If you haven’t given this a look, you’re missing out.
Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser/Riley Shanahan) was a professional racecar driver who was killed in an accident. He was revived in a robot body by Dr. Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton), a scientist who leads a group of individuals that have tragic origins and fantastic powers. They include Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero), a woman with 64 personalities and 64 superpowers, Rita Farr (April Bowlby), an actress whose body is elastic, and Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer/Matthew Zuk), a pilot who is possessed by a radioactive “negative spirit.” In the first season, Niles goes missing, and the team, along with Vic “Cyborg” Stone (Joivan Wade) has to rescue him from the powerful Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk). In the second season, the team has to deal with the arrival of Niles’ daughter, Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro), who is likely to end the world with her imaginary friend, the Candlemaker (Lex Lang).
I was skeptical about this show because it was originally shown as a spin-off of the show Titans on DC Universe. If you didn’t read my review of that, my opinion of that series was not positive. Doom Patrol, however, is an entirely different animal. While the show is still dark like Titans, this is a bitter, cynical dark comedy and it is done really well. Probably in an attempt to keep the series separate, the two shows have since been established to be in different continuities, although a “Doom Patrol” does still exist in the Titans universe.
The show mostly duplicates the feel of Grant Morrison’s famous revival run on the comic book series. While the original Doom Patrol was a straightforward group of outcasts banded together as a superhero team, Morrison decided to age-up the series and make it more surreal and with more meta-commentary. He focused on making the universe in which the Doom Patrol operated bleaker and weirder than the average comic book being put out by DC at the time. Just how the comic’s nature differentiated itself from other contemporary series, so too does this show set itself apart from most of the other superhero shows on television right now. For example, a fun part of the first season is that the show is actually narrated by Alan Tudyk, who is both a genre-savvy character and also aware of his fictional nature. Not only is his commentary hilarious, but the fact that he’s narrating the events of a show in which he regularly appears also gives him an air of omnipotence, raising his threat-level as a villain.
While all of the main characters are pretty interesting and have wildly different personalities and motivations, the show’s ability to supply inventive guest characters is perhaps its greatest strength. Entire episodes typically revolve around the group making contact with some strange new entity, ranging from a donkey that can eat a town to a guy who can reshape reality by flexing his abs. Hell, there’s a recurring character that is a sentient cross-dressing, pan-sexual street. It’s populated by people who need sanctuary from the cruel world. The second season has focused less on guest characters and more on exploring the ramifications of what has happened to our central cast, but each episode has still featured a number of interesting worlds to explore and people to meet. This keeps the jokes and hilarious situations coming at a regular pace, which complements the dark nature of the world appropriately.
The Joker’s Ex-Girlfriend has moved on and grown, and so has her story.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)
Having beaten the Joker (Alan Tudyk) and with Batman (Diedrich Bader) and the Justice League out of the way, Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is now poised to take over the city of Gotham. Unfortunately, Gotham is quickly declared No Man’s Land, and it turns out that the Injustice League wants it too. They get the drop on Harley and divvy up the territory. With the help of Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), King Shark (Ron Funches), Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), Clayface (Tudyk), and Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), she’s out to get revenge on the Riddler, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Two-Face (Jim Rash, Wayne Knight, Alfred Molina, James Adomian, Andy Daly) and claim Gotham for herself. Also, Batgirl’s there (Briana Cuoco).
So, my main criticism of Harley Quinn Season 1 was that the show often tried to go a little too exploitative with the violence and swearing to the point that I thought it distracted from the show. I will admit that, on rewatching, it still was a little over-the-top, but I might have let my feelings towards DC Universe’s show Titans color my opinion on how they were handling “mature” superhero shows. It still bothered me when I watched it again, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought on the first go-around. Whatever problems there were, however, have been almost completely fixed in the second season.
It’s not that the show is any less exploitative in the second season, in fact the violence and swearing are probably even increased, but the show has started to use them as a form of self-commentary. Harley even says, while defending a show-within-a-show, that “violence ups the dramatic effect,” and honestly, this season that’s mostly what it did. In the way that the John Wick films manage to make killing hordes of people into slapstick routine, season two frequently makes violence cathartic or humorous.
Moreover, the subject matter of this season was almost uniformly made more mature and relatable. While I thought that the first season forced the plot of Harley getting over the Joker to last longer than it should have which killed the relatability of dealing with an abusive ex, this season covers a number of plots that interweave and keep the relationships and topics fresh. They range from having feelings for a friend, to dealing with your own feelings of inadequacy, to dealing with repressed emotions and trauma. Instead of being a simple set of plots with a lot of swearing and ‘splosions, it’s a lot of blood and cussing that heightens the emotions of the scenes. It’s everything I wanted out of this series, and it feels so damned good.
If you have a chance to check it out, do it. The first season is pretty good in retrospect, but this season should earn it a following.
