Firefly Month: The Family We Choose in Safe

The episode starts out with a flashback to River and Simon’s childhood and then goes back to present-day River who is having a mental breakdown. The crew of Serenity plans on selling off the cows they smuggled from the previous episode. Mal tells Simon and River to take a walk around the town away from the deal-making point. They go into a shop where Inara and Kaylee are looking around. Simon snaps at Kaylee about being out in a backwater planet, resentful of the lack of respect he’s getting. Kaylee chastises him for his words, but River wanders off before Simon could word out a proper apology.

From this point on, the episode follows two parallel plots: Simon and River getting to know the new planet and the rest of the crew of Serenity having to deal with the consequences of their latest attempt at smuggling going south.

River joins in on a local folk dance while Mal, Jayne, and Sheperd Book get caught in the crosshairs of local law enforcement who arrest the buyers. The music from the dance eventually crosses over with the gunfight that ensues. (It’s a space western, just go with it.) Shepherd gets shot and finds himself in critical condition. Meanwhile, Simon and River kidnapped by settlers and think that Mal has abandoned them, not realizing that Shepard Book was critically injured.

The crew of the Serenity debates over where they could get a doctor without Simon, realizing that they have no choice but to ask the Alliance for help. The Alliance men check in and take Book to the infirmary. They later learn that Book has some kind of past with the Alliance. Jayne says that life without Simon and River on board could be a lot simpler.

Simon and River are taken to a small village of settlers in need of a doctor. Simon gets straight to work and the two of them try to make the best of the situation. River later reveals some information to the local teacher about a patient in the clinic who has been mute for two years. Unfortunately, she also gave away the fact that she could read minds. The nurse thinks that River is a witch and it eventually leads to village planning on burning her at the stake. (Seriously? Backwater town with religious beliefs that sets on burning an innocent girl? How cliche can you get?)

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

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

But things turn around when the crew of Serenity arrives (to quote Captain Tightpants here) “just in the nick of time” to rescue Simon and River. They take the town at gunpoint and take Simon and River back. Mal states that Simon and River are part of his crew, whether he likes them or not. The episode ends with everyone having dinner together.

The theme of Safe is family and home. Joss was always fond of “families of choice,” ones that don’t really have blood relations.  The flashbacks to Simon and River’s past show the strained relationship that Simon had with his parents. He was right to worry about River, in spite of his parents dismissing that he’s just being silly and missing his sister. His father threatens to cut him off when Simon gets arrested for trying to get information on River’s whereabouts. Of course, we know what he decides.

While Simon and River are in the settler’s clinic, River opens up about how damaged she feels and knows exactly how much her brother sacrificed to save her. She also said “We won’t be here long. Daddy will come and take us home.” Simon thinks that River was referring to their biological father. However, it’s Mal that comes to their rescue. It indicates that in spite of seeing Serenity leave them earlier, River sees Mal as a father figure. Book also says, once he is out of the Alliance infirmary “It’s good to be home.” The fact that the episode ends with everyone sharing a meal together is also a subtle symbol of how the crew of Serenity is slowly becoming a family. In spite of Mal not liking Simon and Jayne wishing they weren’t even there, Simon and River are still part of the family.

 

Shindig: Chivalry and Feminism

I am going to do my very best not to let my fangirl squee get in the way of analyzing this episode. I squeed about it enough in the intro to my Firefly Month.

The episode starts out at your typical bar (except for the virtual pool). Mal pickpockets a man at the pool table who bragged about coming into money by selling slaves. It’s a small indicator of Mal’s strange sense of morality given that he makes his living by smuggling and stealing from people he deems to be bad (like slave traders and the Alliance) and never from innocent people (as seen in The Train Job). The planet that the crew visits, Persephone, was where they started in the pilot.

A conversation at the dress shop eventually leads to Kaylee talking about Inara, which irks Mal into mouthing off at her. Zoe, Wash, and Kaylee return to the ship, but Mal and Jayne run into Badger. (Played by Mark Sheppard whom Supernatural fans recognize as Crowley and Doctor Who fans will recognize as Canton Delaware Everett.) Badger informs Mal and Jayne about a man in need of a smuggler, but won’t work with Badger beneath him. Coincidentally, this man is going to be a guest at the party Inara is attending and Badger just so happens to have a couple of invitations.

It’s clear at this party that the society knows Inara because she announced by her name and not as her client’s escort. As I said before, the life of a Companion is very similar to that of a geisha, who often relies on the support of a danna or patron. (I had a Memoirs of a Geisha phase.) Inara’s client, Atherton, is making such an offer to Inara when Kaylee and Mal walk in.

