In honor of the anniversary of the nation in which I was born and to which I swear my allegiance, I post the following quotes.
By Mark Twain:
In a republic, who is the country?
Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the government is merely a temporary servant: it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.
Who, then is the country? Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it, they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.
In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country: In a republic it is the common voice of the people each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.
It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man.
To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of’.”
By Captain America:
“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree besides the river of truth, and tell the whole world–
–No you move.”
By President Andrew Shepherd:
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.’ You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
These quotes, as much as anything I have ever read, represent the reason why I started this blog. Because meaning can be found within any source, from the traditionally shallow to the epic, if you only are willing to look for it.
What’s interesting to me is that in all three of these, the speaker is contradicting someone saying a version of “Our Country, Right or Wrong!” Here’s the problem, it is not “our country, right or wrong!” It is “Our Country, Right or Wrong! When right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be made right!” Things cannot merely be right because we have done them and things cannot be wrong because we haven’t. It is our responsibility, no matter what our cause, to advocate for it if we really believe in it, and to accept the consequences of that advocacy.
My father used to say that America was represented by the people in the wagon trains headed West. Everyone wanted to get there, but there were always two groups of thought on how: Some thought that everyone who couldn’t make it on their own deserved to be left behind and die, but others thought that the key was to help everyone get there. Sometimes helping meant you pushed a wagon, sometimes helping meant that you lent some water, and sometimes helping meant you walked so someone could ride, but you did it because you believed that once we got to the other side, we’d need what those people knew and what they could do, so that it would be better for everyone.
The best thing about America is that it can change for the better even when we think we’re seeing the decline. What we do wrong can be righted and who we are can be improved. It takes work and it takes time and it takes participation, but we’ve done it a dozen times before and it can be done again.
Happy Fourth of July.
And, since at least one of you wanted these quotes based on the title, I give you:
President Thomas Whitmore:
Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
This was one of the more considerate reader requests I’ve gotten, as this reader actually provided me with a copy of the movie. Granted, it appears to be a VHS ripped to DVD, but I still appreciated it greatly.
This movie was the completely unrelated “sequel” to the 1981 film Enter the Ninja and, along with Ninja III: The Domination, is part of the “Ninja Trilogy” featuring the legendary ninja actor Sho Kosugi (who plays a different role in all three films). However, unlike the last film, which took place in the Philippines, this film takes place in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Interestingly, the Salt Lake City council begged them to shoot the movie there instead of L.A. by promising them the ability to shoot in any public place without a permit or location fee. I can only assume they were hoping that it would spawn a “Mormons vs. Ninjas” film series that the world has (probably) not yet gotten.
The film begins at the totally-in-Japan estate of the Osaki family. You can tell that it’s Japan because there are bamboo and palm trees and the ponds have artificially inserted sparkle effects which you never find in Salt Lake City. A large group of ninjas wearing the least-concealing colors in history start to stalk the family, consisting of Cho Osaki’s wife, Yoshi, and baby, Kane, his mother-in-law and father-in-law, his eldest son, and some other woman who will never be identified or referenced again. They’re quickly spotted, because they’re wearing Black and Red in the middle of a bamboo forest, but it turns out that what the ninjas lack in disguise, they make up for in overkill. For example, they stab the caretaker figure with a total of 6 different weapons. To be fair, by slowly wielding a hoe, he is clearly the biggest threat in the group. Osaki’s wife briefly escapes to hide her baby, before being killed. The ninjas then hear people coming and perform the long-celebrated “Ninja Vanish.” In this case, that means running a short distance.
Cho (Kosugi) returns home talking with his American friend, Braden (Arthur Roberts), only to realize that the grounds are a little corpse-y. He goes to check on the deceased until a few of the ninjas return to attack him. Cho quickly defeats them with a sword. Braden shoots two more. A group of ninja archers try to kill Cho, but he catches all three of the arrows (including one with his MOUTH!) and then stabs the archers to death with them. He and Braden then dispatch the rest of the ninjas in a manner that Jason Vorhees would describe as “maybe a little too brutal.”
Cho’s mother returns home and handles finding her family dead among a plethora of ninja corpses… pretty well, honestly. She finds baby Kane and gives him to Cho. Braden asks Cho to move to America, but Cho’s mother says they can’t leave the land of their ancestors. Also, she says she doesn’t like Braden, which the movie punctuates with a close-up of Braden’s eyes and a music cue I can only describe as “Foreshadowboding.” The Osakis then move to America, to a Los Angeles that looks suspiciously like Salt Lake City.
Years pass, Kane (Kane Kosugi) is now in elementary school. While he is walking with his grandmother, he is confronted by a gang of children about age 10. It’s important to remember this was the 1980s, so the gang has every race represented. The gang attempts to attack Kane, who beats them easily before his father shows up and chastises him for fighting. It’s revealed that Cho has sworn of Ninjitsu forever, which will definitely not shortly be reversed in the movie.
Cho has also developed a relationship with Cathy (Ashley Ferrare), his and Braden’s assistant, who he pays in Karate lessons. It’s pretty overtly sexual on her part… or in the 80s women just wore a lot of revealing robes and no underwear (or just flesh-toned thongs) around their boss’s house. However, while obvious that Cho finds her attractive, he still resists.
At his Oriental Art Gallery, Cho is visited by Braden, who is helping Cho set up a new display of hand-made dolls. Kane breaks one, revealing a white powder within it. Cathy tells him that she’ll cover for him with his father, before talking to Braden and revealing that the dolls are full of heroin. Braden has been smuggling drugs into the country in various art pieces with Cathy’s help. He tries to sell to local stereotypical mobster Caifano (Mario Gallo), but Caifano and Braden can’t work out a deal, resulting in the two of them going to war.
Braden reveals himself to be a ninja, donning a silver mask which he then mostly covers with a ninja mask, which he then covers with a hood. It’s possibly the most overkill disguise in history. He then begins killing Caifanos lieutenants and informants, both using weapons and with his bare hands… on which he wears no gloves. A notably beautiful moment of exploitation is when he kills a couple having sex in a hot tub.
The police begin to investigate the mob hits, but they apparently can’t connect the murders committed with ninja weapons to the murderer being a ninja, but they do seek out a consultant, Martial Artist Dave Hatcher (Keith Vitali). Dave ends up suspecting ninja involvement, so he goes to Cho for advice… in the form of a random sparring session. Cho comes in to talk to the police and states that only a ninja could have committed the murders, but declines to help, saying he’s too busy.
Braden and Cathy’s relationship is going South, as she resists his advances. Caifano calls to work out a deal with Braden, but then tells his men to rob Cho’s gallery for the dolls. Braden has his Sumo Servant (Professor Toru Tanaka) watch Cathy while he goes to meet with Caifano. Cho finds the men robbing the gallery and beats most of them, but a Native-American henchman gets the literal drop on him with a crate, injuring him. They drive off, but Cho pursues them on foot. He gets into the car and beats most of them mercilessly but takes a lot of damage in the process.
Back at the gallery, Braden arrives in ninja garb to find it empty except for Cho’s mother and Kane. Cho’s mother ambushes him with a whipchain and an impressive variety of ninja techniques but ends up being killed. Kane sees Braden without his overkill masks and is attacked, managing to escape. Cho returns to find his mother dead and son gone. Braden returns to his home to find his Sumo attempting to rape Cathy, so Braden kills him and hypnotizes an unwilling Cathy to bring Kane to him.
Dave takes Cho on a trip to question some ex-cons he knows about where the dolls, and therefore Kane, might be. These ex-cons are revealed to be a knock-off Village People because this is the 80s and things can just be awesome for no reason. They resist, but Cho kicks their ass with a paper fan and a ninja belt-buckle. Kane returns to his dad’s karate dojo, finding a hypnotized Cathy who attacks him. Kane proceeds to fight her off impressively, however, when he refuses to kill her, she wins the fight. When she brings Kane to Braden and asks him not to hurt the boy, he slaps her, apparently un-hypnotizing her.
Cho and Dave return to find evidence of Kane and Cathy’s fight. Cathy calls Cho and informs him of Braden’s plans. Dave weirdly thinks that it’s impossible for an American to be a ninja, despite Chris Farley already being born at this point. He then says he’ll have to practice ninjutsu again, because, and I’m going to put this in quote font:
ONLY A NINJA CAN STOP A NINJA
Dave asks to help, but Cho says no. Back at Braden’s place, he’s put Cathy in a see-through shirt, sticks her in a semi-drained hot-tub and turns up the pressure on the jets in order to try and burn her to death or drown her slowly. Either way, this might be the single most ridiculous deathtrap in history that didn’t have Batman in it and I love it.
Cho gears up for battle, managing to conceal an amount of weaponry on his person that would seem to make his gi the TARDIS. He goes to meet Braden at Caifano’s place. Braden is already at the compound and proceeds to murder-death-kill everyone in the place in ways that would boggle the mind. Perhaps my favorite is that he nonchalantly throws a handful of caltrops on the ground, then a handful of marbles, causing a guy to slip on the marbles and impale his face on caltrops. Cho, meanwhile, just sneaks in by climbing a skyscraper. No big.
Dave follows, despite Cho’s warning, by beating up the exterior guards while wearing a police jacket. Back at the hot-tub, Kane frees himself by BURNING THE ROPES OFF OF HIS HANDS and knocks out the goon guarding Cathy, rescuing her. See, this is how you raise children, people. Hell, I’m pretty sure this kid murdered the original cast of 3 Ninjas before they did the movie with Hulk Hogan… or because of it.
