Firefly Fridays – Episode 7: “Jaynestown”

So, this was the fourth episode aired, but it was also the first one after the show was pre-empted for baseball, something that definitely didn’t help with Fox’s reputation amongst the fanbase. But, whatever, on with the review!

SUMMARY

In the beginning, Simon and Kaylee are talking about Simon’s language; specifically, that he doesn’t swear. Simon insists that he does, just only when appropriate. Inara passes by on her way out of the ship, to which Kaylee wishes her “good sex.” The pair are then interrupted by Jayne destroying the infirmary looking for tape so that he can conceal a gun on his person, only to be told by Mal that there will be no guns on the planet. Jayne mentions that he has enemies on the planet, which Simon sarcastically questions, but Mal insists on going in unarmed.

FireflyEp7SimonKaylee
Have good sex… Seriously, you two.

The ship lands in Canton, a town that harvests mud for manufacture of high-grade ceramics using indentured labor. In an attempt to spend more time with him, Kaylee suggests that Simon should come along. Mal agrees, saying that Simon could easily pass for a rich man looking to buy mud, which will divert attention. Book offers to watch after River while Simon’s off the ship.

The land-crew, consisting of Wash, Simon, Mal, Kaylee, and a disguised Jayne, wander into the Mudding Pits, only to find a statue of Jayne which people have clearly been treating as an altar, lighting votive candles and leaving gifts. Simon, proving his word, can only mutter “son of a bitch.”

FireflyEp7Statue.jpg

Jayne says he has no idea what the statue is about, as the last time he was in Canton he committed a robbery that “went South,” which he imagines the Magistrate is still pissed about. At that same moment, Inara is meeting with the Magistrate (Gregory Itzin), who wants her to solve a problem for him.

FireflyEp7Inara.jpg
If the problem doesn’t go away after 4 hours… Keep Inara around.

Back on Serenity, River is “fixing” Book’s Bible. She’s attempting to solve the scientific impossibilities of the Garden of Eden by incorporating “non-progressional evolution” and Noah’s Ark with quantum-state phenomena. Book states that “you don’t fix faith, it fixes you.”

In a Canton Bar, the group is trying “Mudder’s Milk,” the single greatest alcoholic beverage ever created: It’s proteins, carbs, and vitamins, described as “your grandma’s best turkey dinner,” plus 15% alcohol. Why do I love this so much? IT’S BASICALLY VITAMEATAVEGAMIN!!!! Only with less alcohol. Simon points out that Mudder’s Milk is basically the same as the beer they gave slaves in Ancient Egypt to keep them from malnutrition, because why be subtle?

ILoveLucyTaste
Same great taste!

Mal finds out that the man they were supposed to meet was killed a few days prior, so they need another way to get the merchandise across town without being detected by the Magistrate. They’re then interrupted by a man playing a god-honest folk-song about Jayne called “The Hero of Canton.” The song explains the hero-worship, explaining that when he was here previously, Jayne robbed a large amount of money from the Magistrate, then dumped the money over all of the poor mudders of Canton. Jayne explains to the crew that when he stole the money, his ship got hit by a missile, and so he had to dump all of the money in order to escape. It was completely unintentional.

FireflyEp7Ballad.png
This must be what going mad feels like.

Back on Serenity, in one of the best short gag scenes in the series, River is trying to apologize to Book, saying that she “tore these [pages] out of your symbol and they turned into paper.” Book, who’s using the sink, turns around with his hair unbound from his usual ponytail, and reveals himself. I’m gonna put a picture in here, because I think the only verbal description is that he looks like a cross between that photo of Einstein sticking his tongue out, a man getting electrocuted, and John Legend in the year 2065. River, naturally, runs away screaming. Zoe comes to see what happened and is similarly taken aback by his hair.

FireflyEp7Book.jpg

As the crew leaves the bar they are confronted with a crowd who now recognizes Jayne as their hero. Jayne is quickly mobbed, while Mal tries to figure out how to use this to their advantage.

Inara is on her shuttle when the Magistrate brings in his “problem,” his son, who is 26 and a virgin. Inara, annoyed by the Magistrate’s attitude, convinces him to leave the pair alone.

At the bar, Simon and Kaylee are getting drunk and somewhat flirty. Mal tries to get them to leave, but Kaylee insists things are “going well,” which Mal correctly interprets and leaves them to their drinks.

FireflyEp7SimonKayleeDrunk
Hamsters come up as a topic. Because they’s nice.

On Serenity, River is hiding under the stairs, saying “They say the snow on the roof was too heavy. They say the ceiling will cave in. His brains are in terrible danger.” I consider these lines nothing short of brilliant. Book asks her to come out, to which she explains: “I can’t. Too much hair.” Book tries to explain that it’s part of his vows, but Zoe just tells River that he’s putting the hair away. Wash and Mal return, explaining the Jayne situation to an incredulous Zoe. Mal plans on having Jayne be at a celebration in his honor in the town, which should distract everyone enough to transport the cargo.

That night, Inara and the Magistrate’s son, Fess (Zachary Kranzler), talk, with Inara insisting that he be more confident in himself. At the same time, the Magistrate releases the partner Jayne abandoned four years ago, sending him to attack Jayne.

The next morning, Jayne’s still basking in his own glory, and Simon and Kaylee wake up together, resulting in Simon saying something exceptionally stupid and offending her. She insists he stay in the bar, because “that’s the sort of thing that would be appropriate.” The “ya blew it” look Mal gives him after is perfect.

FireflyEp7MalLook.png
That’s the one.

Inara wakes up with Fess, who explains that he’s going to be helping his father get revenge on a hero who thwarted him. Inara starts to defend Mal, only to find out that it’s actually Jayne, something that leaves her flabbergasted. God, I love an opportunity to use that word. Fess reveals that the Magistrate has grounded Serenity.

Jayne’s old partner, Stitch (Kevin Gage), attacks Simon and cuts his arm when he tries to avoid telling him where Jayne is. The crew transfers the cargo successfully. Jayne gives a short, somewhat decent, speech to the mudders before being confronted by Stitch who tells everyone the truth about what Jayne did. Stitch tries to kill Jayne, but one of the mudders who has been idolizing Jayne most jumps in front of him and is killed. Jayne proceeds to beat Stitch to death with the base of his own statue. Jayne tells the crowd that there are no heroes. There are just “people like [him].” With that, he destroys his statue.

FireflyEp7Hero

With the help of Fess, the crew takes off. Book goes to talk to River who is highlighting a Bible. She tells him to “Just keep walking, Preacher man.” Simon and Kaylee flirt again, with Kaylee pointing out that his manners don’t mean anything in their position, but Simon insists that’s how he’s respectful. She then makes a joke about them sleeping together to mock him.

The episode ends with Mal and Jayne sitting together, and Jayne remarking that it’s stupid for the man who died for him to have done so, and that they’re probably putting the statue back up. Mal agrees, but tells Jayne:

“It’s my estimation that…every man ever got a statue made of him, was one kind of sumbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. About what they need.”

Jayne closes the episode saying, “Don’t make no sense.”

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, this episode again highlights a big theme of Firefly: The inequity of the system of government. In Canton, the Magistrate holds all of the workers in indentured servitude. It’s even a selling point for the mud. The Foreman flat-out says: “We have over 2000 workers, mostly indentured. We pay them next to nothing, that way we can pass the savings directly to you, the customer.” Basically, they’re advertising “hey, we force people to live in terrible conditions to enhance profits.” Now, many people might point out that this is similar to the business model of [insert almost any major corporation], but the difference in Canton is that the Magistrate is the one in charge of this and also the one who has legal right to enforce debts. It’s basically like if Wal-mart had a private army keeping their workers in the store… or if this were the railroad and mining conglomerates of the 1800s and early 1900s.

FireflyEp7RailroadStrike
Railroad strikes were fun

However, while watching this episode, one other aspect of the society in Firefly becomes apparent: There’s almost no automation within the series. While we know that computers are capable of auto-piloting spaceships, we don’t see some of the basic automated processes we see emerge in the present, like crop-sprayers or self-driving harvesters. The focus of this episode is on “mudders,” literally people who farm mud, something that lends itself readily to being done by machines.

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This automated planter exists already.

 And yet, somehow, slave-ish labor is apparently the way they choose to do things. There are only 3 ways this makes sense:

Option 1 is if indentured servitude is cheaper than automation. Given that the workers A) constantly are trying to undermine the Magistrate and B) appear to only work during the day, this seems unlikely. It’s not like it’d take a complicated mechanism to harvest mud and, as evidenced by the very existence of Serenity’s engine, near-limitless power is not particularly expensive in the future. I can’t imagine it costs less to feed, clothe, govern, etc. the mudders than to upkeep some machines. Since the Magistrate is rich and able to both import and manufacture goods (as shown by his home), there’s also no scarcity of materials issue.

Option 2 is if the Union of Allied Planets has banned robotics. This actually seems probable, since the only robot I remember from the series is Mr. Universe’s (presumably illegal) robot bride. The only problem is that banning AI or humanoid robotics wouldn’t likely prevent the kind of mechanisms required for harvesting mud. It’s not like you need to be able to process emotions or quantum physics to figure out “check how muddy this mud is. If it’s muddy enough, collect it. If not, muddy it more.” It’s at this point I should reveal that I’m not 100% sure what the mudders actually do, since they don’t actually make the ceramics, but I can assume it involves purifying the material and making it the appropriate chemical composition to be made into ceramic plating. Pretty much no matter what, it seems like a relatively simple set of algorithms could handle it, compared to the ones required for INTERPLANETARY TRAVEL. To those of you who would point out that interplanetary travel is not as complicated when you don’t have to account for fuel… yeah, okay, but it’s still a lot of math to figure out the closest routes based on orbitals and such, or routes that don’t intersect with certain territories, so shut up you pedants.

