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May 21 2012

The top ten cruelest thing Joss Whedon has done to his characters. Comic Book Resources counts down the ten cruelest things Joss has put his creations through.

I have to admit I didn't read it thouroughly. but my list would look very diffrent. They missed Willow mindviolating Tara, and lots of rape/almost rape situations(nevermind that atleast one of those were played for fun). I also wonder how the almost rape of Buffy in Seeing Red wasn't at the top. For example, while I think Buffy would choose being raped over losing a loved one, death is a natural part of life while rape creates very different scars.

So that moment, and Priya's story and some other rape attempts (how could Warren almost raping Katrina not make the list???) should be much higher up.

That being said the line "Some may laud the episode's attempt to convey a horrible act people have to face in real life, much to our eternal regret, but is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" really a forum for such things?" about Seeing Red is something I definitly disagree about.
That Angel comment at number 10. Is it me or haven't i read the exact same passage in another article. Or at least a pretty similar one. Oh and first post, been reading since at least Buffy S7 :)
Are there any Dollhouse spoilers?

, but the amount of ire from fans feeling they were robbed of a real resolution or a big battle is why it makes number

I don't remember that much ire. At the time we thought it was quite fitting.
Joss has made my heart wilt at deaths and attempted rapes, but lots of other moments, too. Like Oz leaving in "WaH", the long hiatus after "Apocalypse Nowish" (scheduling not his fault, but such an amazing cliffhanger might be), having Nathan Fillion react the way he did to Book's death (worse than the death itself), (and related) Anya's reaction to Joyce's death, Willow and Tara's breakup, and the episode "Gone" (hard to forgive).

I will second that, Simon. Fans--at the time at least--found it a very fitting and almost satisfying ending.

[ edited by CaptainB on 2012-05-21 23:10 ]
I'm not on board.

Characters may have died - but in most cases Joss honored them by making their deaths pivotal to the story arc and the growth of the other characters (save those who died in Chosen).

It's sad but cruel? Not so much. At least not for me.
In my online travels only new people in the fandom dislike NFA. After how brightenly happy the Buffy finale was, Angel's was a nice fresh change of pace.
Actually I liked Fred turning into Illyria.
Tara's death has to be at the lowest, #3. I have no problem with Joyce's and Fred's death filling slots 1 and 2.

Angelus' put-down seems to be Joss' favorite scene of his favorite episode of all his shows. OH, THE PAIN! (gives Joss a happy)

I don't know where Doyle's death was on that list... no wait. Nowhere.
regarding the SeeingRed bathroom scene: I expect I'm treading delicate ground (probably long scrutinized and dissected by better fans than I), but I never saw it as attempted rape. I thought it was misunderstood as rape by others.

again, a delicate distinction, but I felt a little vindicated when Marsters discussed the scene in this recent interview :

(essentially he says it was written from a female perspective, about falling back on sex when nothing else works to keep a relationship from dissolving. He says the scene failed because they swapped the gender).

I know the intent may not matter so much as the painful effect on the audience. just trying to offer up an alternative take on that scene.
And can I just say, the general fate of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce SHOULD be on that list. The general Wesley experience is HEARTBREAKING.

-Goes to Sunnydale to fight the good fight, gets fired and rejected.
-Likes Cordy who likes him back, but fails tonsil hockey and the spark dies.
-Goes to LA to help Angel, falls for Fred, but she chooses Gunn instead.
-Reads the prophecy that Angel will kill his son, and suffers with the knowledge all alone, his closest friend dating his love interest, and Cordy (his only other ally) off and away with Groo. Ultimately he decides that he has to do something, and kidnaps Connor, betraying Angel and losing the trust and friendship of the only people he's got.
-Gets his throat cut and all his friends abandon him.
-Starts up with Lilah, kind of develops feelings, then she dies.
-Finally gets with Fred, only she dies in his arms basically IMMEDIATELY after they begin their relationship.
-Puts himself through masochistic agony by helping Smurf Fred.
-Dies for Angel's cause, never getting to be happy after the death of the woman he loves.

