Firefly: Re-Watching the First Few Episodes

Overread

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Heart of Gold, to me, was also a key episode that was certainly aiming to start changing Innara's role on the ship and the relationship between her and Mal. I think it was also a contrasting episode with the one set on Persephone. The idea being we've seen two world views on Companions and Whores and also the difference between them within the setting.

I think these episodes were ground work not just for the relationship on the ship, but also the long term plans Inara clearly had with regard to coming out to the Rim. We got a bit of a hint at that in the Serenity film, however it lacked any real sense of gravity or understanding because the film had no time to develop her new role at all. Much like Mr. Universe its something likely fleshed out in the comics, but otherwise something we have to accept and take along with on teh ride through the film; accepting that it was series 1 or 2 content that was never developed.
 

.matthew.

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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.

Yes and no. The villain in 'The Message' was the corrupt Alliance officer and was just as bad as him in 'Heart of Gold'. I mean you also have to consider that although he was a despot, he did have a valid case to care for his child, who the prostitutes were flat out forbidding him to have any part of. First off, the mother was a whore, living in a whorehouse, probably not the best prospects for a child. Second, he was the ruler of a damn planet, able to provide a wild west theme park for his son :)

Both episodes featured a weak one, 'The Message' was obviously the old war buddy who was desperate and greedy, and 'Heart of Gold' had the girl who betrayed them out of fear and greed.
 

Toby Frost

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I disagree, in that the important thing to me is that the characters are nuanced rather than just strong, weak etc. The Alliance man in The Message and the betraying girl in Heart of Gold only do one thing, but that's ok as they're very much secondary characters. The villain in Heart of Gold just wants everything he can get, basically because he's a jerk. His position is comprehensible, but then so is Niska's. They're both portrayed as totally obnoxious people who nobody will miss.

So, one episode to go! Then it's the film, and perhaps the comic books that I've got, although I'm on much shakier ground with comics.
 

.matthew.

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I watched the finale. It was okay for a bottle episode, and kind of wrapped up what the crew were going to do about River being crazy all the time. That said, it was the same as Mal always did (almost blind loyalty to his crew).

I liked the bounty hunter and all his little moments. I didn't like the last scene where Mal throws him from the ship. The entire episode was minus the 'hero' characters then he comes back at the end to do the bad guy in. It might not have been so bad if the Captain didn't do his little quip before attacking, the bounty hunter having been shown to be able to get the better of everyone he faced and giving him a few seconds to react just seems like he should have fought back :)

I might watch the film, but then again maybe not.
 

Toby Frost

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"Objects In Space" - I think this is the strangest episode of the whole lot. I actually wondered if someone entirely different had written it, but I was wrong: it's written and directed by Joss Whedon.

River continues her inevitable ascent to psychic omnipotence, and Mal continues his blind devotion to his crew - neither is a great look. The bounty hunter, Jubal Early, is a good character and I expect he would have returned had the show continued. There is some psychic stuff involving River, and quite an interesting opening scene from her own point of view. All of this makes sense.

The really weird thing about this episode, the bit that puzzles me, is that it feels as if it's trying to make a philosophical point that's completely new to the show. I'm not quite sure that that point is, but it seems to revolve around naming things: perhaps the question is whether, if you call something a tree, it then becomes a tree. The conversation with Early and Simon seems to explore this, as does River's later claim to be the ship. It's not vital to understanding what's going on, but I did feel as if I would have got more out of the episode if I'd understood it better, as if the various characters represent figures in a larger philosophy.

-

So that's that. Firefly finishes on a strange, puzzling note. I can't help feel that - leaving aside her just being annoying - River's increasing psychic power would have thrown a spanner into future episodes, at least so that it would have to be properly dealt with. What I mean by this is that it's as if they replaced one of the rabbits in Watership Down with a friendly bear: with the best will in the world, the bear will end up either solving problems or being the entire focus of the story.

Ultimately, I stick with what I said at the start of the thread. Some elements gel much better than others. A couple of times (especially in "Janestown" and "The Message") Firefly is very good indeed, and produces entertaining, thoughtful TV: serious stories with witty dialogue. Most of the time, it was solidly good space adventure with good characters and humour.

It is definitely clunky, and at times doesn't seem to quite understand where its strengths lie. The Chinese and Wild West elements are sometimes not incorporated terribly well, and it feels artificial at times. It works as itself, which is what's important, but there isn't a feeling that the future might be anything like that, as I get from, say, Aliens. But then, that's not what it's there for.

