Friday, 19 April 2013

Jonathanathon

First of all, a warning: if you haven’t watched all of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, here be spoilers, but since that show finished 10 years ago, where The Hell have you been?

Second of all, I apologise if I get at all dogmatic in The Following Post.

So…

There was a hashtag trending on twitter The Other Day (this may have been weeks or months ago, I have no concept of time) about fictional deaths we can’t get over.

It got me thinking, because stuff happens in TV, film, stage and books all the time that bugs me, so I expected a slew of outrage to rush forth from The Memory to The Fingers.

I’ve been driven nuts by characters being written out of TV shows, and by bad adaptations that have somehow become popular films and musicals and I’ve given up reading many an annoying or boring book.  But as furious as all this fiction has made me


none of this is caused by The Death of The Wrong Fictional Character.  And even when I have come across deaths I didn’t think needed to happen, deaths that spoiled The Whole Story, I still didn’t care enough for it to be something I’ll never get over.  They’re not events that bother me when I’m not actively discussing their stories.

Except one.

There is only one fictional character whose death bothers me outside of watching the actual thing in which they died.  But this one little death sits around in the back of The Brain at all times.  It wormed its way in and it is always there.  This qualifies as a ‘never get over’.  So I tweeted it.


I was temporarily gratified when complete strangers retweeted this.
However it turns out that these particular strangers were tweeting and retweeting ALL tweets that mentioned deaths from BTVS, including: Jenny Calendar, Angel at the end of season 2, Joyce Summers, Buffy at the end of season 5, Tara and Anya.

They also mentioned Cordelia Chase’s death in Angel (but strangely no other deaths from Angel*) but as far as I am blissfully concerned, Cordelia’s death never happened anyway, because I stopped watching Angel after season 2.  This is because I already learnt The Lesson with Buffy The Vampire Slayer.


I enjoy seasons 1-3 fine, but I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from ever watching seasons 4-7. 


So after I loved Angel season 1 way more than I ever liked any of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and then saw the quality slide inexorably down during season 2, I stopped myself while I was ahead and I’m not going to ruin one perfect season by watching the rest of a mangy run.  BTVS seasons 1-3 and Angel season 1, that’s all that exists to me from that universe.  (Like there’re only two series of Due South and Jonathan Creek and only one of Heroes and don’t even get me started on Doctor Who.)  (Oh, and by ‘quality’ I really mean ‘change in style’.  If I like The Premise of a programme, I’m not going to like the programme any more when it goes through major setting, priority or cast changes.)

*How could they not mention Doyle?  Okay, so the hashtag was ‘never get over’, which would imply some level of psychological scarring and I think Doyle’s death was The Only Death In That Entire Universe that was well handled.  It was tragic, by which I mean inevitable, it was the crux of his character arc, everything had led to this moment, he chose to sacrifice himself to save others so it was ‘worthwhile’ not to mention redemptive and the other characters genuinely mourned his death and had to deal with it afterwards.  It was a well-written death, something I have not often come across.  I liked Doyle and I missed him afterwards, but I wouldn’t want the death to be erased, because it worked, so it doesn’t count as ‘never got over’.  Even if it did nearly make me puke from crying so much.

It’s funny how different things affect different people.


Okay, interesting.


Okay, okay, it’s just an observation.  Different things affect different people.


So anyway…

Those six deaths mentioned above will apparently haunt these tweeters for the rest of their lives, so deeply did these moments of fiction affect them.  And I asked people I actually know how they felt too.  They told me that Jenny’s death was sad, Angel’s was poignant, bittersweet, pulled heartstrings, taught us love cannot conquer all and about the loneliness Buffy must endure as the Slayer, Joyce’s was vivid, brutally effective, heartbreaking, hurt to watch and forever left a hole in the BTVS universe, Buffy’s was beautiful, gutsy and heart wrenching, Tara’s was very sad, a tragedy, the greatest gut-wrencher of the later series and a loss that shook the foundations of the characters’ core beliefs and Anya’s was upsetting.

But those deaths didn’t particularly bother me.

In fact, here are my reactions.

Season 2: Jenny Calendar is killed. 

Season 2 finale: Angel is ‘killed’. 

Season 5: Joyce Summers dies.
Season 5 finale: Buffy sacrifices herself. 

Season 6: Tara is killed. 

Season 7 finale: Anya is killed. 


Whereas Jonathan’s death early in season 7, a minor death of a minor character that’s thrown away and goes barely noticed by anyone, got this reaction from me:


Why, out of all the deaths in the programme, is this the one that gets to me?

