Friday, 13 March 2009

You Monster! Why Joss Whedon Kills.... Kill #9

He killed Winifred Burkle!

Who Was She?

Oh shut up. You know who she was. Everyone knows about Fred. She was lovely and a mainstay of ‘Angel’ ever since the end of the second series. A scientist who had post-traumatic shock, she eventually overcame it to become a friendly person whom all the male cast seemed to have a crush on at some point in time, because she was really quite lovely. She was given a laboratory in the fifth season, and was lovely.

How Did She Die?

Fred was working in her shiny new laboratory when a coffin was brought in for her to investigate. When she touched it some dust flew up into the air, which slowly poisoned her. She burnt up from the inside and her soul was destroyed forever, so she didn’t get to go to Heaven either. And then her body became the host for an ancient demon who never left it. This happened approximately a week after she finally started dating a character who had been in love with her for the past three seasons. It turned out that the coffin had been sent to her by a co-worker who was in love with her. He turned out to also worship the ancient demon (called Illyria) and so when it came to picking a body for Illyria to take over he thought “I know! Fred should be this body!” So she was killed slowly and died in the arms of her new boyfriend because a co-worker had a crush on her and was mental and then her insides all melted as her skin became rock solid and her soul was eradicated and the shell of her body was used to house Illyria, a demon.

Did nobody hug you when you were a child, Joss?

Why Did She Die?
  • “I got really pissed off with the show when they did that. It was cruel!”
  • “I was heartbroken when she died!”
  • “When Fred died I cried.”
  • “Why didn’t they kill Gunn? He was so much more annoying!”

These are a small sample of the many people Joss Whedon made into enemies on that night he killed of Winifred Burkle. The many people who will, if provoked, rummage through their potting shed for a weapon which they can use as they charge to his house and demand he take back all the pain that’s been caused over the years. The emotional pain. The pain of loss and grief which humankind was only ever meant to feel when someone close to them dies or runs away with their roommate John to Bristol and I never get to hear form her again, you heartless bitch.

Why did Joss Whedon kill off Fred? And why did he do it in such a horrific way? We know that it wasn’t anything to do with actress Amy Acker, because when Illyria rose up out of Fred’s body Acker played this new role with brilliant relish. She stayed with the show until the last episode that they filmed, but was now bright blue and a lot angrier. Unlike in the past, when Joss has killed off an character because of something happening behind the scenes Fred’s death didn’t come about because of anything the actress did with the character. Heck, the character herself had only just started on a potential new storyline as she’d been paired up with another one of the cast, and the public had waited years to see this develop. Things were finally starting to happen.

Joss Whedon has a mantra, which rings true for a lot of his work: “it’s not what the audience want, it’s what the audience needs.” He won’t tell a story with a happy ending because he believes that this will lead to his plots growing stale. Instead, his cast must deal with disaster after disaster ruining their lives time and time again, until eventually they die. There’s no guarantee when they’ll die either: but no character in a Joss Whedon production can ever expect to be happy for more than a week (other than the character of ‘Spike’ for some reason, whom Joss promoted rapidly for no apparent reason because he was pretty awful). As a result of his mantra, it made perfect sense for him to kill off Fred as soon as she had finally reached a position where she could finally be happy. Because nobody should ever be happy! Once a character is happy they have completed their story and are no longer needed. Some writers would write happy characters out so they can sail into the sunset: Whedon kills them.

There was no setup for this, really. He didn’t foreshadow the incident particularly, so when Fred died it took viewers completely by surprised. She became ill at the start of the episode, and over the next forty minutes she died. The effect this had on the overall story is negligible, although it definitely affected the characterisation of the major cast. Fred’s death changed the characters a little (it destroyed the progress of Wesley, for example, who quickly went from brilliant to endlessly mopey as the final few episodes went on), and it finally gave Gunn something to do. But this could all have been done without killing off Fred. Death is a cheap motivator, but it’s one which almost always works on TV. And for as long as Whedon is able to create unpredictability on his shows through murdering members of the cast as random points, he’ll do it.