Braden continues to kill everyone in the building, including Caifano, with Cho occasionally doing likewise, before Braden meets up with Dave. Unfortunately, it turns out that ONLY A NINJA CAN STOP A NINJA, and Dave comes down with a bad case of “stabbed in the organs.” This leads to the final confrontation of the film. Ninja vs. Ninja, on the greatest of all stages: A rooftop tennis court.
What follows is one of the most over-the-top and epic fights in any movie. Ninja stars, swords, smoke bombs, wall climbing, grappling hooks, ninja vanishes, sickles, body doubles made of paper mache (not for production, but actually in-story), a concealed flamethrower, and all of the sweet, sweet ninja moves that everyone dreamed about since RealUltimatePower.Com was relevant. It’s like watching a playthrough of Ninja Gaiden by someone who can actually beat the original Ninja Gaiden.
Throughout the fight, Braden manages to injure Cho through his trickery. However, ultimately, Cho manages to turn the fight on Braden by blinding him with his own sword, then stabbing him to death. The blood from this wound is apparently different in each version, but I’m told I have the “good” version because it’s so much that the hose is visible in the shot. Kane and Cathy arrive, and the movie ends with them leaving together.
This movie is what God gave us to apologize for the Black Plague. This was our Karmic balance. This is so much freaking awesome packed into 90 minutes of film that I can scarcely watch it for the tears of joy streaming from my eyes. I know other people may prefer either of the other two movies in the trilogy, but this one is my personal pick.
One of my oft-repeated fundamental theories of film is that a movie can ask the audience to suspend disbelief as far as they want, as long as they keep the suspension consistent. This movie starts off with random ninja overkill and asks you to accept that this is a universe filled with random ninja overkill. In exchange for that, we get RANDOM NINJA OVERKILL.
Plot? Logical progression? Characterizations? Non-Exploitative Female Characters? Avoiding Stereotypes? This is a thing for other films. If you came here looking for Gone with the Wind, you misread your ticket. This movie is just to show us all the ninja awesomeness that we didn’t know we needed.
The key to this film is Sho Kosugi. In addition to being the person who did most of his own stunts and almost all of the choreography in the film, he has the small advantage of being an actual ninja. No, really, he practices the art of Ninpo, which is why most of the stuff he does in the movie looks less surreal than his counterpart. He feels like he’s taking everything seriously because he is actually taking everything seriously. Additionally, his scenes with his son Kane feel much more genuine because they share the real father-son bond. It’s more than enough to overcome the fact that he can’t exactly deliver his lines in a natural manner.
The biggest thing in the movie really is the final fight scene. It took two weeks to film because it has so much in it, including hanging Sho Kosugi off of a 20-story building, something that IMDB claims was real. I choose not to investigate, because the reality could only disappoint me.
In the history of Exploitation films, this is the best Ninjexploitation. It’s super violent, super gory, super ridiculous, and enjoyable beyond measure. If you like exploitation films of any kind, you should see this.
So, I’m gonna be the guy who says that he didn’t like the first season of Luke Cage that much. It wasn’t anything wrong with the characters, per se. I loved most of the villains and the supporting characters and Cage himself, but I thought the pacing was awful and the dialogue was not great either. The music was amazing on every level, the themes were well-conveyed, and the acting was excellent, but I just felt like they wrote 8 episodes worth of plot and tried to stretch it into 13. I felt the same way about Jessica Jones, though, so maybe it was just a problem with how Netflix ordered the shows.
Now, I grew up reading the comics and I loved Luke Cage. Especially the older, campier adaptations of the character. After all, he’s the guy who once kicked Doctor Doom’s ass over his basic principle: A Deal’s A Deal. I always loved that aspect of Luke Cage, that he’s a man of his word and holds other people to theirs. Even among superheroes, Cage’s belief in personal responsibility and integrity was especially pronounced. Now, I’m not saying the show didn’t uphold that aspect of the character, but it tended to convert it into the swear jar more than the audacious Cage of old. Still, I believed Mike Colter as Luke Cage, just as a more modern, serious, version of the character.
SUMMARY OF JESSICA JONES, SEASON 1, AND THE DEFENDERS (*SPOILERS FOR THOSE*)
Luke Cage is a black superhero in Harlem who has unbreakable skin and superhuman strength. However, he is also an ex-convict, having escaped from prison after being framed for a crime while a police officer and forcibly experimented on by a secret lab. When we first see him in the show Jessica Jones, he’s a bartender who is hiding his superpowers and ends up becoming romantically involved with Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) until he finds out that she killed his wife while hypnotized by that show’s villain Kilgrave (David F*cking Tennant). Eventually Cage gets controlled by Kilgrave and turned against Jones, but Jones wins the fight by shooting him point-blank in the head with a shotgun, knocking him out. They don’t really talk for a while after that.
In the first season of Luke Cage, Cage is hiding in Harlem, working low-profile jobs at barbershops and nightclubs. He ends up getting involved in a series of gang problems after one of his mentors gets killed (this is a comic-book show, after all). Cage singlehandedly starts to devastate the local drug dealers and the gang leaders through destroying their buildings and hospitalizing their minions. Initially opposed by kingpin Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), Stokes is eventually killed by his cousin, councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), who starts to oppose Cage. However, Dillard is then supplanted by Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), who is revealed to be Cage’s illegitimate brother who tries to kill him using special bullets and an exo-skeleton. Cage ends up surviving and taking down Diamondback in public as a hero before being re-arrested for his prison break, though a local police officer, Misty Knight (Simone Missick), finds the evidence to clear him.
In The Defenders, Luke Cage joins the other Netflix Marvel heroes to fight off the forces of the Hand, a group led by Sigourney Weaver that plans on opening an interdimensional portal for some reason that I honestly just don’t remember but think was tied into living forever. Either way, Cage reunites with Jones and meets Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox) and Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones), who he becomes friends with after first fighting over their different lifestyles (Rand is a billionaire by inheritance whereas Cage is… not, while Rand had to work his whole life and beat a dragon in a fight to earn his superpowers but Cage spent a night in a chemical bath and got better ones). The team ends up victorious, but Cage is the only one that the public really hears about, since Jessica Jones is notoriously anti-social and both Rand and Murdock have secret identities.
OUTLINE OF SEASON 2 (SPOILER-FREE)
So, the beginning of season 2 finds Luke Cage as being a celebrity and the Hero of Harlem. He’s still dealing with “Black” Mariah Dillard, who is now the biggest crime boss in Harlem, but also has to deal with the arrival of John “Bushmaster” McIver (Mustafa Shakir), who is a Jamaican gang leader who has similar powers to Cage, except from a supernatural source. The season covers a gang war between the two over the fate of Harlem, with Cage caught in the middle and trying to fight for the soul of the neighborhood along with Misty Knight’s help.
Probably the biggest change in this season is that the “Judas Bullets” which were what actually hurt Cage in the last season, no longer work. Because of the last season’s events, Cage not only has bulletproof skin and super-strength, but any time you beat him up, his body heals stronger than it was before. This means that, throughout most of the season, nothing can hurt Cage and whatever does will be shortly overcome. It required the writers to find other ways to challenge him, something that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.
First off, they fixed most of the pacing issues in this show, even if the episodes sometimes feel a little slow. However, part of that is that they try to work musical performances in frequently as part of Harlem’s culture and it usually feels organic. The villains are a little more compelling and fleshed out this season than the previous one and the side characters are also a little more developed. Overall, the production of this season is a step up from the previous. But it’s the changing themes of the show that really were a little more hit-and-miss.
A big theme of the show at large is, naturally, racism, but this season didn’t actually try to address it as directly as the last. Instead, a lot of this season is about the nature of power. Not that power doesn’t intersect with racism, of course. It’s literally the backbone of all forms of discrimination: One group has power and uses it to keep another group from acquiring it. Sexism, racism, homophobia, you name it: If you don’t have power, then your desire to discriminate is useless.
The show goes into what really creates power in several forms. There’s wealth and status, shown through Mariah and other “Lawful Evil” characters who manage to avoid consequence by buying their way out of it, as well as Danny Rand, who uses it to help people. There’s celebrity, the power to avoid consequence through the adoration of the masses, which Luke himself is just learning how to wield in this season. Then, there’s physical power, as embodied by Luke and Bushmaster. And all of them are shown to be able to be used for both good and evil pretty equally.
However, as the season goes on, we see how a lack of consequences can influence people. It reminded me of the story of the Ring of Gyges.
I put a video of it explained to the Legend of Zelda above, but quick refresher: The Ring of Gyges is a story from Plato’s Republic in which a shepherd finds a golden ring which allows him to become invisible (Yes, this was written before Lord of the Rings). He then used the power of invisibility to commit a series of acts for which, of course, he is never blamed, since he’s never at the crime scene. Eventually, he seduces the queen and murders his king, taking the throne for himself. The myth is the subject of a discussion of whether or not moral character is dependent upon whether or not you can be held accountable for your actions.
The show takes a bunch of positions but, for the most part, the show says that good people will WANT someone there to hold them accountable for their bad decisions because they know that using power inherently will lead them to make bad decisions. But they won’t choose not to use the power, because, as another comic once paraphrased from a number of past sources, “with great power, there must also come great responsibility.”
In this season, Luke, at several points, realizes the truth of his situation: He can’t be brought to bear for his actions. He is sued at one point and arrested at another, which are attempts for the system to reign him in, but that quickly falls apart, both because he’s now famous enough to buy people off and because, as he says “no bullet can harm me, nothing can kill me, nothing can stop me, and no jail can hold me.” And throughout the season he realizes that this is not necessarily making him a better person.
However, what’s also interesting, though perhaps a little bit disheartening, is how Luke using his power of celebrity to do good also inherently leads to other people using his celebrity for their own gain. One of his friends sells “authentic” Luke Cage merchandise for profit. Others use his name to threaten people. At another point, Luke finds that his celebrity status and well-known do-gooder tendencies can work against him when Luke attempts to confront a jackass at a party. Luke’s threats towards him do nothing but amuse the man, who thinks that it’s just a thing that Luke Cage does.
Really, what I both loved and hated about the season is how it reminded me that everything always stems from violence. In the end, we pretend that there are all these societal rules that keep us in line, but they all can only ultimately be enforced by violence or the threat of violence. Sure, some people will voluntarily do the right thing, but for all the people that do the wrong thing, they can avoid responsibility for it until some form of violence is brought upon them, whether it’s the police, the mob, or the superhero. Violence is what keeps a lot of people in line. The show even demonstrates that, without some application of violence by some people, the chaos that ensues from removing any consequences creates significantly more violence.
However, it’s also true that the threat of violence is what’s most effective at keeping people suppressed, as the show discusses through violence against women in this season, as opposed to racial violence. I’m not sure how I feel about that, though I think that they actually manage to address the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in a reasonable manner, though it seemed to be dropped a little too quickly after the next plot point.
Ultimately, I recommend watching the season, but I’m not going to tell you to move it to the top of your queue. Still, even if it doesn’t do it perfectly, it’s trying to address something big, and that’s worth supporting.
The last of the unaired episodes, but not the last produced. Weirdly, it contains the most scenes in the shooting script that were cut from the episode of any episode I’ve seen while following along on this re-watch, and some of them are pretty solid, though unnecessary to the plot. I’ve picked two to mention in the review summary, though I can’t find videos of them online and don’t have my copy of the DVD box set (and don’t remember them being on there).
The episode starts at the Heart of Gold brothel in the middle of what appears to be a wasteland. A group of thugs approach on horseback, followed by their leader in a hovercraft. They’re met by Nandi (Melinda Clarke), the madam. The leader, Rance Burgess (Fredric Lehne), says he’s come for what is his. Nandi states that Burgess isn’t welcome, but he ignores her and tells his men to find a girl inside. Nandi says the girl is gone, but Rance’s men drag a girl named Petaline (Tracy Ryan) out of the brothel. Rance says she’s carrying his baby, which Petaline denies. Rance takes a DNA sample and promises to take the baby back, even if he has to cut it out of her, before departing. Nandi tells the other girls that she’s going to call in some help. They state that nobody would help them against Rance.
Inara approaches Mal in the dining room as he’s cleaning his guns, spooking him in a hilarious manner that I cannot convey properly in words. The closest I have is shocklarious. They talk briefly, with Inara accidentally calling Mal a “petty crook” again, irking him. Wash enters, telling the pair there’s an emergency call, but it’s for Inara.
Inara tells Nandi that she’s confident the crew will help her. Nandi mentions that Inara was ordered by her Companion Guild House to shun her after Nandi left, but Inara says that she never cared about that. Nandi thanks her and signs off. Mal, who was eavesdropping, tells her that it sounds like the Companions on the planet need help, but Inara responds that they’re whores. Mal questions her use of the term, but Inara says that it’s the truth, because they’re independent of the government system. Mal agrees to help out of principle, but Inara tells him that he’s going to be paid, because she wants to keep it professional. This clearly hurts Mal, but he still agrees.
Everyone seems on board with helping except Jayne, who comes around instantly when he finds out that they’d be helping prostitutes. At the whorehouse, Inara introduces Mal to Nandi, who seems to deduce that Mal has a crush on Inara from the way he verbally jabs at her. Jayne immediately enters and starts asking about getting “sexed,” which Mal finds repugnant.
In the shooting script, there’s an additional scene where, after being told that Jayne is great in a fight, Nandi tells one of the girls to show Jayne what a “Palestinian Somersault” is. Much like Jayne, I was confused as to what a “Palestinian Somersault” is, so I checked online and found no definition of this term, even on Urban Dictionary, so I can only assume it’s an act so perverted that humans won’t figure it out for centuries and that couldn’t be referenced on network TV. Either way, Jayne seems excited.
Zoë, Mal, Inara, and Nandi go off to discuss business, leaving the rest of the crew in the bordello. Simon goes to tend to Petaline with River, while Kaylee looks at the male whores and Jayne goes off to get sexed. Wash asks Kaylee if she would actually sleep with a prostitute and Kaylee responds that it’s not like anyone else wants her. Two girls approach Book, which he immediately rejects, but it’s revealed they just want a prayer meeting. Kaylee, seeing this, remarks that everyone has someone, before asking Wash if she’s pretty. Wash responds with one of my favorite Wash lines in the series:
“Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.”
Such a weirdly sweet compliment.
Mal asks about the odds of Burgess being the father of Petaline’s baby. Nandi says 50:50, but also that it’s irrelevant, Petaline shouldn’t have to give her baby up. Burgess is revealed to be so wealthy that he could actually independently fund a modern city on the planet, but that he declines to so that he can continue to act like a cowboy. Basically, he owns WestWorld, but with poor people as victims instead of robots. He’s an asshole is pretty much the takeaway. Inara and Mal decide to go meet Burgess that evening at the theatre.
Mal and Inara meet Burgess in the middle of an anecdote about forcing a boy to marry a woman he slept with, because she was “clean.” Mal uses this to compliment Burgess on his “old-fashioned values” as a way to get into the conversation. Mal inspects Burgess’s laser pistol, which has an auto-targeting correct that isn’t legal for civilians. Mrs. Burgess (Sandy Mulvihill) responds that her husband doesn’t equate legality and morality, something Mal agrees with. Mal and Inara depart, with Mal telling her that his plan is now to get everyone off the moon ASAP. Burgess receives a call and tells his wife that the child is his.
Back at the bordello, Mal tells everyone that they’re going to run. Burgess has too many guns and believes he’s in the right, which means that, even if they were to beat him, he’d just come back with more men until he won. Everyone would die, eventually. Nandi calmly accepts this, then says that she’s not leaving. Mal admires this and the crew agrees to stay. Book offers to help reinforce the windows and doors while Kaylee helps secure a solid water supply for the house. Just then, Petaline goes into labor.
Everyone prepares for the assault while Simon helps Petaline through her contractions. Much like in the last episode, everyone is dealing with the impending likelihood of death differently. Book reassures the girls that everything will be alright, Jayne accepts that people are going to die and gets laid, and Wash and Zoë discuss having children. Wash doesn’t want kids, due to their lifestyle, but Zoë does.
Later that evening, Mal and Nandi are talking, with Nandi mentioning that Jayne is the only one sleeping with any of the girls. Mal points out that Jayne’s pretty much the only man on the ship that would, since the others are a shepherd, a married man, and Simon. Nandi points out that Mal didn’t mention himself. Mal says that he’ll get around to sex later, but Nandi says that she hasn’t seen Mal looking at any of them. Nandi brings up Inara, implying that Mal is too focused on her to consider the prostitutes. Nandi says that she’s surprised that Inara chose to leave her base planet, since she was focused on being a head priestess.
Simon, Inara, and River are helping Petaline deliver, but Simon determines that it’s going to be a long delivery, due to her not being fully dilated yet. Petaline says she knows it’s time, but the other three prepare to wait. Back in Nandi’s room, she and Mal are drinking and discussing the incident with a dulcimer that caused Nandi to leave the Companion Guild and found the brothel. Her devotion to it came from years of working hard to build it up. Mal calls her remarkable, leading to some heavy flirtation… then some really corny flirtation, then some clever flirtation, then finally some very TV-friendly but sensual fornication.
In another deleted scene, Book gives a sermon to two prostitutes, who then try to seduce him. Book resists, laughing it off, though he does, apparently, seem to at least consider the offer for a half-second.
Burgess meets with one of the prostitutes, Chari (Kimberly McCullough), who has told him about Mal and the crew being at the brothel. Burgess jokes to his men about calling the assault off, before revealing that his forces number in the dozens. Burgess thanks Chari, before going off on a rant about a “woman’s place” and forcing her to get on her knees to “do some chores.” It’s creepy as hell.
The next morning, Inara catches Mal leaving Nandi’s room, dressing. Mal tries to cover up, but Inara says she’s happy for them and is not concerned about who Mal sleeps with because unlike him, she’s not Puritanical. Mal seems pleased she’s okay with the situation, until Inara finally digs at him by saying that she’s disappointed in Nandi’s taste, leaving him speechless. We then see her openly crying in a corner. Mal focuses on the fight, calling Wash and Kaylee en route to Serenity, telling them to provide air cover using the ship’s engines. Inara goes to check on Petaline’s progress before Nandi finds her. Inara and Nandi communicate wordlessly, before Nandi realizes her mistake: She’d thought that Mal was in love with Inara, but she didn’t realize that Inara was also in love with Mal. She tries to apologize, but Inara says it’s okay.
Nandi confronts Mal about not telling her that Inara had feelings for him, but Mal starts to say that he didn’t know what those feelings were, before the bad guys arrive and interrupt. Everyone seems shocked at the number of people and the quality of weapons they’ve brought. Mal calls Wash and Kaylee about air support, but the pair are ambushed by Burgess’s men. Back at Heart of Gold, the bad guys start unleashing hell, but the crew and the hookers unleash it right back.
A firefight ensues, with Burgess’s men bringing in some heavy weapon after another, which the crew deals with using their superior planning and experience. Petaline finally gives birth in the middle of the assault, while Chari lets Burgess into the building through a hidden passage. Back on Serenity, Wash and Kaylee manage to trap the mercenaries in a hallway, but it results in Wash being trapped in the engine room.
Burgess comes into Petaline’s room to claim his son and grabs the baby. Nandi confronts him, before Inara puts a knife to his throat from behind. Burgess surrenders the child, but then elbows Inara and shoots Nandi, killing her. Mal arrives and grieves for a moment over Nandi’s body with Inara, before running off to kill Burgess. Mal kills a mercenary and steals his horse to pursue Burgess’s hovercraft. He pulls the man off the craft and pistol-whips him rather than killing him.
Mal drags Burgess back to the Heart of Gold, where Petaline introduces him to his son before shooting him dead. The remainder of his men leave. The Heart of Gold buries Nandi, and Mal and Inara talk onboard. She says she was glad that Mal gave Nandi a night of comfort. Mal says that life’s too short not to act on your feelings, clearly about to tell her how he feels. Inara tells him that she realized from Nandi that when you have a family like the brothel, then you never want to stop being part of it. She then tells him there’s something she should have done long ago and she’s sorry she took so long to say: She’s leaving.
She walks past a stunned Mal.
Well, this was the Mal and Inara episode that we had kind of been waiting for this entire season, except for the part where everything goes to shit.
Well, let’s look at the positives:
First, I love that Mal sees himself in Nandi. In some ways, her refusal to obey the Companion Guild rules is basically a mirror of Mal’s refusal to obey the Alliance. When Inara is describing them, Mal supplies the word “independents.” This really explains why Mal is so eager to help them, aside from his usual charitable nature, and why he bonds so quickly to Nandi. Also, Melinda Clarke’s performance is so powerful you really do find her entrancing even if she’s playing a stock character (the hooker with a heart of gold). The comparison between Mal’s position to Nandi’s is a bit problematic in the sense that this makes the Alliance Companions while the Independents are whores, but I guess that still works.
The Heart of Gold just wants the freedom to conduct their business as they see fit, while the Companions require a large amount of training and have to obey strict rules. The problem is that the Heart of Gold has no one to turn to when things go wrong except the kindness of strangers, while Companions have a huge amount of punitive authority and legal force to keep them safe. It’s really the best metaphor for libertarianism and authoritarianism on film: Both have their positives and negatives, but in the end, they’re just about screwing people to get money. I assume communism is just a free orgy where everyone starves to death. (Okay, that’s not an accurate representation of Marxism… or really any of them, but I thought it was funny, and it’s my blog).
Rance’s moon sort of supports my theory about the planet from “Jaynestown,” although I maintain that the lack of automation is still dumb. Non-AI robots are a fine servile class, since they, you know, aren’t capable of suffering. Rance intentionally keeps the planet poor so that he can do whatever he wants with it. The episode ends the same way it eventually does for all such people: They get killed by the people they kept trying to screw over.
Except for, maybe, “The Train Job,” this is the most Western episode of the show, since both episodes are just futuristic interpretations of Western tropes. In this case, it’s the Alamo-style last stand, but with machine guns, air support, and lasers. The part where Mal sizes up the enemy beforehand, but also kind of sees a little bit of himself in him, is also a Western tradition. He and Burgess both don’t tend to obey laws, it’s just that Mal has a seemingly higher moral code than the law, whereas Burgess has a much lower one. The problem is, they could just as easily be the other way around when measured by a different society, something that legality usually ameliorates to an extent (though, history doesn’t look kindly upon fundamental immorality, even when it was legal). This clearly impacts Inara a bit, since, as a Companion and a supporter of Unification, she tends to favor rules and laws.
Wash and Zoë talking about kids is great, especially since they take the opposite points that characters with their emotional profiles usually take. Wash, who is so open and loving, doesn’t want to bring a kid into such a crazy world, but Zoë, who is usually a stoic, wants to have a family with the man she loves. It’s a great juxtaposition that really makes me feel how much they love each other.
Also, everything about Jayne’s interaction with the hookers is hilarious. Literally every line.
Now for the negatives:
Rance, like Womack in the last episode, is just a poorly-written villain. He’s so over-the-top that it basically extends into generic anime bad guy status. When he’s been beaten at the end, he’s still demanding the obedience of the people present, showing no recognition of his position. His statements on the position of women and the “correct behavior of whores” would be backwards in the 1950s, let alone the 2500s. I couldn’t believe anyone would realistically hold those positions, except that there was a guy shouting it in front of the sandwich place near my apartment the day after I finished writing this, so I had to update it. Apparently, God wanted to tell me that Rance isn’t quite as unbelievable as I thought. Still, he’s not a great villain.
The sci-fi elements of this episode are… not good. The Heart of Gold looks awful. They justify it as “solar sheeting,” but 1) you have a much bigger surface area nearby to catch the sun and 2) you’re telling me we can’t make aesthetically pleasing solar panels 500 years from now? Also, there are other power sources that seem commonplace that would blow solar out of the water, so why have it? Rance’s hovercraft looks okay for long-distance shots, but in the close-up looks cheap. Also, it can’t outrun a horse. We have interplanetary engines everywhere, but you can’t build a hovercraft faster than a car? The laser, similarly, appears to fail when trying to shoot Mal from like 10 feet, despite having an auto-targeting system. Then, three shots later, we find out that the battery’s dead. That’s not a great weapon, future.
The battle sequence is just too long and too many quick cuts. There are some neat points, but, for the most part, the whole thing just seems to be too much of a stock battle scene to kill time.
Kaylee and Simon continue to be an issue… solely because they just won’t communicate, even though they do actually try a lot. I like that Jewel Staite, who is gorgeous, still portrays someone insecure about her appearance, reminding us that insecurity is not about objective beauty, but about state of mind. On the other hand, my god, just talk to the boy, you know he likes you.
I hate what happens with Mal and Inara in this episode, because they basically are just driving each other apart. I realize that it was probably building up to the arc of Inara leaving and some other stuff happening that we never got, but it still feels like she and Mal are just a little too unreasonable to each other in this episode, even compared to others. It’s like watching a pair of kids who like each other acting out on the playground, they’re just hurting each other as a way to avoid confronting their feelings.
When Mal sleeps with Nandi, I can understand Inara being hurt by it, but Inara knows Mal has feelings for her, has told him she won’t sleep with him, doesn’t ever talk about her feelings with him, isn’t in a relationship with him, and she has sex with people all the time for money. She doesn’t exactly have the grounds to get THAT mad at either of them, but it really seems like if Nandi hadn’t died, this would have been a grudge. After Nandi dies, Inara does actually seem to realize what that night together meant: They both just needed someone and they were there for each other. Granted, Mal did know Inara has feelings for him, which does make it a little worse on his part, but, again, she stated she can’t be with him and he doesn’t question that until Nandi’s killed. That’s always sort of the problem with emotions, both in writing and in real life. You can logically justify your actions all you want, even to the point that you think you’re doing the right thing, but if a person you care about is hurt by it, you still feel like an asshole.
The first time I saw this, when Inara says that she’s not Puritanical, I actually had hope that this relationship wasn’t going to run through the clichés that usually accompany this kind of situation, but instead it’s immediately undercut by her insult and breakdown. Other fans I’ve talked to thought that Inara’s crying and emotional honesty was refreshing, but I went the other way. I think it’s just playing into a trope we’ve seen too many times and, frankly, doesn’t fit into the relationship they’ve built here. Inara’s so much stronger than to be so broken by this, and portraying it as just a small wound on her that she doesn’t want to admit is there would have been better than her openly weeping for 3 minutes. Then, it ends with her realizing that if she stays with Mal, she wouldn’t leave, so… she leaves. That doesn’t really speak well for her belief in a future as Mrs. Reynolds and becomes INCREDIBLY frustrating during a scene in the next episode when she is apparently just wanting him to tell her how he feels so she can stay. HE WAS OBVIOUSLY 3 SECONDS FROM DOING THAT, INARA! If we hadn’t gotten the movie Serenity, this sh*t might have bugged me forever.
And, generally, I almost feel like the episode kind of takes women down a notch. Inara’s completely broken by Mal’s actions, Kaylee needs Wash to tell her she’s pretty, Mrs. Burgess appears not to be anything more than arm candy who doesn’t care that her husband abuses prostitutes, a house full of women who have sex for a living doesn’t have anyone who knows anything about pregnancy, and Chari stabs everyone in the back. Her betrayal seems even dumber because she still goes through with it after he forces her to blow him in front of his men and tells her she’s shit. I mean, damn, this really doesn’t feel as empowering as Nandi’s speech suggested the episode would be. But I might be reading too much into that.
Also, the pun in the title bugs me so much I try to suppress it every time. Yes, the phrase “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” exists and relates to Nandi and most of her girls, but it has no other meaning, so it just ends up feeling like a wink to people who are aware of the phrase. If it were just the title, I’d let it go, but they also name the brothel after it. I can almost hear the author nudging me going “Did you get it? You get it? You got it, right?” Yes, I got it, did you have something else to talk about? No? Then let’s move on.
Ultimately, this is another upside/downside episode, but it’s more downside. Some people seem to really love it, but a lot of it just rubs me the wrong way. Still, a bad episode of a great series is better than a good episode of most, so this is really only a weak episode in comparison to the rest of the series.