FireflyEp7Lenore
Yeah, she’s a sexbot

Option 3, and probably the actual reason, is that many of the members of the Alliance, like the Magistrate, thrive on preserving their status. For the Magistrate to be wealthy and authoritative on his moon, he has to make sure that no one else on the moon ever has any wealth or authority. Power only exists in relative terms, after all. Even though pseudo-slavery might not be the most economically viable model for the Magistrate to be rich and powerful on an Alliance-wide scale, it makes sure that he’s the most powerful man on his little moon. I’m sure there’s an analogy one could make to certain historical models of government or society where people were kept in an intentionally deprived state for the claimed purpose of easier economic exploitation but might instead have been based more heavily around preserving a power structure by suppression of a large group, but my slavish attempts to name one have been feudal.

FireflyEp7BadJoke

And, really, this is somehow one of the most ridiculous and yet one of the most understandable aspects of the Firefly future: People have shitty lives entirely because the Alliance wants them to have shitty lives. This is the future. Energy is now post-scarcity (though not to the Star Trek level). Interplanetary shipping is part of life. Asteroid mining is stated to exist repeatedly. There are dozens of planets worth of resources and finding more is no longer a ridiculous concept. Everyone should basically have all of their base needs met at all times, just because it would be easy to provide them. The starting point in a future society with this level of resources should be above safety on the hierarchy of needs, and yet it’s often below physiological, with people dying from lack of medicine or adequate shelter, and a huge percentage of the population not being “burdened with an overabundance of schooling,” despite the fact that they have an interplanetary internet. Even without knowing that the government experimented on River in a completely unethical and immoral way, the state of the future speaks volumes as to their cruelty.

FireflyEp7Pyramid.png

River and religion is just a very funny aside for me. It’s a perfect point-counterpoint when she’s trying to make the Bible into a scientifically viable, logical system, something that Book, accurately, states is not the point of faith. Faith is supposed to make you better through your interactions with something bigger than yourself.

Overall, I love this episode. It’s not in the top-tier for me, but it’s a damn good hour of television. The idea that Jayne, literally the LEAST moral member of the crew, becomes a folk hero through complete happenstance is hilarious, but the message at the end is really what makes the episode for me:

The truth of a person isn’t what people need. They need the idea.

Jayne himself even says that there aren’t really heroes in the world, that there are only people like him, who do good through failing at their own selfishness. But, in the end, the mudders need someone to believe in. They need something to unite them, so they can keep going. They even point out that the only things they’ve ever been able to beat the Magistrate on was to keep the money they believed that Jayne gave them and to keep up the statue of Jayne. Those were the two things that convinced them to have a riot serious enough to defeat the administration. And maybe one day they’ll believe in the story of Jayne enough to unite and change their circumstances again for the better. You’d think they’d realize they could do that based on the fact that their riots actually forced the Magistrate to change his mind, but history says people in oppressed groups often take a while to hit their breaking point. However, faith in a focal figure also helps, since interaction with something bigger than yourself can make you better… oh, wait, I said that already. Weird.

Also, the “Ballad of Jayne Cobb” should have gotten certified gold.

Score: 4.0 Fireflies (or 1 Jug of Mudder’s Milk)

FireflyEp7Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 6: Our Mrs. Reynolds

NEXT – 8: Out of Gas

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Firefly Fridays – Episode 6: “Our Mrs. Reynolds”

This was the third episode to air, following “Bushwhacked.” It didn’t have a ton of added-on material, it seems, and I will say the following: This might be the only good decision involved in the re-order. Putting this episode on earlier is a great idea. It’s lighter in tone, but still has a lot of great character work, it’s cast-centric, has one of, if not THE, best openings in the show, and has Christina Hendricks really nailing her guest role as Saffron. Great hook episode. Also, having it after “Safe” has one logical flaw that I’ll address at the end.

SUMMARY

FireflyEp6Opening

The episode starts with a covered wagon moving through a shallow river-bed. A group of bandits on horseback appear to ambush the wagon.

FireflyEp6FloralBonnetThe leader asks for the goods in the wagon, and then implies he’s going to rape the woman sitting at the front of the wagon. The man driving the wagon, revealed to be Jayne, advises against this, because his “wife” is a “powerful ugly creature.”

At this point, the wife is revealed to be Mal, who quickly banters with Jayne before addressing the bandit leader and telling him to surrender, because:

“…if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”

FireflyEp6CrownHe touches metal, and Mal, Jayne, and Zoe quickly kill all of them. The locals throw a party to celebrate their liberation from the bandits, at which Mal and Inara flirt, Jayne gets drunk and is given a rain stick by the village elder, Zoe and Wash cuddle by a bonfire, and a local girl places a crown of flowers on Mal’s head before offering him wine. Mal is amused by this. I’m also amused because Mal wears both a floral bonnet and floral crown in the span of 5 minutes.

The next morning, the crew leave, and Mal finds a stowaway onboard in the cargo hold. When he asks who she is, the young woman, Saffron, responds “Mr. Reynolds, sir. I’m your wife.”

FireflyEp6Saffron1.jpg

Jayne and Zoe enter the cargo hold and are mildly amused by the situation. Mal, however, is panicked about this turn of events, which leads to him constantly denying that the marriage exists, to the apparent dismay of Saffron. Zoe invites the rest of the crew down to meet Saffron, to a variety of reactions. Simon, confused, congratulates him, Wash mocks him, Book asks to see a dictionary, Kaylee is excited and defensive of Saffron, and Inara just looks unhappy. Mal continues to deny that he’s married, causing Saffron to burst into tears.

FireflyEp6Saffron2Mal asks to return her to the planet they left, but Wash points out that the Alliance landed after they left, and that one of the bandits was a citizen, so they’re potentially wanted for murder if they go back. Book returns to inform Mal that, by the customs of the planet they were on, he is INDEED married. In fact, she was given to him as a form of payment for services rendered. When Mal asks about divorce in front of Saffron, he is yelled at by Kaylee and Inara before Saffron leaves.

FireflyEp6Saffron3
Sad-fron

Mal follows after her and talks with Saffron about what to do with her. She’s worried he’s going to kill her, but he assures her that he’s going to find her a job and a life on the next planet they land on. She seems disappointed, but he says that she’ll realize he’d be a terrible husband. Upon hearing they have five days, however, she seems to be determined to prove her worth. First, she runs off to cook him dinner.

At this point, Book meets Mal in a hallway and instructs him that divorce is difficult in her religion, but he will help. Book then tells Mal that if he takes sexual advantage of her, he’s “going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.” Mal takes some offense to this statement, so Book agrees to set Saffron up with a separate room. Mal agrees. Book then pops his head back in to remind Mal:

FireflyEp6Book.jpg

THE SPECIAL HELL

FireflyEp6WashZoeMal goes to the dining room where Saffron has made him dinner. Wash and Zoe join him and Wash quickly manages to put his foot in his mouth concerning his wife making him dinner. Zoe begins to find the situation less humorous as he does so, until Mal finally leaves, which allows Wash to finish his dinner. Saffron, in a hilarious moment, asks Mal if she wants her to wash his feet. Mal merely walks off.

Mal goes to see Inara who isn’t exactly happy with him. Tempers quickly flare with them shooting barbs back and forth. Inara is clearly upset that Mal’s actions have hurt their relationships, while Mal is subtly trying to remind her that they don’t actually have a relationship and he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. He ends up getting kicked out by Inara and running into Jayne.

FireflyEp6Inara
When this face says “Great,” it ain’t.

FireflyEp6VeraJayne, in another hilarious moment, offers to trade Mal his best gun, Vera, for Saffron. Mal, of course, finds that idea repulsive. “She’s not to be bought, nor bartered, or borrowed, or lent. She’s a human woman doesn’t know a damn thing about the world and needs our protection.” Jayne, unhappy, accepts this.

Mal runs into Saffron, who comments that he’s a good man for resisting Jayne. She agrees to find a job at the next planet. We’re then shown two men planning to “net” Serenity if they come their way, but nothing else.

On the bridge, Zoe is now angry at Saffron’s presence on the ship. Wash tries to justify Saffron’s behavior by pointing out that she’s from a different culture, at which point Zoe becomes angry that Wash is defending her. She heads to bed, leaving Wash alone. Mal returns to his bunk, only to find Saffron naked in his bed.

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She tries to seduce him, but Mal resists at first. She stands up naked in front of him, and Mal says that it’s not that she isn’t pleasing to him, he just thinks it’s immoral. She proceeds to read the Bible:

On the night of their betrothal the wife shall open to the man as the furrow to the plow. He shall work in her again and again, ‘til she bring him to his full. And rest him then upon the sweat of her breast. – Iplayah 6:9

Mal can only respond, stunned “Whoa. Good Bible.”

FireflyEp6Saffron4
Bone not, Lest ye be Boned

She attempts to seduce him again, but he resists, saying that he can’t consider them married as payment for a debt. Not that he isn’t tempted, because it’s been “a long damn while since anybody buy me took ahold of my plow.” She persists, saying:

“If I’m wed, I am a woman, and I’ll take your to leave to be bold. I want this. I swell to think of you in me. And I see that you do, too.”