I guess it annoyed me because it was so pointless.  People die all the time in the programme, it is about the undead, but there’s usually some reason behind it.  And those main deaths above… Jenny died to show how bad Angel was – necessary.  Angel died because it was a cool dramatic irony ending.  Joyce died because they wanted to completely ruin the programme show a realistic death and how abrupt it can be.  Buffy died because the programme was supposed to be over and how else do you end a programme about a character who’s always going on about her short life expectancy.  Tara was killed to make Willow go evil, because having a good guy go evil was such an original plot and not something that had been two season arcs already.  Anya died because… it was the finale, someone had to go to show it was actually a big deal, it couldn’t be one of the original four so she’s the only other one who has been in it long enough to make it feel like a shock, even if she was just a shite Cordelia-replacement.

But Jonathan’s death didn’t do anything.  Possibly made Andrew turn good.  But, seriously, Andrew?  Why’s that a thing I need to see?  I detested Andrew.  I guess it’s just another one of those role reversal things the programme does every thirty seconds.  Who do you expect to survive, the character that’s been around since Inca Mummy Girl or this other guy we just made up?  BURN!  You were WRONG.

But then, I don’t feel annoyed.  I feel hurt.

I don’t even like the programme that much.  I wouldn’t even put seasons 1-3, the seasons I like, in a list of The Favourite TV.  So what the hell do I care what happened in the far off season 7?  In Heroes, it bugs me that Nathan was killed off, but since I had stopped watching it before then, it doesn’t matter.  I don’t own that DVD, so as far as I care, in the dimension of the programme I watch, it doesn’t happen, just like with Cordelia in Angel.  So same with Jonathan in BTVS.  I only have seasons 1, 2 and 3.  I never have to see season 7 ever again.  And yet that doesn’t make any difference.  I think Principal Snyder is one of the best things about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but does the fact that he gets killed in Graduation Day Part Two ever keep me awake at night?  Nope.  But just knowing that Jonathan dies, even in a season four times removed from the last part of the programme I liked, is enough to upset me.

What is it about this particular character in this particular TV programme out of all the characters in all of fiction that resonates with me?

I don’t know, because if I knew, I might be able to turn it off and I’ve never been able to yet.

I have some theories:

1. Although Buffy The Vampire Slayer is not one of The Favourite Programmes, it has been influential in The Life. 

It was a big deal when I was a teenager because it was new and it was about teenagers.  Unless you wanted to watch Dawson’s Creek (I didn’t) there wasn’t much else out there.

But it was one of those love or hate things, and I found myself stranded between two sides without knowing which to pick.  People who loved it did because either they thought the fight scenes were cool or because they fancied Sarah or David.  They didn’t like it for its wit, which is bizarre because that’s its main asset.  I only liked the wittiness, and completely floundered in conversations with anyone about it, because all they discussed was demon slaying moves or hot shirtlessness and would actually fast-forward the witty dialogue sections.  So I veered towards the hated it group, except they hated it for being childish and embarrassing, again totally missing that (in places at least) it’s very sharp, but then we teenagers often mistook fun for embarrassment because we were too busy pretending to be grown up to actually enjoy ourselves.  So for many years I was completely unable to really enjoy a silly TV programme because of the baffling interplay of playground politics.

I also had a major league crush on Giles, which completely influenced and dictated which boys I was attracted to when dating became the only thing any of us were interested in.

And the programme became an important staple in The Relationship with one of The Best Friends and a sort of escape for both of us, it was an excuse to just have fun and not worry about all the growing up issues that we were both dealing with at the time and in a way it still represents that freedom now.

2. I like the character of Jonathan. 

He’s funny and he’s sweet (plus I totally dig short guys).  I like him so much that a while back (I have no idea how long ago, NO CONCEPT OF TIME) I decided I wanted to have a Jonathanathon.
By which I mean I found a person who owned all of Buffy The Vampire Slayer…
(This is supposed to represent that classic horror scene in which character A opens cupboard door, and when they shut it a second later, character B is RIGHT THERE, but I can't draw so it doesn't really work.)
…and picked out all the episodes in which Jonathan appears.

In case you were wondering, that’s: Inca Mummy Girl, Reptile Boy, What’s My Line Part Two, Bad Eggs, Passion, Go Fish, Dead Man’s Party, Homecoming, The Wish, Earshot, The Prom, Graduation Day Part Two, Superstar, Flooded, Life Serial, Smashed, Gone, Dead Things, Normal Again, Entropy, Seeing Red, Villains, Two To Go, Grave, Conversations With Dead People, Never Leave Me, First Date and Storyteller.

The trouble was in which order to watch them.  Because it you watch it in chronological order, it kinda gets depressing.  It’s a careful balance because you don’t want to have too many of the nastier later episodes in row because it’d be too much of a downer and you certainly don’t want to end with something like Conversations With Dead People, in which Jonathan gets murdered, but you can’t have too many of the brief one-line blink-and-you-miss-him earlier episodes next to each other because you’d forget you were even having a marathon and it’d be a disaster if you ended on The Wish in which he doesn’t even speak.  The earlier episodes do lend themselves to the ‘who can spot him first’ game though. 

In the end our marathon went in a completely bizarre order, I don’t think there was any logic to it at all.  But the last two episodes we watched were Earshot, which is one of my favourite episodes of BTVS, ever, and Superstar, because how could it not be the finale of a Jonathan Marathon?

3. Jonathan becoming a bigger character in season 6, in fact the whole lame villain gag, is a really cool idea.

My favourite character in BTVS, by miles, is Giles
When I was a teenager and was forced to watch the programme by other teenagers, it was Giles who saved the scenes for me, the way he would just pop Buffy or Xander’s arrogant, pointless teen pondering was the exact tonic I needed when surrounded by a lot of arrogant teen pondering. 

My second favourite character is Oz and his romance with Willow is up there with Niles and Daphne for fictional romances that are beautifully, perfectly played. 

So I suppose by season 6, with neither Giles or Oz in the programme any more, bringing Jonathan back as a semi-regular was one of the few things they could have done that actually got me a bit interested again.

4. Superstar.

I didn’t watch BTVS by choice when it was new, due to above mentioned playground politics.  I avoided it when I was at home alone.  But one day I decided that I might as well give it a go.  So I turned on the latest episode and sat down to try to enjoy it and I was utterly baffled

because it was Superstar.

So for half an hour at least, that universe, the Jonathan universe, was the norm to me.  And in a way, I feel I’ve always been part of that universe ever since, rather than the one everyone else was watching.

5.      Empathy.

I was a social reject at school.  Not to the extent of Jonathan.  I was more on a Willow level.  Because I did actually have some friends.  And there were a few kids on the lower tier, the Jonathans, and we on the tier above would have to talk to them because we were nice and no one else would.

But I found school really difficult.  So I empathise with Jonathan.  I never ended up trying to shoot myself, but only because I didn’t know where to get a gun.

6. I have a tendency to irrationally like any character who is ignored, misunderstood or pushed aside by other characters, particularly if they are at all downtrodden or pathetic, no matter whether the character actually does anything to earn this admiration. 

I think this is partly because of The Crappy Childhood again and partly because these characters have the kind of promise The Imagination can work with (the same way I read catalogues as a child because I used the pictures as a basis to imagine great stories no one else could see) and partly because these characters often actually are more interesting than those in centre stage.

Jonathan is like the ultimate ignored character.  He’s ignored character bingo.

He starts out as a minor character, not even credited with a name at first, sometimes without even getting a line, before attempting to kill himself in his tenth episode with a rifle because everyone ignores him.  Buffy somehow stops this by telling him everyone feels like that.  She’s actually pretty harsh because she thinks he’s there to take out the school and on realising he’s suicidal, what does she do?  Who knows.  The scene cuts to get on with the whodunnit plot.  That’s the last we see of Jonathan this week.  Did she just leave him up there with the gun?  In season 4, he clearly hasn’t resolved his issues, doing a spell to get attention just because he wants friends.  Buffy tells him off again.  These are huge cries for help, but nope, he’s punished and that’s the last we see of him, so he’s presumably on his own somewhere, with these loneliness and self-esteem issues just spiralling out of control.  Then he’s back in season 6, having fallen in with the really wrong crowd (and they don’t even like him), and things get worse and worse and worse, until his murder in season 7 and that’s it?  What was the point of setting up this character for this many years just to blam, he’s gone and some other guy gets the regular spot?





So maybe when all six of these points align, they create something potent, meaning that this disagreeable little moment in fiction is something that’s going to stay with me for the rest of The Life, and make every single day just a little bit more miserable.






7. I don’t feel that this character achieved his potential and, as a writer especially, that depresses me. 

I know that in a way he did, because he was always there to be the brunt of jokes, to be the kid bad stuff happens to, and the idea that just as he comes to terms with his own issues, he gets killed, well, it’s very Jonathan.  But it was a small throw-away part of the programme.

Jonathan: “Time goes by, and everything drops away.  All the cruelty, all the pain, all that humiliation.  It all washes away.  I miss my friends.  I miss my enemies.  I miss the people I talked to every day.  I miss the people who never knew I existed.  I miss them all.  I want to talk to them, you know.  I want to find out how they’re doing.  I want to know what’s going on in their lives.”
Andrew: “You know what?  They don’t wanna talk to you, all those people you just mentioned.  Not one of them is sitting around going, ‘I wonder what Jonathan’s up to right now.’  Not one of them cares about you.”
Jonathan: “Well, I still care about them.  That’s why I’m here.”
~ Conversations With Dead People, BTVS season 7.

He deserved better.

2 comments:

  1. That was very long, but worth it. Possibly some of your best illustrations in this one, although I do worry you've gone completely mad drawing them. (Fame!, particularly, and your increasingly irritable conversations with yourself.)

    Anyway. Great stuff.

    Oh, and the Season 1-7 chart is amazing.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. I think blogging is a form of insanity, isn't it? I'm quite proud of the FURY picture. I think that may be The Best to date.

      Exploding probaby would have been more fun than watching season 7.

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