Oh, and his father never approved of him.
I'd have Jenny's death somewhere in the top 10 - not because her death was so horrible, but because of the way Angelus posed her body to inflict the maximum amount of emotional pain on poor Giles.
Anya was in the honorable mentions, and I think that's the worst death for me. The comics haven't given me any time to grieve her passing. I still haven't gotten over it.
WarrenEBB - That is really interesting. I had no idea the scene was conceived like that, but it makes it make more sense. I mean, honestly, that scene didn't frighten me, or unsettle me, or break my heart, it just confused me. Like you said, treading delicate ground here. In the context of a woman doing that to a boyfriend in a last attempt to get him to stay... I suppose it shouldn't be judged any less harshly, but it just is less threatening. It makes James' performance make more sense as well. He really does sound like a woman begging to be loved. That doesn't make his actions acceptable, but it does explain the aim behind the writing.

Watching Nicholas Brendon on Private Practice was much, much, much harder to watch. And you didn't even see him during.
ok people are propably going to hate me for this but i going to say that the buffy/spike thing in season six was the cruelest thing thats just me though it was so fucked up
Xander losing an eye would have at least charted for me over Pryia's backstory in Dollhouse. Tara's death would have charted higher, too.
Tara higher. Joyce #1. Still pissed about Tara, though. A list like this serves other purposes, though. Trope, comes to mind...
Oh dang it. I got spoiled with Buffy Season 8. I thought they weren't going to talk about comics since top ten only dealt with the TV shows and the first one mentioned didn't mention anything about Angel After The Fall. Curses!!! Grrarrgh!!!
In a list like this, I think you have to be a little more specific where the cruelty / pain is actually landing. Are we talking audience or the character(s) in question? Because that would certainly change my list.

A death like Anya's... definitely audience impact, but it's not like she suffered. You could make an argument for Xander, but as is frequently lamented, there wasn't time spent exploring that.

Fred's death, yes - but I think it fell even harder on Wesley. It drove him insane.

And the calculus of pain is getting a bit maudlin, so I'm going to stop there.
They do an abortion/robot storyline with Buffy season 9? Glad I stopped reading in Season 8. The Buffy comics proves that, contrary to what I thought, Joss can do wrong. Angel: After the Fall was great, but Buffy comics are atrociously bad.
Does anyone feel Book, Cordy, Connor, Wes, Doyle (i see you, @whatsastevedore) , should've ranked? I personally feel Mellie should've ranked. A tragic ending for both she and Madeline.

Was quite sad about Anya (and Jenny of course too. Good calls, y'all.)
Blah... Anytime I gripe about decisions that Whedon made for the characters in his story, there is always someone that says, "Yes, but it was good drama!"

Well, fine. I don't necessarily disagree. But now that character, the same character that made the show so awesome, is gone for good. In my mind, that makes the show less awesome. Is that faulty logic?

Traumatic events - such as the sudden, violent death of a loved one - creates heaps of drama, certainly. But I would like to see Whedon use other means to motivate his characters into being extraordinary people besides death. (Believe me, I realize the irony of a Joss Whedon fan wishing Joss would lighten up a bit.)

Forgive me. I normally wouldn't have gone on a rant like this. Taken one at a time, I can deal. But having been reminded of all of the most gut-wrenching moments in my favorite shows, it couldn't be helped.
I am quite surprised they picked Angelus' put down of Buffy over her having to kill Angel later in season 2 - right after he regained his soul. I think it was more cruel thing to do to Buffy. Connor locking Angel into a metal box and throwing him into ocean depth deserves honorable mention, as well as Buffy being ripped out of Heaven by well-meaning friends - only to fall into clinical depression. Willow going dark and skinning a man alive is also one episode that is extremely rough on both the characters and the audience. Angel viewing Connor and Cordelia through the window belongs here as well, same as Cordelia driven to become half-demon by excruciating pain of her visions - to be later turned into breeding vessel for yet another God. The whole story of Drusilla's siring. Spike siring and then dusting his mother. The list can go on and on.

