Firefly Rewatch

Firefly Re-watch: Serenity, the first half

And here we are. It feels almost sad, getting to the last of the Firefly Re-watch. Yeah, I’ll still have some comics to talk about after this (in a bit, they are in the mail), but I’m going to format those a bit differently than I did with Those Left Behind, if for no other reason than to save the taxonomy of “re-watch.” I am breaking this up into two parts, though, splitting right about halfway through the movie. Even more, this is going to be a little different, so hang on as I stream-of-consciousness this baby!

Prologue

Right, so, the movie starts by opening before the series ever did, with a history lesson about Earth-that-was in a crazy school setting. River questions her teacher, only to be stabbed in the forehead. Of course, she is really strapped to a chair, being tested on and observed while she sleeps and a nervous doctor exposits about her to some military review dude. Not just any review dude, though. It’s Simon! Simon executes a daring rescue, and they escape just before the shaft they are in fills with lasers.

The scene freezes, and an ominous yet soft spoken and polite man walks through the hologram projection. The same scientist that was talking to Simon walks in, demanding to know who this ominous man is. The man accesses a computer that pulls up his file, which has no name or rank, but simply identifies him as an Operative of the Parliament. The doctor is suddenly much more cordial, tries to cover his bum about what happened, but ends up dead on the Operative’s sword. The Operative then has a lower ranking doctor pull the files on River and her behavior conditioning.

My Thoughts

Ok, I have three sets of thoughts on this: when I first saw the movie, when I saw it after having seen the series, and now, seeing it after reading Those Left Behind.

First time I saw this, seeing it only as a stand alone movie with no clue what Firefly was, I was pretty impressed with the scene. Of course, I was confused a bit chronologically. See, the way this is shot, it makes it seem like the Operative is viewing the security logs a few days at most after the break-out. Later in the movie, Mal states that River and Simon have been on his ship for eight months, making me wonder what a horrible tracker the Operative really was and leaving what I thought was a glaring plot hole. All in all, though, I did enjoy it, as it set up tension and a main villain at the onset, which are two things I think the opening of any story really should do.

So, some years after I had seen it, I find out about the show, watch it, then watch the movie again. Wow, was my impression a bit different. I wondered at Simon’s seeming idiocy during the series when he clearly states that she is a psychic as he is breaking her out, in addition to knowing that she has combat aptitude. The Operative really confused me as I had no clue where the Blue-Hands went (even though I think they are briefly sorta cameo’d in the breakout as security, although they didn’t have blue hands). I also was still chronologically confused, as I still had the impression the Operative was a few days after the breakout.

And now, it all makes sense. Blue-hands were burned out, this is happening a few days after Those Left Behind, and thus probably concurrently with the next scene. I also am a little more forgiving of Simon’s badassery after having looked through the series with a more critical eye. I think he could have pulled that off, especially with the Operative’s lovely quote.

OPERATIVE: Madness? Have you looked at this scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It’s love, in point of fact. Something a good deal more dangerous.

That’s almost as good as a certain other madness quote. Also, from the discussion in the Re-watch, I am a little more forgiving of Simon’s “ignorance” in the series. He is like a few friends of mine. No matter how much said friends need your help, they still only tell you the bare minimum—unless they really trust you—because they really just play it close to their chest. Simon, already a stellar example of someone who can make some poor decisions, makes the call to hide her psychic powers and possible war training.

Oh, and just as a bit of a goof, I was reading in IMDB about how this is supposed to take place 6 months after “Objects in Space.” Yet “Our Mrs. Reynolds” happens about 6 months before “Trash” by Mal’s quote in “Trash.” So that requires at least a year of time that Simon and Mal have been together, so the 8 month thing later is screwed up. Oh well, I’ll just squint and nod.

The Heist, River goes Crazy (twice), and a Character out of the Blue

Aboard the Serenity, we get a quintessential feel for everyone. Mal is the captain, watching and barking orders, Wash is the deadpan snarker under stress, Jayne likes guns, Zoe is a voice of reason and married to Wash, Kaylee is the mechanic, Simon is protective of River, and River is a little loose in the noggin’. The crew is going to knock over a payroll for a local security force, and River has to come along so she can sniff out trouble with her brain-juju before it happens. Mal makes it clear that Simon is an unwelcome presence on the ship and there because he has a useful talent (but is not one of the crew), and that he had better not back-talk Mal.

On the planet, the heist goes pretty smoothly. Mal finds the vault, and River tips Zoe off on a would-be hero, full with a good quote.

Zoe: Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later.