And yes, that line comes with the obligatory crotch glance.

FireflyEp6CrotchGaze
I don’t know why Mal has to look.

She tells him that she will absolutely get off on the next planet, but just begs him to give her one night. He says “Oh, I’m gonna go to the special hell,” and kisses her, before regaining his senses and starting to tell her that he can’t… right before he realizes he’s been drugged and collapses.

FireflyEp6KissSaffron joins Wash on the bridge and tries to seduce him, but he never really considers it, leading her to kick him unconscious. Saffron drags him out, seals the bridge door, and heads for the spare shuttle. She runs into Inara, who eventually realizes that Saffron is trying to manipulate her, but Saffron attacks her, gets into the shuttle, and takes off. Inara runs to check on Mal, finds him alive, and kisses him from relief. She calls for Simon, then realizes that she’s also been drugged, and passes out.

Mal awakens to find out that Saffron has disabled steering, navigation, and communication, in addition to sealing the bridge. They manage to make it inside the bridge, but still cannot steer, and then learn that they’re headed for an electromagnetic net that a chop shop runs. When they hit the net, everything in the ship gets electrocuted. They manage to destroy the net from outside of the ship using Jayne’s gun “Vera,” as well as kill the chop shoppers. Kaylee manages to fix the ship’s steering.

FireflyEp6MalInara.jpgMal tracks down Saffron and attacks her in her room, but ends up sparing her life. Mal then confronts Inara, who claimed earlier that she had “tripped” rather than admit she kissed Mal. Mal makes her admit that she didn’t trip, but instead of realizing the truth, assumes that she also kissed Saffron, leading Mal to walk away smiling with Inara looking stunned.

END SUMMARY

I love almost everything in this episode. The dialogue has almost no weak points. Mal’s personality and values are explored. Saffron is an amazing character to have in the episode. Inara and Mal’s relationship is deepened. Zoe and Wash’s relationship is… not really tested, but I bet Wash is getting the good sex that night for not even really considering sleeping with Saffron. Book and Mal have one of the funniest sequences in the show. It starts off with a shootout in a covered wagon, and most of the episode is in a spaceship. Pretty much as space-western as it gets.

FireflyEp6Saffron6.jpgSaffron’s character is perfect for the setting of Firefly. She uses the rural and odd nature of the colonies of the Outer Rim to bind herself to Mal, who she knows won’t hurt her. She quickly ingratiates herself to some of the crew, while sewing discord amongst the others. She does it all so perfectly and so naturally that, until Wash refuses her, everything she does really seems to be going to plan without anyone suspecting that she even HAS a plan. She’s just that good with reading people and playing her character. And, full credit to Christina Hendricks, she does slightly alter her behavior when around the other characters to really sell that she’s conning all of them in subtly different ways. Best of all, this is to basically set up an ambush in the middle of space. Or… the left of space. The down? Space is weird.

FireflyEp6NetWhen the plan does start to break down, first with Wash, then by running into Inara and being rushed to cover for herself, Saffron is still competent and efficient. She gets into the shuttle and leaves immediately, abandoning the crew to their fate. Given that the chop-shoppers say that she “gets it done,” this appears to just be her standard operating procedure. One can only imagine how many people she’s left to die in ships headed for the net.

Mal’s character in this episode is pretty great, too. When he finds out that he’s married, his first instinct was to be horrified and insist that he wasn’t, because Mal actually cares about marriage and other such pledges of loyalty, so he doesn’t want to do one lightly. Everyone else just seems amused by Mal’s carelessness in letting it happen, or thinks Mal is being overly cruel to Saffron, with the exception of Inara, who is just upset with Mal. When he is finally confronted by a very seductive, and very naked, Saffron using the full extent of her implied companion training, he still manages to hold on to his principles, even after he wavers long enough to kiss her. It’s a hell of a moment.

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He resisted this after years of not having sex. He deserves a medal.

It’s really hard to single any part of this episode out because the entire thing is pretty great. This was the second episode I saw originally, and it was the reason why I said “this show could be amazing.”

FireflyEp6RiverThe only weakness in the episode is that they had to keep River out of it, for the most part. As aired, she has no lines in the episode. In the intended order, this is kind of a necessity, since we just had an episode that made it explicit that she can read minds. In the actual airing order, since we didn’t really have as much understanding of River’s abilities, it doesn’t raise as many questions.

Of course, it turns out that there actually WAS a scene filmed with River speaking in the episode, it just got cut for time. That scene was actually pretty funny, since it involves River trying to convince Simon to marry him so that they’ll always be together. During that sequence, when Mal and Saffron come in, River calls her a thief, but Saffron admits she took some food. Saffron says she didn’t realize she was seen, and River says “I didn’t see you.” Then, they move on, dismissing River, who now tells Simon they have to get married. She shoves a pillow under her shirt and says “I’m in the family way.” It’s a great scene and at least addresses the issue. Oh, hey, I found it online:

Since River gets a huge part of another episode focused on a guest character, I’m willing to overlook the lack of her in this one. It’s not the best episode of the show, objectively, but it’s one of the best for people who like the show. It’s got western elements, plenty of space elements, great performances, great dialogue, and humor out the wazoo. Great episode all around.

Serenity Scale: 5 Fireflies (Or 1 Night with Saffron)

FireflyEp5Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 5: Safe

NEXT – 7: Jaynestown

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Firefly Fridays – Episode 5: “Safe”

FireflyEp4OrderHey, remember all of that stuff from last week about how the episode order got screwed? Yeah, this aired the week after “Shindig,” so all that stuff applies. They did at least have the sense to air this before “Ariel” which kind of depends on events from this episode, but by airing “Bushwhacked” and “Safe” after “Jaynestown,” you kind of cut-off most of the interactions that make it so devastating, and therefore hilarious, for Simon to find out that Jayne is a folk hero. Well, whatever, children conceived during this episode will be driving soon, it’s time to get over it.

Kidding, never forget. Hold networks accountable.

SUMMARY

FireflyEp5YoungTams
So cute.

So, this episode has some flashbacks in it, this time to the history of the Tam siblings. Notably, Zac Efron plays Young Simon in his first appearance on TV. In the first flashback, we see Simon (~15 yoa) studying. At the same time, a very young River (~6 yoa, Skyler Roberge) is playing around the room, and Simon tries to direct her back to her dance practice. River naturally answers that she already learned the routine, before correcting Simon’s textbook, calling the whole conclusion “fallacious.” We then see Simon begging his father (William Converse-Roberts) for a dedicated Source Box, which is basically an interplanetary internet hook-up. His father makes it clear that, in exchange for one, Simon has to become a brilliant doctor, though he does it in a jovial way. Also, he mentions that Simon would have access to stuff from the “cortex,” which I assume is some sort of “ultraporn.” Although, given how uptight Simon is, it could very well just be women wearing hoopskirts and bloomers. Boy needs to get laid (though we know he won’t for LITERALLY YEARS).

FireflyEp5MalSimonIn the present, Simon is trying to drug River, which is proving hard without her consent. Her rampage causes Mal to ask Simon to keep her a little calmer, due to the cows being on board from the last episode. Mal is surprisingly understanding when it comes to River’s behavior, including the great line “See, morbid and creepifying, I got no problem with, long as she does it quiet-like.” However, ultimately, he tells Simon to get her under control, with an implied “or else.”

The crew unloads the cattle, and River starts to talk with them. Mal comments that, on the ship, River refused to go near the cows. River responds with:

“They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are.”

To which Mal replies: “Is it bad that what she said made perfect sense to me?”

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The only good Riverdance

Mal sends the Tams away while he conducts the transfer of funds for the cattle. The pair join Inara and Kaylee at a local general store, where Kaylee’s attraction for Simon is hurt a bit by Simon’s stupid mouth-brain interactions, particularly when he calls Serenity “垃圾,” (lè sè) which basically equates to “crap” or “garbage.” She leaves, offended, while Simon loses track of River, finding her at a dance festival. At the same time, the authorities arrest the buyers of the cattle for a murder, resulting in a shoot-out that ends with Book taking a stray bullet. When I say “at the same time,” I mean that River’s dancing is intercut with the shootout, until River collapses when Book is hit.

Simon gets abducted by some locals and, when he tries to resist, knocked out, leading to the next flashback, where an adult Simon is talking with his mother (Isabella Hofmann) and father about letters he’s received from River which have a code hidden in them. His parents tell him not to worry about it, because it could jeopardize his future.

FireflyEp5AbductedBack in the present, the Tams are being forced by locals to head through the woods, while Mal, realizing that Simon has been grabbed and he doesn’t have time to find him, takes off to find a doctor for Book, ultimately agreeing to take him to an Alliance facility. Unfortunately, the Tams see the ship leave and believe they’ve been abandoned. It turns out that Simon was kidnapped so that he could be the doctor to the locals.