I am actually curious as to why CBR went into this recount ? Perhaps to remind us that comic seasons are being written in the same vein ?
Tumnus, all in the execution. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer should know. Season 9 has won me back.
Not a bad list. I don't think I'd have had the Buffy/Angel post sex scene in, it's kind of awkward but I don't find it heartbreaking.

Also I still remain unable to understand why Wesley's actions re. Connor were so bad. I think Angel and the rest were asses to him.

BringItOn5x5 is right though, I guess it depends how you're judging the pain. My moments that make me cry list would look very different to my sux2bu list.
But I would like to see Whedon use other means to motivate his characters into being extraordinary people besides death

Well, we've all been over this ground a gazillion times so I doubt anyone can say anything to change anyone's mind one way or the other at this point. All I'll say is that the logical consequence of your suggestion would be that no character we had come to like would ever be allowed to die, and that a universe in which no likable character is ever allowed to die is a universe where the dramatic stakes are necessarily fairly low. I think one of the reasons we care so deeply about Joss's characters--so deeply that we really, really, care that some of them end up dead--is precisely because they live in a universe where their immortality is not a given, and where they are vulnerable to genuine and lasting harm.
I was so happy to read about Dollhouse's 'Belonging' being on that list - truly one superb episode of television, and so heartbreaking. So underrated.
I found this statement about Spike's attempted rape a little odd "Some may laud the episode's attempt to convey a horrible act people have to face in real life, much to our eternal regret, but is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" really a forum for such things?".

That strikes me as weird since Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a show has always been about providing a forum for real things that happen as people grow up, whether it's the terrors of High School, first relationships that go bad, or in this case abuse/sexual assault. A lot of people have it happen in real life, and it seems natural to explore it. If anything my complaint would be that they did not go far enough in following up on it.
Agree with this writer that Fred/shell/llyria/ is really the cruelest moment. I still grieve Fred when I see Illyria even though I love her. Gut wrenching.
I was also surprised not to find Jenny's death on the list.
I don't like this list. Not the choices, but the general attitude of the list, and its use of the word "cruel". I like not to think about the writing decisions made by my favourite television writer as "cruel". I understand the purpose behind what he chooses to do with his characters and stories. This stuff isn't done out of cruelty; it serves the story.
I think the diskette with the information about how to restore Angel's soul should be on the list. Though that's cruelty to the watchers, not the characters.
Great article. I loved it. Fred's death is easily the "cruelest" thing Joss has done to date. She was such a strong person, but there was no way for her to be saved from that fate. Her soul being destroyed is just twisting the knife! Amazing episode and plot though; my all time favorite.
All I'll say is that the logical consequence of your suggestion would be that no character we had come to like would ever be allowed to die, and that a universe in which no likable character is ever allowed to die is a universe where the dramatic stakes are necessarily fairly low.

That's exactly my point! Why does the dramatic stakes have to be low if no one dies??? Why is that a rule nowadays? There are plenty of shows where the main cast never dies and the dramatic stakes are still high. And may I just say, these shows are usually the ones that last the longest and leave a majority of people satisfied with the ending.

Look, it's not a big deal. This is just one of those things that irks me from time to time. I'm not against characters being killed off. But death just seems to happen to people in the whedonverse. I can only think of one or two incidents where a character dies and it wasn't due to some sudden, absolutely inescapable circumstance of which he/she had no control over. Lindsey's death, for example, was one of the exceptions - he clearly made all choices that led him there. His demise wasn't a surprise. The shocking part of it was that it was Lorn that pulled the trigger. The lovable, do-no-wrong green guy that wouldn't hurt a fly. Now, THAT'S drama.

