Tue
Jul 6 2010 4:01pm

Firefly Re-watch: Series in Reflection

So I went back and read all my comments, and aside from realizing I need to proofread better and probably go back and fix some formatting issues, I am at a bit of a loss of where to start. I definitely look at Firefly differently now that I’ve critically watched it, and I have plenty to say, but I have a feeling I will be very, very stream-of-conscious in doing so. So, just to be administratively sound, here is the archive, and I will be whole-hog spoiling on the series and not shying from spoilers on the movie and possibly the first comic book, Serenity: Those Left Behind.

Shipboard Romance

Firefly was majorly about relationships in stress. Yeah, yeah, duh, but just looking over the fourteen episodes, my count has six of them dealing heavily with the Mal/Inara thing, five dealing with Simon/Kaylee, four that examine Zoe and Wash, and three that look at the platonic sibling love of Simon and River. Yes, there is overlap. All told, two did not have super-highlights of relationships, “Serenity” and “Bushwhacked.” Note I say super-highlights. The drama was still in there, but I don’t think a relationship was a plot point, per se. Also, of interest, those are both Reaver episodes.

First, I was surprised to find that I had initially spoken in praise of Mal and Inara’s awkward relationship issues. “Heart of Gold” is where that really soured for me and I will likely watch the movie this time through with a much more unforgiving eye when it comes to those two. I think I am going to continue to not be so harsh on the earlier stuff regarding them, but the breakdown Inara has with the sudden “must run” reaction is still what keyed me to re-examine my initial praise. And I am sure I will still get one comment of “I don’t know why you don’t like them,” or “You aren’t being fair to her, she has a complex past,” but eh bien. This is my third time explaining it, so I’ll lay off.

Anyway, sticking to relationships, my favorite for drama is really Simon and Kaylee, and not just for the obvious reason of me being a Kaylee fanboy. Again, I see where the comments are going about how it wouldn’t work or the such, but at least they have communication, albeit in jittery spurts. And the second big Simon-Kaylee episode, Jaynestown, had their “us” conversation. So, as a narrative arc goes, I was much happier with that. Granted, neither could have rabbited if they wanted to, what with Simon being a fugitive hiding on the ship and Kaylee being the engineer. I have to wonder what Inara would have done if she hadn’t been able to just say “I’m leaving.”

I’ll touch briefly on Simon-River. Yes, it isn’t a romantic relationship, despite the deleted scene of River asking Book to marry her and Simon (from “Our Mrs. Reynolds”). Also, I hate to say it, while it is heartwarming, it is kind of just a vignette. There isn’t really any growth between them, although Simon does have to face a little growth in himself at the end of the series as he realized that he does have regrets. But, yeah, typical loving sibling relationship. I would have really been interested to see where it would have gone post “Objects in Space,” what with Simon’s first feelings of open regret and all, but alas.

Then there is my favorite, strictly as a relationship: Zoe and Wash. They are opposites that have attracted, but the actors and the scripts do well to make it believable. Extra kudos that it is interracial and yet it is never even brought up as a “wait, what?” The only time there was even a question was when Tracey asked in “Heart of Gold,” and he was more shocked that Zoe would marry, period. And again, it just seems so natural from the characters. I’ll be honest, if I had just read the relationship on paper, having to put in mannerisms and the like from my own head, I would probably have not enjoyed it as much. More on that in a bit.

But, enough on the actors. On the relationship itself, it is a gorram good look at married life. Not just married life under stress and on a spaceship, but in general. Zoe and Wash communicate and fight, even to the point of making some painful verbal missteps, but they get through. You get the impression, if not the explicit sight, that things don’t always completely smooth over. Heck, the “baby-making” conversation from “Heart of Gold” was an old one, from the sound of it. But they know you have to work on a relationship, put in to get out, and that is what makes it my favorite overall.

Character Growth

Of course, not everyone has love aboard the dinghy. Book is celibate and Jayne is a manwhore any chance he can get (although he never kisses them on the lips). Not to mention River is a little broken to be trying to get it on with anyone. But there’s more than one way to skin a Whedon, and general character growth, especially through plain-ol’ interaction, is a trademark of Joss.

And what do we have? Well, early in the series I was bored with Jayne and complained that Zoe was a tacked on yes-woman without a personality. I lauded Mal as broody and complex, Simon as having obviously hidden strength, and Kaylee as being the always happy Earth Mother.