FireflyEp5Doralee.jpgWhile Book is revealed to have some hidden higher status to the Alliance, River and Simon are getting by, until River reveals the inner thoughts of a mute girl, leading the nurse to declare her a “witch.” Yeah, I’m not kidding, and I still think this is really f*cking stupid. THERE ARE SPACESHIPS WITH APPARENTLY NEAR-INFINITE ENERGY DENSITY IN THEIR CORES, PEOPLE. YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE AT THE POINT WHERE YOU ASSUME MAGIC IS JUST “SCIENCE.” This isn’t a planet that is unfamiliar with the fact that there are unbelievable technologies on other planets: They just watched Serenity take off. I get that this girl is kind of uber-religious and that psychic powers aren’t commonplace, but it still comes off to me as ridiculous that she doesn’t at least consider that maybe it’s just something people from other planets can do, rather than jumping to “witch.” Then again, we have flat-Earthers, so maybe people just will always be dumb.

FireflyEp5MontyPython
Required during any mention of “witches.”

There’s a brief flashback of Simon’s dad bailing him out of trouble and saying that, if Simon doesn’t drop his search for River, then he is dead to the family. This is just to hammer home that Simon’s family sucked more as time went on.

We then get the first inquisition. The next guy who claims River’s a witch makes sense, at least, since it’s apparent that he doesn’t actually think she’s a witch, he’s just worried that she’s a psychic and he’s concealed a murder. Simon steps in front of the crowd and claims that they’re just killing an innocent girl out of ignorance. They say they’re going to do it anyway, because mob. River then says “time to go,” resulting in Serenity swooping in and allowing Mal and Zoe to deliver probably my favorite exchange in the series:

MAL: Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
ZOE: Big damn heroes, sir.
MAL: Ain’t we just.

FireflyEp5BigDamnHeroes

The crew saves the Tams. Simon asks Mal why he came back, and Mal says that they’re on the crew. It’s not a choice for him. It’s an imperative. The episode ends with River stealing a roll from Jayne.

END SUMMARY

This episode really has some great moments.

FireflyEp5SimonRiverThe flashbacks with the Tams really helps the audience understand the nature of Simon and River’s relationship by showing that their parents generally treated them as tools for advancing their own social status, rather than as people. It shows us why they’re so close, why Simon doesn’t talk to his parents, and truly drives home that he threw away everything in order to get her back. At one point, River even makes this explicit, and Simon says “妹妹, (little sister) everything I have is right here.” When he’s willing to die with her at the end of the episode, it’s really a heartwarming moment… aside from being horrifying.

FireflyEp5TamDad
Apparently a bad dad

Counterpoint, of course, is that it comes off a little… too much, at times. I get that River is unusual and the school’s prestigious, but the fact that there’s apparently no way to talk to her aside from hand-written letters in a future of instant super-luminal communication should be suspicious to anyone. Especially since, unlike the Outer Rim Planets, the Tams are a wealthy and prestigious family on a firmly Alliance planet. They have connections. The fact that Simon CAN’T get in touch with her directly should not be something immediately dismissed, even by people who don’t feel a strong familial bond with her. Of course, the first scene, where the father seems to genuinely be appreciative and warm towards his children makes the conclusion where he completely writes them both off even more extreme and almost unbelievable. Also, did they find out that Simon eventually abducted her from the facility? Do they know they’re fugitives? Did they realize they were wrong to doubt him, or do they think he’s crazy and are worried he’s kidnapped River? We never got an update since the show got cancelled, so who f*cking knows?

FireflyEp5CowsAlso, this is an episode that makes River’s abilities much more explicit, including showing her being incredibly well-read and intelligent at what can’t be more than 7 years old. One of my favorite moments is when River is swearing at the beginning of the episode, she’s clearly channeling Jayne, even using his swears and tone. Later, when she is dancing at the festival, she empathically feels Book get shot, then reads a mute girl’s mind and the town chief’s dirty secrets. Even if the characters don’t seem to firmly understand by now, the audience gets that she’s psychic. She drops a line about exactly how long it takes to exsanguinate a person, which also hints that she’s been trained in effective ways to kill someone, although it could also just be a random thing she knows. River’s moment with the cows is a great sequence because it is one of the few moments that really hammers home that she’s not quite as “crazy” as you think, sometimes she just is thinking about things on an entirely different level than the norm. Even when it’s not part of her psychic abilities.

The big damn heroes moment is so perfect that TV Tropes named the trope after it, for that moment when the hero saves the day in a moment of awesome. It’s especially impressive because in the last scene we see of Serenity before it, Jayne suggested that life would be easier without the Tams, Zoe seconded, and Mal seemed to agree. Of course, since it’s a TV Show, we know they were going to show up, but at least it does try to make it a little ambiguous.

Now, for the things that the episode didn’t quite nail: Much of it. This episode definitely has its moments, to be sure, but a lot of the episode is kind of forgettable. The dance/gunfight sequence is neat to watch, and showcases Summer Glau’s incredible dancing ability, but it’s not quite intense enough to make up for the fact that a lot of what happens after is basically re-treading some established character development or serving to build up the separation for the finale. The parts with Simon and River on the planet are not bad, but also, they’re not particularly vivid or memorable. The hill people are unsophisticated and desperate and crazy, but it still seems kind of contrived that they literally go to “burn the doctor’s sister for a witch” in like 10 minutes. Nor that they don’t reconsider killing Simon when they already established how desperately they need him just to survive. I guess it’s so we don’t feel bad when he leaves at the end? Either way, there’s a lot of gray fuzz in my memories of part of this episode, because it just isn’t as interesting. But, when the good parts of this episode are on, they’re as good as anything else in the series.

Score: 3.5 Fireflies (or 1 Black-Market Beagle)

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 4: Shindig

NEXT – 6: Our Mrs. Reynolds

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Firefly Fridays Episode 4: “Shindig”

FireflyEp4Order.jpgOkay, we’re now truly into the f*ckery that was 2002 Fox Network. So, after skipping “Serenity” and airing “The Train Job” and “Bushwhacked,” Fox then aired “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” interrupted the broadcast the next week for Baseball, aired “Jaynestown” and “Out of Gas,” then finally aired this episode. Now, some people would say that nothing in this episode really impacts the three that aired before it, and that’s true, but this episode leads directly into the next episode “Safe,” and that episode has several character developments that build into the three episodes that now had aired already. In short, sh*t be whack.

Well, whatever, that’s over and done with, so let’s review the episode.

SUMMARY:

FireflyEp4Pool

The episode starts with Mal and Jayne playing holographic pool with some men at a bar. Inara is watching, amused, until Mal reveals that he’s picked one of their pockets due to their occupation as slave traders. Unfortunately, he’s caught and a bar brawl ensues.

Back on the ship, the crew prepares to return to Persephone, the planet on which they originally picked up Book and the Tams. On the way down, Inara arranges to spend a few days with a regular client, Atherton Wing (Edward Atterton), which irks a jealous Mal. Still fuming over Inara, Mal insults Kaylee’s femininity. The entire crew, aside from Jayne, leave Mal to his own devices, which results in Mal and Jayne being abducted by Badger (Mark Sheppard), the gangster from “Serenity.” Badger has a deal in place with a man named Warwick Harrow (Larry Drake), but Harrow refuses to deal directly with Badger. So, Badger hires Mal to act as the go-between at the same party that Inara and Wing are attending.

FireflyEp4Badger
If you think I’m not posting an image of Mark Sheppard, you are wrong.

As a sort of apology to Kaylee, Mal buys her the fancy dress she wanted and brings her as his date to the party. Meanwhile, Wing offers to make Inara his “personal companion,” which would take her off of the ship.

fireflyep4washzoe.jpgBack on Serenity, Book, Jayne and Simon play cards, wagering chores they have to do. River wanders around, but then tears the labels off of several cans while saying that “they’re always reaching out.” It’s revealed, though not commented upon, that the containers she destroys all bear the “Blue Sun Corporation” logo. Wash and Zoe are seen in bed, happy. As this is a Joss Whedon property, you can rest assured that they’ll both be together forever.

FireflyEp4Dance.jpgAt the party, Kaylee is insulted by the local elite girls, until she is saved by a group of older gentlemen who admire her technical knowledge. Mal makes contact with Harrow and proposes Badger’s deal, but before he gets an answer, he is interrupted by Inara and Wing. Mal and Inara dance, angering Wing, who pulls them apart. Wing states that she is his property for the night, and almost calls her a whore, before Mal cuts him off by punching him. Wing says he accepts. Mal, confused, is told that his punch constitutes challenging Wing to a duel in the morning. Mal offers to shoot him now, but is told that he’ll be using a sword.

Harrow offers to be Mal’s second on the grounds that he liked watching Mal punch Wing. However, Wing is an expert swordsman who has apparently killed a dozen men in duels before now. Mal tries to practice with Inara’s help, but, unfortunately, he sucks at it.

Badger is sent to Serenity to keep the crew from mounting a rescue. The team tries to figure out a way off of the ship and suggests a diversion. River emerges from the back of the ship and, adopting a surprisingly good accent, pretends to be from Badger’s home world. She mocks him and his aspirations, as well as his false image, calling him “sad little king of a sad little hill.” She then leaves, letting Jayne say that her performance was “exactly the kind of diversion [they] could have used.”

FireflyEp4River

The morning arrives, and Wing toys with Mal during the duel, to the point of setting up ridiculous feints and jests. To every observer, Mal is outclassed. However, Wing breaks Mal’s sword and gets distracted by Inara, leading Mal to punch him with the handle, pick up Wing’s blade and put it to Wing’s throat. The observers insist that Mal kill him, but Mal refuses, saying “Mercy is the mark of a great man.” He then changes this to “good man” and then “alright” after poking Wing in the stomach a few more times.