Gah. My apologies for being a whiner. In my defense, I'm a professional writer. We either complain about all the unfairness in the world or we joke about it. I'm just not in a jokey mood this evening...
Egghead, you actually reminded me of what I personally think is the cruelest moment of Joss' work (and when I say "cruel" I don't mean "a cruel writing decision by Joss" but an abstract sort of "what a cruel twist of fate", since most of us seem to disagree with the "Joss is cruel" thing): it's Lorne's ending. Losing Fred was one thing - but then being forced to kill Lindsey... that broke me. Having been the kindest, most giving character on the show, that was when he lost his innocence, his faith in people. He'll never be the same after that. To me that was basically devastating.

[ edited by prettymaryk on 2012-05-22 05:00 ]
Hmmm, I think there are gazillions of 'cruel' things that are done with the characters, I mean, a lot of bad stuff happens to them. That's just drama though.

As for Joss being cruel to the audience, the only time I really felt they were cruel to the fans was the fakeout in 'Lover's Walk' when they try to make you think they've killed off Cordelia.

What happened in Gone that was so bad?


Why would anyone hate you? That was a extremely aweful moment.


Really? I mean, Pryia was forced into slavery. She was followed, scared, drugged, losing her mind, then used as a sexpuppet. Losing a eye seems nice compared to that horror. I think I might prefer dying over that too(Tara's death was after all not cruel to Tara, but nthose around her).


Regarding if the Seeing Red scene was AR or not; it comes down to intent in those discussions. If he understood that he was rofcing himself on her, it was rape, if he was so out of control he didn't reflect, maybe not. I have no idea, there are reason to believe he did get what he was doing, but also that he didn't. I think he did understand what he was doing, but also that Buffy would give in and let him. I think he intended to rape her to make her want to be with him. Considering how messed up he was, as a vampire, and after being in a deeply disturbing with Drusilla for over a century, I find that likely. He simply didn't get it. But afterwards he was starting to. Then he decided to get a soul. Maybe because he regretted what he did, maybe because he wanted to regret what he did.

I just read the relevant part of the Marsters interview and while I get what he was saying, it was pretty clearly a attempted rape scene they were intending to write. And I think it came across the way it was suppose to, but there was more focus on the almost forced sex than how desperate and deluded Spike was.
prettymaryk, agree with you about Lorne. His arc post-Fred's death was tragic. I would have added Topher's revelation to Adelle that he was going to die to the list.

To be ultra-nitpicky, I also noticed a few factual goofs. It's been a while since I've watched "The Body," but I'm pretty sure Joyce is on the couch, not the floor, and it's Dr. Sparrow, not Wesley, who talks about Fred's soul being destroyed.
I agree that Wesleys entire story ark was probably the cruelest series of events in the show. that being said his character arc is probably my favorite to

Ballard discovering Mellie was a doll seemed really cruel to me, then him having to pretend he was still unaware.

ETA: that I wished I had known about the comic spoilers, especially regarding Giles death, I haven't made it that far apparently

[ edited by Canis_Latrans on 2012-05-22 11:44 ]
Shepherd Book's death was awfully cruel as he seemed so happy. I found that as upsetting as Wash's demise.
Of course everyone will disagree on the precise rankings, as this is all subjective anyway. For me, it's the write-up that matters, and I rather like this article.
It's funny to me that Joss has such a reputation for being cruel to his characters and his audience -- and many people here are objecting that there are actually more painful and cruel things that Joss has done that aren't on this list. :)

[ edited by Ronald_SF on 2012-05-22 14:51 ]
That's exactly my point! Why does the dramatic stakes have to be low if no one dies??? Why is that a rule nowadays?

