Walking Through Calvary, St. Ignatius Style Part 5

Eighth Station: Jesus falls for the third time.

Once again, we see Jesus fall down. The first time was agony, the second time was just heartbreaking, and now, it just seems hopeless. As we come towards the end of Lent, I feel like it all hits us at some point that the forty days of fasting, prayer, and abstinence are almost over. For me, that feeling finally sunk in on Palm Sunday.

What has Lent been to you so far? Was it a struggle? Was it a learning experience? A bit of both? Or something in between?

This particular reminds me that we will always need God with us through the good times and the bad times. No matter how many times we fall, God will always be there to help us get back up.

Ninth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments.

Society’s double standards never cease to fascinate me. Female celebrities willingly pose in stripperific outfits for music videos and glamorous magazine photoshoots, but it’s a big scandal when nude pictures of them are leaked to the public. While I agree that Renaissance naked statues are wonderful pieces of art, there’s a very fine line between the beauty of the human body and humiliating or perverting it.

So when Jesus is stripped of his garments, it’s pretty much easy to say that displaying his tortured body for all the public to see is an act of humiliation. It also reminds us of the old saying “You can’t take it with you.” I often wonder if Jesus was completely naked or if he at least had a loin cloth to cover himself.

It really ticked me when I saw this video of a preacher claiming that Jesus wore “designer clothing.” I read somewhere that the garment Jesus wore was a long tunic made by his mother. Which meant that he probably wore that same garment throughout most of his adult life. So no, Mr. Preacher, Jesus did not wear designer clothing. He most likely wore that one tunic every day. That tunic that Mary made was probably the only thing that Jesus owned other than a pair of sandals. It really puts a damper to the whole prosperity Gospel mindset when you think about it.

Firefly Month: The Wisdom of Serenity, the Big Damn Movie

Ladies and gentlemen and Browncoats of all ages, we have come to the end of my Firefly Month. And the only way I can properly end this is with a recap and analysis of the Big Damn Movie Serenity.

I hadn’t seen this movie for a long time, so watching it again gave me thrills and chills. I think it’s a great way to bring newcomers into the fandom and it’s a sneak preview of what Joss had to give the world in Avengers. Keep in mind that the last time Joss made a movie, it was Alien Resurrection and before that, it was the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie starring Kristy Swanson. So to say that this movie is one of Joss’s best is saying a lot.

The prologue of the movie opens with a universe-establishing history lesson from Cam from Bones. Young River talks back to her teacher. Cut to River at the Alliance Lab, where she is in the middle of being lobotomized. The men at the Academy explain to Simon what they’re doing to River.  They intend on turning her into a living weapon. Simon activates a blast wave and the two of them escape the Academy.

It turns out to be a video seen by the bad guy of this movie, The Operative. He’s accessing the records and asks the Academy Doctor what his sin is, pointing out that it’s pride. The operative thinks that River picked up government secrets as she was experimented on. The Operative proceeds to kill everyone in the room in a disturbingly clean and precise manner and then asks about a way to get to River Tam’s triggers.

After the titles, we see Serenity preparing for a landing. Of course, the landing involves the usual atmospheric burning which included a hull scorching. This opening scene is majorly awesome. Former internet critic Welshy does a wonderful analysis of this opening shot in his Scene It video.

Mal plans to take River out on a job and Simon isn’t all too keen on it. This is a great intro for newcomers, but I’m very certain some of us are wondering where Book and Inara are. Mal, Zoe, Jayne, and River are planning a robbery of a security firm. River’s purpose in the robbery is to use her psychic powers to make sure the job goes smoothly.

Unfortunately, the job goes south when Reavers attack. River gets into a psychotic breakdown. The 4 head back to the ship as fast as possible. The Reavers are a LOT smarter and faster in this movie, making them all the more dangerous. They make it to the ship by the skin of their teeth, with only one Reaver on board. The Reaver gets dispatched of easily and Mal tells Wash to set a course for Beaumonde. Simon punches Mal in the face and tells Mal he wants off the ship.

Mal and Zoe have a conversation about why Mal chose to mercy kill a bystander instead of letting the guy onto their hovercraft. Mal has pretty much hardened. In the cargo hold, Kaylee says that the ship is falling apart in more ways than one. Not only does the ship need a repair, but Mal has seemingly drove away Inara like he’s pushing Simon and River out.

Once Serenity lands on Beaumonde, Kaylee gives Simon and River some tips before she and Mal go off to a bar/club called Maidenhead. Kaylee begs Mal to keep Simon and River on the ship, whining about how she hasn’t gotten laid in at least a year. She chastises Mal for letting Inara leave and walks out.

Mal meets up with Fanty and Mingo. River wanders into Maidenhead just as a commercial for fruity oaty bars plays. The commercial triggers her “living weapon” mode and she proceeds to she-fu everyone. Jayne tries to get her to calm down only for her to hit him below the belt and knock him out. Simon arrives and says a phrase in Mandarin that makes River fall asleep.The Operative watches from a distance.

Back on Serenity, Mal handcuffs River to the catwalk. He and Simon get into a fight again. Wash decides to ask Mr. Universe, a communications expert. They look over the footage and realize that the commercial had a subliminal message that activated her trigger. Simon takes care of River and she mentions Miranda. Simon thinks it might be a person or an alternate personality. River contemplates suicide, but Simon comforts her. We then cut to The Operative meeting with Inara, which can’t be any good.

Serenity lands in a moon called Haven, where Shepherd Book is waiting for them. Mal talks to Book about what to do with River. Book says that belief is going to help him get through this. Mal decides to walk out at the mention of faith, but Book points out that he wasn’t talking about God. Book, given his past with the Alliance, points out that whoever is after River is gonna strike from the shadows and won’t ask any questions.

Inara video calls Mal as the rest of the crew eavesdrops on them. She invites everyone to the Companion Training House where she’s staying and brings up the fact that she left some luggage on the ship. (Classic ex behavior.) When Mal enters the cockpit, Zoe deduces that it’s more than likely a trap and Mal agrees.