Firefly holds up well, and remains a good show that never achieved its full potential. I would certainly recommend it, and would stick with my overall rating of 7/10.
 

Overread

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I fully expected Rivers increasing powers might have reached a series tipping point where she might become insanely powerful, but utterly insane and unable to control it; or sacrificing much of her power so that her brother can "fix" her which allows her a more sane disposition, but locks out much of her power.

There are lots of other ways you can curtail the power of a character that is increasing exponentially beyond the rest of the team.
 

.matthew.

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There are lots of other ways you can curtail the power of a character that is increasing exponentially beyond the rest of the team.

True, but Joss Whedon does have a habit of not doing so.

In Buffy, she just got stronger and more dangerous as it went along. Willow might be a good example of what you mean though, she went world ending powerful then had to do the hippie thing to balance it.

Angel had that possessing God thing in Fred, but I'm fairly sure she survived even the ending.

Dollhouse had Eliza Dushku becoming more and more able to just do everything that she'd ever been programmed to do, at will.

If anything, Serenity shows us what he would have had in mind; there's a massive showdown, someone dies, and River goes all super powered and saves the day.
 

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And yet she didn't really save the day all that much - she gave us a "I can fight as well as the assassin guy against crazed mad people" fight. In fact whilst there is shock that she survived when most of the crew would have died, the assassin in the film established that extensive hand to hand combat training was part of covert-ops training for Alliance operatives.

She'd shown extensive weapons training in the past, only in fits and spurts whenever her life was in danger.
 

Toby Frost

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For me, that point of the film (IIRC) just shows what an author's darling/Mary Sue River has become. It's not how many people she fights or how - it's that she, and nobody else, saves the day. Obviously, at that point, it makes sense for her to do so, but only because she is so super-powered that the other characters can't compete.

I just don't like her as much as the writers do. When they want me to find Jayne funny or Zoe heroic, I get what they're doing. When they want me to be awed by/charmed by/sympathetic to River, I don't feel it. River ends up like someone in a conversation who continually demands attention: I just want them to go away so I can see what the others are up to. I was surprised that, in episodes like "Heart of Gold", where she's in the background, I find her way more likable. It's probably not the character as such as the way that she's used.
 

.matthew.

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I'll agree that in the background she's more likeable, but the same applies to most of the cast. I can't really think of a character central episode that has made me like that character any more than I did at the beginning of it. More often than not, the Mal centric episodes put me off him a bit, as he shines when he's dealing with the rest of the crew and having little quips.

I think that's where Joss Whedon tends to excel, with the character interactions.
 

Danny McG

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Overread

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OOH! And with Lockdown what could be better than spending all of Firefly Day watching Firefly (well the cast getting back together and doing a full reboot and new season and stuff possibly ;) )
 

Avelino de Castro

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I’ve recently re-watched the first few episodes of Firefly for the first time in the best part of ten years. Well, it’s fine, but I wonder whether the way SF is made for TV these days has moved on somewhat. Not that it’s bad, it just feels a little… clunky. The elements don’t really mesh as smoothly as I remember. The Chinese phrases and occasional Wild-West style of speaking feel rather labored. Generally, the Western feel of the frontier settlements makes rough sense, although at points it goes too far – I can get the horses and rifles, but why is a henchman wearing a top hat? Why are there feudal nobility when the Alliance is portrayed as soullessly efficient?

The characters talk like Whedon people, which is fine (I’d say the same about Aaron Sorkin characters), although I suspect Whedon’s range of dialogue is fairly limited (youngish person, authority figure and villain). There’s something slightly cartoony about it all, even in the darker moments. In fairness, though, two of the flatter characters – Jayne and Wash – provide a lot of entertainment, and I laughed out loud at least once in every episode.

However, River Tam is an intolerable Mary Sue. I can’t remember another instance where I was supposed to care about a character so much and cared so little. River does a sad thing, River does a mysterious thing, River does a cool thing, ad infinitum. My interest drops through the floor whenever she crops up, because the writers will ensure that, no matter what, she’s always right. I sympathise with Jayne and I know that I’m not supposed to. It’s not the actress’ fault, as the idea is fundamentally badly-executed, but the show would be much better off without her.