"Nowadays"? This isn't something recent. The idea that the most serious possible situations are "matters of life and death" is as old as human consciousness of mortality. It is the fact that we are mortal beings that gives meaning and poignancy to everything in our lives. As Shelley said:

All things that we love and cherish,
Like ourselves must fade and perish;
Such is our rude mortal lotó
Love itself would, did they not. ("Death")

There's nothing innovative or unusual about character death in Joss's projects--it's just a bizarre self-reinforcing meme that got attached to his name in the wake of the controversy over Tara's death. Good storytellers have done this forever. Why does Bambi's mother die at the beginning of that film? Because in a world where violent death is possible, the stakes of Bambi's story matter in a way that they simply wouldn't if we felt sure that nothing bad could ever happen to the characters we like. Why did Dickens let Little Nell die, despite having the audience clamor for her to live? Because long before Joss ever said that utter truism, he was giving the audience what they need and not what they think they want. Why does Shakespeare let Mercutio (by far the most likable and enjoyable male character in Romeo and Juliet) die in a horrible and pointless accident? Because we have to understand that Romeo and Juliet's love is operating in a world where horrible accidents are possible and not one where likable characters are guaranteed immortality.
His Astonishing arc made me like Cyclops. That was cruel and unusual.
URGH I had been doing so well at avoiding season 9 spoilers, even avoided them in the article as I only read the headlines of the ten items on the list and nothing else... sadface... And also WHAT? *curiosity*

At least the season 8 spoiler that's mentioned I accidently spoiled myself for (and I am now more careful in naming bookmarks that I save for later reading)...

I'm with BringItOn5x5, if making it specifically crueslest things done to characters, the list should be a bit different...

Egghead - it depends on the shows you are talking about. There are plenty of dramatic shows with stakes where you aren't concerned with someone dying. But if you're living in a show where you are fighting and it's life and death, then the death stakes have to be real... I hope that made sense... I'm saying it's about the context of the show...
@egghead @prettymaryk I agree w u about Lorne! Also I feel that the traumatic events that turn Buffy, Willow, and Dawn into the most extraordinary versions of themselves include death of the loved ones around them but are not limited to them. (I'm talking circa season 7)

@dorotea all your events are dead on, especially Becoming Part 2 and Connor locking Angel in a box.
Death is his gift.

Okay, and the funny stuff too.
One of the oddities about the anger that surrounded Tara's death is that no similar anger surrounded Fred's death in Angel--because we still had the actress on the show. But in terms of erasing the possibility of developing a beloved character's story any further, Fred's death was every bit as final as Tara's. Had Joss gone in a different direction with Tara's death--had he, for example, had Willow's memory-spell effect a permanent personality change in Tara so that "Tara-the-character" died while some new character lived on in Amber Benson's body I don't think there would have been anything like the same outraged reaction from the fans. And yet effectively it would be exactly the same; we'd have come to the end of Tara's story and started up some new character's story which just happened to be played by a familiar actress.

One other irony about the Tara/Willow thing is that the only reason Willow was able to get together with Tara was because Joss brought an end to the highly popular and fan-pleasing relationship between Willow and Oz. True, Oz didn't die, but from the point of view of those invested in that relationship, the effect was the same. If the writer is supposed to make sure that he never really makes the viewers unhappy shouldn't he have kept Oz and Willow together forever? Wasn't it unconscionable to cause the pain and suffering viewers felt who wanted to see more of their story as a couple--to see how that relationship would develop over years and years into the future? Of course, no fan of the Willow/Tara relationship would accept that for a second. Joss gave us what we didn't realize we needed, not what we wanted, they will say. To which I can only nod in agreement.
@Yoink I think fans outrage/lack of thereof at Tara vs Fred deaths, really boils down to aggravation caused by/execution of the deed. Willow-Tara relationship was uber-popular ,whereas Fred-Wesley romance was never developed to an extent of audience being overly excited over it. Add the gay community outrage at perceived slight of erasing the flagship relationship on the show, add the factor of Willow as a character virtually being turned inside out by this death - vs Wesley already completing his journey to the dark side and back. Add the realism factor as well - character being consumed by Elder God is a fantastic scenario that might be a bit geeky to perceive as 'real' and there was always hope, I suppose, that Fred would still be there somehow ( which she was), yet somebody being shot dead by a stray bullet is a happenstance that hits very close to home. and no, I don't think that 'death' of a beloved character on the show is ever something 'I" need.
I'm with the others on Passions (Jenny's death).

