The wonderful folks over at Titan Books wanted to share a special excerpt from their new book, JOSS WHEDON: THE COMPLETE COMPANION...described thusly by THIS entry on Titan's website:
THE ESSENTIAL UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO THE WHEDONVERSE
Joss Whedon’s importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey of his career as a whole – until now. The Complete Companion covers every aspect of the Whedonverse through insightful essays and interviews, including fascinating conversations with key collaborators Jane Espenson and Tim Minear.
Over 40 contributors have been brought together by PopMatters, the acclaimed international magazine of cultural criticism, to provide an irresistible mix of analysis, interpretation and sheer celebration. Whether you’re a student looking for critical approaches to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or a Browncoat who follows Nathan Fillion on Twitter (or, let’s face it, both) there is plenty here to enjoy.
Covers all the TV series, movies, and comic books, including:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Fray, Astonishing X-Men, The Avengers... and more!
The book runs 496 pages and is now available HERE or HERE. With so much Jossness going around these days (he produced and co-wrote the extremely fun and very interesting THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, and wrote and directed THE AVENGERS - already playing in many markets around the world and opening in the U.S. tomorrow night/Friday), what better way to contemplate Whedon's work to date ...and mull where he may be going from here?
Here's the excerpt...enjoy!
Failure of the Everyman: The Lost Character That Was Xander Harris
From the moment he rides his skateboard on to the screen in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Alexander LaVelle Harris stakes his claim as the outsider looking in on each aspect of the Buffy the Vampire universe. Xander is placed as the Everyman in the midst of both the natural and supernatural worlds. He is the awkward, geeky boy in high school, the shiftless townie in college, and the lone member of the Scooby Gang without powers or abilities above and beyond the normal human being (at least until the arrival of Dawn). More so than any of the other characters, Xander’s story arcs are tethered to the real world. Yet the resolutions to those stories are supernatural in nature, and in turn undermine their real world significance. This becomes problematic in the latter seasons of the show, when the rest of the cast continues to delve deeper and deeper into supernatural realms and Xander’s Everyman role becomes harder to maintain.
During the first two seasons of Buffy, Xander’s standing on the show is less distinct, as the entire cast is still being fleshed out. While Willow may be a borderline genius, her intelligence is not regularly a benefit to the group’s missions. She, Xander, and Cordelia are all civilians pulled into a super-powered world familiar only to Buffy and Giles, both of whom have specific skill sets that make them essential. When Xander’s desire to be a part of the popular high school crowd comes to a head in Season 1’s “The Pack” (1.6), its supernatural resolution doesn’t seem at odds with the character. At this point, he represents nothing more than an awkward teenage boy who tries too hard and says the wrong thing too often. His run-in with hyena spirits is no better or worse than Willow’s relationship with a medieval demon in “I, Robot… You, Jane” (1.8). Even as late as episode 2.16, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” Xander has still yet to be thematically ostracized from the rest of the gang, so his magic-gone-awry attempt at winning back Cordelia doesn’t come off as particularly strange.
It’s not until Season 3 when Xander’s future status on the show is clearly laid out with the appropriately titled “The Zeppo” (3.13). While the rest of the gang, which now features an additional Slayer in Faith and the ever more powerful witch Willow, engage in an epic battle, Xander is sent away for his own protection. The fact that Xander is not bound by the rules of the Buffyverse is underscored when he interrupts a stereotypical Buffy/Angel moment that parodies their usual melodrama. At this point, the show itself is still maintaining a fine balance of real world problems told through a supernatural lens. It is a balance that keeps Xander’s role on the show from becoming forced.
The climax of Xander’s overarching story comes in episode 5.3, “The Replacement.” This is the moment of Xander’s self-actualization, the pinnacle of his role as the Everyman. Every aspect of this episode is set up to establish that Xander’s world is at odds with the supernatural world his friends live in. While he might spend time with them in that world, when Xander is the center of his universe, all is normal, all is mundane. His girlfriend might be an ex-demon, but her mortality is underscored by her injured arm; it’s her current, human form that matters. Xander moves into an apartment of his own, escaping from the basement that has been the center of so many Buffy-related adventures. His new home isn’t a gathering place for the Scooby Gang; it’s a home for him and his all too human girlfriend. This is his refuge, his way of establishing his own identity, one that is not beholden to Buffy or her influence. By the end of “The Replacement,” Xander owns his role as the Everyman.
The difficulty, then, lies in writing a character that has ostensibly reached the end of his journey, but continues to appear in episodic stories for nearly three more seasons. Even more problematic is the fact that the show, now saddled with continuity spanning four plus seasons, became ever more and more dependent upon plot, moving further and further away from metaphor as its central conceit. This meant that Xander’s newfound solidarity would not last. Soon, the supernatural elements of the show were crashing down on Xander’s real world problems in increasing less subtle ways.
