Firefly: Re-Watching the First Few Episodes

Toby Frost

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"Trash": another good solid episode, like a slightly jollier version of "Ariel". Christina Hendricks returns as Saffron (or whoever she really is) and everyone co-operates to carry out another heist. Much double-crossing ensues. Simon has a good scene with Jayne at the end (one of Simon's best moments, I think). River is full-on psychic. Goodness knows what she would have been like by season three. Once again, I laughed out loud.

The conclusion I'm coming to is that Serenity has one too many crewmembers. I find the core crew the most interesting - essentially the people who either fly the ship or are just "a guy with a gun": Mal, Jayne, Wash, Kaylee and Zoe. Several times now, one of Book, Inara, and River/Simon hasn't appeared (Book is virtually absent from "Trash"). I don't actually think that I'd lose River and Simon, but I'd probably combine them.

Now on to the last three episodes, two of which I remember as being good, and one of which struck me as quite strange when I first saw it.
 

.matthew.

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Trash is one of my least favourite episodes. It felt like mostly Mal and Saffron, and then had the whole Inara proves she's a better manipulator to save the day at the end.

If the Jayne and Simon scene is the one where the doctor drugs him, that's a really good one. Always made me laugh.
I checked and no, but it's a good scene anyway.
 

Glaysher

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The conclusion I'm coming to is that Serenity has one too many crewmembers. I find the core crew the most interesting -

Both Buffy and Angel improved as their core cast grew and I think Whedon thought he should start with a larger cast as a result. However, starting with that many was problematic as there were too many to get to know. With Buffy and Angel, the growth was much slower, introducing a new character at a time.
 

Toby Frost

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I like that scene partly because Simon doesn't do much stuff of his own very often: he's either looking after/interpreting River or just being awkward, so it's good that he's actually making a decision and we're learning something about him. The Inara thing is difficult: there's a vague air of smugness about her, but having to be the sensible grown-up of the crew is a bit of a thankless task.

I keep thinking back to the crew of the Nostromo in Alien. They were all very distinct, and there were seven of them - but that was a rather different sort of story, after all.
 

Overread

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I think if he'd had a regular series through to completion and then multiple series thereafter he'd have been fine with the cast. I think he went for a good number of cast regulars when you consider that he likely wasn't planning to add many more over the years. The ship itself doesn't even have many more actual communal rooms so their ability to take on more and more crew is directly limited by the fixed "set" of the ship itself.

One thing that can hamper a lot of writers and series is not knowing if they will get a full first season let alone several after. I believe when Firefly was made they were still very much in the age of typically giving series only "one more". Whereas today there's a bit more pressure to give a series with a good first season, two or three following seasons to improve upon the potential story building and plot development which can come from having a more structured and known future.
 

.matthew.

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Had a lazy Sunday and watched the first few episodes again myself (curse you for starting this thread). I liked Shindig, except for the holographic pool table (the ship has cruddy tiny dirty screens but a bar can afford interactive holograms lol). I think it's the only one other than the whorehouse episode that I actually liked Inara in.
 

Overread

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Honestly I think a lot of the technology aspects are muddled up partly by setting and partly by the shows limited budget. We see a bit of this in the movie where the mule transforms from a quadbike to a hovercraft - which in the series is shown as pretty highly advanced tech.

Also I think there's a bit of technology muddling going on in the colonies. There's clearly a lot of advanced tech that never makes it out of the central worlds, but some appears to here and there. In fact an old model pool table that was broken might be just the sort of thing that makes it out to the rim. Perhaps it was simply dumped as rubbish and transported out (we do this today with firstworld technology being uneconomical to repair in the firstworld nation; so it gets thrown out and shipped to the poorer nations where its then repaired and re-used); or perhaps the owner was an early colonist from the central worlds during the unification and came out with great ideals to strike a killing in the new lands only to hit hard times etc....
 

Toby Frost

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I just took the pool table to be a sort of visual joke, like the window (which is really a hologram, or a force field perhaps) that someone gets thrown through - it's a classic prop from a seedy bar, but made "space age". I don’t think every bit of technology we see makes perfect sense – just as some of the Wild West trappings are a bit too “on the nose” to be entirely convincing to me – but the overall impression is about right.

Two more random thoughts: first, Jayne really reminds me of the dim, violent Gorch brothers from the old western The Wild Bunch. Second, is it pretentious to mention that I really like the use of colours on this show? It’s a lot brighter and more varied than a lot of SF: the browns and reds of the frontier worlds and the browncoat remnants, the green and grey of the Alliance military, and the white and pale blue of the civilian core worlds. Although some of the sets and effects are cheap (I heard that the Alliance soldiers wear Starship Troopers armour and WW2 German helmets) the vibrancy of it really helps. The miniature painting I’m currently doing has got me quite into colours and the idea of a “uniform without a uniform”, and I think Firefly does this well.
 
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.matthew.

