Rick and Mondays – S1 E2 “Lawnmower Dog”

Okay, so, I’m definitely going to keep this series going, because, shortly after publishing the first post, I won a contest from Wisecrack’s “The Squanch” podcast (which you should listen to, as both myself and my Grouchier counterpart have now both stated we like their channel). When I got back home, I found this Pickle Rick figurine waiting for me. I consider this a sign from the universe.

PickleRickFigurine

And yes, it’s on the sofa from which I compose these wonderful works of critical non-fiction.

SUMMARY

Jerry is watching TV when Snuffles, the Smith family dog, comes up and gives him a begging look. Thinking that Snuffles wants to go outside, Jerry opens the door, but Snuffles instead pees on the carpet. Jerry, frustrated that the dog doesn’t understand commands, asks Rick to make the dog smarter. Rick halfheartedly warns against it, but quickly acquiesces so that he can leave with Morty. Rick puts a helmet on Snuffles which appears to make him roughly as intelligent as… I’d say a child.

RickAndMondayS1E2Snuffles1

Rick takes Morty to the home of his math teacher Mr. Goldenfold (Brandon Johnson). Morty has been failing math (despite the fact that it is unbelievably low-level), so Rick has decided to go inside Goldenfold’s dreams and plant the idea to give Morty an A even though he doesn’t deserve it. If that sounds like Inception, that’s because it is, and Rick is shameless about ripping it off, then takes shots at the film’s defenders, including Morty.

Inside Mr. Goldenfold’s dream, Rick and Morty find themselves on a plane, similar to the original set-up in Inception. Rick and Morty pretend to be terrorists hijacking the plane to increase Morty’s grades, but Goldenfold actually fights back, controlling the dream. The pair end up grabbing one of Goldenfold’s fantasy women, Mrs. Pancakes, (Melique Berger) from the show everyone in the Rick and Morty multiverse seems to watch, and being sucked out of the plane. Unfortunately, Goldenfold has landed the plane and built a device which will save Pancakes while killing them. To buy time, Rick and Morty enter Mrs. Pancakes’s dreams.

RickAndMondayS1E2GoldenfoldGuns

At the next dream level, Rick and Morty are in an S&M dungeon filled with strange creatures, as well as a heavily sexualized version of Summer. Despite Rick being immediately willing to join the interspecies orgy, he draws the line at incest (note: somehow no Game of Thrones references are made here). Unfortunately, refusing to have sex with Summer alerts the sub-subconscious that Rick and Morty don’t belong, so they knock out a Centaur and go into his dreams.

RickAndMondaysS1E2Centaur.png
I wish they’d put him in a gimp mask so I could call him Gimp-taur. But, it’s not to be.

At this dream level, the pair are in a boiler room which looks really familiar if you love Robert Englund. It’s red, rusty, and contains a small, creepy, child chanting a rhyme about its chief inhabitant. The two are quickly attacked by Scary Terry (Jess Harnell), who is described as a “legally safe knock-off of an ’80s horror character with miniature swords for fingers instead of knives” who calls people “bitch” all the time. Rick and Morty flee to another dream level by knocking out the creepy little girl, but they find out that Scary Terry can travel between dream levels to keep chasing them. Eventually, they hide for hours until Scary Terry gives up looking for them and goes back to his house.

RickAndMondaysS1E2ScaryTerry1.jpg

Meanwhile, Snuffles has been slowly gaining intelligence over the night. First, he attempts to talk to the Smiths, but can’t vocalize properly. After failing, he finds a panel in the front of the helmet which opens to reveal that only 1 of the 5 battery slots are full. Snuffles goes to the junk drawer and puts more batteries in. A little while later, Snuffles now has a mechanical arm and the helmet is able to interpret his thoughts, allowing him to speak (using Rob Paulsen’s voice). Jerry starts to take off the helmet but is stopped by Summer. Snuffles then watches a documentary on the history of dogs, builds several exo-suits and other intelligence-boosting helmets, recruits other dogs, and then confronts Summer and the Smiths over the treatment of dogs by humans… specifically their taking of his testicles. Snuffles, now calling himself Snowball, reveals that he plans to turn the tables on humanity.

RickAndMondayS1E2Snuffles2
(Sigourney Weaver Voice) GET AWAY FROM MY TESTICLES, YOU BITCH!!!

