The Whedonverse is a unique world of witty dialogue, beloved characters, and smart science-fiction and fantasy storylines.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon not only created a remarkable deconstruction of the teen horror genre but inspired audiences with the very coming of age story that he was subverting.
During Buffy’s impressive seven season run, Whedon began work on the spin-off series Angel which followed the titular character as he struggled to make up for centuries of evil by “helping the helpless” in a noir detective style.
The third series in the Whedon holy trinity is the space Western Firefly, which became a cult classic despite very few aired episodes and was developed into the divisive movie Serenity.
Finally, came Dollhouse. In some ways, the red-headed stepchild of the bunch, it is an intellectually challenging sci-fi series, the very premise of which was seen as a bridge too far by some fans.
Whedon is infamous for many of the most harrowing character deaths in fandom history and for all the times his light-hearted sci-fi and fantasy became way too real for audiences.
With that in mind, there will obviously be spoilers ahead. Some of these gloomy moments are memorable, smart, and truly gut-wrenching but other viewers have objected to scenes played entirely for shock value. Were all the iconic deaths really necessary?
Here are 16 Times Whedonverse Shows Went Way Too Far
16. Buffy – Angelus Kills Jenny
Accusations of Whedon only being able to deliver character development through character death might be close to the mark.
Jenny Calendar was the first recurring character to die in Buffy and her brutal and sudden demise had a disturbing effect on fans. Some believe that it was a needless destruction of one of few sympathetic adult female characters but Whedon maintains Jenny’s death was necessary.
Jenny Calendar is the computing teacher and love interest of Rupert Giles, who is later revealed to be a member of the tribe who originally cursed Angel with a soul. Secretly, Jenny has been sent to hinder Angel and Buffy’s relationship.
In “Passion”, Jenny has her neck snapped by Angel as she tries to discover a way to restore his soul. Her death proves that no recurring character is safe but fans have asked: did it have to be Jenny?
15. Angel – Drusilla’s Siring
Drusilla is introduced along with her lover Spike in season two of Buffy and her languid, childlike behavior sets her apart from the standard, brutal, horror antagonists.
As Drusilla appears even more in spin-off series Angel, the extent of Dru’s traumatic backstory is revealed.
In unconnected flashbacks, Drusilla is revealed to be a vulnerable Catholic girl with psychic abilities who flees to a convent where she witnesses her family murdered by vampires, Angelus and Darla. Angelus later comes after her and brutally murders everyone in the convent on the day she was supposed to take her vows, driving her mad.
Even Darla displays some shock as Angelus announces that he’s decided to turn Drusilla into a vampire so her insanity can last forever.
14. Buffy – The Buffybot
Whedon explores the darkest aspects of coming of age in Buffy with the characters’ adolescent relationships touching on consent and sexual violence. Usually these themes are given the nuance they deserve but occasionally they come off as ham-fisted or played for laughs and nothing illustrates that more than the Buffybot.
Tech genius Warren Mears builds humanoid robots, including his own personal girlfriend. Spike commissions a version of Buffy, which behaves like the Slayer except for some special modifications of his own request.
Spike has become increasingly infatuated with Buffy but she keeps him at arm’s length. To combat this, Spike literally commissions a sex robot of Buffy.
Although the Buffybot becomes a useful decoy and Spike redeems himself in Buffy’s eyes by not betraying Dawn to Glory, it cannot be overstated how fundamentally creepy it is to create a sex bot of a woman who snubbed you.
13. Dollhouse – Sierra’s Story
Dollhouse centers around a secret organization that controls “Dolls” or “Actives”, who exist in a childlike state until they are programmed to do any kind of required work, between which they get their memories erased.
These Actives choose to be there, giving up years of their life for hefty monetary compensation. However, some of the Dolls have darker backstories. Sierra is one such Active whose tragic past is revealed in “Belonging”. Originally named Priya, she is a beautiful, struggling artist targeted by a rich man named Kinnard. When she rejects him, Kinnard has her admitted to his hospital where he pumps her full of drugs, leading the Dollhouse to believe that she is a paranoid schizophrenic, who they take on as a Doll.
Kinnard pays for the Dollhouse to create a docile imprint of Priya who is hopelessly in love with him and he requests her multiple times, effectively assaulting her again and again until she takes her deadly revenge.
12. Firefly – Inara’s Terminal Illness
With her fine silks, soft voice, and sisterly kindness, Inara Serra brings a different perspective to Firefly. Inara and Mal display an undeniable attraction, and their on-off relationship is a touching subplot.
