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(Meta) He's not dead, he's resting

20th October 2008 (20:48)

The subject of Willow and Warren has raised its hideously-ugly head again, and I'm curious to canvass the opinions of my flist about the ethics involved. This is posed as a hypothetical question, so you don't need to know or care anything about Buffy Season 8 at all. I've put the poll behind a cut since it contains language which some people may find disturbing or triggering.

 

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Let's say I decide to horribly torture somebody. I subject him to all sorts of physical and mental torments, slice off various useful or ornamental body parts, and as my final act pull out a gun, shoot him through the head and throw his body in the river.

But! The river flows past a hospital, and some paramedics pull out the body. Here they discover that by a fluke million-to-one chance my bullet glanced off my victim's skull rather than blowing out his brains. He's not breathing, but the paramedics administer CPR then rush him into intensive care. Round-the-clock surgery by a team of crack doctors (one of whom may be a Vicodin addict) manages to save his life. He's still horrifically disfigured and crippled by my torture, and will never be able to lead a normal life - but he's not dead.

So, my question is: how do the doctors' actions affect my own ethical and moral responsibility for what I did?

Poll #1282097 He's not dead, he's resting

How do the doctors' actions affect my own ethical and moral responsibility for what I did?

I'm completely exonerated. He's not dead, so no harm, no foul.
0(0.0%)
Because he's not dead, my own guilt is massively reduced.
3(4.5%)
I'm still as guilty as sin, but slightly less than if I'd actually killed him.
4(6.1%)
Intent is what matters. I'm just as guilty as if he'd really died.
45(68.2%)
My guilt is now worse, because instead of a clean death my actions have given him a lifetime of suffering.
12(18.2%)
Something else which I will explain in comments.
2(3.0%)

Comments

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:22 (UTC)
Warren is a bitch. And also dead.

You left out two alternatives:

* The doctors know that he could be fully physically restored, but choose not to because it's more convenient to them to have him stay crippled,
* The doctors don't do anything and we're clearly shown over and over again that no doctors ever intervened.

;-)

We're obviously never going to agree on this, so just to make something clear: I've never claimed that Amy saving Warren would have absolved Willow of guilt. Blatant continuity faults aside, it would have diluted the emotional and dramatical impact of the end of s6, the peak of 4 1/2 seasons of sneaky character development, and it would offer her a potential opportunity for amends that would have been closed forever otherwise, but you're right: on a purely intellectual, ethical, moral level, it wouldn't have absolved Willow of guilt related to those exact actions anymore than... say, Buffy's decision in "Becoming" had retroactively become easier if it had turned out that Angel just hid behind Acathla and then spent three months as a sewage worker in Fresno.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:29 (UTC)
willow-nothingonearth

Warren died a mystical death, so Willow could presumably have resurrected him even if Amy hadn't got there first. :-) So the "opportunity for amends" was always there.

And while I ticked "just as guilty", I've a feeling Willow herself would think it's worse that he's still around. Not only because he's suffering, but because he's a constant reminder of what she did. The albatross hung around her neck.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:34 (UTC)

According to Comic!Warren, he died (or didn't, or did and then didn't, etc etc) of shock. Natural cause. ;-)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:45 (UTC)

In which case he can only have been resurrected as a shuffling zombie or some other non-living human thing like Joyce, or Jack Toole or Spike.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:46 (UTC)

You'd think so. Which makes it interesting that Joss claims he's alive. Etc etc etc al fine.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 22:37 (UTC)

I thought all Joss claimed was that he (Warren) was legally dead for one second and that he (Joss) made an (unspecified) mistake. Since in the Buffyverse there are other alternatives, having been dead (past tense) doesn't necessarily equal alive and it nowhere in the comics directly states that Warren is (alive), far less that his current state being defined as alive, dead or undead makes any difference to the story.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:41 (UTC)

Which is how it's written. In S7 she can dismiss Warren's killing as something there was a reason for. In S8 seeing him again causes her to rethink her own role (or the role of her refusal to consider any alternative to bringing Buffy back) in exposing Tara to him.

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 16:47 (UTC)

Since raising the dead in the Buffyverse is generally shown to be a morally dubious act in and of itself, I think that Willow has the opportunity to make amends only because Amy assumed the moral burden of raising Warren. If Willow had tried to 'fix' her mistake by raising Warren herself, I don't think it would count as a virtuous act, any more than her raising Buffy did.

Posted by: curiouswombat (curiouswombat)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:35 (UTC)
saner emu

Angel just hid behind Acathla and then spent three months as a sewage worker in Fresno

Aha! It all makes sense to me now....

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:23 (UTC)
No, no. He's stunned.
willow black hair

I'm game, though I don't really know the context of the question as I haven't read Season 8.

Legalities aside, intent matters when you're talking about morality. If you torture and murder someone, you have made the conscious choice to do that act. If that person manages to survive through third-party intervention, it doesn't negate your own actions or make you any less culpable for them.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 20:50 (UTC)
Re: No, no. He's stunned.

That's what I think too. I'm just surprised at how many people I've seen arguing that in fact, your guilt is lessened or even eliminated if your victim survives after all.

Of course, in English law while we still had the death penalty for murder, it made a huge difference as to whether your victim lived or died; maybe that influences people. Personaly I think the torture is if anything, worse than the killing, but not everybody agrees.

Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 20th October 2008 23:07 (UTC)
He's pining for the fnords...

My gut reaction was to agree with you. And yet actual murder is still likely to carry a more severe penalty than attempted murder. Could this because succeeding is the proof that your intent was serious.
US law still allows the death penalty, yet forbids torture and mutilation by the government as a "cruel and unusual punishment".

Posted by: The One Who Isn't Chosen (gabrielleabelle)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 02:35 (UTC)
Re: He's pining for the fnords...
willow black hair

Well, legal issues are somewhat different. Whether the person lives or dies is the difference between murder and attempted murder, which carry different penalties. However, laws are in place to maintain order in a society, not to impose a moral code upon the populace.

So, while Willow (who I presume is the one being discussed) is legally less culpable if the person doesn't die, I see her as still being morally responsible, whether he died or not.

She had clear intent and knowledge of what she was doing. And she looked largely successful to me (though I guess the comics retcon this or something?). If by some bizarre chance, her victim survived, that doesn't change the fact that Willow made the choice to kill someone and then carried out that decision.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 11:55 (UTC)
Re: He's pining for the fnords...

*Current* law, in England anyway, makes no difference between attempted murder and actual murder in terms of the penalty - it's life imprisonment for both - but I believe that judges will often set a lower tariff if the victim didn't actually die. And yes, attempted murder is harder to prove... you have to show that the defendant actually intended to kill the other person, rather than just hurt or scare them, and that's difficult without telepathy or a really extreme situation like the one in my example.

I also think there's an emotional gut reaction in people, that if someone is actually dead it's somehow worse, even if the motivations were identical.

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 03:10 (UTC)
[buffy] willow | the dark inside of me

This is obviously not a popular opinion, but I picked the second choice. Feeling guilt for something you did is not the same as actually being guilty. Technically, Willow's still guilty of killing Warren, but her own personal guilty feelings would be, and probably are, greatly reduced after seeing that he was not actually dead.

However, I personally feel that Warren deserved to die. He was a murderer (technically, a serial killer) and he had absolutely no remorse for what he did. Even when Dark!Willow has him tied up, he still claims that he killed [okay, totally blanking on the name right now, but it's that girl he raped and then killed] "because she deserved it." I have no sympathy for Warren, at all, and feel that Willow's actions were completely justified. In my mind, Willow shouldn't feel any guilt towards her actions at all. Now, should she have been a vigilante? No, probably not. And I don't agree with her wanting to kill Andrew and Johnathon.

I could probably go on and on about this, because I feel very strongly about it, but I won't. :]

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 11:02 (UTC)

but her own personal guilty feelings would be, and probably are, greatly reduced after seeing that he was not actually dead.

I'd also think that if Warren actually came back as he used to be: a human with a flesh. Right now, he looks so much like a monster that people won't be able to look in the face. The fact that he walks and talks while skinless will always remind Willow of what she had done, rather than let her forget over time.

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 17:26 (UTC)
[buffy] satsu | a keen and bloody sword

Hmm, that's true. You do make a good point there.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 11:41 (UTC)

I'm glad somebody picked that choice; it proves I wasn't just imagining it when I said I've heard people take that stance in discussions. :-)

Though like lusciousxander I'm dubious about whether Willow would feel less guilty if Warren is shambling around as a dripping, skinless monstrosity, than if he was just safely dead and forgotten about.


I personally feel that Warren deserved to die

*Quotes Gandalf at you.* :-)

(And it was Katrina whom Warren killed in 'Dead Things'.)

