Firefly: Objects in Space Ep. 14 December 29, 2007Posted by Chris in Firefly.
Tags: Firefly, Serenity
Which is More Dangerous — A Gun that Looks Like a Stick or a Crazy Killing Machine that Looks Like a Girl?
Sadly, here we are at the last episode of the series. By this time, the cast and crew surely knew they had been canceled and the mood of this episode seems appropriately gloomy. Understandably, the plot for this episode addresses a fundamental question of the series: Is River so damn crazy that she can’t be trusted? But turnabout is fair-play, and the episode begins with River walking as if through a dream where she imagines (or perceives) what each of the crew’s true feelings are towards her and each other. Simon tells her he’d be a successful doctor back home if it wasn’t for her. Jayne tells her he couldn’t help but betray her because the money was too good and Book tells her he doesn’t care if she’s to blame or not for her craziness. It seems as though River’s telepathic abilities make her a lens through which we can see into the minds of the rest of the crew members and through her, we’re able to see the hidden conflicts and craziness of and between them as well. Wash and Zoe seem so preoccupied with each other that River perceives no hostile intent from them. On the downside, their lack of awareness of the threats around them mean they spend most of the episode in bed while the rest of the crew are saddled with handling an intruder.
To understand the true weight of River’s craziness and whether it is dangerous or not, we’re introduced to a truly dangerous and crazy character in the form of Jubile Early, a bounty hunter that sneaks on to the ship and tries to grab River. In meta-show terms, Early appears to play the role of the FOX executives who canceled the show. His very name speaks of this role in that the show was canceled “early” and Early is the symbolic instrument of that untimely demise. Like other villains in Firefly, Early’s a psychopath and as such, he’s totally unencumbered by feelings of compassion or guilt. During a painful scene where he threatens Kaylee with rape unless she cooperates, he says: “Ain’t nothin’ but a body to me, and I can find all kinds of unseemly manner of use for it…” Whedon et al. must have had a similar impression of their FOX bosses who couldn’t seem to understand the depth of feeling and commitment the show’s creators had for it — they must have seemed like senseless show-killers. In a way, this episode is really a revenge fantasy for the show’s creators, seeking to get the final word on the bounty-hunter FOX executives. So while Early and River are roughly equivalent in the crazy department, he’s dangerous because his intentions are entirely self-serving and malicious.
At the beginning of the episode, we’re asked to consider just how dangerous River is in a scene that echoes her display of frighteningly good gunfighting abilities in War Stories. River finds a pistol and she’s instantly surrounded by the rest of the crew who talk her into letting it go. The crew’s reaction to her shows clearly just how dangerous they think River might be. Like a parent to a wayward child, Mal tells River in no uncertain terms, “No touching guns.” Toward the climax of the episode, River takes this line and turns it on its head as she repeats these words to Zoe and Wash as they’re about to go fight Early, indicating she thinks the rest of the crew may be just as untrustworthy. As River is talking to the crew through the intercom (acting like she’s become one with Serenity) she questions whether the crew can be trusted as she says, “…and no touching guns.”
Even seeing this pattern in the scenes and the dialogue, I still don’t exactly understand why River would think they’re untrustworthy. The reason why she wouldn’t want them to use guns is not clearly stated. It would seem like the most natural thing for practically anyone in this situation to seek the advantage in firepower to overcome an armed adversary. One guess I have is that River sees the threat coming to and from the crew itself. River has ostensibly morphed into the very fabric and workings of Serenity and as the voice of that machine which keeps them all alive, she would seem to be concerned that by using guns, the crew is a threat to Serenity — both in the literal and figurative terms as the physical ship would be harmed from gunfire and the peace and “serenity” of the crew and ship would be at risk as well. This hypothesis seems confirmed by River’s speech to Early and the crew as she decides to give herself up. She says, “I don’t belong….dangerous like you…can’t be controlled….can’t be trusted. Everyone could just go on without me and not have to worry. People could just be what they wanted to be…could be the people they wanted. Live simple…no secrets.” Here, River echoes some of the key themes of the series. Indeed, here River sets up the movie to come by channeling Mal’s inner-most desire and motivation to live simply and “…take jobs as they come…” as expressed in Out of Gas. So, at the end of this episode at the end of the series, one of the most critical plot and character development elements appears to be the relationship between River and Mal which sets the stage for the movie which is told as a story about Mal by River. It’s not clear to me whether this is an intentional “set-up” for the movie by the writers, but it does seem clear to me that this is an important dynamic in the series. It is clearly a story of the importance of trust; both in terms of how it is lost and how it can be regained.
