Joss Whedon: Anti Happily Ever After?

I think it is safe to say that I am a Joss Whedon fangirl. He hooked me with Buffy back when I was a freshman in college and hasn’t taken his claws out since.  Firefly.  Dr. Horrible.  Dollhouse.  Titan A.E. (yes, I liked it; sue me)  I’ve seen it all.  Well except all of Angel, which I didn’t watch out of protest because damn it, he belonged to Buffy (though I grew to appreciate Spike when I watched the full thing through again with hubby a few years ago).

Whedon is the go-to guy for kick-ass heroines:

Nobody Messes with The Slayer
The epitome of strong woman
Ass-Kicking In So Many Different Ways

He is the master of snappy and memorable dialogue:

"Also, I can kill you with my brain."

We Whedon fans are legion and we are rabid.  There is much to love.

But for the love of Pete, what the hell does the man have against happily ever afters?  He has screwed up the romantic end of EVERY SINGLE SHOW HE’S MADE!  He sent Angel away and killed off Spike (or whatever the heck he did to Spike…I never understood that).  He killed off Penny in Dr. Horrible.  He killed off Paul in Dollhouse, and NO having his personality lodged in Echo’s brain does NOT qualify as a relationship, thank you very much.  He killed off Wash in Serenity (I still haven’t forgiven him for that one).  The only thing that had a happy ending out of the lot was Titan A.E. and that was because it was a kid’s movie and the money people probably wouldn’t let him kill the hero or heroine off.

Now I GET that a show must have stakes.  I GET that Whedon works with an anything goes cast and that no one is safe.  I get that he digs people making sacrifices and that this makes gut-wrenching TV.  I GET that shows often tank after the hero and heroine get together.  But if you KNOW your story is ending…  If the couple were already together to begin with (Zoe and Wash)…  WHY CAN’T SOMEBODY LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER?  Seriously?  WHY?

He’s obviously not against ROMANCE.  God knows he’s great at building sexual tension and showing the growth of relationships.  But he can’t seem to allow anybody to STAY in a relationship.  He’s like the Nicholas Sparks of paranormal TV–except way wittier and cooler (I can’t think of any redeeming qualities to the actual Nicholas Sparks, whom I am convinced must’ve been burned BAD in youth such that no one ever lives to have an HEA in his books).

What’s up with that?  Does he think love is a weakness?  That his butt kickers can’t kick butt as well if they’re emotionally involved or if they aren’t on a “my lover is dead, so I’m gonna kill everything in sight” spree?  I just don’t get it.

In MY world, Paul lived, even if he got downloaded into another body.

In MY world, it was Simon and/or Kaylee who die, not Wash.  Simon was annoying anyway.  And Mal and Inara actually DO SOMETHING about their attraction to each other.

In MY world, Spike came back and he and Buffy had more than just a “thing”.

In MY world, Xander died.  Actually  that has nothing to do with the relationship thing–I just think he’s the most annoying character Whedon ever wrote and don’t believe that he remotely qualifies as Watcher material.

What about you?  Do you wish Joss would give his fans some HEAs?  How would you have changed some of these anti-happy endings?

23 thoughts on “Joss Whedon: Anti Happily Ever After?

  1. I have only seen Buffy and parts of Angel, I really want to see Serenity and Dollhouse. I am a big fan of Whedon’s work and his ability to work good dialogue into a show.

    I am a sucker for a happy ending, but with Buffy I thought the ending was good. I was sad that Spike met his end, although did feel it suited the character development.

    Having said that my appreciation comes from a rather limited viewing experience. If every show follows this path I can understand you desire for a happy ending. You can keep characters apart and finally unite or reunite them for the final episode. As long as it is worked into the script well, something I am sure Joss is more than capable of doing.

  2. It seems is Joss is at his storytelling best when his characters are at their lowest. He’s talented enough to give HEA, but he’s obviously way more interested in exploring what they’ll do when their hearts are ripped out.

    When I think about season six of Buffy, he totally knew Willow would go bad because of Tara’s death. He manipulated me the whole season by breaking them up and getting them back together just long enough for me to happy and then . . . blammo.

    But I was glued to the TV for last three episodes.

    So, yeah, not very givey with the HEA, but he pays off those awful moments with amazing climaxes (Firefly) or new characters (Spike on Buffy and Illyria on Angel). Could’ve done without Xander leaving Anya at the alter, but for the most part I love what he comes up with.

    And Titan A.E. was awesome!

  3. Die, Xander, die, you altar no-show son of a bitch!! And that such an act didn’t karmically warrant HIM being cut in half at the end, but instead being able to go on to the comics to get a really cool coat and have people call him Sir…yeah, that’s just wrong.

    I probably would have minded Tara’s death less if Kennedy had never happened.That shit was just annoying and way too soon.

    Totally with you on Simon/Kaylee rather than Wash. And if I have to pick, I have to vote for Kaylee who ticks me off with the kind of feminine peevishness and fake-injured offended airs that make us all look bad.

