Joss Whedon Restrospective Pt 3: Top 5 Signs You May Be A Figment of Whedon’s Imagination

by | February 11, 2009 at 5:20 PM | Joss Whedon Retrospective

Exploring one’s own identity is a tricky business. That smarty pants Descartes can “Cogito, ergo sum” it all he likes, but the sci fi genre is rife with examples of people who thought they knew who they really were, only to discover they were a computer game (The Matrix) or a werewolf, or a Cylon, or Darth Vader’s crotchfruit instead.

So who are you? The possibilities are endless – at least on a philosophical level – but perhaps we can help narrow things down for you. Do you find yourself getting twitchy whenever there’s a full moon? In your spare time, do you enjoy rocking back and forth in a catatonic state while chanting, “Two by two, hands of blue”? Are you an aspiring supervillain whose inner emotional turmoil can best be purged via song?

I’m not sure how to break this to you gently, but….you may be a fictional construct. So, in the interest of telling some hard truths, here are the top five signs you may be a figment of Joss Whedon’s imagination:

5. Your alter ego is into way more than dressing up as a Klingon and attending Star Trek conventions on the weekend.

It’s hard to keep track of how many ways Buffy went bad (though the Buffybot was certainly memorable). Angel became Angelus. Xander became a hyena and omnipotent. Willow became a ghost whore and a vampire. Oz was a werewolf. Spike was just…..Spike. (Actually, he went soft eventually, just to further confuse the issue.)

Or, like Firefly‘s River Tam, maybe you just like to let off a little steam by shooting or stabbing someone from time to time. I mean, it’s not your fault if some shadowy uber-corporation performed unethical, illicit medical experiments upon you and removed the “filter” thing in your brain, right?

4. You know that blood isn’t always thicker than water.

The people you roll with aren’t usually your biological family. But they can become so much more, and Whedon has repeatedly shown that the people you choose to surround yourself with can more than compensate for any floaters in your gene pool.

Parents are too often stranded on the far and wrong side of the generation gap, and sibling relationships are easily seeped in rivalry – or at the very least, fallout from illicit medical experiments performed by sinister corporations – but friends can do much to fill the void. Of course the close-knit familial vibe of the Scoobies (first dubbed such in “What’s My Line, Part I“) was pervasive – and pivotal – throughout the Buffy series, and Angel’s fill-in family (Cordelia, Doyle, Wesley, and Gunn, in various combinations) saw him through many a rough patch, too.

The cowboys-in-space ragtag crew of Firefly also found themselves rallying time and again, despite few if any apparent shared interests beyond survival. The “Ariel” episode in particular nicely displayed how Malcolm evolves to a point where he sheds his mercenary, lone wolf thing and stands by the Tam twins (despite sister River’s off-the-charts lunacy – played pitch-perfectly by Summer Glau) after another crew member seeks to cash in on a bounty.

Not that close-knit cliques always present a glowing picture of J. Crew- festooned good times. In “The Pack” episode of Buffy, one popular and tight-knit posse gets a little carried away with feeding off more than the insecurities of other students. (Yeesh – do they kiss their mothers with those same mouths?

3. You’ve been outted after months or more likely years in which your sexuality was the subject of intense scrutiny – by not only your friends and family, but also legions of bloggers and total strangers.

Buffy’s Willow and Tara were of course ground-breaking on many levels. And Xander was the subject of much speculation himself – while he wasn’t ultimately outted, in episodes like “The Witch” and “Nightmares,” diligent fans spotted a number of telling clues regarding which team he was likely to swing his bat for.

But strewn all along the path leading toward those highly politicized closet doors, Whedon has left his mark – boldly dipping his brush into the entire rainbow palette of sexual identity, and for the most part sidestepping the broad strokes of caricature (Andrew Wells aside). In the “Phases” episode of Buffy, Xander helps a high school football star out of the closet. And Firefly introduced us to bewitching space courtesan Inara Serra, who swung both ways. (Although gay for pay might not count. But, if the show’s cancellation hadn’t cut things short, we might have learned what her true inclination was. She was certainly taking a shine to Mal.) At any rate, the episode “Shindig” delved into how the world’s universe’s oldest profession plays out in the farthest recesses of space. Sure, Malcolm would often bait Inara by calling her a whore, but he was never casting aspersions at her bi-sexuality. (Then again, why would he? Guys love that stuff.)

