Rick meets the closest thing he has to a match inside of a world of his own making.
Rick (Justin Roiland), Morty (Roiland), and Summer (Spencer Grammer) are in a parallel dimension to see a movie. They get back in Rick’s car to get ice cream, but it doesn’t start. Rick tells Morty that it’s a problem with the “Microverse Battery.” Rick tells the car to keep Summer safe and teleports into the battery with Morty. Morty is astounded to find that Rick’s battery is run by a planet full of aliens who generate power for him as a side-effect of creating power for their own civilization. They believe Rick to be “Rick the Alien” and essentially worship him as the person who gave them modern civilization, unaware that he is siphoning off most of the planet’s power. Morty repeatedly points out the inherent immorality of this situation, but Rick refuses to actually engage in the debate.
In the microverse, President Chris (Alan “Curse this sudden but inevitable betrayal” Tudyk) informs Rick that they no longer need to generate power using Rick’s method (essentially walking on a treadmill) and instead have a new method thought up by the brilliant but angry scientist Zeep Zanflorp (Stephen “It sounds like a chilly ursine” Colbert). That method is the “Miniverse Battery,” which is substantially the same as the Rick’s Microverse Battery. Rick starts to recite all of Morty’s arguments to Zeep, who ignores them much like Rick did. Rick then realizes that there must be someone within the Miniverse who is working on their own version of a microverse, so Rick finds Kyle (Nathan Fielder), a scientist who is building a “Teenyverse Battery.” Once Rick, Morty, Zeep, and Kyle go into the Teenyverse, Zeep starts to use Morty/Rick’s arguments against Microverses, which leads Zeep to realize that his home universe is a Microverse. This enrages him and leads him to attack Rick. Kyle then realizes that he was born in a microverse within a microverse, which leads him to an existential crisis and he kills himself, trapping the rest within the Teenyverse.
Meanwhile, Summer is sitting in the car when a man walks up and knocks on the car. The car’s computer (Kari Wahlgren), detecting a potential threat, violently cuts him into small pieces. Another man sees it and approaches, but is only crippled after Summer begs the car not to kill him. The police approach the car, but since Summer asks the car not to kill or cripple anyone, the car resurrects one of the commanding officers’ dead children and then liquidates the child in front of his eyes, threatening to do the same for anyone who comes nearby.
In the Teenyverse, months have passed. Morty left after getting fed up with Rick and Zeep’s fighting. Rick and Zeep have been constructing rudimentary mechanical exoskeletons out of wood and rock in order to do battle, but after proving to be basically equal, Morty and the Tree People who populate the Teenyverse capture them. Morty pretends to try and teach them the ways of simple natural living before threatening them into working together to get out of the Teenyverse into the Miniverse. Once out, Zeep and Rick seem to reconcile, but Rick soon realizes that Zeep plans on stranding them in the Miniverse. He tries to get Morty to turn into a car based on the nanomachines Rick secretly put in his blood, but they catch a cab instead and manage to return to the Microverse with Zeep. Inside the Microverse, Zeep and Rick race to Rick’s ship with Rick getting there first. He then proceeds to fist-fight Zeep and defeat him before leaving to the regular universe.
Back in the normal universe, right before Rick and Morty return, the military have surrounded Rick’s car. The car complains because Summer tells it not to kill anyone, cripple anyone, or use devastating psychological tactics. In response, the car brokers peace between the humans and the psychic spiders that populate the planet, leading the President of the planet to tell the military to leave the car alone as thanks. Rick then returns and starts the car, having reasoned that Zeep would provide power to the vehicle knowing that Rick would destroy the Microverse otherwise. However, Rick gets pissed when he finds out that all ice cream in the planet now has flies as part of the “spider-peace.” After the credits, Morty spontaneously transforms into a car.
It’s interesting that, even more than other episodes where Rick literally meets versions of himself, this is the episode that creates the most explored Doppelgänger of Rick. Zeep isn’t quite as smart as Rick, as evidenced by a few small things throughout the episode, but he very clearly serves as Rick’s double, to the point that he not only duplicates Rick’s justifications for why the Microverse isn’t immoral, but also later duplicates Rick’s duplication of Morty’s arguments for why it is. We’ve seen Rick deal with doubles that he hates before, however, unlike the episodes dealing with the Citadel of Ricks, in this Rick doesn’t immediately recognize that Zeep is doing exactly what he is. This makes it even more humorous when we see Rick mocking Zeep for being a hypocrite, to Morty’s annoyance. This is an interesting subset of the Doppelgänger myth, with everyone being able to see that the two are identical except for the actual duplicates.
This episode was used brilliantly by Wisecrack to illustrate Dan Harmon’s dedication to the story circle. I’ve embedded it below, but here are the steps that Harmon says dictate a traditional story arc:
A character is in a zone of comfort,
But they want something.
They enter an unfamiliar situation,
Adapt to it.
Get what they wanted,
Pay a heavy price for it,
Then return to their familiar situation,
If you want a classic example of this, read The Hobbit. However, since television shows can’t have the main characters change every episode, he says that there is a special “Futility” arc that happens within television that basically makes the whole show take place within step 4 of the true arc. The TV arc is:
The main character
notices a small problem,
and make a major decision.
This changes things
to some satisfaction, but
there are consequences
that must be undone
and they must admit the futility of change.
This episode is pretty much exactly that, but it also contains other cycles involving a different character within their own sub-universe. It might even have continued if Kyle’s civilization had developed sufficiently to create yet another sub-universe, or if Kyle hadn’t responded to the realization of his universe’s nature by killing himself. Either way, I just love how perfectly structured this episode is under the rules of Dan Harmon’s TV futility arc.
The car telling Summer “My function is to keep Summer safe, not keep Summer being, like, totally stoked about, like, the general vibe and stuff. That’s you. That’s how you talk” is one of the funniest lines to me. The car is reminding her that it is doing its job, but only within the letter of the law, and everytime the car has to think around her, it’s making it think less of Summer. Ultimately, Summer’s restrictions on the car are what end up ruining Rick’s happy ending in the episode, so maybe it would have been better to just have the car emotionally cripple everyone? Or was it worth it for spider peace? Some things will never be certain.
JOKER’S THEORY CORNER
So, I think that the episode implies that Zeep isn’t as smart as Rick, even though Zeep says otherwise. First, Zeep has to use the Government’s resources to create a miniverse, as opposed to Rick building one in the garage. Second, Zeep’s miniverse is designed to power his civilization, whereas Rick’s just powers his battery, meaning that what is the be-all end-all of Zeep’s inventing is something so mundane to Rick that it doesn’t even power his lab, just his car. Third, his miniverse is larger than Rick’s microverse, despite producing the same amount of energy. I’m not counting the fact that he doesn’t master multiverse travel, because Zeep doesn’t live in a multiverse.