    I watch Titan AE all the time.

    You know, if I would think about how much Joss’s choices tick me off, yet how I still keep coming back to his stuff and thinking of him as the Emperor of Awesomeland and Supreme Commander of All Things Awesome, maybe I could be a little less insecure about my own work.

  4. Wash’s death killed me.

    But, I have to admit that the lack of total happy ending in Whedon’s works is part of what I love about him. I’m one of those weirdos that want things to be real. (As real as space opera, or Dollhouse can be 🙂 ) I like that the endings aren’t what I want them to be, but they don’t leave me completely depressed and/or without hope.

    Also, Whedon’s lack of happy probably gives a lot of fodder for fanfic. 😉

    • But the thing about it is that SOMETIMES life really DOES work out where both of them survive. I’m not saying that EVERYBODY SHOULD get a happy ending. But someone should. Because defeating the big bad is a hollow victory if you’ve lost the most important person to you. What is there left to live for? That doesn’t leave me filled with hope. Just totally depressed. The world didn’t end but I have to spend the rest of it without the person I love most? Screw that.

      • Mel Legault

        Totally agree with everything you wrote!
        In MY world though, Buffy and Angel end up together 🙂 (I have to admit I didn’t have the heart to watch Buffy past season 3). Their love story’s way too tragic for me; I couldn’t stop crying after the ”I will remember you” episode on the ”Angel” show!

  5. I was gonna comment all enthusiastically, and then you reminded me that nothing came of Mal and Inara’s ENDLESS SEXUAL TENSION and now I am sad and won’t compliment your blog out of spite.
    *pouts*

  6. I don’t know how many times I’ve cried over losses in Buffy. But the one that I hated the most, and this might surprise you, is when Oz left. He was a favorite of mine and I loved Willow and Oz together. Oz had some of the greatest lines. I just loved him.

    • OMG YES! I freaking LOVED Seth Green as Oz. And I liked Tara fine (totally cried when she died), and haven’t got any issue with girl love, but it always seemed kind of out of left field to me that she went that route after Oz.

      • Patrick Doris

        It was not really from left field because doppelganger Willow from the alternate reality was gay so that open our Willow’s mind to the possibility . I agree abut Zander btw.

  7. But I think Joss DOES give his fans some HEAs. Maybe not in the technical romance-genre sense, and maybe sometimes they’re more like HHEAs (Hopefully Happily Ever After), but they’re there.

    Now, I’m ashamed to say that my current Whedon knowledge only goes so far as Firefly and Dr. Horrible. I still need to watch Buffy and also give Dollhouse a second chance. But let’s take Firefly/Serenity for an example.

    Yes, Wash dies. Yes, he and Zoe were together and happy, and his death was beyond cruel. But, first of all, someone had to die (someone besides Book) to make that last scene as heart-pounding as it was, and Wash made the most sense. It was pretty genius, actually. Joss couldn’t kill Mal or River because they’re too integral to the plot. Zoe dying probably wouldn’t have elicited as much of an emotional response as Wash dying, and Zoe’s actually strong enough to survive after that, which might not be the same for Wash, which would have resulted in an even bleaker ending. Jayne’s or Inara’s deaths probably wouldn’t have elicited as impactful an emotional response either, at that point; Jayne because he’s, well, Jayne, and Inara because she didn’t get a lot of screen time in the movie, and she’s more difficult for people (disclaimer: not me, though) to emotionally invest in. Killing Simon wouldn’t have worked, because that would have probably destroyed River, and again, she’s too important and needed to emerge victorious and whole at the end of the movie, not devastated and broken. Killing Kaylee, the crew’s innocence, would have been going too far and would have represented the end of all hope, which is inaccurate, because there IS hope at the end of Serenity.

    Which brings me to my next point: Maybe Zoe and Wash didn’t end up HEA (in the sense that one of them died; in my opinion, they already achieved their HEA and that’s another reason why the others couldn’t die; their stories were still so incomplete), but there are lots of HHEAs at the end of Serenity: They rebuild and repaint Serenity. Inara stays on board and she and Mal share a moment that hints things between them are on the up and up. Simon and Kaylee get together (and for lots of people, including myself, that was extremely satisfying). River is healed and is finally a part of the crew. Jayne…well, he lost his workout BFF (Book), but River’s mentally coherent now, so maybe he’ll find a new buddy that could (given my Rayne ‘shipping tendencies) develop into something more.

    So, even though Wash’s death punched me in the gut, and even though it killed me to see how it affected Zoe, I got to see all these other good things happen, which gave me hope for the crew’s future.

