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Joss Whedon Makes Me Sad…I Think



Posted by Steve

serenity1.jpgWhen I was growing up there were a few names that were synonymous with doing no wrong.   Names like John Hughes, Steven Speilberg, and even George Lucas were mentioned with a reverence and confidence that if their names were on a project, it was gonna be a winner.   Many of the names from that time survived to become legends of film and television making.   It’s interesting to be on the verge of becoming an old fogey and seeing who the new generation has tapped to revere in similar ways.   Visionaries like J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, The Coen Brothers, and of course Joss Whedon.  There are tons more, and there’s a part of me that gets sad knowing that M. Night Shyamalan had such potential to be in that list…but alas…THE HAPPENING happened.

Of all of the film makers, show runners, and writers that have emerged in the last ten to fifteen years, none have garnered the cult following of Joss Whedon.   Quite frankly, he deserved it.  He’s a man who built two successul franchises on a movie that received a pretty modest reception from audiences in the early nineties.  To perform that kind of feat, one has to be a visionary.  From Buffy, Whedon has gone on to gain across the board approval from his fans on whatever he touches.   People follow Whedon as blindly as I follow George Lucas.   On one hand I get that.  The guy has a great imagination…but…he makes me sad.  Why?  I think I finally realized it while watching FIREFLY and SERENITY.

From the outset, let me say that I’m not saying, “SERENITY suck.”  I’m not saying that Joss Whedon is incompetent and should find other work.   In fact, I think Whedon is super talented and very creative.  He knows how to find great casts and work with an ensemble.

In fact, I found myself rather enjoying FIREFLY as I watched the series on Netflix.  Whedon took an interesting concept, a western in space, and made it work pretty well.  It didn’t hurt that he had an exceptional cast that to work with, and I’m sure he surrounded himself with quality writers and directors.  (I haven’t really looked into the credits for each episode, but at the end of the day, the responsibility of what happens falls on the show runner…in this case Mr. Whedon.)

I really wish that FIREFLY could have lasted beyond it’s short one season, I think that the journeys we would have gotten to take with the crew of Serenity would have been a lot of fun to see.  However, as happens all to often with genre shows, FIREFLY found itself with a premature cancellation.

So it was that when I finished watching the final episode of FIREFLY I was curious to see how Whedon would follow it up and wrap up some of the mysteries and questions that the television show presented.

This brings me to my first point about SERENITY.  Whedon handled every thread and plot point from the television show very well with only one or two exceptions that I can think of.   I guess I should say spoilers abound from here on, but the movie is five years old…so…I think it’s safe.  In the pilot episode of FIREFLY, we are introduced to the concept of Reavers, a barabarous, cannibalistic group of space farers that scare the viewer based on the way people talk about them on the sow.   We don’t get to see the Reavers too much in the course of the show, but in SERENITY they become a major plot point.  It’s fitting because in watching the show, it was apparent that our wayward heroes would encounter them again.   It works.

The Alliance is an ever present threat that is comparable to the Evil Galactic Empire from Star Wars. (sans a Death Star or a Sith Lord) Mal and Zoe were soldiers in the war against the Alliance, and in watching the TV show, it always  seemed that at some point whatever Mal believed in that made him fight against the Alliance would come back to the surface at some point.  It did in SERENITY.  It works.

The movie itself does a great job of tying up relationship threads just right as well.  Kaylee and Simon finally have their moment in the sun and it’s not forced nor does it overshadow the main plot of the movie so as to be a loud distraction or give us unwarranted scenes with the two that would only serve to break up the flow of the film. Even Mal and Inara’s relationship is handled well.  Leaving us wanting more of these two and a comfortable ambiguity as to where they may be headed after the credits roll.

The movie itself is action packed and well written for the most part.  It’s a great end cap to a good series.  The stakes are higher than they ever were on the show.  The danger is more intense than it ever was.  This time, it’s not about the job, it’s about the greater good.   I am a sucker for stuff like that.  So I really enjoyed it.

Then (spoiler alert) The Shepherd died.   Shepherd Book was a character who had some mystery behind him.  He was more than a Shepherd.  (A Shepherd is a preacher in this Universe.) He had a past that we were never privy to.  And. He.  Died.   In fact, for the first part of the movie, I was confused as to his whereabouts.  We only get like five minutes with him in the movie.  While his death was not a pointless one, he could have survived when the rest of his flock perished.  I think that would have made for an interesting character down the road should Whedon ever choose to try to make a film franchise from SERENITY.  However, his death was not in vain and it was the thing needed to truly set Mal on the path that he chose.   So, while I didn’t like it, I could deal with it.

