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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.

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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.

Campaign to Run Firefly During Writers’ Strike November 8, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly, Interesting News.
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Here’s a campaign to get Firefly back on TV.  The idea is to post our suggestions on NBC’s website to run the original Firefly episodes on NBC (or I would also say, maybe the SciFi Channel, one of NBC’s corporate cousins) during the writers’ strike.  While I’m hesitating a bit, wondering if this it’s ethical to take advantage of the strike like this, it seems like on balance this is a good thing.  It should have an insignificant effect on the outcome of the strike while it will help promote the Resurrection of a great show.  So, sign-up everyone!

Whedon: “If something’s going to be said about Serenity, it’s going to be said by me.” November 8, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly, Interesting News.
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Here’s an interesting interview with Joss Whedon where he reveals just how close he feels to his Firefly/Serenity ‘verse.  While he’s willing and able to let others write novels based on his Buffy ‘verse, he’s not able to let go of Firefly — he wants to be the only one to tell these stories…at least for now.  While this means we’ll see fewer Firefly stories in the coming years (he’s only one guy, after-all) I take comfort in the fact that he’s holding on to his creation tightly…he obviously feels he has some unfinished business here.  Come on SciFi channel — reform yourself, redeem yourself, take on the Firefly/Serenity franchise and bring the series back to life!  After-all, the movie was funded and distributed by NBC/Universal, the owners of the SciFi Channel.

Firefly: Out of Gas Ep. 8 November 7, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode is one of my favorites.  Juxtaposed for our consideration are the conflicting aspects of Mal’s personality and the choices he’s made.  In a series of flashback sequences, we see how Mal bought Serenity as his ticket to “freedom.”  Showing the ship to Zoe for the first time, Mal gives a thumbnail of his vision for how they could make their way through their post-war years: “I tell you Zoe, get a mechanic get her up and runnin’ again, hire a good pilot, maybe a cook…live like real people.  Small crew, them that feel the need to be free, take jobs as they come…you never have to be under the heel of nobody, ever again…” 

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Mal Faces the Consequences of Relying on Himself 

Interlaced with these flashbacks are scenes in the “present” where Mal has been wounded and is struggling all alone to repair his damaged ship.  Through these contrasting scenes — Mal as member of a the loving family that is the ship’s crew and Mal alone and near death — we are shown a central tension in Mal’s character.  While he longs for independence and freedom from the society he sees as oppressive, he also needs the tight bonds of companionship that he has found in Serenity —  he needs people but wants to avoid the complications that social life brings.  This tension leads him to take the ship “under the radar”, traveling through the backwaters of space to reach his destination unmolested by the Alliance.  Unfortunately, it is his need to avoid society that puts his family-crew in danger — once the ship breaks down, they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with little chance of rescue. 

Interestingly, the resolution of this problem is for Mal to become even more independent.  Mal puts his ultimate faith in his own abilities by sending his crew off in shuttles searching nearly in vain for help.  At each step, Mal is supremely pragmatic in his choices — he’s always looking for the choice with the best odds of success.  But still, in the end his seemingly pragmatic choices lead him to rely on himself for survival.  As he settles in to save air and fight the creeping cold of space, his earlier idea to jury-rig and “boost” their distress signal (a bit of technobabble was given here to justify a plot point) pays off and a ship arrives with the part needed to repair Serenity.  For a brief moment, it seems Minear is offering us some hope that society can be a positive force — at the very least, it can be the safety net that rescues us from peril.  But this turns out to be a false-hope as the would-be rescuers try to kill Mal and take Serenity.  Here too, Mal needs to rely on himself to repel the pirates and repair the ship. 

Mal drives off the attackers and eventually repairs the ship but just as he is about to send the recall message to the two shuttles carrying the crew away, he collapses and passes out.  When he awakens, the crew has returned of their own accord and we come to understand they’ve saved his life by defying his orders.  This is the last word…after all Mal’s choices to drive people way in his time of crisis and rely on his own resources, it is the loyalty of his crew that saves him.  Social life (if not society as a whole) is redeemed and Mal along with it.

Whedon on the Writers’ Strike and the Media’s Role November 7, 2007

Posted by Chris in Interesting News.
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I particularly like his take on the media coverage of the strike.  Here’s Joss reacting to a New York Times piece on the strikers which said, “‘“All the trappings of a union protest were there… …But instead of hard hats and work boots, those at the barricades wore arty glasses and fancy scarves.””

