Which is more important, plot or character? It’s one of life’s great dichotomies, like the question of nature vs. nurture or Coke vs. Pepsi. And like most great dichotomies, the answer is: all of the above.
So it didn’t surprise me when last month’s column on Joss Whedon’s gifts with plot triggered a discussion that quickly strayed over into his gifts with character. I thought the question deserved its own column.
To recap for those of you unfamiliar with the Buffyverse, Buffy Summers is the Slayer – a young woman chosen to fight against vampires and other creatures that go bump in the night. The slayer is given enhanced strength and agility and is supported and mentored by the Watchers Council. In addition, Buffy gathers a group of friends and allies around her, not all of whom are human, who call themselves the Scooby Gang. Like much in the Buffyverse, the characters in the Gang are sometimes a little over the top. Yet they remain coherent, always interesting, and often beloved. If you’ve never seen the series, you have a treat ahead of you. But if you want to avoid spoilers, I’d stop reading this article now.
One thing that makes Whedon’s characters so memorable is that he doesn’t shy away from moral ambiguity. Even his darkest characters have balancing characteristics that make them interesting and often redeemable – the Scooby Gang has included at times two vampires and a demon. D’Hoffryn, for instance, though a Lower Being and Lord of the Vengeance Demons, is always unfailingly polite. Once, on being summoned by Willow (one of the Scooby Gang who is a powerful witch), he greets her with, “Behold D’Hoffryn! Lord of Arashmaharr, he that turns the air to blood and rains death upon – Miss Rosenberg, how lovely to see you again.” [Read more…]