Then, (major spoiler alert) WASH DIED.  Pointless, stupid, ridiculous death that was thrown in for no other reason than a shock factor.

I need to stop here and explain.  That while Adam Baldwin gets a ton of love for his portrayal of Jayne (and I like Jayne), it was Alan Tudyk as Wash that made the show for me.   Wash is the character, who, more than anyone keeps the rest of the crew grounded.  He loves his wife unconditionally and unashamedly.  He makes the jokes that are actually poignant and funny.  Wash is a character who is a heck of a pilot and as loyal as anyone of the ship.  Beyond that, though, he is tough without being too tough.  Wash never minds showing his weakness.   So it is that if you were randomly going to kill off one half of the married couple on the ship, it should have been Zoe.  Wash would have had greater character development from that event than Zoe.

HOWEVER, after the deaths of Shepherd Book, Mr. Universe, and all of the other people who had given Serenity safe ground to run to after a job, there was no need for another death.   The death of Wash did nothing to the movie but bring it down in the end.

I need to stop and explain my love for Alan Tudyk.   The guy has an understanding of comic timing and line delivery like few others.  In most movies, when comic relief is thrown into a situation, the actor may struggle a bit with it and there is a tendency from most to take it way over the top.  Tudyk doesn’t suffer from that tendency.  He knows how to strike just the right note.  His timing is impeccable and his face can be so expressive yet feel completely natural.  I feel that he is truly an underrated actor and his presence in Transformers 3 next year only makes me happy.

Wash is the character that would have brought me back for a second SERENITY movie.  Wash is the character that held the show together for me, and for him to be killed off in such a pointless manner only accented my other problems with not only SERENITY and FIREFLY, but most of what I’ve seen from Whedon.

Whedon’s sense of humor and command of dialogue suffers from the same thing mine does.  It’s the same thing all the time.  Seriously, listen to Geek Out Loud, Starkville’s House of El, or the Big Honkin Show, and you’ll find that I have phrases and mannerisms I always tend to fall back on.   I’m kind of a one trick pony like that.

Seriously though, you can take the characters from ANGEL or BUFFY and plug them into the situations from FIREFLY and never have to change the dialogue much except to remove the old west style of speaking.

Couple that with Whedon’s overuse of killing off a main character just to get that gut reaction from his audience and you have your reasons that Whedon makes me sad.  It’s like the guy doesn’t believe in or doesn’t know how to write a happy ending.

It has happened in practically every property of his that I’ve ever watched.   The difference is, on TV you have a few extra hours to make something work in the scope of the overall story.   SERENITY only served to show that no matter what a death ended up meaning in his other work, he most likely only did it for the visceral reaction he knew it would cause the viewer.

I want to wrap this up by saying again, it’s not my intention to bash Joss Whedon.  If I had his imagination or talent, I wouldn’t be writing about his.  I would be doing what he’s doing, putting my best foot forward and trying to entertain people.   I don’t feel like I wasted sixteen hours with the crew of Serenity.  I would watch a second movie.  I would just hope that he would trust the amazing characters that he creates to live beyond the moment he wants to use them to shock his audience.

There are other traps that SERENITY fell into…destruction of the ship. (Star Trek anyone?)  River’s big moment was pretty predictable, but I loved it anyway.  I’m a sucker for stuff like that.  I’m also behind anything Summer Glau does.  She’s a great actress in her own right and I look forward to getting her play a role that isn’t a robot or a super genius/psychic that struggles with the emotions.

So overall, I walk away wishing we could spend some more time with Mal, Inara, Kaylee, Jayne, Simon, River, and Zoe.  (AND WASH!) I can’t shake this nagging feeling though that Tony Stark is gonna die for no reason in THE AVENGERS.  We shall see though…we shall see.

14 Responses to “Joss Whedon Makes Me Sad…I Think”

  1. Will Says:

    I watched Serenity before I ever saw the series so I don’t think Wash’s death had the same impact on me as it did on others. But whenever I re-watch the series it makes me sad to think about what’s going to happen to him. He’s my 2nd favorite character behind Kaylee.

    There is a shock factor to the deaths in Joss Whedon shows, but since these people are in dangerous situations all the time, it makes sense that not everyone is going to make it. It makes up upset because the writers make us love these characters so much. And Joss does tend to work with a lot of the same people behind the scenes.

    A comic came out before Serenity was released that explained where Book was. I haven’t read it, but I think the explanation was that he got into an argument with Mal and realized he didn’t like how much being around the Serenity crew was changing him.