Scarred. For. Life.

And poor Giles.
WhatsAStevedore, agreed, Wesley should have been on the list. Also, its a bit strange but his demise was the one that caught me most off-guard.
I think Angel getting his son snatched from him is perhaps the most underrated cruellest thing in the Whedonverse.
yoink- the fact that Joss kills people is a given. It surprises no one any more. That's why I call it a trope.

And if you think for a minute that the death of Tara has somehow subsided in terms of its impact, it has not. "Joss gave us what we didn't realize we needed, not what we wanted, they will say. To which I can only nod in agreement." To which I can only shake my head in utter and complete disagreement. Joss has no idea what I need. He never has. He does not know me and never will. He can only write what he wants. Period. It has nothing at all to do with what I need or want or anything else in my life. This is an excuse, to attempt to forgive the very real hurt he caused.
Dana5140: I couldn't've asked for a better lead-in. I have to wonder - if Joss had found naother wya to bring out DarkWillow, or if he had gone with bringing Tara back in his "wish-shoes" notion, I wonder if I'd be as disappointed as I am with everything that he's done since. (Exception; what supposedly happened to Cordelia in "You're Welcome" -which the comics show wasn't exactly as filmed, anyway- since that was just bad literature.) I like to think I would be just as disappointed, but a Buffyverse and Greater Whedonverse with Tara still active in them might be place where I still expect the good things I used to expect, rather than just seeing what new disturbing disappoinment is coming next.
Dana5140--I think you're misreading my comment. I'm saying that (as a devotee of the Willow/Tara relationship) you would assert that it was a good thing that Oz and Willow's relationship was brought to an end so that Willow and Tara's relationship could be started. You would say that to someone who wailed and gnashed his teeth about how cruel and unfair it was that we never got to see the Oz/Willow relationship grow and develop and mature over years, right? In that specific case you would argue (to that person) that Joss gave us what we needed (Willow and Tara) even if it wasn't what we wanted (more Oz and Willow), no?

I don't really see a "trope" of Joss killing people. There is a fact that in some dramatic worlds people are vulnerable to death and in some they are not. Joss writes in dramatic worlds where they are; which makes him like writers for Disney, say (Bambi's mother, Mufasa etc. etc. etc.). I've never seen any evidence that he kills a higher proportion of his characters than other similar shows. Look at deaths on Lost, say, or Battlestar Galactica. I think there's probably a somewhat higher rate of actual character deaths on those shows than on Joss's.
I'll say this on character death: I think Joss has done it well (obviously "The Body" comes to mind) and in other instances not so much. Personally, I do have an issue when it's repeatedly and obtrusively used to beat the "audience, feel the dramatic peril of death, for indeed, any of your beloved characters may die now like THIS!" drum. And I'm speaking specifically of Anya, Wesley and Wash.

The tune goes a little something like this: Our protagonist has stumbled into a dark lonely place and falls into distrust in the eyes of her/his former friends and allies to the point where they don't know whether they can/should follow her/him anymore. So the protagonist comes up with a daring, dangerous and unconventional plan to take it to the enemy. Naturally when this plan is revealed to the friends in a grand "this is what the show/movie is all about" speech, it inexplicably puts the hero back in good standing and they follow her/him unquestioningly into battle. The battle is joined and amidst virtually everyone being put into dire situations, one person must now die in shocking fashion to drive home the point that they all could. And then the tide turns and the remaining characters rebound from the perilous wheel of character death.

Again, I think Joss has done it well too, but when characters are being thrown away by formula for dramatic effect... that feels on the cheap side to me.
I think the cruelest thing Joss has ever done to any of his characters was Willow skinning Warren to death, but hey Warren was a bad guy

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