Joss Whedon has the privilege of having one of the most celebrated filmographies that any writer can hope to have in the entertainment industry. Even when we neglect to mention his work with Marvel Studios, we still have the traditional Whedonverse to behold. That Whedonverse, of course, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Each of these shows have a remarkable amount of gems and memorable episodes. Each of these shows lend themselves to key examples of Whedon’s writing and storytelling style, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing.
Good because it produces consistently good material. Bad because when we see so many of his usual tropes in succession — they all start becoming tired cliches that fans are sick of seeing. Not to mention that when he has so much good material out there, it is embarrassingly noticeable when he misses the mark. So bad that it has us thinking that Whedon went too far. Not only because he makes some questionable decisions that feel tiresome, but because of the questionable decisions he made that looked flat out problematic on the screen. Here are just a few instances where Joss Whedon went far too far with his Whedonverse.
20. WILLOW’S MAGIC ADDICTION
Joss Whedon always had a knack for using supernatural storylines to provide interesting allegories for real life without making the metaphor feel too heavy-handed, but for Willow’s magic addiction arc introduced early into season six, it just felt way too on the nose to take seriously. After Willow turns Amy back into a human after she had been a rat ever since season three, the two witches start hitting it up on the town.
By now, Willow had already become over-reliant on magic, and Amy helped escalate it by taking Willow to a magic dealer.
Eventually, she becomes a full-blown junkie. It felt too obvious that magic was an analogy for drugs, but the metaphor doesn’t work. Maybe if Willow swears off ever using a spell again once she’s clean, but she uses magic to help save the day at the end of season seven.
19. MAKING CORDELIA PREGNANT…TWICE
In the fourth season of Angel, Cordelia was pregnant. The whole pregnancy storyline felt lazy in its conception because the show had already had an angle where Cordy got pregnant years prior. The first time was for one episode in season one called “Expecting.” In the episode, Cordy had a one night stand with a photographer who turns out to be a Haxil Beast worshiper looking for a host to the demon’s offspring.
As a result, Cordelia finds herself pregnant the morning after. Whereas this episode played the situation like a filler sitcom comedy episode, the season four re-hash was played more seriously, with Cordelia being possessed by Jasmine, who after getting impregnated by Connor (which was gross to witness) literally gives birth to herself.
18. THE ANGEL SERIES FINALE
Despite season five giving Angel the highest ratings the show had ever earned, the series was unexpectedly cancelled by the network and “Not Fade Away” would mark the series finale. The finale would end with everything cutting to black right before Angel Investigations have their alley way battle.
This so-called “cliffhanger”– which went down exactly how Whedon planned it — has divided many fans.
Half of the fans feel like they were robbed of a real conclusion. Other fans think this was the perfect ending for the show, which in theme was always about its characters trying to find the will to fight rather than the fight itself. The only outright bad thing about any of this is that the show wouldn’t have been cancelled had Whedon not asked the network for an early renewal.
17. KILLING GILES
Even on the colorful panel filled pages of a comic book, Joss Whedon is still able to produce a tearjerker. Some years after Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s series finale ended, he continued the show through comic book continuations. During season eight, an evil entity called Twilight (no, not the vampire franchise) came about as the Big Bad and eventually possessed Angel.
While possessing Angel, Twilight killed Giles by snapping his neck, similar to what Angelus did to Giles’s former lover, Jenny. After living with the character since the very first episode of the show, fans would have to be soulless to not produce a few tears at the sight of his demise. Since then, Giles has been brought back to life as a teenage boy.
16. BUFFY’S ONE NIGHT STAND
In the season four episode “The Harsh Light of Day,” Buffy sleeps with a guy on her campus named Parker, who brushes her off immediately following the act because all he wanted was a one night stand.
This crushes Buffy, who went over the same exact thing in season two with Angel.
She lost her virginity to Angel and the morning after, following Angel’s reversion back to the evil Angelus, he harshly gives her the cold shoulder. Somehow, this ordeal left Buffy even more heartbroken, even driving her to drink (which is a whole other issue in itself). The Parker storyline feels blasé after going through the same thing as a metaphor in season two. And it makes Buffy look foolish for letting a boy get to her worse than a vampire who almost ruined her life did.
15. KILLING PENNY ON DR. HORRIBLE
Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was one of the internet’s very first examples of an online episodic television show, a concept that has since become the norm 10 years later in the age of streaming service media. The plot focused on supervillain Dr. Horrible, who finds himself falling in love with Penny, a girl from his local laundromat. Unfortunately for Dr. Horrible, she is much more interested in courting his arch rival, superhero Captain Hammer.
