Well folks, here we are: the true end of the “Re-watch.” I’d like to take this moment to say I’ve enjoyed having you all along, and I hope you will join me when I talk about the further comics. (Also, here is a direct link back to the first half, if you missed it. )That being said, below is my continued three-time-frame analysis of the movie, and obviously, spoilers abound. And, um, sorry for the length of this thing. I had a lot to say.
River’s Revelation, Haven Again
Aboard the ship, they crew talks about what to do, and Jayne has to storm off before Zoe loses her cool and guts him. He then tries to kidnap River, but she beats the crap out of him again and then manages to show the crew what Miranda really is, a planet deep in the rim. Oddly, the histories have nothing to say about it, although what little people remember from over a decade ago indicates it was a failed colony due to a terraforming event. They think about going to Miranda, but decide against it as it is in the middle of Reaver territory. The crew makes their way back to Haven instead to think.
There, they find the place blown to bits and Book dying. Before he dies, Book again implores Mal to find something to believe in. The crew wonders why only one ship was sent and why they aren’t waiting for Serenity, and Zoe realizes that the Alliance did not know where they were going; they sent an attack to every place that has ever sheltered them. Alas, not a single one was spared.
As Mal is watching the security feeds from the various places, showing the ruin, the Operative takes all the feeds over and more or less tries to blame Mal for their deaths. He then reveals that he is trying to build a better world, and River and Mal’s deaths are inherently required for that. So is the Operative’s, but he seems to embrace this. Mal cuts the feed then marches out
On my first watch through (which again, was before I knew the series existed), these scenes were pretty routine. The crazy psychic has a vision that explains her neurosis then enough lucidity to convey this to the hero, and some old friend dies and galvanizes the anti-hero into becoming a hero. Altogether, the conveniently timed moments may have been a bit much. I mean, seriously, must every dying man with something crucial to say only live exactly long enough to say it? Yes, it is poetic, but still overdone. I am actually oddly reminded of Independence Day as a great counter-example, where the first lady has her moment with the president, then doesn’t actually die chronologically until a bit later. That, I think, was one of the most moving death scenes ever. Book’s, alas, was pretty stock.
Which is why when, after having seen the series and then having no clue why Book was even on Haven and not the ship, I was actually kind of upset over this death. As I mentioned in the first half, I understand thematically why Book had to be on Haven, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. And while his dying words were conveniently timed, they, along with his early speech to Mal, were quite a bit more impactful knowing more of Mal’s backstory and lost faith. But hey, this is a Whedon story, and he loves to kill beloved characters.
The River scenes didn’t read all that much differently post-series. I did enjoy the small callback to “Ariel” when Jayne lamented that there was no chance of a reward just before his fight with Mal and Zoe, but otherwise, there just wasn’t much here that relied on the series. And, honestly, that was good. It is a simple scene, but honestly, I think it did all it needed to do in re-conveying all of the information without making it seem too repetitive to fans of the series. And just to say it, post comic-book, the scene read the same to me, too.
Book’s death is different for me post-comic, though. Both in his assertion that Mal doesn’t think of him as part of the crew and Mal denying it to the fact that Book shot down the ship that killed him. After a fashion, I almost feel sorry for him. While I agree with Mal that self-defense is a fine reason to kill, Book was trying desperately to not be of that mindset and failed. In the end, it was not Mal’s direct influence that made Book fail at his religious conversion, but just old habits and conflicting ideals.
And yes, I have purposely been holding off on the Operative’s little speech. From the get-go, I have waffled on my feelings on this speech, and I can’t say the series or the comic ever changed the flip-flopping. Yes, I can understand the insanity-of-belief that makes a person think they can build something righteous and good by being evil, but on the same token, I am firmly of the belief that no sane person thinks they are evil. So here we get into a question of what exactly is the Operative and perhaps—if we take it as just about given on the most popular theory regarding Book’s past—what was Book?
Inara comments that the Operative is a man of belief, and that he is also very intelligent and methodical. To listen to him talk, he has really been slurping the Alliance Kool-Aid that is probably part of the “creation” of an Operative. On the same token, I just have to wonder how he thinks he can build a good world when it will be ruled by the people who are just as evil as he is (under the auspice that they order him to do evil things). I do not even pretend to think that he would believe that his “sin” stops on his hands; he seems too smart for that (and I think later in the movie proves it). So, in short, I guess he is insane, which makes the later Heel-Face-Turn a bit odd.
That then makes a person wonder about Book, again on the “if he was an Operative” line. It explains Books rabid devotion to belief, but you have to wonder, was Book as fanatical as the Operative, perhaps even constantly going on about making better worlds? It would have been nice for there to have been some line dropped from him about how you can’t make a world better or something. Or, who knows, maybe I’m barking up a red herring. Guess we’ll find out when the comic comes out (I hope.)
