The truth about fandom icon Joss Whedon shocked Whedonverse fans worldwide when it came to light at the beginning of 2021.
As big fans of many of Joss's works over the years, many of us are still reeling from these revelations, so TV Fanatics, Leora Waltuch, Jessica Lerner, Christine Orlando, and Justin Carriero sat down to discuss our reactions.
Leora: What did Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series mean to you in the past, and how might that have changed in light of recent events?
Jessica: So, I'm a millennial; I did not watch Buffy live growing up, but I did find it in high school.
When I started watching, I really related to it because the first three seasons essentially use the monsters as an allegory for what everyone goes through during high school.
It was really great to see it from that perspective.
There's this entire fandom online. So, that also had the impact of, "Oh, yes, there are other people out there who love it. It's not just me," and that kind of goes with "Yes, you're not all alone."
Christine: I mean, I'm probably the oldest one here. So, I remember Buffy as the first young woman action hero we saw on TV. You never saw that before. High school girls were considered "the cheerleaders" or somebody's girlfriend.
They were never the lead; they never went out and basically kicked ass while still talking about clothes, shoes, and relationships. I remember that was very different about Buffy when it first hit. That made it really special.
(I didn't watch it right from the beginning; I kind of picked it up later, about midway through the series, and then I went back and watched everything to catch up.)
Justin: I was a little kid when I first watched it. I will always remember Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 1 Episode 12: Prophecy Girl, the Season One Finale.
I'm a huge Buffy fan. When I initially started it, it was my first "teen show." It really taught me about supernatural TV and the different types of TV show that I was watching back then.
I watched it as it was initially airing during the '90s and the 2000s.
It was just one of those shows: it was smart, witty, the characters actually felt grounded for the most part. It wasn't something polished that you'd seen like Beverly Hills 90210.
These were outcasts and people who seemed more along the lines of just wanting to be friends and have fun while also stopping supernatural creatures during high school and so forth.
I thought that was really interesting and really great. Pre-Joss Whedon stuff, Buffy was my favorite scripted show, and it still is. That's why I think this will be a great discussion.
Leora: I like how you said that it still is your favorite. How are you able to maintain it as your favorite scripted show post-Joss Whedon scandal?
Justin: I think a lot of it stems from the memories of it and the nostalgia. I grew up with Buffy.
I remember seeing Buffy fight The Master for the first time, the feeling of seeing her fight The Mayor, and the feeling of seeing her fight all these iconic characters. I remember seeing Willow and Tara kissing for the first time.
There's a lot of iconic moments that are very much ingrained in life. Overall, it's a really great strong show. There are a lot of great elements to it and such iconic characters.
I'm trying to keep Joss Whedon as separate as possible and think of it as, "this is the art, and these characters who are now in pop-culture are great, and the show as a whole is so amazing.
There's just this one bad element that's attached to this."
Leora: Yeah, I see that. I want that to be true, so badly, honestly.
For me, it was also a lot of nostalgia. I grew up with it, too; reruns, but still over a decade ago. I watched everything out of order, starting with reruns of Angel the Series Season 4.
I'm big into shipping. I fell in love immediately with Fred and Wesley.
I also enjoyed Cordelia and Angel. I think that they were really great, but Fred and Wesley are still my favorite couple in any show ever. I'm still so mad about how that ended!
I enjoyed the way the show explored vampire lore, evil, and the idea of the soul. I thought Angelous was just the greatest sadistic villain. (I really love sadistic villains; I think they're fascinating).
I thought Faith was so cool, and I liked Connor.
On Angel the Series Season 5, they brought in Spike, who was awesome. Spike and Angel were always talking about Buffy, and I'm like, "Is this chick really as great as they seem to think she is?"
Then I watched Buffy, and she was.
Jessica: What's interesting for me was that I watched during the heyday of all this vampire craze, Twilight thing. I read Twilight, and I'm like, "This is awful! Why are people so obsessed with this?"
Right around the same time I was watching Buffy, The Vampire Diaries came out. It was really different. The vampires were scary and evil. They weren't some tortured creature that you want to save: they were evil.
I thought, "Wow, that's actually pretty cool. They're subverting the genre," not realizing until later. "Oh, wait, no, that's how they made the genre."
Leora: Yeah, vampires are always supposed to be evil.
There's definitely always been a level of sexuality to vampires; sucking the blood is a metaphor for sex. There is the fact that they stay young and pretty. Dracula was considered attractive, so that's always been a thing, historically.
However, the idea of the tortured, romantic, sexy vampire is a lot newer, i.e., Anne Rice and Twilight.
(I have never read Twilight. I've heard horrible things about Twilight; I have no intention of reading Twilight.)
The vampires are evil, and they're supposed to be evil. I think that it is important that it stays that way. The idea of evil is something that is sort of addressed. It's black and white thinking versus shades of grey.
People love redemption arcs. People love the idea that bad guys can become good guys. We don't want to look at "the other" as the bad guy because that's where prejudice and racism stem from.
At the same time, for a show like this, you need to have completely bad characters because you need to justify the fact that we kill them.
People need that in fiction sometimes, a clear-cut idea of, "We kill the bad guys, and it's okay to kill them because they're not human."
Christine: Going back to your original question about how the news about Whedon changes things: it's kind of the same feeling I have when I see Harvey Weinstein's name in the credits for a show.
It makes me cringe. It doesn't necessarily take away from the show because a show is more than one person, right?
I mean, even if you're the show creator, the show is more than one person. A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into making that product.
It does take away a little something from that, knowing that people behind the scenes may have been abused and may have been miserable while they were making it. That now is in the back of my mind when I watch Buffy.
You watch certain scenes, and it kind of takes you out of the fantasy of the show, knowing that there was this very real-world situation going on where actors and crew members were treated badly. At least it does for me.
I still love the show; that hasn't changed, but there's just that little part of it now that's kind of tarnished because of that. That's just my take on it.
Jessica: Jumping off that point, I still love Buffy, and I think they're two different things.
However, watching it now, I think it's a little different because you'd heard rumors that Harvey Weinstein did all this creepy stuff, but Buffy was so revolutionary.
She was a kick-ass female Vampire Slayer. It was so empowering. To find out that the guy behind one of the most empowering female characters of all time actually degraded women just makes it worse because Buffy was so high up there.