Like every character on the show, Inara has secrets that she keeps from the crew. As Firefly was abruptly canceled many of these proposed plotlines never got to play out.
In Inara’s case that turned out to be a very good thing. In an interview, writers admitted that Inara was dying of a terminal illness, which is only hinted at a couple of times.
11. Buffy – Buffy Is Taken Out Of Heaven
Spoilers: Buffy dies. In fact, Buffy dies several times in the series.
At the end of season 5, Buffy realizes that death is her gift and, in order to save her sister Dawn and the rest of the world, Buffy sacrifices her own life. She tells Dawn: “Dawn, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.”
The Scooby Gang are distraught by her death and, after five months, find a way to revive her. The gang performs a ritual which restores Buffy’s body so she returns to life, confused and frightened, inside her coffin.
In the famous musical episode “Once More With Feeling” Buffy reveals to her friends that, by resurrecting her, they had ripped her out of heaven rather than rescuing her from some kind of hell dimension as they’d thought. To say this was a shock to the characters and the audience is an understatement.
10. Angel – Fred’s Death
Winifred “Fred’”Burkle’s story is one of trauma from beginning to end. A gifted physics student, Fred is sent through a portal to a demon dimension opened by a jealous professor and kept there for years.
Eventually rescued by Angel and his crew, Fred joins Angel Investigations, using her knowledge of science to be a real asset to the team.
In “A Hole in the World”, Fred investigates a mysterious sarcophagus containing the Old One, Illyria. The demon parasite infects her, slowly taking over her body. It is discovered that the only way to save Fred would kill thousands of others and Angel is forced to choose to do nothing.
The Whedonverse is infamous for its deaths but Fred’s demise is taken especially far. The crew are unable to simply mourn Fred, as the enemy takes over her body and memories, walking around with her mannerisms and appearance after killing her. Killing off Fred also finally left Angel without any female main characters.
9. Dollhouse – The Whiskey Reveal
Dollhouse embraces some challenging themes, including the nature of identity, consciousness, and memory.
Claire Saunders is the physician who looks after the Dolls. She bears facial scarring from an attack by a Doll and she is a smart, witty character that audiences can connect with.
It is eventually discovered that Claire is actually an imprint of the Doll known as Whiskey. The original Dr. Saunders was a middle-aged man. He had cared for the Dolls and requested a break for Whiskey. As she had been the Dollhouse’s most requested Active, her body had not been given enough time to recover, causing her physical strain.
Jealous of her status as the most requested Doll, Alpha slices up her face with shears. During his rampage, he also kills the original Dr. Saunders. As she cannot perform her duties as Doll anymore, Whiskey is imprinted with a variant of the deceased Dr. Saunders’ personality and fills the role of physician, but the trauma leaks through.
8. Buffy – Willow’s Mind-violation of Tara
Tara and Willow are many fans’ favorite Whedonverse pairing.
One of the first lesbian couples to appear as regular characters on popular TV, Willow and Tara’s relationship grows organically from friends to lovers. Partly due to the network’s reluctance to show women kissing, the couple are most often seen holding hands and talking than anything else, with magic casting subbed in place of physical intimacy.
Though shy at first, Tara becomes the emotional center of the Scooby Gang. When Willow begins to over-use magic, in a very obvious parallel for drug addiction, Tara tries to hold her back. After a fight, the couple begin to split apart and Willow tries to fix things by removing the argument from Tara’s mind.
7. Angel – Cordelia’s Forced Pregnancy
Cordelia Chase is a character who undergoes the most drastic change throughout her time on Buffy and Angel. At first a scornful cheerleader at Sunnydale High, then a member of the Scooby Gang helping to fight evil, then a member of Angel Investigates with visions, then finally, when she dies, Cordelia literally ascends to become a higher being in the service of the Powers That Be.
Cordelia attempts to inject a little normalcy into life by dating a nice fashion photographer named Wilson Christopher. They spend a tender night together and seem to have a genuine connection.
Unfortunately, the next morning Cordelia awakens to discover that, overnight, she has grown very pregnant.
Wilson Christopher is actually a worshipper of the Haxil Beast, which provides him with wealth and power in exchange for favours, such as finding a host for the demon’s offspring. Unfortunately for Cordelia, he picked her.
6. Dollhouse – Langton Reveal
Due to the very nature of the way the Dolls work in Dollhouse, a consistent, strong main character is lacking at the beginning of the series. One of the characters that could fill this position was Boyd Langton, a surprisingly calm and collected presence at odds with the Dollhouse’s madness.
