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“I, Malcolm” by Nathan Fillion November 29, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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Here’s a very funny and well-written essay by Nathan Fillion on what it was like to play Mal in Firefly.

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The Geek on Holiday November 27, 2007

Posted by Chris in Navel Gazing.
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Just in case anyone out there is curious, I’ve been doing the family Thanksgiving thing for the last week or so, so I haven’t had the time to post any new reviews.  I had been going at a pretty steady pace of two or three a week, with a new one usually posted Monday evening, but I didn’t have time to finish last night’s post, so it’ll be another day or so before I can finish it.  Kym:  it’s a Firefly installment, “The Message”.  We’re approaching the end of the Firefly series, so I’m thinking about what comes next.  Any suggestions?

Firefly: Trash Ep. 11 November 20, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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 Mal Seems Naked and Defeated but is Actually Triumphant Through Nakedness

This episode is named “Trash” but more accurately, might have been called “Trust”.  At the beginning we see the return of Saffron — Mal’s pale reflection in the mirror of trust.  While Mal is catching up on old times with a war buddy during a smuggling operation, Saffron is introduced to Mal as his friend’s wife, Bridgette (Saffron’s latest alias).  Mal and Saffron immediately start fighting.  Once the tussle is resolved in Mal’s favor and Saffron is left by her latest husband in Mal’s custody, she convinces him to give her a ride by tempting him with a plan to steal the priceless “Lassiter” (spelling?) — the first hand-held laser pistol.

Or does she?  We’re never told exactly why Mal decides to let her on the ship (albeit, inside a cargo crate — how can she breathe or relieve herself in there, anyways?).  What follows is a confrontation between Inara and Mal where she complains that he is avoiding work on more populated planets — places where Inara could also find gainful employment as a companion — and trying to get by with “petty crimes”. 

Inara:  “What was the last cargo we snuck past the Alliance to transport?”

Mal:  “That was…”

Inara:  “What was the CARGO?!?”

Mal:  “They were dolls…”

Inara:  “They were little geisha dolls with big heads that wobbled!”

Mal:  “Hey! People LOVE those!”

Once again, priceless dialogue with lots of funny.  But this scene tells us more than simply what’s driving Mal to consider Saffron’s plan seriously.  It also updates us on Mal’s struggle to define his role as an individual, a captain of his crew, and as a member of his community.  Before Mal exits in a huff, Inara tells him he hasn’t been after “serious work” lately.  This seems to trigger something in Mal’s mind that leads him to release Saffron from her crate.  The next thing we know, he and Saffron are briefing the crew on the plan to steal the Lassiter.

While the writers have skillfully left out scenes that would have told us exactly why Mal decided to take Saffron’s plan more seriously, the tiff between him and Inara reveals that Mal has continued to try and keep himself and his crew as far away from the Alliance and the rest of society as possible.  However, just as we noted in the discussion of “Out of Gas“, a fundamental tension in Mal’s character is that while he wants to live life independent from the rules and restrictions of society, he needs and wants a life with community.  In trying to get as far away from the Alliance as possible, he puts his crew (read: community) in jeopardy.  In this case, he has been avoiding lucrative jobs on the core planets but hasn’t been able to earn a living for his crew with the jobs he can get at the margins of the ‘Verse.

Mal doesn’t seem to trust anyone, least of all, Saffron.  But he seems to trust himself to out-con her.  This is particularly interesting, since she has conned him before and we’re doubtful that he can outsmart her this time either.  It turns out that the critical difference between this and the last time is the faith Mal puts in his crew.  So while Mal tries to keep Saffron under wraps, we’re shown just how much Mal and the crew trust each other.  Kaylee and Jayne put a lot of faith in Wash and his piloting skills as they climb outside the ship and reprogram a trash bin to fly away to a remote location once the Lassiter is put it in by Mal and Saffron.  Mal shows his confidence in the rest of the crew that the bin will be re-programmed in time to take the Lassiter to safety.  The only weak point of trust in the crew — between Jayne, Simon and River — is highlighted as well, with a side-plot where Jayne is knocked out and Simon gets a chance to confront him over his betrayal back in “Ariel“.  But the ultimate sign of Mal’s trust in his crew is shown through his willingness to make himself vulnerable to Saffron’s inevitable betrayal.

As the heist proceeds we find out Saffron was married to the guy who owns the Lassiter.  During the altercation that follows, we’re shown what might happen to Mal if he were to choose the path of self-reliance.  Saffron only trusts herself and uses the trust other place in her to con them.  Of course, this will be her undoing.  Unfortunately, it’s Mal’s pity for Saffron’s and the pathetic state of her social life that leaves him open to her betrayal.  Saffron steals his gun as they escape from the scene of the crime, leaves him naked in the desert and goes to retrieve the Lassiter from the garbage bin for herself.