Wing threatens Inara, but she counters that, as a companion, she actually has more power than he does, and says that he’ll never be able to use her service again. Harrow, impressed with Mal, agrees to contract with him. Mal and Inara talk about the events while Kaylee looks over her nice dress. The episode ends with a shot of the cargo: A herd of cattle.

FireflyEp4Cows

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, this episode appears to have very little in terms of scenes added or subtracted to compensate for the re-ordering, although, that’s probably because this episode was actually re-ordered LATER in the show. So, mercifully, I’m gonna leave that out of this review.

Whedon likes dichotomies, and this episode is no exception, with two pretty big ones.

FireflyEp4JewelStaite
Jewel Staite. ‘Nuff Said

The first is Character vs. Class. Mal pretty much summarizes this at one point in the episode: “My work’s illegal, but at least it’s honest.” Mal is saying that, while he is a thief, he makes no apologies for being a thief, nor does he pretend to be anything else. Meanwhile, everyone at the party is basically portrayed as being two-faced. Atherton is a powerful, rich, and respected man, but he’s killed 6 people for what is implied to be no good reason and at one point says that he should have “uglied [Inara] up so much no one else’d want [her].” He’s literally a murdering misogynist, and yet, the society considers him to be upper class. Harrow is a Lord, and proud of it, but he also is implied to be engaged in at least gray-market smuggling. The women who put Kaylee down are implied to be completely worthless aside from having money… and, also, they are nowhere near as attractive as her, but that’s another discussion. And, though he himself isn’t an aristocrat, River calls Badger out for trying simultaneously to lie about being an honest businessman, while also lying about how tough of a gangster he is. He’s just a “sad little king of a sad little hill.”

FireflyEp4Badger2.jpg

Interestingly, Mal calls Kaylee out for wanting to wear a dress that’s completely impractical for her work, basically reproaching her for wanting to be part of the lie, but this is kind of a contrast for his other assertions, because he ends up regretting it. And that’s because, while it is a lie, it’s also Kaylee’s dream, and it’s not right for Mal to kill that.

Aside from the party, the duel itself is pretty much the penultimate representation of the “lie of it all.” When Atherton challenges him to a duel (or accepts Mal’s unintended challenge, rather), Mal is not averse to fighting him to the death. Mal immediately says that they can shoot each other right now. However, he learns that there is intense ceremony behind the duels which serve the purpose to blur the reality that Mal perceives: This society has decided it’s okay for people to kill each other over mean words.

FireflyEp4Duel.jpg
If only there was a metaphor for two competing ideologies…

Now, Mal doesn’t generally seem to agree with this notion, since he routinely refuses to kill people who malign him, but he is okay with the idea of dying for a principle he believes in. Still, this is an odd moment for him, because he’s prepared to risk his life, but he’s being told that he cannot do it in a way which he considers appropriate. Then, ultimately, he refuses to kill Wing, despite all that he’s done and despite the “rules” of the society, because Mal doesn’t believe it’s right. So, ultimately, who has more class: The aristocrats who favor petty murder, or the thief who only favors killing and dying when it is on a firm principle?

FireflyEp4MalMalcolm Reynolds. The answer is Malcolm Reynolds.

The other big theme in the episode is related, but, honestly, it feels a little more shoehorned in. This theme comes up in several episodes, this isn’t the best one focused on it, and it has a little more of a “straw man” representation within the episode, possibly just so that Whedon could make sure that people weren’t considering Mal to be part of a “future Confederacy.” It’s the theme of recognizing the function vs. the person, which here is represented by “slavery.”

The episode begins with Mal pickpocketing some men after finding out that they’re slavers. While Mal is a thief, this usually isn’t his preferred method within the series, which kind of makes it stand out. Basically, Mal’s general level of gentleman theft stops applying when he finds out that these people are slavers… but, apparently, he isn’t planning on doing anything further against them. So, he hates slavery, but only enough to steal someone’s wallet. Still, it’s part of the theme that he doesn’t support removing someone’s humanity by treating them as an object.

Later, the focus of Mal’s hatred towards Wing’s treatment of Inara is that Wing starts to call her a “whore” when Mal punches him. Mal then calls Inara’s school “whore academy,” leading to this exchange:

INARA

You have a strange sense of nobility Captain. You’ll lay a man out for calling me a whore, and yet you keep calling me one to my face.

MAL

I might not show respect to your job, but he didn’t respect you. That’s the difference. Inara, he doesn’t even see you.

FireflyEp4MalInara
Head Canon accepted. Always.

And this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, but it isn’t. Wing wants to buy Inara. He wants to make her part of his personal collection, because of her beauty and the prestige surrounding having a companion. Mal, who loves Inara, doesn’t objectify her, but appreciates her for the person that she is. He doesn’t try to control her, except in his capacity as captain.

Now, Mal also doesn’t like prostitution, but, I don’t think we ever really get a definitive statement as to why. Even in “Heart of Gold,” when they’re at a brothel, Mal doesn’t seem to really have an objection to prostitution. When asked about getting “serviced,” the conversation implies that it’s not that Mal doesn’t want to get laid, it’s that he’s a person who likes to save it for people he has feelings for, and he feels for Inara. That doesn’t explain why he seems averse to it when he first meets her, but maybe it was because of the tendency for prostitutes to be treated as less than human, even if he fights against that. Or maybe he really just is that kind of “old-fashioned.”

Ultimately, I have a few problems with this episode, too. Like I said, one of the themes seems kinda forced, even if it’s recurring. The dialogue is good, but it’s not quite as snappy as it is in other episodes. River’s scene with Badger is one of my favorites in the series, but it’s only like 40 seconds and, since the team doesn’t capitalize on it, it’s mostly pointless except to let us know that River can pretend to be other people (something that’s ancillary to the whole “psychic super-genius” thing). The duel is kind of a dumb plot device to rest on, especially given that Mal, as Inara points out, doesn’t have a problem running from a fight he’s sure to lose. Also, when Wing is toying with Mal, it really goes too far. Most of the characters in this episode, especially Wing, are a little too one-dimensional, also. Overall, I like it about the same as “Bushwhacked,” but it’s a little bit more entertaining.

Score: 2.6 Fireflies (or 1 Punch to Atherton’s Face)

FireflyEp4Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 3: Bushwhacked

NEXT – 5: Safe

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Firefly Fridays – Episode 3: “Bushwhacked”

Welcome to the third episode in the series, the second to air, and the second one that had to have awkward parts shoved in to account for “Serenity” not airing.

SUMMARY:

The episode starts with the crew of Serenity playing a future version of Calvinball. If you don’t understand what that means, please go and read the entirety of Calvin and Hobbes. Or, just read the next sentence: It’s a game where the rules can change at almost any time, and you never play the same game twice. It’s a goofy childish game based around fun, rather than rules. Simon, naturally, doesn’t understand it at all.

FireflyEp3Calvinball

Wash goes to check on a proximity alarm, and a corpse hits the windshield. They find an abandoned ship floating through space. Mal decides to investigate. When he asks what it is, River mutters “Ghosts.”

FireflyEp3DerelictThe crew determines that the ship was likely a group of colonists, but are suspicious that there is no emergency beacon coming from the ship. Mal and Zoe head over to the ship, finding signs that the ship was occupied normally immediately before whatever killed the crew happened. Food is out, someone was writing a log entry, the ship’s power was on, etc.

Jayne tells Simon to come over onto the ship, but then pranks him by telling him to wear a bulky spacesuit, something Simon fears, despite the ship now being filled with oxygen and connected to Serenity. The crew explores the ship, meanwhile, River sneaks onboard. They notice that the lifeboat is missing, but that the shuttle wouldn’t house even 1/3 of the passenger manifest. Despite this, no corpses.

FireflyEp3CorpsesMal and Zoe find a sealed room and cut their way inside, with River following, but inside they find a group of corpses that have been hung from the ceiling and gutted. Mal says he knows what did this and orders Jayne to get everyone off of the ship, but Jayne is attacked by an unseen man. Jayne knocks him off, and the crew find a scared young man in the corner.

FireflyEp3Survivor1
The “Survivor”

They bring the man back to the ship, where Mal reveals that the ship was attacked by Reavers, something that terrifies everyone on the ship that knows the word. Jayne wants to deny that it was Reavers, desperately, to the point of outright contradiction and rebellion. Book says it was just bad men, but Jayne says the famous line “Reavers ain’t men,” to which Mal agrees.

Mal allows Inara, Book, and Simon to go perform funeral rights for the ship, but it’s revealed that Mal just wants them to be out of the way while the rest of the crew disarms a booby trap left by the Reavers. Kaylee manages to disarm it. The crew starts to leave, but they are met by what looks like the Alliance cruiser from the first episode. There is an alert about the Tams issued to the cruiser, so Mal is forced to hide them at the cost of all of the goods that they just acquired. Simon is skeptical, but ends up hiding with River.

FireflyEp3River.jpgThe crew is interrogated, and this sequence is pretty great, because they cut between the different characters mid-question which creates a lot of funny juxtapositions and suggestive questions. As the Alliance soldiers search, we’re finally shown where the Tams are hiding: They’re in spacesuits clinging to Serenity’s hull. While Simon is panicking, River keeps gazing at the stars, a smile of pure delight on her face.