Next week, the only episode I’d already done when I started, but I wrote a new review just for you guys.
Let us take a fun trip back in time to the year 1984. Reagan got re-elected, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek made his debut, Purple Rain blew the world’s collective mind, George Orwell was proven only kinda right about his predictions, and the world was introduced to the first superhero from New Jersey, the Toxic Avenger.
First shown in the movie that gave him his name, the Toxic Avenger was a product of Troma Entertainment, a company famous for making low-budget exploitation films. As a lifelong fan of exploitation films of almost all kinds, I consider Troma to be one of the best sources out there for schlock. However, Toxic Avenger was their magnum opus, eventually becoming the symbol for the studio. It was also their first “horror” film, rather than the raunchy comedies they’d done previously. While it tanked at the box office, it followed the The Rocky Horror Picture Show model and started being a regular midnight movie at independent theaters. The movie was famous for its dark humor and cartoonishly over-the-top-gory ultraviolence. I recommend it to everyone who likes those things.
Toxic Avenger eventually got two terrible sequels, an amazing Avengers-style crossover sequel with other Troma products like Sgt. Kabukiman, a cartoon series, a video game, and a comic book by Marvel. But no one was prepared for what was coming next: The Toxic Avenger: The Musical!
Okay, you’d naturally assume this was a crazy college project or something, especially since there had already been an amateur production called “Toxic Avenger: The Musikill,” but you couldn’t be more wrong about this particular adaptation. This was made by Joe DiPietro (who wrote I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change) and David Bryan (of Bon Jovi), the team that created the Tony Award-winner for Best Musical Memphis. So, after creating a long-running and highly celebrated production, this was the logical next step. And it is beautiful. The video I watched was not of the original production, but instead of the West End run. It hasn’t been performed on Broadway yet, sadly.
Quick note before we start: There are only 5 people in this play. One plays The Toxic Avenger, one plays his love interest, one plays his mother/a nun/the villain, and the remaining two play all the other roles.
So, the musical starts with the White Dude (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) and the Black Dude (Ché Francis) dumping a bunch of toxic waste from Manhattan in the one place where no one would ever notice: New Jersey. Specifically, a town of the Jersey Turnpike called Tromaville (applause). They’re joined by a nun (Natalie Hope), who decries the state of the state, begging for someone to save them. That person appears on stage as Melvin Ferd the Third (Ben Irish), a scrawny nerd (oh dang, that rhymes). He vows to clean up Tromaville, before getting beaten up by the local bullies and meeting the one person who appreciates the beauty of New Jersey: Blind Sarah (Emma Salvo), the librarian. Oh, and all of this is to song (“Who Will Save New Jersey?”).
Melvin attempts to woo Sarah at the library, only to get rejected after she feels his face, something even he admitted he knew was going to happen. He settles for reading the town records to find out who is dumping the toxic sludge. The two bullies show up and harass Sarah, leading Melvin to say he loves her, something she mercifully pretends didn’t happen. Melvin discovers that the town Mayor, Babs Belgoody (Hope), is behind the dumping and goes to confront her… right after her supervillain solo explaining that she’s corrupt and taking a ton of bribes to allow dumping (“Jersey Girl”). When confronted with the evidence Melvin’s gathered, the Mayor swears she’s changed and puts Melvin in charge of cleaning up the town… right before telling the bullies, who work for her, to get rid of Melvin.
The pair dangle Melvin over a toxic waste dump, but one of them gets confused over being told to “let him go,” and dumps him into the vat of sludge. Sarah, walking nearby, finds the bullies next to the vat. They attempt to sexually assault her, only to be interrupted by a theatre-shaking roar that causes Sarah to feint. Melvin emerges, now transformed into the greatest superhero of the modern era, the Toxic Avenger! He quickly dispatches the pair in a grotesquely brutal manner and in a very straightforward song (“Kick Your Ass”). He then carries Sarah off.
When Sarah wakes up, Melvin tells her he’s toxic, but she thinks that’s a French name that she pronounces “Toxie.” While Melvin refuses to let her touch his face, she feels his surprisingly toned body and decides she’s super horny for him in song form (“My Big French Boyfriend”). Meanwhile, Melvin sings about how he’s terrified of what would happen if she were to find out what he really looks like (“Thank God She’s Blind”). After returning home, Melvin is discovered by his mother (Hope), who deduces literally everything that happened nonchalantly while offering to make him breakfast. She then sings about how much of a disappointment he is to her while sending him to her doctor (“Big Green Freak”). The doctor refers him to the local mad doctor, Professor Ken (Francis), who cannot cure Melvin, but tells him that the only thing that would kill him is bleach.
“Toxie” goes back to see Sarah, who tries to seduce him. Still insecure, it doesn’t really go well, until he makes literally the worst joke to make to a blind person: How did Stevie Wonder burn his hand? Fortunately, Sarah provides the punch-line (He tried to read the waffle iron) before revealing that she did actually burn herself that way. The pair then finally really connect in a beautiful duet and some tasteful non-boning (“Hot Toxic Love”). If the title of that song sounds like it was sung by Tim Curry in Fergully: The Last Rainforest, it was not. Tim Curry’s song was just “Toxic Love,” and was only hot because Tim Curry was singing it.
Melvin goes to stop the next shipment of toxic waste, confronting the Mayor and the Chief of Police (Francis). The Mayor tells him that she’s going to get rid of him, however, a passing folk singer (Conlon-Morrey) recounts that, as the Toxic Avenger, Melvin quickly becomes a hero to the community, despite the number of times he decapitated and dismembered the bad people (“The Legend of the Toxic Avenger”).
The Mayor goes to Professor Ken to find out how to get rid of the Toxic Avenger, but Ken refuses… right up until the Mayor offers him sex (“Evil is Hot”). No one blames him. Meanwhile, Melvin’s mother is at the salon with her two stylists, Lorenzo and Lamas, who tell her that the Mayor, revealed to be her oldest enemy, is coming to see her. The Mayor arrives, and what is without a doubt the most impressive performance not only in this musical but also in almost any musical begins. You have to remember that the Mayor and Mother Ferd are both played by the same actress, who now performs both sides of a duet using quick changes and singing in two very distinct voices (“Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore”). Also, the song is pretty damned awesome. Finally, it caps off by having Hope come out dressed as both characters and sing against herself. It reminds me of “Confrontation” from Jekyll and Hyde, but somehow more impressive as a performance, if not as a song.
Back at Sarah’s place, Sarah has finally finished writing her memoirs and she utters a prayer in song to the highest power she can: Oprah Winfrey (“Choose Me, Oprah!”). She attempts again to seduce “Toxie,” but he still refuses to let her touch his face. The Mayor declares martial law to catch Melvin and breaks into Sarah’s apartment. She tells Sarah that “Toxie” is actually a horrible mutant who has killed multiple people. After the Mayor leaves, Melvin returns and confirms it to be true, but Sarah tells him it’s okay. He finally tells her his secret identity and lets her touch his face, believing her to love him for who he is inside. However, she immediately tells him they need to see other handicapped people.
Melvin, now broken emotionally, goes on an angry rampage in song form (“Everybody Dies!”). However, during this he ends up killing a seemingly harmless old woman for polluting rather than recycling. Don’t f*ck with Captain Planet from Jersey, kids. However, he finally regrets what he’s done and pines for Sarah (“You Tore My Heart Out”). At a café which is named after the musical Hamilton, Sarah is sad about Melvin, but can’t think about taking him back. Melvin’s mother arrives and tells Sarah that she needs to go ahead and accept Melvin for who he is. After all, as they sing, all men are freaks (“All Men Are Freaks”).
The Mayor beseeches Tromaville to join together and get rid of Melvin via lynch mob consisting of comically incompetent and mildly inconvenienced townsfolk (“The Chase”). This contains a very Scooby-Doo hallway-esque vibe with people coming off and on stage in ridiculous states. Also, Sarah trips at one point and the entire show stops to attempt to help her get her white cane (the blind walking stick thing), including several bits of what appear to be improv, because they end up sending the cast into fits of seemingly genuine laughter. The Folk Singer even comes out at one point to turn it into another ballad before being silenced by the Mayor. The Mayor and the townspeople eventually catch up with the Toxic Avenger and the Mayor prepares to shoot him with a Super Soaker filled with bleach. Sarah arrives, however, and tells everyone that the old woman Melvin killed was actually a child sex-trafficker who downloaded songs illegally (being a musical, the latter is treated more seriously). Sarah then tries to shoot the Mayor, but, being blind, only shoots the citizens. She finally hits the Mayor, who tries to overact her demise until being executed by the band.
However, the Mayor managed to hit the Toxic Avenger with a shot of bleach, leaving him dying on the ground. Sarah tries to revive him with the Power of Love, but that’s just an 80s song, so it doesn’t do anything. Professor Ken tells her that the only thing that can save him would be the most disgusting liquid on the face of the Earth. Mother Ferd promptly arrives with a glass of water from the Thames in London (the show’s at the West End, originally it was from the Hudson). The Toxic Avenger is revived, punching Sarah in the face by accident, then agreeing to marry her. Toxie recounts that, during his death, he was visited by a higher power, who told him to meet with every politician on Earth and tell them to stop polluting the planet or else murder them violently. The play then skips forward to the next election year where candidate Toxie Ferd the Third wins the governorship of New Jersey under his platform of “be kind and be green or else I will murder you.” He’s accompanied by Sarah and his blind, green baby, who reveal that they’ve moved all toxic waste to Vermont. (“Brand New Day in New Jersey”).
