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News of the ‘Verse: Bible Thumping Replaces Firefly August 27, 2008

Posted by Chris in Firefly, Interesting News.
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Wow, I haven’t gone to News of the ‘Verse in a while but I clicked the link from my blog and it seems that it’s no longer a Firefly fan site. It now appears to be a site devoted to Christian spin/news.  It’s sad to see a Firefly fan site go down.  Is this heralding the slow decline of Firefly’s popularity among its once-rabid fan-base?  What a bummer…I guess Jesus has his own rabid fan-base as well, but I have to believe that even Sheppard Book is rolling in his grave at this development.  Joss:  I think we need a little Deus Ex Machina on this one…

GeeksOn Interview with Joss Whedon January 25, 2008

Posted by Chris in Interesting News.
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5 comments

Here’s a great podcast interview with Joss where he discusses themes of robots and AI in science fiction.  Lots of fun…enjoy!

Serenity Tales Webcomic January 4, 2008

Posted by Chris in Firefly, Interesting News.
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4 comments

This is a cool Serenity webcomic site I just recently stumbled on to.  I particularly like the new comic, “Yarn” told from Jayne’s mom’s perspective after the Serenity movie time period.  Check it out…

Firefly: Objects in Space Ep. 14 December 29, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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13 comments

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 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.

Firefly: Heart of Gold Ep. 13 December 12, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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3 comments

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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, 2007

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined), Firefly, Interesting News.
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3 comments

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, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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6 comments

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 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.

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

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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3 comments

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

Firefly: Trash Ep. 11 November 20, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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4 comments

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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.

Firefly: War Stories Ep. 10 November 16, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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8 comments

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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.