Back in the sub-sub-sub-subconscious of Mr. Goldenfold, Rick and Morty follow Scary Terry back home where he lives with his wife Scary Melissa (Berger) and infant son Scary Brandon. That night, they go into Scary Terry’s dream… only to find that it’s just Scary Terry being mocked at school for not knowing the answers to pop quiz questions and forgetting to wear pants to class. Rick and Morty stand up for him in his dream, befriending him. When Scary Terry awakens, he has been incepted into being friends with them, resulting in him carrying them back through all the dream levels as a favor, finally incepting Goldenfold to give Morty an A in math.

Rick and Morty return home to find that there is a small army of dogs planning to take over humanity stockpiling weapons at the house. When Morty asks what happened, Rick casually outlines what we saw happen, while still saying he doesn’t know for sure. The two rescue the Smiths, but Jerry gets everyone captured again by thinking that he could pee on the weapons to make them his property. This is a plan so unbelievably dumb that it actually justifies how Morty could fail math despite being Rick’s grandson.

The dogs are shown conquering the world and reducing humanity to secondary status with the exception of Morty, who is treated as Snowball’s prized pet and given women and luxury. Rick reappears, supposedly a year later, and reveals that this is all a dream from the first night. Rick has gone into Snowball’s head with Morty, and dream time combined with dog time has allowed a night to become a year (though, if you do the math, it should actually be about 6 months). Rick poisons Morty, which leads to Snowball realizing that doing to humanity what humanity did to dogs makes them just as bad. Snowball awakens and leads the dogs off planet to form a Dog World.

RickAndMondayS1E2DogWorldPortal.png
I guess all the animal shelters are for cats now.

END SUMMARY

No matter how many times I see this episode, it just never sticks out in my mind, but every time I re-watch it, I find myself laughing my ass off.

First, the references. The title’s a reference to The Lawnmower Man, about a scientist who increases a mentally handicapped man’s intellect to the point that he becomes cruel and ambitious, which is basically the plot of Snuffles’s story. They openly state the dream-jumping is from Inception and all-but-state that Scary Terry is Freddy Krueger. Snuffles’s new name of Snowball is a reference to Animal Farm, a story about animals overthrowing humans and something covered on this site before.

Scary Terry is one of my favorite parts of this episode. First, I love his design, since, rather than the burn-victim look of Freddy Krueger, Scary Terry appears to be made of purple testicle skin, which is somehow more off-putting. Second, the fact that he has a very boring and typical homelife when he isn’t terrifying and murdering people in their dreams is hilarious. Third, after watching this, whenever you watch the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies, it becomes so much more obvious HOW OFTEN Freddy says Bitch. It’s interesting that it seems to increase as the series got more ridiculous, almost like “Bitch” just provides an easy thing to call someone… which is why that’s Terry’s answer when caught off-guard in his nightmare. Which brings me to the last reason I love him: Scary Terry’s nightmares are the things that everyone has a nightmare of at some point, getting embarrassed in school, even years after you’ve graduated in real life. Compared to the kind of over-the-top craziness that usually defines the nightmares in the Elm Street franchise, this is just a freaking hilarious juxtaposition.

RickAndMondayS1E2ScaryTerry2

I also love that they parodied Krueger’s signature “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you” song, but this one goes way past the 5 verses that Freddy uses. We see it getting to Q and R with no sign of it stopping.

One of my other favorite parts of the episode is that none of the Smiths actually consider the implications of granting Snuffles intelligence, even though Rick warns them about it. The closest we come is Summer saying that it’s wrong to “endow a creature with sentience and then rip it away,” but when pressed about why, she just says it’s “Indian giving.” Beth actually points out that it’s not going to go well but does nothing about it. Despite all of the media about this exact situation, including the film that gives this episode its title, not one of them bothers to consider it. As someone who writes about pop-culture, this is a frustrating accuracy about people: Despite a concept being addressed in fiction repeatedly, no one ever actually relates it to their situation… which massively undermines the entire point of good fiction. Still, it was funny for the warning signs to be so over-the-top and yet completely ignored here.

RickAndMondayS1E2Snuffles3
Yeah, this is the point where you stop giving the dog batteries, guys.

JOKER’S CRAZY THEORY CORNER

RickAndMondayS1E2PaddedRoom

I have a weird theory that Rick actually planned for everything with Snuffles to play out pretty much as it did. See, when Jerry confronts Rick about the dog, Rick goes to the garage and comes back with the helmet. It seems like it was specifically made by Rick in that 30 seconds or so, rather than something that Rick just had sitting around. I say that because Jerry suggests that Rick “whip up” something and Rick doesn’t correct him, as well as because the helmet perfectly fits Snuffles.