If I was to hazard a guess as to why the Rick equivalent in the microverse isn’t as smart as Rick, I’d say that it’s probable that no sub-universe can be more complicated than the parent universe. I know that the science in this show is basically supermagic, but it does make sense that no engineer would bother to make a more complex, or even equally complex, version of their universe in order to just generate power.
Sorry, guys, I don’t have a great one for this episode, it’s kind of air-tight.
LEAVING THE CORNER
I can’t articulate why I like this episode so much. A lot of it is that Stephen Colbert’s portrayal of Zeep is hilarious, but I also just love watching Rick constantly ignore the obvious that he and Zeep are almost the same person.
Overall, I give this episode an
on the Rick and Morty scale.
Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.
Wreck-It Ralph’s sequel decides to show us that sometimes one person’s happily-ever-after is another person’s doldrums.
It’s been six years since Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) took down King Candy (Alan “I love this man” Tudyk) and returned Vanellope to being the princess of the game Sugar Rush. The pair are now best friends, hanging out at Litwak’s Family Fun Center and Arcade together every night. Ralph is happy with his life, but Vanellope is getting bored of the limited tracks available in her racing game. Ralph attempts to make a new one, but ends up breaking the game. The pair head to the internet to try and find a new part before the game gets unplugged. Along the way, they run into a tough female racer named Shank (Gal Gadot) from the internet game Slaughter Race, the algorithm from a video streaming site named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson), a search engine named KnowsMore (Alan “I really love this man” Tudyk), and every single Disney princess.
Wreck-It Ralph had several themes, but the focus of Ralph’s and Vanellope’s arcs were on how they were being defined by others. Ralph was constantly looked down upon, because he IS the villain of his game, but he was still a nice guy who just wanted people to like him. Vanellope is looked down upon because she is regarded as a “glitch.” Neither of them had any choice in these traits, but they both are burdened with the consequences of them. Throughout the movie, Ralph manages to come to terms with his situation by realizing that it doesn’t matter if all of the other characters in his game think of him as a hero, because he’s a hero to Vanellope and knows he’s doing the right thing. Vanellope, similarly, refuses to be regarded just as a glitch and, in fact, manages to turn her glitching into a superpower. At the end of the film, both of them now have moved beyond caring what anyone else thinks and have defined themselves both on their own terms and also in the terms of their friendship: Ralph’s the Hero, Vanellope’s the Racer.
Their major arcs in the first film arise from existential crises where they are both trying to avoid being forced to adopt the values that society has placed upon them, a concept that Sartre referred to as “Bad Faith.” Ralph ends up mostly avoiding acting in bad faith because at the end of the movie, he doesn’t need the medal that he was seeking the whole film, he just needs to act like the hero he knew he could be. He even says one of the ultimate existential lines “there is no one I’d rather be than me.” He is now living authentically, in existential terms, which leads him to a place where he feels truly happy with the role he now plays of his own volition.
That’s where this movie picks up the ball and runs with it in a pretty solid way. Ralph is happy at this point. He’s never had friends or been a hero, so having Vanellope as a friend and being her hero has made him satisfied. However, Vanellope is a racer. She lives for the challenge and now she doesn’t have it anymore, because she’s just too much better than any of the other racers. The core conflict of the movie arises from the fact that she and Ralph care about each other, but she no longer is happy just spending time with him. She needs fulfillment. When her game is in danger of being unplugged, she still agrees with Ralph’s plans to try and save it, but she knows that deep down she really doesn’t want to return to it. The rest of her arc in the movie is trying to find fulfillment in her life. Ralph’s arc, in response, is to learn how to deal with her leaving. Having never had a friend before, he is afraid of being alone again. Rather than just authenticity, she’s seeking self-actualization and he’s seeking self-determination. It’s a great way to progress their story after the end of the last film.
But, boring thematic stuff aside, this movie does for the internet what Inside Out did for the human brain: Comes up with a clever way to represent the structure of it that’s intuitive and not particularly inaccurate. It has an insane number of references and sight gags, particularly if you were on the internet in the early days of AOL through now. The movie addresses social media, e-commerce, viral marketing, and even internet comment threads (though the lack of racial slurs makes it unrealistic).
However, Disney really saved up the big shot for when it’s representing OhMyDisney where they manage to cram in more references, callbacks, in-jokes, and just flat-out nostalgia bombs in about 5 minutes than I would have thought possible. Then, they bring in the princesses. Yes, every Disney princess is in this movie, and they’re all amazing. Almost all of them are portrayed by their original voice actresses. They even get a scene in which they work together to subvert the damsel-in-distress trope. It’s contrived, to be sure, but watching all of them use all of their skills in tandem and play off of each other ends up making it less corny and more awesome.
Overall, this is a great sequel, a great movie, has a lot of solid gags, and a message that actually is pretty unique for the genre. Oh, and it has the best mid-credits and after-credits meta-gags I’ve ever seen. Do not leave.
Originally, I planned on reviewing 31 horror films for the month of October. I then realized that I didn’t start early enough. Also, I’m moving. So, instead, here are 31 films on Netflix. Not all of them are horror movies, but since I think horror movies are inherently in the spirit of Halloween (with exceptions), most of them are. I tried to make them at least somewhat different, so hopefully you get a decent tour of all the types of scares. I’m sure there are some I missed, so leave your favorites in the comments. Also, apologies if some get pulled. I dunno how Netflix decides.
Update: OKAY, SO APPARENTLY NETFLIX IS PULLING A BUNCH OF THESE ON OCTOBER 1. F*CK THEM. WATCH THE LOST BOYS THIS WEEKEND.
It’s a clown. It’s a serial killing clown. It’s a serial killing clown who is smart enough to carry a gun as a backup weapon. It’s literally everything I fear.
*Warning* This movie is pure gore fest and it is genuinely disturbing. It’s not clever, it’s not even particularly scary, but it does have a creepy clown who kills people in horrible ways. This is the most skippable of the movies on the list.
On the other end of the spectrum from Terrifier is a movie that should unnerve you deeply but has a notably low body count. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are hunting down a serial killer who is obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins. If you have never seen it, now is the time.
The best monster movies use the monster as an allegory for something. This one uses it as a representation for grief and loss. Denying it just makes it stronger and it can drive you crazy. It’s one of the better horror films of the last decade.
Scream 2/Scream 4
I dislike the fact that the only Scream movies on Netflix are 2 and 4, which are neither the best nor the worst entries in the franchise. Still, they’re solid slashers that have an added commentary, with the former mocking sequels and the latter mocking revived series.
Before I Wake
Kids with superpowers can be creepy. Kids with superpowers they can’t control are even creepier. This movie features a child who can’t stop bringing his dreams, and nightmares, to life, including the “Canker Man,” a recurring nightmarish figure bent on consuming everything.
