Wednesday, 9 February 2011

You Monster! Why Joss Kills.... Kill #10

He Killed Off Wesley Wyndam-Price!

Who Was He?

When Joss killed off Doyle halfway through the first series of Angel, it was a genuinely shocking moment which caught almost everyone off-guard. To have Wesley turn up the episode afterwards, then, was perhaps not the most subtle turn of events – but that’s what happened. Wesley first appeared on Buffy, as a stuffy man appointed to be Buffy’s new mentor by the Council who watch over slayers. He was pompous and full of himself, but towards the end he showed a little bit of initiative by joining in the last battle of season 3. After that he vanished, ultimately popping up to be Doyle’s replacement on Angel, about a year later on.

It’s well-established that Wesley had the most organic and developed character-arc of any Whedon character so far created. Over five seasons of Angel he went from the two-dimensional coward who first appeared on Buffy and developed into a proper character, before then undergoing a further change as his life fell apart and he became all dark and brooding-like. He was fun, then he was admirable, then he was fascinating, and then he descended into sitting around a lot and grumbling in low-pitched tones about the meaning of life (but we’ll ignore that part of the series). He pined over Fred, who as we’ve previously explored, was cruelly killed by Whedon because he wants you to cry; and it was only a few episodes before she was killed off that they were actually paired off with each other, after three seasons of pining. This left Wesley with a little bit of a death-wish.

How Did He Die?

In the final fight of Angel the TV Series, each of the main characters was sent to fight one of the members of a demonic group called ‘ The Black Thorn’, who have essentially been their main opponents since the very start of the show. Each member of the team has their own little fight scene, and most of them come out of it victorious – apart from Wesley, that is, whose battle against a weirdo demonic sorcerer ends with him being stabbed in the chest.

Why Did He Die?

While Wesley is dying, the demon Illyria (who is living inside Fred’s body, remember – boy, it’s not easy keeping up with all of this, is it?) arrives and comforts him. He asks her to assume Fred’s form and comfort him, which she does, before he passes away in relative peace, on the floor. The demon sorcerer, assuming that Illyria is just a helpless girlfriend, invites her to take a free swing at him: she does, and smashes her demonic fist through his face.

It’s a moment of victory, and it wouldn’t have been gained unless Wesley hadn’t died. It’s tough to accept this, because he was a great character, but his death makes a lot of sense in context. He is, realistically, the character most likely to die – he has no powers, isn’t a demon or anything like that, and he’s up against a much stronger opponent. Joss Whedon also knew that this would be the end of the series, and his main theme for the show had always been that you never stop fighting. Angel, right at the end of the show, needed to be about the theme of continuation. Killing off Wesley, the most human character left on the show, resets Angel’s status and leaves him without any of his original allies. After five years, his work has saved many people, but it’s killed off most of the people he’s ever known. It continues his fight, and leaves him an ever-more-tragic figure.

Killing off Wesley also ramps up the action for the rest of the episode. We’ll get to this when we reach Serenity, but Joss Whedon has always been acutely aware of the best ways to increase tension in his work. Killing off characters is one of them, because it shows that anyone could realistically be killed off at any point in his work. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this rundown of cruel, cruel murder – it’s that Joss Whedon knows how to work an audience. Wesley’s death completed the story for his character, and Whedon himself says that his death scene was “one of my favorite moments that we shot... If you're going to go out, go out hard”.

Joss, You Monster! Rating:
5. It was a sad death, and a somewhat rushed death, but in the context of the episode it really did have to happen

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