Joss Whedon will soon be a household name beyond his cult hits, even if your household merely says “Hey, ain’t he the guy who directed the Avengers?”. Ahead of what promises to be the shiniest superhero movie of all time, here’s a rundown of Joss Whedon’s top 5 moments.

SPOILER ALERT: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Serenity, Dollhouse. Moments all spoiled below.

05. “Ditch the tech”

Dollhouse wasn’t a huge hit and low ratings threatened its demise early after just one season, but Fox decided to give it chance and a stay of execution following their mistake to ditch Firefly early. The first season ended with the episode ‘Epitaph One’ (1:13), which introduces a new set of characters several years in the future. The technology used to wipe minds and imprint people with various personalities has snowballed out of control following a worldwide army-building plan – one phone call wipes a person’s mind and programs them to kill everyone who hasn’t been wiped! The broken world is divided into those who picked up the phone and those who didn’t.

It was a bold move for Dollhouse, since it set an end-game, telling the audience where things were headed and would be impossible to reverse. So season two, set in present day, had a sense of dread and inevitability to it. Fortunately the risk paid off and the post-apocalyptic feel (season two also ended with such an episode, entitled ‘Epitaph Two’) turned out to be far more compelling than anything else. We’re essentially presented with a zombie survival story, which throws in an array of cool alterations, such as characters who imprint themselves with skills and abilities to better fight their enemies (Matrix-style).

Yes, the show was inevitably axed after season two, but similar to how Buffy lives on in print, Dollhouse is now set to continue in comic book form, following the barely touched upon Epitaph characters (as previewed here). Sign me up!

04. “Mommy?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer often ran the risk of becoming farfetched nonsense, so Whedon kept the show grounded in emotion (the cornerstone of any decent drama). In season five, Buffy returns home one day to find her mother dead on the couch. What follows is undoubtedly the most emotional episode of television I’ve ever seen. So much so that vampires couldn’t be further from my mind. ‘The Body’ (5.16) shows characters we know experiencing terrible loss. The performances are outstanding (Sarah Michelle Gellar in particular is perfect), the script is heart-wrenching, every camera angle tells a story, and the absence of music is horribly unsettling.

‘The Body’ grounded an uber-supernatural show in painful reality, focussing on nothing more than real human emotion to tell a story.

03. “And yet somehow, I just can’t seem to care.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s spinoff Angel was forever in the shadow of its big sister, but the one thing it did better was darkness. From the off, Angel was meaner and manlier than its predecessor. Forget high school, trendy clubs and social get-togethers; introducing a vampire private investigator, gritty Los Angeles nightlife and car chases. It was a vital move and one that meant Angel went places BtVS couldn’t touch.

Never was this truer than in season two’s ‘Reunion’ (2.10) which saw vampire duo Darla and Drusilla pay a visit to the home of Holland Manners. Packed full of lawyers, it’s the perfect scene for a massacre. Yes, these are morally corrupt, demon-representing lawyers, but they are very obviously human. Angel is faced with the opportunity to save the day just like always. Holland says very clearly: “Angel, people are going to die!” At that, Angel utters “And yet somehow, I just can’t seem to care.” The doors are locked and Angel walks away, giving Darla and Drusilla their massacre.

Buffy stood for one point above all – never kill a human. This was Angel at its peak – going to a place that should find him on the end of a wooden stake. Not only does he let the massacre happen, but he locks the doors, becoming an active participant. ‘Reunion’ was followed by the brilliant ‘Redefinition’ (2.11), which took the show even darker. Season two is, without a doubt, Angel at its very best.

02. “Are you ready to be strong?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s message was clear from the off – female empowerment. Here’s a teenage girl with incredible strength and responsibility. Season seven (the show’s final arc) focused more on that theme than any other, taking things back to basics. The introduction of misogynistic demon Caleb (Nathan Fillion) was no coincidence. His woman-hating rants and fear of equality hammer home the message.

The show’s finale saw Buffy share her powers with every potential slayer in the world. The result was an army of empowered women, who came together to fight legions of vampires. BtVS started with a strong woman fighting the forces of darkness, and it concluded the exact same way:

“From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”

01. “I aim to misbehave.”

And misbehave he did. Poor old Firefly was axed way head of its time and sank into history as a failed sci-fi western TV show that very few people watched. But those few people refused to stay quiet. Outraged by their beloved show’s quick dismissal, they fought for its return and what they got was a Hollywood blockbuster and Whedon’s feature film directorial debut.

Picking up shortly after Firefly’s final episode, Serenity keeps the TV feel and quirky characters, while also introducing new fans to the ‘verse. It has almost everything you could want from a smart sci-fi movie, from thought-provoking themes (religion, power, birth, death et al), to compelling characters. And then there’s witty dialogue, epic space battles, heroic last stands, hand-to-hand combat, and space zombies galore!

Everyone thought Firefly and the crew of Serenity were dead. But as Mr. Whedon said: “You can’t take the sky from me.”

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This article was first posted on July 7, 2011