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The window is something else I was going to mention, but if you do consider them just a gag it actually smooths over the weirdness of them, and I did laugh when the window remade itself. Like why have the smashed animation unless you know people are going to 'break' it.

Absolutely agree on the colours, it is one of the things that I find to be almost perfect about the show. I've always been a fan of distinct palettes, and less 'realistic' drabness in video.

<- Case in point, the parrot coloured dragon I sculpted :)
 

Overread

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Eh there's a fad in cinema at present for lots of very drab settings. It's even bled into some computer games. Compare something like Skyrim with its drab colour pallet to something far more vibrant like The Witcher. Both are dark fantasy games, but one is richer in standard colour than the other.
 

Toby Frost

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There's even a fashion in Warhammer for painting everything murky-brown. I think it's a bit of a short cut to "seriousness" but it can look very dull. Firefly does very well at having a variety of colours but keeping a battered, lived-in look for the technology.
 

.matthew.

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I bought all my paints from coat d' arms, Toby. They are the original formulas from the 90s Games Workshop colours :)

I think a good example of the colours in firefly would be in Shindig. In the ball room.
 

Toby Frost

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"The Message" - an excellent episode, probably the best so far. Despite some funny lines (I laughed out loud three times), it's more sombre than usual, which works well. All the characters pitch in, and all get to do their thing without being annoying or getting in the way. (This is how River should have been throughout, and it's only slightly toned down from normal). We get some good character development for Simon, Jayne and Book, and further hints at Book's mysterious past. The story is solid and, given how it plays out, isn't too schmaltzy. This episode shows just how good Firefly could have been if it had been allowed to continue.
 

Justin Swanton

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I liked Serenity (which I suppose is pretty much like Firefly) because it has the same innocent optimism as Star Wars - the first movies that is. Movies in the 90's were still like that, Independence Day for example. Today it's gloomier or, much worse, woke.
 

Toby Frost

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I don't get this whole "woke" thing. I don't want to be preached at, but who does? Preachiness isn't a failure of politics, it's a failure of storytelling. That said, IIRC the old 1960s Star Trek hardly shied away from some pretty obvious social satire.

Anyway, back to Firefly. Next up is "Heart of Gold", which I remember as being one of the most Wild Westy episodes.
 

.matthew.

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Just finished Heart of Gold myself. It's up there with my favourites, but it also highlighted something I'd noticed a little on the rewatch... They're sci-fi'd up the gunshots. They sound half energy and half bullet for some reason.
 

Toby Frost

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I think I was aware of it before, but I really noticed it in the flashback in "The Message". I'm pretty sure that Zoe's gun, which looks like a cut-down Winchester rifle, makes a sci-fi noise. It's never quite clear what the guns are meant to be, although I'm sure we see plenty of bandoliers.

I can't quite make out the details of the parrot dragon, by the way, but well done for sculpting him. I've tried sculpting and it ain't easy!
 

.matthew.

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Yea, I'd noticed it a few times, but that episode had so much gunfire it really hit me. I can't remember noticing it when I last watched them though.

I did love the gun sounds in Farscape, those were just crazy but totally fit the spirit of the show.

I can't quite make out the details of the parrot dragon, by the way, but well done for sculpting him. I've tried sculpting and it ain't easy!

It's a her actually :) I usually sculpt little things based on book characters (or games). This one was Amelia the Planeswalker from Rachel Aaron's Heartstriker series (minus the tiny wine glass that didn't come out well at all). Her clan are supposed to be south American dragons with feathers in wild colours (hence the parrot scheme).

IMG_20200202_200944-01.jpeg

(I liked the sculpt but I've always been a bit iffy on painting)
 

Toby Frost

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"Heart of Gold" - not the best episode, even though the shooting is entertaining and the relationship between Mal and Inara moves forward. It's extremely Wild Westy, and the futuristic elements don't really gel terribly well (the "check batteries" moment did make me laugh, though).

There's a bit of dialogue that struck me as interesting. Nandi, the madame of the brothel that they're defending, describes the villain as deliberately holding the planet back, "playing cowboys" and making it like a Wild West theme park. I thought this was surprisingly self-aware: one of the "rules" of Space Captain Smith was that nobody ever pointed out that the ant-people were like Nazis, which made the setup feel slightly more solid, somehow. Does that mean that someone might notice that one of the villains is holding an AK47 that makes a laser gun sound? It's not breaking the 4th wall, but it seems oddly close.

There's also two interesting articles to be written about feminism and gun ownership (and USA-type libertarianism) in Firefly. I'm not the person to write them and I doubt this is really the place to discuss it.

I think what weakens this episode, and what "The Message" lacked, is a sort of cartoonyness. The Message works for me because it's not really the story of a bad man but a weak one, the sort of person who everyone meets at some point. The villain of Heart of Gold is a raging nutter, and that's that. Obviously, Firefly was always going to be quite a broadly-drawn show (it's a space adventure with cowboy bits, after all!) but I think it works better when there's a bit of nuance. Even something small, like the relationship between Saffron and her husband in "Trash" really helps.
 
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