Leora: It's because he should have known better. In the audio commentaries on the DVDs and interviews with him, everyone has been lauded until recently as this great feminist.
He says things in interviews that we quote, and we point to you, and we're like, "yes, this is how people should behave." The whole concept of the show came from him.
J.K. Rowling's stance on transgender people and transgender rights is horrible, but then you look at Harry Potter, and you're sort of like, "well, but there aren't any transgender characters in it represented either negatively or positively."
So, it doesn't apply and translate the same way, as this guy was lauded as this great feminist and created something supposed to be such a feminist show.
Everybody was like, "Yes, this was his idea, and that was his idea. He's such a genius."
I remember interviews where they said things along the lines of, "It's a shame he's not gay because he has such a great grasp on LGBTQ representation and rights."
Now we know he was pretending the whole time.
Christine: Did you hear what came out recently? On the Justice League set, he allegedly told Gal Gadot to "Just look pretty and say the words," and you're just like, "Seriously? You're the creator of Buffy! We expected so much more of you!"
It's just not the reality, unfortunately. If that's true, I mean. At this point, it's allegedly said.
Leora: I believe it.
Justin: It's troubling because there's been a lot of these rumors over the years. Now they've come to the point that they are a fact.
Throughout the years, the Charisma Carpenter situation with her character (I know we'll get to that question soon) was something that went through the fan threads for the longest time. What is the truth?
Now everything's being revealed that this happened.
I completely agree, Christine. Sometimes watching through past episodes of Buffy and Angel, now you have a thought that pops up in your head.
There's the scene of Cordelia dying, and for her to die in this way, you can't help but think of Joss Whedon and what he did to Charisma.
You think of how he treated Dawn in previous episodes, and Sarah Michelle Gellar and all these different characters.
Some of the storylines are so great, but then afterward, you think to get to that moment, what did he do behind the scenes that made the cast hate him? Or how was he awful during those time periods?
Leora: Since you brought up Cordelia and Charisma Carpenter, let's address that because that's a big thing. Charisma Carpenter was the first person from the Buffyverse to speak out.
What she said explains so much about the Cordelia plotline for Angel Season 4 and Angel Season 5. A lot of people have commented on how her arc for those seasons never made total sense.
I actually started the show with Angel Season 4, and I really enjoyed it. I know that's an unpopular opinion, but to paraphrase Gunn, it was like a supernatural soap opera. It had a lot of really fun elements.
However, I also love the Cordelia character, and I agree that it was very unfair to her character. I'm not sure how else they could have handled her pregnancy. It was interesting the way that they wrote it.
Her swan song, Angel The Series Season 5 Episode 12: "You're Welcome was a great episode, but it would have been better if they found a way for Cordelia to live.
It would have also been nice if she and Angel could finally have some sort of relationship because I just got to say it: Cangel is better than Bangel. It just is! But we don't have to get into that.
Does anyone else have thoughts on Cordelia's arc and how they handled it, particularly given what we know now?
Christine: I kind of have to opt-out because I never watched Angel the Series. It just seemed too dark to me. I was never a huge fan of the character Angel, which I know is controversial. So I just never got into it.
Leora: If I can plug for a second, he's very different on Angel, the Series.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he was the tragic love interest. He was always sort of brooding and dark, and we didn't really ever get to know him.
On Angel, you get to see sides of him where he can be silly, awkward, and incredibly vain. You find out that he's a terrible singer and that he likes Barry Manilow.
They address the fact that he's not very good at paying attention to the details of the people in his life. He misses things.
Cordelia's big role in the beginning, long before I think it occurred to them to make them romantic, is to be the person who's like, "Hey, you're not acting human. You need to remember to act human."
He's so much more flawed in a very human way, which is fun, and they also just have some really great characters and great plotlines.
Darla's whole arc is amazing. I love that character, and when I compared it to what we saw of her on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I'm disappointed because it is not the same badass person. Darla's the best. I love her.
Jessica: I mean, Leora and I had this discussion before, but I actually think Angel the Series Season 4 is the worst season.
Part of it is just how they handled Cordelia's storyline. Obviously, they had to write her pregnancy in, but first, she's possessed, and then she sleeps with Angel's son, and then that gets her pregnant.
Leora: Right, but she does that while she's possessed, so it's not really her.
Jessica: I know, but I'm just saying, we don't know that she's possessed at the time. It's just such a clusterfuck, and it's such a big mess.
Initially watching it, while I was sad to see her go at the end of Angel the Series Season 4, Angel the Series Season 5 was such a breath of fresh air.
Spike's there. They kind of reset with the monster or supernatural catastrophe of the week. It didn't really register until later when looking through the fan forum that she had been written out that way.
When you think about it, you think, "Wow, what they did to her was awful." What also came out was that Joss Whedon apparently asked her, "Are you planning on keeping the baby?"
It's not that he incorporated pregnancy. What he put her through was awful.
Leora: He fired her for choosing to keep the baby, which is terrible. As great as the last episode with her is, she did not deserve to be fired just because she is a mother. That is very wrong.
Jessica: The only reason that she's there is that Sarah Michelle Gellar couldn't be.
Leora: What do you mean?
Jessica: Like her final swan song? It was supposed to be that Buffy that was there.
Leora: Ah. I didn't know that. That's terrible.
At that point, it makes so much more sense for it to be Cordelia.
I'm not disparaging Buffy and Angel. There are some problems with that relationship, but overall, I really enjoyed it. They had this sort of epic/tragic dynamic that was incredibly romantic.
However, they were never really friends how Angel and Cordelia were friends long before they were anything else.
He would need someone who could really do that for him at that point because he had just lost his way. She comes, and she's like, "What the heck happened to you while I was in a coma?
Why are you doing all of these things? And how can I fix it? Because this is what I do. You make a mess, and I clean it up."
Justin: With the Buffy and Angel, I know, we can get on a huge tangent with that.
I'm going to say that I find their relationship one of the most toxic in the actual series, just because I find that theirs is very much of an ill-fated love because they can't be together.
They're always creating so many barriers of why they can't be together, but they could find a way.
However, with Cordelia and Angel, I find that, as you mentioned, Leora, they were friends first. They were able to develop themselves and really find themselves as their own individual people.
