In the episode titled “Magic Bullet” from Angel, a demon played by Danny Woodburn makes an appearance. He’s short, green, and apparently, an executive at some company. He encounters Fred, who at this point is treated as a fugitive due to things that happened in the plot. She finds herself shacking up with this unlikely roommate in a cave somewhere and they eventually make a connection over their shared fates as fugitives. You’ve seen this set up a hundred times before, the lost girl and the curmudgeon-y odd ball forced together under extraordinary circumstances. At first they hate each other, then the lost girl warms to him when she realizes he isn’t threatening, and then the curmudgeon melts under her charms and grows to like her, although he has difficulty expressing his feelings. This set up is so obvious that the little demon himself even points out the trope in dialogue,
Today I’m here to levy serious accusations of plagiarism and thievery at Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, and company. In the midst of taking a shower, I was struck with a horrifying truth, almost as if I were a tree in the middle of a thunderstorm. This truth is burning away at me right now just as this hypothetical tree would be. The truth of Winifred “Fred” Burkle from Angel being a direct rip-off of the Library Kid from Recess. I mean, it’s so obvious once you think about it, and because the team behind Angel was able to get away with this creative theft for so long, I am as frustrated as I am baffled. How dare they try to pass off Disney’s work as their own? I’m getting ahead of myself here, but hear me out.
This is a quote from Joss Whedon, a writer, director, composer, and the crowned “Lord of the Nerds”. He is behind some of the biggest movie and TV franchises of all time (he directed The Avengers and created Buffy the Vampire Slayer), with several of his works developing dedicated cult followings. This is a striking quote that caused a lot of fans anticipating The Avenger‘s sequel to raise an eyebrow, and anyone whose watched Buffy, Angel, or some of his other shows should already have had some inclination that this was his mindset when it comes to creating stories. He kills character we love, he builds up hope for a certain thing to happen with the sole intent of shattering it, and he does not always provide us with happy endings. The most common criticism against Whedon is that he ventures too often into dark territory. That he relishes in cruelty for cruelty’s sake, and loves to punish his audience for loving his characters. I would argue that Whedon is doing the opposite of that, and that suffering is the key element in every story. By forcing characters to go through despair, he connects us with their world. Whedon isn’t punishing us for liking his characters, he is connecting the audience to their lives by sharing the most intimate thing they have: Their pain.
Antiheroes are sexy. They are roguish free spirits that take what they want, live for themselves, and always come out on top. They are unshackled by the chains of morality, and they don’t spout some crotchety evil agenda to everyone within earshot. At least, that’s how writers want you to see antiheroes. Antiheroes tend to be a lot of things, but mostly they are just stupid. I’m not saying the antihero as a concept is stupid, I am saying that how they have been portrayed has generally been ridiculous. People who do whatever they want without regard for any guiding principles are just assholes. When you slap on the moniker of “antihero”, they suddenly become acceptable as heroic figures, with assassins (people that murder for cash) often being portrayed as agents of justice. One of the things that made Breaking Bad so amazing was its ability to see through that bullshit. Walter White did the things most antiheroes are known for; he acted selfishly (as much as he’d like to deny it) and thought mostly of himself. Yet there was nothing glossy about the whole enterprise and the audience knew that because of how ugly things got for Walt by the end. While Breaking Bad’s Walter White taught us the ugly truth about antiheroes, Angel‘s “The Immortal” taught us to laugh at them.