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StephenT [userpic]

(Meta) Deathrate in Jossverse relationships

14th June 2010 (14:41)

It's become a cliché that if you fall in love on a Joss Whedon show, you'd better make sure your will is up-to-date, because you're not long for this world. But what are your chances really? I decided to work out the data to find out what the actual death rate was for people in relationships in the Jossverse.


Methodology:

  • I'm only counting relationships which include at least one main-cast character (who appears in the opening credits).
  • A 'relationship' for the purpose of this survey doesn't have to be reciprocal as long as one partner feels strong emotions. 
  • The relationship must be referred to in at least three episodes of the show to count; I'm not including one-episode-only flings. 
  • I'm only counting the relationship as ending in "tragic death" if one partner was killed while the couple were still together - not if they split up normally and one of them was killed later on. (And yes, that's significant when it comes to Xander and Anya).

Data:

Buffy/Angel - split up
Buffy/Scott - split up
Buffy/Parker - split up
Buffy/Riley - split up
Buffy/Spike - non-fatal death
Buffy/Satsu - split up
Willow/Xander - split up
Willow/Oz - split up
Willow/Tara - tragic death
Willow/Kennedy - still together
Xander/Buffy - never happened
Xander/Cordelia - split up
Xander/Faith - split up
Xander/Anya - split up
Xander/Renee - tragic death
Xander/Dawn - still together
Giles/Jenny - tragic death
Giles/Olivia - split up
Oz/Bayarmaa - still together
Faith/Buffy - never happened
Faith/Robin - split up
Riley/Sam - still together (AFAWK)
Spike/Drusilla - split up
Spike/Harmony - split up
Dawn/Kenny - split up
***
Cordelia/Angel - tragic death
Angel/Darla - tragic deaths
Angel/Nina - split up
Wesley/Virginia - split up
Wesley/Lilah - tragic death
Wesley/Fred - tragic death
Wesley/Illyria - tragic death
Gunn/Fred - tragic death
Gunn/Gwen - split up
Connor/Cordelia - tragic death
***
Mal/Inara - never happened
Zoe/Wash - tragic death
Simon/Kaylee - still together
***
Billy/Penny - never happened
Captain Hammer/Penny - tragic death
***
Echo/Paul - still together in a creepy kind of way
Topher/Bennett - tragic death
Tony/Priya - still (back) together
Paul/November - tragic death

Conclusions:

Out of 44 relationships, 14 ended in tragic death. That's 32%. So if you're in love and in a Joss Whedon show, you have slightly better than two chances in three to get out alive...

But it does depend on which show you're on. On BtVS, the death rate was only half the average, with 15% of relationships being ended by the permanent death of one participant. On Ats, relationships had a 70% death rate... and if you're Wesley, you're basically a walking jinx.

**Let me know if I've missed anyone!


Comments

Posted by: flake_sake (flake_sake)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 13:51 (UTC)

Hehe, statistics...yummy. I'd count Echo/Ballard as a not completely fatal tragic death. But I'd count Gunn/Fred as split up, since they split a while before she died.

It seems to me though that there's a increasing mortality rate the happier and optimistic for the future a couple is. We'd need a Happyness vs. Mortality graph.

For example the rate springs up if you count only faithfull couples while cheaters (or people cheated on) have better survival chances.

Edited at 2010-06-14 13:53 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:03 (UTC)

Yeah, I wasn't sure whether to count Echo/Paul as "non-fatal death" or "still together", but I do think it doesn't belong in the "tragic death" column since he did come back. Kind of. He's as real as Echo herself is, anyway.

I think you might be right about Gunn/Fred, so that lessens the Angel death toll to only 60%. I was counting them because he clearly still had feelings for her... but then, Xander and Anya still had feelings for each other after they split up too, so either I need to count both of them or neither of them.


there's a increasing mortality rate the happier and optimistic for the future a couple is

I'm not sure I agree: the spread seems pretty much evenly balanced to me. What is true is that if you're approaching a season or series finale, your chances of dying increase... but that's true even if you're single.

Posted by: flake_sake (flake_sake)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:14 (UTC)

I did the numbers for my examples and cheating gives you a 100% survival chance.

And if you count only couples that were faithfull (not that that is the ultimate bar for happyness, just a number that's easy to grab) the death rate rises above 40%.

More if you count out the couples that never happened or were extremely shortlived (Xander/Faith, Buffy/scott).

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:08 (UTC)
Wide-eyed Buffy

I did the numbers for my examples and cheating gives you a 100% survival chance.

