Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Firefly Ep2: Serenity Part Two

Funny thing blogging, on a creative level, nothing gives me more joy than running through the varied currents of my latest science-fiction exercise of the week and sharing it with you. That and family of course. Typing on a blank screen like some kind of canvas and filling it with pictures and visual images is somehow fairly satisfying. In fact, I think about the only thing that might give me greater satisfaction would be to find that inherent gift of Joss Whedon writing brilliance shined down upon me from the heavens from pen to paper to write something as wonderful and timeless as Firefly. Would that day ever come it would be a great joy indeed. Until such time, I shall continue to squeeze in my own personal explorations and analysis right here with my fellow sci-fi comrades between work, coaching, cooking, splinter removals, bills and the occasional trip to the bathroom.

The thrilling pilot entry continues. Serenity Part One and Serenity Part Two combine as one lengthy pilot on Blu-Ray, but I had to break it up for sanity purposes while assembling for the blog. As we all know, Part One was a thrill ride and loaded to the hilt with exciting character introductions and splendid 'verse table-setting. Here we go with the launch of Firefly, Episode 2, Serenity Part Two.

When we last left our heroes aboard the Serenity, Mal had opened a freezer box in the cargo hold unveiling one adorably naked girl in the form of Summer Glau in the old birthday suit. Who is she? She wakes screaming. She knows Simon's name as he runs to her side. He clearly cares for the girl. She holds him. "This is my sister." Her name is River. She is the final regular character to be introduced in the series. Simon takes five to fill in the crew. Simon is clearly a gifted individual. He informs all that his sister makes him look like "an idiot child." His sister is brilliant and apparently a more gifted individual. His family decided to send her to a government-sponsored school at the age of fourteen. She wrote Simon until the letters to her ceased arriving. She informed him, "they're hurting us, get me out." Simon knew he must save his sister. He came upon an underground movement that informed him the government was "playing with her brain." He indicates here that this group could inevitably aid him in getting his sister out. This is explained in greater detail visually in the feature length film Serenity, but I don't believe it plays out in the movie as it is hinted to or explained here if my recollection is correct. When Simon finishes with his story, Mal cheekily calls his story "a tale of woe, very stirring." Mal is more concerned about his crew being pursued by The Alliance. Mal is always concerned for his crew. Mal admits "we finish the job." He wants to unload the goods and "keep flying." Simon asks what will become of he and his sister. Mal suggests if Kaylee lives, Simon and River will be free to leave next stop. Inara threatens to leave Serenity if Simon and River are cast aside.

Simon confronts Mal and wants to know what Mal fears in The Alliance. Mal firmly suggests he not push him on the subject. When he does, Simon gets another big, fat, right hook.

Later, Mal interrogates The Alliance mole regarding what he knows. Mal tells the man he has left the job to a knife-wielding Jayne. Mal mutters softly to Jane as he exits. "Now you're only gonna scare 'em," says Mal, because that's the kind of guy Mal is. A line like that really speaks volumes about the character of the man that is Mal Reynolds. He is a good man left to deal with the realities of a harsh universe. After Mal is gone, Lawrence, the Alliance mole, tells Jayne that the girl, referring to River, is a "precious commodity." He continues, "long after you bury me, they'll be coming." As Lawrence talks and Jayne listens, Lawrence begins to realize Jayne isn't the sharpest tool in the shed and looks to be fairly open to the power of suggestion. He offers to make a deal with Jayne that could garner him enough funds to buy his own ship, a "better one than this piece of crap." Jayne is certainly one to consider his options. He's a player, an opportunist. Jayne inquires if his offer means "turning on the Captain." You know the answer.

On the bridge of the Serenity, Wash picks up a vessel that is "operating without core containment," translated means its passengers are exposed to a high level of radiation. Most normal living, breathing creatures would die from such an arrangement without the protection from a vessel's core. Something is different about this. There is no music. The mood is somber and Mal mentions one word, "Reavers." If I recall, this would be the one entry to give us a general sense of dread regarding the Reavers. We would not actually have the chance to meet and engage this enemy in this short series any more than they do in the second portion of this pilot. The sheer mention of the Reavers was enough to instill fear into the passengers' hearts, but it would not be until the feature length motion picture Serenity that we would see and learn more about the bloody, literally, Reavers. "God" says Mal. "Oh God oh God" says Wash.