It’s true that musical adaptations of films have become much more prolific in the last few decades, they’re usually something that had musical aspects in the original or were at least popular films. Sure, cult classic adaptations like Evil Dead: The Musical exist and are amazing, but those usually are made by relative amateurs. This was written by two guys who won three Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score.
And it is amazing.
It’s not possible to convey in a review, but the songs in this are all solid and hilarious. My personal favorite song has to be “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore,” but it’s hard to be objective when you’re watching someone really nail a solo duet. They’re all comedy gold. The production looks cheap, to be sure, but that seems to be intentional as it really is in line with the source material. The actors break the fourth wall all the time, but I don’t know if there is even supposed to be a fourth wall in a musical production. They regularly interact with and respond to the audience, sometimes in planned ways and sometimes as spontaneous reactions. There’s a lot of slapstick versions of the gory antics of the original film as well.
Look, this isn’t an epic musical like Wicked or Phantom, but it wasn’t supposed to be. They even mock both of those within the show. This is just a fun time bringing back memories of a classic B-movie, but if you haven’t seen the original, this still works great. You can watch it here on Broadway HD, which I think lets you have free trials. Or you can stream the original film on Amazon Prime right now. Enjoy.
Welcome to the third episode. Out of all the episodes, this one is third-est. It also counts as the Rick and Morty Christmas episode, I guess.
So, the episode starts with Jerry getting into the spirit of the season by singing “Last King Christmas,” a version of “Good King Wenceslas” designed for morons. As such, Jerry sings it well. He comes out of the kitchen with a ham to find that his family are all on their electronic devices, something that annoys him as he wants everyone to be a family for his parents, who apparently haven’t visited in years for some reason. It’s implied that Beth doesn’t like them, but it seems weird that they don’t show up for years at a time when they have grandchildren there.
Jerry tries to get his family to celebrate a “human holiday,” but gets ignored until he takes all of their devices. Rick enters, accompanied by a senile, drunken, homeless man dressed as Santa Claus, who Rick introduces as Ruben Ridley (Jess Harnell). Rick says that every year he checks up on Ruben and gives him a medical evaluation, eliciting responses of admiration and suspicion from Beth and Jerry, respectively. Rick takes Ruben into the garage as Jerry’s parents arrive, followed by a young man named Jacob (Echo Kellum).
Jerry’s mother, Joyce (Pat Lentz), explains that Jacob came into their lives after his father, Leonard (Dana “Wait, Dana Carvey? Holy shit, Dana Carvey” Carvey), had a heart attack. She says that the three of them are learning to “live again.” Jacob, unfailingly polite and upbeat, quickly charms most of the family, aside from a still-confused Jerry.
Rick re-enters and grabs Morty. In the lab, Ruben is dying on the table, so Rick shrinks Morty down and sends him inside Ruben, where Morty finds himself at the entrance to Anatomy Park, a theme park in Ruben’s body. Rick explains that it’s a business venture he’s been planning in order to earn some sciencin’ money. At first it just appears to be mostly Disneyland-esque rides, including Rick’s problematic personal passion project Pirates of the Pancreas. Yeah, that’s alliteration.
Morty heads to Ruben’s liver, where he’s ambushed by Poncho (Gary Anthony Williams), the park’s head of security, and introduced to: Roger (Jess Harnell), a zookeeper; Annie (Jackie Buscarino), a churro-stand worker; and Dr. Xenon Bloom (John Oliver), who appears to be a sentient amoebic alien from the UK that runs the park. Bloom reveals that Anatomy Park is a collection of the world’s deadliest diseases, which are now running rampant throughout Ruben’s body. Also, they’re monsters, rather than, say, what any disease actually looks like, because that would be boring. The group is attacked by Hepatitis A.
Back at the house, the rest of the family is at dinner, where Jerry finally inquires about exactly what relationship Jacob has to his parents. Jacob is revealed to be Joyce’s lover, whom Leonard enjoys watching have sex with his wife, typically while dressed as Superman. Beth is supportive of this, while Jerry is horrified. Summer, still mad at not having her phone, feels some serious Schadenfreude at Jerry’s pain.
Inside Ruben, the group escapes from Hep A, finding themselves in the lungs, which aren’t producing enough air for Ruben’s brain, which apparently shuts down security. Whether this is because the security team lives in Ruben’s brain and are now dead or if Ruben’s brain actually IS the security system is frustratingly never answered. They’re joined by Alexander (Rob Schrab), who is a dog mascot for the park. Morty, trying to impress Annie, climbs up the alveoli in the lungs to check for blockage, but soon finds that there is a swarm of tuberculosis attacking them. During the attack, Poncho shoots Ruben’s lungs, causing him to cough. The team tries to evacuate the lungs, but Alexander is killed when Ruben takes a deep breath, with his corpse being coughed onto Rick’s forehead. Morty tells Rick that Ruben has TB, which Rick says he can cure, before Ruben suddenly dies.
Rick, apparently unable to cure death, tells the group they need to quickly get out of Ruben, before telling Morty to check out Pirates of the Pancreas, because the pirates are realistic and “really rapey.” The group tries to make its way out of the park through the digestive tract to the colon, where there is an emergency enlarging ray. Morty leads the team while still trying to hit on Annie and failing. They board the “It’s A Small, Small Intestine” ride, which is a parody of exactly what you think it is. They then get attacked by Gonorrhea, which is actually less horrifying than the singing dolls. Morty realizes that they’re surrounded by explosive gas and has Poncho ignite it, killing Gonorrhea. This finally gets Annie to really notice Morty.
Back in the house, the family is in a drum circle having a great time, except for Jerry who is still upset about Jacob. Beth even apologizes to Jerry and tries to get him into the holiday. Ethan (Daniel Benson), Summer’s secret boyfriend shows up, complaining that she hasn’t texted him in a few hours. Ethan snaps at Summer, not really listening to the situation, before Jerry asks if this is her boyfriend. Jacob remarks that Jerry really needs to connect more with his family.
In Ruben’s colon, the group arrives at the enlarging ray. Roger tries to power it up before the sphincter dam breaks and floods the colon with crap, but Morty notices a strange object in Poncho’s backpack. It’s revealed that Poncho has been stealing exhibits of Bubonic Plague to sell as bioweapons. Morty attacks him, allowing Bubonic Plague to get free and bite Poncho, resulting in his death. Then, the dam starts to burst. Roger gets caught trying to flee and ends up killed by the wave of shit.
Inside the living room, Jacob confronts Ethan over his anger, which is revealed to come from being molested by his brother. This emotional revelation is quickly parlayed by Jacob into personal growth for Ethan, which leads to he and Summer proclaiming their love and making out. Jacob and Joyce start making out while Leonard goes into a closet to reveal his Superman outfit. Jerry shouts that he hates this, but everyone else in the house seems to be on-board. Jerry then proclaims that he hates Christmas and leaves for the garage.
At the Anatomy Park theater, Morty and Annie are rounding first base, with Annie giving him the go-ahead to round second, while Dr. Bloom eats ice cream and watches an animatronic Ruben introduce himself. In the garage, Jerry apologizes to Rick for judging him as a crazy relative, which gives Rick an idea. He tells Morty to get to Ruben’s left nipple to get out. Dr. Bloom says that to get there, they need to ride The Bone Train, a monorail system attached to Ruben’s skeleton. Rick grabs a scalpel, Ruben’s corpse, and some dynamite and gets in the car, flying to space. Morty’s group is pursued by E. Coli. Dr. Bloom sacrifices himself to start The Bone Train before realizing there is an autopilot that renders his sacrifice stupid. Morty defends Annie with a fire extinguisher from the legions of E. Coli.
Rick flies Ruben to outer space and enlarges him to gigantic proportions. Newspeople all over the US report, with a fair amount of professional calm, about the giant man floating over America, though they do speculate about the size of Ruben’s penis over the Rocky Mountains. As Annie and Morty get to the end of the track and find the nipple, they are attacked by Hepatitis A again, before Hep A is dispatched by the larger Hepatitis C. The pair exit the nipple hole and are rescued by Rick, who dynamites Ruben’s corpse.
At the Smith house, the family is lamenting Jerry’s attitude when it starts to rain blood. Everyone panics until Jerry comes in with screens for them all, telling them that the media says not to worry. Jerry says they all learned something this Christmas, which Summer immediately denies. In the garage, Rick laments Dr. Bloom’s passing until Annie says that she could create a new Anatomy Park, leading him to shrink her again. Morty complains that Rick took Annie away, but Rick tells him Annie had a puffy vagina. The pair re-enter the house to find everyone on a screen, leading Rick to call them out for not paying attention to the holiday. In the post-credits scene, Rick is building a new Anatomy Park in Ethan, but finds that they are not going to include Pirates of the Pancreas, leading Rick to get pissed off and seemingly quit the project.
Okay, so, this episode is reference-heavy, even by Rick and Morty standards. So, let’s go through some of them.
JOKER’S “DID YOU GET THAT?” REFERENCE CORNER
First, Anatomy Park is a combination of Jurassic Park, Fantastic Voyage, and Disneyland. It’s actually probably closer to the park seen in Jurassic World than in the first Jurassic Park film, since the original park was more akin to a nature safari designed to show off the zoo, whereas there are actually rides and shows in the new park… prior to it getting destroyed. The whole shrinking and entering a body thing is from a lot of sources, but I think the idea of going into a body to fix a problem is most associated with Fantastic Voyage. The Jurassic Park thing is made pretty explicit. Xenon Bloom is clearly designed to look like John Hammond, down to the cane with what appears to be a fetus trapped in amber. Hepatitis A being caught in mid-attack by Heptatitis C who somehow wasn’t noticed until this point is a reference to the T-Rex eating the velociraptor at the end of the original film. Hep C then gives a thumbs-up to Morty and Annie, with Morty asking if they had any relationship with him, to which Annie says “I think they’re just like that.” This seems to be a reference to the fact that T-Rexes often save the heroes during the Jurassic Park films. At one point, Dr. Bloom tells the group that Gonorrhea can’t see them if they don’t move, but then admits he was thinking of a T-Rex, which is about as direct a reference as it gets.
According to the Rick and Morty wiki, Xenon Bloom’s name is a play on Jeff Goldblum, but with another element in place of gold. I also have seen people speculating that Xenon was chosen based on the fact that it can be used in anesthetics and neuroprotectives, referencing both Bloom’s boring nature and the fact that he works to keep Ruben alive. I myself first thought it was a joke in that Xenon is a noble gas that reacts to basically nothing, while Bloom panics constantly and seeks validation for jokes throughout the episode. However, I now realize that his name is a reference to the Disney Channel film Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century, a sci-fi movie which featured the musician Proto Zoa and the band Microbe. This is clearly the intention of the writers and will hear no other explanation. The spelling difference is clearly for legal reasons.
There’s also apparently a theory going around that Leopold, Jacob, and Joyce’s relationship is a reference to Ulysses, where Leopold Bloom is cuckolded by his wife, but literally nothing about this matches up except that Leopold is the husband’s name in both, and Joyce sounds like James Joyce, the author of the book. The relationship is completely unrelated to the one in the book, so I’m gonna just say it’s coincidence or the leftovers from a planned reference. Maybe they’ll even use it as one in the future, but it ain’t one here.
LEAVING THE CORNER
So, this isn’t my favorite episode of Rick and Morty, but it’s hard to articulate why. I guess I should say that I think the jokes in this episode are just too easy for a show of Rick and Morty’s caliber. The premise is funny, but it isn’t quite the level of subversion that we usually get from the show. Instead, it’s just “what if Jurassic Park were filled with diseases” and nothing else. Usually, this is the kind of thing that the show would use to show a different angle on the premise.
I also don’t think the jokes quite land as hard as other episodes, pretty much summarized with Bloom’s line “The digestive tract is the evacuation route. Get it?” He has several things like that where he’s attempting to do bad comedy, with Morty even asking him why he’s doing a bit while they’re going to die. Now, don’t get me wrong, this could have been hilarious and, in fact, probably should have been, but it just didn’t ever quite land for me. This is despite the fact that they cast John Oliver, who is a comedian you can absolutely envision saying “I made a joke. Did you get the joke? Oh god, why didn’t you get the joke. I shouldn’t do this. I shouldn’t have been a comedian. I should have been a haberdasher like my mother told me to.” Usually, I’d totally find that funny, but it never quite goes far enough out of the scene to really hit absurd.
Another joke that usually should have been the gateway to hilarity is Poncho’s rant, but, again, it just felt too easy of a joke. He says he could have sold the Bubonic Plague to “Al Quaeda. North Korea. Republicans! Shriners! Balding men that work out! People on the Internet that are only turned on by cartoons of Japanese teenagers!” I mean, this is just a list of people who society points out are angry bastards. This could be on any show. The humor in Rick and Morty is usually more distinct. It almost seems to get there when Poncho starts to say that it’s all because Bloom gave him an iTunes gift card as a holiday bonus, but that gets cut-off by Morty attacking him. Oh, and Bubonic Plague still exists in the real world, so that’s a stupid thing to try to sell. Could you not find smallpox?
Morty’s assertiveness in this episode is a little out of character, even for when Morty is trying to get laid. Usually Rick has to goad him more or pull him along, but since Rick isn’t in most of the episode, the show naturally has to give Morty more to do to move the plot along.
Also, and this one is weird, Rick’s role in the episode bothers me. First, Rick creating a theme park to make money is odd, because I have never understood why exactly Rick seems to constantly need money. He’s the smartest person in the universe, he routinely makes technology that crosses from science-fiction into fantasy, and yet we constantly see him doing things that suggest he’s broke. I honestly think it’s a play on the idea that engineers can’t do marketing as they think it’s pointless, so they can’t sell the great things they make. It also would explain why Jerry is in advertising, since, to Rick, that would be the most useless thing in the universe. Second, when Morty tells Rick that it’s TB, Rick just pulls a needle out of his own coat to inject Ruben, as if he has a TB cure on him. This is the kind of thing where Rick would normally lampshade that they’re on a TV show and that’s why he magically has a cure he couldn’t have used a few minutes ago, but it just plays it straight. Third, why the hell can’t Rick cure death? I know this is early on in the show, but I still find it weird when Rick says he “can’t” do something, since he literally lives to do things that are impossible. And he doesn’t even try to save Ruben by normal methods, let alone his superscience.
On the other side is the B-plot with the Smith family. This is actually the kind of subversion we usually want out of the show, because it’s taking the typical Christmas show message about the importance of family and instead making it about Jerry being freaked out by his mom and dad’s unorthodox sex life until Jerry finally gives everyone back their devices and allows them to ignore each other. Especially since the family is almost immediately on-board with the human holiday once Jerry’s parents are there, meaning that they learned the lesson from a typical Xmas movie, then immediately unlearn it.
I’m also going to say that I found it difficult to research parts of this episode because I ended up seeing the word “cuck” a lot, and I actually had to agree that this is a rare example of the word actually applying. Jerry’s dad Leopold enjoys watching his wife cuckold him, so he is, according to Urban Dictionary, a “cuck.” So, Jerry’s a “Beta Male” who is the son of a “cuck.” Add in that Ethan was molested by his brother (something that is literally just glossed over in an almost careless way) and I’d be shocked if this episode wasn’t listed on the Red Pill Reddit page as proof of the de-virilization of the media. But I wouldn’t even check for less than $200. Also, do NOT Google Image Search the word “cuck” with SafeSearch off.
Ultimately, this episode just seems like the crew hadn’t yet hit their stride on the show. Still, it’s got some fun moments in it. I definitely love the moment when Bloom says “Never mind, I wanted to sacrifice myself anyway” after finding out that it was needless and the premise is actually still pretty awesome. But, it definitely got better after this.
Overall, I give this episode a
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
Once again, I don’t have to go through the history of how this aired, because it didn’t. What I can say is that this episode is the only one filmed after Firefly was cancelled, because they axed the show the day after filming began.
The episode starts in a carnival side show in a space station bazaar, where Simon takes Kaylee to see the “irrefutable proof of alien life,” which Simon immediately points out is just an upside-down cow fetus. Kaylee tries to flirt a little, but Simon naturally shoves his foot deep down his throat to the point of kneeing himself in the uvula. I hope this isn’t a new lesson for anyone, but don’t ever describe your date as “the only option.” It doesn’t end well here or in real life. Kaylee leaves in what is described as a “huff,” and Wash and Zoë show up to mock both Simon and the “alien.”
Mal and Inara walk through the bazaar, with Mal revealing that he’s been unable to fence the Lassiter since stealing it in the last episode. The gun is just too famous to sell, since no one can display it and everyone knows it’s stolen. Inara offers to help find a buyer, but Mal insists that she stay out of crime. Mal goes to pick up the ship’s mail and is joined by Book, River, and Jayne. Mal receives a package addressed to him and Zoë, while Jayne receives a package from his mom. Jayne’s package is a sweet letter and the greatest hat not worn by Indiana Jones. Zoë and Mal open the package they received to find a corpse inside.
Flashback to 7 years previously, during the war, where Zoë saves a youth named Tracey (Jonathan M. Woodward) from being killed while he eats. She lectures him on stealth, only for Mal to comically defy her teachings by running into the base screaming and firing wildly. Mal, in his typical style, jokes about wanting Tracey’s beans as he reveals that the Alliance is about to roll through with “every damn thing.” The lieutenant in charge is now suffering from trauma and delusional, so Mal gives the command to retreat and regroup. Tracey declares that it isn’t worth dying for the rock they’re on, but Mal says:
“Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone’s carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn’t even know it. The trick is, die of old age before it finds you.”
A missile hits their hiding place, wounding Mal and Tracey. Mal pulls Tracey up to escape, when it cuts back to the present. Mal and Zoë are told by the mail clerk to take the body out of the bazaar. Back on Serenity, Simon offers to do an autopsy, but Mal declines. Zoë finds a tape recorder with Tracey’s last testament. Tracey apparently crossed the wrong people and expected to be killed. His last request is that Mal and Zoë, the two people who carried him through the war, will take him back to his parents to be buried. The crew agrees to help them take him back.
Back on the station, an Alliance officer named Lieutenant Womack (Richard Burgi) interrogates and threatens the mail clerk, Amnon (Al Pugliese), about the body that was in the mail earlier. Amnon denies knowing about any body, but does say that a package big enough to house one was picked up by Mal earlier. Womack thanks him, then tells his men to light him on fire. After dousing him with lighter fluid, Womack spares him on the condition that he doesn’t warn Mal.
On the ship, Jayne and Book have a conversation on mortality, with Book being solemn, but Jayne stating that death usually leads him to be active and alive. They talk about how everyone handles death differently, only to find River laying on top of the coffin. They try to move her, but she insists she’s “comfortable.”
