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I'm a big fan of Joss Whedon's stuff. And like most writers he has running themes throughout his work. For Aaron Sorkin the term 'Sorkinisms' came into common use when describing the themes that run through his work. While no one wants to be thought of as predictable, I am going to point out some 'Whedonisms'

I'll be using Buffy, Angel and Firefly to demonstrate these themes - his films could be referenced, but it seemed best to to concentrate on his TV work (and I couldnt get into Dollhouse because of the revolving personalities of the main character)

HIS CHARACTER'S WILL NOT HAVE A HAPPY LONG TERM ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP

His main characters will be strong, decisive in action, charismatic but either self destructive or oblivious when it comes to romantic relationships. I cant think of any character that got a happy ending romantically.

Buffy had serious relationships with Angel, Riley and Spike, but none ended well. Angel could never be with her because "one moment of bliss turns him evil", so he left. It was for the greater good, but ultimately a doomed romance.
Riley was a solid character who left because he realized that he would always be second to her mission - he was also jealous of the connection Buffy and Angel would always have - and that while Buffy loved him, she didnt love him enough.
Spike was interesting because of the development. Their relationship started from a situation of emotional confusion on both parts. Eventually Buffy reverted to her usual personality, her confusion gone, while Spike developed as a character - becoming a champion in his own right - but Buffy didnt love him and in the end he knew it.

Angel as already stated above, his relationship with Buffy was doomed. Darla killed herself to save her baby. And Cordelia ascended before their relationship actually started. Then she got taken over by the big bad for season 4 and died.

Mal Reynolds relationship with Inara was always rocky, but as Firefly only ran for one season it was never really resolved

This theme is extended to the supporting cast as well. In Buffy Tara was shot. Xander left Anya at the altar, Oz left Willow because of "werewolf issues" and Cordelia left Xander because he had feelings for Willow.
In Angel we had the revolving door of Fred, Gunn and Wesley for a while (Fred and Gunn split because of trust issues and a murder, Wesley and Fred split when she died and she became Illyria. Doyle and Cordelia got one kiss before he died.
Firefly never had the chance to develop these aspects, however there was some tension between Wash and Zoe because of her relationship with Mal that might have been the seed of something more

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
Any relationship will ultimately fail

THERE WILL BE BANTER AND POP CULTURE REFERENCES

This is one of Whedons strongest character points, he uses an easy discourse between characters to show the audience how connected they are. It is also a quick way to show group dynamics for a series.
However he also uses banter during fight scenes to hide any negative emotions his protagonist's might show...for a while at least. This might be called 'smack talk' but its also a device for editing during a scene.
Characters also develop their own references - a vampire becoming "all fangy" for example

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
There will be lots of quotable stuff going on


THERE WILL BE ONE OR MORE TECH PERSON INVOLVED AND THEY WILL INITIALLY BE SOCIALLY AWKWARD

Buffy had Willow, Angel had Fred and Firefly had Kaylee - the techie seems like a constant character. Obviously S.H.I.E.L.D. will have tech people in the cast. Each character seems to blossom from a socially awkward genius to a fan favorite and secondary crush for the viewers. The tech character always develops most.

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
The techies will become invaluable to the series


FAMILY ISSUES

A characters actual family dynamic will be mostly strained or there will be absent parental figures. This is used for several reasons, the main one being group dynamic. Characters become more of a family to each other, so any sacrifice has more impact on them and us.
A paternal figure normally emerges within the cast - Buffy has Giles, Firefly has Sheperd with Angel being an exception because the actors are all roughly the same age (Angel himself acts as a father figure at times though). The paternal figure also develops some skills which make them an asset to the team (good in a fight)
A significant maternal figure has yet to emerge in Whedonisms - Buffy's mother had significantly less airtime than Giles

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
Judging by the cast, Coulson will be a father figure to the team


BEING GAY IS NOT THAT BIG A DEAL....
Gay characters are treated as totally normal people...which they should be. As a heterosexual male who has gay relatives, it surprises me at times that there is so much fuss made when a character is gay. Personally i only care that the characters are interesting.
Buffy had Willow and Tara, Inara was bisexual in Firefly and there were hints at a homosexual experience between Spike and Angel.
The thing is, any sexuality didnt really impact a character at their core- Whedon just seems to think that relationships are plot devices, it doesnt matter what type of romantic relationship a character is in, its doomed anyway.

