Sunday, September 22, 2013

Whedon Week: Ranking the Joss Whedon deaths

Whedon is nothing if not a master of death, truly believing that there are no happy endings in life and that nobody is safe.  While researching this list, it really hit me just how many major characters die in his work.  What's worse is that it usually happens right when that person finds some sort of peace and happiness in their lives.  Although The Whedon Death may be sudden, they often come with a great deal of emotional weight.  I tried to include every death that seemed relatively important, but I'm sure I've missed a few (seriously, there are so many deaths!).  My criteria for these rankings is a mixture of how well-executed I thought a given death was and how much it specifically affected me.  Obviously, there are many plot reveals in this list so:


17. Doyle (Angel, Season 1 Episode 9 - "Hero")
I was never really much of a Doyle guy.  With only 9 episodes, he didn't have an opportunity to make an impression.  Therefore, his death didn't have too much of an effect on me.  Although there may be little emotional weight to it, it does serve a story purpose, allowing for the introduction of Wesley and giving the visions to Cordelia.

16. Cordelia (Angel, Season 5 Episode 12 - "You're Welcome")
"You're Welcome" seems to be a favorite amongst fans of Angel, but such is not the case with me.  Honestly, I don't remember much of the episode, but it left a sour taste in my mouth because I hate the way that they handled Cordelia's death.  After a piss poor season 4 storyline, she ends up being comatose by the finale and out of the picture in season 5.  Then she has one return episode in the season and it turns out that she was still in a coma all along and she just dies at the end?  UGH.

15. Agent Coulson (The Avengers)
Coulson was never much of a character in the Marvel films, just a series of bit roles.  The Avengers did the best job of establishing him as a character, but his death feels alot more perfunctory than many other Whedon deaths.  It certainly doesn't help that the logistics of his death scene make no sense, requiring for some wonky manipulation of Loki's already nonsensical powers.  It does serve as a good setup for the meditative "why we fight" section that follows though.  And hey, he'll be back in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. anyway because this is Joss Whedon we're talking about!

14. Book (Serenity)
There isn't too much to say about the death of Shepard Book.  His character was always shrouded in mystery, which made him an intriguing character in life, but his death also killed off the potential to know more.  It also has the disadvantage of getting overshadowed by a more legendary death later in the film (see #5).

13. Penny (Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog)
Penny's death is so shocking because Dr. Horrible doesn't seem like the kind of story that would involve somebody dying at first.  Everything is so light and short and fun!  There's singing!  Then you remember "Oh, this is a story about an evil villain, created by Joss Whedon" and everything makes sense.  The death has even more weight because she's a wholly innocent character, one who's caught in the middle of the competition between Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer.

12. Darla (Angel, Season 3 Episode 9 - "Lullaby")
Based solely on the knowledge of her appearance in season 1 of Buffy, I would've never expected to be moved by Darla's death, but season 3 of Angel does some great work humanizing her during her pregnancy.  Her death in "Lullaby" is as moving as anything you could imagine, and just superbly acted by Julie Benz.  Even though her death indirectly brought about Connor, a divisive character in the series, it's still one of the most memorable moments in the entire series.

11. Bennett (Dollhouse, Season 2 Episode 11 - "Getting Closer")
All of Joss Whedon's shows are such cult faves that they still get discussed rabidly on the internet to this day, so I was spoiled on many of these deaths before I watched them.  Since Dollhouse was my first one that I watched live, I didn't anticipating the Bennett death coming at all.  Seeing her get her brains blown out in front of Topher, right as they were just getting together, was gruesome stuff.

10. Topher (Dollhouse, Season 2 Episode 13 - "Epitaph Two: The Return")
Topher's evolution from smarmy, genius scientist to man haunted by the result of his creations was one of the best things about the quickly cancelled Dollhouse, and the final view of his character -- broken, child-like -- was very moving.  It's interesting that he's also who one the few Whedon characters who gets to have a truly heroic death, sacrificing himself to restore the minds of the rest of the world.