The final twist comes as Safron is searching through the garbage in vain for the Lassiter only to find that Inara has beat her to the drop point, taken the loot, and now has her at gun-point.  In the discussion that follows, we find out that Mal and the crew have conned her — that they knew she couldn’t be trusted and had planned all along to have Inara swoop in and save the day.  In planning and executing this con, we see how the writers have resolved some of the tension in Mal’s character between his desires for self-reliance and community.  Ultimately, it is because of his trust for his crew that he’s able to out-scam Saffron.  Without them, he’d be both naked and dead.

Show Support for the Writers — Flood the Studios with Pencils! November 17, 2007

Posted by Chris in Interesting News.
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Here’s a link to a campaign being organized to have fans show support for the writers’ strike by buying and sending pencils to the studio execs.  The pencils will be delivered en masse to the studio heads.  At one dollar a box, this seems like an inexpensive way to show your support.

BSG Season 3: Taking a Break from All Your Worries November 17, 2007

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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Now that the Humans have once again slipped the Cylons’ noose and escaped from the Algae planet, we find Baltar preparing to hang himself inside his jail cell on Galactica, his imaginary Six egging him on.  Just as Baltar is haunted by his betrayals of his human friends, Gaeta is haunted by his role in helping Baltar and the Cylons on New Caprica.  So Gaeta tries to gain access to Baltar’s cell — most likely to kill him — at the same moment that Baltar’s imaginary Six kicks the bed out from under him and the hanging begins.  In the midst of a death-dream where he’s resurrected as a Cylon and then told he’s actually human and attacked by Six, Baltar is saved and revived by his guard and Gaeta.

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 Both Lee and Baltar are Tortured by Guilt — At Least Lee Can Take Refuge in Booze

Cut to Lee and the Chief drinking and commiserating about married life, followed by a drunk Lee returning to his quarters where Dualla awaits.  Interestingly, she gives him an earful about his drinking even while she has a glass of wine in front of her that she’s obviously been sipping from.  This seems to show the contrast between how each of them is dealing with their mutual disaffection.  Lee is drinking to escape from the guilt of his failing marriage, while Dualla is drinking (though I’m assuming, far less) to ruminate on it.

Roslin confronts Baltar to try and shake a confession out of him for his traitorous actions.  While Baltar argues with her and himself over whether he’s really guilty, we’re trying to figure out the same thing, going over what we saw happen both on Caprica and New Caprica to determine whether he really had a chance to defy the Cylons.  In my estimation, while Baltar is certainly guilty of near-criminal acts of self-preservation, he is not guilty of outright treason.  He was always under the thumb of the Cylons during the occupation, and I suspect that he couldn’t have made a move against them without their finding out. 

Gee, they sure have no shortage of alcohol in the fleet, even after they almost starved to death a few episodes ago.  Yes, yes, I’m sure the algae can be distilled into a fine brew, but it seems like they would have higher priorities in the midst of their flight for survival.

There are interesting parallels being drawn between Baltar’s desire for redemption and the Cylons’ monotheistic religion.  One of the main differences between Christianity and polytheism is the concept of sin and the ability to have your sins forgiven by the “one true god”.  Baltar is clearly seeking salvation from his sins, and is hoping that he is a Cylon, thereby absolving him of the guilt he feels for unwittingly (mostly) helping them.

Nice interplay of scenes between Lee bearing his soul to Dualla, admitting his love for her an asking for another chance, and Baltar opening himself up to Gaeta.  Gaeta offers Baltar his compassion the possibility of relief from his imprisonment and some hint of friendship, but Baltar doesn’t fall for it.  He knows he’s being played and figures it out.  Gaeta appears to be acting out of guilt for his role in helping Baltar on New Caprica — his facade of friendship is paper-thin.  Similarly, Lee professes his continuing love for Dualla, but she doesn’t buy it.  She knows that Lee is reacting more to the guilt he feels about his marital infidelities than his feelings of love for her. 

Firefly: War Stories Ep. 10 November 16, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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Mal and Wash:  Tortured for our Pleasure?

The premise for this episode is written into the dialog of it’s first scene — a conversation between Simon and Book, where they discuss the merits of a warrior-poet named Shan Yu.  Book quotes Shan Yu: “…live with a man 40 years…share his house, his meals, speak on every subject…then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge.  On that day, you will finally meet the man.”

Simon:  “What if you don’t live near a volcano?”

Book:  “I expect he was being poetical.”

Simon:  “Sadistic crap legitimized by florid prose.  Tell me you’re not a fan.”

The conversation then veers towards a discussion of what purpose the Alliance had in mind when they experimented on River.  While this obviously sets us up for the plot to follow, I think it also asks fundamental questions about the premise of Firefly itself and the nature of entertainment in our society. 