If Rick made the helmet for this situation, though, why did he put 5 battery slots in it? And why put them in a place that the dog could put the batteries in? He clearly knew how smart Jerry would want Snuffles to be and Rick already stated that making Snuffles smarter than that would be a thread Jerry wouldn’t want to pull. It seems like a weird flaw to over-design the helmet like that, especially for someone of Rick’s intelligence who was in a hurry.

RickAndMondayS1E2Snuffles4.png
And it already had a output ports for thought to voice transmissions.

Well, that’s because Rick wanted Snuffles to find the extra battery slots. Rick knew that the Smiths would abuse Snuffles’s new intelligence (such as Summer making him her footstool) and wouldn’t try to figure out what he wanted when he tried to talk to them. So, Rick figured that Snuffles would try to increase the helmet’s power and gave him a simple way to do it. After that, it was basically inevitable that Snuffles would realize that dogs have been mistreated by humanity (he doesn’t have testicles, after all), and stage a revolt that would result in the imprisonment of the Smiths. That’s why he immediately and dispassionately recites a summary of what happened in the episode when they return: Because he set the events in motion that led to it.

So, why would Rick do this? Well, because A) he’s Rick and B) Jerry was annoying him. Jerry was basically threatening Rick into using his god-like science wizardry, so Rick decided to go ahead and cut that off by satisfying Jerry’s wish in such a way that he would never ask him to do it again. And I’m pretty sure it works, since I can’t think of another time Jerry asks Rick to make something in the series.

On the Meta-level, I think it’s also possible Rick did this just so he could end the episode with a pitch for Justin Roiland’s failed series idea “Dog World,” which is why Rick even calls Snuffles “Ruffles,” the name of the Dog World lead character, at the beginning of the episode. He was setting this up even then as a fallback for if the show gets cancelled. After all, this was only episode 2.

Overall, I give this episode a

B+

on the Rick and Morty scale.

Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.

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

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

Rick and Mondays – S1 E1 “Pilot”

Welcome to Rick and Mondays. This will be bi-weekly for now, until I get a bigger buffer built up next month (hopefully). Rick and Morty and Futurama ended up tying in the vote for the next series to do, then Futurama won the run-off, so Futurama Fridays will commence after Firefly Fridays ends, and Rick and Mondays will run in the meantime. If I keep it at bi-weekly, it should end about the time that there are finally new episodes of Rick and Morty.

SUMMARY

RickAndMondaysS1E1Car

This is where it all began and, fittingly for a show that exists to subvert sci-fi and television tropes, it starts off with a massive subversion with introducing us to Rick Sanchez (Justin Roiland) as our pretty much ultimate anti-hero by having him break into his sleeping grandson’s, Morty Smith’s (Roiland), room and abduct him. Rick, who is super hammered, shows Morty his new flying car that he built with stuff from the garage and tells him that he has decided that the Earth needs a “fresh start.” So, he built a neutrino bomb which will kill off all of humanity, leaving Morty and the girl he likes from math class, Jessica (Kari Wahlgren), to repopulate humanity. Morty takes the wheel and forces the car down. Rick, upon landing, tells Morty what appears to be an obvious lie that the whole thing was just a test to make Morty more assertive, then passes out… as the neutrino bomb starts to arm itself. The title sequence prevents us from finding out if the bomb actually goes off, since, in retrospect, this could just be a completely different Rick and Morty than Rick and Morty C-137, who most of the series follows.

RickAndMondayS1E1Title

The next morning, or just a morning in a completely different universe, Morty passes out in his breakfast. His sister, Summer (Spencer Grammer), immediately rats him out for spending his nights out with Rick. His parents, Jerry and Beth (Chris Parnell and Sarah “The First Becky of our hearts” Chalke), both are angry about this, which Rick tries to ignore while claiming that school’s not a place for smart people. Jerry blames Rick for hurting Morty’s chances of advancement and wants him to move out, but Beth’s anger is quickly suppressed when Rick pays her a minor compliment about the breakfast. This pretty much leads to the subject being dropped.

RickAndMondayS1E1Breakfast.jpg

At school, Morty falls asleep during a math test (and molests his teacher while unconscious), before being assaulted by a bully. Rick appears out of nowhere and freezes the bully, pulling Morty through a portal to help him run an errand in another dimension. After they leave, Summer accidentally causes the bully to fall over and shatter, killing him.

