl who just has to deal with teenage jerks, not vampires.
Some quick final thoughts. Dawn watches way too much tv, especially NYPD Blue. She's liking the perp a little too much. I have to wonder if he will ask her to the dance. How come some vampires don't rise until they are buried and others rise while in the coffin in the funeral home? Is it just a time thing? Are some just buried really quickly? Or does it have something to do with how they are turned? Shouldn't a counsellor have a real office and not a cube? Are kids willing to talk so publicly? I'd sure be uncomfortable. I like Willow putting the pebbles on the tomb stone. Just for the sake of thoroughness, the name on the tombstone is Tara Maclay and the dates are October 16, 1980 to May 7, 2002 making Tara 21 and a half when she died. Cassie is reading Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut about a man who comes unstuck in time. It is good. Shouldn't Cassie's medical record have revealed the heart problem or did Xander simply not notice it? You've got to love Blue Clam Cult. I guess we now have confirmation that the chip is still working.
Lines of the week:
"I always thought closed caskets were more tasteful, anyway." - Buffy with a Sunnydale fashion tip.
"Power. Control. It's a trade off." - Xander with a brilliant analogy.
"It's not messed up to worry about your brother." - Buffy with some advice you can easily generalize.
"She's my sister." - Dawn trying to get the hierarchy straight.
"I'm liking Mike Helgenberg for the perp. Let's collar him before he lawyers up." - Dawn indicating she has watched way too much NYPD Blue.
"I'm a bad man." - Spike not identifying as a vampire.
"I think it's worse when I'm here." - Buffy on why she leaves.
"Dawn is my sister." - Buffy getting the hierarchy straight.
"You're asking my sister to the dance. And she's your second choice. I'll be keeping an eye on you." - Buffy getting momlike.
"I'm a counselor here because I want to help." - Buffy on why she returned to Sunnydale high.
"That is going on your permanent record." - Buffy letting Peter know who's in charge.
"I'm a bad man." - Spike letting Peter know who he is.
"She'll tell you. Someday she'll tell you." - Cassie's vision for Spike.
"You can make a difference."
"And you will." - Cassie's vision for Buffy.
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