Whedon Speak, Part Five: “The Chain”


As November and Whedon Speak draw to a close, the holiday seasoning upon us, I thought it only appropriate to highlight a single issue widely considered among Whedon’s best. “The Chain” is the fifth issue in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 and by all accounts it remains a significant entry in Whedon’s personal works, those writings which offer the most insight into his creative vision, his passions, his beliefs. There are those scripts and productions which arrive with his stamp of authorship and directorial pride — television episodes like “The Body” or “Chosen” — stories that clearly mean something more than the average. “The Chain” ranks as one of these greatest hits. 

Where once there was a single slayer to each generation, there are now many. What was once an isolated campaign against other-worldy darkness leaking into the world, is now a full scale war against the shadows. This war is composed of soldiers, of newly christened slayers, girls forced not only to harness their potential, but to offer it up in sacrifice. Their former lives, whether in schools or malls or mansions or slums, are forfeit. There is a greater good, a world to save, and a call to heed. The slayers serve as pivotal links in a chain, new members in a fight against evil which stretches back beyond history and beyond fairness. “The Chain.”  It’s a worthy metaphor. It speaks of community, but of course it also speaks of struggle and confinement. The First Slayer was quite literally a captive, a girl damned by a group of men to stave off the hordes. They gave her and those who followed her a kind of power. But they also shackled them with a hopeless responsibility. Slayers are superheroes, mortals blessed with impossible abilities, cursed with dire circumstances. They are more than human, but bound by the kind of guilt and sense of duty that ensures they’ll never fully enjoy their power. Not for long anyway.

We meet a nameless slayer, a girl who looks enough like Buffy to pose as her decoy. And in a parallel narrative, we witness her calling, her training, her assignment to a black ops mission into the depths of a subterranean society, and her death. She never meets Buffy, the woman she’s asked to impersonate and the reason for her new-found abilities. She dies before the cavalry arrives, her hair dyed to look like someone else’s, in a place far from home. She dies alone. Not simply forgotten, but never fully known. Her anonymity was crucial to her mission. She did her job, rallied the good against the bad, and held back the tide. She became a link in the chain. 

The issue is dedicated to Janie Kleinman. For most, it is a name. Someone obviously important to Joss. This name is not associated with actions or a visual. We assume she’s passed away. Janie Kleinman was a network executive, a friend and colleague of Joss. He will remember her, even if most of us will not. We did not have that opportunity. In reality, we will die having never met or known the people who bring about the things we love. It’s the cruel circumstance of being one of a countless number. Our perspective is limited to those who immediately direct us. To envision the full scope of humanity is impossible. But in the spirit of this week’s holiday, let’s try anyway.

Comics are a microcosm. We’re a community. Cause and effect and connective tissue. And as small of a community as it is, so much of it is invisible. Who colored your favorite book this week? Who inked it? Who printed it, packaged it, shipped it? Who planted the trees which line your commute? Who paved the road? The chain extends beyond what we might be conscious of. By necessity. For our comforts, people tend to live and die. It happens. We don’t know about it. Mostly, we don’t care about it. It’s distance. It’s familiarity. We manufacture a presence, we forge our own personal chains, we inhabit and depart. But in this biological time share we have an opportunity to abandon or to furnish. To take it easy or to make it easier. Repercussions. That’s not so much about making a name or staking a place. It’s in the stuff that won’t be noticed. The good deeds, the daily decisions whether or not to be an asshole.

However conscious we are of our own triumphs and struggles, there are so many who will never see what we do. But just as a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan and by extension lays waste to a trailer park in Kansas, so too do our labors bare some kind of fruit, bitter or sweet, for a stranger. We’re behind the scenes even if we never get to see the production. The chain pulls. Ignore it if you want, but it’s there. Most will have no idea what you do. They’ll feel it either way. They’ll keep on doing what they’re doing. And you’ll feel the wight of it.

So, as we gather together to carve the roast beast during these frigid and festive months, take a pause to consider Anonymous. No religious overtures necessary. It’s not about good or bad or halos or pitchforks or intangible mead halls. It’s about this chain we all forge together in this life as people who need people. In America, we’re gearing up for Thanksgiving. It’s a silly holiday rooted in genocide and starvation and, from what I hear, the buckles and tall hats were fabrications to tidy up all that misery. Sometimes the wrong things get celebrated. So, if you’re weary of the hypocrisy, allow me to make a suggestion. Be thankful for people you don’t know, those people fighting the good fight. The people who don’t get mentioned as we circle the table, impatient for that cylindrical tower of cranberry sauce. We might not be aware of what the other links do in this chain, but we ought to be conscious of it. Because maybe if we were, we’d be more likely to answer the pull. And maybe this operation might run a little more smoothly.