Children of the Corn
Based on the Stephen King story, this film depicts a town in which the children, motivated by religious zealotry, got rid of all of the adults. It’s corny (f*ck you, I stand by the pun), but it’s also got a great performance by John Franklin as Isaac.
In one of the better recent interpretations of a zombie movie, this depicts a family trying to survive in the remains of the world, focusing on them trying to get their baby to a safe place after they’re infected but before they’re turned. It’s powerful and emotional, something you don’t usually get from zombies.
In a great subversion of the killer clown genre, this movie doesn’t make the clown the bad guy, instead it makes the clown outfit itself evil. It’s not the greatest horror movie in many respects, but the concept is played so well that it still should be seen.
Train to Busan
I’m obligated to put this on any list of horror films. This is a Korean zombie film and it is one of the best in the genre. It has as much social commentary as old-school Romero, the action sequences of 28 Days Later, and the character-building of Shaun of the Dead. Truly a great addition to horror.
Curse of Chucky/ Cult of Chucky
Child’s Play was a franchise featuring a killer doll that gradually went from kind of clever to terrible to self-parody-level bad. Then, these two movies were released which actually moved the franchise back to fairly clever and somewhat scary. They’re both on, and you should watch them together.
One of the better horror-comedies of the last few years, and a Netflix original, this film features a group of teenagers who would usually be the victims in a horror film instead being the villains. They’re opposed by a 12-year-old who finds out their secret and a wonderful comedy of errors ensues.
Darkness is scary. Being enclosed is scary. So, taking both of those elements and making a movie about women crawling through small caves in darkness while being hunted by creatures was always going to be pretty damn scary.
In a great take on the slasher genre, this film depicts a killer stalking his victim. The catch is that his victim is actually deaf. To balance out this disadvantage, the film allows her a rare advantage in horror protagonists: She isn’t a complete idiot. This element ends up making it a pretty solid movie.
Let Me In
This movie has a lot to unpack. It’s a movie about the friendship and budding romance between two kids, one of whom is actually a vampire, but unlike many films that try something like this, this movie doesn’t shy away from the reality that vampires mercilessly murder people as a matter of survival. It’s touching, messed up, and has some amazing performances.
An anthology of horror shorts, each one based on a different holiday. Admittedly, I think “Halloween” is not the best one, but it was directed by Kevin Smith and features an interesting take on horror clichés, particularly how women are viewed.
A sequel to the movie Resolution, which, sadly, is not on Netflix, this film can still stand on its own. It features two brothers who survived a suicide cult returning to the location of the cult, only to find that an entity there is trying to manipulate time to cause the apocalypse. It’s a thinker, but it pays off.
A movie that manages to screw with the audience almost as well as it screws with its characters, this story about two siblings and an evil mirror is all about perception. Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites give two great performances and the film is creepy and twisted from start to finish.
These movies brought Clive Barker’s demonic Cenobites, particularly the lead Cenobite nicknamed “Pinhead,” into the mainstream. They’re basically creatures so removed from human concepts that they view pain and pleasure as the same thing and want everyone to feel both with them.
It’s a 1980s horror film combined with H.P. Lovecraft. It’s got cultists, mad scientists, tentacle monsters, evil babies, and, of course, the couple that has recently broken up that might get back together if they are confronted with the apocalypse.
There are a lot of good elements to this film, but the main one is the atmosphere. This film takes place during the 1600s and features a puritan family as they struggle to get by after being exiled. It’s got religious commentary, great aesthetics, and the entire film just reeks of supernatural threats looming just past the edge of the woods.
(Alternate) The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween was Forever (Season 1)” “Halloween II ½ (Season 2)” “The Halloween Door (Season 4)
Fine, this was originally the movie Ghostbusters, but apparently that’s not on Netflix right now. So, instead, here are the three Halloween episodes of the cartoon. Much like the Halloween movies (which they reference), the first two feature the Halloween villain Samhain (who is the best recurring villain in the series), while the third is completely independent. I’d recommend at least watching the first two.
This is a collection of five Edgar Allan Poe stories, each narrated by a different person (Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Guillermo Del Toro, and Roger Corman) and animated in a different style. They’re not all winners, but overall, they still capture the Gothic eeriness of Poe.
Haunters: The Art of the Scare
This is actually a documentary about the modern Halloween haunted houses, haunted mazes, and full-contact terror simulations. It shows you how much effort some of these companies put into these attractions and how crazy some of the people asking to be scared can be.
This is the best kind of gratuitous. When a vegetarian is forced to eat raw meat, she develops a craving for flesh that starts to grow out of control. As I said in The Babadook, the best monster films make the monster an allegory, but this film goes ahead and makes the monster the urges that the main characters are dealing with. See if you can figure out what it’s a metaphor for (it’s not subtle).
Not at all a horror film, this still should become a Halloween film if only because a movie this wonderful needs to become a recurring thing. Taking place on Dia De Los Muertos and in the land of the dead, this film reminds us that death isn’t to be feared as long as we have people who love us, something most children’s films would never even consider addressing. It also makes me cry every single time I watch it.
I already did a full review of this one, but it’s a great Halloween film. It depicts a lonely man who happens to attend the wrong costume party and ends up being the target of five inept murderers. It’s hilarious.
I don’t actually like this movie that much, because I constantly point out how easy it would be to confound the monster in the film, but as an allegory, the monster is pretty solid. Death is always following you. You won’t outrun it forever. But you can delay the realization of that fact through connections with others (mostly their genitals, according to the movie).
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
This movie has Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk. Everyone should love it for that alone. However, it also is the funniest inversion of the “killer redneck” genre, with the main characters being lovable hicks and the college kids automatically assuming they’re monsters. It also has some of the best horror slapstick I’ve ever seen.
Tales of Halloween
An anthology film that isn’t quite as good as Trick ‘r Treat, this movie still features almost every aspect of Halloween, from the costumes to the decorations to the pranks to the candy to the pumpkins, as the focus of at least one vignette. The best one is probably “The Night Billy Raised Hell,” because it has Barry Bostwick being hilarious as the Devil, but they’re all pretty enjoyable.
Boys in the Trees
This movie was mostly overlooked, but it still is a solid Halloween flick, depicting all kinds of horror monsters. It basically starts off as a group of juvenile delinquents telling stories and pulling pranks, then having to live through their stories in an anthology. It’s basically a combination of The Halloween Tree and another great movie which is right below this.
The Lost Boys
One of the better horror-comedies of the 1980s, this vampire film stars both Corey Feldman and Corey Haim (R.I.P.) and features some of the best kid-on-monster fights until it was completely decimated by the glory of The Monster Squad. It also features one of the best ending sequences in film. Just look at that poster, it’s so damned 80s.
I hope you guys watch a few of these. Let me know what you think!