Then they find each other as a couple that could work together and balance each other.
I think Angel as a TV show was great for their two characters by themselves because they could stand on their own and develop. Angel the Series was one of the best things that happened to Cordelia.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she's fun, witty, has those great one-liners, but on Angel the Series, she was able to find herself, develop, become the hero, and solve mysteries by herself.
She became what Buffy essentially was without the superpowers. It's terrible how the end of the series develops. Joss Whedon essentially weaponized the show against her.
He was able to control her, not in real life, but he took away her character's agency on the show.
I think she revealed it on Twitter or somewhere that she wasn't planning to come back for that final episode on Angel the Series Season 5.
She only agreed because Joss Whedon promised her that he wouldn't kill her off, and then she found out on the day of set reading the last page that he killed her.
It's just terrible to find out that her ending to the story in the "Buffyverse," "Whedonverse," (whatever the right way to say that now is) ended on this terrible, terrible outcome because he was able to get the final nail in his revenge plot against her.
It sucks because Cordelia is one of the best characters in the Buffyverse.
Jessica: I'll agree. She had one of the best character developments. I disagree with some of your things about Buffy and Angel being toxic because there's this Spike/Buffy rape scene that is problematic.
Justin: Yeah, Buffy and Spike: Terrible.
Jessica: I know some people like to romanticize that, and I understand that, but if you're planning to ...
One of the things looking back makes you say, "Wow. This kind of puts things in perspective," is not only how he treated Cordelia.
He also didn't want to hire Amber Benson as Tara, to begin with, because she was on the heavier side.
Christine: That's pretty bad. She was gorgeous.
Jessica: His treatment of Cordelia, his not wanting to hire Amber, who was amazing, etc. Just looking back, there are all these red flags.
We kind of brushed them aside because he was the creator of this feminist icon. So we thought, "No, he can't be a misogynist, or sexist, or someone who would treat women that way."
Christine: I will say that we talked about the late '90s/early 2000s when there was no Twitter. There was the internet, but not the constant stream of it today where everything gets out there.
It was just a different time, and I think it was easier for these things to be kept secret. Now, thankfully, in some ways, it's much easier for it to hit the light of day where everyone can see what's really happening.
That has its pros and cons, but I think it's a pro in this case. Everybody's got a camera, and everybody's got video, and you can actually show, look, this is what happens.
When it happens, you can get out there, and you can talk about it. You don't have to wait for a reporter to talk to you or some TV show to put you on in an interview. You can just put it out there to fans.
That's something that really didn't exist when the show was on.
Leora: It's easier to hold people accountable in that way. However, since the "Me Too" movement started, I feel like there are still so many people getting away with these things. It brings up the question of, what do we do?
How do we course correct, especially when there is a show that we love tied to this horrible behavior?
We want to disassociate Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series from Joss Whedon, but we still want to do our rewatches.
I was on a social media platform discussing this with some people. Someone said, "Oh, I'm so glad I never watched it because now it's not ruined."
I posted a comment along the lines of, "Well, you should maybe still check it out because it's really great! Just separate it from him in your mind."
Another person hopped on and said, "No, no, no! You should not recommend it to people! People should not be watching it! He still gets money from it!"
I guess the question now becomes, is it still okay to recommend it and sing its praises? Can we say, "Yes, watch Buffy! Watch Angel! It has all these good things?" Or should we sort of boycott the situation?
Christine: There's kind of an asterisk to it now. This was a really good show for its time. At the time, we didn't know what was happening behind the scenes.
It doesn't necessarily take away from it being a good show that people might like, but I'm not even bothering checking out the Nevers on HBO because of this.
Anything else he does in the future, I'm probably not going to make the time to tune in for.
Leora: He was fired from The Nevers, actually.
Christine: Was he?
Leora: Yeah. He said he decided to take a step back, but there's some doubt about whether or not it was his choice. Either way, he's not a part of it anymore.
Christine: Anything that his name is associated with now; it's like, "Nah." There's so much TV out there that you can't possibly watch it all, which makes it easier to cut that out.
It's a tough call. If somebody feels that way about the show and doesn't want to watch it because of him, I don't know that I could fight that.
Leora: From the financial standpoint, yes, he still gets paid when people watch it. However, I would assume that all the people that he was toxic to, such as Charisma Carpenter, would also get royalties when people watch it. I would at least hope so.
I would imagine that it would be somewhat good for their careers and their financial situation for people to watch because they worked really hard on it and did a good job.
It's tragic that they were treated so badly on it.
Sarah Michelle Gellar said she doesn't want to be associated with Joss Whedon anymore, but she's still proud to be still associated with Buffy. She's showing it to her kids now, which is adorable.
Justin: II think the show as a whole has many great moments in it. There are a lot of great life lessons beyond it being a supernatural show.
Buffy and The Scoobies deal with loss on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5 Episode 16, the Joyce death episode. It is a really sad and iconic one.
Some things are part of its legacy as a great TV show that you can watch again.
However, if somebody doesn't want to watch it for many specific reasons like vampires aren't their thing, or essentially the Joss Whedon situation, don't push them.
As much as you love a show and stan and fight for a show, everyone has their reasons why they won't want to watch something. If there is a reason why then it probably won't be interesting to them. So, don't push it.
Your love for the show doesn't equate to them having to love the show.
Buffy as a whole is a great show that people can come back to. There are many great moments, but it's essentially where the person is and why they do or don't want to watch it.
Leora: Part of it for me is that if I hadn't been pushed, I wouldn't have watched the show in the first place. I remember having no interest. I thought I was just gonna be someone fighting vampires; that sounds boring to me.
I'm not really into action scenes. I find them kind of boring. I need to be invested in the people themselves, so there needs to be more going on around that.
Someone in my life who I trust pushed me a lot to give the show a chance, and I'm really grateful because it means so much to me.
I'm definitely the sort of person who tries to get people in my life to watch things partially because once they watch it, I can talk about it with them.
It's fun to watch something with someone and see them react to something for the first time and be like, "Oh my God! Angel's a vampire! Oh, my God! Angel's evil! Oh my God, Buffy killed Angel!"