Rick and Morty end up in Dimension 35-C which is home to the Mega Trees which produce Mega Fruits that have Mega Seeds that Rick needs “for his research,” which he consistently refuses to clarify further. Rick and Morty get chased by monsters, cross phallic, testicular, and yonic landscapes, and finally arrive at a cliff above a valley of the Mega Trees. Rick gives Morty a set of grappling shoes to get down the cliff, but doesn’t tell Morty that he has to turn them on, causing Morty to fall down the cliff and break both of his legs. Rick goes through the portal to another dimension that has instant broken-leg-fixing serum. Morty gets the Mega Fruit, but Rick explains that the dimension with the serum had stopped the aging process, so Rick, being old, was basically a celebrity, resulting in him spending a lot of time there getting laid. So much time that his portal gun is now out of charge and they’ll have to return through interdimensional customs.

RickAndMondayS1E1Planet

Meanwhile, Jerry and Beth have been arguing about Jerry’s desire to put Rick in a retirement home. Jerry says that Morty is failing school, but Beth counters that Morty was always failing, but at least now he has a friend. The idea that, maybe, either of his parents should help him work on school is never addressed, because these two are the f*cking worst. The two are called into the school by Principal Vagina (Phil Hendrie), who informs them that Morty has been absent frequently (only attending school for a few hours a month), almost always signed out by Rick, who also has been hiding the messages from the school to the Smith family. Jerry uses this as evidence that Rick is negatively impacting Morty’s life, seemingly winning the argument.

At interdimensional customs, Morty has to hide the seeds way up in his butt so that they won’t be confiscated. Rick’s anus, through years of smuggling and experimentation, has lost its elasticity, rendering him unable to carry the goods (or so he says, at least). This is quickly rendered pointless by a new machine at customs that can detect stuff way up people’s butts. Rick grabs Morty and makes a break for it, eventually finding a portal. While Rick enters the coordinates, Morty defends them from security, killing a guard. Rick and Morty jump through the portal, landing right in front of Jessica, but immediately running into Beth, Jerry, and Principal Vagina.

RickAndMondayS1E1Customs.png
WAAAY up the butt. Like, a colonoscopy turns to dentistry far.

Jerry and Beth confront Rick, telling him he has to move out, but Rick has Morty demonstrate an aptitude towards math and science which Rick claims can only be expanded through adventuring together. Beth and Jerry agree to let them go together, believing it to be the only way that Morty will have a successful future. However, it turns out that the entire demonstration was just a side-effect of the seeds up Morty’s ass dissolving, leading to the second side effect where Morty’s motor skills and brain functions become uncontrollable. Rick ends the episode saying that there will be 100 years of Rick and Morty.

RickAndMondayS1E1Ending
Let’s hope they’re right. 100 Episodes is a good start, though.

END SUMMARY

Well, that’s the first episode. This was our first glimpse into the world of Rick and Morty, and it’s not half bad. Since I’ve got an entire series worth of episodes to address themes, I’m just going to cover the one that I think is most represented in this episode: Rick’s rampant hatred of bureaucracy/government.

First, the episode literally starts with Rick, or at least A Rick, deciding that Earth civilization is now so messed up that killing everyone is the best solution. Granted, he’s drunk, but that’s a pretty strong statement on Rick’s opinion on society that omnicide is preferable to dealing with it. His plan isn’t so great, either, since he only wants to save Morty and Jessica, which would lead to a lot of awkwardness and a lot more inbreeding.

Next, we have Rick’s statement that school isn’t a place for smart people. He basically says that the problem with school is that, while you’re in school, you’re essentially controlled by the rules of the school and all to learn only what the school wants you to, in exchange for a “piece of paper that says you can go take a dump or something.” This is actually justified a little more when we see Morty’s math class, where he’s literally being taught addition in high school. If you look at the sheet, there are only 6 questions, the answer to 4 of which are just 10. And this doesn’t appear to be a remedial class. And it’s not like the staff actually appears to care a ton about education. Mr. Goldenfold (Brandon Johnson) literally teaches the same lessons over and over again and the principal of the school doesn’t seem to care enough about a student only attending class 7 hours a month to make sure his parents are aware of it. Also, the principal appears to be trying to invoke a race riot by spontaneously stating that the frozen bully wasn’t killed by a “Latino” student (although, Rick’s name is Sanchez, so, maybe the kid was).

RickAndMondayS1E1Blackboard.jpg
The math on the blackboard isn’t even right.