Alright, so, since most of them are pretty close, I’ve divided the show into 5 tiers, rather than ranking them individually. From the bottom to the top:
“Heart of Gold,” “Trash,” “The Message”
I know these are all the unaired episodes, but that’s just how it worked out. I think since the scripts were written during a shorter period, they just didn’t quite have all the elements of the others. That said, please remember, these are still great episodes of television. They just aren’t AS great. These are the people who qualified for the Olympics but didn’t medal.
“Bushwhacked,” “Shindig,” “War Stories”
All of these episodes have really great moments in them, but also have some parts that just aren’t as memorable.
“Safe,” “Serenity (Pilot),” “The Train Job”
Similar to above, these are all episodes that really showcase the best elements of Firefly, but don’t quite carry it all the way through.
“Jaynestown,” “Ariel,” Serenity
These are gold. Everything about them really drives home what makes this franchise great, from Jaynestown’s humorous premise to Ariel’s heist and betrayal to the film’s grand finale of the series. Gold.
“Out of Gas,” “Objects in Space,” “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
These aren’t just great examples of Firefly, these are great examples of television as an art form. The storytelling in each one is so well-crafted that it sucks you into the world and leaves you eager to find out more.
Overall, if you disagree, just remember: This is only one man’s opinion and even the bottom of Firefly is still pretty damn good.
Thanks to everyone who read this. When someone first sent me the ridiculous request of “All of Firefly,” I thought that was more work than it was worth. But, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of this. This was one of my favorite series and being able to really explore it in depth one more time let me get things out of it I never thought I could. Plus, I got some great feedback from some of you. Hopefully, some of you have gotten something out of it, too.
Next week, Futurama Fridays starts and, given that it has 10 times the episode count of Firefly, probably will go until the sun burns out. If you want to be in on that one, follow me on here, Twitter, or Facebook. I think I also have a Tumblr. Also maybe Instagram soon.
If you have any requests, just go to the tab on the main page and submit them. This was one of them, so, clearly, I’m willing to put a lot of work in to these requests. Hell, this series ended up being 40,000 words.
Thanks again, Browncoats. Keep misbehavin’.
Also, just as a bonus, here’s a great clip of the dearly departed Ron Glass in one of my favorite shorts from the Twilight Zone.
So, a few months after Firefly got cancelled, Joss Whedon announced he was writing a Firefly movie. This is that movie and, except for the comics that I haven’t really read, the RPG I haven’t gotten a group to play, and the online video game that apparently will never be finished, this is the end of the line for the series. This is the Return of the Jedi of the ‘Verse… assuming that decades later someone doesn’t start adding to the official canon in ways that people constantly fight over.
The movie starts with a summary of the premise of humanity leaving for another solar system to terraform, then fighting the Unification War. From the beginning, it has a notably propagandistic tone, which makes sense when it is revealed to be a teacher (Tamara “there are no small parts, just great actresses” Taylor) at an Alliance school. The Alliance teacher asks the class why the Independents didn’t want to be “civilized,” to which a young River Tam (Hunter Ansley Wryn) responds that people don’t like to be meddled with. The teacher then counters that they aren’t trying to tell the Independents “what” to think, just trying to teach them “how.” Then stabs River.
This flashback is then revealed to be a dream that River is having while being experimented on by the Alliance. A young man is watching, asking about her, revealing himself to be Simon. The doctor, Mathias (Michael Hitchcock) doing the experiment explains to Simon that River is not just a psychic now, but a weapon. Simon then knocks out the lab and pulls river from the machines, freeing her. They escape the facility, but this entire sequence is revealed to be a hologram. So, yes, this opening is a flashback lesson inside a dream inside a hologram.
Quick side note: Yes, this opening directly conflicts with the show, including the fact that Simon is told she’s psychic from the beginning and that Simon paid others to break River out. Whedon explained that he changed it so people who didn’t watch the show could still enjoy the movie.
The person watching it is an unnamed Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is tasked with retrieving the Tams. He’s taken over from the Hands of Blue from the series, due to A) their deaths in the Serenity comics and B) the fact that if you have the opportunity to put Chiwetel Ejiofor in a movie, you put Chiwetel Ejiofor in your f*cking movie. The Operative confronts Dr. Mathias about River’s treatment, pointing out that Mathias put key members of Parliament in the room with River, who not only CAN read minds but, within the series, CAN’T NOT read them until after Simon starts treating her. So, River now knows all the darkest secrets of the Alliance. The Operative attacks Mathias, paralyzing him, then letting him fall forward onto a sword, killing him.
On board Serenity, Wash is having issues with the ship falling apart, issues he describes as “oh God, oh God, we’re all gonna die.” Mal walks through the ship, giving every character a brief re-introduction: Jayne’s got a lot of guns and grenades and is prepared to shoot people, Zoë is the loyal number 2 who’s married to Wash, Kaylee is the gearhead who keeps the ship flying far past when it should, Simon is the doctor who is pissed at Mal for taking River on a job, and River is a 17-year-old (telling us the time-jump from the series to now is about 9 months, not the years it took to film) psychic. Concise and effective, if a bit of wonky exposition aside from Jayne and Kaylee’s intros. Inara and Book are now gone.
Well, it turns out the “job” that the crew is running is a bank robbery. Inside, River identifies a man about to pull a gun using her powers. While Mal and Zoë are emptying the vault, several ships worth of Reavers descend upon the town. The crew quickly grabs the money and gets on the “mule,” their transport hovercraft. A man tries to jump on to save himself, begging for mercy, but Mal points out that the mule can’t carry five and pushes him off. He’s immediately grabbed by Reavers who start to, apparently, eat him, so Mal mercy-kills the man. They flee, pursued by a Reaver craft. Jayne gets harpooned through the leg, but Mal manages to shoot the rope, freeing him before he can be captured. They’re almost caught, but at the last second, they’re able to do a “barn swallow” by momentarily landing Serenity on the ground, picking up the mule, and flying off.
Inside, a surviving Reaver attacks the crew, but is quickly killed. Simon punches Mal for endangering River, saying that he’s going to get off the ship. Mal and Zoë point out that River is perfectly fine and saved their lives, but Simon still wants to go. River observes the dead Reaver saying “he didn’t lie down,” because River gets all the good foreshadowing. Jayne and Kaylee clean up while talking about the Reavers, then the state of the ship, which Kaylee says Mal is slowly going to drive them all off of, like he did Inara.
On the next port planet, Beaumonde, Simon and River prepare to leave the ship. Simon asks River if she wants to stay, but River says it isn’t safe. After Simon leaves, she reveals that she’s willing to leave because it isn’t safe for the crew. At the meeting site for Mal’s employer on the bank robbery, Kaylee is complaining about Simon leaving, including more than just a loss of romantic contact, resulting in one of the most awkward and hilarious lines in the movie:
Kaylee: Goin’ on a year now I ain’t had nothin’ twixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries!