However, all the actors are decent, and what fault there is lies with the scripting and direction. Of course, Firefly is important, in that it took SF (especially space adventure) in a comparatively new direction, and maybe it’s unfair to judge it entirely to current standards. It did something fairly new, and is still pretty entertaining. So far, I’d give it a solid 7/10.
you've put a lot of thought into this it's clear I enjoyed the series but saw the movie first and found the movie compelling the same way I found the movie Johnny mnemonic compelling though it is Camp it draws you in with a good story and character development that leaves you caring about the characters so what if the SF is clunky you care about these people and that's what makes it a good show
 

soulsinging

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I'll agree that in the background she's more likeable, but the same applies to most of the cast. I can't really think of a character central episode that has made me like that character any more than I did at the beginning of it. More often than not, the Mal centric episodes put me off him a bit, as he shines when he's dealing with the rest of the crew and having little quips.

I think that's where Joss Whedon tends to excel, with the character interactions.

I tend to agree about character-specific episodes, and and would add they're also pretty inconsistent about that development. In Jaynestown, Jayne seems like he finally grasps an inkling of a higher calling, only to spectacularly betray them all 1-2 episodes later (which, of course, Mal forgives remarkably easily).

Whedon is at his best with an ensemble that can banter (Buffy, Avengers, Firefly). When his focus is too specific to one character (Dollhouse), the character tends to get overloaded with angst or Mary Sue-ism. That angst is more diffused when he has an ensemble capable of puncturing the inherent self-seriousness.

Also, to follow on @Toby Frost 's point above, not only is Mal sometimes blindly devoted to his crew, there are multiple episodes where he demands equally blind obedience from the crew. For instance, the entire last 20 minutes of The Message could have been avoided had Mal taken an extra 9 seconds to tell his former grunt this was a planned ambush. In another episode, Simon makes a big stink about a plan he thinks involves turning him and River over to the feds. That's not part of the plan but Mal certainly can't just TELL him that, he has to assert his unquestionable planniness.

My wife hates Firefly (horses and cowboys on spaceships makes no sense she claims), but made a pretty astute observation... that Whedon is basically for sci-fi what Aaron Sorkin is to political junkies... crackling, clever dialogue that can really draw you in and root for favorite characters to score points in the neverending banter competition, but when you get past the slick dialogue some of the finer plot points are hokey, overly neat, or otherwise turn out to be a bit hard to swallow.
 

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In one of the early episodes the crew is captured by one of the Alliance cruisers and taken on board after they are found near to a Reaver hit ship. During the interviews the captain of the Cruiser makes and observation that Mal is still living in the war. Badger also makes the same observation regarding Mal and Zoe and Wash also makes the observation as well.

Mal issues orders and expects orders to be followed because a great part of him is still back in that war. I think it stands out because many of us are more "used" to this kind of view from what we'd consider as grandparents, ergo a much older generation. Yet its likely a view our parents likely shared when looking at their own when WW2 was over and we had a glut of adults who had been through the war now having and raising children.
That whole attitude that Mal doesn't have to explain himself is because a formative part of his mind is still operating in that war. It's still the soldier issuing orders to his subordinates. Sure he's not a brutish thug of a leader, and its clear that the almost guerrilla nature of the Browncoats resulted in battle teams that were very loyal to the cause and (importantly) to each other. Everyone watches out for everyone; you trust each person in their role and Mal is the captain - he's the leader. It's his role to issue orders and for others to follow.

So I think he does lead himself into those situations where 5 seconds of explanation would have resolved things or prevented things from happening; because he's still operating with that military style mindset. By isolating himself with Zoe on the ship for so long its likely reinforced itself as a way of thinking. Wash seems pretty "go with the flow" so hasn't pushed back against it. Kalyee is somewhat young to notice it and, again, has her spot where she fits in. It's when the crew encounters others outside of itself (which includes the new crew of the Dr and all the rest). In addition Jane has a totally different world view which is why he clashes with Mal so often.

Jane is interesting in so much as he's not a heavy thinker and he's very "in the moment" in his way of thinking. He doesn't plan ahead very far and in general his views are very short term and very selfish. Yet he also clearly sends money home to his family; he gets a knitted hat from his mother.
I think the key aspect is that both Jane and Mal can be very loyal and protective of those "in their crew". The difference is that Mal basically accepts people very very quickly. Whilst with Jane you've got to EARN it. Just being "on his crew" as in being on the same ship/team/side isn't enough for Jane. Mal has somewhat earned it with Jane; Jane makes a note several times that he will turn on the crew and the captain, but at the same time he's very cautious about the latter. "You did it to me Jane" quote comes to mind when Mal is debriefing Jane after Jane nearly gives over River and Simon to the Alliance.