Then, as Mal is taking care of the vault, River goes crazy and feels Reavers approaching, who quickly set about to raiding the town. Mal orders the townfolk in the tavern into the vault and then he and the crew make off on the mule. Alas, the would-be hero tries to tag along, and Mal kicks him off to be caught by Reavers. Mal at least has the grace to put the man out of his misery. A wonderful hovercraft chase then ensues, where Wash and Zoe do some crazy piloting/driving and “barn swallow” the mule mid-flight, with a bit of the Reaver ship too.

Simon goes berserk at how much danger River was put in and punches Mal, then announces he is getting off at the next stop. Mal, who is rather upset for obvious reasons, says fine and they part ways. In the midst of this, a Reaver pops out of the wreckage and gets riddled with bullet holes. Jayne then gives some exposition on what Reavers are, and there is mention of Book and Inara.

They get to Beaumonde, where Kaylee is rather choked up as she gives Simon advice on finding a new ship to move around on, and then gets rather upset at Mal in the Maidenhead, a weapons-free bar where Mal is dropping off his employers’ cut of the job. The employers, Fanty and Mingo, make some snide comments and accuse Mal of being unreliable and demand more for their cut. Before it can get too far, River walks in and sees a crazy commercial that triggers her to say “Miranda” and turns her into a killing machine that takes down pretty much the entire bar single-handedly, which includes beating the snot out of Jayne. Mal and her draw guns on each other just as Simon rushes in and screams out a “safeword” that makes River pass out. Mal then spirits her away.

The Operative, being sneaky like he is, watches the whole thing on the security feed. He then identifies Mal and goes to whatever planet Inara is living on now and wordlessly meets her.

Back on Serenity, River is locked in a pantry and the crew grill Simon about what happened. He admits to what he has known but held back, and then Jayne wonders why they are even back on board and calls Mal out on it. Before Mal can respond, Simon shifts topics to ask to see her. Wash then suggests they talk to “Mr. Universe.” In the cupboard, River rambles in her usual way that seems to say one thing but means another (mainly her being dangerous, but she means to the Alliance, not the crew). On the bridge, Mr. Universe reveals that River said “Miranda” to the crew, in addition to saying someone else has seen the feed and that there was some heavy military stuff encoded in the video that triggered River. Mal decides they need to go lay low, so they head to Haven, where Shepherd Book now lives.

Thoughts

Okay, same as last time. When I first watched all this, I was super confused. Book and Inara? Who was she? Who was he? What is all this implied emotional baggage that I’m not getting? River’s crazy beat-everyone-up was awesome (and is fodder for the best movie idea ever). Oddly enough, on the confusion stuff, this set of scenes also introduced a character that has only become more and more confusing to me: Mr. Universe. I get who and what he is, what his plot function is, but there is such an implication of “we know this guy” when really, no, we don’t. Not ever. And considering he and his planet become kind of plot critical, I just keep getting confused.

After I watched the series, I at least understood Inara, but Book confused the snot out of me still. Why did he leave? Was that really necessary? Well, in foresight, yes, but I’ll get there and to one of Whedon’s trademarks. There is also the confusion of Mal’s attitude towards Simon. Now, they were never close in the series, I know, but at the same time, Mal actually made it really clear that Simon and River were, for better or worse, part of the crew now, especially in “Safe.” Where did this who animosity and “us/them” thing come from?

It wasn’t even set up in the comic, where Simon and River play next to no part at all to the main action and have zilch interaction with Mal. At least the comic answered where Book went and gave us the solid “Inara has left” feeling, although that was easily extrapolated from the show. Regardless, I was not too happy with the clumsy way Book and Inara are introduced to the movie.

Whedon was obviously hoping to catch a lot of new audience with this, what with the Reaver exposition and such, but I almost think he would have been better off leaving out the complications of Book and Inara being off-ship yet still part of the crew’s complex past.

And, just a random thought: why the crazy sam-hell was River wandering alone into a seedy bar? I know Simon has a penchant for not being able to keep an eye on her, but he was pretty durn slow on catching up.

Moving on, I also noticed that this movie fell prey to “series-to-movie upgrades.” I don’t know if there is an actual trope for this, but it seems that with rare exception, when a series becomes a movie, all the technology becomes amazingly more detailed and advanced and the entire cast gets a wardrobe upgrade. Heck, it happens often between movies (The Star Trek: Next Generation movies, anyone?). I actually really love how Star Trek IIVI managed to keep a pretty steady look (and upgrades had in-show reasons, like a new ship). But I digress.

Serenity herself is upgraded in many ways, from the mule being a hovercraft now to the main cargo door doing this nifty slidy thing when it opens instead of just having standard hydraulics. Now, I understand they have 2 years of CGI industry advancement and a larger budget and all that, plus the original set was destroyed. And I can forgive the mule because, as Whedon says, if you are going to make a sci-fi movie, you need to have an awesome hovercraft chase. But the upgrades to the ship? Ugh. It kind of broke the spell for me as a returning watcher. Yes, make the graphics sharper and cleaner and stuff and give me awesome pans around the ship and all that. But changing the ship? Please, no.