Last, we have the less justified opinion of Rick’s when he tells Morty to kill the guards at customs because “they’re just robots.” When Morty shoots one of them, he screams in pain, one of the other guards yells that he’s bleeding to death, and that someone needs to call his wife and children. Rick then explains that “it’s a figure of speech,” and that they’re bureaucrats, so he doesn’t respect them. This is probably one of the more horrifying positions that Rick takes in the episode, even compared to his attempt to eliminate all of humanity: Bureaucrats aren’t people. It’s not just Rick’s normal nihilism speaking, this is almost a hyper-objectivist viewpoint that a person isn’t a person unless they’re fully flexing their individual rights and respecting the supreme individuality of others. Rick’s conflicts with the massively bureaucratic Federation throughout the series is summarized by Rick as “they think they control the Galaxy, [Rick] disagree[s].” In contrast, Jerry is amazingly successful when the Federation controls Earth, despite the fact that he never actually knows what his job is.

RickAndMondayS1E1Shot

This later gets re-enforced with Rick C-137’s opinion on the Council of Ricks, since they’re a group that formed to fight the government by becoming a government. When the Citadel gets re-addressed in season 3, we find out the citadel’s structure is even more bizarrely anti-Rick, because it has a massive class divide that suppresses some Ricks and Mortys despite the fact that the lower-class Ricks are LITERALLY EXACTLY AS SMART AS THEIR BOSSES.

RickAndMondayS1E1EvilMorty
Something that leads a group of geniuses to elect an evil sociopath president.

The show puts forth an interesting position on this by not really making a strong case either for or against Rick’s viewpoint. On the one hand, the schools do suck, the Federation basically just takes over planets and tries to steal whatever relevant technology has been developed rather than developing their own, and the Citadel of Ricks literally markets freedom as a wafer rather than, you know, having freedom. On the other hand, Rick is a mass-murderer who contributes nothing of value to society and abuses or mentally breaks everyone he comes in contact with, often for his own amusement. He’s literally all of the things that society is formed to prevent, and he only is able to continue to do any of it because he’s the smartest being in an infinite multiverse. So, he’s Andrew Ryan from BioShock with access to even crazier levels of technology and less concern for the welfare of others. Morty even says that Rick’s like Hitler, but at least Hitler cared about “Germany or something.”  So, yeah, Rick’s freedom is pretty awesome, assuming that you’re Rick. If you’re an occupant of one of the planets he destroys while drunk, not so much. And you’re not Rick, I guaran-f*cking-tee it.

Rick.jpg

BONUS: JOKER’S “QUIT EXPLAINING THINGS” SCIENCE CORNER

So, for the record, I think the Neutrino Bomb is an interesting concept. A neutrino is a subatomic particle that only interacts with the weak nuclear force and gravity (here’s a Ted-Ed on Neutrinos). Since gravity doesn’t really mean anything at that scale (smaller than a proton), the weak interaction has to be how Rick plans on killing everyone. I’m not the only one to speculate on this, I’m sure, but the main way that a neutrino could probably kill someone is by having the neutrino hit a neutron, causing beta decay turning it into a proton, and causing it to eject an electron which can cause radiation damage to most living beings.

RickAndMondayS1E1BetaDecay

The problem is that neutrinos don’t like to do this, and it’s only because the sun is putting out a sh*t ton (technical term) of them that we ever get a single reaction we can measure. So, for Rick to kill everything on Earth, he’d need many orders of magnitude more than the sun puts out. I don’t want to do the math, but I’m gonna guess it’s in the quintillions to septillions of suns. Now, at this point, you might think that this makes this just a sci-fi term that you can add to a regular word to make it sound Star Trek enough to get by, but I refuse to accept that, because this is Rick F*cking Sanchez, and Rick isn’t going to play that. Rick probably knows that neutrinos are more likely to interact with matter when they have a higher energy. So, my proposal is that Rick has somehow figured out how to put more energy into Neutrinos than even a supernova burst, increasing the odds that they’ll interact with matter to the point that he can reliably kill an entire planet… or a solar system if he just “eyeballs” it. He claimed to be able to turn a black hole into a sun, so I doubt this is beyond him. It’s a pretty good way to get rid of life without ruining the planet itself, honestly, if there was any way to do it that didn’t require producing a solar-system sized fusion reaction. But Rick made a universe on his own just to power his car, so, again, Rick probably can pull it off.

Overall, I give this episode a B on the Rick and Morty scale.

Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.

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

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

Firefly Fridays – Episode 8: “Out of Gas”

Fifth episode to air, seventh in production order, and the first to air after Fox actually ordered 3 additional episodes based on the success of the show, bringing the expected season up to 16 episodes.

This episode starts in medias res and flashes back for most of the story, so I’m gonna summarize it the way it’s presented. Besides, Dan Harmon’s opinions notwithstanding, the structure has worked since The Odyssey.