In a nutshell, Niska — our favorite crime-lord from “The Train Job” — captures Mal and Wash and tortures them.  In the process, Niska reveals his admiration for Shan Yu’s poetry.  He is clearly bent on torturing our heroes, not only for the purpose of exacting revenge on them for defying him, not only as a means of sending a message to the rest of the criminal community that he is not to be disappointed, not only because he’s a vicious psychopath that enjoys torturing people, but also because he’s interested in seeing the “real” person that Shan Yu says is revealed by desperate circumstances. 

This is all well-and-good — it makes for a compelling plot, fraught with danger and suspense.  Clearly, the stakes are high.  It’s also fertile ground for the writers to explore some very dark humor — something this show does very well.  There are just oodles of great one-liners in this episode. 

But on watching this episode again (for the umpteenth time, and loving it still) I’m wondering if the writers aren’t also asking us to question whether we’re somewhat sadistic in our tastes for entertainment too — whether we’re not all fans of Shan Yu without even realizing it.  After-all, what makes this episode work so very well is the torture.  Aren’t we just as excited and thrilled at the prospect of finding out how our heroes will act under torture?  Mal’s ability to defy Niska — his ability to keep Wash from cracking under the pressure by using humor and taunting him — aren’t we thrilled at what we see from the “real” Mal?  As observers, aren’t we reveling in the torture nearly as much as Niska is, albeit, from a safe and comfortable distance?  To me, the writers are asking whether we are more like Niska than we even realize.  Are we too attracted by “sadistic crap,” legitimized here by snappy dialog and fascinating character development instead of florid prose?

Oh, but that dialogue is so very snappy indeed. 

Mal to Wash and Zoe:  “OK…I’m lost…I’m angry…and, I’m armed…”

Zoe to Niska in her “Sophie’s Choice” moment where she chooses to save Wash without hesitation:  “Him,” pointing at Wash, “I’m sorry, you we’re going to ask me to choose, right?  You wanna’ finish?”

Perhaps not so snappy, but nonetheless, damn funny is Jayne’s “I’ll be in my bunk…”

Mal to Niska when the Serenity crew starts it’s assault on Niska’s “skyplex”:  “Listen, if you’ve got guests, I can come back later.” 

All this and plenty more.  The great dialogue relieves us of the proximate discomfort we may feel at seeing all the torture, death, and destruction in this episode.  Without it, I’m sure the plot would be so dark as to turn most people off, perhaps resulting in them turning their TVs off as well.

That point made, this episode is also notable for showing us the cracks in our other favorite characters.  Wash gets into an argument with Zoe before he’s nabbed where he reveals just how jealous he is of Zoe and Mal’s friendship.  Zoe shows how torn she is between her loyalty to Mal and the love and responsibility she has for Wash as her husband.  River shows new depths to her craziness, but in the process, reveals that the insanity does indeed have an uber-purpose — to turn her into a killing machine.  Kaylee shows that she’s somewhat challenged in the bravery department, as she is unable to defend herself and the ship during Mal’s rescue.  Book the preacher completely blows off all pretense of religious pacifism, joining in the fight to save Mal and shooting (and killing?) many of the episode’s “extras” in the process.

In the end, it’s Jayne that has the last word with “Oh hey, free soup.”  Is it stretching the analogy too far by saying that we, as media consumers, are equally as disinterested in the suffering of others, as long as we get the “free soup” of TV entertainment?  Perhaps, but when it comes to the free soup offered in this episode, you know I’m the first in line.

Firefly: Ariel Ep. 9 November 13, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode starts with River suffering a relapse in her mental state.  At first glance, her attack on Jayne with a knife swipe across the chest seems random and unprovoked, but as the story progresses, we see that River has good reason to question Jayne’s intentions.  Jayne’s intentions towards River and Simon aside, this event disturbs Mal and the crew and the seed is planted in our minds that River needs radical interventions to set her back on the path towards some sort of mental stability. 

So when Simon comes up with a plan for the crew to sneak River into a hospital for medical testing and steal valuable medicines at the same time, as so often happens in Firefly, Whedon et al. give us and the characters some moral cover for committing what would otherwise be a self-serving, straight-up crime. 

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 Justification for the Crime:  Simon Examines River’s Surgically Scrambled Brain-Parts

What follows are some less-believable plot devices.  The idea that one can go to a junkyard and find a serviceable flying ambulance is absurd in any time period — past, present or the future.  The materials in any modern vehicle — whether a Ford F350 today or George Jetson’s flying car in tomorrowlandia — would surely end up being recycled or sold in secondary markets.  I doubt they would be able to find one this easily.  Anyways, geeky transportation-related criticisms aside, our crew finds a way to sneak into the hospital with River and Simon posing as corpses.  Jayne, responsible for ferrying their drug-induced comatose bodies to the diagnostic imagery facility, makes a quick videophone call on arrival at the hospital to the Feds, revealing he has sold River and Simon out for a reward.