Mal arrives at the Training House and Inara chastises him for willingly going into the trap. The Operative comes in. He and Mal have a talk. Once The Operative mentions that he is unarmed, Mal shoots him. Of course, The Operative is wearing full body armor, which leads to him getting into a brawl with Mal and Inara. Just when The Operative thinks he has the upper hand, Inara points out that she wasn’t lighting incense. Cue a flash bomb that allows Mal and Inara to escape to the shuttle. Serenity sends out a handful of decoys and high tails it outta there.

On the ship, Inara points out that the reason that The Operative is dangerous is because he believes that killing River is the right thing to do and won’t stop until he finishes his mission. Jayne points out that Mal is being reckless, acting like he’s still in a war. Zoe orders Jayne to leave. Inara and Mal get into a fight of their own as the ship heads back to Haven. River has a dream of a distant planet and being attacked by Reavers.

In the kitchen, Jayne hears something from the other room. He gets his gun ready and looks for River. The rest of the crew hears a gunshot and find the kitchen locked. They search the ship for River, only for River to come out from the kitchen. She punches Simon in the throat and knocks Simon out. Mal finds River in the cockpit. She holds him at gunpoint. Mal asks River if she’s a person. She shows Mal what Miranda is: a planet.

Mal says that Miranda was an uninhabitable planet. But even though they’re close to Miranda, they would enter into Reaver territory if they were planning on landing on the planet. The ship lands on Haven to find the encampment burned by the Alliance. Mal finds a dying Shepherd Book. Book went down fighting to defend himself. Book says that he isn’t part of Mal’s crew but Mal says otherwise. Book begs Mal to believe in something, anything, and dies.

Zoe realizes that The Operative is probably tracking down everyone who’s ever worked with them. Mal is at the cockpit, looking at the footage of the people The Operative killed to get to them. Mal asks The Operative why he’s doing what he does. The Operative says that he believes in a world without sin. Then Mal gets a wonderful, awful idea.

Mal starts ordering his crew to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship. The crew starts to protest, but Mal stops the fight once and for all by saying that he wants to make his stand against the Alliance and he wants to go to Miranda. So Serenity dons her disguise. As the ship gets closer to Miranda, they hear distant screams of nearby ships, leaving The Operative in the dust.

Once the crew is on Miranda, they find that the planet was properly terraformed and well developed. Their search for a beacon signal leads them to a public area with corpses all around. River goes through another mental breakdown.

They make their way to a research and rescue building where the beacon signal was sent. River activates a recording of a researcher assessing the damages. The people of Miranda died because of a chemical called the Pax which was put into the atmosphere as a way to lessen aggression. Only problem is that the chemical worked too well, taking away everyone’s desires and drives until they let themselves die. However, a tenth of the population had the opposite reaction and turned into Reavers.

River throws up and realizes that she finally gained clarity. Mal makes it his mission to get that message out to the entire verse and aims to misbehave. They decide to reach out to Mr. Universe, who already has the Alliance in his house. The Operative tells his men to destroy everything.

An epic space fight ensues as Serenity makes its way out of Reaver territory. On the other side, The Operative waits with an entire Alliance army, ready to fire. Serenity comes in with a fleet of Reavers behind her, forcing the two armies to fight each other.

Wash maneuvers Serenity through the artillery fire and blasts in a seriously awesome scene. All the while, The Operative gets into an escape pod and heads for the planet. Serenity prepares for a very crashy landing but Wash is able to maneuver the ship and glide it into landing. The ship shakes, rattles, and falls apart inside, and comes to a stop at the hangar. But just before the audience gets a chance to breathe, Wash says “I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I-” and gets impaled in the chest by a Reaver ship, dying instantly. Zoe and Mal make a run for it and head inside with the rest of the crew to a bunker.

The crew creates a strategy. Zoe says they have to bottleneck the Reavers and prepares herself for battle. Mal asks Jayne for grenades as Reavers close in and sends a few out the door. Mal tells Zoe to hold the line as he makes his way into Mr. Universe’s room. He walks in to find the whole place wrecked up. However, the robot tells Mal that there’s a backup hidden and that the signal is still going.

As the Reavers close in, River breaks down. Kaylee laments dying while Simon decides to tell her how he feels about her. With the promise of finally consummating her relationship with Simon, Kaylee gains the will to live and prepares to fight.

Back at Mr. Universe’s, the Operative and Mal confront each other. Mal declares that he believes in getting the message out there and that he’s willing to die for it. Thankfully, Mal is a very quick draw.

The crew falls back as the Reavers close in on them. Jayne throws his last grenade. Kaylee says that the door can be shut, but only from the outside. Then Simon realizes he left his bag outside and gets shot.

Cue the beginning of River’s most epic moment in this entire movie.

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You take care of me, Simon. You’ve always taken care of me. My turn.

Then River jumps out there, closes the door, and tosses Simon’s bad to the crew, all the while, she fights off the Reavers in the most epic fight scene since “Chosen.”

Mal continues to fight the Operative. During the fight, the Operative asks Mal if he knows what his sin is. Mal says “Hell. I’m a fan of all 7. But right now, I’m going to have to go with wrath.” The Operative stabs Mal in the side and prepares for his final blow, but we all know that Mal doesn’t go down without a fight. He refuses to kill the Operative and sends the message from Miranda out into the verse. When Mal returns to his crew, opens to River standing on the corpses of Reavers. The Alliance closes in, prepared to kill, but the Operative tells them to stand down.

A funeral is held. Zoe wears a beautiful white dress as she sends off the rocket. The crew gets to work repairing and repainting Serenity. Simon and Kaylee finally consummate their relationship while River watches, the little voyeurist that she is. And finally, on a rainy day, the Operative warns Mal that as of now, they’re all fugitives. The Operative is no longer working for the Alliance. Zoe says that Serenity is ready to go. Mal asks Inara if she’s ready to leave, but Inara isn’t so sure. Then Mal makes his way to the cockpit, where River is there, as his copilot. And the film ends with the ship flying through the rain into the black.