(Not all the "Oh my God!" moments are about Angel, but those are all pretty big ones.)
Christine: That's the fun of TV, being able to share it with people.
Jessica: I rewatched Buffy during the pandemic before everything coming out about Joss Whedon because it's one of my comfort shows. I would still recommend it, but I think you need to have a disclaimer.
Before, I have pushed people saying, "this is a really great show; check it out." I may not push as hard anymore. I would still recommend it, but I'd add, "FYI. Remember that this is by that person?"
Christine: My daughter's 11. I don't think she's quite ready for Buffy yet, probably the next couple of years. I'll probably have her watch at least the first few episodes and see what she thinks of it and if she likes it.
We've done several shows that way. Sometimes she falls down the rabbit hole with me, and it is something that we share. We've rewatched entire shows, so so we'll see how that goes.
Leora: I always dreamed of having a daughter and showing her Buffy: discussing it and assigning term papers on this thing and that thing due when we watch the next episode.
Christine: It's a lot of fun actually, as your kid gets older if they start to like the TV that you like. It really is a lot of fun to see how they see it because sometimes they don't see things the same way.
It brings up some interesting conversations. It'll be interesting when we get to Buffy.
Leora: Do you think that Buffy holds up, given the current climate, politically, generationally, etc.?
Obviously, nobody uses an iPhone, and they're using these computers that people aren't going to recognize, but in regards to the themes, the messages, the relationships, etc., do you think it holds up?
Christine: In regards to the question of whether or not we can still consider this a feminist show, I think it is just because of when it aired. It was very different. You didn't see a young female character like this on TV at the time.
So, in the same way, for example, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was considered a feminist show simply because she got a job and a career. This will always also be considered.
However, when you go back to that time frame, I was recently watching a repeat of NYPD Blue, which was a big hit at the same time Buffy was on.
My takeaway from that episode was that there was a new female detective, and the captain had to come and say, "Yeah, we don't have a female locker room. You're just gonna have to make do."
That was the late '90s/early 2000s; that wasn't all that long ago in the scheme of things.
Then there was a rape storyline, where the rape victim had to have the police officer try and explain to her husband how being raped wasn't her fault.
He was blaming her because she wore a sexy dress. Somebody had to sit him down and try and explain to him not to be angry at his wife for being raped. My reaction was, "Oh, my God!"
It's not 1952! This was the year 2000, and this was still on TV. This was what was out there.
That doesn't hold up to me. There are episodes of Friends that don't hold up to me. I loved the show at the time, but when I see these episodes now, they make me cringe.
There will be things in Buffy that don't age well because that happens with a lot of TV. Aspects of it are going to be great, and aspects of it won't hold up.
I do that with my daughter. When we watch episodes of I Love Lucy, she asks why did Ricky get to tell her whether she could be in show business or not? Well, it was the 1950s. That was the way it was.
Even though the real-life Lucy was the star of a show, that was still a relatable plotline at the time. I think I Love Lucy is still a fantastic show.
With all TV, fortunately, or unfortunately, it's a microcosm of when it was on. If it's racist or something like that, maybe we don't want to watch.
Buffy is still a great show, but there are things that they dealt with on Buffy that I wish they had done differently. Maybe they would if it was done now, but that's just how TV works.
Leora: Is there a specific plotline from Buffy you think they could or should have done differently?
Christine: Sexual Assault on the show. For example, when Faith takes over Buffy's body, she goes and has sex with Riley. That's almost made like a joke.
Riley was having sex with somebody when he didn't know who it was, and Buffy almost kind of blames him for it afterward. He didn't know. That always bothered me.
Leora: I think she blames him for not knowing; she felt he should have recognized that it wasn't her.
There's a history in magical lore shows and stories of this mystical way to impersonate another person and then have sex. It's referred to as magical rape.
I'm not overly familiar with Arthurian mythology, but I believe someone impersonates Guenivere to sleep with Arthur or Lancelot. What's known as dubious consent and magical rape goes back quite a way in fiction.
Christine: When Buffy was invisible, she started having sex with Spike, and he has no idea what's happening until he finally realizes that it's her.
It was kind of played for laughs, but I always thought that was a little icky. I haven't done a rewatch of the series in a while, and I'm sure I'd find things that would make me say, "Oh, okay, yeah. That was the '90s."
Justin: There were many random, weird instances of people using magic to have fun and do very questionable things.
The one that popped into my head, not Buffy, was from the soap opera Passions. It was Kay using the powers to become Charity, sleeping with Miguel, and then getting pregnant.
It was supposed to be this big dramatic storyline, but looking back now with 2021 goggles, she took away his consent.
Buffy as a whole tried to use magic as allegory. For example, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6, when Willow becomes addicted to magic, that's clearly a euphemism for drug use.
I feel like if that were done in 2021, that would be much more overt, doing a storyline properly with much more respect than it actually was treated.
They have a couple of other cases like that. For example, with the storyline of Xander being in love with Buffy and trying to find ownership over her because of his crush on her, that's a huge issue altogether.
Some of that is potentially because it was the '90s, but other times, maybe that was just bad writing from the person creating it. So it's very questionable.
Jessica: I'm going to jump in and say obviously one of the most problematic things is Spike attempting to rape Buffy.
Christine: I hated that they did that.
Jessica: They try to blame it on him not having a soul. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7, he's this romantic lead, and they are in love. I have very conflicted feelings about it.
When we get to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7, I'm trying to hold on to my anger. He's like a different person, but I still hate that they put me in that position.
Christine: Buffy and Spike were incredibly flawed, but I enjoyed them. I hated that she was always so mean to him. They were kind of this fun, dark couple that I always thought had the potential to be so much more.
Then they had him try to rape her. It was like the jumping-off point for this plot where they wanted to redeem him, and for me, there was just no redemption from that! That just obliterated his character for me.
If you wanted to have him do something really dark and then come back from it, they could have found something else.
However, to have him sexually assault the woman he claimed to love, and then have him go off and find his soul and say that everything's gonna be okay, and go back to this romantic plotline ...
That was one of those jump-the-shark moments for me in the show where I could never look at it the same way.
Leora: When I first watched the show, I was a preteen. My reaction to Buffy and Spike was, "They're so romantic. Why can't she just love him? Why is she so mean to him?"
