Fine, internet. You win. Let’s systematically go through the history of redemption on Joss Whedon shows.
Spoilers for Agents of SHIELD, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel.
My first instinct when I saw Ward go bad (or reveal himself as bad) was to assume that he would remain as a villain from here on out. It took a an article discussing whether or not Ward was redeemable by Buffyverse standards to knock my brain back in place and remember that this isn’t just any writing team handling the show.
That said, I didn’t and still don’t think he’s going to be killed off. Way too much potential for character-driven storytelling if he’s alive.
I’m mostly seeing Ward get compared to Angel and Spike, which are the worst characters with a redemption arch to compare him to. Some comparisons to Faith, also, who’s definitely a better fit. I’ll start with these three, in today’s Part I of the topic, and address the more overlooked comparisons tomorrow.
So here’s a look at redemption, with respect to how bad the characters were, what they did to the main cast specifically, how long they’ve been bad for, why they chose to redeem themselves, how they redeemed themselves, and how long it took to achieve redemption.
A selective look at redemption, because there are too many. That’s right, there are too many redemptions in Joss Whedon shows for me to document them all here. Decide for yourself which characters are most like Ward.
Angel (Buffy, Angel)
How bad was he? As a vampire without a soul, he was pure evil. He celebrated his attainment of vampire-hood by slaughtering his whole family. He drove Drusilla insane by murdering her entire family in front of her, then turned her into a vampire so she could be insane forever. And these are only a few examples.
What did he do to the main cast? Angel briefly lost his soul and reverted to being a killer. He killed Jenny Calendar, then arranged her body for Giles to find in the most psychologically disturbing way he could think of. He physically tortured Giles. Also, he tried to end the world.
How long was he bad for? About a hundred and fifty years.
Why he chose to redeem himself? He didn’t. He was cursed with a soul, and it gave him a conscience.
How did he redeem himself? You could say that his road to redemption began when he chose to help Buffy with her Slayer duties instead of continuing to wallow in self-pity like he’d done for the past hundred years.
How long did it take to achieve redemption? Depends on how you define redemption. Is it becoming a better person? Or does he actually have to make up for his past deeds? Because actually making up for the sheer volume of people he killed and tortured may or may not be doable. Or, is Angel with a soul even the same person as Angel without a soul? Should one be responsible for the actions of the other? I don’t have a clue.
Spike (Buffy, Angel)
How bad was he? For the highlights, he killed two Slayers and slaughtered an orphanage. In contrast to Angel’s sadism in wanting to see people suffer, Spike just wanted to kill them.
What did he do to the main cast? He sent assassins after Buffy, kidnapped Willow and Xander, and sexually assaulted Buffy.
How long was he bad for? About a hundred and twenty years.
Why he chose to redeem himself? First he had a chip implanted in his brain to prevent him from harming humans, so the only people he could fight were demons. This put him in touch with Buffy’s crew. As he got to know them, his feelings for Buffy eventually drove him to fight to regain his soul. And then he put his life on the line to save the world.
How did he redeem himself? Oddly, he was on the path before he ever got back his soul. In fact, he chose to go on an adventure-quest to get his soul back while soulless. Which, wow. Either Spike is an uncommonly good person or Angel is an uncommonly bad one.
How long did it take to achieve redemption? Three or four seasons, depending on what qualifies as redemption. And again, whether or not he could actually redeem himself after a hundred-year killing spree, or if he’s even responsible for his soulless behavior. Vampire identity is complicated.
Faith (Buffy, Angel)
How bad was she? She was always a bit of an anti-hero to Buffy’s straight man, but her role as a villain started when she accidentally killed a man and blamed it on Buffy. Then she killed an innocent person for the season’s Big Bad, this time on purpose.
What did she do to the main cast? She sexually assaulted Xander, poisoned Angel, and swapped bodies with Buffy so that she could have Buffy’s life while Buffy paid for her crimes. She tortured Wesley.
How long was she bad for? About a season.
Why she chose to redeem herself? It seems like Faith hasn’t had a stable life, and wanted emotional support more than she wanted to be “good” or “bad”. At a point in her life when she had no one and understood that she’d done wrong, she accepted a job to assassinate Angel, with the goal of getting him to kill her. Instead, he forgave her and chose to help her save herself.
How did she redeem herself? She turned herself in. She was charged with two counts of murder and received a life sentence. She fully intended to serve her time, until Angel lost his soul (again) and no one else was around to stop him. She broke out (proving that she could have escaped at any time) and went back to fighting the good fight.
How long did it take to achieve redemption? From the time when she turned herself in to the police, it took maybe three seasons to make some kind of peace with Buffy. Angel forgave her much faster, having been in the position of requiring forgiveness. And Wesley was the one who asked her to leave prison to help them, despite how she’d tortured him (but then, he’d also been in the position of requiring forgiveness).
Continued in Part II.