Once Jayne, River and Simon are nabbed by the Feds, Jayne quickly realizes he will not be rewarded — rather, he faces the same fate as those he betrayed.  As Jayne works on a way to break away from his captors, Mal and the rest of the crew come to understand that Jayne et al. have been caught and start to effect a rescue.  Here’s another bit of sloppy plot construct as Mal et al. are able to come up with detailed design drawings of the hospital to help them plan their rescue.  I’m quite sure that again, in any era and on any world, the designs of a hospital are not made widely available. 

When the “two-by-two, hands of blue” guys show up, they are an imposing and creepy pair, indeed.  I’m just a bit disappointed in their choice of killing tools.  Their little device that slowly and painfully kills the Feds that arrested Simon, River and Jayne through a vicious nose-bleed seems much less effective than say, a simple gun-shot to the head.  I guess there are some killing efficiencies gained by getting to bloody everyone’s nose in the room at the same time (except themselves), but all-in-all, it still seems like a ridiculous device to me.

In the end, we’re led to think that all’s well that ends well, and Jayne has managed to skate by without his betrayal being discovered.  But Mal sees through his story and pushes Jayne into the open airlock of the ship as it’s starting to leave “Atmo’.”  As Jayne begs for his life, he begins by insisting that he would have never betrayed Mal and the crew — his “…hand to God.”  Needless to say, Jayne’s invocation of Divine truthfulness is unconvincing to Mal.  Interestingly, what gets to Mal’s heart is what we are led to believe are Jayne’s last request that Mal not tell the others that he betrayed them.  So, while Mal is not swayed by appeals to his religious beliefs, he is moved by Jayne’s feelings of community (and love?) for his crew-mates.  This redeems what would have otherwise been a somewhat lackluster episode.

Faith, Community and Religion in Firefly November 13, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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Here’s an interesting essay/blog post on religious and community-related themes in Firefly.  It makes a similar point to my earlier post on the episode, “Out of Gas“, where I proposed that Firefly revolves around questions of relying upon (and having faith in) one’s community and the larger social world.  Whedon, an avowed atheist, seems to take a neutral position on the existence of God and the importance of religion in personal and community life.  However, the blog’s author seems to take a leap (of faith?) beyond what I said in my earlier post, and suggests that Whedon’s themes of love for friends and faith in community might really be the first steps towards faith in God and religious devotion.  He quotes Paul in first Corinthians 13:13: “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 

Does Whedon tip his hand and reveal a religious devotion masked by a set of more contemporary and religiously neutral narrative themes?  I think not, but I will credit the blogger with having an open mind and for appreciating the religious themes expressed in Whedon’s work without dogmatically requiring unquestioned faith.

BSG Season 3: Rapture November 12, 2007

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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This episode picks up from the last with Adama threatening to release a nuclear strike on the Algae planet, the Temple of Five, and the fleet’s algae harvesting station unless the Cylons recall their ground-attack forces.  Meanwhile, the D’annas take a stand against the other Cylon models by recalling all but one of the attack ships.  Their defiance — since the other models had voted to recall all the attack ships — disturbs the other models and they begin to deliberate on the idea of “boxing” the D’annas.

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The Eye of Jupiter and the Temple of Five

The melodramatic seriousness of Helo and Athena’s relationship hell (love?) continues to play out as Helo kills her so she can be resurrected aboard the Cylon fleet and retrieve their baby.  This relationship has lost what little appeal it had for me a while ago, so I’m just hanging on through these scenes waiting for something interesting to happen — something like Lee’s ugly betrayal of Dualla.

The battle on the planet surface is tense and entertaining, even if some of the effects rendering the Cylon Centurions looks somewhat fake. 

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D’anna Faces the Final Five and Her “Special Destiny”

Kara’s realization that she’s got a special destiny is contrasted with D’anna’s.  Kara realizes that Leoben may have been right — that she has been seeing visions of the nova of the Algea planet’s star that will lead them to Earth since she was young.  We are presented with this information at the same time that we see the consequences of D’anna’s visions of the final five and her special destiny reaches its climax.  It seems that we’re being shown a possible future of Kara’s character through D’anna’s experience. As D’anna and her entire model is “boxed” by the rest of the Cylons for her messianic tendencies, we’re left to question whether Kara’s visions will lead her down a similar path and whether she is herself, a Cylon.

BSG Razor Movie Teaser November 9, 2007

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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I found this clip posted on Youtube today.  It appears to be battle scenes from the upcoming Battlestar Galactica Razor movie.  Needless to say I’m foaming with anticipation.  The special effects are breathtaking and the music sets the tone perfectly.