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
A gay character


DEATH

Some characters will die...fact. Mostly its minor characters, but in series finales a core character (not the main character) can die.
But Whedon generally gets the audience to connect to a character before they are killed, so that the death has some meaning or impact and there is usually a reason.
In Buffy, Angel was killed to save the world. But his death also affected Buffy's interactions with Family and friends. Her mothers death affected her everyday life - had to look after Dawn and get a job. Minor characters such as Jonathan died as part of the big bads plan, while Tara's death turned Willow evil.
In Angel, Doyles death affected Angel's attitude toward his companions for a while, but also affected Cordelia by giving her visions (which tied into the arc which ran until season 4's big bad). Darla died so Connor could live. Lilah's death had an effect on the group dynamic and Wesley in particular.
Firefly had no exceptional deaths as it only ran for 1 season - i'm not counting the death in Serenity as i am not covering films.

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
A secondary character may die later in the season (more likely in season 2 if its a success)

CHARACTER TURNS

Several characters have switched allegiances during Whedons various TV series, even main characters have gotten close to being bad.
In Buffy the notable turns are Angel having the gypsy curse which turned him into Angelus. Willow became an evil witch for a while. Faith turned evil, Cordelia evolved into a scoobie associate instead of a vapid socialite and Spike became a champion with a soul.
In Angel Wesley turned on Angel and stole Connor, Fred tried to get murderous revenge on a teacher and was turned into Illyria in the final season, Darla, Lindsey and Connor all flip flopped at one time or another, Cordelia was a baddie and Angel himself got very close to being a baddie when he lost his faith in his companions and felt his actions against Wolfram and Hart weren't effective enough. And he turned into Angelus for a time.
In Firefly, Jane flip flops for a while during certain episodes.

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
Superhuman baddies may become allies or betrayal from within

AN AVERAGE PERSON WILL BE THE GROUPS MORAL COMPASS AT TIMES
In every series there seems to be a character who just seems average, but at points they turn out to be an essential moral compass for other characters.
In Buffy, Xander is just an average, unexceptional guy who managed to stop Willow from destroying the world by talking to her.
In Angel the role gets fuzzy, ultimately Lorne fills this role
In Firefly the role was Sheperd's

POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS IN S.H.I.E.L.D.=
The main character will occasionally seek moral direction from another character


WHAT DOES THIS ALL REALLY MEAN

There may be some if not all of these themes present in S.H.I.E.L.D. or there may not....we'll have to watch to find out

Comments (48)
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It looks to me like much of this is already happening, and while the article author wasn't specific I think it's clear where some things are going. Coulson is the daddy figure. We already know the members of the team don't have much contact with whatever family they have; it's explicit and part of being on the team. Skye's parents are probably Skrull and Ward's family was a nightmare. We can already see ordinary characters playing the moral center: Coulson is a pretty ordinary guy in many ways, which is why we like him. Just look at FitzSimmons. They might not be entirely ordinary, but when it comes to fighting they're civilians. Fitz, especially, is particularly brave even when he's terrified. And who holds Ward's feet to the fire the most? Skye (who in many ways is also a civilian) and Fitz.

I think the article also doesn't give sufficient consideration to Wesley as an indicator. It hardly mentions him, but he became a central character in Angel next to Angel himself and the relationship between him and Fred was pretty heartbreaking. Which is why I'm really scared for FitzSimmons, who deserve some happiness and probably shouldn't be on a field team. Needs must, I suppose, and perhaps nobody short of Tony Stark could do what they do quite so well and only a select few could be trusted the way Coulson trusts them, but Fitz and Simmons are so cute and I'd really love to see them have a real shot at lasting happiness together. They may be a oblivious--or less so than it might seem--but we've also never seen a team in a Whedon show with quite that much history, have we? He could try pairing them off with others, but it would be just plain torture. They're not really whole without each other, and I think indications are that Fitz at least has been realizing that friendship isn't enough, long-term. I don't think either of them could truly be at peace if the other were romantically involved with someone else. And I'd dislike anyone that really threatened to come between them. Ex: I liked Gunn, but when he and Fred started dating I tuned him out for pretty much the rest of the show because I sympathized with Wesley and considered him a much better match for Fred. Fitz and Simmons already have a close, established relationship. If they opened their eyes--and they will have to address the issue of what Fitz said just before they nearly drowned--it would probably take about two seconds for them to fall into a happy and quite successful romance. It's not Hollywood style, I'd like to see them start in on a perhaps not always smooth but solid and stable relationship. They can develop in all kinds of ways, and any romance is its own adventure, really. I'll bang my head in frustration if Fitz gets amnesia or whatever due to oxygen deprivation. It'd be consistent with the Whedon playbook, but pure Hollywood and medically it would seem just plain contrived to me. Of course, Simmons needs some time to process and decide how she feels about Fitz's revelation. She does love him. She's just been too distracted or invested in myths about romance to realize that romance is deliberate, not just a feeling you get about someone. The attraction is there. They've just never developed it.
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I wrote the article before the show aired, so it was mainly broad strokes about what we could possibly expect from the show, with no idea of what the characters would be like - apart from Coulson
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Then you did pretty well as a guesser, I'd say. :)
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A good episode with the twist regarding Coulson but hopefully they will reach a conclusion with the whole life after death plot , as it getting a bit tiresome.
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Openly gay and sexually active on a US show? This isn't Torchwood or Orphan Black we're talking about. Don't think Disney/Marvel is going to go that far...
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Mulan is bisexual in Once upon a time, that's Disney ;)
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Really the haven't shown that! It could still be about Philip. It doesn't count if there's deniability left!
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when it will start
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Interesting article! :)
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While it is quite likely that important characters will die, nobody has mentioned that this is the Marvel universe. Death rarely stops anyone. I give you Agent Coulson as exhibit A.
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This is also true of Joss Whedon TV shows. Buffy, Angel and Fred all died and came back
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I loved reading this. You are definitely right about there being some trends within Joss's shows.