And what was with everyone having odd strips of fabric, leather, or rubber on their costumes? (What was up with Wash’s harness thing? Really.) Mal has little horizontal strips on his shirt, Zoe’s leather vest is more streamlined, Simon is wearing a more Chinese-inspired shirt most of the time, etc. Heck, I think Kaylee is the only one who didn’t really get a wardrobe upgrade, but that’s because out of everyone else she wore the most diverse costumes on the show. But for everyone else, to steal a meme, I am disappoint. One thing I loved about Firefly was how the costumes weren’t “sci-fi.” There were small stylistic things here and there, but a button-down shirt was still a button-down shirt, and Hawaiian shirts still existed. Just a small rant, though.

Haven and a Trap

So the crew makes it to Haven, where we get a bit of a montage that they know the people there, not just Book, and that this is a place they can take their ease. Mal and Book have a conversation about what is going on, and Book tells Mal that he is dealing with an Operative now, which is unlike anything he has ever had to deal with before. His only advice, aside from that the Operative is never going to come straight at Mal, is for Mal to find faith, although not in God, just in something.

Back aboard the ship, Mal gets a wave from Inara, who awkwardly asks Mal to come and help them with an issue with the locals. The entire crew eavesdrops on the conversation, and when Mal comes up to the bridge, he declares that it is a trap and they are going to see Inara anyway. When Kaylee asks how he knows it is a trap, he calls them out on eavesdropping, but then asks them if they saw them fight. No? Then it must be a trap.

On Inara’s planet, Mal sneaks up to her wearing a voluminous robe and she gets ten sorts of mad at him for actually coming. He professes that he knew it was a trap and came to help her, but she insists he needs to leave anyway as “this man” is beyond Mal. The Operative then walks in, but he does not attack. Instead he tries to reason with Mal, calls Mal out on playing little games, threatens Mal and his ship (which Mal quickly disarms by being crafty), then beats the crap out of Mal after Mal unsuccessfully tries to pull a Han Solo vs Greedo. Inara ends up saving the day with a flash-bomb she set when the Operative walked in, and the two escape back to the ship. The ship then deploys several decoys and loses the Operative.

Thoughts

Oh, that’s Book! On my first watch, I kind of forgave Whedon for the more or less simple life Book is given in the narrative. He is a friend and a confidant, a person who lets brigands lay low when needed. The little “you need to tell me about your past sometime/no I don’t” thing was lost on me for it’s deeper purpose, but I got it. The Inara scene, of course, just kind of left me feeling like I was being forced to accept a relationship as deep, which I guess in some ways works because it was deep, I just didn’t know. But with all the other stuff that is kind of being thrown at us in media res style, it really comes off more forced. The same trick being used too many times, I guess. The fight in the Companion compound was pretty awesome, though.

Post series-watching, I was confused in different way. I still had no clue why Book was at Haven, and Inara’s little would-be request about locals giving a house of registered companions trouble seemed even too thin to use for a “yes this is a trap but I’m not really saying it.” Yes, Nandi and crew needed to ask for help, but they were honest-to-goodness whores and had no social standing. Even if it was a more “rim” world this training house is on, for Companions to need to call a random brigand for help? I doubt the Operative would have bought that, and it really makes the “Did we fight? No? Trap!” line cute but superfluous. Still, the fight scene rocked (and bulletproof body armor is even established from the “Serenity” pilot episode.)

Post comic, well, at least I know why Book left and is on Haven. I am glad that he still welcomes his old friends, though. I guess he still wants to be in contact with them to either continue to try and give himself some temptation (one of my theories on why he was on Serenity in the first place) or to continue to try and convert them (which I highly doubt, all things taken in). With the implication that Inara is on Sihnon from the comic, though, I am somewhat confused. I guess it just seems like the ‘verse got oddly small. Sihnon is a central planet and Mal makes a hub-bub about how long it takes to get there (and we know even some rim-travel takes weeks at a time.) Miranda is in Reaver territory, which is on the rim. Beaumonde might not be core, but it is decently put up, akin to Persephone, (heck, Badger even knows Fanty and Mingo), so yeah, a day or less travel here or there seems kind of, um, off? Granted, it keeps the action and tension from seeming too drag (same reason the first hour of Fellowship of the Ring happens in weeks instead of years.)

Intermission

I think that is long enough for now. Tune in next week for the second half, in which River Tam truly does beat everyone up!


Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and advocate of swords in space, because they are just too cool to ever be left behind. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short fiction at http://RichardFife.com.

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