But interestingly, in the end, it’s Early that speaks for the show and it’s predicament (and Serenity) as he floats through space to his demise and says: “Well, here I am…” Yes, here it is, the end of the show and it’s creators make it abundantly clear through the use of some veiled metaphor that they were seriously pissed off at FOX for killing their “Serenity”. They were also using this episode as forum to ruminate about their hurt and angry feelings, asking pointed questions about the nature of trust and how much it sucks to have it betrayed. How do you know when the person next to you isn’t going to rat you out like Jayne did to Simon and River in Ariel? Fortunately, this all makes for fun and interesting viewing. But, at this point I’ve watched this episode almost three times to get this far in writing this post, so just as when FOX axed the show virtually in mid-sentence, I will put this post to rest as well.
BSG Season 3: The Woman King December 15, 2007Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
Tags: Battlestar Galactica
It’s Helo Alone Against the World (Again) — But Who’ll Save Us From Another Stand-Alone BSG Episode?
As mentioned in a post for a previous episode, the quality of BSG episodes tends to wax and wane depending on whether the plot is a “stand-alone” or serves the larger story arc of the series — “stand-alone” episodes tend to suck. This episode appears to serve mainly to fulfill a contract requirement for Tahmoh Penikett, the actor who plays Helo, as the story concentrates on his assignment to take care of the refugees who are being harbored aboard Galactica. As he’s processing them a civilian doctor named Robert (Cue the Beatles: “He’s a man you must believe, he helps everyone in need, no one can succeed like Doctor Robert…”) discovers a deadly virus has infected a group of refugees known as the Saggitairons. Unfortunately, this group (like Christian Scientists?) doesn’t believe in medical interventions, so while the disease is easily treated with an injection, Saggitairons are dropping like flies.
There are a couple of interesting turns in this episode despite it’s slow pacing and sub-par entertainment value. Caprica Six’s imaginary Baltar returns and asks her why she came to Galactica. She doesn’t have a satisfying answer, but Imaginary Baltar answers his own question, saying she’s there because she wants to be human. According to him, the trick to being human is to only think about yourself. Clearly this is the real Baltar’s shortcoming, so it makes sense that Caprica Six would believe that the rest of humanity is similarly hobbled. And perhaps it’s largely so, but the main storyline of this plot centers around the selfless actions of hero Helo, so we’re led to believe that in contrast to what Caprica Six and her imaginary friend may think, humanity does have the ability to act altruistically.
Altruism is a characteristic that many associate with doctors, but Helo grows suspicious of Dr. Robert after Ms. King, a Saggitairon with a son that dies from the virus, tells Helo that Dr. Robert killed him. Saggitairons become the symbolic stand-ins for all victims of prejudice and hate as we find out that Dualla is one (although she denounces their “paranoid thinking”) and Col. Tighe openly applauds their deaths. Helo’s suspiscions are piqued and he starts digging into the records of Dr. Robert. When he finds the evidence he’s looking for — that Dr. Robert is intentionally killing Saggitairons — he finds himself a lone voice defending those who are victims of prejudice; a situation that none-too-subtley echoes his defense of Athena, the “good Cylon” and his arguments with Roslin and Adama on the immorality of exterminating the Cylon race.
When Dualla goes to Dr. Roberts to get an injection (she comes down with the illness), she looks like a strung-out drug addict begging for a fix? “Hey doc, I don’t really fell so good — think I could get some of that Bitamucin?” says Dualla, all pale and itchy looking. Was this intentionally written this way to play on our own prejudices of African Americans as drug addicts or is this just a coincidence and I’m imagining it? Whatever the cause, we’re clearly supposed to associate our own prejudices for African Americans with the other colonists’ racist opinions of Saggitairons.
As Helo rushes to save Dualla from Robert’s fatal injection, Tighe and Dr. Cottle arrive to arrest Robert as a murderer, autopsy evidence “in hand” that he’s been poisoning them. Helo’s persistence, belief in himself, and altruistic sense of duty to those oppressed win the day, and Tahmoh Penikett get’s his moment in the series spotlight. All-in-all, a pretty lousy episode, and unfortunately, it’s not the last we’ll see in this season which takes another nose-dive starting here.
Firefly: Heart of Gold Ep. 13 December 12, 2007Posted by Chris in Firefly.
Tags: Firefly, Serenity
Don’t Argue: Horse Beats Hover Craft Every Time!
Uggghhhh….this one kinda hurts. I cringe as I watch…I cringe as I write. This is probably my least-favorite of the Firefly episodes. The obvious reference in its title is to the archetypal “hooker with a heart of gold”. The plot revolves around a house of prostitution that’s not companion guild-certified. Their lack of status is their undoing, as the local rich guy thinks he’s the father of a pregnant prostitute in the house and means to claim his child while proving to the world that they’re whores and he’s in a position of power over them. The prostitute is of a mind to tell him to buzz off, and her madam — Nandi, a friend of Inara — calls in Serenity to help fight the jerk-off off.