When I rewatched in my 20s, I found their relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 incredibly toxic.
I realized he was not the innocent victim in it. He can see how much going to him is destroying her. She's coming to him because she is deeply depressed and because she is just at this place of loss and hopelessness.
She's using him, and she hates herself for it. It's not good for her. He can sort of see that. She's told him that. However, he gets what he wants to get out of it, so he doesn't turn her away.
He tries to draw her into the darkness with him because then he gets what he wants that way.
I feel like if he had a soul at that point, he would have been a friend and said, "Yes, I love you, but you are not making smart decisions right now. You are feeling vulnerable. You are in a bad place.
For both of our sakes, I think you need just to go home."
That wasn't what he wanted. It's incredibly toxic.
So, when the storyline reached its climax with his attempted rape, it forced the audience to remember that Spike is still evil.
I hate to say this because it's something Joss Whedon said in the commentary on The DVDs. I don't want just to say what Joss Whedon said because I don't know if I can take what he said at face value now, but it made sense.
He said that the audience was forgetting that Spike was evil. They had fallen so in love with Spike and so in love with the relationship that they have forgotten that Spike is evil.
Again, when I was younger, I believed the trope that love can redeem a villain, i.e., you fall in love with someone, and it makes you good.
I'm older, and I'd like to think a little wiser. I've come to realize that that isn't realistic. If you're a bad person and you fall in love with someone, even if it's someone good themselves, you don't become good just because you love them.
Spike still didn't have a soul. Loving someone who was a hero didn't make him a good guy. He would do anything for her; he was still a bad guy. On some level, he still wanted to be a bad guy.
His reaction to attempting to rape Buffy was a cross between being disgusted with himself for almost doing it and questioning why he didn't go through with it.
She stopped him, but he could have kept fighting her. She was still injured and weak. He could have kept trying until he succeeded, but he got snapped out of it once he realized what he was doing.
He was horrified with himself, but he was also questioning himself. Aren't I still evil? Why am I horrified with myself that I did this thing? A lot of it came down to remind us that he doesn't have a soul. He can't be good.
The message that loving someone doesn't make you good is essential. Shows have a tendency, even today, of using a relationship and a love interest as the therapist who changes the person and redeems them.
That's not how change works. A person has to want to change. They have to make a choice and put in the effort to redeem themselves. If they do it for someone else, it won't work, and it won't be real.
Also, putting all of your issues on your partner and expecting them to be your savior is really unfair to them.
When Spike went to get his soul, he was doing it for selfish reasons. He thought Buffy would want to be with him if he had a soul. It wasn't until after he had it that he changed.
It became about more than Buffy. He realized he had done terrible things, and now that he could understand that, he wanted to change for him.
Buffy the Vampires Season 7 presented a different plotline for him and made him essentially a different character.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the series had at this point established what having a soul meant in their lore. They leaned into that and were able to take him on a journey of redemption.
By the end of his redemption arc on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7, they had developed a healthy dynamic and become a couple that you actually could root for.
You could never root for them without him having a soul and going on that journey. I don't think he ever would have gone to get it if he hadn't crossed a line.
If they just had him kill someone, I don't think it would have been enough for him to say to himself, "I need to make some kind of change," because he would not have been disgusted with himself.
He would have thought, "I'm still evil." Before that, he still did evil things as late as Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6, and he embraced it. A part of him might even think that was why Buffy liked him.
He said to her on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 Episode 15, "You know what I am. You've always known. You come to me all the same."
This was the thing that had to happen for him to say, "Something has to change."
Justin: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that I find sometimes blurs the line between love and obsession.
Spike's interest in Buffy very early on was very much an obsession with her. When it was blending towards him, saying that he loved her, that's still felt very much like he was obsessed with her.
His actions towards her were, "Well, I want to be with you, so why can't you just be with me?" He crossed that line many times to the point that he seemed to feel if he couldn't have her, he'd rather see her dead.
That was very much along the lines of him being a demon and being allowed to embrace his evil side.
It even goes back to the Buffy and Angel relationship because they couldn't be together due to the actions of the moment of true happiness. So that was the dichotomy of "What I can't have, but what I want."
Going back to Spike, the issue they have is that nothing he could have done once they've crossed that line would have absolved him of what he actually did.
The problem is that the show itself never properly handles the redemption of its characters through the big consequences of what happens. It's sort of brushes it away.
Maybe it has a moment or two of trying to approach it with gloves, i.e., a grand gesture or maybe a moment with the scoobies. They never actually showcased the long-standing incidents.
Even after he had done all that, Spike's redemption arc was to get a soul because he wanted to make that grand big gesture of being like, "this is how I'll get forgiveness. This is how I can be with Buffy. This is how we can all be happy."
But even then, it led to him making that gesture, but then being "manipulated" by The First and going on a killing spree and becoming another serial killer in Sunnydale.
That in and of itself should be enough of a reason why Buffy and Spike should not have been together because he still was going back to his old ways.
It continually steamrolls itself and makes it where even though these characters were doing bad things but never finding forgiveness in themselves, when we look at their actions, it is a serious issue.
I feel like Spike is a character that they keep trying to redeem, but everything he's done, even with a soul, just doesn't absolve him of those issues.
Jessica: I'm just going to say that a lot of these anti-heroes kill people on vampire shows. They kill people, and it's fine. We still love them.
Leora: I'm glad you brought up Vampire Diaries because that is definitely a comparison that I've made in many ways in my mind. The Vampire Diaries isn't a show against vampires. It's a show for vampires.
The leads are vampires, and the implication is that the vampires are supposed to be the good guys. It wasn't until Vampire Diaries Season 7 that I realized, "No, the vampires aren't the good guys."
They're the main characters, so we think we're supposed to root for them, but even Caroline, who is the "good vampire," turned off her humanity switch and crossed some serious lines.
The main characters are the bad guys, they are not good people, but we're supposed to excuse it because they are the show's focus.
On Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, excluding a select few, the vampires were the bad guys. I like that the show took that stance.
In regards to Spike and his redemption arc, he never killed under his own control once he got his soul. He was basically brainwashed. I would argue that his redemption arc was good.
I do agree that they could have addressed the attempted rape a little more. I think that once he had his soul, he was no longer the person he was before he had his soul, so he couldn't be held responsible.