Mal starts a war. To Miranda!
Mal storms out of the ship and starts barking orders that confuse and disgust his crew. String up the bodies across the ship, damage the engine to look like it is out of control, mount a gun, and find red paint. They are going into Reaver territory, to Miranda. Zoe gets extremely cross at the idea, and Mal draws his gun and shuts them up, saying that the Alliance has left them no choice, and anyone who doesn’t want to help can stay, but further arguing will get anyone shot. He then guns down the still-living Alliance pilot in cold blood and storms back into the ship.
So it is that Serenity, now dressed up like a Reaver ship, starts towards Miranda. Around the planet is a massive Reaver fleet that looks more like a ship graveyard and apparently emits a radio chatter that sounds like tortured, screaming people. The ship manages to sneak through with the ruse intact and make for a beautiful blue planet. Back on the Operative’s flagship, he hunkers over his command station with a nervous lackey standing behind him.
OPERATIVE: Define “disappeared.”
On Miranda, the crew is surprised to find the planet in pristine condition. They head for a weak beacon, the only source of power they can find on the planet (ignoring later lights that pop on), and the crew is again surprised that the planet is not only stable, but dotted with large, advanced-looking cities that are empty. They head for the beacon.
On the way, they start to find corpses that show no signs of why they died. By happenstance, they find a sealed office building that still has very well-preserved corpses. Simon looks the bodies over through the windows and realizes that no one died of anything particular. It was as if they all just laid down and never got back up. During all of this, River is twitching, and then she freaks out about how the entire planet is like this and that she can feel them all. She begs them to get up and then asks for God to make her into stone.
Mal’s transformation into War-Mal was actually pretty poignant to me, and it has only gotten more so the more Firefly I have taken in. And I think it isn’t because Mal became some sort of badass that snapped out of his mopey post-war melancholy. I think it is because he is hurt and angry and doesn’t know exactly what he is doing, but has been strengthened enough to just keep going. Which, with what we know of the Battle of Serenity Valley, it makes sense. I support my reading of Mal with a scene I didn’t put in the above recap, just before they pass through the Reaver fleet, and Mal walks off alone and into Inara’s old shuttle, where he, well, not cries, but has a moment of doubt and sorrow where you can tell he wants to. Also, he snaps at Inara after the Jayne-Zoe stand-off that he is a ship without a rudder, and maybe not the best leader, but the only leader they have. At least he knows he’s up that one creek without a paddle.
The world of Miranda is freaky. I mean like, you could make an entire psychological thriller movie on this world. I recall reading somewhere that Whedon said Miranda was supposed to be around the end of season three, so I have to wonder what kind of mind-tripping episodes would have entailed them getting to and exploring the planet. This, my friends, is the kind of stuff nightmares are made of. You can keep your gore and “pop-out-of-nowhere” horror, the eerie suspense thing is all I need.
That being said, there is one thing I wonder over on Miranda post-series. Why are the dead talking to a mind-reader? Yes, I know that Whedon never hammered out how River’s telepathic powers worked, per se, but I always had the read that she was just normally telepathic, a more or less sci-fi thing. Yet, this and the episode “Bushwhacked” have her reacting to the dead. Perhaps that is just part of Whedon’s world, but it also makes me wonder what River’s reaction to the “dead” man in “The Message” was getting at.
A Secret Revealed, A New Heading
The crew makes its way to a beat up ship that is crashed right into a wall. Inside, we see it is a research and rescue vessel. River walks up to and activates a holographic recorder, where they see a female doctor giving a tearful report about what happened on Miranda. Apparently, the Alliance had used Miranda as a grand experiment of an airborne drug called the Pax (peace in Latin). It was supposed to mellow people out, and boy did it ever. They became so mellow that they just laid down and died. But, a small percent had an adverse reaction and became massively aggressive. They became the Reavers. She tries to absolve herself, but before she can, and before she can even kill herself, the Reavers break into her recording studio and knock her off camera. We can still hear her screams until Wash turns off the recording. River vomits, and Simon kneels next to her.
RIVER: I’m alright. (pause) I’m alright.
The crew, highly disturbed, makes its way back to the ship. There, Mal talks to the crew in the galley. Mal reveals that he intends to make the record public, to let the ‘verse know what the Parliament did on Miranda.
MAL: 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.
They decide that they need to go to Mr. Universe, as he’d be able to force it onto every screen for thirty worlds. The crew voices some worries: the Reavers, the aAliance, the fact that the Alliance probably knows about Mr. Universe and will see it coming. Mal, though, has an idea.
They send a wave to Mr. Universe, who quickly agrees to do what they want. As they sign off, it is shown that several Alliance troops and the Operative are standing over Mr. Universe. Mr. Universe turns to the Operative and asks for his thirty coin, but is instead run through by the Operative’s sword. The Operative then orders the equipment to be destroyed.