Mal: Oh, God! I can’t know that!
Jayne: I could stand to hear a little more.
Simon and River show up to collect River’s share of the payment for the job, but River sees a subliminal message in a commercial for Blue Sun products (addressed in this post) and begins to relentlessly attack everyone in the bar, including Mal and Jayne. Simon eventually recites a phrase in Russian (which, as far as I can find, literally translates to “That’s something chickens will laugh at that” or, idiomatically, “that’s ridiculous”), which causes River to pass out.
Back on the ship, Mal inquires about what happened and Simon explains that the Alliance had conditioned her to be a weapon. Mal is upset by Simon not disclosing this earlier but allows the Tams to remain. Wash suggests that they talk to Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz) for information. Mr. Universe essentially tracks every security and video feed in the ‘Verse. He watches the footage of River’s attack and finds that there is an Alliance message carried in the advertisement that triggered her, along with River saying the word “Miranda.” It’s also revealed that someone else has viewed the footage before them.
Simon and River talk on the ship, with River’s madness causing her obvious pain. Simon asks about Miranda, but River can’t articulate it because it’s not her memory. She says to Simon that she’d rather he kill her than put her to sleep again. Simon tells her that he won’t put her to sleep and never to talk about killing her again. A short jump cut shows the Operative approaching Inara.
The crew flees to “Haven,” a mining colony where Book is acting as Shepherd. After Mal says that he couldn’t bring himself to abandon the Tams. Book tells Mal that the only thing that can get him through this is belief. Mal says that he doesn’t believe in God, but Book asks why Mal assumes he’s talking about God. Book tells him that the man the Alliance will send after “believes hard. Kills and never asks why.”
River has another dream about the class, watching everyone lie down around her. Mal is awakened by a call from Inara, who asks her to come help her with a local problem. Mal immediately realizes it’s a trap, because Inara is careful not to provoke him. At her Companion House, Mal finds Inara and the Operative. The Operative calmly talks to Mal about surrendering River. In an odd moment of inaccuracy, the Operative calls her an albatross. Recognizing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” correctly, Mal points out that the albatross was good luck until the Mariner killed it. On another level, the Mariner, who is forced to wear the albatross on his neck for his sin, is the only sailor to survive the story and is eventually freed from it after he finds his faith. So… overall, it’s not usually a bad sign for the guy who has the albatross, just everyone else. Either way, it’s not the best allegory for the Operative to use.
The Operative tries to reason with Mal, but also points out that he’s aware that Mal will try to find a way to justify fighting the Alliance. The Operative goes out of the way to say that he’s not going to get angry, that he’s there in good faith, and that he’s unarmed. To the last point, Mal responds “good” and shoots the Operative, who quickly puts Mal in a choke hold. Unarmed is not unarmored. Mal tries to fight the Operative, but is pretty easily outclassed, even with Inara’s help. Even worse, it’s obvious that the Operative is not even trying to kill them during the fight. However, Inara reveals that she booby-trapped the incense with a flashbang, allowing them to escape to the ship, which hides among a bunch of decoys to make an undetected getaway.
Back on the ship, Jayne challenges Mal’s decision to keep River on-board, but Mal stands firm on his decision. River has another vision, identifying Miranda as a planet on the Outer Rim. Jayne tries to capture River to deliver her to the Alliance and ensure the safety of the crew, but River easily knocks him out before knocking Simon out and taking over the bridge to look up the location of the planet.
It’s revealed that Miranda is listed as a non-terraformed rock, but there’s evidence to suggest that it was once populated. However, it’s surrounded by Reaver ships, so Mal opts to hide instead of investigate. They return to Haven, but find it in flames, filled with dead civilians, including all the children. Mal finds a mortally wounded Book, who destroyed the ship that killed the mining colony, who tells Mal that he doesn’t care what he believes, “just believe it.” He then passes on. Zoë realizes that this wasn’t just a random hit. It’s revealed that all of the crew’s allies have been murdered by the Alliance.
The Operative contacts Mal. The Operative admits that he’s evil, something that is more unnerving to Mal than if he denied it, but that the Operative believes in a better world that he is forming through his actions. He promises that more people will die, before accidentally giving Mal an idea. Mal has the crew outfit Serenity as a Reaver ship so that they can pass through Reaver space undetected and reach Miranda. Back on the ship, it’s obvious that Mal is at the end of his rope, emotionally and mentally. They manage to sneak through the lines and reach Miranda.
Miranda is revealed to be an advanced colony, containing dozens of large cities, but no people. Eventually, the crew starts to stumble on a bunch of skeletons which all appeared to have died peacefully. When they find a sealed room full of preserved corpses, they observe that none of these people were killed, they just laid down and passed away. Finding a beacon, they play a recording by a Dr. Caron (Sarah Paulson), who reveals that the Alliance tested a chemical, Pax, on the planet that was designed to remove the violent tendencies of the population. Instead, it caused the population to lose any desire to perform daily functions, leading them to just lay down and starve to death. However, in 0.1% of the population, the drug had the opposite effect, making people violent and sadistic. Thus came the Reavers.
Mal then delivers the speech that I’m going to just paste verbatim, because summarizing it just doesn’t do it justice:
This report is maybe twelve years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear, because there’s a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They’re gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people.
You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people…better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave.
Earlier in the movie, Inara had told Mal she’s seen many versions of him, with Mal saying she’d see another if there was ever a real war. This is that Malcolm Reynolds. He’s not just a badass, he’s a badass with the knowledge that there is something that he can do to help the ‘Verse. I said in “War Stories” that, at his core, Mal really wants to punch some bad people in the face. Well, this is him with the opportunity to do it to all the bad people who’ve made him suffer since long before Serenity Valley. This is a man finally finding a way to fight the system. This is Malcolm Reynolds when he finally believes in something, and may God help you if you’re in his way.
The entire crew, even Jayne, agrees to help. They plan to get to Mr. Universe and have him broadcast Caron’s recording across the ‘Verse. Universe seems to agree to help, but it’s revealed that the Operative is there and kills him. As Serenity approaches the Operative’s position, the movie switches to the Operative’s perspective as he watches the tiny Firefly pass through the ion storm. Thinking it’s just a suicide run, the Operative prepares to fire, but is quickly distracted by the dozens of massive Reaver ships following in the wake of Serenity. One of the hallmarks of the show was that Serenity didn’t have any on-board weapons, so they figured out other solutions. This is the best one they ever come up with.
Wash pilots the ship through the space battle, despite the ludicrous amount of explosions and damage happening nearby and the general chaos of the two fleets. As Kaylee keeps the engine running, Wash makes a series of runs that no other pilot would ever consider, destroying Reaver and Alliance alike through guile. It’s truly a crowning achievement when he finally manages to right the ship after an EMP blast, landing the ship on nothing but partial backup power and basically no thrust.