I guess it's like if someone gets amnesia and has to start over. If they have a new personality and never remember who they were before, it's not fair to hold that new person responsible for the actions of their former self.
That doesn't mean that if the old person hurt people, those people don't still have to deal with those consequences. So, I would have liked to see more about Buffy dealing with the fact that she had been assaulted.
Maybe part of the reason they didn't address it, aside from the fact that they were focused on redeeming Spike, was that there was so much going on during Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7.
The characters didn't have time to breathe. They didn't even celebrate her birthday that year. She was incredibly preoccupied, and they touched on it a little, but they didn't really touch on it as much as they could have.
I hear they touch on it a little in the comics at some point; supposedly, she and Spike talk about it.
They could have definitely addressed what it meant. It wasn't the first instance of any kind of rape in the show.
People brought up that on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4 Episode 17, when Jonathan made the world love him, he had those two twins who were sleeping with him. That is basically rape.
Also, there was Katrina and what Warren and The Trio tried to do to her on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 Episode 13.
Some people refer to the fact that Willow made Tara forget that they fought as mind rape, which isn't a concept I completely understand.
I can sort of see the premise. If she made her forget their fight, and then they were intimate ... they wouldn't have been intimate if she remembered that they fought. I guess that could be construed as dubious consent.
Christine: It's not quite the same, but it's sort of like roofying somebody's drink. They no longer have the ability to consent or say no.
I know that's not exactly the same, but I think that's the parallel people look at when they think of that storyline.
I love the Dark Willow storyline. It's one of my favorite storylines on the series.
Leora: Yeah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 is my favorite season.
Jessica: Since we've reached Dark Willow, let's address how they killed off Tara.
Christine: It's the old '90s/2000s bury-your-gays trope. If there's a gay character, one of them has to die because that's just the way it was always done.
We never used to really have gay characters that were main characters on shows. Now we have them, but we've got to punish them by killing one of them for some reason.
Leora: I can see how people could definitely get there. It could be an example of the bury-your-gays trope.
However, from what I understand of that trope, it has them die because they're gay, or as punishment for being gay, or to further a straight character's storyline.
Tara had been a fully developed influential character on the show for a while at that point. We knew she was gay for over two seasons, and she hadn't died up until that point for being gay.
Jessica: She also wasn't a series regular.
Leora: No, she was not a series regular, which was very sad. She deserved to be a series regular.
However, my point was that she had been around for a couple of years, as gay and in a gay relationship, and in that time, it didn't feel like she wasn't accepted or like she was any more likely to die than the other characters.
True, she was killed off to further the storyline of another character, but that other character was also gay (possibly bi, but that's a different discussion).
Willow was the main character who was gay, and it was to further her storyline, not a straight character's, that they killed Tara off.
Some of the writers have said that they should not have killed off Tara. I would have loved it if they'd found a way to bring Tara back because Willow and Tara Should Have Ended Up Together!
However, I also really appreciate the direction they went with Willow's storyline. I can't see her going over the edge and becoming the big bad of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 the way she did if they hadn't killed Tara.
I can understand from a storyline perspective how that might have felt very necessary.
Christine: I both agree and disagree. I feel like it was an easy out just because it seemed like so many shows killed one of their gay characters that it's literally considered a trope now for TV.
From a story perspective, I think to get to the Dark Willow phase, you needed something serious to push her over the edge.
She was obviously headed down a dark road with magic before that happens. It could have been interesting if something else pushed her and Tara was there for her. I think I would have preferred that.
At the same time, I love scenes like Willow tracking down Warren, with the little bullet that she's putting into him, and then he's trying to beg and explain, and she's like, "Bored now."
Maybe I have a dark nature, but I always love that scene.
Leora: I love that scene too!
Jessica: My problem with how they killed off Tara isn't the fact that they that she is a lesbian character dying. It's the fact that she and Willow just reunited! They literally were just intimate and making up, and then they kill her!
Also, the fact that Amber Benson was a series regular only for that episode, because Joss didn't think anyone would suspect. It's not that they killed her off, which is also problematic, but it's how they went about killing her off.
It's kind of like how they killed Lexa off on The 100. She and Clarke literally just reconciled; they had sex and then stray bullet.
Justin: I would have loved it if Tara and Willow were the first same-sex couples to have a happy ending by the time the series ended.
I felt like their story would have been one that would have seamlessly progressed to the end and would have made perfect sense. (I'm still not a fan of Kennedy. I feel like there's a complete issue to talk about altogether.)
I do like a bit of the final few episodes and the development of Dark Willow, especially the battle in the magic shop, and Anya in the background trying to like deal with all that, etc. I love Anya.
Something I always think about: Would that same effect have worked if it was Xander who had died and not Tara because Xander was her best friend?
Would that have driven her over the edge, and couldn't that have been the different solution there? Xander's character at that point was at a different type of crossroads.
What would that path have looked like instead of falling down this type of cliche trope?
Christine: I would have preferred that because Xander always kind of bored me, to be honest. I know he has his fans, but I was never the biggest fan of Xander.
He had his place, especially the first few seasons, but as time went on, I ended up liking Anya more than I liked him in that relationship.
I never thought of it in the way Justin just said, that they could have gotten Willow to the same place by having killed off Xander instead of Tara, and I think I would have preferred that.
Leora: I could see that. That could definitely have been an interesting way, but I don't think they ever would have killed off one of the core four.
They did have a history, and they continued with a history of killing off the love interests and people close to the core four. Pretty much everyone besides Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles was fair game.
When the dust settles at the end of the series, Willow's the only one with a living love interest. Spike is dead. Anya is dead. Giles only ever really loved Jenny, and she died ages ago. Dawn never really had a proper love interest.
They've all loved and lost. Xander's only other love interest was Cordelia, who is in a coma over on Angel the Series, and will be dead soon.
It would have definitely been interesting if they'd killed Xander, but I feel Xander was such an integral part of the show that they would never have done that.
Jessica: No, they wouldn't have killed Xander because Xander's is essentially an extension of Joss Whedon. Xander always gets the best quips.
He doesn't actually add much to the show besides getting really great zingers or one-liners because he's never really that interesting.