That's probably because most people don't stay with someone who's cheated on them. So they break up before the tragic death can occur.

Really, it's the safest way to go.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:39 (UTC)

This makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 13:56 (UTC)
Dollhouse

Buffy/Angel - split up

You don't count "Becoming" as a non-fatal death?

Xander/Buffy - never happened

Hee!

Xander/Faith - split up

Does that really fall under the three-episode rule?

Faith/Buffy - never happened

*grumbles* Says you.

Gunn/Fred - tragic death
Connor/Cordelia - tragic death


Were they really still together at the time of death? Also, shouldn't Angel/Darla count at least twice?

And come on, Echo/Paul is at least a non-fatal death.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:08 (UTC)

You don't count "Becoming" as a non-fatal death?

No, because that wasn't the end of their relationship; it was merely an incident during its long and rocky course. :-) 'Graduation Day Part 2' was when they officially split up.


Does that really fall under the three-episode rule?

'The Zeppo', 'Consequences', 'Dirty Girls' (or whichever was the S7 episode that referenced it). I know, it's borderline.


Were they really still together at the time of death? Also, shouldn't Angel/Darla count at least twice?

For Gunn/Fred, see my answer to flakesake. For Connor/Cordelia, as I see it Cordy slipped into her fatal coma whilst Connor was still in love with her, so yes, I count it.

I nearly put "tragic deaths for Angel/Darla. Maybe I should edit it. :-)


Echo/Paul is at least a non-fatal death.

Again, see reply above. The imprint of Paul in Echo's mind is surely just as real as the rest of Echo's personality.


Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:15 (UTC)

I know, it's borderline.

I would say it depends on your definition of a relationship. We know that Faith never took it as more than a one-night-stand. (See also: Buffy/Parker.)

Again, see reply above. The imprint of Paul in Echo's mind is surely just as real as the rest of Echo's personality.

In that case, given her numerous appearances in the IDW comics (or so I've heard), why still count Cordelia as dead? ;)

Or more seriously, where's Cordy/Dennis and Cordy/Groo?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:38 (UTC)

it depends on your definition of a relationship. We know that Faith never took it as more than a one-night-stand.

That would be why Point Two of my methodology said "A 'relationship' for the purpose of this survey doesn't have to be reciprocal as long as one partner feels strong emotions". :-)

And for the three-episode rule, I was thinking more that the relationship had to be part of the storyline for at least that long, not that the couple had to be together all that time. I was wanting to rule out one-off cases like Willow's flirting with Malcolm/Moloch in 'I Robot You Jane' or that guy Xander and Anya invited to Dawn's birthday party as a date for Buffy in 'Older And Far Away'.


given her numerous appearances in the IDW comics (or so I've heard), why still count Cordelia as dead?

Different 'Verse, different rules. In Dollhouse, the whole point was that the artificial personalities being produced were - or could be - just as human as "real" people. In the Buffyverse, mystical visions of spirits and dead people were never treated as being real. For that matter, Willow saw a vision of Tara in 'Goddesses and Monsters' but I wouldn't say that meant the two of them got back together.


Or more seriously, where's Cordy/Dennis and Cordy/Groo?

Cordy/Groo should be there, you're right. They split up amicably as far as I recall. I'd say Cordy/Dennis was a friendship, not a relationship, even if there were innuendos about the loofah. :-)






Posted by: Lexi (eilowyn)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 15:05 (UTC)

I think I'd count 'Becoming' as a tragic death because it plays into the trope that the death happens only when the characters just get (back) together - it happens just when Angel gets his soul back. And I don't like to talk about Angsl much, so you know I feel strongly when I deign to mention him. At least upgrade it to non-fatal tragic death?

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:19 (UTC)
Angel moods

I think I'd count 'Becoming' as a tragic death because it plays into the trope that the death happens only when the characters just get (back) together

Agreed. It's definitely played as a tragic death (and if not for Angel getting a spin-off, it would have been).

Of course, if we count "Becoming," then you probably also have to count Spike's death in "Chosen," even though he comes back as well. That also plays into the trope, with Buffy finally saying "I love you" just as he's dying.

This post reminds me of deird1's post about how deaths are coded.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:44 (UTC)

I think it's two sides of the same coin. Joss has a reputation for killing off characters who are in a relationship, true... but that means something very different in a genre show where there are also lots of supernatural methods of bringing people back from the dead. "Buffy killed her boyfriend; must be season finale. He'll be back next year."

Posted by: eowyn_315 (eowyn_315)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 19:28 (UTC)
angstpire

Well, it's not just that Joss kills people in relationships. As you've demonstrated, there are plenty of relationships that don't end in death (though I do think it's significant that most of them still end badly).

The more frustrating trope is that when he decides to kill people, he tends to go for maximum angst by making them as happy as possible (which usually means falling in love or reconciling with a lover) right before he kills them.

And in those cases, it doesn't necessarily matter whether the person comes back or not. "Becoming" is still devastating to watch, even knowing Angel will be back, because Buffy doesn't know he'll be back - and that's what Joss is after, emotional torment of his characters.

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 15th June 2010 05:13 (UTC)
Buffy (Sad) Live For Me

Well said. It's giving the couple a blissful happy, then yanking it brutally away. The trope is that as soon as a couple starts to get happy, there's an axe somewhere being sharpened and aimed at their necks.

The first one was Jenny and Giles. Just as they were about to romantically reconcile, Giles finds her dead in his bed. And the heartbreak of Becoming is that Buffy and Angel reconcile, if only for a moment, before Buffy realizes she has to kill him. They kiss, exchange 'I love you's and then she kills her lover.

This is especially true if you consider it from Angel's POV, when his sense of time is askew and he can't remember what's gone on for the past few months. For Angel, when Buffy stabs him with the sword, they're still very much "together". And I think from Buffy's POV, she'd just killed her lover, too--not her former lover, but her lover returned to her.

I'd say both Buffy and Angel would consider themselves together when Buffy killed Angel in Becoming.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:41 (UTC)

Originally I did have it as "died and returned" but then I realised that it wasn't the end of their on-screen relationship; it was only 2/3 of the way through. So I moved it back to 'split up'...

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:11 (UTC)

Also, if you only count the actual TV show (which, opinions of Season 8 aside, I think makes for more non-skewed statistics as most character deaths usually come at the end of a season and the comics haven't gotten around to that yet), you get very different results for BtVS:

Buffy/Spike becomes a tragic death
Buffy/Satsu, Xander/Dawn, Xander/Renee, Oz/Bayarmaa and Dawn/Kenny never existed
And with Buffy/Xander and Faith/Buffy never really happening in the first place, and Faith/Xander and Buffy/Parker falling prey to the 3-episode rule, you get 4 out of 17 or 23.5% mortality rate for BtVS.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:46 (UTC)

It's true that if you ignore a lot of the data the end results will be different. :-)

you get 4 out of 17

Four? Willow/Tara, Giles/Jenny, and arguably Buffy/Spike. Who's the fourth? (and it's true that Spike died on BtVS, but I gather that by that time everybody knew he'd be coming back on 'Angel' somehow or other. For that matter, if we're going to get picky, "No you don't, but thanks for saying it. Now go!" could be taken as them splitting up, or not-having-been-together-in-the-first-place. :-)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:54 (UTC)

Who's the fourth?

So I fail basic arithmetic. Don't judge me. You still get a higher quota, though.

It's true that if you ignore a lot of the data the end results will be different.

I'm just saying don't compare apples and apple blossoms. Basic statistics. (I failed statistics too, in case you're wondering.)

Posted by: gillo (gillo)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:25 (UTC)
spirit of Spike behind Buffy

Relationships are messy, but I think you have to count Xander/Anya - sex just before, very clear affection when she goes to sleep in the D&D game, Xander's response to her death "That's my girl." (Inadequate as that may be, I fanwank that as he's still in shock and not showing his feelings. She was still his girl to the end, IMO.)

Aud/Olaf? Giles/Joyce? (important in two episodes but clearly something between them at other times.) And within BtVS Spuffy ends in tragic but heroic death. Twice.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 14:51 (UTC)

In part, my list is a reaction to the common fandom opinion that Xander and Anya were still a couple right to the end - I don't think they were. They had split up, but they did still have complicated residual feelings for each other.

At the risk of being even more controversial, I think it's quite similar to the complicated residual feelings Buffy and Angel had for each other even after they split up - but it would be a brave person who described Angel and Buffy as still being a couple in Seasons 4 to 7...

I'm not sure whether Giles/Joyce qualifies, since it seemed to be more something that was flirted as a possibility but neither of them actually wanted to go there. Aud/Olaf was only two episodes. And either way, both relationships (if they existed) ended by splitting up, not tragic death.