Whedon’s exploration of sexual identity resonated on a bigger picture level as well. At afterelton.com, Steven Frank wrote a compelling essay about how Buffy’s closeted identity as a Slayer resonated with a lot of LGBT community members. Buffy’s coming out to her mother – albeit as a Slayer – was of course rich with subtext, and beautifully portrayed the pain of either hiding your true identity from the world – or risking the loss of friends and family after telling the truth.

2. You’ve been burned by a bad relationship. No, really…..you’ve been burned. Or staked through the heart. Or compelled to place a revenge spell on the object of your affection after they dumped you. Or you’ve been on the receiving end of such a spell. Love is a battlefield – so don’t forget your crossbow.

Love hurts – and if you’re a figment of Whedon’s imagination, it often leaves one hell of a mark. Sexual attraction can easily unleash a centuries-old curse. (We’re not talking about some run-of-the-mill STD, either.) Even casual dating proves fraught with peril for Buffy in “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date.” And she certainly gets more than she bargained for after having sex with Angel for the first time in the aptly entitled episode, “Surprise.” Buffy’s hardly alone in her treacherous travails d’amour. Buffy’s mom Joyce encounters something far worse than sharks when she dips her toe in the dating pool in the episode, “Ted.”

In the “Lonely Hearts” episode of Angel, one crafty demon considers a singles bar the perfect hunting ground – but not for love, alas. And what about the time that one night stand got Cordelia in the family way (with Rosemary’s Baby, no less) in “Expecting”? The good times also quickly turn ugly for Firefly‘s Malcolm in “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” when he unexpectedly finds himself saddled with the greatest of all horror shows that hath ever plagued such a confirmed bachelor – a wife he doesn’t remember marrying.

Indeed, Whedon has no shortage of fitting metaphors for how scary and/or dangerous falling in love can be – and how the blinding pain of love gone wrong just makes you want to die. Or kill someone.

1. You’ve died - maybe even more than once – despite being on the morally upstanding side of that whole “Good vs. Evil” scrimmage.

Whedon has never shied away from killing off the good guys – and unlike many shows, in his hands this tool has never felt as if it were a ratings-boosting, cheap publicity stunt. His shows have been grounded in truth and are subsequently powerful because he has never been afraid to pull out the big guns – and aim them at characters we like. Consider (and watch here on Fancast) the fates of assorted Buffy allies – like Kendra in Part I of “Becoming,” or Jenny Calendar in “Passion.” And don’t forget poor, lovesick Doyle in the “Hero” episode of Angel. Fred also had her swan song in Season 5. That’s not to mention later on in these series, when even more prominent central cast members started going mano a mano with the reaper – and losing.

Due to Firefly itself having suffered premature death via inanity at Fox, that particular band of ragtag space refugees were more or less spared their more literal untimely demises. Sort of. Whedon still had the opportunity to prove that nice guys often finish last (and then get impaled) in Serenity, his big-screen follow-up to Firefly.

And yet, in Whedon’s world, death can be a fluid concept. Buffy bit the big one more than once, and the topic of how many times Buffy technically died remains a point of contention for many die-hard fans. (They say you always remember the first time – but just in case you don’t, check out Buffy’s first death in “Prophecy Girl” from Season 1.

In pursuit of one of the heroes in the big screen version of “Buffy,” vampire Amilyn instructs his henchmen to, “Kill him a lot.” Never was that concept more plausible than within the elastic bounds of Joss’ Whedonverse.

And thus concludes our “Are you or aren’t you a Whedon character?” checklist.

Whedon really likes pondering this big picture stuff, and Dollhouse – with its squad of “blank slate” operatives who can be imprinted with interchangeable identities – will provide the ideal canvas upon which to paint an abstract study entitled “Identity Crisis in Blue” or some such thing. And it’s a canvas upon which a number of Whedon’s favorite themes will invariably surface. Heck, he might even go for broke and have Echo emerge as a bisexual cyber-witch who has suffered incredible trauma after watching good-guy father-figure Boyd be killed by a fellow operative like Serena – who proves to be not only her real sister, but also a cross-dresser – after which point we’ll learn Echo has been in a coma all this time after having been nearly killed by her true love, Matt, and it turns out the whole show is just a figment of her imagination.

(Or maybe not. But I wouldn’t put it past Whedon, either.)

Whether you’re a figment of Joss Whedon’s imagination – or just a real person who likes watching them from the sidelines – there’s plenty of food for thought within his oeuvre to keep you sated. Re-acquaint yourself with Buffy, Angel and the Firefly crew right here on Fancast. And be sure to let us know how you think Dollhouse measures up.