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 17:33 (UTC)

Ah, yes, Katrina. I was sitting here trying to think of her name and blanking on it completely, and no one else I asked could remember.

Posted by: sueworld2003 (sueworld2003)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 11:37 (UTC)
Capt Jack seriously?!!

"This is obviously not a popular opinion, but I picked the second choice. Feeling guilt for something you did is not the same as actually being guilty. Technically, Willow's still guilty of killing Warren, but her own personal guilty feelings would be, and probably are, greatly reduced after seeing that he was not actually dead."

Yeah, I still go for that angle myself.

Posted by: azdak (azdak)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 05:16 (UTC)

I would distinguish here between "guilt" in an objective sense (legal or moral - at any rate, a yardstick separate from the perpetrator's feelings) and "guilt" in the sense of "feeling guilty, feeling bad about what I did". Obviously the survival of the victim makes a difference to the latter. Equally, I don't believe it is does to the former - the killer intended to murder, believed they had succeeded, and didn't stop their murderous actions at any point in order to give the victim a chance of survival. So I'd tick 2 using the subjective sense of guilt and 4 using the objective sense.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 11:36 (UTC)

I've come to agree with you about the different types of guilt; although I think it's debatable whether the killer would feel more guilty or less guilty if their victim survived alive but crippled.

Posted by: azdak (azdak)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 12:07 (UTC)

Or, indeed, if the killer felt guilty at all. Some killers clearly believe that there are extenuating circumstances that entirely relieve them of the need to feel guilt.

Posted by: joe_sweden (joe_sweden)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 09:11 (UTC)

I think if someone intended to murder someone, and used enough force to make that happen - ie they didn't just shoot them in the leg while *wishing* them dead - then that's the same as killing them. It's the intended consequences that matter more than the actual consequences, imo. Talking in the abstract and not in legal terms anyway.

In Willow's case, Warren not dying makes no moral difference to me.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 11:35 (UTC)

I'm coming to the conclusion that there are three different answers to this situation: the moral one, the emotional one and the legal one. Legally, attempted murder is a different offence to actual murder; morally, intent matters so they're identical; emotionally, I think it could go either way - your victim surviving could make you feel either better or worse about yourself.

Posted by: sueworld2003 (sueworld2003)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 11:39 (UTC)
Crazy

"I'm coming to the conclusion that there are three different answers to this situation: the moral one, the emotional one and the legal one."

And the dramatic one of course. In the show at least having someone die like that as part of the climax of the dark Willow arc was highly effective. To have him stagger back as a living dead wanna be, not so much.

Posted by: mr_waterproof (mr_waterproof)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 18:55 (UTC)

And yet Angel "staggered" back after the climax of the Angelus arc

Posted by: sueworld2003 (sueworld2003)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 01:19 (UTC)
bite me

And beautifully played it was too...*g*

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 10:34 (UTC)

But looked at from the other direction - if you wanted to bring back someone from Willow's past to haunt her and remind her of her wrong decisions, who better than Warren? Percy who called her a nerd in high school? :-)

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 09:29 (UTC)

I think she's still just as guilty. Not sure Joss does.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 11:32 (UTC)

Has he said or written anything to make you think that? My own impression is that he picked Warren to return because it would have the maximum emotional impact on Willow, not because he wanted to lessen that impact...

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 12:04 (UTC)

Has he said or written anything to make you think that?

Nope. Just can't think why else he'd want to ruin the end of season 6 unless it was to make Willow less guilty. Especially as Warren's return doesn't really seem to have much impact on her in the comic anyway.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 12:29 (UTC)

Warren's return doesn't really seem to have much impact on her in the comic anyway

WILLOW (to Kennedy/flashback): I have kept you from Buffy. I think I've even stayed away myself. Until I saw Warren I didn't realise it, but... When Buffy died... I couldn't admit it, but Tara and I were happy. Not in general, I mean we mourned, but together... and Buffy was happy too.

WILLOW (to Buffy): But I had to bring you back. Long before Sunnydale went south -- Goddess, from the day you died -- I never considered any other option.

WILLOW (to Kennedy/flashback): So back she came, and misery and violence and... Warren fucking Mears, who tried to shoot her dead and hit my love instead. We could have moved on. Raised Dawnie, moved somehere nice... but I chose. I chose to put Tara in a bullet's path.

WILLOW (to Buffy): I chose you over her.

WILLOW (to Kennedy/flashback): I can't do that again... to the woman I love.