Leora: I always felt Xander was like the Sokka; he's the guy who expresses the feeling of:
Everybody around me has powers and abilities and things to contribute, and I'm just here. I'm just this normal human guy who can't do anything. Yet somehow, I still have value, which I can see definitely appealing to viewers.
Nobody watching the show was a witch, a slayer, a vampire, a former demon, or a watcher. They might be smart or know how to hack a computer, but mostly they're just ordinary people.
Xander had a lot of issues. They made it very clear he had a bad home life. He had a lot of stuff with his family that was really difficult to deal with.
Even when he's dealing with his really low self-esteem and knowing that he really doesn't have anything to contribute, he still cares about his friends and about helping them save the day.
He cares about making sure Buffy, Willow, and the people he cares about make it out of whatever alive. He can contribute something to that cause, which matters.
That being said, there are definitely episodes where he doesn't come off very well. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 Episode 16 particularly. I can't defend that to anyone.
Also, I see Xander differently because I didn't watch everything in order. When people call him the "nice guy," they're referring a lot to how he treated Buffy in the early seasons.
By the time I was watching it, his feelings for Buffy were a lot less significant. He was already in a relationship with Cordelia (and then he cheated on her with Willow).
He knew that nothing was ever gonna happen with him and Buffy, and he had more or less accepted it.
The idea that he had been pining for her wasn't something that I was so aware of or familiar with, and I found it very weird when I got to that point.
Jessica: He and Dawn get married in the comics and have a baby.
Leora: I've heard that. I had mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, it sounds super weird, and it definitely changed that scene where he's telling her that she's extraordinary and makes you view it from a whole other lens.
On the other hand, of all the things I've heard about the comics, it's definitely not the worst.
He had two really great love interests, both of whom are dead, so while I'd prefer him to end up with Anya, I could maybe get on board with him and Dawn.
Jessica: Emma Caulfield actually asked to be killed off.
Leora: I've heard that. I don't really blame the writers for killing her for that reason. I just really wanted her and Xander to end up together.
Christine: Do you know why she asked to be killed off? Just curious.
Jessica: I believe if there was ever a revival, she didn't want to be a part of it, or even if Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 7 hadn't been the last season, she was just done with the show.
Christine: I wonder why that is. Now, I wonder why that is.
Leora: That's a good point. Maybe it had to do with Joss Whedon's toxic environment.
Christine: Yeah, "I want nothing more to do with this." Who doesn't want to be a part of a hit show? If it's going to go forward, and you have the possibility as an actor or make money off of it?
I'm speculating here, but it's got to be something behind the scenes.
Leora: After playing a role for a long time, some actors just decide they want something different.
Christine: How many seasons was she on the show?
Leora: Four, plus a few episodes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3, when they introduced her character.
Christine: I could be wrong. We have no idea. It just sounds odd to me.
Justin: The one I'm very curious about is something that Michelle Trachtenberg said in one of her posts; that the producers and everyone basically said, "He can't be in a room with her ever again."
When I read that, I wondered, what did he say to make that become an on-set rule? It must be really serious for whatever he was saying to a teenager at the time.
Christine: She was just a kid at the time. Wasn't she 14 when she started on that show? That's yikes!
Leora: It wasn't so much that he can't be in a room with her as he can't be alone in a room with her, which makes me think that he probably tried something, which is disturbing.
Jessica: He could have just said something very inappropriate for a 14-year-old to hear.
Christine: Yeah, it could be that. Either way, though. He's a grown-up. He's supposed to know how to treat someone who is still a kid. It's disturbing.
Leora: Did anyone have anything more to add on the Xander topic?
Justin: Just from rewatching Buffy throughout all these years, he's the one character from the beginning that does not hold up.
How he talks to/about Buffy and Willow, and even his quips about general life, he says many terrible things in terms of his approach to the world.
It's a lot of misogynistic, homophobic, and very much negative stuff. At the time, we very much brushed it away, saying, "Oh, that's just Xander. He's just a teen boy."
When you step back, these are really terrible things that anyone now would never say, for the most part. I just find that if that is a reflection of Joss and he saw himself in that character., then that's just one of the terrible things.
The archetype of what Xander would play as a high-level character and what influence was added to that character for what he actually became is interesting to analyze,
Leora: Are you referring to the whole series or just the teen years?
Justin: Throughout the entire series, but especially him at his beginnings, if that's just his initial character development, that is pretty shocking.
Then how he grows from there, seeing that they don't really change much about him. He has some growth, but there's still a lot of those moments throughout the rest of the series.
Leora: For example?
Justin: At the beginning of the series, I think it was along the lines of his comments towards Buffy and saying things about why he was very much in love with her and treatments.
He would take quips about what she's wearing, "Buffy in the Buff," and basically those types of fantasies that he held in his mind.
Then going into Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2, with Larry, who was like one of the first LGBTQ characters on the show, Xander was very homophobic with his comments towards that character.
Those types of quips were peppered throughout the rest of the series. They were treated as humor, and Xander being Xander when just surface level that is actually a terrible type of direction for the character.
Leora: They have said that, at the time, Joss Whedon had planned to make either Willow or Xander gay, and he hadn't decided which one it was going to be. So there's foreshadowing for both on the early seasons.
I know that the exchange with Larry was supposed to be that for Xander the same way Vamp Willow was meant to show foreshadowing for Willow.
I can agree that there is harmful stuff there, though it is more in the beginning. It's stuff you would hope Xander would learn from, especially because his friends are all pretty much girls.
Unfortunately, I don't think there was the same level of awareness of LGBTQ back then, even if it doesn't seem that long ago.
Christine: Yet it was. When you watch things, it's very different, the way things are talked about.
It's very odd. When asked the question of could it be a feminist show? I thought, wouldn't it be great if we can get to the point where we don't even need to use that word anymore?
Whether you're male or female, gay, or straight, or trans, or whatever, it's all just people. Characters that we see on TV are just a reflection of people. Everybody gets their due.
We don't have to be like, "Oh, finally, we get to see this! They're not hiding that!" It'd be nice if, eventually, we get there. We're getting there slowly.
When you look back at what was just in the '90s/2000s, we've certainly made some progress, but there's still a way to go. I think Buffy reflects that.