So, despite the cringe-factor in this episode (more on this later), there are some interesting themes running though it (hey, it’s Firefly afterall). One is the further development of Inara’s character and her relationship to her work. As discussed in this blog’s post on Shindig, I think a recurring theme in Firefly is how we carry ourselves in the work-world. In this episode, Inara’s hypocrisy towards her profession is presented for our examination. Her initial discussion with Mal about the plight of her friend shows that she considers Nandi and her house to be lowly “whores” and not noble companions. As she says this, it’s clear that she’s not totally comfortable labeling her friend in this way, but she doesn’t talk about her doubts; doesn’t discuss her misgivings about a society that elevates prostitutes who are part of a union and persecutes those who are independent of society’s direct control. Here we see Whedon et al.’s progressive vision of feminism expressed. The episode’s plot serves as a palate for exploring how women’s sexuality is controlled and comodified. These women have taken control of their own sexuality and seek to use it for their own gain, but in doing so, they become vulnerable to the whims of psychopaths like Burgess — society punishes them for controlling their bodies even as it encourages them to sell themselves to survive.
Mal’s vision for himself and his work is open for discussion too, as he initially thinks that Nandi’s call for help to Serenity is directed to him, calling him to fulfill his secret (even to himself?) ambitions to be a hero and protector of the innocent rather than just a petty thief. The fact that Nandi is really asking Inara for help highlights Inara’s ambivalence towards Nandi’s whoring ways — while she seems to agree with society’s assessment of Nandi’s status, she feels compelled to protect Nandi, even at risk of suffering the wrath of the Companion’s guild if they should find out. It’s not clear if Mal perceives the full weight of her ambivalence towards Nandi’s situation, but he seems to relish the opportunity to play hero.
If it wasn’t clear from previous episodes, Jayne shows his true, self-interested colors by refusing to help fight Burgess until he finds out he’ll be protecting prostitutes, at which time he quickly realizes he can get some free trim and signs on.
At the end of this episode, a tectonic shift in the series arc takes place when Inara tells Mal she’ll be leaving him and Serenity. This is an interesting development on many levels, not the least of which is that she tells Mal just as he seems ready to reveal his love for her. Ouch! But more importantly, her decision reflects on her internal conflicts about how to rectify her feelings for Mal and the crew and the nature of her work. Put simply, as a prostitute you can never grow attached to the people you work with. If you do, work stops being work and starts to become family — at which point, you no longer have the income and identity that work provides. So while Mal and the rest of the crew have reveled in their successes at making Serenity a home and their crew-mates family, Inara has felt her work identity threatened by her love for the ship, it’s crew and for Mal in particular.
Things that “bug” about this episode include: The fact that Mal is able to catch Burgess in the climactic chase scene on horseback while Burgess is in a hovercraft….uhhh, wouldn’t a hovercraft be able to go a little faster than a horse? The fact that Burgess has a laser pistol that conveniently runs out of battery power just as he’s about to shoot Mal. After if fails to fire, the camera shows us the pistol’s read-out saying “Check Battery”…uhhh, cheesy as fu*#! As mentioned earlier, the whole “hooker with a heart of gold”, thing is straight-up Cheese-Whiz. Finally, Burgess’s character is so one-dimensional it hurts. If they had given him a little more complexity — a little less playing the “heavy” — it would have given some added depth to the story.
Hmmm…is that it? Is that all the criticisms/cringe-making things I can come up with? Doesn’t seem like much once I’ve written it. Well, maybe this episode isn’t so bad after all…
Interview with Jane Espenson — Firefly & BSG Writer December 11, 2007Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined), Firefly, Interesting News.
Tags: Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Jane Espenson, Razor, Serenity
Here’s an interesting interview with Jane Espenson, former Firefly writer (Shindig) and current co-producer and writer for Battlestar Galactica (Razor). She has some interesting insights into the sci-fi and western sci-fi genres and what plot and character elements help these stories “break-out” from being appreciated by just us sci-fi nerds to develop a wider fan-base.
Firefly: The Message Ep. 12 December 2, 2007Posted by Chris in Firefly.
Tags: Firefly, Serenity
Lesson Learned: Don’t Play Your Friends for Chumps — They May Have to Shoot You
Well, I’ll start off by saying I’ve had trouble writing this post. I’m not exaclty sure why, but I don’t seem to see a clear point of entry into this story like I have with others. Overall, I like this episode — it’s fine. Not great, just fine for this series (which puts it well ahead of most TV right there). What’s clear to me is that once again, trust and community are central themes of this episode, but here we explore these concept in terms of the way we present ourselves to the world. How we carry ourselves through life and present ourselves to friends and foes is explored. For Mal, there is no variation. He presents himself consistently to everyone. He has a strong sense of identity and with it, a strong sense of morality, however compromised and imperfect it may be. Most of the crew share this honesty…this sense of being true to themselves and to each other. While Simon does not play a critical role in the plot of this episode, on reflection, the episode seems to point its criticism at him. Basically, it seems to accuse him of being disingenuous in his dealing with Kaylee and the rest of the crew.