In the Dining Room, Mal and Zoë are telling stories about Tracey, particularly one about him snipping off a senior officer’s mustache and then wearing it, when an explosion rocks the ship. Womack has caught up to Serenity. Mal’s worried that he wants the Lassiter, but Womack quickly says it’s about the crate. Mal stalls for time so they can figure out what the Alliance is looking for. A search of the crate turns up nothing, so Mal orders an autopsy. When Simon gets him on the table, he notices that Tracey has been cut open before. When he tries to cut him, Tracey wakes up, screaming.
Tracey attacks Simon but is quickly subdued. Tracey explains that he took a drug to simulate death in order to get away from the people he robbed. Mal asks what he stole, but Simon interrupts to tell Mal that Simon is having a medical emergency. Tracey explains that he isn’t, he’s just carrying some extra organs around. That’s what he stole. The story is that Tracey was supposed to carry an entire body-full of experimental organs to Ariel, where they would be removed and his original organs would be put in. However, he received a better offer, so he decided to take it, only to find out that his former clients killed his new buyer and are now pursuing him. He faked his death, believing that would throw them off the trail. In the meantime, he and Kaylee exchange some glances indicating that they would like to engage in some “organ donation.” That’s the worst metaphor for sex ever, but I refuse to change it.
Womack fires another warning shot, reminding Mal that he’s nearby. Mal claims that the shot disabled the docking, so he tells Womack that they’ll have to meet on the planet below, St. Albans, where Tracey’s family lives. Kaylee hides Tracey in her bunk, where they clearly show further attraction. The two ships enter atmosphere, but Mal tells Wash not to land. Book notes that Womack didn’t contact the local Alliance authorities when he entered atmosphere, and Wash pilots the ship into some tight canyons, making it difficult for the Alliance ship to follow. In response, Womack’s ship just goes higher, something that Wash somehow didn’t consider.
Womack begins firing at Serenity, but Wash manages to keep her safe. Wash hides the ship in a tunnel, but the Alliance drops explosives to triangulate their position. They appear to be sunk when Book says he knows another way, but it’ll require letting the Alliance board. Mal eventually agrees, trusting Book. Tracey overhears this, however, and pulls a gun on the crew, telling them that they have to run. When Mal tells Wash to radio anyway, Tracy fires at the radio and the ricochet wings Wash, but Zoë uses the opportunity to shoot Tracey in the chest. Wounded, but still very much alive, Tracey takes Kaylee hostage.
Mal confronts Tracey, pointing out that Tracey brought all of this on himself. Tracey accuses Mal of being hypocritical, but Mal says that he’s never killed someone who was trying to help him. Tracey mocks Mal and Zoë for their code of honor. The bombing stops, signaling that Wash has told Womack they’re surrendering. Jayne sneaks up behind Tracey and distracts him, resulting in Kaylee getting free and Mal shooting Tracey in the chest again. This time, he’s not going to make it. Mal tells Tracey that Tracey killed himself, Mal just carried the bullet.
Womack boards and finds a dying Tracey. Womack threatens the crew with arrest, but Book appears and tells Womack that he’s aware that Womack isn’t in his jurisdiction. In fact, Womack is quite a distance from his jurisdiction just to avoid any risk of being found out for his illegal activities. So, Book reasons, there’s no reason the Alliance will notice if the crew kills them all. Womack, realizing he’s cornered, backs down and leaves, insulting Jayne’s hat on the way because he’s an asshole.
Tracey realizes that Mal had planned to save him all along, meaning he’s literally dying from his own stupidity. Tracey asks Mal and Zoë to take him home like he’d originally asked them, so his parents can bury him, before passing away. The crew brings his body to his family, where Kaylee hands them Tracey’s last testament, ending with the line:
“When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, well, yeah, you know the rest…”
Mal remembers how the phrase goes… when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.
Well, this was the last episode filmed, and the last scene filmed was turning over the body of Tracey to his parents. In some ways, that’s pretty fitting, since it’s a somber moment signifying the wasted potential of someone killed through greed and stupidity. The only difference is that Tracey was killed by his own stupidity, whereas Firefly was killed by someone else’s… and also the tendency for the American viewing audience to not want to watch network stuff on Friday night.
The first thing about this episode is that it solidifies the “alien” question within series, establishing that humanity has not yet found life on other planets. The closest we have is the Reavers, which are just mutant humans. Granted, when you consider that we only inhabit like 5-6 solar systems at this point (per the Map of the ‘Verse) and there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, it’s not like we’ve looked that far. However, I love the reveal that a mutant cow fetus, the same thing people used in sideshows for years to fake as monsters, is still being used on people 500 years in the future. I also love that Simon immediately gets pissed that he’s been scammed, whereas Wash plays along with it because he thinks it’s fun.
This definitely is an upside/downside episode, for me. Let’s start with the upsides: Jayne’s hat is amazing, and I love it, and I would never wear it in a million years, but it brings out an entirely new side of Jayne in such a short period. Really, adding the details that he’s providing for his family who loves him adds a nice level to the character, especially since we tend to think of the tough guy types like him to be orphans or loners. Instead, it turns out Jayne’s kind of a mama’s boy and, well, it works for the character.
The scenes of Mal and Zoë remembering Tracey, either in flashback or in the dining room, really flesh out some of the Unification War’s story, even though they’re short. It’s a lot of show-don’t-tell about how rough the war was and what kind of people were fighting it. It also makes it clear that not every Browncoat really was fighting on principle, some of them were just people who picked a side based on convenience or heritage, like happens in every war. It’s a level of simple reality added to a nebulous background event that makes it more tangible.
Showing how the crew reacts to death makes for a very good series of character moments, from Simon’s clinical detachment to Book’s quiet contemplation to Kaylee’s sentimentality to Mal and Zoë’s fond remembrances, it really kind of shows how they all deal with mortality. River, on the other hand, can hear his dreams of his family, and probably lays on the coffin to listen to the happy thoughts and feelings coming out of his head.
The ending is so well done that it still makes me cry a little. It doesn’t surprise me that Kaylee had a crush on Tracey just from hearing his message, because it’s a powerful message whose meaning changes a little every time we hear it, ranging from sounding like a foolish kid admitting that made bad choices to sounding like a manipulative scumbag. But it’s always the same recording, only the context changes, and that’s such a great device for an episode to use. The last playing, however, is a man regretting what he did to the people he should have treated better. Luckily, Mal and Zoë are the better people and, when Tracey couldn’t crawl, they carried him home. The score to this is possibly the best in the series.
Kaylee’s crush on Tracey also gives her a little bit of a chance to show that she isn’t blindly hung up on Simon. However, ultimately, Tracey betrays that trust. Simon wouldn’t. That’s why he eventually gets to sleep with her… in a few months (or years, in reality).
And that’s a good segue to the downsides, because the Simon/Kaylee thing is only 12 episodes old and it’s starting to get repetitive. One of them needs to learn something. Either Simon needs to work on thinking before he speaks and emotional expression, or Kaylee needs to accept that those aren’t his strong points and Simon cares for her deeply even if he doesn’t express it right. I know that it’s the show’s “will they/won’t they” set-up, but this isn’t a sitcom, you can resolve it through character development and we won’t care as long as it’s natural. Besides, you have a better one going between Mal and Inara, where they actually have reasons not to be together that are logically justified, not farcical.
The villain in this episode is the worst, and not in the sense of “the most evil.” Womack is just barely a real threat at any point. Mal out-maneuvers him for half the episode without really having to do anything but provide lip-service, and he’s ultimately thwarted by Book just pointing out that he’s doing something illegal. Yes, the bad guy is thwarted by someone telling him they know he’s the bad guy. That’s just not a good resolution, I’m sorry. Also, his constant warning shots and waiting kind of stand in contrast to his first action of threatening to burn a man alive. I know he doesn’t want to blow up Tracey’s body, but you cannot portray someone as both ruthless and easily deterred.
Tracey is too stupid to live and even the fact that he dies from it doesn’t make me feel better. Even in the flashbacks, Tracey only survives because Mal and Zoë save him from his own stupidity, and he expects that again during a deal gone wrong that was always going to go wrong. Look, the idea of finding a better buyer is a time-honored tradition among smugglers, but that idea needs to go to the wayside when you need your buyer to PUT YOUR F*CKING ORGANS BACK IN. You take the offer you have, since they have your small intestine. Then, when his new buyer is dead, he decides to go on the run, but Simon implies that the organs cannot stay in him forever (he’s only an incubator), so, how’s he going to get the organs out and get new ones that work? Then, he chooses to hold the ship hostage rather than listen to the plan, only for the plan to work perfectly. I also don’t like that Mal shoots him, because Mal doesn’t really try to explain the plan well to Tracey, which might have defused the situation. Oh, and Tracey’s accent sucks.
The theme of the episode, that you need someone to carry on after you die, is great. Really, it’s a great idea that’s portrayed simultaneously literally and metaphorically in the episode, but the fact that I just kind of feel like Tracey was a shitwiggen, which is a word I think I made up just now, lessens any desire I have to see his memory carried. He held Kaylee hostage, for goodness’ sake, he deserves to be dumped out an airlock and a kind lie to be told to his family so they might think he was less of a f*ckbucket. I think it really does speak to the quality of the writing of the message that it still makes me empathize with him during the last scene, even though I don’t think he deserves it.
Ultimately, this episode, for me, is in the bottom-tier. It’s just so hard to recover from a bad villain and an unsympathetic emotional focus of the episode. Again, it’s not bad compared to most of television, it’s just bad compared to the good episodes of this series.
Score: 2 Fireflies (or 1 Cow Fetus in Wash’s Eyes)