Seems like a fairly major and life-changing epiphany for Willow that's affected her actions all through the comic, all caused by Warren's re-appearance...

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 12:43 (UTC)

That's not what I meant. I meant that Warren's actual reappearance in the comic hasn't affected her much. All this that you're talking about is stuff that happened in the actual show.

all caused by Warren's re-appearance...

His reappearance in the actual show, not the comic. His reappearance in the comic hasn't affected her at all that I can see. So, in other words, there was no need to bring him back for her to feel exactly the same way.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 14:54 (UTC)

When she says "until I saw Warren I didn't realise it" I'm pretty sure she's talking about when she saw him in the comics.

As I interpret it, she'd fairly successfully moved on with her life - or so she thought - and Warren's torture and death was all in the past. Seeing him again brought it all back to her, and forced her to confront her feelings and realise what she'd been doing subconsiously: avoiding Buffy, blaming herself for Tara's death, and by transference blaming Buffy for it too.

It's interesting that she still feels nothing but hatred and contempt for Warren, not guilt and remorse... but even more interesting that she doesn't actually blame him for Tara's death. He was simply the proximate cause, almost a force of nature. The person who "put Tara in a bullet's path" and is therefore guilty of her death was Buffy, and the person who made it possible for Buffy to do that was Willow herself. So ultimately, Willow killed Tara.

Sure, all that character resolution might have happened from some other source; but confronting Willow with Warren himself is far more dramatic.

There's also the fact that Warren tried to torture Willow to death, which I suppose some people might see as karmic retribution for her actions...

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 21st October 2008 18:08 (UTC)

Sure, all that character resolution might have happened from some other source; but confronting Willow with Warren himself is far more dramatic.

I disagree, given that Warren was categorically 100% dead at the end of Villains. Bringing him back as a sort of ghost worked very well in TKiM. In fact, Willow had already gone through all this in TKiM, so why do it all again?

Posted by: sueworld2003 (sueworld2003)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 11:46 (UTC)
Amy!!

"I disagree, given that Warren was categorically 100% dead at the end of Villains. Bringing him back as a sort of ghost worked very well in TKiM. In fact, Willow had already gone through all this in TKiM, so why do it all again?"

Ditto. *g*

Posted by: sueworld2003 (sueworld2003)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 11:44 (UTC)
Amy!!

"That's not what I meant. I meant that Warren's actual reappearance in the comic hasn't affected her much. All this that you're talking about is stuff that happened in the actual show."

Yep, I agree. That whole thing, didn't work for me as it seems to for some. Maybe it's because I didn't feel the 'Warren/Amy team up thing' a logical step considering Warrens personality, and the whole 'with one bound she was free' feel to Wilow's 'brain surgery took the feeling of threat away from the proceedings. God that was so weak...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 10:42 (UTC)

I didn't feel the 'Warren/Amy team up thing' a logical step considering Warrens personality

I won't argue that it's a bit of a stretch... but not impossible. Warren wasn't shown on the show as some cartoon misogynist who couldn't bear to be in the same room as a woman... in fact he fancied himself as a ladies' man. His problem was lack of respect for women, not dislike of their company. Amy, being an incredibly powerful witch who could, incidentally, end Warren's life with just five words whenever she chooses, has another way to earn his respect.

Not to mention that Amy was using mind control magic to force people to do what she wanted them to do four whole years before Willow started down that path - who's to say she's not got a stock of Lethe's Bramble to use on Warren whenever he gets uppity?

Posted by: Owen (owenthurman)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 01:49 (UTC)

As we say in these parts, Warren needed killing. Case dismissed.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 10:42 (UTC)

Willow herself may well agree with you...

Posted by: Trepkos (trepkos)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 12:31 (UTC)

Int he theoretical case - if the person killed was an innocent victim - I'd have said it makes it worse - lifetime of suffering.
In Warren's case, where he was an unrepentant bad guy who did horrible things himself, as an observer, I'd give Willow the French "Crime of Passion" excuse for legal purposes.
If I'd been the one doing it, I would feel no guilt at all - in fact, if he'd survived it would piss me off and I'd try to kill him properly, because his presence on earth would offend me.
But as an independent observer, I want to see some remorse from Willow for killing the innocent deer.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 23:03 (UTC)

I don't have a live journal account, so I don't seem to be able to complete the poll. However, I feel driven to comment that I strongly disagree murdering or attempting to murder a bad person is just fine. There are plenty of bad people who've committed various bad acts; who gets to decide where you draw the line? Each person will kill based on his own opinion of who doesn't deserve to live? Willow also made her crime much, much worse by torturing him first, and murder in the heat of passion is only a mitigating factor, not a get out of jail free card.