I think the biggest thing that we'll get here is the dialogue. Even if I hadn't know that he had written it, I would have been sitting through The Avengers going "Man, this is some Joss writing." His style is so HIM and that's something that will always be there regardless of the time slot. I am definitely looking forward to having some new quotable material.

I don't think we'll see the death factor QUITE like we have in the past, if only because of the time slot and network. I can completely see him killing some main people, cause it's Joss and these are regular humans we're talking about. Yes they may have some pretty good skills but they aren't super powered.

Now character's flip flopping, we will definitely see. That whole grey area is Joss's home and some of the best moments come from that area so I expect to see quite a bit of tested alliances and all that.

The only one I'm not necessarily on board with is the socially awkward techie. I never viewed Willow as socially awkward, just shy and not having a ton of self-confidence. Fred was definitely more in that vein, and she had her moments of awkwardness, but how much of it was because she was the "tech" person and how much was due to the 5 years spent going crazy in a demon dimension? And I thought of Kaylee as more of a tomboy than anything.
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I' looking forward to the development of the group dynamic. From the promos i've seen, Agent Coulson already seems like a Whedon character - he even seemed like one from all his appearances in the other Marvel movies and the one shots


As there are 2 techs i think the probability of both surviving is low - but as the first season will be about development i can see any death happening in season 2

Socially awkward may have been a poor descriptive choice, Wallflower might have been better. The wallflower tends to be comfortable within the group, but are flustered at times when moved into a new dynamic. Until she got into a relationship with Oz, Willow was clumsy around men who werent Xander or Giles. Fred does fit into the socially awkward mold because of the reasons you stated. Kaylee was always flustered around Simon
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Those vids are great grumpyclown. I'm loving Tom Hiddleston more and more. I wish they could be on the series and make it more of a proper crossover for after the movie. Can't wait for the movie!
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Just to clarify, I watched more after the first were complete. Ones with Loki.

And boy wasn't Coulson badass in that first vid?
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To be fair, Whedon would never risk to behead the Starks of the movie: where Tony lived on to pursue the third Iron Man movie, Coulson got killed off like the supporting role that he was.

Following that example, I'd say the ones most likely to die first are Melinda May or one of the techs and then build up until its time to kill Ward in a heroic way.
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It's a shame you never got into Dollhouse, I'd say out of all of his shows, that one had that most overt themes, and therefore possibly the most-thought provoking ones, about the nature of identity, materialism, the development, reliance on, and misuse of technology etc. Maybe consider giving it another go.

In regards to relationships I doubt Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D will feature romance heavily, or even at all, within its first season. Whedon is into character development and one important thing about having characters in relationships is that they both characters need to be fully developed characters on their own for their relationship to work (I mean, if you want to make a good show). If you look at the first seasons of Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and I guess Firefly, majority of the main protagonists aren't in a romantic relationship of any kind, and while some mat begin to develop, none are actually cemented until the nest season, like Buffy and Angel's romance for example.

Oh, I hope very much that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is quotable, I've missed Whedon's banter. The show in general already has a fairly nerdy inbuilt fan base so I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few more obscure pop-culture references in the show to cater for these fans.