You really get a sense of just how feared the Reavers are. They have established a reputation and you can see it in the faces of those aboard the Serenity. It is near quiet as the mood is really built up beautifully in the sequence. There is real tension. Coming face to face with the Reavers is clearly tantamount to facing death and is the least desired path. The silence is deafening. The vacuum of space has never been handled with more convincing terror than the silence employed in this sequence. Horror has never been more deftly delivered for television without actually seeing the enemy. Lives are hanging in the balance here and you can feel it.
The execution of the sequence is science fiction heaven. I love this stuff!

The team clearly has lady luck on their side this time around. Kaylee is coming around after being shot in the gut in Serenity Part One. She tells the Captain it's no one's fault. She asks him to remember that and the Captain tells her he'll "keep it in mind." Kaylee is a peacekeeper and a bridge builder. She doesn't actually build physical bridges, but works on bringing people together and fortifying relationships. She's a real diplomat. She is a positive force on Serenity. She was referred to by Joss Whedon as the soul of the ship and her crew. Her innocence is adored by Mal. She represents what he used to be I suspect. He loves her for it. "You just gotta have faith in people" she tells Mal. That's exactly the problem. Mal has lost his faith. That is something running in short supply for Mal and he struggles with it. Those aboard Serenity keep it alive for him.

Meanwhile, Simon and Inara talk with one another. He apologizes for his part in what happened with Kaylee. Inara understands and tells him "you're lost in the woods." It's a powerful metaphor. She continues, "We all are even the Captain, the only difference is he likes it that way." She's so right. Mal jealously interrupts. Mal exhibits real displeasure with Inara and her role as companion. Mal tells Simon he can see things clearer in the woods. Why do I understand how he feels? I imagine many of us feel that way when the world hardly makes sense. It's funny, but there is a real chemistry between Inara and Mal and the back and forth is always engaging. Each actor was perfectly cast in their respective roles. There is so much chemistry aboard the Serenity. Mal and Inara continue building walls between themselves, masking their pains and their problems with one another, rather than communicating honestly. In an odd way, it's what they know and they, like many of us, don't know how to break from the cycle. At the same time it's survival and self-preservation and ironically if it means Mal can be with her it will have to do because he does love her.

Mal meets up with Simon and explains the predicament he has while he and his sister remain on board. The Fed mole will also need to be dealt with at some point. He tells Simon his time is running out and that "Kaylee's dead." He turns and walks away. Simon runs stumbling back to medlab. He really is psychotic. This is priceless and gives us another glimpse of the man.

A cowgirl/ business woman named Patience hails Mal and the crew. She knows the drill. She knows the loot is Alliance marked. She's okay with that. Mal indicates, "I believe that woman's planning to shoot me again," alluding to the fact they share a history. Mal knows something is up. But one way or another it needs to happen. I like this moment because you really sense Mal's desperation a bit. The Alliance pretty much squeezes him, his crew and his ship. The organization's ability to extend its government tentacles throughout space serves as a real problem for the captain. Mal does everything in his power to remain outside of its reach, outside of its grip [simply sing that theme song people]. If it means being an intergalactic Robin Hood, he'll do it, but no way in hell will he relent to the realities of survival in a post-Alliance galaxy. It ain't gonna happen! He will not let it. This is a gripping example of the kind of dialogue and character interaction that dart through the terrific series.

What I love about Mal's indignant anger is that he refuses to be relent, give up or succumb to becoming some kind of down on his luck, loser. He will make his way if it kills him. I think I know of a few less than industrious people that could learn a thing or two from Mal, except for that smuggling part.

Just because it's cool!

So, the Serenity lands in Whitefall and lands with some pretty, impressive special effects I might add. As Mal, Zoe and Jayne head out they are quite aware of the possibility of an ambush by old friend Patience. The team prepares for the deal to go down by scoping out their very western surroundings. There's definitely a hint of spaghetti Western to the whole vibe. You might half expect to see Clint Eastwood make an appearance complete with that whistle sound from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly given their wardrobe, guns, holsters and general ready-for-a-showdown look. It's terrific stuff. If you asked me if I would enjoy a Western fused with Science Fiction as a genre form years ago I would have laughed. I'm a changed man. I'm a believer now. This is your typical sparkling dialogue and exactly why Firefly is special.

Zoe: "Don't think it's a good spot sir. She still has the advantage over us."
Mal: "Everyone always does, that's what makes us special."