I think with Jane he's clearly had a rougher upbringing* and his formative youth and adult years he's clearly been betrayed more than once in a serious way. This has basically caused him to automatically distrust anyone who isn't himself. He's been backstabbed by one or more people to the point where his world view is that everyone is out for themselves and thus Jane is out for Jane and Jane alone. Mal starts to earn respect with Jane because Mal shows, repeatedly, that he's not just out for himself. The rest of the crew have yet to earn that with Jane.


I think Mal gives Jane more breaks for two key reasons. First I think he can see that Jane is, at his core, not a bad person. He just isn't willing to go out of his way to help others and will turn on others for his own gain, but more because its been done to him enough times that doing things for others with so little earning really confuses him. You can see that in Janetown when the Mudder dies for Jane. Jane gets the idea of sacrifice for one of your own, but he can't grasp why that person would die for him; for a person who did nothing for that town at all save to drop some loot by accident.
The second is that Jane has skills; in fact Jane has very good combat and tracking skills. We learn that he's a very capable tracker, sniper, solider, fighter etc... In combat he's got top stats probably better than the rest of the crew. He's let down by his short term way of thinking, but in a combat situation he's someone Mal can trust to point in a direction and succeed. He hasn't got to babysit him and protect him.



* Edit - I'd also add that I think Jane has seen real starvation and deprivation in his life for a prolonged period. He's learned to grab what he can in the now which reinforces his chances to be disloyal and chase after the money for today. Meanwhile with Mal from what tiny bits we learn of him it sounds like his upbringing was much more affluent in comparison. He's still never been rich, but perhaps comfortable. For Mal he, I think, had suffering during the war, but perhaps not before (or if it was before it was only as things led up to the outbreak of war). For Jane I think he had it long before and after - indeed he even makes mention that he wasn't involved in the war. So perhaps his home world was out on the fringes of everywhere and basically overlooked. Heck he might even have suffered worse due to the war and saw no benefit from either Browncoats or Alliance.
 
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.matthew.

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That whole attitude that Mal doesn't have to explain himself is because a formative part of his mind is still operating in that war. It's still the soldier issuing orders to his subordinates. Sure he's not a brutish thug of a leader, and its clear that the almost guerrilla nature of the Browncoats resulted in battle teams that were very loyal to the cause and (importantly) to each other. Everyone watches out for everyone; you trust each person in their role and Mal is the captain - he's the leader. It's his role to issue orders and for others to follow.

Good post all over there, but this bit got me thinking. Mal clearly has quite a heroic form of leadership, leading from the front etc, and so it makes no sense to not tell his subordinates the real plan because there's a chance he'd be gunned down before it could be executed, leading his plan to vanish and everyone to die immediately afterward. Soldiers need a chain of command, but if they don't know what the mission actually is they are incapable of adapting to changing circumstances. Follow orders in the heat of battle to the letter, but there is a need to know the mission.
 

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True, but that assumes the plan will fail - Mal often doesn't assume the plan will fail. He even makes mention himself of how his plans never go smooth in one episode. I think part of that is that whilst he's not a fool, he doesn't plan for enough chance of things not going his way (remembering the enemy doing something like Scarlet/Saphron/etc... doing her own tricks is still going Mal's way if her method of deception works the way Mal thinks it will). So his plans tend to unravel and he's thinking on his feet which, again, isn't going to promote a lengthy explanation of his choices.


Simon and Shepherd are different and more in depth in their thinking and tend to plan for more potential problems and issues. Things going wrong, hitches and risks. Mal is more shoot from the hip and make it up as you go along whilst his plans are more one-dimensional which suits his style of leadership - but certainly can mean that if people fial to follow his orders (or if things go awry) then problems can arise.


I'd say its a suitable character fault for him.
 

Toby Frost

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Whedon is basically for sci-fi what Aaron Sorkin is to political junkies... crackling, clever dialogue that can really draw you in and root for favorite characters to score points in the neverending banter competition, but when you get past the slick dialogue some of the finer plot points are hokey, overly neat, or otherwise turn out to be a bit hard to swallow.

I agree. I think they're very similar. Both don't write "realistic" dialogue, both write in their own little worlds, and if you don't buy into it, it won't work.

Doing this re-watch made me think that there are two types of criticism that can be levelled against a show: that which occurs to you during the watching of the programme, and the sort which occurs to you once it's finished. The second sort often starts as a vague feeling that something doesn't quite work, which needs careful thought to establish exactly what it is. For me, the only really obvious issue is River, but there are a few smaller, subtler ones. However, I'm not sure if they matter much, because I enjoyed the show without it being "spoiled". I think the most important thing is that the programme works, which means that you have to suspend belief and be broadly sympathetic to what it's doing.
 
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