In the DVD commentary of this movie, Joss outed himself as an atheist and an absurdist. One theme prominent in this movie is the concept of belief. It’s telling that Joss chose to kill off Shepherd Book and Wash in this movie because Wash, like Xander in Buffy and Topher in Dollhouse is Joss’s Author Avatar. Symbolically speaking, Joss was killing off his belief in a higher power and his time with Firefly through this movie.

There’s this theme in Serenity of the “right to be wrong” because the Alliance was trying to take away free will in Miranda. During the Easter Vigil, one of the many readings is the fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Fr. Robert Barron said this in one of his Lenten Reflections:

“The serpent places in the minds of Adam and Eve the conviction that unless and until they determine the meaning and purpose of their lives, they will not be free. To put it in modern terms, their lives will not be lived to the fullest. But the knowledge of good and evil is the godlike prerogative to set the agenda for one’s life, to determine the difference between right and wrong. And this belongs to God alone. Just as he breathed life and being into us, so he breathes moral and spiritual purpose into us.

When we convince ourselves that we live on our own terms, we cease to be truly free and alive. When Adam and Eve grasped at this knowledge, they were expelled from the garden, not because God is vindictive, but because it is the natural consequence of making oneself into God. When we grasp at divinity, whatever life we have dries up. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our egotism, victims of the Great Lie.”

The thing is, though, is that Whedon isn’t anti-religious. He just hates bad religion. He includes Jewish characters in Firefly such as Amnon and Mr. Universe. And while Book has a dark and troubled past, he still advises Mal in spite of Mal’s hatred for God. It’s telling that Book’s last plea was for Mal to believe in something, anything, because Mal did find something to believe in: the right thing to do. The Alliance doesn’t represent God, but rather Man having a God Complex. As Paul said “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Make a world without sin, and you also remove grace. The name of the planet is also an allusion to this. Miranda is the name of the heroine from The Tempest. As in “O brave new world that has such people in’t.”

Kyle Cupp and I discussed the themes of Serenity and sin and he had this to say:

“When Mal says he aims to misbehave, he’s not defending moral anarchy or nihilism. He’s defying the Alliance’s false concept of what’s right. And their demand that everyone obey. It’s not God he really opposes, but idolatry. [The Operative] bought into the lie. He believes a world without sin is possible, for others if not himself.

The Operative: I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer. Or did you think none of this was your fault?
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: I don’t murder children.

The Operative: I do. If I have to.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?

The Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?

The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

He’s almost a Moses figure for the false paradise promised by the Alliance.

I’ve been talking a lot about the Serenity Prayer and alluding to this during my Firefly recaps. If “The Message” was about acceptance and “Objects in Space” was about courage, the movie as a whole carried with it the theme of wisdom. Wisdom, as I’ve learned, is very different from knowledge. To put things simply, knowledge is the desire to know everything while wisdom is the desire to only know what is important.

In Serenity, the Operative and the Alliance represent knowledge. They used Miranda as a test site for gaining the knowledge of having as much control over everyone as possible. In contrast, Mal and his crew represent wisdom. Mal knows he’s in over his head and they all know that the odds are stacked against them, but they also use wisdom to press forward.

Zoe gains wisdom in this movie through the loss of her husband. She gets herself injured during the fight with the Reavers and there are some points where you wonder if she has a death wish, but ultimately, she moves on. The last line she says in the movie about Serenity also applies to herself as well. And it’s a relief to know that in the comics, Zoe eventually has a child.

Jayne doesn’t get much to do, given that he’s the muscle, but it’s interesting to see the number of times he goes out of his way to help River. It’s a really big character development given his misgivings for the Tam siblings. And while he keeps an eye out for River, he still acknowledges that they’re dangerous to the crew. But this time, he does this with a layer of sympathy for both of them.

I knew what was coming the first time I heard Wash say “I am a leaf on the wind.” I wanted to stop the movie there. But I didn’t. We get to see Wash be active in combat, albeit only through flying the ship in dangerous situations. But his landing of Serenity was still a wonderful moment in spite of what happened.

Kaylee was right to call Mal out for becoming such a cold-hearted person, especially towards Inara. Her desire to get laid is a source of humor and some eye-rolls from me. But hey, she gets to fight and she gets the guy in the end, so all’s well that ends well.

Inara doesn’t really do much in this movie aside from help Mal escape from the Operative. But it’s nice that she decides to return to Serenity. Sadly, given the length of the movie, their will they/won’t they will have to sadly never be resolved. Thank God for fanfiction!

But really, the movie is about three people: Mal, Simon, and River.

I think it was wise of Mal to bring River during one of his heists because he wants to make her useful in the hopes of getting her to function like a normal person. Simon is so protective of River that he borders on smothering her. However, it’s not until River goes to Miranda and finds the message left behind that River actually starts to gain the healing she needs. And once River gains her clarity, Simon decides on making his own life, starting with having a relationship with Kaylee. The movie starts out with River and Simon being the focus and crux of the movie centers on Mal’s belief that River was still human and still in need. In spite of him being hardened, helping River gives Mal and Simon some sense of purpose.

I think my favorite line from the movie is the one from the end. I think this shows what Mal believes in more than anything else.

Mal: It ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do, since you already know what I’m about to say.

River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.

Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse… but 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.

And with that, my Firefly month comes to an end.

Attributions: Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions and are used for editorial purposes only.

Walking Through Calvary, St. Ignatius Style Part 4

Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time

Once again, our Lord has fallen. Even with someone helping him carry the cross, he still falls down. If you’re imagining yourself as part of the crowd for this moment, what do you see in your mind? Are you seeing Jesus fall up close or do you see him from a distance? If you’re imagining yourself in Jesus’s place, how heavy is the cross or how deep are the wounds from the whip? Whomever you imagine yourself as, feel the dry, dusty air around you, the metallic scent of blood in the air, the harshness of the ground. Hear the noises of jeers and tears from the crowd around you.