The series ends, and I love Jayne for the sheer complexity of his character and realize he isn’t just a dumb, gun-toting hick, but actually a fairly well-thought out person who is just living the hedonist’s dream. Zoe has a personality that broadens the whole show, both in her active role in her relationship with Wash, and in her growing role as more of a lesser-equal to Mal instead of his toadie. Simon proved his hidden strength, although he also revealed his weaknesses in his bumbling courtship of Kaylee and “near miraculous ability to alienate people.” And River, who started off as more of a set-piece than a character, at least had “War Stories” and “Objects in Space” to show us a mentally violated person who is dealing with it as best she can.

Of course, not everyone gets to develop when the show is cut short. Wash had some growth in terms of Zoe, and he shined well in his episode, “War Stories,” but overall he was who he was, and he even jumped the shark a bit in “The Message” with his stress-reaction change, although I forgive the actor for that. Inara and Book had hints to hidden pasts and some inner conflict, but none of it was ever really resolved, and Kaylee was actually just Kaylee the whole durn time. The only change to her, I think, was when she got to know abject fear in her treatment of the “River has a gun” scenario. I loved the little detail in “Objects in Space” where she is backing away with a “Please, I don’t want to be shot again” look directed at River.

But, the saddest lack of growth, I think, is Mal. The man was the rock on which the ship was built, and as such it is understandable that he wouldn’t exactly grow in any quick order. But still, I don’t think I ever got a good baseline for him to begin with. As I noted, Mal in “Serenity” is much darker and grittier than the Mal we see later, and his random waffles of “I’m being nice and sensitive to Simon” to “I’m going to scare the living snot out of this boy” are a little off-putting. In casual watching they worked, but alas, not so much in critical.

Yes, I still like him, but I have a feeling I’m supposed to. Mal is an everyman in a very unusual way. He isn’t a complete blank slate, but I think he is made for everyone from the mid-aughts to relate to. He’s been through some crap, survived it but didn’t exactly win, and now he is just trying to get by. He has a sense of humor, but it comes and goes, and he has at least one strong ideal that he sticks to, in this case, loyalty. He’s not a thief, even though he is, and he only kills when he has to, even though he will shoot quick when that time comes and not lose any sleep over it. He is a walking dichotomy, and to the introspective, he is us. We are all split down the middle in odd ways that confuse us, and Mal appeals to that. I think we all also wish, Gary-Stu style, that we could walk the line as finely as Mal and with as few apparent worries about it. Thoughts?

Oh, The Witty Banter

I’ll be honest, the number one thing that carries Firefly through is the witty banter. Spaceships and horses and all that are nice and good, but this could have easily been a SyFy special without the writing and acting. Heck, the world isn’t all that sound (although I think I know where the Asians went, and it wasn’t Avatar: The Last Airbender), and the science is iffy at best. But we forgive all these things because the show was just fun to watch for the characters, kind of like Lost.

Although, now that I’ve read a comic book, I can also see where it very nearly didn’t work. See, Firefly works because the actors have the chemistry to bring it alive. Any change at all, like if the original Inara, Rebecca Gayheart, had been kept, I think it would have fallen flat. Not that Rebecca isn’t a classy looking gal, but there is something about just the way Morena Baccarin looks that carries the way she acts and talks. The same is true for everyone. Go read some of the scripts that are online, and try to not put Nathan Fillion’s or Ron Glass’ voice to the words. Make up new voices, think of new ways to say it. It isn’t easy, but honestly, the lines are kind of hokey and trite, if not contrived.

Yes, I know, of course they are contrived, it is scripted dialogue, but it was given a life in the actors that is nigh on impossible to recreate, which makes me appreciate a groan I heard once from an editor when someone described their writing as Firefly-like. Not that the witty crew can’t be pulled off, and not that Firefly’s wasn’t, but I think it was a special mix that was beyond the writing that did it. Aspiring authors be advised.

Oh Yeah, The ‘Verse

So, I already mentioned it, but I’ll say it again, the world was a bit ho-hum. Fortunately, it didn’t matter for the TV series. I was able to just keep suspending disbelief, at least for the run that we got, and enjoy each episode by itself or in story-telling arc as they came. I do give big kudos, though, to what they managed with CGI for 2002. From the constant shots of Serenity to the quicker shots of Persephone and Ariel, what they did might not have been movie-quality, but it was amazing. Heck, many of the detail shots of Serenity in space still hold up today, in my opinion.