Meanwhile, on the ship, Book, Simon, and Jayne are playing a card game while River has a minor breakdown, removing the labels from the food in the kitchen. I think it’s because the food came from the Blue Sun corporation, which turns out to be a major antagonist in the film Serenity.

During Mal and Inara’s dance, the subject of what is legal verses what is morally right gets brought up again. Mal considers his work to be honest, even though it’s illegal and says that the society Inara is a part of is all taking part of a giant lie even though they’re considered to be Mal’s superiors. He doesn’t want to stop Inara from taking Atherton’s offer, but he later says he hope that she doesn’t because he cares about her. Captain Mal Reynolds: master of the mixed messages.

The duel in this episode is a duel of swords instead of fists or pistols (both of which are Mal’s specialty). It’s up to Inara to teach Mal how to fence and fight with a sword. Later on, when the actual duel takes place, Inara provides the distraction that gives Mal the advantage to defeat Atherton. Mal cheats, punching Atherton in the face again, and beats him down with the handle. However, instead of killing Atherton as stated by Sir Warrick Harrow as the rules of the duel, Mal decides to show mercy and just stabs Atherton a couple of times.

The icing on the cake, however, is what Inara declares when Atherton shows his true feelings for her. When Atherton threatens to her that she’ll never find work again, she throws the rules of her guild at him. His actions have blacklisted him from any other Companions. Mal’s duel leads to him successfully making a deal with Sir Warrick Harrow and the two of them return to the ship and share some homemade wine while they overlook the cargo that they’re smuggling: cows.

One underlying theme in this episode is chivalry and feminism. Most feminists do not like the idea of chivalry. However, I don’t think the two ideas are mutually exclusive. After all, the idea of chivalry and feminism are both grounded in the idea that women ought to be valued as people and not as property. Besides that, Emma Watson created a nonprofit organization called He For She, which asks for men to help support women’s rights and promotes gender equality. I think it’s a great example of how men and women can start working together to support each other.

The most obvious example of how chivalry and feminism work is the main plot involving Mal, Inara, and Atherton. Mal is motivated by his desire to defend Inara’s honor, a very chivalrous idea. However, he also calls Inara a whore to her face. As I stated before, he wasn’t calling her a whore because he’s slut shaming her. He just does not like what she does for a living. And the reason he wants to defend Inara’s honor is because he thinks Atherton is treating Inara like an object. We can see examples of that with Atherton holding onto Inara possessively and glaring with jealousy as Inara and Mal have a dance and later grabs Inara once the dance was done.

Another example of chivalry and feminism is seen in the minor subplots. A distinguished gentleman rescues Kaylee from a group of mean girls by means of slut shaming. While I will subtract points to the cool old guy for using slut shaming, he apologizes for his rudeness and says “I cannot abide useless people.” I was so wishing that the cool old guy was Sir Warrick Harrow. Later on, Kaylee is seeing talking mechanics with a large group of men, showing that a woman can have a good time with men just by being herself. She didn’t have to go out onto the dance floor to have a good time.

I’m not exactly what modern, secular society would consider a feminist. I prefer to use the term “gender equalist” because I believe that men have their own discrimination issues just as often as women do. I also believe that men and women have to support each other instead of women blaming the patriarchy and men acting entitled to whatever they want just because they’re nice guys. I’m not gonna say that Shindig is the perfect example of what I wish gender equality could be like, but it’s a start at least.

Firefly Month: The Fear and The Silence

Bushwhacked doesn’t really raise any moral issues aside from “What is the measure of a non-human” and how the crew of Serenity chose to deal with the dead bodies they found on an abandoned ship. Said dead bodies were of families that were attacked by Reavers.

The main theme of this episode is fear. Simon is afraid of getting in the spacesuits and being out in space in general. Jayne is afraid of the dead bodies. River, burdened with the power of mind reading, feels the residual fear of the families that got attacked by Reavers. And the sole survivor of the ship turns out to have a lot of psychological trauma, so much so that he becomes like the monsters that attacked him. The episode plays out like a thriller or creature feature, with the same air of suspense that makes your skin crawl. 

Later on, the crew runs into the Alliance, who are on the lookout for Simon and River. As the Alliance men search the ship, we find out that Simon and River are hiding on the outside of the ship in space suits. Someone pointed out on the Firefly TVTropes page that while Simon was completely terrified of being out in space, River was staring out in wonder and awe because out in space, there are so few minds for her to read. She is actually more stable staying on Serenity with its small crew than if she stayed on a planet with millions of people because in the emptiness of space, her mind finds peace. It reminded me of something I read in high school about how silent rooms and empty spaces are great places for meditation.

