Would Joss Whedon’s Work Be As Epic With A Happily Ever After?

So yesterday I was writing about the whole idea of writing a cast where nobody is safe from the proverbial knife.  It spawned a lot of interesting discussion with various folks (mostly off blog) but one of the things that repeatedly came up is Joss Whedon.  He is totally a master of this style of storytelling.  NOBODY is safe in his worlds.

I have in the past accused Whedon of being anti-Happily Ever After (or even Happy For Now).  Because he has NEVER, to my knowledge, in ANY of his work, allows for any of the couples to stay together.  One of them usually ends up dead (which is way too Nicholas Sparks for my taste, though Joss does it way better) or presumed so (whatEVER the heck happened to Spike).  Don’t even get me started with the deflicted ending he gave to Dollhouse in regards to Echo and Paul.

I aspire to write the kind of epic stories that Whedon tells, to eventually learn that kind of snappy dialogue, the pacing, the masterful showing rather than telling–but in a more traditional romance framework.  And I got to thinking yesterday–WOULD Whedon’s stories be as epic if he were NOT such a brutal villain to the reader, holding all our beloved characters hostage and knocking them off one by one to make a point?  Would a surviving romance/couple in the end in any way diminish what he does as a master storyteller?


14 thoughts on “Would Joss Whedon’s Work Be As Epic With A Happily Ever After?

  1. First off, great post.

    Second, technically, Serenity had two couples that survived: Kaylee and the Doc, and Mal and Inara, but with the death of Wash, the best couple did die.

    Anway, on to the discussion. I agree that he seems to have it out for happy endings, almost to the point of it being a given in any story he does, as you said, much like Sparks. Would he be less of a writer if he didn’t? I don’t think so, mostly because his strenghts lie in other places, such as dialog and character development.

    I assume that his obsession with killing beloved characters is his way of portraying his worlds in a realistic manner, and it serves a distinct literary purpose. It raises the stakes for the remaining characters, often spurring them to actions they would not normally do, and establishes an ending that is not easily predicted (aside from us assuming someone will die at Whedon’s hands).

    I do love his work though, so he is doing something right!

    1. I never got the sense that Mal and Inara ever got their crap together to actually BE in a relationship. And frankly the doc really annoyed me, so I didn’t care about him (which is, I guess, why Whedon didn’t kill him off–it wouldn’t have had the same impact as Wash). But dear GOD…the man makes me so ANGRY. He violates my romance mandates (because of course he’s not writing romance) and it drives me NUTS.

      1. Ah! All very valid points…

        I would hate to see how he handles a romance story. I would almost certainly end in divorce with one of their children being killed by falling debris of some kind.

  2. Well, we SORT of find out what happened to Spike in a later season of Angel. 🙂

    Seriously, Whedon loves to twist the knife in our hearts. But he couldn’t do that if he didn’t make us feel the characters in the first place. He’s a MASTER. (Stephen King does this a lot, too.) When Whedon doesn’t kill off people, he still rips couples apart in other ways. I think the worst I cried in Buffy was when Oz left Willow. And then again when he came back, but she was with Tara. I wanted Willow and Oz together, but Whedon wouldn’t have it. I was MAD. But, hey, I was feeling SOMETHING, right. A good story teller will wring those emotions out of you, even if they are emotions you don’t want to have.

  3. I was really annoyed with Joss Whedon in season 6. The show got really dark and the only thing adding a little bit of light at the time was Anya’s and Xander’s relationship. Then he ruined that too. The wedding episode devastated me.

  4. I wasn’t going to comment until I saw the part about Xander and Anya from Buffy. Yes, I was super-angry with Whedon for that one. Pointless, just pointless. They each made the other character GROW, so I didn’t know why that relationship shouldn’t keep going. Isn’t the point to make the character experience tension and GROW from it?!! Their relationship was tense.

    Interesting, Kait.

  5. Whedon will always be epic. He probably can’t help it, but he wouldn’t be as epic without his anything goes attitude. Like I said yesterday, his story possibilities are endless. If Willow stayed with Oz, there’d be no Tara (even though, eventually, there was no Tara too. Grr) and the amazing changes Willow’s character went through. If Angel didn’t leave Sunnydale, would Spike have been in the picture?

    I’m sure there are other ways to show character growth, but Whedon’s strength is bashing us in the head with Disaster the minute his characters are feeling safe. I wasn’t happy with every head bashing, but I can’t deny the interesting directions they took the characters’ arc.

  6. I think when you know- absolutely know your people aren’t safe you become more attached more emotionally invested in them. When you watch a rom/com you know they will end up together. If the story is good enough you’ll get lost in it and worry, but in your heart you know it’s not a sure thing.
    With Joss Whedon and Russel T Davis you never know, they get to surprise you, the invoke real deep emotions from us. Can a character be truly courageous if they aren’t risking something real?

    Also the one that killed me was in Angle when he turned human and he and Buffy got to be together and plan a future and eat ice cream in bed and then he gave to up, gave her up, to fight evil. And the worst he would remember what they shared what he could have had. I sobbed, my heart broke for them.

  7. I went looking for posts just like this because I recently gave up watching Buffy and Angel due to this very problem. I loved both shows and Firefly, but I am done watching one ship after another die off. The final straw was my favorite ship in Angel, Wesley and Fred. Wesley carried a torch for her for years, and they got half an episode together before she died. Don’t worry, he dies too just a little later. Would Whedon’s work be as epic without the continual punch to the romantic gut? IMO yes, because I’d be able to stomach watching them. I’ve loved almost every pairing (even Buffy/Riley, which I gather was very unpopular) but for the life of me, I want someone to come out of the clearing dust of an apocalypse, meet their significant other, kiss, and limp off into the sunset together. Just once.

  8. Not only does Joss like to kill off major characters, how many times are the done in context of their romantic relationships?
    On Buffy:
    Miss Calendar, murdered by Angelus and left for Giles to find while he thinks he’s in for a romantic evening
    Angel, Buffy kills him seconds after regaining his soul
    Buffy’s mom, dies after recently beginning a new relationship. Buffy finds her after finding the flowers her boyfriend sent her.
    Tara, killed after she and Willow reconcile
    Anya, dies after she and Xander reconcile
    Spike, dies saving the world, after Buffy tells him she loves him
    On Angel:
    Doyle, sacrifices himself after admitting his feelings for Cordelia
    Cordelia, dies after some supernatural presence that looks like her allows her to admit she loves Angel
    Fred, dies immediately after she and Wesley take up
    Wesley, dies in imitation Fred’s arms
    I can’t do it anymore.

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