Boyd is Echo’s handler, meaning he is employed by Dollhouse to escort Dolls to engagements and monitor them for their own safety. In a morally grey world, Boyd maintains a more heroic stance, protecting Echo in a manner that goes beyond what the job expects.
Until it is revealed that he is a completely different person. (Surprise!)
Seeing the best of the good guys turn out to be the worst of the bad guys can be a fantastic reversal. Yet it can also pull the rug out from under audiences in a way that is detrimental to their point of view character, particularly when the “bad guy” is the only black character on the show.
5. Buffy – Buffy and Angel’s Huge Age Difference
Long before vampire heart-throb Edward Cullen creepily watched a young woman through her open window, Angel was doing the same to Buffy.
When Buffy and Angel first sleep together in “Surprise”, it is the culmination of a romantic thread started the moment that the couple met. It is also very illegal.
Buffy is 17 years old and regardless of her consent to the activities, she is below the age of consent in California. Even if you ignore the fantastical notion that Angel is several hundred years old, he was sired at 26-years-old, making him considerably older than Buffy even by normal standards.
As Giles says, “A vampire in love with a Slayer. It’s rather poetic… in a maudlin sort of way.” The relationship is supposed to be flawed but it is even more deeply problematic than many fans realize.
4. Buffy – Tara’s Murder
There is an unfortunately trope in storytelling where positive lesbian couples end up dead to perpetuate a message that lesbian relationships will only end destructively. Whedon, known for his positive portrayals, would never fall into this cliché. Would he?
After reconciling with Willow, Tara is tragically shot by a stray bullet and dies. Willow is consumed by grief and spirals into a nihilistic rage that due to her vast magical powers almost destroys the world.
Tara’s death is a plot device. It influences Willow’s actions, which then in turn influences Buffy, who was in deep depression after being brought back from the dead herself and realizes that she needs to focus on living life.
Whedon has maintained that Tara’s sexuality had nothing to do with her death. Willow’s partner needed to die – whether that was Tara or Oz. Yet, a lot of viewers thought Tara’s death was a step too far in the wrong direction.
3. Serenity – Wash’s Death
Everyone remembers where they were when they first watched Wash die in Serenity, the closing chapter of Firefly’s story.
Hoban “Wash” Washburne was the humorous, pragmatic crewmember of the Serenity, who adored his “beautiful wife who could kill me with her pinky” Zoe. Wash flew the ship with a zen-like calm when everything else was falling apart. He kept a collection of toy dinosaurs in the cockpit, which remained there as a memorial after his death.
Because, of course, Whedon decided to kill off the happy-go-lucky pilot when he returned for the movie.
Debate rages about whether Wash’s death was needed. It suited the themes of loss and redemption as Wash was impaled by a harpoon moments after heroically piloting the rest of the crew away from Reaver attack to safety. However, in an interview Joss Whedon revealed that if Firefly had not been canceled Wash would still be alive. So was the death entirely necessary.
2. Angel – Cordelia Sleeps With Connor
Cordelia is taken over by the powerful entity known as Jasmine in “Spin The Bottle”.
Jasmine’s plan is to use Cordelia to give birth to herself, restoring her to a physical body once more. Not only does Cordelia undergo a forced pregnancy (again), but the person Jasmine chooses to impregnate her is Connor.
Connor is the son of vampires Angel and Darla, who staked herself in order to deliver the impossible child. For the first few years of his life, Angel Investigates, including Cordelia, help raise the superhuman child (until he rapidly aged to adulthood). Having Cordelia sleep with the young man is, quite frankly, weird.
When the team finally get Jasmine out of Cordelia, she falls into a coma and ultimately dies. The end of her arc takes away any of her original agency and it is a sad conclusion for a character who developed so powerfully throughout the seasons.
1. Buffy – Seeing Red
“Seeing Red” is the notorious episode where Spike shows up uninvited to Buffy’s to convince her she loves him. Spike forces himself on her after she takes a shower, and, due to a back injury, Buffy – who could usually throw Spike through a wall – barely manages to fight him off.
When Spike attacks Buffy in that intimate setting, it is not a fun, over-the-top vampiric evil, it is a recognizable, sickening human evil and so much more shocking for it.
Many fans boycotted the show after this episode. James Marsters, who plays Spike, is later quoted as saying that scene put him in therapy and, as the audience has always watched the show through Buffy’s eyes, it felt as much an attack on the audience as on the character. Though Spike had no soul at the time and the act drove him to seek one out, that he could rekindle his romantic relationship with Buffy after an attempted assault seems to brush aside what should have been an unforgivable action.
What other times did the Whedonverse take things too far? Let us know in the comments!
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