The prominence of the socially awkward techie in all of Whedon's shows is quite disconcerting now that you bring it up. It's become a trope of his shows, and that could possibly mean that its become a stereotypical role which is definitely not what we want from the characters on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That being said, it may have been subverted here because majority of the agents will be knowledgeable in their own area of expertise i.e. weapons, computers etc. So maybe we'll end up with a whole bunch of socially awkward characters?

While Whedon has done a terrific job at creating a sense of family between his characters in all of his shows, like you said, he is yet to create an actual family dynamic. I would love to see him throw in some problematic family members of the agents in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D for a change. But to be honest, I don't think this is the best genre to be experimenting with this theme in, so Whedon will probably just stick to what he does best and make the agents a surrogate family to one another instead of using actual family members.

I wouldn't want Whedon to do another gay character on S.H.I.E.L.D. Not because I'm against it or anything, but he's been there and done that, and like you said, having a gay character in such a high-profile (possibly family) show would make the whole thing into a bigger deal than it should be. If people or characters are gay, so what? But I don't think S.H.I.E.L.D. is the sort of show that would be able to pull a storylines like that off subtly. And in the context of the superhero universe, if Whedon's using pre-developed characters, it would be difficult for him to turn one of them gay.

For some reason I get the feeling there will be a lot less death in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as compared to Whedon's other shows. Like I said in my previous paragraph, this is probably a more family orientated show so the amount of death Whedon's accustomed to showing the audience may not be considered appropriate here. Especially if Marvel have anything to do with it, not only will it be difficult for Whedon to kill major characters, if there's any death in the show at all it'll be faceless civilians (just like in all the Marvel films).

I think there will be quite a few character turns within Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which I personally can't wait for. The agents obviously have to track down possibly dangerous people with superhero abilities, so the question becomes, who's doing the right thing? Are the agents betraying the basic human rights of these human beings by hunting them down and possibly doing experiments on them? I love the idea of the show being morally ambiguous and not just having clear cut 'good guys' and 'bad guys', so I hope Whedon takes it down this path.

Whedon's been very vocal that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is about that 'everyman', just normal human beings dealing grappling with an abnormal world, so I think several relationships have the opportunity to occur in which several characters are moral compasses or similar thinkers to other characters. Obviously at the moment though, it looks like Coulson will envision this role.
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I agree that romance will probably take a bit of a backseat this season. We may see some flirting and some set-up but Joss will want to develop the characters before we really delve into that realm at all.
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I may give Dollhouse another go at some point, but i spent the summer re watching Buffy, Angel and Firefly when this idea popped into my head. I'm now re watching Veronica Mars because i had another idea (not as fully formed as this one).

I agree that the first season will probably be used to set up 1 or more romances and season 2 will have the payoffs to them.
Unless someone is already married on the team, and then i would be expecting cracks in that relationship to develop over the 2nd half of the first season
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I'm excited to see the VM piece. Just wanted to put that out there. :)
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It might be a while, i was thinking of the piece being about VM being modern noir and comparisons between VM, Mike Hammer and the Rockford files - but the idea might be too cumbersome for me to handle
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That sounds awesome. I've been reading a compilation of essays that was published during season 3 that delve into different areas of that. It's a pretty good read.
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I've got to admit, The Big Bang Theory ruined me for the socially awkward genious cliche.

I expect the techs to have fun - albeit in their own way - enjoy a happy steady relationship that doesn't end up in death, and remain interesting against the odds.
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But what are the odds of both the techs (i've seen 2 in promo's) surviving the season
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Less than 10% since Lost started the trend of killing at least one main character in the first season.
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In Joss's own words.. When the characters are happy, show bad. When the characters are in pain, show good.
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Great posts! I think you're dead on about all these points, and now I'm just more excited for S.H.I.E.L.D. to start.

Idon't know what this says about me, but one of the things I love most about Whedon's works are the doomed romantic relationships :P There's just something there I identify with and it keeps things interesting. I think the relationships on his show are very realistic and tend not to follow any typical "formula" that you see in a lot of other television shows or works of fiction.
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I thinj the best parts of his romantic angles are the pre romantic relationship parts, the chase.
Once the relationship begins though.......DOOM!!!
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It kinda make sense considering most of his characters were single gals and bachelors hitting the dating scene.

Except for the Washburnes from Firefly, there're no marriages or steady couples in any of his stories. Even Tony Stark and Pepper Potts were reduced to bare minimum in the Avengers movie (almost as if he didn't know what to do with them).
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Another exception is in Cabin in the woods, the majority of the main characters were in relationships. And those relationships ended......by death!!!
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To be completely fair, the Washburnes marriage also ended up in death in the movie.

It's like he doesn't know what to do with steady couples.
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