Homepage > Joss Whedon’s Tv Series > Angel > Reviews > Joss Whedon’s War
« Previous : Angel 5x22 Not Fade Away - Ratings
     Next : David Boreanaz out in Los Angeles - High Resolution !!!! »

From Eye.net


Joss Whedon’s War

By Joshua Ostroff

Friday 21 May 2004, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon, the creator of the late lamented Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its freshly staked spinoff Angel has built his career on metaphors. Using genre conventions like vampires and demons, he concocted a Buffyverse where high school really was hell.

After the final Angel episode on May 19, fans are facing the first Whedon-less TV landscape in eight years. As the real world got darker, so did his shows, which expanded beyond the personal teen traumas to include more socio-political subtexts. On both Buffy and Angel, Whedon and his writers used horror to come to grips with the war on terror.

During the final season of Buffy, which closed shop a year ago, Whedon morphed his femme fatale into a Dubya-like general, gathering up her army of slayers-in-training and endlessly speechifying about sacrifice. The show took on a black-and-white "you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us" tone that mirrored the post-9/11 Afghan invasion rhetoric.

"They think we’re gonna wait for the end to come like we always do," Buffy lectured. "I’m done waiting. They want an apocalypse? Oh, I’ll give them one ... we just became an army. We just declared war ... There is only one thing on this earth more powerful than evil and that’s us. Any questions?"

Her autocratic attitude temporarily drove away most of her allies and the final battle was won when punk-vampire Spike, with the help of a magic amulet, turned into a pillar of fire, essentially becoming a suicide bomber. But despite a twist that shared her powers with other slayerettes around the world, the 2002-3 season felt like an endorsement of the Bush Doctrine’s pre-emptive warfare.

However, Whedon’s personal politics, especially in regards to gender issues and sexual orientation, are clearly left-of-centre, and, while Buffy was concluding, his short-lived third series, Firefly (soon to be a feature film) came at global politics from the completely opposite angle. The sci-fi western dealt with a Han Solo-like spaceship captain named Mal and his battles against the post-war galaxy-ruling Alliance.

"Mal’s politics are very reactionary and ’big government is bad,’" Whedon explained to The New York Times. "And sometimes he’s wrong — because sometimes the Alliance is America, this beautiful shining light of democracy. But sometimes the Alliance is America in Vietnam: we have a lot of petty politics, we are way out of our league and we have no right to control these people." In other words, the heroes of Firefly kind of came off like jihadists fighting American imperialism, for good or ill.

For Angel’s fifth and final season, Whedon repurposed the program. The 250-year-old titular vampire-with-a-soul took over the demonic law offices of Wolfram & Hart, the apocalypse-minded firm that Team Angel had been fighting since he left Sunnydale for LA back in 1999.

The story arc leading to this was over-complicated, but essentially they hoped to use the law firm’s vast resources to do far more good than their hand-to-mouth existence previously allowed. The caveat, of course, was that their new office was "a business, boys, not a bat cave" and therefore they had to keep the profits rolling in from their still-evil clients.

The new theme asked the question, "Is it possible to do good in an evil world without becoming tainted by it?" Perhaps recognizing that Buffy had seemingly endorsed Bush’s militarism — and that in light of Gulf War II, the world had gone considerably less black-and-white — Whedon used Angel to make a more complex argument.

The politics were subtly laid-out in the season’s first episode, with an offhand remark about Bush Sr. signing a deal with the devilish law firm and having Texan science-geek Winifred Burkle put up a Dixie Chicks poster in her lab. Over the course of the admittedly uneven season, episodes focused on whether or not Team Angel were becoming corrupted by the institutional evil around them. Over and over they struggled with soul-crushing compromises — one resulted in Burkle’s death, another delivered a human baby to a demon cult — until Angel discovered the apocalypse they were trying to prevent was "well under way," that they were "fighting an invisible war."

Ah, the "War on Terror" subtext was back, but now the battle had become murkier — not unlike Iraq.

Though scripted and filmed prior to the growing prison-abuse scandal, with US soldiers committed morally indefensibly acts in the name of the greater good, the series-ending storyline became eerily prescient. All season, Angel has been distracted, trying to negotiate evil into slightly lesser evil — always the plan of the mysterious, conflict-profiteering "Senior Partners," who may as well be the neo-con cabal of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld — rather than acting like a champion for good.

Mirroring the horrific pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison, the penultimate episode, "Power Play," opened with a man being beaten in a dark room — his hands bound, his head covered by a burlap hood. He offers relieved thanks when Angel finally appears, but instead of liberating the victim, Angel vamps out and drinks his blood.

