First of all, I saw nothing bad about the pacing. It didn't even seem remotely slow. Granted, it wasn't wall-to-wall action, but no Buffy episode I've ever seen has been.
I did notice the recycled plot. At least, one of them. The "Prophecy Girl" parallel was inescapable, but also entirely justified, because it was important that Buffy be able to relate to Cassie on a deeper level than she would with a typical Victim of the Week.
Buffy learned in "Prophecy Girl" that she had to do her job regardless of the consequences to herself. And since then, we've seen her do just that countless times: "Becoming II" and "The Gift" spring to mind immediately, but there are many other examples. What Buffy needed to learn from Cassie was that she needs to do her job regardless of the consequences to others. Something happened in "Help" that, to my recollection, has never happened in a Buffy episode: she failed to save the life of someone whose life she was actively trying to save. She did everything she could, and Cassie died anyway. And what do you do when that happens? You could run away and hide in LA for three months ... or you could go back the next day and help the next person who needs you. Seeing her at her desk at the end of the episode shows tremendous growth on her part, in my opinion.
As far as "Reptile Boy" is concerned, the similarity didn't occur to me as t\I watched "Help." It's been a long time, but having reviewed the transcript, I see that they are in fact very similar. I think "Help" was better than "Reptile Boy" though. God knows the demon was more realistic. In my mind, "Reptile Boy" will always be "Fake the Snake Part I."
The scene with Buffy and Spike in the basement ... well, I have to admit, I don't understand what people are complaining about when they complain about how Buffy treats Spike. As far as I can tell, Buffy treats Spike about the same as she treats anyone else: borderline poorly. I won't claim that's one of Buffy's more endearing traits, but it's part of her personality nonetheless. Is it just because I don't want James Marsters to be my cuddle-monkey that I can't grasp what people are complaining about, or is there something deeper that I just don't get?
The rest of the episode, randomly:
- I liked Cassie's friend Mike. He reminded me a little of Topher Grace, which is a good thing. I wouldn't mind seeing him again.
- I like the friendly relationship between Buffy and Principal Wood. I'm beginning to lean toward the idea that there's more to him than meets the eye, but my gut feeling is that there isn't. Buffy is all about subverting the genre, and having a non-evil/non-eaten principal definitely qualifies in my book.
- I enjoyed seeing the Gang in full research mode. I can't get upset about Buffy taking Cassie's file home with her and showing it to everyone, because if she hadn't done that, Willow just would have hacked into it like she did with Mr. Newton's police file. Six of one...
- Really liked the scene with Willow and Xander in the cemetery. Nicely understated. And speaking of which:
- XANDER: Love poetry, eh?
WILLOW: I'm over you, sweetie.