You gotta love that! "Don't kill anyone if you don't have to." But if you have to definitely do it! Kidding aside, this is once again just a brief little bit that speaks to the heart of a man with certain ethics and morals that have been pushed aside or at least tempered with the goal of survival. Back on Serenity, Book visits the incarcerated fed. Book is knocked unconscious and even after being knocked out is given an unmerciful double-pounding. YOWZA! It is not pleasant and says alot about the enemy that is The Alliance. The fed finds his belongings and attempts to logon to a PDA-like device that accesses something called the Central Cortex, but there's no connection. He does get his gun. River awakens in medlab calling for Simon. Held at gunpoint, the fed has River and that would be all that he needs.

Outside, with Jayne taken to higher ground as cover for both Mal and Zoe, Mal and Zoe meet up with Patience arriving fittingly on horseback. By the way, Patience has such a great western-styled ring to is doesn't it. Is there anything on this show that isn't well thought out. Jayne finds one of Patience' sniper goons and takes him out. Now Jayne has Patience through the scope's cross hairs after flashing it over his partner Mal. Mal and Patience prepare to make the deal as he shows Patience a sample of the high protein food supplements. That was a pretty good surprise. I thought the gold bars were gold, but they are food stuffs and apparently just as valuable as gold. Mal informs Patience of the location of the goods and the two sort of pause in a kind of Mexican stand off. Mal asks politely for Patience and company to leave first. Now that Patience has what she needs, the little double-crossing, old granny plans on getting the bag of money back she just threw over to Mal. She's a vicious, vile little septuagenarian [I think]. As a result, a down and dirty shoot 'em up ensues and Zoe takes a hard shot to the chest after most of Patience' crew goes down. It's a wild exchange and does the Western proud.

Wash tries telling Simon to see about getting dropped off somewhere a bit more civilized than Whitefall when this is all over. Simon says not to worry, but Wash always worries especially when Zoe is out making deals with Mal. The shooting sequence is juxtaposed with the security and warmth of the Serenity. This concludes with a bit of trouble when Kaylee informs over the intercom that the fed has taken River. He's a fly in the ointment. As the fed is close to exiting, Simon leaps over one of the overhangs and jumps on top of him.

With the shoot out over, Zoe leans up off the ground. Wisely, as only a good smuggler can with sound preparation, she lives. She was protected by an armored vest, now complete with dent. "Well, you were right about this being a bad idea," says Mal. "Thanks for saying sir," retorts Zoe. Zoe has a real respect for Mal and is a true soldier who understands chain-of-command. Patience is all that is left and she tells Mal not to take another step. With one shot he takes down her horse, which falls upon her. Here are Mal's final words and they are a beaut!

The bad news is Whitefall has incoming hostiles in the form of Reavers. Seriously, when do pilots ever get this exciting? I think Lost may have been one of the few that pulled it off in aces, but Serenity Part One and Serenity Part Two are simply amazing in their pacing. This is inspired work.

On board Serenity, Wash informs all aboard via intercom Reavers are incoming and that normally means their vessel needs to move fast and move fast now. They exit in one minute's time. Between the Serenity and the Reaver vessel some serious cash went into the look and design of the science fiction portion of Firefly. It is exciting stuff to look at, a true feast for the eyes. Things are getting tense as the Reavers have entered Whitefall's atmosphere. Mal, Zoe and Jayne are on horseback and riding like the wind back to the old girl. You can sense the dread, panic and general desperation in Wash's voice. He is anxious to pull out of there before it is too late. These are people who understand the danger that lies ahead.

Simon holds the quote unquote "lawman" at gunpoint as he tries to smooth talk Simon. A badly wounded Book looks on with a big, bloody gash. This is the kind of stuff that made Firefly so damn fun. It shoots from the hip [literally] and simply blows you away. You just can't turn your eyes away.

Well, they were in a hurry and now their off! The Reaver and Serenity chase sequence is intense and mostly a tour de force of sci-fi aerial excitement. It needs to be seen on the big screen to be fully enjoyed appreciated.

There is an exchange between Mal and Inara during the heat of the chase that really sheds some light on Mal's true feelings for Inara as he touches her shoulder and tells her to leave the ship in the shuttle with the civilians. Mal has a heart of gold for those he deems worthy of showing. Wash has a plan and Kaylee knows it. The two appear to work in sync. She offers full burn of the girl's engines and Wash tells her to prepare it. Book assists the injured Kaylee. Mal calls for an "Ivan." Wash asks Kaylee how she would feel about pulling a "Crazy Ivan." She always wanted to give it a try. The Reavers prepare to hit their pray with an electronic grappler. How can one resist an electronic grappler!? Oh for cryin' out loud, it may not be the big screen, in fact, it may be the smallest damned screen going, but I just gotta show you one of my all-time favorite sci-fi moments in science fiction television. Here ya go with the absolutely fantastic Crazy Ivan maneuver!