Now what comes to mind when you think of falling down for a second time? Do you think of a frustrating point of your life? An addiction you struggle with? Place those struggles onto the cross and remember that Jesus has fallen for a second time, which means, sometimes we fail in trying to get out of these problems. But once again, Jesus gets back up and He calls us to get up alongside him.

Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

This particular station is painful for me. It’s one of the stations that can be found in Scripture. From Luke 23:28-31

Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

The passage is painful to read because what Jesus prophesied came true. Modern society would rather be childless, young adults are drawn to stories of apocalypses (yes, there is a plural for apocalypse), and fully grown adults watch shows about anti-heroes and fantasy worlds where anyone can die, choosing to make fun of straight laced heroes, looking at knights in shining armor with a cynical eye. People try to justify living life without having a family. Teens and young adults try to find meaning in a wasteland of Top 40 music and addictive technology. We are on constant watch for some kind of end to the world instead of looking towards the future, building houses on the sands of vaguely positive sounding ideas. Whenever I meditate on this station, I pray for life to be valued at all stages. I pray for the unborn, I pray for an end to the death penalty, and I pray for all the lost souls of teenagers and young adults.

The Courage To Change in Objects in Space

The episode starts out with River going through the ship, reading the minds of everyone on board. Kaylee and Simon are actually having a good time together, with Simon telling Kaylee about his days as a med student. River sees that Simon still wishes he was back with his friends, doing his job. The next people River sees are Jayne and Book. Jayne and Book are talking about the life of a Shepherd, with Book joking to Jayne that he hopes that Jayne isn’t considering taking orders. River still sees Jayne’s guilt over what happened in Ariel and gets a glimpse of Book’s past. River wanders over and sees Zoe and Wash making out, feeling all of that emotional intensity for a short moment before wandering over to the catwalk. Mal and Inara discussing Inara’s departure. When River reads their minds, Mal and Inara are looking away from each other. Inara says “I’m a big girl, just tell me,” while Mal says, “None of it means a damn thing.” You think that they’re thinking about the hopelessness of their relationship. You’d be wrong, but I’ll tell you why later.

River goes down to the cargo and steps on a stick. In her mind, she sees autumn leaves all around her as she picks up the stick. In reality, River is holding a gun and everyone’s pleading at her to put it down. Simon and Mal get it away from her and chastise her. River cries out that things are getting crowded and leaves, crying. Unbeknownst to everyone (except for River), a spaceship closes in on them. It’s someone who’s on the lookout for River, a bounty hunter named Jubal Early.

In Wash’s cockpit, Wash and Zoe discuss River. Mal and Jayne wander in, also discussing River. The four of them decide to keep River on lockdown. Zoe thinks that River can’t really harm them, but when the entire crew meets in the kitchen, Kaylee mentions the time in “War Stories” when River picked up her gun and fired on Niska’s men without even looking at them. Unbeknownst to them, River is listening from a lower deck. The crew discusses what to do with River as Jubal  also listens in. After a lot of discussing, Mal decides to sleep on it.

As everyone heads to sleep, Kaylee apologizes to Simon. Simon says that River loves being on Serenity and that it feels more like home to her. Of course, Simon still wishes he was back at the hospital. Kaylee asks if he likes Serenity and Simon just looks at her with saying a word, only for Book to kill the moment. Back in the dining area, Mal turns off the lights and heads into his bunk. As soon as he’s in, Jubal makes his entrance. Mal gets into a fight with Jubal and gets knocked out and dropped into his bunk. Jubal locks up all the bunks and makes his way to the engine room. He intimidates Kaylee and asks Kaylee if she’s ever been raped and tells her that he’s gonna tie her up and that if she makes any trouble, he’s going to rape her.

Jubal makes his way to the passenger’s quarters, knocks out Book and holds a very shirtless Simon at gunpoint. He plans to get River for the bounty  and was searching for them since the feds were tipped off on Ariel. Simon refuses to help. Of course, Jubal orders Simon to help him or else he’ll kill Simon and rape Kaylee, possibly even kill her. Simon puts a shirt on as he passes by Book and shows Jubal the infirmary. The two of them make their way into the catwalks. They head over to the shuttles. Inara tries to tell Jubal to stand down , but Jubal slaps her and locks her shuttle.

Finally, they head to the cockpit. Jubal yells out to River to come out. Mal and Zoe finally wake up. Then, to everyone’s surprise, we hear River speaking through the ship.  River says that she’s not on the ship, that she disappeared into the ship. She says that she is now Serenity and she is very unhappy. River then talks to Kaylee in the engine room. She calms Kaylee down and tells her to untie herself. River keeps playing games with Jubal, all the while communicating with Mal, Zoe and Kaylee. She gets Kaylee out of the engine room. Kaylee unlocks the bunks as Mal and Zoe listen to River. The power goes out as River continues to intimidate Jubal. As they continue their conversation, Jubal realizes that River is in his ship. (Of course, she is still reading his mind, in spite of what he claims.)

River decides to offer herself to Jubal and wants to leave everyone, not be a burden anymore. But just as Jubal is about to leave, Simon stops him. Jubal retaliates by shooting Simon in the leg and leaves the cockpit. Simon tries to get the jump on Jubal, but Jubal fights back. Jubal makes his way out of the ship, but to everyone’s surprise, Mal appears behind him. The shock makes Jubal lose his balance and he floats away into space. River leaves Jubal’s ship and into Mal’s arms.

In the infirmary, Zoe and Wash tend to Simon’s wound while Mal and Inara wonder about whether or not Jubal will survive. Book and Jayne lament not getting a chance to take on Jubal. Kaylee tells River a funny story while the two of them play jacks. And life on the Serenity goes on as Jubal continues to float out in space, alone.