Acker’s character on Dollhouse looks to be similarly doomed, although time will tell on that. Perhaps he just likes writing death scenes for her?

Joss, You Monster! Rating:
10. You’re going to Hell, Whedon.


  1. This was the first time I disagreed with any of the deaths on the show. Up till this point they were all like sucker punches, but this was the only one that didn't actually have any benefit for the show. It didn't advance the plot one iota, it didn't serve as a lesson, it didn't move the character's arcs forward in a meaningful way. It was done, according to Whedon in his commentaries, because he wanted to showcase Acker's acting abilities beyond "shy southern belle/ science genius".

    Which means he killed off arguably the nicest and most likeable character he's ever created in the most horrible way possible because he wanted to help his friend out with her showreel.

    Joss, you make it REALLY FUCKING HARD to be a fan of yours, you know?

  2. I just finished this episode, and I have to say...I think I'm done with Whedon. Seriously. It's not shocking anymore, it's not clever, it just hurts and it feels cheap and like a betrayal. The fact that the man is so limited that he can't at least give us SOME time with these characters experience some semblance of happiness is ridiculous, and quite frankly proves right every one of his detractors. What the audience needs? My ASS. The audience did not need to see Fred die. The audience did not need to see Wash die. The audience did not need to have Anya die. The audience did not need to have Tara or Mrs. Summers die. He did it simply because he thinks it's clever. It's not. It's become predictable. When your "thing" has become killing characters at random and then scrambling to make it mean something, you've really hit mediocrity.

  3. I like that Joss is not afraid to kill off characters. I hate shows that keep everyone alive. Good doesn't always triumph over evil. The only death I was really mad about was Anya, I loved Anya. Fred's was sad in the sense she doesn't exist anymore, but Ilyria was pretty cool.

  4. I'm a longtime fan of the Buffyverse and am showing them to my fiance. We have finished Buffy and are now almost done with Angel and the other night I actually had a nightmare about this episode because I know we're almost up to it. I took it hard when Anya was killed but to know Fred's soul was just destroyed and she's just GONE is even worse. There is just something so disturbing about it.

  5. Joss does these things to make it more like real life. He doesn't kill people right when we meet them, he lets us get to know them and love them. I think that is great writing. Why would you want to watch a show where you knew EXACTLY what was going to happen every week? Besides, Fred is the only one of the gang that wouldn't be able to fight in the final fight. She would have been useless. She wasn't a warrior, Joss needed another warrior to fight on their side. To help them win! I don't like it when he kills anyone off, but it usually makes the plot just a little better and unpredictable.

  6. WHY GOD WHY? I have NEVER, EVER come on one of these episode forums until now. I just finished the last season. Less than 20 minutes ago. So let me summarise this. Joss Whedon, feminist to the stars, kills off the best female character on all of Angel.

    Fred was a mix of intellect, bravery, compassion and sweetness (which is something we've seen before, admittedly). The way the character developed from a librarian stereotype to a fearless and self-reliant physics genius is remarkable. The way her character functioned as a balancing influence on the dynamics of the major cast of characters acted as a calming influence for the audience.

    And yet her death meant nothing, her soul was eaten by a demon so she doesn't get heaven. SERIOUSLY? That's the way to finish off an extra, not an original and engaging character that just only recently, in the storyline, gotten to a place of stability and happiness. So what's the cliche thing to do? Kill her off in a way that has almost no effect whatsoever on the central story. It's not fair to us or to the characters.

  7. TO hell with you Whedon! ^

  8. I just saw one of the Illyria episodes (the one where she meets Fred's parents) and it made me cry to look at Wesley. I suppose you think it's clever Jossy my boy, but like someone above said, it's getting predictable. How many puppies DID you lose as a child?

  9. Joss Whedon is a genius. Period. I've seen every one of his shows, obviously we know which are better than the others. The fact that Joss can make you hate him, and feel so much emotion toward the deaths of characters is astounding. He is a wonderful director/writer.