The adult animation returns for more violence, more strong female friendships, and more of a giant shark with a cuddly heart.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)
After the Joker (Alan Tudyk) took over the city, got rid of the Justice League, and captured Batman (Diedrich Bader), Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) finally managed to take down the clown. Unfortunately, his last act was to activate a device that created an 8.2 earthquake (~30 Megatons of TNT or slightly more powerful than the biggest US nuclear device) in the middle of Gotham City. With everything destroyed, Batman gone, Joker presumed dead, and the Justice League trapped in another dimension, Harley finally has the city at her feet. The US Government has declared Gotham no longer part of the US, so no one is planning to come in and stop her. Unfortunately, the Riddler (Jim Rash), Two-Face (Andy Daly), Penguin (Wayne Knight), Mr. Freeze (Alfred Molina), and Bane (James Adomian) have banded together to put the new “No Man’s Land” under their rule. Harley has to deal with the new “Injustice Gang” with the help of her crew: Clayface (Tudyk), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Frank the Plant (J.B. Smoove), King Shark (Ron Funches), and Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander).
This show originally didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped. It seemed a little too violent and a little too crass to be what I was looking for. However, when I rewatched it, I found myself really enjoying the show’s fairly unique style of humor, often involving the mundane conversations of the characters that stand in contrast to the fact that they’re involved in superhuman events. For example, when trapped on a magical cloud populated by the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk, Poison Ivy and Harley both are interested in seeing how well-endowed the giant is. It’s a strange diversion, but it works well because it’s just so absurd for the situation.
While the first season focused on Harley’s development in getting past her relationship with the Joker by trying to get into the Legion of Doom, this season starts with her in a new place both emotionally and in terms of power. While she has previously been mocked by most people for her dependence on the Joker and just generally being a female supervillain (Gotham is sexist, unlike the real wor… oh, right), Harley has shown that she is much more intelligent and capable than almost anyone else in the show. However, due to her preference for anarchy, she ends up allowing the other villains to cement power rather than just taking over the city herself, something that gives her yet another personal flaw to overcome for the season.
I will also give the show credit that it starts averting one of the general rules for comic book shows pretty early on in this season. I won’t spoil it, but it took me by surprise (or would have, if the damn ads for the show didn’t ruin it for me).
Honestly, I recommend this show. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to watch it, since there aren’t a ton of people with DC Universe subscriptions and they won’t put the season on Amazon streaming until after the entire season is over. Still, if you can find someone with the account, you should ask to watch this show.
Harley Quinn gets her own television show and it had all the parts to be amazing without quite getting them together… yet.
Harley Quinn (Kaley Cuoco) is the Joker’s (Alan “Curse this sudden but inevitable” Tudyk) girlfriend. After he uses her to escape from Batman (Diedrich “The Brave and the” Bader), she is locked in prison with Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). The pair break out and Harley realizes that the Joker doesn’t really love her, so she sets out on her own and get her own crew. She picks the baddest of the people who couldn’t do better than her: King Shark (Ron Funches), Doctor Psycho (Tony Hale), Clayface (Alan “Were I unwed I would take you in a manly” Tudyk), and Sy Borgman (Jason “I was also Duckman” Alexander). Together, they help Harley get into the Legion of Doom in order to show the Joker that she’s the real villain.
Dear readers, I wanted to love this show. I wanted to scream of its success from the rooftops. I wanted to be able to say, “there is a property in which Harley Quinn is the badass that we all deserve her to be since Paul Dini had that stroke of genius.” Unfortunately, Birds of Prey ended up doing that better than this show, but this show has the potential to do so much more.
This show fell into the same trap I felt like Titans fell into in its first season. You can practically hear the writers’ thought process: It’s rated-R, it’s a mature show, so naturally that means we have to justify it, right? Let’s put in a lot of f*cks and a ton of gratuitous violence and such. I mean, let’s have the Joker wear another guy’s face and rip it off like a mask, because that’s a thing we can’t show on any other cartoon? If we haven’t done it before, that makes it original and therefore good!
Well, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Putting a bunch of people saying “tits” on screen doesn’t make a show mature, it makes it what a 14-year-old boy thinks is mature. Now, I will say that the show definitely got better about this as the series went on, with the violence and the language feeling more organic, but the first few episodes felt really like they were straining to justify a red band trailer. I love some good old ultraviolence as much as the next droog, but make it count, people. Or make it funny. Your main character and her primary antagonist are both derivations of clowns, so I would hope you could make it a little more enjoyable to watch them go apesh*t.
It also doesn’t help that the emotional journey Harley is on throughout the season really seems like she’s just going around in circles a bit. I mean, she claims to be over the Joker, but then spends a season defining herself by trying to outshine him, which is NOT being over someone. Ultimately, I think she learns that lesson, but it feels like they stretched the arc by like half a season in order to make it land on the finale.
And, of course, as several people have brought up online, the show has some issues with how it handles certain topics. Mainly, there were accusations of being anti-Semitic, something that seemed to fly in the face of the fact that Harley Quinn is typically represented as Jewish (and is revealed to be in this series as well). In the second episode, which takes place at Penguin’s nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, Penguin’s sister-in-law is represented in a manner which was accused of being stereotypical. The same is true of Sy Borgman, who even the creators referred to, jokingly, as “half-man, half-Jew.” Harley’s parents are also not particularly flattering. I think these jokes probably were intended to be part of the “edgy” vibe of the show, but the fact is that they not only will upset people, they just weren’t that funny to begin with. I believe comedy should challenge and, at times, offend, but part of the reason stereotypes have been dropped from comedy routines isn’t just that they’re often inaccurate and offensive, but that they were the basis for comedy for like 50 years and they’re not funny anymore. Just write a real joke, people.