Being the hero, Angel had an ulterior plan with which to save the day (albeit at the cost of too many lives) but despite the exploration of moral ambiguity that runs through all his work, Whedon’s final message is clear: the ends don’t justify the means. It’s not enough to simply wage war against "evil," the good guys still have to act morally better than the bad guys, or else there’s no real difference at all.

12 Forum messages

  • Dialectical nonsense

    21 May 2004 14:30, by Reverend Matthew Cafiero

    Don’t you hate it when someone takes their own personal vamp to stake, and tries to make it a metaphor for life? No wait, that’s Joss, and we love him for it.

    I meant, when someone takes their own views and spins something beyond recognition just to prove their point to themselves. Simply twaddle, stuff and nonsense of the lamest kind. Or, to paraphrase "Naked Lunch,": There is nothing happening here that could not be explained away as the secret initiatives of a well-orchestrated cabal....

    Angel and Buffy work as metaphor, but its a metaphor for universal expressions of the human spirit, not some geopolitical dilactic. Sorry Joshua, go back to the source material and try again.

  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    21 May 2004 15:16, by Sarah
    Where are you getting this stuff? You’re reading way too much into these finales. And how did you get the message "the end doesn’t justify the means" from the Angel finale? The message is that sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to get something done. And Buffy was not fashioned after Bush; Joss has said himself that the character development had a lot to do with the actors who played them. Your article is a load of crap. I can’t stand it when shows like Buffy and Angel are so overanalyzed like this. It’s ridiculous. I love both shows, but that’s what they are...shows.
  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    21 May 2004 16:09, by Anonymous

    Good Lord, this guy likes to hear himself talk!

    I can’t help but feel personally sickened by the idea that the writers of Angel and Buffy are mirroring American international politics! I guess you can force any comparison if you try hard enough, but this is just stupid!!

    They are not talking about Bush or Rumsfeld, and Spike was not a suicide bomber!! There is a big difference between attacking innocent civilians in real life and killing demons on tv. Sometimes evil is just evil. This article is just infantile and offensive.

  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    21 May 2004 16:31, by Anonymous
    People like this simply amaze me. How quickly we have forgotten 911. Remember, THEY attacked US first, and 911 wasn’t the first time. Remember Pearl Harbor? There is a cost to freedom! You don’t have dialogue with evil dictators, you use force. Why don’t you start labeling the enemy as Osama Bin Laden and get off the Bush bashing trip. Good grief!
  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    21 May 2004 19:46, by Anonymous

    Mirroring the horrific pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib prison, the penultimate episode, "Power Play," opened with a man being beaten in a dark room — his hands bound, his head covered by a burlap hood. He offers relieved thanks when Angel finally appears, but instead of liberating the victim, Angel vamps out and drinks his blood.

    oh lord, that was written and filmed WAY BEFORE those pictures got out about what was happening there... delusional much??

  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    21 May 2004 20:32, by NeeP
    Wow, this guy just threw an interesting and different opinion out there, and you guys ripped him a new one for it. At least he showed some independant thought... If you don’t agree with it, think he’s wrong, that’s fine. But he at least deserves credit for putting a new idea out there and making you think about it.
  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    22 May 2004 09:03, by jjames

    Speaking of personal agendas based on fiction, what’s Iraq got to do with 9/11? You must be thinking of Bush’s buddy, Osama.

    The author pointing out the torture analogy was on point. The Circle had no intention of getting information, that was an exercise in causing pain and humiliation. When Drogyn tortured someone he got false information. Given that this ep was made a while before the Abu Ghraib pics were ever known of, I’d say Josh was making a general statement and bada bing, Bush delivers a real fubar. The show was a metaphor for this, if unintentionally, like it or not.

  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    22 May 2004 15:22, by John

    People like this simply amaze me. How quickly we have forgotten 911. Remember, THEY attacked US first, and 911 wasn’t the first time. Remember Pearl Harbor? There is a cost to freedom! You don’t have dialogue with evil dictators, you use force. Why don’t you start labeling the enemy as Osama Bin Laden and get off the Bush bashing trip. Good grief!

    Please - ’they did it first’??

    No matter who you are, either you, or one of your progenitors has been the ’they’ you are talking about. It’s been a variation on tit for tat ever since (and before) we have been self aware. At some point we (or ’they’) will either grow up enough to take away the motivation for behaving badly by being nice regardless of the provocation, or this will continue forever.

    Oh, and Pearl Harbour was hardly the first example of betrayal during conflict - there are plenty of examples of terrorism during the War of Independence, except that because all sides did it, there weren’t really any effective rules against it.