As Mal is interrogated, the Commander of the Alliance, Harken (Doug Savant) accuses him of attacking the derelict ship. Mal tells him to ask the survivor, but Harken informs him that the man can’t speak due to his tongue being split down the middle, in contrast to how he was earlier. Mal quickly realizes something is wrong, and warns the Commander to look out, but we’re shown that the survivor is now killing the Alliance medics.

FireflyEp3Survivor2
Yes, he pierced himself everywhere

Harken doesn’t believe that Reavers are real, but Mal explains that the Reavers torture their victims sometimes to the point that the victims become Reavers themselves and start self-mutilating and turning to cannibalism.

Simon and River go back inside the ship, while Mal, Harken, and a group of soldiers go in from the other side, suspecting the survivor has returned to Serenity. Mal prevents Harken from seeing the Tams long enough for the survivor, now mostly Reaver, to attack the soldiers. Mal saves Harken’s life by strangling the Reaver-lite to death… or breaking his neck. I think it’s the latter, but I don’t get how.

Harken takes Mal’s cargo, despite saving his life, but Mal says that “He had to. Couldn’t let us profit. Wouldn’t be civilized.” Harken then follows Mal’s advice and blows up the derelict from space.

FireflyEp3Derelict2

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, the problems that arose from adding things to try and help the audience catch up from missing the Pilot weren’t as bad in this episode as the last. Obviously, they have to basically re-establish the Reavers as being terrifying and inhuman, but they do a pretty good job of it in this episode without making it obvious the lines are for exposition. The lines about the Alliance that kind of re-address the anti-authoritarian messages in “Serenity” are also not over-the-top.

There are some decent recurring themes that stand out within this episode, too.

FireflyEp3SamaritanFirst, Mal and Book have another dust-up about the nature of Mal’s atheism, which has an interesting message about morality. When they see the ship, Book brings up the parable of the Good Samaritan. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the parable concerns a man who was attacked by robbers, beaten, and left bleeding on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite both pass the man by without helping him. A Samaritan then passes by, sees the man, and carries him into town and pays for him to be healed. The parable ends with Jesus saying that all of his followers should go and do likewise.

This parable is also appropriately said by Book, a black man, because the last major speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr., was his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the day before his murder. In it, King said:

And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so, the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

FireflyEp3Book
… I don’t want to ever make fun of Ron Glass. So, I won’t.

That is exactly what Book is doing here. He knows that there is danger in coming up to the station. It could be (and, ultimately, IS) a trap. However, Book unquestionably advises them to try and help anyway. Mal, though he stops Book from reciting the parable, still agrees with the principle behind it, even if he justifies it (particularly to Jayne) by saying that they can steal from the derelict if no one is alive. Despite Mal’s distaste for overt religion, he still has a strong sense of morality which involves accepting risk for himself.

FireflyEp3Bomb
Oh, and Kaylee, because… well, nobody else could disarm it.

Later, he allows Book to perform a funeral for the victims of the Reaver attack, something that seems like a concession on Mal’s part, but, in reality, Mal is hiding the fact that their good deed is about to be punished by the Reaver’s booby trap. It’s not overt, but I think on some level this is Mal trying not to hurt Book’s faith in charitable acts. Or maybe he just wants to avoid worrying the most innocent of his charges. Either way, despite his lack of religion, Mal still has some moral compass, even if other episodes suggest that it’s a different one than Book. Book, meanwhile, is best summarized by his quote: “I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

There’s one other element of the show that’s really brought up in this episode, and that’s the emptiness of space. Now, Firefly has always been really good at portraying space a bit more realistically than other shows. There’s no sound in space, for example, which is a huge element. This episode, though, also addresses another aspect of the setting: The crushing vastness of the universe. We’re presented with two contrasting impressions of it, as a source of despair and as a source of wonder.

FireflyEp3Suits

Jayne teases it first as the former when he describes it as “nothing.” He says “It’s impressive what ‘nothing’ can do to a man” when Simon mentions that he’s uncomfortable being separated from space by a suit. Later, the camera plays through a sequence of Simon petrified that he’s so close to the infinite nothingness, only for it to be Jayne’s prank. Then, it gets brought up by Mal later: “…Reavers ain’t men. Or they forgot how to be. Now they’re just nothing. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothing, and that’s what they became.” Basically, it’s the ultimate extension of “the abyss gazes also.” By being confronted with the void of space, Reavers responded by becoming cruel, unfeeling monsters. Of course, we later find out that isn’t the case, but the fact that Mal believes that looking out into the blackness could create them is telling.

FireflyEp3Watchmen
Okay, not the ULTIMATE extension

FireflyEp3RiverHowever, we’re also shown the opposite. When River looks into the vastness of space, she focuses not on the blackness but on the stars twinkling in the distance. It’s one of the only truly happy moments River gets during the series. When she looks out, she doesn’t see emptiness, but beauty. Also, since we later find out that she’s essentially a punching bag for the minds and emotions of others, the isolation provides one of the least vulnerable positions she can be in, even though she’s just a spacesuit away from nothingness.

FireflyEp3Reavers
Pictured: Not this episode

The Reavers are, naturally, also a big part of this episode. Unfortunately, we don’t get that much information about them. We find out that most of the Alliance doesn’t believe they’re real, that the Reavers enjoy torturing people to the point that those people become Reavers out of desperation, and that the booby-trap their prey. However, whether they’re human, where they come from, what they really look like, none of these things are addressed for certain in the episode. This was really a sampler for things that didn’t get answered until the movie Serenity. Unfortunately, since the series got cancelled without addressing this much, this episode really stands out as being a tease. It seems like we’re supposed to just view them as the opposite of the Alliance, the chaos to their oppressive order, but all we get is one guy going nuts for like 3 minutes. The fact that Mal literally sneaks behind him and kills him in 10 seconds doesn’t allow him to feel like a threat. It just doesn’t land.

Ultimately, this episode has one huge weakness: It just doesn’t have that much in it. It has some great lines, but so does every episode of the show. It portrays the Alliance as being oppressive, but other episodes do it better. It tries to introduce us to the Reavers, but it really doesn’t. And, honestly, it sometimes feels like it’s two ideas (finding the wreck, being captured by the Alliance) that are just mashed together, rather than one whole story. Still, not the worst episode.

Score: 2.5 Fireflies (or 1 Alliance Cruiser)

 

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 2: The Train Job

NEXT – 4: Shindig

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Firefly Fridays – Episode 2: “The Train Job”

Alright, so, now we get to what actually acted as the opening to the show, and it’s not a bad surrogate for the pilot. It doesn’t fill in all of the questions the audience probably needed answered in order to really start grabbing onto the show, and tries a little hard to give the audience some “cliffsnotes” on the characters, but, it still is a solid episode. I’m not recapping who everyone is, so, here’s a link to the first episode.

SUMMARY

FireflyEp2BarThe episode begins with Mal, Zoe, and Jayne in a bar on “Unification Day,” which is a holiday that celebrates the end of the Unification War. Mal, having fought for the losing side in that war, picks a fight with an Alliance zealot, who wasn’t “burdened with an overabundance of schooling.” In the middle of a bar full of Alliance supporters. So, Mal get thrown through a holographic window, in one of the best shots in the series. Zoe and Jayne help out, but at the end the trio are backed against a cliff by the crowd. Luckily, Wash arrives in the ship in time to save them by threatening to blow a new crater in the moon they’re on (which he couldn’t, since Serenity has no weapons).

FireflyEp2RiverOn board, Zoe comments that Mal has made a tradition out of starting a bar brawl on Unification Day in order to express his anger. Meanwhile, Simon is tending to River, who is still crazy, just so everyone is clear. She is still having traumatic nightmares about her time in the Alliance Academy where they experimented on her, and her emotional responses to questions about it range from hysterics to dispassionate disinterest. She also spontaneously states Serenity’s make, model, and class code, something that Mal comments even he doesn’t usually remember, hinting again at River’s superhuman intelligence.

FireflyEp2NiskaThe crew heads to Serenity’s next job, aboard a space station owned by a man named Adelai Niska (Michael Fairman). Niska is simultaneously every Eastern European Mob Boss you’ve ever seen in a film and yet still a fairly unique character. He doesn’t yell. He talks calmly and in a very intelligent and educated manner, and, to him, everything is a business transaction. He gives a short speech about how he knows of Mal by reputation, and Mal knows of him by his own vicious reputation. Then, Niska shows Mal a hanging corpse of the last person who failed him, in order to drive home that his reputation is completely deserved. Despite this, the crew of Serenity take the job to rob a train, but are not told what they’re stealing. In fact, Mal seems to prefer not knowing.

Image result for the train jobThe team prepares a plan which involves Mal and Zoe boarding the train and Jayne being lowered into the car where the crates they’re stealing are located, then pulling all three of them into Serenity with the goods. Unfortunately, the plan fails when an Alliance guard stumbles on them, which leaves Mal and Zoe on the train, while Jayne and the goods get back to the ship. Fortunately, the two aren’t seen taking part in the theft. Unfortunately, the sheriff (Gregg Henry) at their destination finds their cover story as a married couple to be suspect, possibly because Zoe cannot pretend to view Mal in that way. While Mal works to charm his way out of trouble, the pair learn that they stole crates of medicine which were supposed to treat a degenerative disease plaguing the planet. We also get a cut to the Alliance authorities, who dismiss investigating the theft or helping the town on the grounds that they’re a poor planet. Just to drive home that the Alliance are basically all dicks, so you never need to feel bad about when they get screwed.