Well, on my first viewing, the revelation of the Reavers was both expected and not. On the level of “of course the evil
empire Alliance made them” was kind of being blatantly telegraphed. On the other hand, the way they were made was interesting. Usually the trope takes more of a “super-weapon gone wrong” not a “we tried to make them peaceful, oops.” On one hand, you can almost pity the Alliance scientists. The Pax is a similar problem with the concept of genetic engineering. Sure, the technology sounds awesome (and for the record I am pro-genetic engineering), but what happens when you deal with something you don’t fully understand? I have to wonder what kind of lab tests the Pax had. With the Reaver-option being a tenth of a percent, I can see them not having seen it until they had several thousand (million?) in the test pool. But really, would the Pax, if it worked right, be so bad? To give an example of it supposedly working right, see Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and the “chora trees” which successfully mellowed people out and ended war.
Anyway, post-series, the Alliance having made the Reavers just makes all the more sense, and that it was done with the Pax just fits too well. After all, they are out to “enlighten” the worlds. (Oddly reminds me of the Fire Nation in Avatar: The Last Airbender.) But it still brings up a sticky question that Serenity ignores. Why is a desire for peace bad? Are we not fighting two wars, more or less, to try and enforce peace? Did we not occupy Japan for sixty years to force a chill-pill down their throats? I hate to say it, but there is something to be said for “forcing peace,” as much as it seems contradictory. Heck, even John Locke (the philosopher, not the bald dude) said that society will only behave when some behemoth military force that cannot be overcomed forces it. (i.e., our governments).
With the comic, I have but to ask a single question: Where the heck are the Reavers!? Whedon did so much in the comic, and they couldn’t even mention the Reavers in passing? Seriously? I mean, it isn’t like the durn comic was meant to be intelligible to anyone except existent browncoats, so it isn’t like he’d have to exposit what a Reaver was. Ugh.
On River’s above quoted line, DO NOT LIKE! I am friends with my psychologists, and even have two in the family. Having a repressed memory (implanted or otherwise) suddenly brought to the surface doesn’t result in a quick vomit and then an enlightenment of “being fine.” Yes, when River is being assaulted by the “Reaver brains” in the bottleneck fight, she freaks out, but I think that was just her psychic powers being overwhelmed with the carnal hate of the Reavers, not her being “crazy.” So, in short, the movie is implying that River’s crazy is completely cured when she sees the holo-tape. WTF? Pre- and post-series, this irritates me. Again, poetic, but it breaks my suspension of disbelief. A little less “black-and-white/I’m broken-I’m fixed” would have been nice. I can understand that a two hour movie just doesn’t have time for all of that, but they could still at least not make it just a crazy swing.
A space battle, a leaf on the wind, and the final showdown
Back above Miranda, Serenity slowly makes its way back through the Reaver fleet, although with a hair more attention pointed at them. Just before they get through clean, Mal blows one of the smaller ships up with the cannon, causing the entire fleet to turn and chase.
Above Mr. Universe’s world, the Operative and his fleet wait. Serenity comes through, and the Operative waits a moment to jibe how Mal isn’t even bothering the change course in the face of the Alliance fleet. Just then, an officer tells him they have new readings, and the Reaver fleet appears behind Serenity. A rather large, bright space-battle ensues, and the Operative’s ship is destroyed, but not before he manages to escape to the surface in a life-pod. Wash manages to land the nearly destroyed Serenity at Mr. Universe’s compound, despite the Reaver ship chasing them.
WASH: I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar.
He then is quickly and brutally killed by a projectile that smashes into the cockpit. The crew flees, and everyone sets up to make a last stand at a bottleneck while Mal goes on to get the recording transmitted. Mal sees the destroyed equipment and dead Mr. Universe and receives a message from the Robo-bride about a second setup ready to go at the press of a button. Mal leaves, and the Operative comes through shortly after and stumbles across the message, too.
In the chokepoint, the crew talks in the moments before the Reavers bust through, and Simon professes his love for Kaylee, which gets a funny reaction from her and inspires her to a “Aw hell with this, I’m living!” The Reavers soon break through, and while the crew makes a valiant stand, they can’t hold them off. Zoe is gashed badly in the back, Kaylee gets some sort of needle-things in her neck. They retreat beyond the blast doors, but the rig-up job fails to close them completely, and Simon gets shot. River then tells Simon it is her turn to take care of him, jumps through the blast doors, beats some Reaver butt, throws the med-pack back through, then closes the doors from the outside. The last the crew sees of her, she is being dragged into the middle of the room by Reavers.
Down by the generator, Mal finds the equipment, but the Operative is there, too. Mal says he is going to reveal the secret because the people need to know, and that he is willing to die for his belief of that. They have an epic fight, which ends with Mal hurt but on top, and the Operative immobilized and forced to watch as Mal starts the recording playing.