    No one is without fault here, and the more powerful you are the greater your responsibility to act with restraint. Oh, and the lower the likelihood of you actually using restraint, based on historical evidence.

    Osama Bin Laden is an evil man nowadays. He was never particularly nice when he worked with the CIA either - but I suspect that he could make a pretty good case for being a ’patriot’ fighting the ’evil’ aggressor the only way he could. I disagree with him, but it is a matter of position and opinion rather than cold fact, our side has done some pretty terrible things over the years.

    Sorry - got on a soapbox there - Buffy/Angel does not appear to be a very strong allegory for global terrorism, rather if there is a lesson, it appears to be the far wider and more individualistic ’be true to your conscience’, and ’don’t give up’, which I believe are both very good, powerful lessons

  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    22 May 2004 16:28, by Jules
    This is savy and thank goodness someone is saying it outloud—well in print anyway. I’ve been saying things similiar to this for quite some time, although I differ on his take of the finale of ATS—Angel murders Drogen, he murders him, there is no other word, no excuse and when Spike’s instincts guide to stop Angel, his righteous blows miss by a mile and Angel stops him as if Spike had the strength of a rag doll. What does this mean? Joss saying righteous won’t stop evil—only evil stops evil? I think Joss is drawing the conclusion that the ends DO justify the means. Not the other way around. Angel murders a pure soul—someone who had dedicated himself to doing good for hundreds of years not Angels 8—and Angel rapes his life away, and it is dismissed as easily as ducking a punch. The terrible things he does are brought into focus and Lorne leaves but not before bowing to his ’leadership’ one last time. ie ’I may not like it—but you’re the boss.’ Autocrat indeed. No one seriously challanges his poor decision making. All the women who might have tempered the situation have been killed. We are talking about a world devoid of feminine influnce and seems to be apppluaded for it. Kingdom of the Spiders, baby. By having Angel loose some backup, the show pretends to say ’see, we know he is doing bad stuff’—but then negates it by playing out the end like he is doing some high and mighty thing. What? By making his last stand glorius and almost ’cue the baloons’ Joss is saying the ends DO justify the means and that makes me scared, VERY scared because TV is a powerful medium and if you doubt it consider how many sites follow this show and all the heated discussions. It has power, it is more than entertainment and such wartime propaganda is injectged into people’s subtext with passion. Ideas coupled with passion...stick. It’s called propaganda people. Where is the show I’ve been watching and who is Joss Whedon? If you think the idea of murdering an innocent like Drogen is too tame consider the headless body of a one year from that raid on the wedding party on the Syrian border. ALL the women and children in the stone house killed as collertal damage. Instead of going in on foot to investigate the wedding party—the U.S. I assume, to minimize any U.S. casualties; instead bombed the hell out of them. All dismissed as the cost of doing business. Angel has done EXACTLY the same thing; and by having the big emotional swell build up behind him as he makes his last stand qualifys everything he has done instead of calling it into question—this pitch to ’slay the dragon’ makes collateral damage heroic, an acceptable way to do business. Who is Joss Whedon?

    See online : Joss Whedon’s War

  • > 9/11 and Pearl Harbor...

    22 May 2004 19:43, by Anonymous
    have *nothing*, no really nothing!!! to do with each other. The Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor during WW2. 9/11 was the work of a bunch of terrorists your government decided not to stop. The thing that worries me most is that there are idiots in the US, possibly voting in an election not knowing the difference between their enemies in World War 2 and a terror network. That just makes me so sick...
  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    23 May 2004 02:47, by angelus
    Angel was a damn good tv show but that is all it was, a tv show! Overanalysing the show like this is what puts ideas into peoples heads! Absolutely any tv show can be held open to interpretation and likened to any current event if you scrutinize it hard enough. Lets just enjoy things for what they are and not scramble under the surface for subtexts that may or may not exist!
  • > Joss Whedon’s War

    23 May 2004 08:20, by David
    What is wrong with you people? Joshua Ostroff is simply making connections between politics and television. Regardless of whether or not that was Joss’s intent, Ostroff makes incredibly valid statements (except I disagree on his conclusion of Angel’s finale). The beauty behind art (and, yes, tv can be art) is that you make opinons and connections about things that were never intended. That’s what makes art everlasting and eternally relevent. Therefore, I applaud Ostroff’s attempt at scholarly insight on these finales, even if I don’t necessarily agree with some of his conclusions. It might not hurt some of you to take some art or English classes and learn to make scholarly connections between art, philosophy, and politics as well.