FireflyEp8InMediasRes
I guess this is option 3?

SUMMARY

FireflyEp8MalDown

The episode begins with the ship empty, except for a very wounded Malcolm Reynolds struggling through her. As he looks around, he flashes back to when he first bought Serenity, which the salesman, now seemingly more-accurately, says will be with him the rest of his life. When Zoe first sees the ship, she believes that it’s a waste, but Mal says the ship’s not the point: The point is that it gives them freedom.

No matter how long the arm of the Alliance might get, we’ll just get ourselves a little further.

FireflyEp8FirstSerenity

Mal grabs an engine part and continues to make his way through the ship as he flashes back to how they got in this situation.

The crew is at dinner while Wash sets a course that takes them to their destination without running into any Alliance patrols. He points out that it actually makes it unlikely they’ll run into anyone and what should take a day is now taking a week, but Mal seems content. Since this is space, I assume this means Wash searched for “almost anywhere.” Space is big, kids.

FireflyEp8DouglasAdams.jpg
Now try hitchhiking it. 

Kaylee then comes in to surprise Simon with a cake for his birthday. River naturally points out that there can’t be a birthday because there are no days in space, but nobody else seems to mind. Surprisingly, there’s not really any issues with time dilation in the show, since Serenity’s top speed is never shown, but probably wouldn’t be faster than 100,000 meters/second (just spitballing based on the ship’s range of 400 AU and travel times), so, even accounting for orbital velocities, my usual complaint about sci-fi birthdays is averted because the ship’s just not fast enough. Bless you, Joss Whedon.

However, as Simon blows out the candle, the ship’s power dims. As Kaylee goes to check on it, a huge explosion occurs, sending a wall of flame hurtling down the corridor towards the room. Zoe pushes Kaylee out of the way and is blown backwards by the force of the fireball, severely injuring her. They seal off the ship to contain the fire then vent it into space.

FireflyEp8Explosion.png
… This is totally album art. 

As Simon looks after Zoe, Kaylee looks after Serenity. Mal forces Wash, who wants to stay by Zoe’s side, to go to the bridge, angering him.

FireflyEp8WashFlashback
This exists.

We flashback within the flashback to see when Wash first came on the boat, wearing a mustache, flat hair, and a Hawaiian shirt. Normally, I’d make a pedophile comment, but it’s Wash, so I will abstain. Wash, who is apparently a very sought-after pilot, decides he likes the ship. Zoe, however, says that she doesn’t particularly care for Wash, because of course that’s how they started, have you met them? After Mal states that he’s going to take Wash if Wash will take the job, they run into the “genius” mechanic, Bester (Dax Griffin), who apparently is getting Serenity ready to fly.

Back at the main flashback, Zoe is not doing well, mostly because Gina Torres was filming something else at the time. Simon gives her an adrenaline shot to keep her going. In the present, Mal gives himself one to keep going despite the pain and bloodloss. In the flashback, Mal takes Kaylee to the engine room to figure out what’s wrong, and the answer is the catalyzer in the port compression coil blew. What’s both great, and tragic, about this is that Kaylee had, in two separate earlier episodes, pointed out that the compression coil needed to be replaced. In fact, in the pilot, Kaylee said that if the coil busts, they’re drifting. The reality, it seems, is actually worse: when the coil exploded, it destroyed the back-up life support. I assume this is based on CO2 scrubbers like in current space shuttles, which wouldn’t really help with the “we vented a ton of the oxygen into the void and probably shouldn’t be able to get enough O2 into our lungs with each breath” problem, but I guess there was enough for everyone to breathe until they get to the next planet if the life support worked, and maybe they had a mechanism that reduced the volume of the inside of the ship to keep the pressure from dropping rapidly and giving everyone some super case of the bends.

As the crew contemplates their apparently inevitable suffocation, River and Book talk briefly, with River saying that his Bible says “Don’t be afraid.” I consider this to be one of the best commentaries on the benefits of faith in film. River then comforts Book by telling him that they won’t suffocate… because they’ll freeze to death first. This one I haven’t actually figured out, since most spaceships, now, can withstand being powerless in space for hours at a time without it causing the inside temperature to change that much. Granted, they’re much smaller and heat dissipation is a matter of surface area, but still, spaceships usually have to be pretty well thermally insulated to deal with re-entry (and the vacuum of space), something that Serenity does regularly. My best guess is that the sheer amount of heat that the engine power source produces might need to be regularly vented out all around the ship, so maybe ships in the future are actually built to constantly be dispersing heat by design, including mechanical dispersal that still operates without power. Or maybe it’s an error based on speculative writing. I assume that River Tam is correct, though, because she’s River Tam.

FireflyEp8RiverTam.jpg
My physics degree is worth less than her random asides. I accept that.

Mal and Wash manage to set up a beacon broadcasting a help request. In another flashback, we’re shown that Kaylee’s entrance to the ship was less professional than Wash’s. Kaylee was sleeping with Bester, the former mechanic, because engines “get her hot.” When Bester tells Mal about the problems on the ship, Kaylee quickly fixes it while demonstrating a natural aptitude towards understanding machines. Mal offers her a job and kicks Bester out. In the main flashback, Kaylee tells Mal that the ship is broken beyond even her skills and, without a new catalyzer, just can’t fly. In the present, it’s revealed that the engine part Mal is carrying is a new catalyzer, he attempts to put it back in the engines, but slips.

FireflyEp8Catalyzer
Little part, big problem.

In the flashback, Mal sends the crew off in the shuttles, one in each direction, while he stays on the ship. Wash, optimistically, sets up a mechanism to recall the shuttles once the beacon gets someone’s attention. Mal and Inara share a moment as he sends her off in the shuttle with Book, Jayne, and Kaylee. It then flashes back to when Inara first arrived on the ship. Mal tries to feign disinterest in having her on board, but Inara quickly points out that he needs her more than she needs them, because she gives him “respectability” and the ability to deal with the Alliance. She negotiates a lower price and a set of rules for conduct (which Mal has regularly broken since), before telling him that she will never call him “whore” again, because easy dramatic irony is easy and dramatic. In the main flashback, Inara asks Mal to come with her, but he refuses, saying he’s going to stay with his ship. Mal and Wash part, with Mal telling him to go to his wife, and then Jayne and Mal part in a humorous sequence consisting of Jayne basically walking off to avoid any emotional contact. Mal, alone, goes to the bridge and sits, waiting for someone. Eventually, with Mal almost out of oxygen, a ship finds him.

FireflyEp8JayneEnters.jpg
Jayne says Hi.

The captain of the other ship, hesitant to trust Mal, coincidentally has a spare catalyzer on board. Unfortunately, they’ve decided that the price of the part will be everything on board Serenity and ambush Mal. This causes Mal to flash back to when he first met Jayne, who had once similarly ambushed him and Zoe along with two other bandits. Impressed by Jayne’s skills at tracking, Mal negotiates for Jayne to switch sides after promising him a bigger cut and his own bunk, because Jayne is a simple man with simple needs. Back at the more-recent ambush, the captain of the other ship shoots Mal, who grabs a hidden gun and forces the other men off his ship, putting us at the start of the episode.

The computer klaxon keeps blaring, warning about the low oxygen levels, which, honestly, makes no sense, since the ship just got a huge influx of oxygen a few minutes ago when the other ship docked with them, and the other ship’s atmo-scrubber should have reduced the CO2 levels for the time the ships were connected, which, while not too long, was at least long enough to search the ship. Dammit, stop thinking about this. Mal finally manages to get the catalyzer installed but passes out from his injuries before he can recall the shuttles.

Mal wakes up a few hours later, in the infirmary, having found out that everyone in the crew is now back. When Zoe awoke, she demanded that they return, resulting in them finding out that Mal had fixed it. Wash donates some blood to Mal, and everything seems back to normal. As Mal passes out again, we’re treated to one last flashback where Mal first sees Serenity, despite the salesman talking to him about another ship. It’s clearly love at first sight.

FireflyEp8MalGaze
When he gives you that look…

END SUMMARY

Alright, so, this episode has two purposes. First, it gives us the backstories for all the characters we didn’t have yet.

FireflyEp8KayleeEnters.png
Kaylee’s first time… on Serenity

We find out Kaylee has no formal schooling in engines, she just has a natural aptitude, something that seems extremely ridiculous for a modern spaceship, but makes sense when you realize that, for her, a spaceship is no more complicated than a car is now. Some people can just visualize the entire structure and make it work. We also learn that Kaylee’s a little more sexually free than we had previously been shown, but, let’s be honest, we all kinda guessed that. We find out that Zoe originally didn’t care for Wash, which, I imagine, was because of the mustache. Grow a beard or don’t grow anything, man. Wash, meanwhile, has always been unusual, which is probably why he took a job on Serenity in the first place, despite having so many better offers. Zoe, too, is even colder in the flashbacks than she is in the present, something that speaks to how her marriage has been good for her. The fact that they’re the cutest couple ever in the future is all the better for having this inauspicious start.