“Objects in Space” is River Tam’s shining moment for the series as a whole. To continue the theme of the Serenity Prayer last seen in “The Message,” this episode centers on River having the courage to change the situation. She gives Kaylee the courage to untie herself and get out of the engine room in spite of Jubal’s earlier threats of raping her. River’s courageous enough to get a space suit and make her way onto Jubal’s ship as a way to intimidate him. She also wants to give herself up, but Simon won’t let her and neither will Mal.

The courage to change also applies to the rest of the crew. Mal still feels haunted over his loss of Serenity Valley, but still has the courage to let River stay in spite of her being an unpredictable person. The same goes for Simon, who still wishes he was back in his old job, but decides to move on from it and try fighting for his sister’s safety because he loves her more. Although it isn’t stated, Joss Whedon said that Inara is suffering from a terminal disease and has been suffering from that since the first episode and is more than likely the reason why she chose to join up with a band of smugglers and thieves; she wants to run away from that terminal illness because she can’t change that she’s probably going to die. The odd friendship between Jayne and Book carries hints that Book wants to help Jayne change his ways, since the good Shepherd was able to change his own life.

My Firefly month comes to an end tomorrow, when I recap on the film Serenity.

Attribution: Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

Firefly Month: Why Heart of Gold is the Worst Episode of Firefly

Monique’s intro: There are some episodes from the Whedonverse that I don’t think I want to watch again for a long time like “Seeing Red” from Buffy or “Belonging” from Dollhouse or any episode from Angel Season 4. “Heart of Gold” is my least favorite episode of Firefly. I hate it. So much so that I don’t want to watch it again, even for the purposes of analyzing it for this blog.

Not convinced? Here’s a scene from the episode that shows the usually composed Inara crying her eyes out.

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I don’t just hate this episode because it blows holes in my Mal/Inara ship. But thankfully, Joseph Susanka is here to review this episode so that I don’t have to!

Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?
Mal: You’re on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?
Mal: You’re on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?

As a long-time (and unapologetic) fan of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the end of “Ariel.” In fact, it’s pretty near my favorite moment in any TV show I’ve ever seen. Why so? Because it is the most perfect distillation of why I love Malcolm Reynolds so much (and why the show works): This ragtag group of folks he works with aren’t just his crew. They’re his family. And when Jayne reveals that he feels the same way about them (despite his momentary — or should that be congenital — weakness for money), that shared affection and loyalty enables Mal to bring him back on board. Quite literally.

In other words, the end of “Ariel” underscores the one ethical constant in the Whedon Verse: Mal’s stubborn – almost impossibly stubborn – loyalty to the members of his crew. With his dogged fidelity as our anchor point, we can endure any amount of downright unsettlin’ behavior without losing our central confidence in the show and its semi-anti-hero; without it, we are but leaves on the wind.

All of which doubtless helps to explain why “Heart of Gold” is my least favorite episode in the entire show; an episode, in fact, that I might actually dislike. Because it’s an episode that drastically undercuts the very Mal I’ve grown to know and respect. The Mal who’s a great leader and a good man and (above all else) a loyal and faithful friend.

It contains some of the series’ most obvious Western tropes – defending a small and dilapidated fortress against almost impossible odds; gunfights and scenery-chewing, over the top villains on horseback; the hooker(s) with the titular heart(s) of gold – and Whedon is clearly playing with the genre in a number of interesting ways. So there’s much here that I could enjoy in a different context. But when Mal decides to spend the night with Inara’s former companion, Nandi, it feels like a real betrayal. A betrayal of the weird and complicated relationship he has Inara, surely; but even more devastatingly, a betrayal of his own character.

Unlike the hilarious (and ultimately, unconsummated) dalliance with Saffron in “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” where Mal seems genuinely conflicted and not entirely willing, his decision to embrace Nandi is a far more intentional one, which makes it all the more out of character. And I’m not the only one who thinks that; Inara herself, despite her best attempts to present a bold and progressive face when she learns of the previous night’s “festivities,” is devastated when she learns of Mal’s actions.

In fairness to Mr. Whedon, having one’s show cut off in the bloom of its youth can wreak a good bit of havoc with future story lines. It is entirely possible that this conflict between Mal and Inara would have served some larger purpose – a larger story arc that would once again confirm Mal’s loyalty to Inara and to his own principles of Faithfulness At Any Cost. But without that larger context, I feel that it does a real disservice to my favorite part of the show. It’s not that I object to Mal being revealed as a less-than- perfect man – the show gives ample evidence of his failings – it’s that I object to losing the one thing I’ve been able to hold onto all along; the one thing I could rely on. Having the rug pulled out from under one’s feet at the opening is fine, and often a very effective bit of storytelling. But to have it pulled out now, so close to the end? That, I do not care for. Not at all.

I’d just stop at “The Message,” if it’s all the same to you.
“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that…You find someone to carry you.”

Author addendum: Thankfully there is one amazing episode that follows after that. In my honest opinion, skip this episode after watching “The Message” and follow me to “Objects in Space.”

Attribution: All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only. P.S. Joss Whedon, you’re a bastard.

Walking Through Calvary, St. Ignatius Style, Part 3

Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross

According to Wikipedia, Cyrene is a Greek city in Libya, located in northern Africa. It’s more than likely that Simon of Cyrene was black or Greek. He could’ve been a Jew on pilgrimage or a Gentile travelling through. Whatever the case may be, Simon was put into a situation not of his own choosing, being asked to help carry the cross of a supposed criminal. We don’t know if Simon believed in Jesus or not, whether he was sympathetic or only carried the cross because the Romans ordered him to. But what matters is that he helped.

It’s kind of funny how often people come around during hard times. How often do we ask others to help us with our burdens? Some of us are reluctant to ask while others have no choice but to beg for help. This station is often prayed (at least in my parish) with the intention of an increase of vocations to priesthood and religious life. We can all place ourselves in Simon because whether we don’t really know Jesus or are sympathetic to His plight, we are asked to help him carry His cross.

Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Whenever I participated in a Passion Play (I have about 3 under my belt so far), I always got cast as Veronica. She’s a hard saint to research about because there is little, if any, historical evidence of her. She is often associated with the bleeding woman, the woman that Jesus healed on his way to Jairus’s daughter. If that is true, I think the fact that Veronica chose to wipe the bleeding face of Jesus after he healed her from twelve years of bleeding is nothing short of poetic.

It always interested me that during the stations of the cross, Veronica arrives to help just after Simon of Cyrene came to help carry the cross and before Jesus falls for the second time. On his way to the cross, two people come to Jesus’s aid. One was called to help while the other willingly volunteered. One carried the cross with Jesus while the other only helped for a fleeting moment. I know you’re probably asking “What use is Veronica when Jesus is bleeding all over and is going to inevitably die?” Well,Veronica made the choice to help because it was the right thing to do. It might come off as a bit existentialist, that Veronica chose to do something good in what seems to be a bleak situation just because she felt it was a good thing to do, and I don’t mind if you think towards that mindset. The point is that every little bit helps, even in “unwinnable” situations.

Firefly Month: Accepting What You Can't Change in The Message

The crew of Serenity find themselves at a marketplace located on a space station. A carnival barker claims to have an alien. Inside, however, Simon and Kaylee recognize the so-called “alien” as a cow fetus. The two of them are out on a date and Simon shows that he really has no game whatsoever, the gorram moron! Mal and Inara are having problems fencing the Lassiter that they got from the previous episode. Inara offers to fence the Lassiter to one of her clients, but Mal doesn’t want her getting in trouble. The two of them stop by a post office run by an old friend of Mal’s named Amnon who has packages for some of the crew. Jayne gets a package from his mother while Mal and Zoe get a crate.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Jayne hat.

Firefly_1x12_146

Bask in its awesomeness, Browncoats because things are gonna get a little sadder from here on out. See, the package that Zoe and Mal get is a coffin with a body inside. Specifically, the body of their old war buddy Tracey. Flash back to the days of the Unification War, which shows that Tracey was a very amateur soldier, letting his guard down for the sake of a can of beans. Zoe advises him to be quiet. Cue Mal running in very loudly, actively drawing in enemy fire. Tracey doesn’t want to die and Mal says that everyone dies.

Returning back to our current situation, Mal and Zoe wonder why Tracey’s body was mailed to them without any return address. Amnon tells them to get the crate out ASAP because mailing human cargo is illegal.

Back on Serenity, Zoe finds a recorder clutched in Tracey’s hands and plays it. Tracey says that he fell in with untrustworthy folk and got killed because of it. he asks to be buried at St. Albans. He said that he has problems surviving in the real world. The ship heads off to St. Alban’s.

Meanwhile, back on the space station, an Alliance officer named Womack arrives at the post service and calls Amnon a quim. (So Avengers wasn’t the first time Whedon used that phrase.) He asks about the dead body and threatens to arrest and charge Amnon. The postman willingly provides the information. Womnack threatens to burn Amnon to death if he refuses to comply with his demands.

On Serenity, everyone reacts to Tracey’s death in different ways. Kaylee listens to Tracey’s recording constantly. Simon wants to comfort her, but doesn’t know how. Jayne and Book have a conversation about how they deal with death. Jayne wants to be active, seeks for ways to feel alive. River lies down on top of the coffin and says it’s very comfortable. Inara listens to Mal and Zoe’s story about a prank Tracey on a man named Colonel Oberin.

All of a sudden, the ship is under fire. Womack tells the crew to give him the crate or they’ll blast him to bits. Mal and Zoe inspect Tracey’s box, search his pockets, and come to the conclusion that Tracey’s smuggling something in his body. Simon prepares to make an autopsy…only for Tracey to wake up screaming. I guess Tracey was only mostly dead! (And as we Princess Bride fans know, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.)

No, actually he took a medicine that made him appear to be dead. It’s quickly revealed that Tracey is smuggling organs, grown in a lab. He was supposed to go to Ariel and get his organs back, but he found a better deal. Except the deal went south when the guy who made the offer was dead and bad people put him on the run. Serenity gets shot again. Mal negotiates to Womack to wait until they land to inspect the ship, all the while planning to get Tracey out as quietly as possible.

Tracey and Kaylee flirt a little as the ship comes to a landing and you almost want to ship them. Book notices that Womack didn’t contact the Alliance base on St. Alban’s. Wash tries to lose Womack through a canyon, but unfortunately, he tries to shoot them down instead. Wash lands the ship in a cave and puts the ship on auxiliary power. Womack rains down on them with multiple blasts and in fear, Tracey decides to get onto the deck, only to hear Book suggest that they let the Alliance on board. Mal decides to go with it…only for Tracey to hold the crew hostage. Mal tells Tracey to stand down, only for Tracey to shoot Wash. Zoe shoots Tracey in response. (Nobody touches her husband except her, after all.) Kaylee gets out of her bunk only for Tracey to take her hostage and any hopes of shipping Tracey and Kaylee go down at that very moment.

The crew chases Tracey to a bridge and Tracey insults them. Then things quite down long enough for Jayne to shoot Tracey. Womack boards the Serenity and Shepherd Book is surprisingly the one to call the guy out: Womack is far from his jurisdiction and is doing this job off the books. In other words, he’s a rogue cop. (You know one when you see one, Book my dear?) Realizing that Tracey being mortally wounded means that he’s carrying damaged goods, Womack leaves, insulting Jayne’s hat on his way out.

Tracey laments what he made of himself and dies as he apologizes to everyone. Tracey’s message plays one last tie as Mal and Zoe return his body to his family. Interesting note about this scene: everyone in the show found out that the show was gonna be cancelled at this point, so in a way, the funeral scene is not only burying Tracey, but any hopes of the show continuing beyond 14 episodes.