The epitome of this new era in the life of the character came in Season 6, with “Hell’s Bells” (6.16).
From the very beginning of the show, there have been ominous, often heartbreaking hints about Xander’s upbringing. The issue was seldom addressed directly, but the offhand comments sprinkled throughout each season indicated that Xander came from a dysfunctional family, one filled with, at the very least, verbally abusive drunks. The story of Xander’s family was intentionally kept away from the week-in and week-out adventures in an effort to keep it untouched by the fantasy elements of the show. The fact that Xander never talked about his family in any detail gave the entire story a certain realism that the majority of the show lacked. In many ways, it was the most tragic story line on the show.
In Season 6, however, all of that was thrown out the window. We finally meet Xander’s family in “Hell’s Bells,” and instead of getting the smart, nuanced story we had been teased for so long, we get buffoonery. Gone is any attempt to keep such a well-orchestrated story by itself, away from the ever more ridiculous, supernatural elements of the show. Anya’s side of the wedding aisle is filled with outlandish demons, whose cover as “circus folk” would be mildly groan-worthy in an ordinary episode of Buffy, but is a failure given the weight of the story up until now. At this point in the show’s run, all things must now include some kind of spectacle to be engaging, so Xander and Anya’s wedding is crushed beneath the weight of demons, magic, and even time travel. The episode leaves Xander emotionally broken, but it seems that it’s less because of what has happened and more because of how.
The desperate attempt to do something with Xander by turning his wedding into a fight scene only served to delay the inevitable. There was still more than a full season of episodes of Buffy left, and it was clear that Xander had truly become a lost character, one who had peaked too early. The attempt at forcing him into Buffy’s world by surrounding him with demons and amplifying Anya’s heritage had been a disaster, so in Season 7 he was taken in another direction, one more in keeping with the Everyman character he’d been before. Unfortunately, the specifics of this new direction seemed to come out of the blue, and support for it was then fabricated after the fact as a way of again thrusting Xander squarely into the supernatural world.
The end of episode 7.12, “Potential”, is a near perfect moment for Xander, when he finally puts into words what has been so apparent for nearly seven years. It’s a moment that is at odds with “Hell’s Bells,” but in keeping with the climax seen in “The Replacement.” Dawn has just discovered that she is not, as she believed, a potential Slayer. She’s disappointed by this fact, thinking that not being one of the chosen ones, not being supernatural in some way, makes her inferior to those who are. After nearly seven years of living in the shadows of his friends, Xander finally verbalizes his position while comforting Dawn. He tells her how those with powers will never understand how it is to be without them, that he stands aside and sees everything though he feels helpless to affect events. It underscores how significant it is that Xander is the Everyman, that he is not fully in the supernatural world, and thrives outside the Buffy spotlight. Taken on its own, Xander’s near soliloquy is a wonderful summation of the character.
But that summation is soon picked apart a few episodes later in “Dirty Girls” (7.18). Once again, we see an organic aspect of Xander’s Everyman role pulled kicking and screaming into Buffy’s world, and once again it comes across as a forced way of including Xander in the action. A nice, but ultimately innocuous line at the end of Xander’s moment in “Potential” suddenly becomes something more, or at least an indelicate implication of something more. The moment is so heavy-handed that Xander is literally maimed by it, losing an eye for the sake of the story. Caleb, an emissary of the First Evil, actually says “You’re the one who sees everything, aren’t you?” just before he gouges Xander’s eye out. Finally, the show has done it; Xander is no longer the Everyman, and can never be that character again, as he now has a constant reminder of how his life has been taken over by the supernatural.
In the end, the role that Xander had played so well is cast aside, and he becomes a normal human being trying to stay afloat in a sea of the abnormal. He doesn’t have the necessary skills to stay above water, so he becomes lost, his greatest feature having been stripped of him by the increasing demands of an episodic genre story.
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.” 2.16. Writ. Marti Noxon. Dir. James A. Contner. Buffy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Chosen Collection. DVD Boxed Set. Created by Joss Whedon. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006. DVD.
“Dirty Girls.” 7.18. Writ. Drew Goddard. Dir. Michael Gershman. Buffy.
“Hell’s Bells.” 6.16. Writ. Rebecca Rand Kirshner. Dir. David Solomon. Buffy.
“I Robot… You Jane.” 1.8. Writ. David Greenwalt. Dir. Scott Brazil. Buffy.
“The Pack.” 1.6. Writ. Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer. Dir. Bruce Seth Green. Buffy.
“Potential.” 7.12. Writ. Rebecca Rand Kirshner. Dir. James A. Contner. Buffy.
“The Replacement.” 5.3. Writ. Jane Espenson. Writ. James A. Contner. Buffy.
“The Zeppo.” 3.13. Writ. Dan Vebber. Dir. James Whitmore, Jr. Buffy.