I love how the ship reverses direction in what probably amounts to a technical marvel that defies logic I'm sure. Further, Serenity literally loads up on full burn and lays waste to the Reavers absolutely disintegrating the animals. Outta sight people! Are you diggin' this? And how 'bout the sweet stroke of Kaylee's hand on the body of the Serenity. t's true love. She caresses her like a baby and we intuitively understand her affection. To celebrate, Zoe and Wash head off for a touch of stress release if you know what I mean.

Inara tends to Book. His faith has wavered by all that he is seen this day. He appears shaken. "I think I'm on the wrong ship" he tells her. Inara places her hand on his head conversely giving Book some faith of her own. She tells him he might have it right. Either way, Book is a man in search of himself. Inara may be one of the most grounded of the crew, one of the most confident and self-assured of any of them. Clearly, this whore really has it together. The image is almost Christ-like as Inara offers her trust to Book. It's an image of forgiveness and I cannot help but feel a Christian parallel to the moment.

Simon tends to his sister. River has spent most of her time resting thus far. She didn't think Simon would come for her. He calls her a "dummy." The siblings embrace.

Mal and Jayne talk about the fed. Mal knows the scumbag offered Jayne a deal. It makes sense to me now why Jayne initially placed Mal in the site of his gun. He thought about the deal that was made by the fed. He knew if he wanted to he could take down Mal, but he didn't do it. He tells Mal here there wasn't enough money offered to turn on Mal. If I recall correctly, Jayne came to Mal nearly the same way. Jayne shot his partners with Mal held at gunpoint. So you have to imagine Mal isn't completely certain of Jayne's motivations and would certainly proceed with an element of caution. Still, he puts his faith and trust in Jayne with what little he has to offer. Jayne is like the girlfriend you got when she cheated on her boyfriend with you. Will she do the same to you next? We won't know all that transpired, but I'd hazard to guess Jayne enjoys the bad boy / outlaw status, but that down deep he's in search of something more, be it a brother, be it a family, be it acceptance and trust. He tells Mal it will be an interesting day should the right offer ever come along. "Imagine it will," responds Mal. Sadly, we'd never have the chance to find out.

Simon asks Mal where he'll be getting dumped off. Mal says they're safest on the move. Mal makes an offer to the medic of staying on board Serenity for refuge until something better comes along. Simon aks how he'd would know if Mal would ever wanted to kill him in his sleep. Mal replies, "You don't know me son, so let me explain this to you once. If I ever kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing me and you'll be armed." Okay. You see, he's a straight shooter. Mal is a man of honor in a world of thieves. He's playing by the rules of thieves while hanging on to his own code. Simon isn't quite sure what to make of the captain. The captain tells him "We're still flying." Simon says, "that's not much." The captain replies, in two words what it all means to him, "that's enough." That's everything to this series.

That's enough for now compadres. Stick around for joy space cowboys.

Serenity Part Two: A
Writer: Joss Whedon
Director: Joss Whedon


Havremunken said...

Man this was a great show. I love Whedon almost as much as Straczynski - we just had Dollhouse episode 6 on TV here in Norway and it went from meh to headbanging awesome in a few minutes - and if I had ONE sci-fi wish come true it would be to see Firefly get a full lifespan.

When Mal informs Simon that Kaylee is dead - and the execution, with the sad music and the slow motion and the waving and the shock and the laughter - I almost died myself. I've seen enough TV to be completely tricked by that, and I couldn't stop laughing. That, the shooting of the horse, and the shooting of the fed really are shining examples of what made Firefly so awesome for me. My significant other and I watched through the show a few months back - she wasn't a fan, but I had a great time watching it for the fifth or sixth time.

Oh, and you will get some reaver stuff indirectly in an episode before the movie. And yeah, the total fear that these big, tough guys have for the reavers really leap out of the screen. Awesome.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Terrific thoughts H! Thanks. I agree. I want a "full lifespan." In the meantime, I will have to give Dollhouse a look someday.

As always, looks like we are in near synchronicity. Cheers for the input.