Penny winds up in the middle of a battle between Captain Hammer and Dr. Horrible, and is accidentally killed because of it. Fans hated this decision. Less because they doubt that Penny even needed to die to begin with, but by now, Whedon killing off a character solely to create a tragedy had become a tired trope by now.
14. SIERRA’S STORY
It is no secret that Joss Whedon loves crafting a good tragic background for a character, but one tragedy that often goes overlooked in the grand scheme of the Whedonverse is that of Sierra from Dollhouse. Prior to being an Active Doll, Sierra was just a creative painter named Priya.
While struggling in the art scene, she meets a rich neurologist named Kinnard. Upon rejecting his advances, he gets her admitted to his hospital.
There he pumps her with enough drugs to make the Dollhouse think that she is a paranoid schizophrenic. She is taken to the Dollhouse and made into a Doll, which was Kinnard’s intent all along. He makes regular visits to the Dollhouse, where he regularly asks for Sierra to be imprinted with a personality that is madly in love with him so he can keep sleeping with her.
13. XANDER USES FORCE
This was the first example of an unfortunate running occurrence in Whedon’s works where he tries to use assault as a storytelling device to basically teach characters a moral lesson that assault is not a good thing. It always felt hackneyed as a storytelling device, and even more so the first time he used it.
In early seasons, Xander found himself pining for Buffy and in season one’s “The Pack,” that crush takes a dark turn. When he’s possessed by a hyena and starts exhibiting predatory behavior, Xander forces himself onto Buffy, but she manages to fight him off. Once he reverts back to normal, he feels so ashamed of what he did that he pretends that he doesn’t remember anything that he did while he was possessed.
12. MAKING CORDELIA EVIL
Cordelia went through a lot of character growth after leaving Sunnydale for Los Angeles and hopping from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Angel. She transitioned from Buffy’s snooty cheerleader counterpart to a much more matured selfless young woman intent on doing what is right for others.
Season four seemingly sought out to undo all of the wonderful character development she went through by making her a Big Bad.
Granted, we would later discover that Cordelia was possessed the whole time by the real Big Bad, Jasmine, but it still felt like an injustice to commit to Cordelia’s character. They rectified her character assassination in season five’s “You’re Welcome” before killing her off, but her character deserved better than what she got in the previous season.
11. RILEY AND BUFFY CAN’T KEEP THEIR HANDS TO THEMSELVES
There is an old rumor that the season four episode “Where the Wild Things Are” was created specifically to spite the censors and the network. After Joss Whedon and co. were told that the episodes are becoming too violent, they decided to spite them by replacing the usual amounts of violence with carnal action in an episode plot where Riley and Buffy can’t stay apart at a fraternity party due to a haunting force.
If this is true, then it makes sense as to why the episode was so bad. The usual substance found in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode was replaced with petty network beef. The episode was insultingly hamfisted and even more cheesey than the usual episode. We hope for Joss Whedon that sticking it to the censors was worth sacrificing actual entertaining material.
10. KILLING OFF WASH
For many fans of Firefly, Wash was the guiding light among the cast. He was the hilariously charming happy go lucky pilot among the crew who was always able to shine a light throughout the ship in even the darkest of times. So when the character met his brutal end in Serenity, fans were not too pleased.
To this day, a heavy debate continues to rage on as to whether or not Wash needed to die.
The film, above everything else, was just meant to be a pleasant reunion for fans to finally get closure to see their favorite characters on-screen one last time after their show was so short lived. Even Whedon himself said that Wash would still be alive if the show was still alive, so we wonder if we really had to kill Wash off to begin with.
9. CONNOR AND CORDELIA’S RELATIONSHIP
In season four of Angel, Cordelia’s character went through a definitive character assassination in every sense of the word. Many fans credit this season with single-handedly butchering everything that Cordelia used to be, and the icing on the cake was her creepy relationship with Connor. In season three, with Connor’s biological mother Darla out of the picture, Cordelia was the closest Connor ever had to a mother.
She even went as far as to change his diapers when he was a baby. When a teenaged version of the boy returned from the future, it didn’t take long before those two hit it off in a secret affair. We soon would discover it wasn’t actually Cordy, but Jasmine possessing her and using Connor to help her give birth to herself, but the gross visual of them being together is ingrained in our minds forever.
8. XANDER’S BETRAYAL
Xander has a crazy run during the comic book continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The guy gets haunted by the ghost of Anya, he starts dating Buffy’s little sister Dawn, and he briefly becomes a servant for Dracula. A slew of other crazy things happen to Xander in the comics, but perhaps the craziest comes in season nine.
At this point, Xander harbors some bitterness for Buffy after coming to the conclusion that most recent events can be blamed on her.