FireflyEp2Jayne.jpgJayne tries to assume command of the ship in Zoe and Mal’s absence, but he is drugged unconscious by Simon. Inara uses her status as a companion to bail out Mal and Zoe, but Mal decides to return the medicine to the townspeople. When they do, the sheriff clearly knows they took it, he decides to overlook the theft out of respect for Mal’s decision to return the goods after hearing about how desperately the town needed it. Naturally, they are aware that this will piss Niska off, and are quickly proven right when Niska’s chief enforcer finds the ship when Serenity misses the rendezvous time due to having to rescue Mal and Zoe.

Mal offers to return all of the money paid by Niska to Niska’s hulking enforcer, Crow (Andrew Bryanarski), who politely disagrees with Mal’s argument of “I’ll make it square,” because Mal clearly doesn’t understand the concept of expectation damages in Contract Law. Granted, this contract isn’t enforceable in court, and Mal couldn’t possibly pay Niska the amount that Niska lost due to Mal’s decision, but when you f*ck up on a job for a gangster, you always offer them the amount that they were expecting to make on the deal. They might still kill you, but that at least doesn’t seem like as much disrespect. That’s Thief Subcontracting Rule 1.

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Crow and his team attack, but the Serenity crew ends up prevailing and capturing them. Mal attempts to reason with Crow outside of Serenity, saying:

“Now this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You give it back to him, tell him the job didn’t work out. We’re not thieves… well, we are thieves, but the point is we’re not taking what’s his. We’ll stay out of his way as best we can from here on in. You’ll explain that’s best for everyone, okay?”

Crow responds by telling Mal that he may as well keep the money, because Mal is now going to be hunted. He is going to be tailed to the far ends of the universe, and the last thing that Mal will ever see is Crow’s knife taking his life.

Mal calmly, and with a little disappointment in his voice, says “darn.”

THEN KICKS CROW INTO SERENITY’S ENGINE, VAPORIZING HIM.

I don’t think anything quite expresses exactly how perfect the timing is by Nathan Fillion in this sequence. There’s Mal clearly weighing his options for a split-second, realizing that he doesn’t have any other options, and doing what he has to do.

Another henchman is brought in front of Mal, who begins the same speech over again, verbatim, but the henchman interrupts him to tell him he got the speech the first time, and that he’ll tell Niska what Mal said.

Back on the Alliance Cruiser from before, two men come in wearing blue-gloves and inquiring about River Tam to the colonel who refused to investigate the theft earlier. River earlier had uttered the phrase “Two by Two; Hands of Blue,” indicating that either she knew about these men previously or that she is sensing them now.

Image result for the train job

SUMMARY END

This episode has some pretty great moments in it. The opening where Mal is thrown through a holographic window from what appears to be an old-timey saloon is probably the best quick explanation of the nature of this universe. The next shot, featuring multiple moons and what appears to be a Gas Giant behind them, also speaks volumes: They’re on a moon that has been terraformed to sustain Earth life. Wash confirms this a few seconds later when he calls it a moon. This hints to how so many planets can appear in the series without faster-than-lightspeed travel. The entire show is in one solar system, which contains at least one or two large gas planets that have multiple planetoid moons orbiting. They never explain exactly how terraforming solves the heat/gravity problem, but it’s the future, shut up and love it.

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The scene also drives home one of the aspects of the series that helps motivate and justify Mal’s position: It’s the future, but a lot of people don’t get the benefit of it. Most of the planets on the “outer rim” don’t get futuristic technology or, at least, not much of it. The Alliance, despite governing “the Verse,” doesn’t really build these outer planets up. As Mal says in the first episode: “Once they’re terraformed, they’ll dump settlers on there with nothing but blankets, hatchets, maybe a herd. Some of them make it, some of them….” The placement of this bar is a great indicator of that.

FireflyEp2NiskaAdelai Niska is one of the best characters created for the show, despite his relative lack of screentime and characterization. He’s basically a dark reflection of Mal’s “noble thief” archetype. While Mal is willing to take a job without knowing what he’s doing, once he finds out that he’s killing desperate people, he admits that he doesn’t believe anyone has a choice but to do the right thing. Niska, clearly, thinks otherwise, since he’s fully aware of the condition of the planet. Given that it seems like the medicine is only for the plague that the planet is suffering from, and that the plague is apparently unique to the planet, Niska is likely just stealing it in order to sell it back to the planet at an outrageous price, given the desperation of the citizenry. That’s probably the most despicable thing a person can do, but damned if it isn’t profitable (ask… God, how many companies could be listed here? I mean, it’s literally why we have medical patents (different discussion on this later)).

The thing is, Niska also appears to have a code that he obeys. There is nothing to suggest that he would have double-crossed Mal or was underpaying him. He did not lie about what was in the crates, and Mal chose to do the job blind. Niska did not threaten Mal to convince him to take the job, nor did he do anything to sabotage Mal’s efforts, he just made sure that Mal knew that failure would not be tolerated. He is a businessman, it’s just that he does less of the “sue for breach of contract” thing, or the “firing for bad performance” thing, and more the “skin you alive” thing. He is pretty much the lawful evil to Mal’s chaotic good. It really makes their scenes extra intense.

We also get another instance of Jayne’s irregular version of loyalty to the crew. When Mal and Zoe are gone, Jayne decides that the first priority is completing the job. Book disagrees on the basis that, from Niska’s reputation, if Niska finds out that Mal is being interrogated, he would likely kill Mal, Zoe, and a number of innocents to avoid any information being leaked. Jayne, however, still asserts that they should complete the job, and says that he is in charge, with the great line:

“You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with ’til you understand who’s in ruttin’ command here!”

Fortunately, Simon keeps the issue from coming to a head, but it still shows the odd version of loyalty Jayne owes to Mal.

Ultimately, this is a pretty good re-do for the pilot episode. It conveys a lot of information without too much exposition, and has a lot of elements that really represent some of the best parts of the show. Plus, it’s a train robbery with a spaceship. That’s just a great premise on its face. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of lines that were clearly filmed to introduce things to the audience that they would have known if they had watched the last episode. Most of the character relationships are either shoehorned into clunky dialogue or skipped entirely. In a show with such a diverse cast and a lot of character development over the series and the movie, that’s not great. Even the line by the sheriff about how Mal had a choice probably could just have been conveyed with him seeing Mal return the crates and not arresting him. If Fox hadn’t interfered, this problem probably wouldn’t have existed, but, since I don’t have the ability to view parallel worlds at the moment, I can only judge this by what I have seen.

Serenity Scale: 3.5 Fireflies (Or 1 Chain of Command)

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

PREVIOUS – 1: Serenity

NEXT – 3: Bushwhacked

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Firefly Fridays – Episode 1: “Serenity”

Image result for Firefly posterAlright, some a-hole, who will likely share this and identify himself in the process, has asked me to review all of the episodes of Firefly. Since one of the episodes made it into my personal top 10, and because I love this series, I’m going to grant this request. I’m going by the DVD episode order, not the production order or airing order. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the rest of the internet, there are plenty of people who will care. However, you can freely yell at me over what I will put at the end, as I rank the episodes using the time-honored “Serenity Scale” to create a solid determination of what is the best and worst of this series. While most of you might think that “Objects in Space” is already my number 1, that is on an objective basis, while this ranking will be on how well I think the episode is representative of what is good about the series, so that might change. I can tell you it won’t be at the bottom, however.

This’ll be the longest review, because this episode is the length of a movie, and because it’s our intro to the world of Firefly.

Recap:

Image result for battle of serenity valley
Cut from Starship Troopers

The beginning of this episode is in the middle of the Unification War. Specifically, at the Battle of Serenity Valley. For a show that doesn’t really rely too heavily on battle scenes (though they do appear), this starts literally mid-explosion, filled with open-air action and chaos. It really stands as a contrast to how much of the show is spent in a small spaceship. Granted, that’s because this was originally a much different scene to the series, but Fox wanted it to be more “action packed.” Despite that, it’s really a solid hook.

fireflyep1malstare.jpgMalcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe Alleyne (later Washburne) (Gina Torres) are in the middle of the fight, trying to hold off the Alliance forces. This traditional struggling hero image is immediately undercut as the two find out that their air support has abandoned them after claiming that it’s too risky to come in. The camera holds on Fillion as he realizes that the battle is lost, and the war is as well. We’re now 5 minutes into this show, and we’ve already established two of our main protagonists, as well as their general character traits: Zoe is a stoic badass, Mal is a wisecracking rogue who is clearly in charge because he can turn some great phrases (“We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty”).

Image result for wash playing with dinosaursIt then cuts to six years later and it immediately shows our cast floating in space trying to salvage a wreck. As is typical in a pilot episode, we get little intros to each of the characters who crew the ship Serenity (a Firefly-Class transport ship). As is typical in a good pilot episode, these intros are mostly done without exposition. Wash (Alan Tudyk), the pilot, is introduced to us childishly playing with plastic dinosaurs, giving us the unforgettable and over-meme’d line “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal.” Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is the engineer who comes off as a bit of a farmgirl. Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is the muscle, working with Mal and Zoe on the salvage. An alert goes off that an Alliance ship is near, resulting in them having to deploy a fake distress call so that they can get away. Despite Jayne’s optimism about the bounty, Mal is clearly unhappy with the current situation.