    Glad you liked the show. Don’t give up on Joss 🙂

  2. Dumblond Says:

    Ahhh. I see what you did with your twitter comment.
    I, too, have come to love Alan Tudyk (Pirate Steve from Dodgeball?! Best character in that movie beside Rip Torn) and when I finally watched Serenity after a marathon session of Firefly, I was horrified that Wash was killed so unceremoniously. But like you said, that seems to be a Whedon thing. I still get annoyed about Fred and Wesley from Angel…
    I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the series and the movie for what they were. I really enjoyed this post.
    But you have now truly worried me as to who Whedon may off in The Avengers movie…if it’s Thor, I’m going to send Joss Whedon a poop pancake.

  3. waynewol Says:

    i believe that there was an issue with alan tudyk being on broadway at the time of shooting. this is why he is only in a handful of scenes and only leaves the ship once.

    joss decided that killing him off at the end would raise the stakes of the final act because if they kill off the “funny one”, then anyone can die.

    in the final battle everyone gets beat to crap. without those deaths, there’s no jeopardy and the ending would feel cheesy. (i mean, 3 people get shot, 1 slashed across her spine and mel gets gutted with a sword).

  4. Dane From KC Says:

    Joss likes killing characters in that manner because his experiences with death have been that it’s often meaningless and unexpected. And I would agree onscreen deaths are not presented realistically. However, Joss’ “unexpected” deaths have become expected. Everyone knew he would kill characters in his ::spoilers:: X-Men run and on Doctor Horrible.

    I don’t have a problem with Joss killing off characters he created, he owns them and he can tell the story he wants to tell. But after Astonishing X-Men I don’t believe he has the restraint to not kill an Avenger. Maybe not Iron Man or Thor but I could easily see him killing off someone like Hawkeye. Hawkeye is one of my favorite characters and the one Joss Would most likely see himself in, and he loves killing himself on screen.

    I will have a big problem if Joss kills one of the Avengers. I won’t be watching the Avengers for a realistic portrayal of death in cinema, I want escapism from real life. I am a big fan of Joss but Steve nailed on thing on the head; the guy doesn’t believe in happy endings.

  5. Warren Says:

    It was partially for shock value plus what waynewol says that it raises the stackes that everyone is vulnerable in the final battle.

    Also remember that we were lucky to get the movie and there was really no expectation of a sequel so to think about what the characters would do after was not really importatant to Joss.
    On the other hand I think Zoe would have an interesting character arc with the loss of her husband. This women who is a strong soldier suddenly lost her anchor. Either she could completely breakdown or become like iron with no emotion. Interesting and different ways to go.

  6. Robin Says:

    Oh Steve…

    Just kidding. I am actually very happy you watched Firefly and Serenity. It’s such a little gem of a property, anybody who remotely enjoys sci fi should check it out.

    I think most of your problem is perhaps you thought there was going to be a sequel to Serenity? As I took it, Serenity was not only a wrap-up of Firefly, but a nice send-off for people who enjoyed the show. The great thing is, it’s a pretty damn good movie on its own.

    I didn’t find Wash’s death as terrible a plot point as you did. This was the final chapter. This is why the ship was destroyed. This isn’t Star Trek, where they are going to give Mal a different, yet very similar class Firefly in the next movie, or even that Wash is going to be resurrected on some Genesis planet. This is it. I hate to be cold about it, but he served his purpose. But he saved them all! It was his finest hour. “I am a leaf on the wind.” Unfortunately, that was the point that Joss decided to be done with his character. And like a previous poster stated, it raised the stakes. I thought it worked great, and the funeral scene at the end honored him. He didn’t just get impaled and that’s it, he was paid tribute to by the characters and as an audience, we got to shed one final tear for him.

    This also goes for Shepard and Mr. Universe and all the people that gave them safe passage. Think about it. The crew of Serenity had a passenger that had dangerous secrets of the Alliance, an INTERGALACTIC GOVERNMENT, locked inside her mind. You may as well complain that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru shouldn’t have suffered the same fate, or even Obi-Wan. Again, we see the stakes. The Alliance was going to lay waste to anyone harboring Serenity, so they were on their own to essentially save the galaxy.

    As for the writing, well, there are just writers out there that are known for either their tone or how they write dialogue. I can think of a few: Kevin Smith, Kevin Williamson, Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet, Woody Allen, heck, you can even say the same thing about Shakespeare. But that’s what draws people to each of these artist’s works. People just like the way these characters talk! That’s why some of the fan base isn’t necessarily because they like Jay & Silent Bob or Henry the V, it’s because they like what comes out of their mouths. You either like it or you don’t. It’s subjective.