Jayne’s backstory is especially interesting, since Jayne is shown swapping loyalties for money, though in the present day it seems he would never consider betraying Mal, at least in his own mind, for any amount of money. It makes his earlier refusal in the Pilot seem a bit more meaningful, and later actions a little more tragic.

Mal and Inara’s first encounter is also noteworthy, because the smooth-talking Mal is pretty much completely outmaneuvered by Inara’s bargaining chips. It’s also revealed that Inara supported the Alliance, something that Mal naturally is more than a little irked by. It also shows that they did, at one point, have some formalities in their relationship.

FireflyEp8SerenityMal’s interaction with Serenity speaks to Mal’s character. Rather than the ship he came to see, Mal’s attention is drawn to the beat-up Firefly. He sees in the ship a desire to prove herself still worth something despite how the rest of the world has treated her. So, basically, he sees himself.

The second point of the story is to show the reality of how risky space travel really is. When something goes wrong in space, as Mal says, you can’t just go get another part, and every part matters. It’s almost comical when Mal explains that the entire problem is a broken catalyzer and the other captain says “that’s a nothing part.” It’s also true that the catalyzer probably shouldn’t have been such a big issue, except that the compression coil really need to be replaced, as Kaylee said. I’m speculating here, but I’d have to wager that anything called a “compression coil,” probably compresses something, and that a catalyzer probably is something that catalyzes, or greatly accelerates a chemical process.

FireflyEp8FusionNow, we don’t currently have the capacity to do this in an energy-efficient way, but you can create a nuclear fusion reaction through a combination of compressing the atoms close enough together while forcing surrounding materials to “shoot” the atoms closer together through rapid chemical processes emitting heat and particles, resulting in a fusion reaction of the original atoms and a massive energy, and particle, release which could be directed to create acceleration in 0 gravity (or essentially 0 gravity). In fact, you can do this currently for about $5,000 if you’re interested, but it won’t create more energy than the reaction requires. However, if the surrounding reactions were stopped, then just compressing the atoms together will not be enough to invoke the strong and weak nuclear forces, meaning that fusion won’t occur and you don’t have an engine. What you do have is a highly compressed material (probably deuterium), that’s now not being fused… and likely going to explode when you try to use it to move the ship if the compression coil isn’t capable of expanding rapidly to avoid it. “Nothing part” my ass, out of which I just pulled that explanation.

Then, once you have a problem, you run into the second really risky aspect of space travel we already discussed: The void wants to kill you. Nature abhors a vacuum, but a vacuum also abhors nature, and you’re nature. Any interaction with the outside of the ship is prone to killing humans. And, without oxygen scrubbers and the ability to produce clean water, the inside of the ship isn’t going to be any better. It’s fairly comparable to being on a regular seafaring ship: If there’s a hole in the bottom, and you can’t patch it, you die. If you’re stuck in the middle of the ocean with no propulsion, you’re either going to get found, or you die.  However, when you’re in space, there’s a lot more volume for people to search without them seeing you, so you’re even more likely to be screwed. Space is big, kids.

FireflyEp8SpaceIsBig.jpg

This also shows exactly how hard it is to keep Serenity flying. She was already beaten to hell when she started with Mal, and since then Kaylee’s used every jury-rig that she can thing of to keep the ship flying. At this point, she’s likely more string and duct tape than she is metal, which makes sense when you consider how expensive spaceship parts likely are, especially for a ship like the Serenity which isn’t even the most recent model of Firefly, and there were only 28,000 of them made. We don’t know anything about standardized parts in the future, but I’m wagering that there isn’t a huge amount of backwards-compatibility in the engines. The Allied Spacecraft company likely doesn’t have a huge amount of sympathy towards the poor space-pilot who can’t afford to replace their models and I’m sure Mal doesn’t have insurance. Mal may say the ship represents “freedom,” but oh how fleeting is freedom when you’re choking to death in it.

This episode is the highest-rated episode of Firefly on IMDB. It’s not my favorite, but it’s definitely a top-tier episode, and it’s easy to see why: It’s got a lot of great moments in the flashbacks, the episode really makes great use of the show’s space setting, the framing device of Mal painfully struggling through the ship is both wonderfully shot and extremely tense, a lot of solid dialogue that is too fast and clever to really have stand-out lines (this isn’t a bad thing), and it manages to flesh out essentially all of the characters in a short amount of time. Very impressive.

Score: 4.5 Fireflies (or 1 Spare Catalyzer)

FireflyEp8Scale

See you next Friday, Browncoats.

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

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