Joss Whedon tries to clear his name and drives another wooden stake into his reputation

If the goal was to rehab his reputation, Joss Whedon’s latest script needs a rewrite.

The director has morphed into a ghoulish pariah in recent years. Once beloved for creating “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” once lionized as a feminist superhero, Whedon now stands accused of being a serial philanderer, toxic abuser and all-around bad human.

It all started in 2017, when Kai Cole, his ex-wife, published an eye-popping guest column on The Wrap. The short recap: Whedon repeatedly cheated on her during their marriage. He was drunk with power and it seems his underpants were doing the tequila shots.

As Cole concluded: “I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be. I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring (sic) a man who does not practice what he preaches.”

It’s as if Neil deGrasse Tyson’s wife wrote a letter to the Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy: “Just so you all know, he actually believes the Earth is flat.”

Whedon’s feminist bona fides went kaboom. It was fast and unsettling.

Then came the workplace bullying allegations. Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia in the “Buffy” universe, tweeted that Whedon had a history of “being casually cruel.” This followed Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman herself, who wondered why Whedon had threatened to make her “career miserable” over creative differences during the filming of “Justice League.” Another actor from that film, Ray Fisher, described Whedon’s on-set behaviour as “gross, abusive, unprofessional and completely unacceptable.”

Now, about 18 months later, Whedon is finally responding.

He might regret opening his mouth.

In this week’s New York magazine cover story — “The Undoing of Joss Whedon” — the writer and director attempts to clear his name. Let’s start with Gadot’s allegation over a scene she wanted cut, to which he allegedly responded by vowing to blacklist her. As Whedon told New York magazine: “I don’t threaten people. Who does that?”

He believes Gadot “misunderstood” whatever he allegedly said because — wait for it — “English is not her first language.” I have a bruise below my hairline from slapping my forehead. Dude, are you seriously playing the Lost in Translation card on Wonder Woman? I don’t need subtitles when I watch Gal Gadot. Her fluency in English exceeds most U.S. senators. Compared to the illiterate MAGA maniacs who continue to spout nonsense on social media, she is practically both Merriam and Webster.

As for any potential “misunderstanding” based on language, Gadot’s response to the magazine was downright pithy and poetic: “I understood perfectly.”

The incendiary charges from Fisher — including that Whedon lightened his skin tone in post-production — are also addressed in the New York story. Whedon says he brightened all faces. Fair enough. As for why Fisher’s screen time was cut, the director says the storyline “logically made no sense.” I see his point. But then he speculates about Fisher’s motivations in waging personal war and concludes: “We’re talking about a malevolent force. We’re talking about a bad actor in both senses.”

Another bruise on my forehead. An actor he worked with accuses him of being abusive and his response is to hurl more abuse? This is not a sensible way to rehab a reputation. It’s almost as if Whedon can’t help himself because he truly believes he is a misunderstood genius for whom the rules of civility do not apply.

He did admit to the chronic infidelity, including on the set of “Buffy,” when he had absolute power as the showrunner, including over a revolving door of young actresses. But even here, Whedon manages to generate zero sympathy. He “had” to sleep with all of these gorgeous women, he says, or he would “always regret it.” Huh? If a bank teller turns her head for a second, I don’t have the right to dash off with a bundle of cash.

New York’s cover story is about 9,000 words. But the subtext is clear: Joss Whedon still doesn’t get why people have turned on him. His throwaway lines for past misdeeds — he was not “civilized” back then, he was “young,” he was not “mannerly” — come across as lazy clichés from a creator who has a profound understanding of characterization.

This inability to grapple with honest self-reflection is obvious in the closing paragraph. Whedon believes his detractors are using “every weaponizable word to make it seem like I was an abusive monster.”

But to his mind: “I think I’m one of the nicer showrunners that’s ever been.”

The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in between. Whedon’s talent is beyond debate. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a dazzling Marvel movie and it was his singular vision. I could bore you with glowing treatises on “Angel” or “Firefly.” The risky “Buffy” musical episode “Once More, With Feeling” remains one of the greatest TV episodes of all time. Whedon is brilliant at his job. He’s just not so good at real life.

“Buffy” was about growing up. The paranormal was a metaphor for the prosaic. Years ago, I put this theory to Whedon and he concurred: “To me, that’s always been the idea. It’s about that painful rite of adolescence and young adulthood that is so shaping for everybody. So, if you take that and basically turn it into a superhero story, it’s a way of saying, ‘You are a hero if you get through the day.’”

Joss Whedon is now trying and failing to get through his day.

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