Thanks, Joss. Thanks, iFanboy. And thanks for reading.


Paul Montgomery would like to thank all the links, all the gears, all the pages and flickers and bricks and spindles and voices which make it all up. Contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. You can also find him on Twitter.

Now online: Listen to his first scripted episode of the award winning audio drama Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery, co-written with Wormwood creator David Accampo

Paul joins the writing staff with season 2, episode 14 “Jack Nicholson’s Nose.” All previous episodes from seasons 1 and 2 can be found for free at wormwoodshow.com or on iTunes.  


  1. and Thank you Paul, very touching article

  2. Thanks, Paul. Another fine article.

    "The Chain" made me cry the first time I read it. And the second time. And the third. I think I can get through it now without tearing up, but since I’ve seen "The Body" a half-dozen times and can’t make to the end … well fuck, I’m getting weepy just thinking about it. Same as when I think about Giant Size Astonishing #1. Joss just knows how to hit my buttons, I guess. 

    And on that note, Happy holidays, folks! 

  3. Excellent article.  Made me think more of that issue that I did during my recent reading of it.

  4. Indeed. I can not disagree, "The Chain" is one of Whedon’s best comic scripts. Subtle and beautiful.

  5. Using a metaphor  found in a work of art as a metapjhor for the production of that  work of art and than transforming that metaphor into something which is repsentative of the consumersf that art?


  6. Wait…what happened?  

  7. "In America, we’re gearing up for Thanksgiving.  It’s a silly holiday rooted in genocide and starvation and, from what I hear, the buckles and tall hats were fabrications to tidy up all that misery.  Sometimes the wrong things get celebrated."

    What the hell?

    That’s a bullshit opinion based on fanatical revisionists overdoing their work on earlier revisionist history.

    Yeah, the pilgrims could be cold bastards, but to call what they did genocide is as narrow minded as calling them peaceful fellows in big hats. 

  8. I think the turkeys would beg to differ.  

  9. Bwah ha ha ha ha!

    Touche Sir Montgomery!

  10. This is a really cool analysis, thanks for posting it.  I didn’t get a whole lot out of ‘The Chain’ when I read it, I’ll have to give it another try. 

    I think my resistance is that, while I get the meta point about her being a nameless link in the chain, I’m not sure the story did enough to show her as anything different.  Sort of like the concept of the potential slayers in season 7. It was a cool one, but somewhat undermined by the fact that most of their characters weren’t that developed, and that I’m still not clear which ones of them lived and died through various fight scenes. 

  11. @ohcaroline – I can’t say whether it would be more compelling if the character had been developed further.  The message is that she’s anonymous, that she’ll never be known.  So some might see it as more devastating that we didn’t even get a chance to ‘meet’ this character.  This, I think, is one of those fill in the blank issues.  As a reader, I fixated on that theme and projected my own thoughts onto the story.  It’s a subjective reaction to the story presented.  I don’t think that developing the character would have damaged this experience, but I also don’t think it was needed.  It’s a fine line though.  I’m a character guy, so I’m wavering on this one.  

  12. I’ll have to reread it and see what I think.  I really enjoyed your reading, so this issue must be doing something right.

  13. Hi Paul.  Great article.  Glad to see someone else out there who appreciates The Chain so much and can write so insightly about it.  It’s such a wonderful issue, but sadly misunderstood and underappreciated in the fandom.  If you’d ever like to chat more about it, hit me up over at Slayalive.  Just wanted to share some of my thoughts on the issue with you that I’ve posted[url=http://slayalive.com/index.cgi?board=tlwh&action=display&thread=4191&page=1#82474]HERE[/url]. 

    I really enjoyed your analysis of the anonymous heroes of the world and how we should take the time to appreciate them.  My own thoughts on the issue focused more on the internal worth of the unknown girl, so it’s great to view it through a new perspective.  Which is very apropos for this issue especially as it focuses on different people’s perspectives.

  14. Here in Brazil we don´t have thanksgiving , but we have forgotten heroes . Thanks for the article ….it makes me wonder …