And, I mentioned I think I know where “all the Asians” went. I’m not telling. Or to be exact, I’m not telling now because it isn’t in the DVDs. But there is some explanation (ret-conned or not, I’m unsure) in the back of the graphic novel, where the “world notes” Joss wrote for the film crew of Serenity are published for our general consumption. So I’ll get to those when I get to them.

We’re still flying. It isn’t much, but it’s enough.

Which, as it happens, will be next week. I’ll spend three weeks on the first comic, Serenity: Those Left Behind, doing a “volume” per week. They will be smaller posts, true, but honestly I’ve been pouring a lot of time into these, and a smaller break will be nice before the movie proper. After the movie the week after (which I think will just be a single post), I’ll start the other comics. Exact order, alas, is still up in the air, but probably the other Serenity comics first in pub order, then the recently released Wash comic. So see ya’ll next week.

And, for old time’s sake:

Factoids:
Originally Aired:  December 9, 2003
Orginal Position: After the series, before the movie
Richard’s Favorite (unaired) Line:

MAL (From “Our Mrs. Reynolds” deleted scene): More than seventy Earths spinning about the galaxy, and the meek have inherited not a one.

Fun Goofs: Above pictured: as a prank, in “Out of Gas,” Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion wore porn-staches for the first take. Alan Tudyk, whose idea the porn-stach was, had no clue until he saw them.


Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, and about as far from an everyman as one could possibly get, but only because he is self-ascribed as “made of awesome.” You can find more of his rambling and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com.

3 comments
NurseExec
1. NurseExec
I've so enjoyed these posts. Just sayin'. Looking forward to your review of Serenity: Those Left Behind.
Rachel Hyland
2. RachelHyland
While I utterly agree that the Jossian wit is what makes this show endlessly rewatchable (what would any Whedon show be without it, if it comes to that? Dollhouse would barely have made it out of pilot-planning stage), I wonder if maybe you're under-estimating the 'Verse?

The Mandarin/Cantonese hybrid that peppers the dialogue makes for more than a little humor and allows the writers to get away with all kinds of censor-dodging (just as Spike's Britishisms like "wanker" somehow made it through network approval), while also giving a feeling of future-y breadth and depth to proceedings. In just a few moments of speech we're thrust into a new reality, and one that hadn't really been seen on TV before. For all the totalitarian regimes and post-Apocalytic visions of our space-going future we've been shown, the 'Verse is one of the few that has given us both the past and the future mingled so beautifully. I've said this before elsewhere, but I think it captures what I want to say:

If Star Trek was "Wagon Train to the stars" then Firefly was "Wagon Train to the stars on acid." Everything was kind of familiar, yet so vivid and unexpected and mind-bendingly awesome that it was hard to believe it was real.

I don't disagree about Mal (and I emphatically agree about Inara; no one could have played with such consummate grace as Morena Baccarin), but I do have to take exception to your characterization of Wash. I think perhaps he didn't grow too much because he didn't need to. He knows himself, as no one else on that ship does; knows he's jealous of Mal and Zoe's relationship, but married her regardless, because he'd rather be with her and fret about it than not be with her at all. He's among the most romantic, the most sensitive, and the most wryly self-aware of all Whedon's characters... which is why no one should have been surprised at the way Joss ill-used him so dreadfully in the end. It's what he does to those we love the most.

Anyway, I'd like to say how much I have enjoyed your posts, and look forward to seeing what you make of the graphic novels, and thence Serenity! Speaking of Wash's ill-use...
Karen Lofstrom
3. DPZora
You can't imagine the characters without the actors because that's the way Whedon works: he puts an actor in a role, sees how that works in the context of the show, and then starts writing the role to bring out that particular actor.

The first few episodes of his series are always odd, when re-watched, because he hasn't put the actor and the role together yet. Frex, Book, in the pilot episode, is a naif who is shocked by prostitutes. He evolves into a tough man of mystery who knows his way around the world. Jane is a caricature of a tough guy at first, but reveals unexpected sentiment later.

I'm rewatching the first season of Buffy and seeing the same thing: characters sketched in, sketches later revised.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment