Firefly: Re-Watching the First Few Episodes

Boaz

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The very first scene of the very first episode is meant to define Mal. He did not lose, he was abandoned. And from that point whenever he accepted a person into his crew, then they were in the crew regardless.

Even against his better judgement, he refused to dump Simon and River at the end of the first episode. There are a few reasons for this... he liked to annoy the Alliance and he needed a medic... but Kaylee bled for them and Mal had killed for them. I think the latter two reasons really resonated with the blood his squad of browncoats shed and the number of men he killed in the war.... and you don't abandon comrades.

This is explicitly stated after River is saved from being burnt at the stake....

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?"

In Out of Gas, Mal orders everyone to abandon ship. After finding his crew has returned, he is deeply moved (although highly drugged). He is visibly comforted by their presence. And not just not the saving of human lives... Mal's world makes sense when the crew survives together.

Mal is bothered by Tracy in The Message, but quickly acts to defend him. In Mal's mind, a former squad member could become a crew member. But as soon as Tracy threatens Kaylee, Mal chooses his current crew over his former squad.

But in any story with multiple writers, every character will have discontinuities. Mal's forgiveness of Jayne's treachery broke the story for me. Mal repeatedly killed to defend his crew. He even killed Tracy, a fellow browncoat. Logically, Jayne's plan to collect on the reward for the Tams would also surely have resulted in the capture of Mal's crew... imprisonment, torture, hard labor, rape, death. And you expect me to believe that Mal would forgive this? Maybe he could forgive, but he'd never trust Jayne again. He had to exile or execute Jayne. I love Firefly, but this has always felt wrong to me.

I've never watched any other Joss Whedon show to make comparisons, but he left a few intended enigmas in this show. Inara's motives. Book's shrouded past. River's powers. I don't know if Whedon planned to ever explain River's powers. To me, River is meant to be a quest... a search for humanity... for the soul's reaction to a child or to a monster. To me, she's not a riddle to be solved... she's to be sought out... she's a mirror to reveal each person's heart.

Jayne sees her as a liability and a payday, so he tries to sell her. Jayne's monstrous character is revealed. Kaylee sees a potential friend until she witnesses River's abilities... and Kaylee is frightened.... frightened enough to give River up to Jubal in order to save herself. Kaylee's timid soul is revealed. Simon sees his dear little sister... his mei mei... and he sacrifices all he can to rescue her and River finally returns the favor at the end of the movie, "You take care of me, Simon. You've always taken care of me. My turn." Simon's loiving heart is revealed.

So how does Mal view her? He sees the monster and he sees the child. He clearly sees the threat, but he also sees that damage that caused her to be a threat. He holds both empathy and safety close. When River holds him at gunpoint, it seems he finally chooses, "I've staked my crew's life on the theory that you're a person, actual and whole..." Mal tries to deny God at every turn, but his desire to see goodness and beauty is revealed.
 
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Toby Frost

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Mal's forgiveness of Jayne's treachery broke the story for me.

That whole chunk of the story feels a bit wrong to me. While I sympathise with Jayne here - River literally knifed him, after all - the logical result would be that either Jayne or River (and Simon, presumably) is removed from the story: in Jayne's case, possibly by killing him. River can't ever be wrong (and, given the character, it might be impossible for her to realise that she's wrong), so that means that Jayne has to suffer the consequences. But Jayne is really important to the story. So, yes, it feels that Jayne (and River) gets off lightly, so that the crew can continue as it is.
 

Overread

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River didn't knife him she slashed him - a deliberate injury rather than attempt to kill. Also don't forget at that stage she was really really mentally unbalanced. Simon was trying to keep her contained but didn't really know what he was dealing with and didn't have many drugs, so chances are she was perhaps reacting badly to what little he could do and couldn't do much else. I agree it was a shocking moment and don't forget Mal has her basically locked up after that and until she gets some early treatment.
Thing is her action wasn't out of malice or intentional action, but more massive mental imbalance and abuse. If it was any other character who did it they'd have been off, she got a free pass because of her mental issues at that point in time.

As for Jane don't forget Mal was all but ready to let him be sucked out the cargo door. Right up until Jane tells Mal to "make something up" about what he did and why he's dead. I think in that moment we had an interesting exchange. At that moment not only was Mal prepared to kill Jane, not simply boot him off the ship but kill him; but Jane was also showing remorse at his actions, but also accepting his punishment as well. I figure Mal's judgement was that Jane in that moment wasn't lying, but was being honest. A flicker of a decent person behind the layers of rough life that has crafted Jane into a heavily distrusting individual. Mal gave him another chance like he gave Saffron another chance. Mal is a capable killer, but he's also an optimist when it comes to people and he's more willing to accept that a person can change. Perhaps because deep down he wants to change a bit from what he sees himself as and giving others a chance to change is part of his way to try and give himself room to change.
 

Toby Frost

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Leaving aside whatever variation of science fiction it happens to be (science fantasy, space western etc), how would people describe the tone of Firefly? Is it a comedy-drama? If you chop it up into bits, it has scenes that are action, comedy and drama, but I can't think of another way of describing it.
 

Overread

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Part of what makes it hard to define is it never really got going to define itself.
I think that the early episodes we get are clearly erring toward upbeat in general tone, even if they don't win by the end. There's an element here of the standard dramatic story telling in that the creator creates a desirable situation ready to knock it out from under the characters feet. A bit focus of the episodes is that of the crew - of forming a bond between the different members that's more than just happenstance (which is why Jane stands out so much because he resists this the most).

We can see some of this go further into the loss areas of the crew in the movie where Shepherd and Innara have both left (a sense of loss).


In general we get drama, heists, upbeat and some downbeat story elements. I think that part of the series finding its own feet was going to likely be if it approached its story telling with more heist adventures with subtle story drama along the way or if they shifted gear into full story mode. Considering its age and the style of TV at the time and the creator I suspect we'd have settled into a general theme where most episodes in most series would have focused on the heist approach. Likely with a background drama that grew through several seasons perhaps even to the point of a massive series turn around into something like a second Browncoat war or other major event. I suspect if the series had continued we'd have had at least one dominated by battles with the Reavers over and over again building to the climax of River's reveal of more of her past, talents and what she knew. A reveal that likely would have had far more forshadowing and more gravity if it had had a two or three season buildup.
 

.matthew.

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With all the different locations and cultures, I'd like to add adventure to whatever other definition it ends up with.
 

Toby Frost

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The reason I asked this is that I've been watching some of The West Wing recently, and I'm very interested by the way that it and Firefly work in terms of tone and plotting. I've said before that Aaron Sorkin's writing reminds me somewhat of Joss Whedon's, and both shows are basically dramas, but use a lot of comedy. Both have comedy interludes (Mal's mixture of competence and foolishness reminds me of Josh from TWW), minor characters who are basically comic (Monty, Lord John and so on) and entirely serious and/or schmaltzy parts. And of course both writers use witty, unrealistic dialogue. I've written serious stuff and outright comedy, but the ability to move between comedy, light adventure and serious "issues" stories really interests me.
 

Don

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Jayne and Mal's relationship is defined from the get go in the pilot episode.
Mal: How come you didn’t turn on me, Jayne?
Jayne: Money wasn’t good enough.
Mal: What happens when it is?
Jayne: Well… that’ll be an interesting day.
Mal: I imagine it will.
Given the foreshadowing, it's not a surprise when things get interesting later on.
Jayne: O-Okay! I'm sorry, all right?
Mal: Sorry for what, Jayne? I thought you'd never do such a thing.
Jayne: The money was too good. I got stupid. I'm sorry, okay? Be reasonable. What are you taking it so personal for? It ain't like I ratted you out to the Feds.
By the way, "Ariel" and "Objects in Space" are my favorite episodes.
 
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.matthew.

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I can't say I noticed much witty dialogue in Firefly. I mean I guess it's there but it's short wit compared to the long long long scenes in West Wing.

The West Wing also tried to appeal to a specific political agenda throughout its run, while Firefly was mostly just cowboys in space and aside from "Alliance Bad" thrown in here and there, didn't really have a message.

As for comedy to serious, yea, that's not something that people can pull off well. The West Wing did manage it quite often and I think that grew from Sorkin's earlier work (did you ever see Sports Night?), but I never really got a serious vibe from Firefly/Buffy/Avengers/etc. Whedon tends towards substituting real drama for high stakes action scenes.
 

Don

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Speaking of dialogue (so to speak):
How did you devise the singular dialogue style?
[Whedon]: The patois with which [the characters] speak is very made-up. It has a lot of Western in it. I took a lot of Shakespeare, some Pennsylvania Dutch from the turn of the century, some Irish, any colloquialism that fit in their mouths, plus a lot of Chinese, which they all cursed me for - in English, because the Chinese is too damn hard to remember. People talk about it as Western, but actually, with a healthy dollop of made-up Joss talk, it's basically based on everything. A very influential book for me was Tillie: A Mennonite Maid, a story of the Pennsylvania Dutch from the turn of the century which has wonderful phrasings in it, and then of course, Elizabethan English always works its way into my work, because I'm a little obsessed with it. I'm terribly fond of Victorian literature and of Dickens. It could be something out of hip-hop. If it rings true, it goes in. And if it doesn't, hoo-boy, you can tell.
 

Toby Frost

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Well, I finally got round to watching the film again! Overall, it's very good and definitely recommended. Inevitably, River is still an author's darling who can do nothing wrong, but there's at least some context for this. Everything feels bigger and more solid, including most of the characters. The larger budget gives the opportunity for more impressive scenery and some good action scenes, particularly the chase with the Reaver spaceship near the beginning. There are some nice directorial bits, such as the long single take that introduces the crew, and slightly more of a sense of the setting.

Random thoughts, in no particular order: when I saw this at the cinema, out of context, I honestly thought that Inara was a Buddhist monk; Whedon deserves credit for killing off two notable characters; the actors are all good, particularly Adam Baldwin as Jayne, and Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a decent turn as a weirdly calm assassin; Book is good but doesn't get enough to do; there seem to have been a lot of shots of River's feet; the new minor characters are all quirky and entertaining and I'm slightly surprised that Mal and Inara don't definitely get together (although it sort of makes sense).

I'm slightly unsure about how neatly everything is wrapped up, and I wonder if there was an original plan to make both River and the Reavers the result of government dubious practice. I always wondered if the thing that sent the Reavers mad would be kept obscure, perhaps hinting at some kind of cosmic horror rather than human evil. Anyway, Serenity is a strong finale, and probably the best bit of the entire thing, perhaps with the exception of "The Message". I've read three of the four comics and, while they were perfectly good, I didn't feel that they added all that much to Firefly.

So there we go. Job done. I just need to play the board game now.
 
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Vladd67

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Well, I finally got round to watching the film again! Overall, it's very good and definitely recommended. Inevitably, River is still an author's darling who can do nothing wrong, but there's at least some context for this. Everything feels bigger and more solid, including most of the characters. The larger budget gives the opportunity for more impressive scenery and some good action scenes, particularly the chase with the Reaver spaceship near the beginning. There are some nice directorial bits, such as the long single take that introduces the crew, and slightly more of a sense of the setting.

Random thoughts, in no particular order: when I saw this at the cinema, out of context, I honestly thought that Inara was a Buddhist monk; Whedon deserves credit for killing off two notable characters; the actors are all good, particularly Adam Baldwin as Jayne, and Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a decent turn as a weirdly calm assassin; Book is good but doesn't get enough to do; there seem to have been a lot of shots of River's feet; the new minor characters are all quirky and entertaining and I'm slightly surprised that Mal and Inara don't definitely get together (although it sort of makes sense).

I'm slightly unsure about how neatly everything is wrapped up, and I wonder if there was an original plan to make both River and the Reavers the result of government dubious practice. I always wondered if the thing that sent the Reavers mad would be kept obscure, perhaps hinting at some kind of cosmic horror rather than human evil. Anyway, Serenity is a strong finale, and probably the best bit of the entire thing, perhaps with the exception of "The Message". I've read three of the four comics and, while they were perfectly good, I didn't feel that they added all that much to Firefly.

So there we go. Job done. I just need to play the board game now.
And the RPG.
 
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