    Finally, yes, I do hope that Whedon doesn’t take out any of the Avengers in the movie. But, you know no matter who is directing it, this is the way of the comic book movie these days. People have to die. Most of the time it’s villains, but I can almost guarantee whether it’s Joss directing or not, there was always a bullseye on one of the Avengers’ backs. I cannot imagine it would be Tony, but hey, in a world where Peter Parker has a dance scene, anything can happen.

  7. bighonkin Says:

    waynewol, I understand raising the stakes, but at that point in the movie…the stakes had been raised. There had been a lot of people die. Wash’s death served no real purpose.

    Further, just because there was no real idea that there would be a sequel doesn’t mean you kill off characters all will nilly. No matter how death is in real life, in a story, it needs to serve a purpose beyond shock value especially when we’ve invested so much in the characters.

    As to people being shot, spines being ripped and “gutted” (let’s face it, Mal wasn’t gutted…he was run through. If the stab missed any vitals…he’s ok…as long as he can stop the bleeding.)

    I guess it’s just the apparent carelessness and the refusal to let characters be happy in the end. So…this scares me for the Avengers. Thankfully, he’ll have some producers from Marvel that may reign in his desire to kill Tony Stark and company.

  8. clinton Says:

    Serenity was the first Joss Whedon project I actually watched and enjoyed. I changed the channel during the firefly pilot (why were they robbing a train with a spaceship????), and thought buffy was retarded.
    On first viewing as a person with no connection to the characters, the deaths of Shepard Book and Wash were amazing to me. it was the first and only time ever in a movie where I ACTUALLY believe that the entire cast may sacrifice themselves for the better of the human race. I actually believed that nobody was going to survive in the end. when the Agent asked Mal if he was willing to die for his belief and Mal said he was I thought they were all going out as heroes. It kept me on the edge of my seat like nothing had before or has since.
    So that said I disagree completely with the idea that Whedon kills characters for shock value or messing with the audience. Its not that he doesn’t value the viewers feelings he just believes as he says he ‘gives the audience what they need, not what they want’ He was just the first guy to realize that the story and experience of it was more important than sending everyone home happy at the end of the day. the point of it is reminding you (the viewer) that unlike pretty much every show before Joss’ career, nobody is 100% safe. when you watch most shows you KNOW the main characters are safe. I love supernatural but we know that in the end the brothers are gonna be A-ok come the end of the show. In a Whedon show there is actual tension because no matter how much you love a character they CAN die. When they are at the edge of a cliff they may fall and there is a chance nobody will catch them. Personally I get way more enjoyment out of that then watching characters connect the dots every week and make a few funny quips before the credits roll and cruise on through to next episode.
    That said I completely agree that its not everybody’s cup of tea. I understand why people don’t like it, but that makes me love it all the more.

    I loved this article, keep up the awesome work. I love that the movie had a strong effect. to me its cool to see how people who didn’t view the end first experience it.

  9. TheDLA Says:

    I’m still bitter about the killing of Book and Wash. Whedon loooooves to do that kind of thing. Making his characters miserable after fleeting moments of happiness is his primary way of creating “drama”. I gave up on Joss a long time ago. Thankfully that saved my from watching Dollhouse.

  10. Heidi Says:

    You know, not only does Joss love to kill characters, but he really loves to kill female characters, so who will die in Avengers according to that theory? 😉 Good thing Wonder Woman didn’t work out 🙂

    But really, I’m glad you enjoyed watching Firefly, Steve. It’s not my favorite of Joss’ shows, but I do love it.

  11. Dave Says:

    Whedon is a good idea man. Other than that, nothing special for me. Kind of a hack really.

  12. Stephanie Says:

    I think Joss insinuated at Comic Con during The Joss Whedon Experience that Alan Tudyk wouldn’t be available for the subsequent films. That was, in case it became a trilogy.

  13. Patrick Says:

    I have to agree with the frustration over Wash’s death. His death in the context of the story seemed the serve the purpose of stating to the audience that anyone could die. Except no one did in that subsequent battle. There were cuts, and there were bruises, but no one died after Wash. It was a shock, it left me bitter, and it just seemed to be a death for death’s sake, which saddens me.

    I loved Firefly, and I loved Dollhouse, but I’ve honestly never understood the die-hard fan obsession with Whedon, aside from fan loyalty to a man who got royally screwed over by Fox with Firefly.

  14. Tanner Says:

    I think if Wash hadn’t died the rest of the movie would have been way less suspenseful. The Shepard’s death wasn’t really that big of a deal to me. He had already left the ship and moved on with his life, but Wash was still part of the crew. After he died I was on the edge of my seat for the rest of the movie,because no one seemed safe.

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