Then, we’re introduced to the theme song, and few shows have ever nailed a theme song like this. Okay, that’s a lie, a ton of shows have epic theme songs that perfectly represent the show, but this one does convey the show’s status as a “space western” by having the lyrics imply freedom is found in the sky, but doing so in a western-style ballad with a mix of blues brought by Sonny Rhodes’s performance.

After a brief fight between Wash and Zoe to establish that they’re married and Wash isn’t happy that Zoe has so much loyalty towards Mal, we’re introduced to Inara (Morena Baccarin). Given what we’ll learn about Mal’s opinion of Inara’s profession in the future, Mal describing her as earning “an honest living” really drives home how dissatisfied Mal is right now. Inara is then shown having sex with a client, because Whedon wants you to understand irony. However, we later learn that she’s a “companion,” which is like a geisha mixed with a psychologist, a philosopher, and a legal prostitute. While her position is considered to be honorable, the client offends her before leaving, which leads to Inara expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo similar to Mal, before leaving in her shuttle to rendezvous with Serenity.

Image result for badger firefly
What do I look like? A demon?

Mal and the crew go to sell their salvaged parts to Badger (Mark Sheppard), who breaks the deal he made with them and refuses to buy after delivering a series of put-downs on Mal. This forces Mal to try to sell the goods to Patience (Bonnie “I’m married to Mr. Feeny” Bartlett), a crimelord who shot Mal the last time she saw him. At the same time, Book (Ron Glass), a Shepherd, which is the preacher of tomorrow, joins the crew as a passenger. Following him are Dobson (Carlos Jacott), a man with no obvious personality traits whatsoever, and Simon Tam (Sean Maher), an aristocratic doctor with a large cargo crate in tow.

During the introductory dinner, we get a bunch of one-liners and quick asides to establish Mal’s dislike of religion, Kaylee’s crush on Simon, that Mal is defensive of his crew (even if it’s Jayne being a dick), and that Book is not a conventional Shepherd, but more tolerant.

FireflyEp1Dinner.jpg

In the middle of the flight, Wash discovers that someone has sent a coded message to the Alliance. Mal immediately assumes it’s Simon, but it turns out to be Dobson, who is not after Mal, but Simon. Mal offers to help turn Simon in, but Dobson, stupidly, states that he is going to take in everyone on the ship. The situation escalates until Dobson accidentally shoots Kaylee when she enters, before being skillfully disarmed and knocked-out by Book, who then prevents Jayne from killing Dobson. Kaylee is brought to sick bay, but Simon refuses to treat her unless Mal refuses to hand him over to the Alliance.

After Simon stabilizes Kaylee, Mal opens Simon’s crate, which contains a young woman in stasis. The woman wakes up panicked and speaking nonsense. She’s revealed to be Simon’s sister, River Tam (Summer Glau). Simon tells the crew that River is an unmatched prodigy, but she was sent to an Alliance academy where she was experimented on. She got a message to him, but it took him more than 2 years to get her out. Oddly, his account says that she was rescued by others who snuck her out in cryo-sleep, which contradicts the events we’re shown in the movie Serenity. But, only an asshole would point that out. Like the kind of asshole that points out that a few lines from Scotty’s appearance in Star Trek: TNG makes the opening sequence and plot of the movie Star Trek: Generations nonsensical without some bullshit ret-con (teleportation disorientation, my ass). Basically, nerds.

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Mal decides to dump the Tams, and Inara says that she’ll leave if he does. Simon asks Mal why he’s so afraid of the Alliance, then calls Mal out, resulting in Mal punching him. Jayne interrogates Dobson skillfully (immediately knowing the truth behind Dobson’s lies, which upsets Jayne, who wanted to torture him). Dobson offers Jayne money to help him.

FireflyEp1ReaverShip.jpgWash and Mal discover a non-Alliance ship nearby which is operating without radiation shielding (essentially guaranteeing a slow, poisonous death to everyone onboard). This means Reavers. Reavers aren’t explained at this point, except that Zoe tells Simon “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” Which, for the record, is one of the scariest f*cking descriptions in history, perhaps second only to “Nobody f*cks with the Jesus” from The Big Lebowski. Fortunately, the Reavers don’t attack.

FireflyEp1Patience.jpgMal contacts Patience to deliver the goods, but immediately suspects that Patience is planning on double crossing them. He sets up a counter-ambush. Meanwhile, Book goes to talk to Dobson, who knocks him unconscious and fairly brutally keeps attacking him. Dobson captures River, while Mal and Zoe get into a firefight with Patience and her henchmen, with Jayne providing cover fire. Mal ends up taking his money, but declines to kill Patience, telling her “I do the job. I get paid.”

FireflyEp1Explosion.jpgUnfortunately, the Reavers have followed them, apparently now hungry enough to attack. Mal, Zoe, and Jayne head back to the ship, only to find Dobson holding River hostage. Mal shoots Dobson dead without a second thought and they take off, the Reavers now in hot pursuit. The crew manages to escape by igniting the atmosphere behind them with the main engine. Mal asks Jayne why he didn’t turn on him, and Jayne says that “the money wasn’t good enough.” Mal then offers Simon and River a position on the ship. When Simon asks how he knows Mal won’t kill him in his sleep, Mal says “If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.” He then decides it was a good day, because they’re still flying, and that’s enough.

End Summary

Alright, so, this is the intro to the Firefly universe (or at least it SHOULD HAVE BEEN, FOX!!!), there’s a lot to unpack here.

I’ve decided to split up some of the signature effects, universe rules, and themes (Government v. Freedom, lack of sound in space, Chinese language, lack of FTL travel, Reavers, etc.) within the show into other episode reviews so that this particular entry isn’t another 10 pages. So, I’ll stick to the things that really stood out within this episode in particular.

FireflyEp1Book.jpgFirst, Whedon loves repetition on his jokes. The ones that I most remember within this episode are: When people call Book “grandpa,” he responds “I never married;” people repeatedly asking Mal “didn’t she shoot you?” in reference to Patience; and calling Mal “psychotic.” There probably were others. What’s interesting is that the number of times the gag is repeated is inconsistent, which is something most writers don’t do. For example, in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films, almost every repeated gag is going to be done according to the “rule of three.” That’s just Gunn’s level of adherence to the comedy guidelines. Whedon, not so much. Having re-watched the show, this appears to be the episode with the most repeated lines for joke purposes. Other times in the series, repetition is used for more serious lines, such as Jubal Early’s “Does that seem right to you?”

fireflyep1dobson.jpgSecond, the pettiness of the Alliance is a little more over-the-top here than it is in other episodes. Usually, within the series, the Alliance is the ultimate in overreaching government with shadowy qualities, but, in this episode, the “petty and bureaucratic” aspect seems played up. I think the main contrast here is between Dobson and the Operative from the Serenity movie or the blue-gloved men. While the Operative is ruthless and efficient, while the men are mysterious and amoral, befitting a shadowy government, Dobson is mostly incompetent and irrational. Most notably, when Book comes to warn him, he not only knocks Book unconscious, but then kicks him several times out of, apparently, anger over Book punching him earlier, despite the fact that Book was also the thing keeping Jayne from killing him. Oh, and HE’S A PREACHER. Generally, kicking an unconscious holy man is frowned upon.

Third, I do appreciate the real-ish physics they use in this episode with Serenity’s flight. The “Crazy Ivan” that Wash pulls in the movie is actually a real technique, named for a hard u-turn by a Soviet submarine that enables the sub to clear its baffles (the area directly behind a submarine that cannot usually be detected), then put itself in firing position on a following ship. Essentially, you reverse one of the two engines, which allows for a very quick turn, often so quick it wrecks everything inside the ship. Since Serenity doesn’t have weapons, instead of firing on the Reaver ship, Wash pilots Serenity under the other ship, then they activate the main engine to ignite the atmosphere behind them. Since Serenity’s main engine appears to be driven by high-energy emissions (though not exactly radiation emissions, since apparently that was what they used for Firefly Series 1 engines, and Serenity is Series 3), it makes sense that these could be concentrated to burn up the atmosphere. This energy emission drive might be relatively useless in gravity, but in 0 g, this basically allows for infinite acceleration when you have their mystical engine core through conservation of momentum.

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The “Just a Little Unwell” Ivan – Matchbox 20

Last, Mal and Inara. At the beginning of the episode, both of them seem to have a higher level of dissatisfaction with their lifestyles than they do for the rest of the series. If I had to guess, it’s because they’ve lost a sense of purpose, and appear to just be trying to keep going. When Inara threatens to leave if Mal doesn’t help Simon and, later, when Mal welcomes Simon onto the ship, this actually provides them with the level of purpose: They’re rebelling again. Mal against the Alliance, and Inara against the expectations of her position. While Mal was a criminal at the beginning, he wasn’t really fighting the Alliance anymore. He was just running from the law. Now, he’s actively working against them by sheltering the Tams. It gives him back his spirit.

Alright, that’s one episode down. We’ve met the characters, and, unlike most pilots, they’re pretty consistent with their characterizations for the rest of the series. Inara has a few scenes that are awkward, but that’s probably because those scenes were re-shoots from the original scenes with Inara’s first actress Rebecca Gayheart. Fortunately, Whedon was smart enough to shoot those scenes in singles, allowing them to be more easily re-shot, and even these scenes don’t really detract from the character in any noticeable way. Solid start.

Score: 3.5 Fireflies (or 1 Badger’s Hat)

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See you next Friday, Browncoats.

NEXT EPISODE – 2: The Train Job

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.