Soon, he’s confronted by the Big Bads of the season, Severin and Simone, who convince Xander to help them in their plan to kill Buffy with the promise that in return, they’ll get him the Vampyr book to undo all of those recent events. He should know better.
7. THE BUFFY BOT
Wow, the whole Buffy Bot storyline seems strangely modern nowadays in a time where pleasure robots are on the loose. For those who don’t remember, after years of playing the show’s villain, Spike gains an unhealthy obsession to Buffy in season five. Since Buffy refuses to touch Spike with a 39-foot pole, Spike commissions Warren to build him a robot version of Buffy that he can be with her whenever he wants.
He even makes some personal modifications to make the Buffy Bot madly in love with Spike and willing to please him at any and all costs. Spike getting himself a pleasure robot modeled after someone who brushed him off was weird enough back then, but now that these types of robots are a real thing, it’s even more creepy.
6. KILLING OFF FRED AFTER HOOKING UP WITH WES
Joss Whedon really knows how to get his audience to care about a character, and then as soon as he gets us to fall in love with said character, he kills her off in the most tragic way imaginable. Winifred “Fred” Burkle was introduced to Angel in season two before joining the main cast in season three. The whole time, a relationship was teased between her and Wesley.
The two finally share their feelings for each other — as well as their first kiss — in the season five episode “Smile Time.”
One episode later in “A Hole in the World,” Fred dies horribly after being infected by the spirit of Illyria. Adding to the heartbreak, Angel Investigations don’t even have a chance to mourn as Illyria possesses Fred’s body immediately after she dies.
5. THE UNPRODUCED FIREFLY SCENE
This is the only entry that refers to an episode that went unproduced in the Whedonverse, but just knowing that there was a possibility this episode would have aired makes us cringe. Before Firefly was cancelled, one of the very first scripts made for the show saw Inara getting assaulted by a pack of Reavers. As with most episodes, Mal would make snide jokes shaming Inara’s profession, but in this episode, we’d find out she has a terminal illness.
We also find out when following her Reaver attack, all of the Reavers die almost instantly. When Mal finds out what happens, he decides to stop with the jokes and start treating Inara like a princess. Needless to say, we are all really glad that this episode never got made.
4. XANDER LEAVING ANYA AT THE ALTAR
A big reason why many fans peg season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be the worst season of the show’s entire run is because the season is comprised of the show’s most infuriating moments to watch. One of said moments being when we saw Xander leave Anya at the altar in “Hell’s Bells.”
Anya and Xander were always a delightfully weird pairing that managed to grow on audiences, for better or worse.
After sitting through their strange friendship blossom into a love affair and expecting the pay off of a wedding, Xander gets discouraged after a demon gives him fake visions of his future as a drunk husband to Anya and abusive father to their children. These visions weren’t real and Xander discovered that, so he had no reason to strike out with Anya.
3. BUFFY DRINKS
Buffy’s heartbreak over her one night stand with Parker is followed up on in the episode “Beer Bad,” which several fans hail as one of the absolute worst episodes in the history of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In it, Buffy befriends a bunch of college guys — one of them being Kal Penn, oddly enough — who get her hooked on beer. This particular beer turns its drinkers into cavemen.
The episode itself was never meant to have any substance, or anything other than an anti-drinking message in an effort to receive funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. After seeing how “otherworldly nonsense” the episode was, ONDCP rejected their funding to the show. That goes to show just how bad this episode really was.
2. KILLING TARA
Season six’s “Seeing Red” is remembered for a number of things — most of which are bad — but arguably the most memorable moment is the moment where Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, is shot dead by a stray bullet meant for Buffy. Not only does the moment come after Willow and Tara finally reconcile their differences and immediately after the two re intimate, this was also the first (and only) episode that Amber Benson was added to the opening graphic as an official member of the cast.
It was one of the finer moments of Whedon sweeping the rug under his fan’s feet, but it didn’t come without controversy.
1. THE BATHROOM SCENE
For many fans, this will always remain the worst moment to ever take place on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Buffyverse as a whole, and frankly, Whedon’s entire filmography. In what is easily the most disturbing scene from the show, Spike confronts Buffy on his unrequited love for her in “Seeing Red” and she promises she doesn’t feel the same.
Spike assures she’s feels the same and he promises to “make [her] feel it” when he forces her onto the ground and nearly assaults her before she kicks him off. Some fans like to defend Spike by saying he didn’t have a soul at the time and his guilt inspired him to get one, but that’s no excuse. The biggest issue here is that in the aftermath, Buffy’s victimization is downplayed in favor of telling viewers to sympathize with her attacker.
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