However, aside from these issues, I thought this show did a great job. The animation style is fun. The supporting characters are amazing, mostly because they all have their own fun quirks. Poison Ivy develops an embarrassing crush on a fellow super villain, King Shark is a computer nerd despite being a giant mutant shark/human, Clayface (presumably the Basil Karlo version) is a terrible actor despite having the ability to become anyone, and Doctor Psycho is a misogynist who loses his previous supervillain status for calling Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) the “C-word” on live television. Some of the commentary in the show, particularly the discussions of female villain inequality, are on point. The Queen of Fables (Wanda Sykes) is freaking hilarious. This is one of my favorite versions of the Joker because he seems even more self-aggrandizing and random than usual, while simultaneously having more normal habits, such as loving Reese Witherspoon. Also, just having Alan Tudyk in something gives it an additional Star in my ratings.
The thing is, this show has all the pieces to be great and, at times, is, it just needs to figure out better what’s actually good for a mature show and what’s just pretending to be mature.
Probably the most beloved superhero spoof of all time got his second (Patrick Warburton’s was short lived) live-action adaptation and it is filled with the sweet stench of mighty blue justice.
Arthur Everest (Griffin Newman) is a mild-mannered accountant… except that he’s not particularly mild-mannered, more neurotic and borderline PTSD. When he was young, his father was killed by the world’s greatest supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley), who then singled him out for torment before eventually being apparently killed by the world’s mightiest superhero, Superian (Brendan Hines). Arthur believes the Terror is still alive and sets out to prove it, before running into a giant blue man known only as The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz). The Tick is amnesiac, super-strong, nigh-invulnerable, overly-dramatic, and pretty much insane, but with a good heart and a desire for justice. The Tick gifts Arthur with an experimental flying suit he found in a warehouse and, after some initial complications, Arthur agrees to become his sidekick. Together, the two dive into the world of superheroes and supervillains, encountering the villainous Miss Lint (Yara Martinez), the violent anti-hero Overkill (Scott Speiser) and his sidekick Dangerboat (Alan “I’m amazing” Tudyk), Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Curry), and culminating in them gaining fame for helping defeat the still-alive Terror.
The second season focuses on the Tick and Arthur dealing with the return of the government agency A.E.G.I.S., the best S.H.I.E.L.D. knock-off on film so far, and trying to find their place in the new order.
This show is one of the few Amazon Prime shows that were picked up based on their pilot and I don’t think I can tell you how happy that made me. It makes me even happier to say that they really fixed some of the problems that were present in the pilot almost immediately. See, the pilot’s core joke was basically “what if we stuck The Tick in a gritty reboot, but we didn’t make the Tick gritty or serious?” Admittedly, that premise was funny and every second The Tick was on film was amazing, particularly him dealing with realistic criminals in his goofy manner. The only problem was that the world itself was just a hair TOO gritty. One of the best parts of every version of The Tick is the other goofy characters that populate it. The show quickly managed to fill that void with a bunch of great supporting characters, many of whom are comical exaggerations of the “gritty” superhero image, particularly Overkill.
The first season was flat-out hilarious to me once it found its rhythm, although it did take a few episodes to really get it. Griffin Newman and Valorie Curry both subtly adjusted their characters to fit a little better within the post-pilot world the show was developing. Arthur became more similar to his animated counterpart, though with a lot more realism and backstory, while Dot became a badass. Jackie Earle Haley, on the other hand, played the perfect self-indulgent villain from start to finish. I think few things will ever stick with me as well as his line “You don’t kill people because they call you names; you kill them because it’s fun.” It’s literally the most evil but also surprisingly reasonable thing you can say: Evil should be about enjoyment whether it’s at the expense of others or not. After all, why be evil if it’s not fun?
I will say that there are two things in the pilot which did convince me that the show had a lot of potential. The first is the scene of The Tick effortlessly defeating a bunch of warehouse thugs while using his typical goofy dialogue. Second, at the end of the episode, The Tick is monologuing about his future with Arthur as superheroes and says “Destiny’s got her hand way up in their puppets.” That’s basically the perfect line for The Tick’s very specific brand of insanity and spoofing.
The Second Season has the advantage of being able to introduce more of the bizarre and goofy characters that we were looking for because the world has now been expanded enough for someone to just randomly appear with superpowers. They also having a running plotline about coercion that plays out very well.
Overall, I love this show. It’s just a solid spoof of superheroes, particularly gritty reboots. Peter Serafinowicz is a treasure and is just as good in the role as Patrick Warburton was (though that show’s writing was nowhere near the level of this one, Warburton was amazing). If you’ve got a Prime subscription and love comedy, just power through the first 2-3 episodes and then get ready for a great time.
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.