To which Joss responds:

“Oh my God. Arty glasses and fancy scarves. That is so cute! My head is aflame with images of writers in ruffled collars, silk pantaloons and ribbons upon their buckled shoes. A towering powdered wig upon David Fury’s head, and Drew Goddard in his yellow stockings (cross-gartered, needless to say). Such popinjays, we! The entire writers’ guild as Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Delicious.

“Except this is exactly the problem. The easiest tactic is for people to paint writers as namby pamby arty scarfy posers, because it’s what most people think even when we’re not striking..”

Firefly: Jaynestown Ep. 7 November 6, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode strikes me as fundamentally about how we try to elevate ourselves in life, but in doing so, often get pulled back into the mud.  The crew visits a town where Jayne previously stole the magistrate’s money, but had to throw it out of his ship to get away.  The poor townsfolk were the beneficiaries of this accident, and they thought that Jayne was playing Robin Hood, so they idolized him, made statues of him and sang drinking songs to his glory. 

Jayne tries to elevate himself from want and need through personal enrichment.  But, even as he sought to escape from the dusty town, he ended up losing his fortune and elevating his honor instead.  Since he had no intention of moral elevation, he’s at a loss to know how to navigate his new-found adulation.  His first instinct is to take advantage of the town’s goodwill.  Free drinks, sex, and lots of back-slapping attention — all gladly accepted and encouraged.  But the earnest love of the town gets to him.  He starts to buy into his own (false) image, so just as he’s reaping the rewards of his fame, he gets pulled back down into the collision between the misery of his hosts’ situation and the mercantile interests of his crew.

And here is an important contradiction in Mal’s character as well.  While he fancies himself a space-faring Robin Hood, his motivations in this episode are single-mindedly on personal gain.  Jayne asks Mal, “…do you think we should be using my fame to hoodwink folks?”  Mal has no direct answer, but instead directs him to use the town’s adulation for him to distract the authorities while the crew collects their illegal cargo. 

The doctor’s character is similarly called into question (though not as vigorously) by his botched flirtations with Kaylee.  While he is clearly attracted to her, his high-and-mighty code of proper moral conduct insults Kaylee’s more down-to-earth approach to life.  So, by trying to elevate his life through moral-upright(tight)ness, Simon degrades those who care about him and ends up the victim of others with malicious intents.

Firefly: Our Mrs. Reynolds Ep. 6 November 6, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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Whedon returns to the writing credits in this episode and his fingerprints are visible in the characterizations…particularly Saffron, Mal’s un-intended.  Like other women in the Joss-‘verse, Saffron is strong, capable and quite willing to throw-down when necessary.  What Saffron is lacking is a conscience…she’s a stone-cold sociopath.  Her lack of morality is keenly offset against the world Mal has constructed for himself where his personal morality dominates the ship.  At first, Mal’s morality is clearly an impediment to him — first in terms of his ability to read Saffron and understand her true nature, and then in terms of his ability to to fend off her manipulations — and it makes him an easy mark for her nubile “come-hither/I’m an innocent” con.

With the exception of Kaylee, the crew sees Safron through the lens of their own anatomy:  males see sexy-innocence, and females, trampy-dangerous.  Even Book doesn’t read her as he warns Mal to resist her temptations or go to the “…very special level in hell reserved for child molesters, and people who talk at the theatre.”

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Jayne Clearly Sees Saffron as an Innocent —  That’s Why He Wants To Buy Her From Mal With His Favorite Gun — He Understands Saffron Through the “Lens” of His Male Anatomy Too

When Saffron makes her move to take the ship and kill the crew, she uses her full-range of abilities — sexual attraction, technical prowess, emotional manipulation and general kick-assery.  She lures Mal into a knock-out kiss, distracts Wash with a come-on followed by a kick to the back of the head, sabotages the ship to send it to the space ship chop shop, and nearly takes out Inara with a face-paced seduction followed by more Kung-Fu whammies. 

Interestingly, Whedon paints Inara to be the most intuitive of the bunch — she sees right through Safron’s game — but in the process, this calls into question the morality of Inara’s character and profession.  As Inara claims, “You can’t play a player,” and in writing this, Whedon points a finger of doubt at the morality of Inara’s work.  She understands Saffron because they are similar.

The dissonance between Inara’s game as “a player” and her status as a member of our favorite crew is only partially resolved at the end of the episode where Mal captures and confronts Saffron after escaping from her trap.  “Everyone plays everyone else…” she asserts while Mal retorts that this is not always the case…that people can choose to trust and take care of each other.  This shows Mal is aware of the difference between Saffron and Inara, but surely he would never admit it outright.