Back at the chokepoint, River recovers and completely hands it to the Reavers in one of the most graceful burly-brawls I have ever seen. The blast doors open and the crew is shocked to see River standing. A wall then explodes and Alliance troops storm in. The Operative calls them off, though.
OPERATIVE: Stand down. It’s finished. We’re finished.
Some time later, the crew holds a funeral service for the dead, and then they start to put Serenity back together, although Simon and Kaylee seem to often get distracted in the engine room (that supposedly took 29 takes!). Just as they are about ready to leave, the Operative comes and talks to Mal. He says that the Parliament may or may not come after him again, but that his report says the damage is done and there is no longer a need. However, they should know by now that the Operative is no longer their man. They part ways, and Mal sets up to start flying the ship, although he notices River is over in the co-pilot seat. As they take off in the rain, Mal tells her the most important rule of flying.
MAL: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse, but when you take a boat in the air that you don’t love she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down, tells you she’s hurting before she keels, makes her a home.
RIVER: Storm’s getting worse.
MAL: We’ll pass through it soon enough.
And thus ends the movie. Well, okay, a part of the ship flies off and Mal asks “What was that?” But yeah. I’ll admit I’m still a little confused over Mal’s last speech. Yes, I get it and agree with it. I have heard many-a-sailor say similar. But, um, how does that thematically fit in? All three me’s are wondering. It was still sweet though.
So, yeah, most of this is fight. It was a clever fight, followed by a hopeless fight, followed by two bad-ass fights. But still, fights, and I can’t say I have much to say beyond “nice choreography.”
The Operative’s change of heart somehow doesn’t seem all that genuine to me. He is a monster by his own admission. The Parliament made and uses him. I don’t see why the creation of the Reavers would have really been all that traumatic to him. If he is as rock-solid a believer as he seems, he should have taken that as part and parcel. Parliament is flawed: it is human. Part of making “a better world. All of them, better worlds,” is occasionally making a bad world as you figure out what works and what doesn’t. Not that I’m defending Parliament, but all I’m asking for is some internally consistent zealotry.
By the way, what is it with TV-to-movie space-operas that have to feature the ship being torn to shreds? There isn’t a (good) Star Trek movie that doesn’t do it, and here we see it too with the near destruction of Serenity and subsequent death of Wash. Although they really did subvert the emotional impact of the ship’s kabloomy with them getting it all repaired in the end.
And to my before and after point of view: Wash’s death. When I hadn’t seen the series, I was like “huh, bummer.” In fact, it meant so little to me that I forgot it happened. Which means it was a surprise to me when I watched the movie again after the series. And I love how it was just so sudden. Mr. Universe and Book both got dying words. But Wash? Gone, just like that. I’m not usually one to enjoy that kind of “gore,” mainly as a “meaningless death” is one of my lifelong fears, but for Wash here, it did everything it was supposed to do. Also, I guess it wasn’t all that meaningless, in the end. He got them to the ground safe and in the end helped to undermine the Alliance and save his friends.
As to the rest of my movie feelings, about the only other thing I have to say is (again): Reavers. As I mentioned early in the re-watch, I found the Reavers interesting and was very disappointed that they didn’t at least have more passing reference in the series. I am not asking that every episode have Reavers, or even Reaver references, but at least an occasional comment about Reaver territory would have been nice. It seems that the Reavers were supposed to be important, vis-à-vis Whedon saying this would have been the end of season three, so why did they more or less completely disappear from the verse after “Bushwhacked”? Just a minor gripe, I guess, but still it bugs me.
Of course, that is the post-series feeling. When I first watched this, Reavers worked just fine. They were terrifying and fit in with the rest of the “Alliance” imagery we were given. Although I did wonder how this savage human-turned-animal managed to limp around in the clunker spaceships they had and why they hadn’t actually gone about killing themselves.
And, as a post-script, I do need to retract my comment about the “shrunken verse.” In a deleted scene I just remembered to re-watch, Inara is talking to another Companion, and it is made very clear that she is on a fringe world where Companions aren’t all that respected. In other deleted scenes, I am fairly glad the “extended Operative parting” was left out. Mal’s “what a whiner” was kind of off-putting to it all and would have tipped the dramatic moment a bit too quickly and deeply into comedy.
And that’s a wrap. Take five. Thank you all for reading, and I hope any of you who found Tor.com due to this re-watch stick around and check out some of the other totally awesome content we have here. As I said last post, I will be covering the other comics once they get to me, but I can’t guarantee that will be by next Tuesday. Also, I have found out that Browncoats: Redemption, a fan-made film set three months after Serenity is due to premier at Dragon*Con, so I’ll let ya’ll know how that is. Thank you all again, and remember to aim to misbehave.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and lives in constant fear and hope that River Tam will show up and beat the snot out of him. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short fiction at http://RichardFife.com.