And nothing bad happens to him afterwards.
That’s the sentence I wish I could write but, unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen that way. It’s a signature of Joss Whedon that any happy couple is eventually going to be divided or killed. I don’t want to speculate as to why, but Buffy, Angel, and even, to an extent, Avengers: Age of Ultron have examples of this. So, right as Wash has just managed to prove that he’s a pilot of nearly preternatural skill, he is hit by a harpoon fired from a Reaver ship. He dies instantly. It’s an amazingly powerful moment, but I really hate having to see it again.
Zoë, the stoic, immediately loses control and starts begging for him to be okay, not realizing that he is obviously dead. Mal has to save her from a different harpoon, after which she regains her head, ever the professional. The crew disembarks to find Mr. Universe. Mal goes ahead while the others cover Mal, creating a choke point for the Reaver insurgence coming after them. Jayne talks about how they’re going to survive before Zoë asks him darkly if he really thinks any of them will make it. Jayne meekly responds “I might.”
Mal heads to Universe’s control room only to find it wrecked. However, Universe left his sex-doll/wife, Lenore (Nectar Rose), with instructions for Mal, telling him that there’s a secret transmitter still operating. Mal heads for it. Back at the chokepoint, Kaylee and Simon finally express their mutual desires. Kaylee, now knowing Simon wants to bone her, resolves to live. The Operative sneaks past the crew and finds Lenore repeating the message for Mal, allowing him to find the hidden transmitter.
The Reavers burst into the room and attack the crew as the Operative finds Mal. The crew hold their own as Mal attempts to make it to the remaining transmitter with the recording. He and the Operative end up brawling on a series of platforms suspended over a rotating fan, because that imagery is awesome and is re-used for a reason. When the Reavers start to overwhelm the crew, they fall back down to another hallway, but everyone is pretty badly injured… except, it seems, Jayne, who only got grazed and River, who was hiding. Zoë has been slashed, Kaylee’s stabbed, and Simon gets shot in the gut. Upon seeing her brother lying there, River says that Simon has always taken care of her, but now, it’s her turn. River runs through the remaining doorway, attacking the Reavers, before throwing Simon his medical bag and sealing the crew off in the hallway. The Reavers can’t get to the crew, but River is now trapped with a f*ck-ton of Reavers.
Mal and the Operative are still fighting, with the Operative having the upper hand until Mal allows himself to be stabbed by the Operative’s sword to catch him off-guard and get a few solid hits in. However, the Operative recovers and hits Mal with the nerve strike that he used on Mathias earlier. As the Operative moves to execute him, Mal moves at the last second, hitting the Operative in the throat, crushing his windpipe. He tells the Operative that the nerve cluster got hit by shrapnel during the War, and they had to move it. So, losing to the Alliance once is what allows him to win here. Mal then dislocates both of the Operatives shoulders and pins him against the railing. Declining to kill him, Mal instead shows him the truth about the Alliance that he blindly obeys and transmits the recording.
It cuts back to River, who is shown to be holding her own against dozens of Reavers. Mal rejoins the crew, informing them of their success. When he asks about River, the door opens, revealing River, apparently unharmed, standing in a room full of corpses. The Alliance troops enter, but the Operative, no longer loyal to the Alliance, tells them to stand down.
The crew buries Wash, Book, and Mr. Universe on Haven, before fixing the ship. Kaylee and Simon finally have sex. Mal confronts the Operative one last time, with the Operative telling him that they’ll likely be pursued again. Inara decides to stay on the ship and River takes over as Co-pilot of the ship with Mal at the helm. As they leave atmosphere, a piece breaks off, mirroring the first appearance of the ship in the movie. The last line is Mal, asking “What was that?”
Alright, so, I put a lot more commentary into the summary than usual, so I’ll keep this short.
I hate that Wash dies. I will always hate that Wash dies. Book died, wasn’t that enough, dammit? I also refuse any continuity in which Zoë was not pregnant at the time, allowing her to finally have the baby with Wash that she wanted. I don’t care if Gina Torres buys infomercial time where she denies it over and over again, Zoë gets to have a child she wants with the man she loves, end of story.
The Operative is one of the best villains in the series, being simultaneously simple enough to understand and complex enough to be interesting. Having the villain be someone who knows he’s the villain doesn’t often work out great, but when it does, holy cow does it pay off. Here, it pays big.
I admire that Whedon didn’t try to rely on being able to get more movies later. This is a true finale. Sure, adventures can happen after this, but almost all of our questions have been answered. We get the background of why the Alliance wanted River, what the Reavers are, and we see the “they will” at the end of our “will they/won’t they” couples. The only thing that doesn’t really get answered is Book’s past and a few small plot threads from other episodes. However, for the most part, we got everything we needed, and that’s more than most.
As far as messages go, the movie’s message is pretty strong. Not the message about standing up to tyranny or big government or evil, but the message of belief. It’s not enough to just live in defiance of something, you need to have something to believe in. It doesn’t need to be God or Buddha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but it does need to be something strong enough to be worth more than yourself. For Mal, it’s finally finding a way to prove to the ‘Verse what the Alliance has done. “But he already was trying to do that,” I hear you saying. Well, yes, when he fought in the war, Mal believed. But, as the opening scene to the Pilot shows, that belief died in Serenity Valley. Since then, he’s just been drifting, trying to keep flying. Remember, Book’s lines in “Jaynestown:”
It’s about believing in something and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith…. It fixes you.
Now, the show wasn’t shy on showing you the other side of this. In “Safe,” the religious zealots believe River is a witch, despite witches famously weighing the same as ducks. In this film, the Operative is empowered by his belief in the better world promised by the Alliance. So, faith can be good or bad, just like people can be good or bad, but it’s still important to have it, because you need belief to help get you off your ass to do something bigger than yourself. Like, for example, make the movie of a TV Show that’s famous for getting cancelled.
So, that was Serenity. It’s still a little dependent on the series to really appreciate it, but, honestly, it’s a well done film even without that. It just never quite has the same “feel” as most regular movies. For the most part it feels like a really high-budget episode of the show, but that’s still damned good. And I am still glad we got it, even if Wash dies.
I’m posting the final Firefly Fridays entry in a few hours, containing my ultimate ranking of episodes. It’ll probably be up by the time most of you read this.
Already wrote this one once, because I consider this one of the ten best episodes of television. Some of my impressions are taken from that review, so, if it seems like I’m re-using stuff, that’s why. Except for the airing of the pilot, this was the last episode aired of the show, and is the last episode of the show in general.
The episode’s opening is told from River’s perspective and, credit to Joss Whedon, who wrote and directed it, it’s definitely different. Because River isn’t in control of her own mind, her reality is slightly altered. She can hear thoughts and emotions expressed as words or even other sounds. Objects are not necessarily what they are, but what she perceives them to be.