At first, you think that this episode is about dealing with grief. In reality, I think the theme is about accepting the things you can’t change and deciding what to do with it. Mal and Zoe have accepted that they lost the war and try to make the best of their situation. Tracey, however, was completely lost and his desperation came at the cost of his life. The standoff at the bridge where Tracey claims that he had no choice and Mal saying otherwise reminds me a lot of the argument between Ford and Buffy in “Lie To Me.” Tracey wonders what kind of people they are now that the war is over. My friend Ian’s analysis of “Lie to Me” brings up a philosophy from existentialism about the importance of choice. While I don’t agree with existentialism as a whole, I do agree that God always allows free will in every situation.

Tracey wanted to smuggle organs as a way to survive and thought that Mal and Zoe turned into “saps” for being so goody-goody (in his point of view). It’s true that Mal hasn’t completely accepted the loss of Serenity Valley or the war as a whole, but he and the rest of the crew of Serenity try to do good given their limited means, only asking the Alliance for help or using Alliance-friendly clients as a desperate last resort. They’re smugglers and petty thieves, but their work is honest and honorable compared to Tracey. On top of that, Mal was planning on making sure Tracey stayed hidden, meaning that Tracey didn’t have to shoot anyone or hold anyone hostage to get what he wanted.

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we can’t change. Unfortunately, things are gonna get worse before they start getting better.

Attribution: All screencaps are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

Walking Through Calvary, St. Ignatius Style Part 2

Third Station: Jesus Falls for The First Time

It’s hard to imagine that almost as soon as Jesus carries the cross, he falls down straight out of the gate. Then again, it’s a miracle that he didn’t die during the scourging. It brings Jesus’s human nature to mind.

I think that people tend towards two extremes when it comes to Jesus. One extreme is just to see Jesus as just a human person (our current heresy) while the other extreme was that Jesus was never human, that he was some kind of demi-god(Gnosticism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophystism, etc.). In reality, Jesus was fully God and fully man. This particular station reminds us that Jesus was fully human because like every other human being, he can fall down when the weight of a burden is too heavy.

But Jesus got back up. And in turn, so do we.

It took me a while to think of a song associated with this particular station. But this song reminds me that God never abandons us, even when we fall down:

Fourth Station: Jesus Meets his Mother

There is no greater pain for a parent than to see their child suffer. I am not even going to try and place myself in Mary’s place in this scene. But I know a lot of parents can probably imagine this. Even though Mary was born without sin, she was still as human as the rest of us. All that she knew leading up to this point was that a sword would pierce her heart. It’s really hard for me to imagine the pain she went through. But again, I know a few people who probably know this pain all too well.

Whenever I go to the Stations of the Cross, each station ends with lyrics from an old song called Stabat Mater, which is a hymn about the sorrows of Mary. The lyrics were modified for each station (or were from a different English translation).

Firefly Month: The Importance of Communication in Trash

Once again, I am going to do my best to keep my fangirl squee for this episode to a minimum. In fact, I’ll save it for a few particular moments in this episode.

The episode starts with Captain Malcolm Reynolds naked as a baby in the middle of a desert. The episode then goes back to some time ago when our beloved captain meets up with an old friend of his named Monty for a smuggling job. Monty tells Mal that he has recently married a lovely woman named Bridget. Enter the lady formerly known as Saffron. Mal and “Saffron” point guns at each other and in the midst of their scuffle, the devious redhead inadvertently reveals that she knows Mal all too well and Monty ditches them. Unfortunately, Saffron doesn’t have anywhere to go. She begs him for a ride and even offers a deal on a heist with a seriously huge payoff.

The Captain returns to Serenity and gets invited into Inara’s shuttle, a very rare occasion. And by rare, I mean never. Inara laments to Mal that she hasn’t gotten any work in three weeks and thinks that Mal is keeping her from doing her usual job. They fight like a married couple, with Inara pointing out that their last batch of cargo was little geisha bobbleheads. And the audience and I go “OH JUST KISS AND MAKE UP ALREADY!”

It cuts to Mal taking Saffron out of the crate. Saffron explains the heist to the crew: a guy named Durren Haymer who collects a lot of Earth-that-was artifacts, including the MacGuffin of this episode, the Lassiter. The Lassiter is essentially the oldest laser gun in existence. Haymer, a member of the Alliance, currently lives on an estate on a central planet named Bellerophon and Saffron knows how to get inside. Of course, the gun is gonna be hard to get because taking the gun out of the house, it’ll alert security and the feds immediately.

Inara totally sees right through the scheme, smart lady that she is, and decides to stay out of it. Zoe decides to join in after punching Saffron in the face.

Simon and River are staying out of sight. River says “She’s a liar and no good will come of her.” Jayne, of course, doesn’t care so long as there’s payoff. River then points out “Jayne is a girl’s name” and Jayne reminds her that he’s got man parts. Of course, River tells Simon, after Jayne leaves, that Jayne is afraid that the Tam siblings will find out about his betrayal on Ariel. (And now you realize that River was actually talking about Jayne when she said “She’s a liar.”)

Zoe and Inara make small talk on a bridge. Inara is going to do her regular work and reminds Zoe that Saffron will more than likely stab Mal in the back.

As we move into Bellerophon, we realize that the estates are essentially floating islands. Mal and Saffron pose as members of a party prep crew. Kaylee points out that once they get the Lassiter, they’ll have to chuck it out the garbage chute since all the doors of the estate are tagged with security alarms. Kaylee will program the garbage bin to be flown to go to Isis Canyon, where Mal and the crew will get the loot.

While reprogramming the trash bin’s coordinate system, Jayne gets shocked  and knocked out. Saffron hears someone coming. It’s Durren, who recognizes Saffron as his wife on the spot and calls her Yolanda. Durren says that she’s been missing for six years. He thought that she ran off with the security programmer named Heinrich, but his body was found by police a short time after Yolanda disappeared.

