Joss Whedon has a well-known trait in his series. He will kill everything you love. He builds up sympathy in a certain character and then kills them off in the most shocking, surprisingly manner. We always fall for this trick, always letting him lead us into his well-weaved trap. Below, are six of the most masterful deaths he has ever written. Beware: spoilers alert.
6 – ANYA – BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
I know what you’re thinking. Joss Whedon can’t kill off the poor girl in the bunny costume, can he? Well, he can. Cue Anya Jenkins (played by Emma Caulfield), a vengeance demon that is won over by Buffy’s crew and soon becomes a key part in helping them slay the monsters. Her main running storyline (alongside her bizarre fear of bunnies), is her relationship with Xander Harris. However near the end of the penultimate series, Anya and Xander break up, when Xander runs away at the altar. In the seventh series, Anya is even close to becoming a villain once again. However, slowly, as the First Evil closes in on them, we start to see the relationship begin to knit together.
Whedon writing tip 1: Dress the occasional character up as bunnies to confuse any stoned viewers.
At this point in the series, Buffy has pretty much given up on love, her only love interests being an English Vampire and a head teacher that Eliza Dushku pretty much steals off of her, meaning that Xander and Anya are the true love story. Joss Whedon made us believe that he was planning on having them be the couple that makes it through the apocalypse: the feel-good love story to end the series.
And then Anya is cut in half. Seriously, it happens so fast, that we barely have time to register it. Anya is fighting and then there is a split second, where we see the blade cut into her. Then it cuts away to another ‘more important’ part of the battle.
And we as the audience, in unison, are like ‘hold up’. What happened? Did she die? She can’t have died, Whedon would have made a bigger thing out of it. Go back, damn it. And by the end, when Xander is waiting to be reunited with her, after the battle, and it clicks that she isn’t there. He bows his head. And that’s it. Xander is just there, crippled with sadness. It is done, so subtly and in the background. Pure genius writing. Even if it is a bit of a dick move.
5 – AGENT PHIL COULSON – AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Agent Phil Coulson is a bit of a cult character in the fan world. His first appearance was the shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D guy in Iron Man. The actor behind the character, Clark Gregg, was available during the makings of Thor, so Marvel thought that it made sense to include him in it, rather than make a completely original character for their shady S.H.I.E.L.D operative. And eventually, he became less and less of a background character, until the point, where he was a beloved member of the Avengers taskforce. So Joss Whedon killed him off.
In a way you could see why. Whedon was dealing with cult superheroes, ones that he couldn’t kill off: unless he wanted to financially murder Marvel studios. So Whedon, getting itchy from lack of killing, turned to fan favourite Coulson. To be fair, he did die fighting a God and in doing so, bringing the Avengers together. But it is still a prime example that Joss Whedon, in another life, was a serial killer.
4 – NOVEMBER – DOLLHOUSE
Now November was never my favourite character in the Dollhouse series. If anything she was the weak link. However, when Joss Whedon decided to come up with the storyline that Paul Ballard’s love for Echo was removed (yeah, Whedon literally took love away from him), she became his motivation: the one girl he managed to save from the Dollhouse.
Another key thing about November: she is a sleeper doll. She is basically fairly useless and whiny, until she hears a trigger sentence and then she turns into a deadly assassin that kills whoever is in her sight. So in the final episode, when Paul and November, are armed and guarding the cooler room, the bad guys activate her trigger. To be fair, Paul really should have seen that one coming.
Whedon writing tip two: Write a farewell for a beloved character only to bring her back and then instantly kill her. Because LOLZ
However, because of the power of love, November fights her instinct to kill her inept lover and shoots herself in the face. In front of Paul. Putting him back on zero for the amount of people he managed to help throughout the series. We can actually kind of see this coming, making it all the more horrible. And we were already reeling from the death of the last important character. What? Oh yeah, someone else died that episode, but we’ll get to that later. First…
3 – JOYCE – BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
There was a strong temptation to put this first, as it was truly one of the best scripted deaths I think I’ve seen. When Buffy’s mother gives into her brain tumour, Joss Whedon devoted a whole episode to the various characters coming to terms with the loss. Well, two, if you count the following episode, where Dawn tries to resurrect her, but that’s one of the reasons that Joyce isn’t first, as it began to feel too milked at this point.
It was clever of Whedon to kill Joyce with cancer, rather than at the hands of a villain. For once, we see Buffy helpless, defeated by the one enemy she cannot beat. It is beautifully directed and acted, Sarah Michelle Gellar shining, as the suddenly whimpering little girl, from her usual badass slayer. It was a down-to-earth moment in the series and it gives a lot credit to the fans as well. Whedon respected us enough to move away from the action for an episode and give Joyce the death she deserved.
2 – WASH – FIREFLY
Wash was probably the biggest hit to the fans though. Not that we didn’t like the rest of the Firefly cast, but I think, deep down, everyone’s favourite was Wash. He was funny, cynical and was the embodiment of the kind of humour that Whedon loves to riddle his scripts with. We could all get behind his character and loved him, especially in the episode, where he and Mal get kidnapped by the ruthless Niska.
Whedon knew this and killed him off in a shocking, brutal way. The moment Wash saves everyone from almost certain death and we think they are safe, he is killed for his trouble. Not even by a named character, just a random projectile from the crowd of Reavers. It was a shockingly brilliant moment.
One more thing: Joss Whedon said that he wouldn’t have killed Wash if he hadn’t had to wrap up the series with a movie. Sure, we could read that as being Whedon’a attempt to make the movie more dramatic, but I believe this is simply our punishment for not supporting this series enough. We’re sorry, Whedon! Stop killing people!
1 – BENNETT – DOLLHOUSE
I loved the fact that Summer Glau got into Dollhouse. She is amazing as River in Firefly and it is great to see her in another role. Bennett is a fantastic villain, slightly unhinged and wickedly evil. You could argue that she isn’t a bad character at all, but is obsessed with revenge against Caroline, Echo’s former self (if you don’t know the storyline behind Dollhouse, don’t bother trying to figure that one out).
Whedon writing tip three: Glasses = clever character.
Eventually she is redeemed, mainly through her love for Fran Kranz’s character, Topher. The two make a fantastic pairing, awkwardly stumbling around their obvious chemistry. Whedon has fun with the script here, giving us some great comedy moments. Eventually, they kiss and the audience feel a swell of triumph in their heart. Finally a bit of positive story twists for the characters…
… but no, Whedon shoots it in the face. As soon as they kiss, Amy Acker’s character wanders in (we don’t even realise she is a villain at this point), and casually shoots Bennett in the face. Topher is left, stunned, in her brains and blood. And we share that moment. Too dumbstruck to realise what has happened. Our brains, for a moment, cannot figure out how anyone could allow this to happen.
Conclusion: Whedon is a dick.