The first thing River hears is a man’s voice saying “we’re all just floating.” Which is both a great metaphor for the wandering nature of the people on-board and a magnificent statement about the nature of reality from a bigger perspective. We all pretend we’re on something, but whatever we’re on is just floating through space. You’ve never been not floating in your life. It’s just more obvious when you’re on a spaceship.
Now, the main thing about the next sequence is that no one reacts to River, at all, so it’s likely that she’s not physically walking through the ship. She’s probably just extending herself through it to hear all of the people psychically, until the very end.
River awakens to hear Kaylee and Simon talking, with Simon telling her a story about how during school he once ended up singing naked on a statue of Hippocrates because he drank too much saké. Then, randomly, River sees Simon turn to her and say that he’d be there right now. This is clearly Simon’s inner thought, as it’s not something Simon would ever say out loud and is not responded to by Kaylee.
She walks through the ship, encountering Jayne and Book. She sees a flash of Jayne saying that he got stupid and didn’t resist the money when he turned the Tams in, which isn’t surprising, but she also sees a flash of Book saying, in a threatening manner, that he doesn’t care if someone is innocent or not. This is one of the most direct hints we get to Book’s violent past, since he’s apparently just remembering something, not actually thinking this towards River.
She sees Zoe and Wash on the bridge kissing passionately and appears to be somewhat overwhelmed by the emotions coming off of them, signified by the sound of rolling waves crashing until she cannot bear it any more. She moves away with an almost sick look.
She sees Mal and Inara arguing, and this scene was actually filmed twice, because one way doesn’t make sense given that “Heart of Gold” hadn’t aired. In the original airing, Inara is threatening to leave if she doesn’t get more opportunities. In the “real” version, Inara is talking about leaving soon, but it’s revealed she hasn’t told the crew yet. In both versions, however, their inner thoughts are the same: Inara wants Mal to tell her his feelings and Mal feels like her behavior has rendered all his feelings pointless.
River hears the ocean again and stumbles away looking uncomfortable. She steps on a stick and picks it up, seeing a version of the cargo bay filled with leaves and branches, looking like an autumn park. She says “it’s just an object, it doesn’t mean what you think.” It then jump cuts to all of the characters approaching her, revealing that the stick was actually a gun. Mal disarms her, saying that she shouldn’t have a gun. River leaves, upset. Mal asks Simon about River’s condition, but Simon says it’s hard to figure out how to medicate her. Outside, a ship is shown approaching Serenity. The man onboard it, Jubal Early (Richard Brooks), is shown to have conducted thermal scans of the ship, matched its trajectory, and is reviewing wanted posters for the Tams.
The crew then discuss whether River is dangerous, and the first parallel is made between Early and River: they both eavesdrop on the conversation, Early through the ship’s hull, River through the floor. Jayne recounts when she cut him with a knife during “Ariel” and Kaylee tells the crew about River shooting Niska’s men in “War Stories.” They go back and forth, but the message is pretty clear: River can be extremely dangerous, even if she doesn’t mean to be. It’s also brought up to the entire crew that River is likely psychic. In a great exchange, Wash points out that sounds like ridiculous science-fiction, only to be reminded that he lives on a spaceship. Wash only responds “So?” On the one hand, he has a point that spaceships don’t mean that psychic powers exist. On the other hand, she’s right in that they currently use multiple technologies that would basically be just as implausible as mind-reading to anyone in the past. This is why I love them.
The crew turns in for the night, with Kaylee following Simon and trying to apologize. Simon is angry because River really loves the ship, though he admits that he preferred helping people at the hospital, showing the wish that he was back there from River’s psychic reading. He has to fight against blaming River, because he knows that it’s not her fault, but that of the people that did this to her. Still, on some level, he resents her a little. Kaylee and Simon almost share a moment, but then part ways, heading to bed.
Early enters the ship and systematically takes out most of the crew. First, he defeats Mal with ease before locking him and most of the crew in their rooms using the control panel. Then, he intimidates Kaylee through a combination of insane philosophical speculation coupled with threats to rape her if she doesn’t cooperate. This exchange is only about 30 lines, and it is nothing short of horrifying, including Early telling Kaylee “You throw a monkey wrench into my dealings in any way, your body is forfeit. Ain’t nothing but a body to me. And I can find all unseemly manner of use for it.” I’m genuinely a little scared of Joss Whedon for writing that line.
Early then disables Book, again without any effort, and confronts Simon. This conversation, similar to that with Kaylee, is a combination of threateningly insane and insanely threatening. A notable line, however, is that when he is taken to River’s room, he asks “So is it still her room when it’s empty? Does the room, the thing, have purpose? Or do we — what’s the word?… The plan is to take your sister. Get the reward, which is substantial. (beat) ‘Imbue.’ That’s the word.” Another is that he mishears Simon ask if he’s Alliance and responds “Am I a lion?… I don’t think of myself as a lion. You may as well, though: I have a mighty roar.” After they don’t find River in her room, the pair begin going throughout the ship looking for her and, honestly, everything about Simon and Early’s exchange while they’re searching the ship for River is pretty much perfect, start to finish. It cannot be done justice in a review.
Early and Simon then encounter Inara in her shuttle. Inara tries to convince Early to stop searching for River, but he pistol whips her for trying to manipulate his emotions with her Companion skills. Early seals her in her shuttle. Running low on patience, Early uses the communications system to tell River to show herself, or Simon dies. To his surprise, River responds, saying that she is no longer on the ship. She knew the crew didn’t want her anymore, but she couldn’t leave, so she has bonded with the ship. There is no River, there is only Serenity.
River, as Serenity, then begins to toy with Early, while sabotaging his plans indirectly through seeming omnipresence throughout the ship. She first remotely contacts Kaylee and comforts her while saying that she’s going to free her and then needs her to be brave and do something for her. She starts to mock Early with her laughter, which Early outright states is “somewhat unsettling,” then by going into his past and his motivations for being a bounty hunter. In the battle of crazy-brilliant, even Jubal Early is outmatched here, something that has clearly never happened before. Despite initially being unwilling to accept that River is now a ship, eventually even he starts to believe that River might now be Serenity.
River contacts Mal the way she’d contacted Kaylee and tells him they need to work quickly, seemingly being able to see his every move. Kaylee, meanwhile, has followed River’s instructions and freed herself. She manages to get to the control panel and unseal the rooms. River contacts Wash and Zoë. Zoë wants to face Early, but River flatly states that Early would win. River messes with the ship’s electrics, allowing Mal to sneak around the ship. River mocks Early more until he realizes where she’s getting her info: She’s on his ship.