The episode begins by showing us several examples of people lying for personal gain. Mal and the crew encounter a series of packages and people who are not what they first appear to be. Simon and Kaylee visit a carnival sideshow (sort of like Ripley’s Believe it or Not in space), complete with a “barker” who tempts the passers by to pay, enter and witness “…proof of alien life.” Inside they find a mutated cow fetus displayed in a large glass jar. It’s a hoax, intended to bilk people for their money. At first, they’re not disappointed since they both relish the opportunity to have some time alone together. Simon tells Kaylee with admiration, “You manage to find the bright side of every single thing.”
Kaylee: “Tell me more good stuff about me.”
Simon: “Well, you’re kind of a genius when it comes to machines, you always say what you mean, and you’re eyes are…”
Kaylee: “Yeah, eyes, yeah…”
Simon stutters and then lamely attempts a half-truth joke: “…and um, I don’t know how to, um….and plus, every other girl I know is either married, professional, or closely related to me so…you’re more or less, pretty much the only girl in the world.”
Kaylee insulted and angry at him now, stomps off and leave Simon to ponder where he went wrong. To me, it seems that Simon is out of his element in more ways than one. He’s certainly not skilled at playing the romance game, but beyond this, his joke reveals an essential dishonesty of his character. While he has given up everything to save River, he’s also put the crew at risk by taking refuge on Serenity. While they have knowingly helped him at their own peril, Kaylee suddenly realizes an essential truth of Simon’s character by deciphering the code of his joke: while he has chosen his life on Serenity, he’s there for self-preservation and not out of love for the crew. As time has progressed, he has obviously become attached to them, and he seems to be falling for Kaylee, but these are all attachments of convenience and necessity. If he had complete freedom of choice, he would go back to being a rising-star surgeon and would probably find love within the social stratum of that life — he would not choose her.
Back with Mal and Zoe, they find that a package they pick up contains the body of one of their war buddies known as Tracy. A flashback follows where Mal, Zoe and Tracy are fighting a battle among the ruins of a city. Ostensibly, this scene gives us the back-story of Mal and Zoe’s relationships with Tracy during the war, but there are a few interesting, additional observations to be made from this scene. The first is how Tracy carried himself through the battle, and probably, through the whole war. To put it simply, he’s selfish, and we’re asked to compare his selfishness to Simon’s. In this scene, he settles in to get a bite in the middle of a battle — a time when he should be helping his comrades. Just as he’s about to be taken out by an enemy soldier that sneaks up while he’s chowin’ down, Zoe saves him with a rather gruesome knife-to-the-throat action. Tracy remarks at how he never heard the guy coming. Zoe responds that the first rule of battle is to never let them know where you are. This cues Mal’s entrance, him screaming and firing wildly as he runs — definitely not in stealth mode. So, Tracy seeks his pleasures and in the process, puts others at risk by doing so, and then needs to be bailed out by the people who call him friend. This turns out to be exactly what Tracy does in this case as well. Tracy isn’t really dead, of course, and it turns out he’s conned Zoe and Mal into transporting him to sell some artificial organs he is carrying in his body for sale on the black market.
But before the crew finds out Tracy is still alive, Kaylee takes an interest in him. The message he’s left for Mal and Zoe tells that he had fallen in with a bad crowd and was expecting to be killed. He asks that Mal and Zoe take his body home to his parents for burial. Something about his story takes hold of Kaylee’s imagination. Her admiration for Tracy only grows when they all find out he’s faked his own death. Once he’s fully revived, he tells the story of how he’s double-crossed the criminals who gave him the artificial organs to transport and is trying to deliver the goods to a higher bidder. Using this money, he claims he can get his parents out of poverty. So, at first glance to Kaylee, Tracy seems motivated by similar goals to Simon. Both have put themselves at severe risk to help those they love. This story speaks to Kaylee and she’s attracted to him for similar reasons to her attraction to Simon.
But as it turns out, Tracy has betrayed Mal and Zoe in an effort to pull-off his heist, and whatever his intentions were for using the money for himself or the benefit of his family, we’ll never know. Fearing that Mal is about to turn him over to the Feds, Tracy takes Kaylee hostage and tries to run for safety. Zoe, Mal and Jayne take him down. Before Tracy dies, he asks Mal and Zoe to do what he had asked them to do before — to take him home to his parents for burial. In the end, this redeems Tracy’s character, and we as the audience are able to accept that the crew authentically mourns his passing even though they were duped by him.