“You have the right, the same as anyone to live and…try to kill people…” says Mal earlier in the episode to Saffron.  I love this line.

Whedon Dispels Serenity Movie Sequel Rumors November 4, 2007

Posted by Chris in Interesting News.
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In this recent interview at msn TV, Whedon dispels the rumors that have been circulating about interest by the studios in doing a Serenity movie sequel.

Here’s the critical bit from the end of the piece:

Actor Alan Tudyk mentioned the possibility of another “Firefly” movie in a recent interview. Is that wishful thinking? Is something happening? If so, can you talk about it?

I can talk about it because it’s wishful thinking. I always said, they made the special edition DVD because they cannot keep the DVD on the shelves. That’s what they told me, and they really went to the mattresses to make something special because they knew I wasn’t going to do a “director’s cut” because the “director’s cut” played in theaters. So they really pumped up the extras and I really appreciated that. And they also (slides into a Peter Lorre-ish voice) made it look pretty, finally. But I think what happened was that I said, “Well, if there’s hope for a sequel, it’s people buying the DVD,” and that translated into something more literal. But, no. Right now, nobody has any plans to do any kind of sequel. If they do, I hope they’ll include me, because if I find out Brett Ratner is directing it, I’m going to be so mad. That’s not a dig on Brett. I want to do more, but nobody’s talking about doing more right now. 

Firefly: Safe Ep. 5 November 4, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode spends some more time carrying on about River’s craziness — an element of the series arc that you may notice, grinds on me a bit.  But unfortunately, the story revolves around River, her surgically-enhanced lunacy, and how it can cause everyone around her to have a really bad day.   Mal and the crew deliver their cargo of illegal beefsteak to buyers on a backwater moon, and find their deal goes sour when the local law shows up.  Book gets shot in the crossfire, setting up the need to get him to a doctor.  While their own genius surgeon would seem a perfect fit for the job, Simon and River are kidnapped by some hillbillies in search of decent medical coverage.  Once the crew finds out that they’re missing, Mal makes the call to leave the moon and to seek medical help on a nearby Alliance cruiser.

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River Gets Loose Just Before Getting Nabbed

Again, we are asked to consider the morality of Mal’s choices.  One thing is for sure:  he shows no hesitation when he finds out Simon and River have been snatched — he immediately gives the order to take off.  Clearly, he’s willing to sacrifice them for the good of saving Book.  As viewers, we’re mostly on board with this decision — the logic and practicality of it at least — but the fact that the writers provide no clear directions to us on how we should interpret and judge this choice shows some deftness of storytelling skill.  Though I’ve made this point in earlier posts (wait, was this really my idea or Kym’s?  I can’t remember now), it bears repeating that this technique draws us into the story, almost as if we were active participants.  Put simply, it is one of the things that makes the series great, even if this episode is not one of my favorites.

Once Simon and River reach the hillbilly hideaway, River’s unique combination of psychosis and psychic powers begin to bloom.  By reading the minds of these simple hill-folk, River makes herself the target of a real-life witch burning.  Later, in the Serenity (the movie), we see how the crew has started to put River — who has to large degree, been mostly trouble for everyone — to work for them by using her psychic insights to help pull off their thievery. 

Meanwhile, back in this episode, Book manages to get the medical attention he needs by showing his “ident” card to the cruiser’s commander. He’s instantly granted access to the ship’s surgeons, who remove the bullet.  But now, Mal and Zoe realize that there’s something in Book’s past — something undoubtedly about his work life before becoming a man of the cloth — that make him important to the Alliance.  It’s interesting to me as I write about this show how the subject of work continues to crop up.  How we earn a living and what we have to do to and with others in the course of our work lives seems to be an important theme for the series.

While I certainly don’t detest this episode, as I said before, it’s clearly near the bottom of my list.  And now that I’m reflecting on that feeling — and it is a feeling more than anything else — all I can really say is that this episode doesn’t thrill me.  Perhaps it’s primarily about my impatience with River.  Is that the writing, Summer’s portrayal of her, or some combination of the two? 

Of course, all this being said, this is the episode that gives us the “big damn heroes” quote. I’m sure the editors of the Big Damn Zine (shameless plug) would agree that this redeems the episode almost as much as Mal does for himself when he returns to rescue River and Simon.