Early, aware of how powerful his ship’s weapons are, is now even more afraid of her. However, River surprises him by saying that she’s going to go with him, feeling that she’s not wanted on the ship. Early appears ready to leave until Simon attacks him, and Early shoots Simon in the leg. Early is then ambushed by Mal near the airlock and is thrown out into space in a spacesuit. River comes back onboard, seeming more normal than she’s been in the series up until now. As the rest of the crew recovers from the attack, River joins Kaylee for a game of jacks.
The last shot of the series is Jubal Early, floating out in the vastness of space, saying, calmly “Well, here I am.”
So, the main reason I consider this such a great episode is that it’s the first time River meets someone who, while not her equal, definitely serves as her dark reflection:
Jubal. F*cking. Early.
If that isn’t his middle name, I don’t want to know what it is (though, if he’s named after the Confederate General, his middle name would be Anderson… and apparently would be an ancestor of Nathan Fillion).
He’s the bounty hunter Boba Fett wishes he could be. He’s an evil Samus Aran with what appear to be severe emotional problems. Basically every line he says is amazing, and actor Richard Brooks manages to not only sell the craziness, but to convey subtle menace, curiosity, and insecurity all throughout the episode. Yes, he gets the benefit of only having to fill a limited amount of screen time, but the fact that this character never got a second episode is a travesty.
So, a large part of this episode is the dialogue, and I cannot convey it here. I’m currently reviewing the episode’s script after having just watched it, and I don’t know that Early has any bad lines. There are no lines he delivers where I go “I think that was pointless.” Considering how absolutely nonsensical some of them come off out of context, that seems impossible, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel that way.
Another part is that Early is not just a new threat, he’s THE threat. People make jokes about the tendency in television to have the new enemy take out the strongest good guy in order to establish the new enemy as being “real.” This episode both does and does not do that. Early takes out Mal, a more than competent fighter, in a few seconds. Then, rather than deal with any other problems, just seals the rest of the potential threats in. He doesn’t fight Book, he just brutally knocks him out by surprise. He isn’t someone puffing his chest up and proclaiming his greatness, he is a calm, methodical, professional bounty hunter, and that makes him infinitely more dangerous than any typical enemy. If it weren’t for River, the entire Serenity crew, who we’ve seen in this show are each capable of handling themselves in serious situations, would be helpless to stop him. After having two straight episodes of crappy villains, this is even more amazing.
Part of the reason he’s able to be so great is also why he’s River’s counterpart: Jubal does not consider people to be people. They are only objects to him, devoid of any greater meaning than their use to him. Joss Whedon cited Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea as his inspiration for this episode. Being a dedicated writer for the people who read this, I purchased, and read, this 192-page novel… rather than, as someone pointed out, just buying a book on Firefly and Philosophy. I’m not smart, guys. However, having read Nausea, I will confirm that, yes, there are ideas within the novel that are reflected there, and since you made me read an existentialist treatise in narrative form, I’m going to go ahead and address them. Enjoy.
Jubal Early and River are both address the concept of “engaged agency” in existentialist terms, but in opposing ways. Avoiding “engaged agency” is wanting to disavow any responsibility for your actions. The most common example is, adapted from Sartre’s example of “bad faith” in Being and Nothingness, that of a waiter who does not wish to be a man who is a waiter, so the man dissolves into the role and becomes a waiter. He is no longer a true human, he is only the function he performs, and therefore believes he bears no responsibility for what he does. Both River and Early do this during the episode, in exactly the opposite way.
Early tells River that he hurts people “only when the job requires it.” River, knowing the true him, says that he’s lying, and that he likes to hurt people. Early says “It’s part of the job,” to which River responds “it’s why you took the job.” Early likes to hurt people, but society and ethics frowns on it, so Early picked a career in which he would be permitted to hurt people by saying that it wasn’t him, it was just “part of the job.” He believes that he isn’t a bad person, he isn’t even a “person,” he is only a “function” that necessitates bad acts. He even says “what’s life without work,” indicating that he doesn’t see any point to his existence outside of performing the function. This is him denying his own agency, but he is being inauthentic. No one is forcing him to be a bounty hunter, so he is still acting in bad faith.
To contrast this, River tells Early that she has “dissolved” into Serenity, thereby becoming Serenity. Now, this would seem to be avoiding “engaged agency,” but it is actually a twisted mirror of it. By being Serenity, the thing which is actually responsible for keeping all of the people she loves alive, she isn’t disclaiming responsibility. She is actually taking on responsibility beyond her normal self. She is saying that she will keep these people safe, because they are now a part of her. In the end, that is exactly what she does, as she destroys Early’s plans and ends up having him kicked out into the void by Mal.
Another parallel of the characters is how each one addresses a gun. River sees it just as an object, in fact, she sees it as a stick within a nature scene, removed of any meaning that we imbue within it. When Early addresses the gun, he also says it is “very pretty,” but he points out that the design is part of the function, that the beauty is derived from the gun’s capacity to shoot someone. River sees it as just what it is, an object. Early sees it only as its function.
While River doesn’t really have a direct equivalent, there is also Early’s statement to Kaylee that she “[a]in’t nothing but a body to [him]… [a]nd I can find all unseemly manner of use for it.” Once again, we see that Early is already considering the value of Kaylee only in terms of how he can use her. The closest parallel is when River, later, asks Kaylee to do something for her, but addressing her as a person with the ability to choose to act, not a tool.
Lastly, I’m going to address Jubal Early’s catchphrase “does that seem right to you?” Early asks that three times during the episode. They are: “Man is stronger by far than woman, yet only woman can create a child. Does that seem right to you?”; “You know… this girl is the smallest cargo I’ve ever had to transport. Yet by far the most troublesome. Does that seem right to you?”; and “They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don’t make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?” Now, look at the common theme here: It’s just something that he finds as being grotesque, in the existentialist sense, because all three have some wrong relation to their function. It’s also bizarre, because on some level, Richard Brooks says the lines with such sincerity that you almost want to nod in agreement.
Despite all of this, Early ends the episode, defeated, with the ultimate statement of existential acceptance: “Here I am.” He isn’t performing any function at this moment, he is just existing, since that’s all that’s left to him in the void. An object in space.
This episode is, appropriately, the perfect blend of form and function. The philosophical images and concepts are woven flawlessly into the narrative. While I didn’t address it much here, the sounds effects, the camera work, and the acting are all high-caliber, even for Firefly. Within the series, I simply don’t think there’s much better, from the surreal opening to Jubal’s existential closing. This is a top-tier episode, without a doubt. However, you’re about to notice that I don’t rate it the perfect episode in Firefly, even though I think it’s one of the best episodes of TV. That’s because, despite how much I think this episode is amazing and insightful and unique and creative, it’s also a little too surreal and odd to really represent everything that’s good about Firefly. So, I give it just a little knock down.
Well, this was the end of the series, but I’m pretty sure most of you realize that I am going to have to do Serenity the movie, so that’s next week. At the end, I’ll post my personal ranking of Firefly media.
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.