But this idea of contemplative, silent prayer isn’t just something from New Age or Buddhism. Silence is valued very much in Catholicism. A homily from Catholic Online goes into more detail about it.

And while we’re in a Flashback Friday kind of mood, here’s a clip of one of what Father Benedict had to say about silence:

Mother Teresa, of course, is the most famous advocate of silence:

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.

The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.

I hope that today, you’ll find an hour for silent prayer. You can spend it in Adoration or out in a quiet place. See how the silence affects you.

Screenshots belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy and are for editorial purposes only.

 

The Train Job: Doing the Right Thing

The episode, when it originally aired, functioned as the pilot. So, like before, most of the episode is spent establishing the verse and the characters who live in it. The plot starts out as an old-fashioned train robbery, without Mal or the crew asking questions as to what their client of the week, Niska, wants them to steal. It’s not until the robbery goes awry that Mal and Zoe, who are stranded on a planet called Paradisio, find out that they’ve just stolen much-needed medicine from a train filled with sick refugees.

Jayne gets mighty impatient, wanting to take off right away. Thankfully, Simon sedated the brute in time for everyone to create a backup plan. Inara takes advantage of her status as a Companion to get Mal and Zoe out of town, pretending that they’re her indentured servants. Once they’re back on the ship, Mal gets ready to bring the cargo back to the refugees, only to be confronted by Niska’s strongman Crow. This leads to a brawl in a cargo bay that ends with Jayne shooting Crow’s weapon out of his hand. “I was aiming for his head,” he claims under sedation.

Mal and Zoe return the medicine to Paradisio and the Sheriff decides to let them go without pressing any charges. Mal tells Crow that they’re done doing business with Niska. Crow makes an epic, threatening speech. Mal replies by kicking Crow into Serenity’s turbines and telling the same thing to another of Niska’s henchmen. I don’t think it was the right thing for Mal to do in that situation, but I’ve gotta admit that it was a hilarious scene. If it were up to me, Crow would’ve been left to starve and have gotten that same degenerative disease the other refugees had, but Mal was in a hurry to get out and Crow was more than likely to have been a man of his word.

We won’t be seeing the last of Niska, but another antagonist gets introduced at the end of the episode: The Hands of Blue, 2 men who are on the lookout for River. To say that these guys creep me out is an understatement.

Firefly and Morality Part 1: Serenity (The Pilot Episode)

Although I love Joss Whedon, I’m not one of those fans who thinks he’s perfect. One major flaw in his works is that he is amazing with finales, but not as good with beginnings. The first episode of Firefly has a lot of great establishing moments and a lot of worldbuilding, but the pacing is seriously slow. Mostly because the episode itself is an hour and 30 minutes long.

The episode opens at the battle of Serenity Valley. It’s your typical “against all odds” kind of battle and it doesn’t go well. I gasped at the sight of Mal kissing his cross necklace and watches as his faith shattered before his eyes as the Alliance closed in on them. The action of the episode, however, doesn’t pick up until the crew of Serenity lands on a planet to pick up passengers. On the surface, Mal claims that they’re just gonna make a rest stop in a moon called Whitefall. In reality, they’re smuggling a crate of foodstuffs that they salvaged.

The standoff in the cargo hold leads to the major moral conflict of the episode: What to to with Simon Tam, who is a wanted fugitive on the run from the Alliance. Dobson, a passenger that the crew picked up, turns out to be a mole, going after  Simon and River for the bounty on their heads. Mal is more than willing to let Simon go if it meant getting the Alliance off his back, but when Dobson shoots Kaylee and leaves her in critical condition, Mal has no choice but to let Simon put his skills as a doctor and surgeon to work. (Kudos to Book for knocking Dobson out, by the way.) Once the bullet is extracted, Mal checks what exactly Simon brought on board with him that the Alliance wants so badly. Enter River Tam, very naked and very afraid. Once River is unboxed, Simon reveals his backstory to the crew. The crew debates about what to do with Simon, River, and Dobson. Mal wants to leave the Tams on Whitefall but Inara disagrees and threatens to leave.