9. Tara (Buffy, Season 6 Episode 19 - "Seeing Red")
Throughout her time on Buffy, Tara was never really all that deep of a character, always defined as "Willow's lesbian girlfriend."  However, season 6 made an effort to flesh her out as an individual, breaking her and Willow up and giving her some crucial scenes with Buffy.  When her death finally comes at the end of "Seeing Red," it feels the most like a cheap Whedon death, but it's this high on the list because of the grief that it inspires, truly kicking off Willow's evil revenge arc.

8. Angel (Buffy, Season 2 Episode 22 - "Becoming: Part 2")
Angel is a vampire, so he died once as a human, but I'm sure it wasn't nearly as tragic as the one that comes in "Becoming: Part 2."  Season 2 of Buffy features one the most tragic, epic love stories in television, as Angel loses his soul and becomes evil immediately after sex with Buffy.  This leads to a chain of events that forces Buffy to kill the man that she loves.  Although he returns through magical mumbo-jumbo early into the next season, his death at the hands of Buffy still packs a magnificent punch.

7. Jenny Calendar (Buffy, Season 2 Episode 17 - "Passion")
Jenny Calendar never had time to make her mark as a character, but her death is monumental in the sense that it's the first real death on Buffy.  Her dying is the moment where you realize that this world is brutal and nobody is safe.  "Passion" is such a poetic and masterfully executed episode, and its heft weighs you down long after the credits roll.

6. Anya (Buffy, Season 7 Episode 22 - "Chosen")
A large portion of Buffy fans aren't so hot on Anya's death and Xander's subsequent reaction.  To be fair, I wouldn't call it particularly memorable -- it happens and everybody moves on relatively quickly.  But I think that's an interesting commentary on the state of everyone's psyche at the end of season 7, where they'd all experienced so much death over the years that it just became another event to them.  Plus, Anya's my favorite, so her death made me sad by default.

5. Wash (Serenity)
Here's one that could feel cheap, but it completely works.  All somebody has to say is "I am a leaf in the wind" and I get emotional.

4. Joyce (Buffy, Season 5 Episode 15 - "I Was Made to Love You")
Joyce's death is significant because it's the only one that happens due to natural causes.  The gang almost doesn't know how to react to it, at first refusing to believe that it wasn't caused by Glory, the season's Big Bad.  She wasn't apart of the whole world-saving, slaying section of the show, so it felt like she was safe.  Unlike other parents on teen shows, Joyce was fleshed out enough to feel like a real person, but the writers didn't feel the need to give her her own storylines.  Her death was major in the way that it affected the other characters, but also because she was such an enjoyable presence in her own right.

3. Buffy (Buffy, Season 5 Episode 22 - "The Gift")
Buffy sort of dies in the season 1 finale, "Prophecy Girl" (it's debatable -- her heartbeat just stops for a while), but "The Gift" is the Buffy death.  After going through so much turmoil throughout the season, she chooses to sacrifice herself to save everyone else, but she's so world-weary that it reads like a suicide.  It also leads to the boldest storytelling choice ever early in the next season (read about that in an upcoming post).

2. Fred (Angel, Season 5 Episode 15 - "A Hole in the World")
As I mentioned in the intro, one of the main complaints that gets lobbed against the way Joss Whedon chooses to kill characters is that he constantly offs them right when they reach a state of peace and happiness.  The death that they're mainly talking about is Fred, who dies right as her and Wesley finally get together after nearly 3 seasons of buildup.  What's worse is that Fred is so sweet and everybody fights so hard to save her, but then she ends up dying anyway.

1. Wesley (Angel, Season 5 Episode 22 - "Not Fade Away")
Wesley became such a hardened dude in the latter seasons of Angel, and the death of Fred just made him slide deeper into his emotional calcification.  He has to be around Illyria, the demon who took over Fred's body, but isn't quite her, and the moment where he finally allows her to pretend to be Fred as he's dying is easily one of the most devastating moments in Whedon history.

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