In February, following an onslaught of toxic behavior allegations on various sets – dating back decades – Joss Whedon finally broke his silence in an interview with Vulture. The interview came too late to save Whedon’s reputation: Decades of rumors and reports that have swirled around since 2017 had already forced Whedon to step down from his last venture. Yet while the interview was deeply unsatisfying as an apology or explanation, it was nonetheless illuminating: suggesting a way Whedon’s projects might endure, without tarnishing Whedon’s personal and professional legacy. That’s good news for HBO’s low fantasy/steampunk adventure series Neverswho now faces an enormous task to remain unblemished by his disgrace.
There’s no denying that Joss Whedon has built his career on women’s stories. From the main character in buffy the vampire slayer for Fireflyfrom Zoe Washburne to dolls house‘s Echo, strong women are the one constant anchoring a variety of low fantasy and sci-fi premises. In the Vulture profile, Whedon admits to being fascinated by these characters because he identifies with them; Indeed, it is easy to see how buffy or dolls house doubles as a nerd power fantasy (an idea that is also deconstructed, brutally and effectively, in buffythe sixth season). The Slayer, who is empowered by fate, also struggles to live a normal life – in a world of vampires and demons, this is the basic story of modern society. In the same way, dolls house uses the premise of programmable people to ponder agency and the idea of self – female lenses dominate the narrative, but the story is for everyone.
Joss Whedon has also built her career on women’s work. This includes the visible women (i.e. the actresses who lifted his shows to stardom, despite the inhospitable sets Whedon created, but it also includes the invisible women, writers and producers who helped guide shows and shape their own authorship. buffy the vampire slayerLater seasons retain some characteristics of a Whedon show, but they also display the distinct characteristics of a Marti Noxon show, exploring themes of gender and power that would be trademarks of her career as a producer (Unreal, Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce). Tracy Bellomo, too, showed in dolls house a skill to explore the role of femininity in the power she would carry in shows like How to get away with murder and unfortunately short-lived emeraldcity.
Nevers also applies to women. Set against the backdrop of seedy Victorian London, a vague cataclysmic event left a handful of the populace affected, with distinct and potentially supernatural powers. The only people affected are those who are socially disenfranchised in one way or another: women, people of color, members of the working class. The show’s protagonist, Mrs. Amalia True, strives to gather the Touched – mostly women and girls – into a specialized “orphanage”, where they can use their powers without fear of being judged by the wary eyes of high society (which is, as usual, struggling to maintain the status quo). However, Mrs. True’s quest is hampered and undermined at every turn by scheming aristocrats, by compensating collectors, and by Maladie, a touched woman whose murderous spree holds the town in terror.
The show is cleverly plotted, subverting the premise even in the final episode, but what grounds the story are the performances of its lead actresses – particularly Laura Donnelly, who infuses Mrs. True with a compressed energy that is both inspiring in his capacity. and heartbreaking in its limitation. Almost equally compelling is Ms. True’s partner Penance Adair, whose considerable quirkiness never feels forced, thanks to a nimble performance from Ann Skelly. fans of dolls house will also recognize Olivia Williams, who plays orphanage boss Lavinia Bidlow, and who brings the same buttoned-up complexity to the role that made her stand out as Adelle DeWitt. While one of the great strengths of all of Whedon’s shows is the stellar cast, Nevers continues that tradition, giving the show the potential to thrive even without (perhaps especially) its creator.
Behind the camera, Philippa Goslett will replace Whedon, marking her first time leading a show. Other producers who will continue include veteran Jane Espenson, who has been helping run the Whedonverse for buffy. It’s reasonable for viewers to assume that the producers and writers who helped shape NeversThe enticing first season (or the first half of the first season, as it turns out) always knew where the show was headed. After all, shows aren’t made by executive producers alone, and the creative vision — while often assigned to single guiding figures — is usually shaped by the collaboration of an entire team.
So what will be lost with Whedon’s departure? Whedon’s authorship — in his other shows, as well as his movies — lies mostly in story and theme, elements that can be traced before the first episode aired. Sure, Nevers will likely be different without Whedon, as Goslett will no doubt bring his own ideas and authorship to the production. But change isn’t always a bad thing. Viewers would be right to expect Goslett’s changes to only make the show better, building on what works and removing what doesn’t. Nothing can be lost except a potentially toxic work environment…and that seems like an acceptable price for viewers to pay to find out what happens next.
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