Mal points out that Saffron actually cared for Durren and was possibly the first man she married and conned. Saffron has a gun ready to go. Durren comes back in while Mal takes advantage of the moment to put the Lassiter in the trash. It’s at this point that Mal gets a gun out of the flowers he brought in and I start calling the little redhead “YoSaffBridge.” Durren points out that he activated an emergency button on his ring and the police comes right away. Saffron and Mal get out of the estate and YoSaffBridge quickly locks the feds inside as the two escape to the shuttle.

Mal and YoSaffBridge exchange small talk on the shuttle. She admitted that she did love Durren and wanted to run off with Heinrich, but didn’t kill Heinrich. In fact, she forgot the guy’s name. She actually starts crying at this point and Mal lets his guard drop long enough to sit next to her, which opens up the opportunity for her to get Mal’s gun out of his holster. She holds him at gunpoint and tells him to get naked.

Meanwhile, the crew of Serenity realizes that there’s a maneuvering issue. Kaylee quickly checks the engine room and realizes that YoSaffBridge sabotaged the ship again. They can’t make the rendezvous and land.

It cuts to YoSaffBridge in the dumpster looking for the laser gun, only for Inara to show up holding the exact laser gun. Too bad it doesn’t work. Thankfully, she has a backup that works just fine. To the little redhead’s surprise, Inara and the rest of the crew were all putting up an act, going along with the scheme, but creating a backup plan in case YoSaffBridge double-crossed Mal. Inara would act all huffy and storm off only to show up at the dumpster and get the laser gun herself. Inara points out that some of the crew’s performances weren’t as nuanced as she had hoped and was surprised that YoSaffBridge didn’t realize that everyone was acting. (But hey, they don’t have Companion training.) She closes up YoSaffBridge in the dumpster as the little redhead screams my second favorite line in this entire episode: “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! I HAVE A CONDITION!” Of course, Inara points out that she is not gonna die, but just be there long enough for the authorities to find her.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Jayne wakes up paralyzed on Simon’s operating table, drugged with some medicine Simon gave him so that he wouldn’t break his spine when he regained consciousness. Simon takes advantage of Jayne’s paralyzed state to talk about Jayne betraying them on Ariel. River takes this opportunity to show herself. Simon tells Jayne that they are working together and that he will never harm Jayne as long as he’s on the operating table and says that they should trust each other. River, of course, says my actual favorite line in this entire episode: “Also, I can kill you with my brain.” The Tam siblings leave Jayne to rest and wallow in his guilt.

Speaking of wallowing in guilt, we find a very naked Mal out in the desert. The crew of Serenity arrives to pick him up and all is well.

This episode is one that is worth repeat viewings. And not just because it’s the opportunity of a life time to see a naked Nathan Fillion. As stated in a previous blog, the last encounter with YoSaffBridge involved the lady tossing in the apple of discord and taking advantage of the crew’s preconceptions in order to deceive them. This time, she gets the tables turned on her. The crew creates a plan to make sure they get the loot whether or not YoSaffBridge stabbed them in the back. Repeat viewings show the instances where Wash and Kaylee are breaking character, a slight giggle here, an over-the-top line said there.

Inara and Mal continue to have communication issues. It’s implied that Mal was probably keeping them out on the backwater parts of the verse to keep Inara from getting into situations like what happened in Shindig, but Inara was right in the fact that their most profitable ventures happened on central planets. Mal was wrong to call Inara a whore just as much as it was wrong for Inara to call Mal a petty thief. But in the end, they finally decided to compromise. Inara gets to join in on Mal’s latest crime while Mal lets Inara do her work on a central planet. And Inara gets to see Mal naked.

Speaking of that, I’m going to end this post with my fangirl squee.

OMIGOSH HE’S NAKED! And Inara finds him and she’s looking at him naked. How is she not fazed by this?! Heck, how is the rest of the crew unfazed by Mal’s very naked state?! Stop smiling like that, Mal! I’m thinking dirty thoughts!

I’ll be in my bunk. And then I’ll be going to Confession.

Walking Through Calvary, St. Ignatius Style Part 1

During my college days, a retreat leader introduced me and my friends to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It was a very emotional experience for me because I found myself literally feeling pain. I was hyperventilating and shaking and gasped as I opened my eyes and broke out of the meditation. The Spiritual Exercises are not for the faint of heart and it still baffles me that Our Holy Father did these Exercises twice. (And mind you, he has only one lung!) Usually, the exercises are done as part of a 30-day retreat and the meditations that focus on the Passion of Christ are particularly intense (if what I experienced was any indication).

From what I learned from the retreat leader, the idea of the Spiritual Exercises is to put yourself in the moment you’re meditating on. For the purposes of this blog post, I will take you through the Stations of the Cross. I’ll do two a day, leading up to Good Friday.

Without further ado, let’s begin with the first station of the Cross: Jesus is condemned to death.

The scene that immediately comes to mind in this station is the scene from the divisive film Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson. In this scene, Jesus speaks in Latin, even though throughout most of the film, he spoke in Aramaic. Pilate knows that a man of Jesus’s background shouldn’t be able to speak Latin like a Roman citizen.

We can imagine ourselves as Pilate in this scene or imagine ourselves as part of the crowd, as shown in the song “Crucify Him” by Danielle Rose. The song puts the scourging at the pillar in a modern context. It always reminds me that whenever people ask “Who killed Jesus?” I always want to answer “We all did.” Everyone involved had a role in crucifying Jesus, but on a spiritual level, we all condemned Jesus to death and had a part in the crucifixion. So stop trying to find the blame and start realizing that Jesus had to die in order to save us.

Second station: Jesus takes up his cross

After being sentenced to death by the crowd, Jesus is given the cross to carry. For this station, let’s imagine ourselves in Jesus’s place and meditate on this verse from the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

How often do we compare our problems to other people’s? How often do we focus more on other people’s problems rather than our own? How often do we wish we were living other people’s lives, unaware that they have their own sets of problems that we couldn’t probably handle? As we meditate on this particular station, let us remember to deny ourselves and focus on our cross as we follow Jesus.