See my reply to BGF re Spuffy.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 15:11 (UTC)

You need a control group, what's the death rate for virgins? Are there any relationship virgins? Joyce (not in the credits)? Jonathan (Superstar). Andrew (He's on the alternate cover for Predators and Prey)? Book. Jayne. River. Adele (does Adele/Roger count)? Boyd (had a thing with Claire or did he)? Melaka Fray (what does Harth count as)? Should AXM stats be included? Or if the question is really whether being with a main character kills you maybe the control is everyone who didn't have a relationship with a main character but wasn't one themselves.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 15:51 (UTC)

I like your approach to this, but I'm not sure I could do the analysis. :-)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 17:31 (UTC)
pic#101408264

I think you missed Cordelia/Doyle (never happened/tragic death).

It occurs to me that Tony/Priya is the only example of a Jossverse relationship where we got all the way to the end of the story without a breakup or tragic death. (Of course, Dollhouse is also the only Joss series that's definitively finished.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:47 (UTC)

Of course, Dollhouse is also the only Joss series that's definitively finished

That does kind of affect things, true. ;-) Ultimately, every relationship ends in break-up or death, unless you're dealing with immortal supernatural creatures or something. On 'Babylon 5' Sheridan and Delenn's relationship ended in death, but that's only because they showed a flash-forward to him dying 20 years later...

Posted by: The Anti-OTP (snowpuppies)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 17:56 (UTC)

Very interesting! And my goodness, poor Wes! Seeing it all in black and white (or red) kinda brings it home, doesn't it?

Thanks for crunching, hon!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 18:49 (UTC)
wesley

:-)

Basically, it sucks to be Wes. I think it's karmic justice to compensate for the fact that in real life Alexis is married to Alyson Hannigan; such outrageous good fortune needs to be balanced somehow. :-)

Posted by: candleanfeather (candleanfeather)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 21:03 (UTC)

Wanted to say something about poor Wesley but your icon says it all. And being Wes' lover is really a high risk work! The only one who seems to have escaped this fate is the unknown blonde he had sex with. Though, she could have been hit by a truck the morninig after on her way to home!

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 19:25 (UTC)

Hm, so a one in three chance of someone dying, and a near 100% breakup rate for the other two-thirds. Someone's got issues.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 19:58 (UTC)

Someone's got issues.

Many of Shakespeare's characters die horribly in the final act. Do you conclude from that that Bill S. was a suicidal depressive or a mad murderer? If not, why assume that because Joss writes dramatic soap-opera storylines that it reflects his own personal view of life?

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 14th June 2010 22:15 (UTC)

If all the characters in Mr. Bill's comedies died horrible deaths at the end, too, that might be a reasonable assumption. *g*

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 15th June 2010 00:28 (UTC)
geek

Numbers!

Heh. I giggled at "non-fatal death".

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 15th June 2010 00:32 (UTC)

Although I would agree with above commenters and say that the Angel-death in Becoming 2 should count. Cause it's kinda a textbook example of the Joss trope.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 12:13 (UTC)

Depends. Do the textbooks say that "Joss kills off any character who's in a happy relationship", or "Joss kills off characters in a happy relationship but often brings them back again in an episode or two's time"? Because Becoming 2' would be an example of the second, not the first; but most comments I've seen on the trope usually limit themselves to only the first half of the equation.

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 15:55 (UTC)

But the former is an essential part of the latter. And the fact that the character returns doesn't negate the pain and angst a viewer experiences upon watching the initial death. Not even on rewatch.

Posted by: ubi4soft (ubi4soft)
Posted at: 15th June 2010 02:47 (UTC)

**Let me know if I've missed anyone!

I wanted to scream Lindsay/Eve than I saw your "appearing on the credits rule"! Christian Kane should have been in the credits as much as Mercedes.

Bingo! Cordelia/Groo.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 12:14 (UTC)

Cordelia/Groo should count, yes; that makes 'Angel' slightly less fatal to its couples...

Posted by: Denita (menomegirl)
Posted at: 15th June 2010 04:04 (UTC)

I think Darla/Angelus should be a separate pairing.

I second Cordelia/Groo; as well as Cordelia/Doyle.

No Lindsey/Darla or Lindsey/Eve? *grumbles*

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 12:19 (UTC)
darla-dru

I don't think Darla thought of Angel and Angelus as two different people; in her eyes, her lover was simply infected by some horrible mystical disease which made him act in a perverted manner whih she hated, but she never stopped hoping she'd get him back. And likewise, Angel didn't think of human!Darla as a different person to vampire!Darla; just the same person with a second chance at life. So I disagree that it's a separate pairing. ;-)

Posted by: harsens_rob (harsens_rob)
Posted at: 15th June 2010 04:33 (UTC)

I think I would include Connor/Gwen: Non-permanent death/split up....