Jayne gets put in charge of interrogating Dobson. While he is able to get answers out of the mole without resorting to torture,  Dobson plants the seed of doubt in Jayne’s mind: Simon and River are worth a lot of money. This becomes a major moral dilemma later.  In the infirmary, Kaylee points out to Mal that in spite of what he says, he is a nice man because he always looks out for his crew. She points out that he needs to have faith in people. He proves to need a lot of room in that department because he decides to prank Simon in a scene I dare not spoil here. Unfortunately, while Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are making a deal on a distant moon, Dobson escapes and takes River hostage.

Things finally start picking up when the ship catches the sight of Reavers, a group of monsters known for putting their victims through fates worse than death. When Mal, Zoe, and Jayne return to the ship, Mal shoots Dobson dead and they take off running, escaping the Reavers by the skin of their teeth. Shepherd suffers a minor crisis of faith about the fact that he has no moral qualms about Mal shooting Dobson. Stuff between Mal and Jayne gets foreshadowed for a future episode and Mal makes Simon an offer: stay on the ship and work as a medic and they’ll keep them on the run and away from the Alliance.

The moral dilemma stems on the conflict of what is legal vs what is morally right. This conflict of ethics gets brought up a lot. In this verse, Inara’s job (a high class call girl) is considered legal while Mal and his crew trying to salvage a ship is considered illegal. While Simon getting his sister out of the Academy was morally right, it came at the cost of him and his sister becoming fugitives. Mal comes off as hardened and morally ambiguous, just wanting to survive, but the members of his crew, especially Inara, keep him accountable. He needs them just as much as they all need him. Ut still comes as a sigh of relief that Mal decided to keep Simon and River on board. But his prank on Simon was psychotic.

A theory that analyzes Mal’s change of heart in this episode explains that River embodies someone who was royally screwed and abused by the Alliance like Mal was and, in his own strange way, Mal wants to give River the help he never got. I’m actually one to vouch that it was actually morally right for Mal to shoot Dobson in the hostage situation. As much as I wished that someone wrestled River free from Dobson and that Dobson could’ve been thrown off the ship to starve on Whitefall, it wasn’t likely to happen. Mal’s friendship with River is hinted at throughout the series, but is best seen at the end of Serenity (the film). We have a long way to go until then, though. Stay shiny because tomorrow, I look at “The Train Job.”

Of Firefly and Morality: An Introduction

Whenever I get into one of those moods where I think “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore,” I start watching my favorite sci-fi space drama. But unlike a lot of nerds, my favorite space drama isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek. It’s Firefly.

I got into Firefly long after it got cancelled. I just got done with Doctor Horrible and started watching Firefly since the main character was played by Nathan Fillion. (It’s also why I got into Castle.) Lucky for me, it was streaming online through Hulu and Netflix and is still streaming to this day. I hope to own the series and the film Serenity on DVD someday as well.

The reason I love the show so much is because it’s a show that puts characters first. The characters of Star Trek and Star Wars are definitely memorable, but at times, they feel more like archetypes or mythological beings than actual people. When I watched Firefly, I felt like I could belong and relate to these characters right away. But I also love Firefly because of all the shows created by Joss Whedon, it’s the series that looks into the ideas of morality the most.

But before I can talk about the show, lemme introduce you to the characters. Spoilers and fangirling ahead. You were warned.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds is a man of very strange morals. On the one hand, he doesn’t want anything to do with God. On the other hand, he gets into situations with a lot of risk and very little to no reward because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He’s protective of his crew and will gladly ask for their help when necessary. The best example of that is in “War Stories,” when the crew comes to rescue him and Wash from Niska (the villain of the episode) and Mal gets into a fight with one of Niska’s henchmen. Zoe says “This is something the captain’s got to do for himself.” Mal disagrees, shouting, “No, it’s not!” cueing Zoe and the others to open fire. It’s hilarious! I also love his determination. He’ll never go down without a fight. Gotta love that in a Captain.

Zoe Washburne is the second-in-command, the cool, calm, and collected one of the team. She keeps Mal and Jayne from going over the edge and is great strategist in a hard situation. She’s loyal and protective, a true Mama Bear to the crew. What stands out about her is that she is a tower of brute strength in contrast to Whedon’s usual line of small girls with super powers. Plus she came up with the line of “Big Damn Heroes,” which is awesome. “War Stories” is also a great episode that showcases her character. But Zoe’s greatest moment in my opinion wasn’t anything from the show, but in Serenity. I dare not spoil the scene. But say the phrase “I am a leaf on the wind” in front of any Browncoat and I will guarantee you, they will start crying and ask “What’s wrong with you?!”