    My final point, and this is wholly a matter of artistic taste, is that I actually prefer my stories with a Wash’s death, with a Penny’s death (which, in my opinion, elevated Dr. Horrible from harmless fun to something actually poignant), with things not working out in some way. Yes, sometimes there are HEAs in the real world. However, rarely does that HEA come without pain, losses, or some kind of gray. By that I mean, few real life HEAs pan out according to any sort of black-and-white formula. I rarely want an escape in my entertainment; I want to feel and think. I want my heart ripped out; I want my gut wrenched. It’s not that I have some romanticized vision of what pain is like. I know exactly what it’s like; I’ve hurt and been hurt. And experiencing stories that unflinchingly show pain (even HEA-disrupting pain) without some magic fix or without some convenient plot contrivance making everything work out just right makes me feel like the storytellers respect the pain of real life experiences. This is one of the reasons I respect Joss so much as a storyteller; he isn’t afraid to risk the real — the bad real right along with the good real.

    • All totally valid, excellent points. I don’t doubt the man’s artistic integrity. But I still think that well done romance can deliver on the pain of real life experiences, bad and good, and still deliver a HEA. There enough bad and good real life pain in REAL LIFE. I don’t need a double dose in my fiction. Which is why I read and write predominantly romance. Because I can COUNT on that. A HEA gives me way more hope.

    • Claire, you said exactly what I was going to say! Except, well, way better. But yes, this is exactly how I feel about HEA’s in Joss Whedon’s shows and movies – there are HEA’s all over the place, and they may not be happening the way we expect (or want) but that’s how people are. That’s how life is. And the fact that Joss can still bring that to a space opera or a show about a vampire killing super girl makes me love him all the more.

  8. HEA is a fantasy, for the most part. Even happy endings that seem to be happy endings can turn dark behind the scenes when everybody has gone home. Joss Whedon is that rarity, a writer who can imbue fantasy with harsh reality. I think that’s why he’s so popular. I’m only familiar with Buffy (not all of it), Angel (not all of it), and Firefly/Serenity. The only death I can’t forgive him for is Wash. Okay–Shepherd Book, because we never got his whole story.

    • But that’s not the point. It’s not that everybody thinks that there’s never any conflict or strife or fights or “Dude, you’re HOGGING THE COVERS” after the curtain closes. The point in romance with happily ever after is that the hero and heroine get to move on TOGETHER. THAT’S what Whedon doesn’t seem to allow.

  9. Patty

    BTW, Spike came back in Angel after the end of Buffy. There was episode where they (Spike and Angel) see Buffy at a dance club with some of the other slayers, although you never “see” her in the episode. So in my head, it kept going and after the huge battle scene in Angel they eventually meet up.

    Wash’s death totally shocked me. It took me about 10 minutes to realize that it wasn’t a misdirection. But I also agree with Claire that Zoe will eventually be able to come back from it.

    Still miss Buffy, one of the best shows on TV 🙁

  10. I am a huge Joss Whedon fan. Fell in love with Buffy. I loved that the stakes were high and the worst could happen. But, I did get tired of the whole getting rid of the love thing. Of course, I loved Spike’s character arc…even the end because he got to be a hero and sacrifice himself. But, I want to know that sometimes there might be an HEA. I want to get to the climax of the story and feel like it could go either way and I’m rooting for the HEA but the tragic ending is a real possibility too. I’m also all for the mixed ending. No, in real life, there are rarely HEAs. But stories are NOT real life. That’s why we read/watch them.

  11. I forgot to mention that I did think Buffy had a kind of HEA ending. At least for Buffy. She was no longer alone as a Slayer. She had all those other Slayers and the real possibility of a reasonably normal life.

    Really hate the Buffy bits in Angel though. Kinda trashed the memory of the original show, in my opinion.

    • But that’s not HEA. At least not as I’m using it. Happily ever after in the romance world means that hero and heroine survive all the crap to live TOGETHER. And sure it won’t necessarily all be hunky dory (that’s not what HEA is about). But it’s that they GET a future TOGETHER. THAT is what Joss denies me.

  12. I’ve really only got two things to comment on in this regard (With a side that I, too, was angry when Wash died):

    Serenity did have its share of happy endings, specifically Kaylee and River if we’re discussing romantic HEA.

    And Doctor Horrible reached his story goal, so, even if Penny died, he did ‘win.’

  13. If nothing else Joss does promote a whole lotta discussion!

  14. I am a huge Wheadon fan girl- I’ve even knitted a Jane hat when we go to Can’t Stop the Serintiy at our indie theater. I like that I don;t know what he’s going to do. That he doesn’t follow formula. Sure I’m a sucker for a happy ending, but I think characters who doesn’t get it are more relatable and gritty, which his shows fit into.

  15. Hmmm… Nicholas Sparks did have some HEA in some of his books. The book A Bend in the Road sort of have a happy ending but it’s not romance–it’s a mystery. But usually, after reading his books, I cry. There’s also The Wedding which is a continuation of The Notebook (it’s about Noah’s son-in-law and daughter).

    Joss Whedon…I’m a buffy fan but I stopped watching once Angel left the show. I want my HEA, d*mmit! With Nicholas Sparks it’s only a book often without a sequel (The Wedding isn’t a sequel; it’s a spinoff). But there’s something that makes me cry everytime I read it and it’s a good cry (I try not to react too much since I listen to his audio while driving).

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