Wednesday 8 April 2009

...and happiness is usually the first sign of a catastrophe

"What it really tells us, though, is that Whedon has an ear for tragedy that draws from some of the most classic examples, from ancient Greece through Shakespeare and beyond. The characters that he loves (and we love) the most are also the ones who suffer the most. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of those characters are women. Since the beginning of the show, Whedon has reserved the richest and most troubling complexities for his women characters. No one escapes suffering in Whedon's universe, but we're made to identify most with the women: both with minor characters like Joyce Summers, Buffy's mother (who was almost always an annoyance and yet whose death left an unimaginable void), as well as, of course, the two women who pump more blood into the show than anyone else -- Buffy and her best friend, Willow."

Salon: Willow, destroyer of the worlds, May 22, 2002
If you've watched the clips from last year's Comic-Con panel on "Dr Horrible's" I posted a couple of days ago, then you'll have seen a question asked, something along the line "how do you feel about writing such amazing stories usually at the cost of your character's happiness".
I've used the little spare time I've had over the past weeks to rewatch some old seasons of "Buffy" and the fourth and fifth of "Angel", which I had never really seen in chronological order. In both shows, about the same thing occurs. A character that has recently repented for some kind of sin gets what he always wanted: a reunion with a loved one, or at least a first shot at someone they've been in love with forever. They get one moment of happiness and then something horrible happens, in one case, the girl gets hit by a stray shot and dies (Tara in "Buffy"), in the other, the girl opens an ancient sarcophagus, breathes in some mummy dust and then becomes the shell for a demon goddess with no chance at all to restore her old character (Fred in "Angel). In both cases, the sweetest possible character is the one that dies (same thing happens in "Dr Horrible"), and it is sudden, completely unexpected and leaves the remaining group of people in fragments, darkness.
This was the first time that I got the chance to watch the entire Fred-story arc, and I have to admit that this hit me even harder than Tara's death in "Buffy", since it was so much more devastating. Gentle Fred, who's been trapped as a slave in a strange dimension for years before being rescued by the "heroes", has come such a long way from the disturbed, nerdy woman writing formulas on the walls, and in a show filled with conflicted, morally ambiguous characters, she was the one person that was really good and selfless (apart from one small thing that happened the season before her death, where she of all people decides to take revenge on the person responsible for her being trapped in the demon dimension but ends up putting her then lover in the position of taking that burden). And instead of dying, she literally gets turned into a shell, with the very essence of her being gone and a demon taking over her body (giving actress Amy Acker the opportunity to act out the very opposite to the gentle Fred, an arrogant, aggressive and ultimately frightening creature strange to this human world, but not in the quirky Anya-kind of way). The person worst hit by this, Wesley, is so devastated that there is no way back for him into life as there was for Willow in "Buffy", no slow recovery. The idea that sometimes things that happen can be so horrible that human beings can not return to a normal life afterwards, that time does not heal all wounds, is too seldomly represented in popular television, which is just one of the many reasons why the final season of "Angel" is so amazing.
I am expecting all these topics to be tackled in "Dollhouse" - free will, what it means to be human, how identity is formed and kept up, what human beings are willing to try to repent for something they've done - and I just wish that Joss Whedon has enough time to develop the smaller characters (naturally, especially Dr. Claire Saunders, played by Amy Acker, who had a more complex and interesting part to play in the most recent episode, "Needs") - and Topher (Fran Kranz), who seems to be in the tradition of the nerd trio in the sixth season of "Buffy", (despite the fact that he seems to be so easily likeable from the very first moment, geek chic and all that) essentially unconscious of their moral responsibility and the ramifications of their actions.

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