Spoiler Alert!!!! I discuss events in both “The Avengers” movie recently released by Paramount Pictures, and in “Serenity,” both of which are Joss Whedon helmed projects. If you have not seen these and want to be surprised by events in them, do not read this post.
“Wash, did the Captain seem funny to you this morning?”
“Oh Kaylee, we all know I’m the funny one.”
This, ladies and gentleman, is one of the many reasons why Hoban Washburn is among my all time favorite TV characters if not one of my all time favorite fictional characters. Wash was often the voice of reason, suggesting non-violent alternatives while surrounded by war vets and mercenaries. He challenged the status quo of his little group even challenging a dangerous, if honorable, captain who made it very clear that being scorned was reason enough for him to kill a man. He was sweet, smart, charming and yes, he was the funny one. Which is why it hurt so much when the Reavers impaled him.
Joss Whedon offed an important character in an ensemble cast. It was not the first time he did so. He killed off Buffy’s mother, Joyce, an important PoV character for the viewers, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and for all intents and purposes killed off the beloved character Fred in Angel. Because of these deaths, and others, poor Joss got a rep, one often accompanied by an angry reaction to it, for killing characters willy-nilly. Now, in his film the Avengers, Agent Phil Coulson, a character in four other films with three other directors, a character that fans have come to love, has shuffled off the mortal coil.
Fans, of course, freaked out. Joss explained, and was backed up by, Marvel Productions execs who had decided before Joss even came aboard that Agent Coulson had to die. I am sure this mollified a decent portion of the fans. Personally I don’t think they should need to be mollified. Let me tell you why.
Too often creators take the cheap way out, killing off little known, sometimes outright unlikable characters, or characters that have not been part of the mass consciousness for some time. Much was made of how cheap it was for Kevin Smith to kill off Karen Page at all. I had no problem with her dying, my problem was a fact that she was not terribly liked by most fans (I liked her, but I’m hardly typical.) Many actually held resentment, towards this fictional character, for fictional actions that were actually sad and a little beyond her control. So killing her was almost a gift to fans.
No, Joss kills off the characters we love. I cannot pretend to know his motives for doing so, but in his shoes I would do the same in these violent movies and shows because, you know what, When the bullets are flying, people we like die. Yes, movies and television, especially action movies, are supposed to be an escape, but all fiction should also hold up a mirror to reality. In reality good people, people we love, are taken from us too soon. Some of us experience this sooner, some of us later. Killing off well liked fictional characters provides experience for those in the latter group, as well as providing some small antidote to the de-sensitizing effect of violent fiction. It is why I love Jo Rowling for what she did to the Weasley twins.
So lay off Joss for killing off his characters (what you don’t think he loves them?) And thank you Mr. Whedon for allowing me to mourn Joyce Summers, Winifred Burkle, Hoban Wash and, even though you do not take credit, Phil Coulson. Their loss gives your work even greater depth and in some small way, saves us from our own banality. Keep up the body count and keep up the good work.