Leora: There are other franchises that Joss Whedon's name is associated with: Firefly, Dollhouse, The Avengers, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along-Blog, etc. Does anyone have views to share on any of those franchises?
Christine: I never watched Dollhouse, even though I really like Eliza Dushku. She was on that one, right?
Leora: Yes, and Amy Acker and Summer Glau.
Christine: Summer Glau was on that? Honestly, I don't even remember the concept anymore. I just remember that the concept kind of sounded a little cringe-worthy. So I never even tuned into it.
Leora: It's so disturbing and creepy, but it also really makes you think and question a lot. Honestly, it was a good show. I definitely got more into it than Firefly.
With Firefly, there's a problem in that it's basically celebrating the Confederacy. It's a metaphor for the South and the Confederacy.
Christine: I never really saw it like that. I saw it more as Star Wars Evil Empire versus the Rebel Alliance sort of a thing. So I guess I viewed that very differently. I never put it into Earth terms.
I really enjoyed Firefly. I didn't watch it until many years later. I binge-watched it, and I enjoyed it a lot. I wish it could have gone on.
It certainly had some issues. I'd love to watch it with my kid, but I think the Reavers might scare her a little too much.
Then there's the fact that Inara is a companion, which is basically a high-end prostitute. I both liked that storyline and don't like that storyline because I think we're never getting rid of sex workers.
You can moralize it all you want. They call it the oldest profession for a reason. It's not going away. I do think they deserve protections that only will happen if it's legalized.
They have The Companions Guild, where there are rules, and there are health checks, and they can blacklist clients. I'm not necessarily against that. I think those are things that should be more discussed in the present day.
At the same time, Inara is basically a prostitute.
Leora: The way Mal talks to her and is constantly calling her a whore?
Christine: Yeah, there are scenes there that do bother me. It's been a while since I've watched it, so I can't point to anything specific, but that's also a sticking point for me when I'm watching it. I don't like that.
He keeps putting her down. He keeps calling her certain names, etc. I still enjoy the show a great deal, but there are parts of it that I wish had been different.
Jessica: The premise of Dollhouse is problematic, in and of itself. The things that people want those dolls to do, and we're going back to that consent thing.
Leora: Certainly. The idea is that they signed consent forms when they agreed to be a doll in the first place for those five years, but --
Jessica: I mean, Echo didn't exactly have a choice. It was either go to jail and face charges or be a doll for a couple of years.
Leora: She was trying to investigate from within and bring down the company.
The prostitution aspect of it never really got to me on the same level as the idea of the soul? If you take out someone's memories and all the things that make them who they are, is a part of them still there?
What is a person? What makes a person a person? Can you program a person to be a different person?
It was the sort of show that gave me nightmares, but I was also fascinated with it.
Jessica: I'm just saying the premise of Dollhouse is problematic.
Christine: The premise is why I never even watched it. I mean, it could have been a great show, but the premise sounded so icky at the time that I just said no.
Even though I really enjoyed the actresses who were the show's stars, I had no interest in watching it.
Leora: I don't think I knew the premise going in. I knew it was called Dollhouse. I knew it was Joss Whedon. I knew it starred Eliza Dushku. That was enough for me to look at it.
Now, if it has Joss Whedon, I'm not going to take a look at it.
In fairness. I don't think the Marvel movies are as good as everyone thinks they are. I lost interest in them a long time ago. I felt like his movies were never as good as his TV shows.
Also, it's a boys club. The Marvel movies that he did are a boys club. This is not for women in the same way that Buffy was.
Somehow, he wrote a show for women, where women take center stage and use that to make it seem like he's a feminist. When he writes a movie like Avengers, the guys were the worst kind of male.
Tony Stark and Thor, a lot of those guys were the absolute worst. Cap and The Hulk were okay.
People compare the Snyder Cut to the original Justice League. I only saw the Snyder Cut, but I thought it was really good. I've heard that Justice League before was really bad.
So, he's had some not-so-successful stuff, and it's good that we're not looking at him like he's a god anymore.
I think we need to look at who else was behind certain ideas and try and find out: whose idea was it for them to do this on Buffy? Whose idea was it for them to do that on Buffy?
All these things that he got credit for, such as writing the musical all by himself? Was that's something that he really did? Because it was a good episode.
Christine: I usually hate musical episodes. I heard they were doing a musical episode, and I thought, "oh God, no!" and I just loved that episode. It was so much fun.
Leora: It ruined me for musical episodes. I have yet to see it's equal. It is so good. I've expected that level of quality every time I see a show that will do a musical episode, and it never hit those notes. Pun intended.
Justin: That album is saved on my Spotify because it's amazing.
If anyone listening listens to Buffering the Podcast, when they did their Episode 4: the musical one, they did an entire podcast of them singing in a musical with different songs. I recommend checking it out.
Leora: Does anyone have any closing statements for where we stand on these shows going forward, knowing what we know and after everything we've talked about?
Jessica: Okay, I will not start any new Joss Whedon products unless it's a continuation. A while back, there was talk that they would do like a spin-off or a reboot of Buffy but with a black Slayer.
I won't start any new ones. I will go back and rewatch my old favorites, keeping in mind everything that's happened.
Christine: I agree. With The Nevers, I heard his name attached to it, and I thought, "No, I'll just skip that one." There's so much TV out there, and part of our jobs is to watch TV.
Once you realize what was happening in the shows before, you just don't want to. I don't want to associate with that or watch that necessarily.
It's a shame because some of those shows were good. I just hate thinking that people were being mistreated behind the scenes now, and that's a part of what I think when I watch them now.
Justin: Yeah, I agree with Jessica and Christine. I will watch the previous series and do rewatches of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's still an amazing show.
However, it is one of those things where I will not watch it if he does come up with something new in the future.
I'm not supporting Joss Whedon, the opinion has changed completely from everything he has done before, and I definitely won't support him as a person.
Well, that wraps up our discussion on enjoying certain franchises in a world where we know what kind of person Joss Whedon really is.
Did you have any opinions on our discussion? How should they have handled Cordelia's final arc? Should they have killed off Tara? Is Xander a "nice guy?"
Most importantly, how do you feel about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series now?
Let us know in the comments.
Leora W is a staff writer for TV Fanatic..