Explanation: In Angel: After the Fall, it was pretty clear that Gwen and Connor were a couple, though her anti-shock chip failed to work once they were pulled into L.A.-Hell.

She then betrayed Connor and Team Angel to work with Gunn in order that L.A. be returned to 'normal space' so the chip could work and she and Connor could finally do it. Then she got herself killed by dragon bite. Then everything was reversed when L.A. was restored, but everyone who was in Hell remembers what happened there - including Gwen and Connor, who has not forgiven her.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 12:20 (UTC)
angel-dragon

Fair point; I've kind of blanked out on 'After The Fall' so forgot about Connor/Gwen. :-)

Posted by: William B (local_max)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 03:09 (UTC)

Yay all data together!

As with other commenters, I disagree with some of your definitions. Gunn and Fred is the one that really stands out though--the two had been split up since, what, "Calvary"? Unless you're counting Gunn's death in "Ground State," which was rather on the temporary side....

I think the thing that's been getting to people about Joss' death rate is that the rate seems to be increasing. If you split things up into, say, pre-and post-"The Gift", then the stats look like:

pre-S5:

Buffy/Angel - split up
Buffy/Scott - split up
Buffy/Parker - split up
Buffy/Riley - split up
Willow/Xander - split up
Willow/Oz - split up
Willow/Tara - STILL TOGETHER
Xander/Cordelia - split up
Xander/Faith - split up
Xander/Anya - STILL TOGETHER
Giles/Jenny - tragic death
Giles/Olivia - split up
Faith/Buffy - never happened
Spike/Drusilla - split up
Spike/Harmony - split up
***
Angel/Darla - split up (then eventually Angel killed her)
Wesley/Virginia - split up

Ratio is 1/17 = 5.9%

Post-The Gift (counting only relationships that operate for three episodes in the post-TG time frame):

Buffy/Spike - non-fatal death
Willow/Tara - tragic death
Willow/Kennedy - still together
Xander/Renee - tragic death
Xander/Dawn - still together
Oz/Bayarmaa - still together
Faith/Robin - split up
Riley/Sam - still together (AFAWK)
Spike/Harmony - split up (counts again because of Destiny et al.)
Dawn/Kenny - split up

Cordelia/Angel - tragic death
Angel/Darla - tragic deaths
Angel/Nina - split up
Wesley/Lilah - tragic death
Wesley/Fred - tragic death
Wesley/Illyria - tragic death
Gunn/Fred - tragic death
Gunn/Gwen - split up
Connor/Cordelia - tragic death
***
Mal/Inara - never happened
Zoe/Wash - tragic death
Simon/Kaylee - still together
***
Billy/Penny - never happened
Captain Hammer/Penny - tragic death
***
Echo/Paul - still together in a creepy kind of way
Topher/Bennett - tragic death
Tony/Priya - still (back) together
Paul/November - tragic death

So for the post-TG relationships, the ratio is 13/28 = 46%.

Now, some of this is because, after season five of BtVS and season two of AtS ended, five universes had apparent endings--and endings involve more death. But either way, it seems clear that the pattern of fatal deaths has intensified. I'm not one who is dead-set (ha) against Joss killing more characters, but I think he's gone to the well a LOT more often lately than he did in the first five or so years.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th June 2010 12:36 (UTC)
echo

it seems clear that the pattern of fatal deaths has intensified.

To be fair, I think 'Angel' is biasing the statistics a lot, since basically everybody had an unhappy ending in that. And yes, also, as you say, series finales tend to skew the figures a lot as well.

The impression I get is that Joss went through a period in 2002-04 when he went kill-crazy. Tara, Anya, Wash, Book, Fred, Wesley: all died in a pretty short space of time, and most of them when they were happy in a new relationship. That established the trope in most peoples' minds. I don't think it's been anything like as prominent in his later work, though - not to say it's absent, but it's not nearly as obvious as the people complaining about him getting clichéd imply.

The big romantic couple in Dollhouse were Tony!Victor and Priya!Sierra, and they had a happy ending; Echo and Paul likewise had an ending that was portrayed as a happy one. Whle there were other couples on the show who didn't get a happy ending, that seemed to be more because "Everybody on this show is totally screwed-up and leading a dangerous life" rather than the specific so-called Joss trope about happy couples being endangered at their moment of maximum joy. For that matter, while Renee's death in Season 8 might seem to fall into the trope, I gather that was Drew Goddard's idea, not Joss's.

The other thing to bear in mind is that I'm sure Joss is well aware by now of his reputation in fandom for killing his characters, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he decided to subvert it or make fun of it in his new work. :-)

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