Wash is the pilot, the comic relief, and Joss’s avatar. His establishing scene in the pilot with the dinosaurs is basically him in a nutshell: hilarious and childlike one minute, but ready for business the next. His devotional love to his wife is heartwarming and endearing. I keep thinking of this lovely scene in “Shindig,” when instead of going out to the fancy party that Mal, Kaylee, and Inara are attending, Wash and Zoe are in their bunk doing what married people do and exchange in a bit of pillow talk. I wish I could’ve seen how they got together since in “Out of Gas,” it’s shown that they weren’t exactly a case of love at first sight. Also, Joss? You’re a bastard. But you already knew that.

Inara Serra is not and never was what you would call a “space hooker.” Fellow Browncoats and I compare her to a geisha: a woman who is trained to be intelligent, sociable, and alluring. She’s fanservice but she’s actually not objectified as often as one might expect. In fact, Mal points out in “Shindig” that he respects her as a person, but he does not like her profession. “Shindig” is my personal favorite episode because it shows the gamut of Inara’s job. (Well, really it’s my favorite because I’m a sucker for costumes, especially period-themed costumes. But I digress.) You see Inara belonging amongst the upper class, entertaining her client beyond just being a mistress, and teaching Mal how to fight with a sword. (Did I mention that I also love the episode because I’m also a sucker for swordfighting?) I also recommend watching “Heart of Gold” but I can never watch it alone. Mostly because I cried my heart out.

Jayne Cobb is the muscle of the team with the most ambiguous morals. Okay, in actuality, he probably has no morals. “Jaynestown” is the best example of that. He’s great in situations where he can work with his hands. He is the personification of the Id, moreso than McCoy because, well, his two loves are weapons and women. But in spite of his moral ambiguity, he wants to be a good man. He prefers to be honest and he’s got a lot of heart. Why else would he wear such a ridiculous hat? (Note to self: My brother needs to crochet that thing.)

Kaylee Frye is adorable. She is basically sunshine and rainbows and strawberries all wrapped up in a lovely mechanic-shaped package. Her love for the ship Serenity is best seen in “Bushwhacked” and “Out of Gas.” Going back to “Shindig,” Kaylee gets her share of fun at the party. First of all, she wears this bright pink layer cake of a dress that most Sweet Lolita cosplayers would give their left arm to have. (Myself included.) Secondly, she gets the attention of most of the men who aren’t on the dance floor just by being herself. She talks about her specialty: mechanics and engines, to the point that the men would prefer her conversation than just having a dance with her. I relate to Kaylee the most in spite of my own lack of mechanical expertise because I relate to her personality and her unrequited crush on Simon. We’ve all been there, girlfriend.

Dr. Simon Tam is a character I admire more than I can relate to. But he is also the character who has the most to lose. He sacrificed his privileged life and his job to protect his sister. He’s also the butt of a lot of jokes, especially in his conflicts with Jayne. His best episode is “Ariel,” but I personally love this scene from “Trash” when he has Jayne on an operating table and intimidates him in the calmest but borderline frightening way possible. Heck, put into a different context, you could probably drop the scene down in a horror movie.

River Tam is my second favorite character on the show. She has 2 of the most memorable lines in the series, she can be crazy one moment and mind-blowingly awesome the next. Watch Serenity to see just how awesome she is or the episode “Objects in Space.” All I can say is that Summer Glau needs to find a show to be in. She has the power to read minds, which can really be a deterrent because she can also feel the pain of those she reads. Interesting little trivia: Summer Glau has a background in ballet, so Summer Glau’s fighting style is best described as being a “dance battler.” Watch her dance, btw. She is amazing.

Last, but not least, we have Shepherd Book, the preacher with a mysterious past. Thank you, Joss Whedon, for not making Book the stereotype I hate the most. (I still can’t forgive you for Caleb though.) The origin of Book gets revealed in the comics and I agree with most of it except for the part that Book wasn’t his real name. I always imagined he was like Jayne, a mercenary who joined up with the Alliance with sort of this bloodthirsty manner, but seeing the consequences of the Alliance caused a crisis of faith and so he chose to become a Shepherd.

Morality is a funny thing in Firefly, and in Joss Whedon’s works overall. Out of all the Whedon oeuvre, Firefly is the one that deals with morality the most. Buffy has mostly a very secular black-and-white sense of morality that gets a lot more confusing later on. Angel has gray morals and has a pessimistic, borderline nihilistic tone about it. Dollhouse has the darkest tone when it comes to morals and the questions that get brought up aren’t exactly answered all that well. But Firefly and Serenity constantly ask questions about morality and ethics and try to define what exactly right and wrong mean. How? Well, keep reading the blog and you’ll find out.