Posted by: Trepkos (trepkos)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 23:09 (UTC)

I also disagree that murdering is fine.
However, if I were Willow, I wouldn't be worrying about the ethics of capital punishment or revenge - I would just be doing it.
This is why we don't allow people who have been sinned against to decide the fate of the sinner.
And while I am against capital punishment, I wasn't shedding any tears over the fact that Willow killed Warren in the heat of the moment.
I was, however, shedding tears (metaphorical tears) over her cold-blooded killing of the deer.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 10:57 (UTC)

Willow did seem to be really disturbed and remorseful when she killed the deer, though. Not to mention guilty, in the way she looked around to make sure she hadn't been spotted, then afterwards refused to tell anyone what "blood of the mother" really was. (Plus, I gather, Alyson herself hated the idea of even acting out the simulated killing of the deer, so there was an element of method acting there.)

AS for Warren - I'd agree that what Willow did was understandable, but also illegal and wrong. It shouldn't go unpunished, but the mitigating factors should affect the sentence in a big way. (In English law, provocation and diminished responsibility - both of which arguably applied to Willow in 'Villains' - reduce a murder charge (mandatory life sentence) to manslaughter.)

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 22nd October 2008 22:52 (UTC)

As a number of people point out, there are a lot of different definitions of guilt in play here. And there's also the fact that we're often willing to overlook acts from a fictional character which we would roundly condemn in real life.

Whatever the theory, in practice, a lot of people judge an act by its results rather than the intentions which drove it. Look at Buffy and Faith. Buffy stuck a big-ass knife in Faith's gut, with the intention of killing Faith, a souled human, and feeding her to Angel. Only the chance appearance of a garbage truck prevented Buffy from finishing Faith off. Logically speaking, if Willow is guilty, then Buffy is equally guilty. They both intended to murder someone.

Willow succeeded (or so we thought at the time.) Buffy failed. Ask people which one is a murderer, and most people will say "Willow."

In practice, most people will judge an action more or less harshly in context. Someone who kills for love, or to revenge a terrible wrong, is judged less harshly than someone who kills for gain or for pleasure. Someone who kills a villain is judged less harshly than someone who kills an innocent. (Unless you're Andrew, apparently.)

I take these kinds of factors into account all the time when writing about characters doing something wrong - if I have Spike do X, will I need to introduce mitigating factors Y and Z to prevent the audience from demanding that Buffy stake the bastard already? It is far, far easier to convince the audience to forgive Willow for killing the man who'd murdered the love of her life in the heat of passion than it would be to convince them to forgive Willow for (say) killing Dawn in cold blood in order to absorb her Key power.

Warren being alive may not mitigate Willow's guilt in the light of cold, pure, moral logic. But in the messy, emotional, illogical human minds of many readers, it will. And I'm sure Joss knows that, and this knowledge factored into his decision to bring Warren back.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 11:12 (UTC)

Warren being alive may not mitigate Willow's guilt in the light of cold, pure, moral logic. But in the messy, emotional, illogical human minds of many readers, it will.

About 10% of readers, actually, if my poll is representative. :-) While almost twice as many think it makes her guilt worse.

You raise an interesting point about what the needs of the story demand, and how audience sympathy is more important than strict legal liability. Of course, the writers can influence this in other ways too, by how they present the killing or how it's referred to later - if at all.

Buffy stabbing Faith is almost shown as a good act, in that it reveals the Mayor's weakness and gives Buffy the opening she needs to defeat him; and while Faith herself is understandably a bit upset over her stabbing, none of Buffy's friends criticise her or even mention it again.

Willow's killing of Warren, on the other hand, drives the plot of the next two episodes, is a major concern to her friends as shown by their constant references to it, and it's shown to be still preying on everybody's minds in the following season (STSP and TKIM). The writers are telling us that this is a Big Deal and we should be bothered about it; and so we are.

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 23rd October 2008 18:35 (UTC)

Of the people who say Willow is guilty, I would wager that in practice, many if not most of them would still consider her one of the heroes and a sympathetic character, despite the fact that she tortured a man to death and then plotted to destroy the entire world.

It would also be interesting to find out how a respondent's previous opinion of Willow affected their reply; would asking these questions on a Willow fan board net substantially different results?

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