Serenity • S01E01 • TPN's Firefly Guide

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Serenity • S01E01 • TPN's Firefly Guide

Writing about Firefly is an even more intimidating challenge as compared to say the first seasons of Buffy or Angel Where those two shows felt like they took a lot of time to evolve and find their voices, Firefly comes out of the gate fully formed, lived in, and realized That may be due in part to its early cancellation and that we never got to see the evolution of the writing (What if the first season of Buffy was all we got?) but I don’t think it’s that simple From the first episode this is a VERY complex universe with a wide array of detailed characters Unlike a Buffy or an Angel where most of the characters are meeting for the first time and the characters are figuring out each other as the writer’s are figuring them out, the characters of Firefly have a history with each other EVERY scene is layered, with many complex character interactions Even Joss Whedon himself said that he poured many of the lessons he learned from showrunning previous shows into this one As such, there is immediately a lot to cover We could probably spend several videos just talking about Inara herself It’s a lot But before I dive in, I wanted to introduce anyone new to the channel to the way these videos work The episode guides are not intended to be a comprehensive retelling of every episode – all the great lines and best scenes For that you should just…go and watch the show My ultimate desire is getting at what Firefly is ABOUT What does it have to say about it’s universe and in what ways do those statements relevant to us and our lives But there is no substitute for actually watching the show and that is not my intention with this video series The guide will be written non-spoiler so that someone who hasn’t seen the show can watch right after they watch an episode, but I’ll try and bring all the threads we develop together in the final video with the Firefly movie, Serenity My focus is interpreting the show itself, and what material was given us No more, no less What can we make of the threads that are here? The writer’s may have intended one thing or another with the various story threads that were left behind but those were never finished So, how can we head canon what was given? 14 episodes and a movie And that is what these guides will be about maybe the comic too 101 Summary The series opens on a heated battle in Serenity valley between the Browncoats and the Alliance A small ragtag group of Browncoats being lead by Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds are trying to hold the front “You HOLD.” The opening gives us a quick and vivid portrayal of Mal and his second in command, Zoe Mal and his faith, humor, and courage “Do you really think we can do this sir?” 1:48 do you even need to ask? you know…that cross looks an awful lot like the one Angel gave Buffy Are Firefly and Buffy in the same universe? And earth got used up by all the damn vampires? Wonder if potentials exist in this universe as well *clears throat – shot of River ‘Scuse me ANYway 1:45 Mal: Ready? – Zoe: Always *Shooting gun But Mal’s faith is not rewarded, and Serenity valley falls… 6 years later he is leading a small crew of scavengers consisting of Jayne 5:24 Zoe Wash And Kaylee The alliance happens upon them, goes to attack but the crew baits them away “Cry, baby, cry / make your mother sigh” – This is a Beatles song lyric and flees with the goods Jayne: As long as we got the goods, I call this a win Mal: Yeah…we win Cue the opening credits for the first time The crew takes the case back to Persephone to sell them 17:24 On the way they pick up passengers Among them Book, Inara, and Simon with his unusual cargo Mal and company try and sell the goods back to Badger and he refuses due to the Alliance taking an interest, suggesting Mal hawk them to one of the colony planets This might be a good time to explain the geography of this universe For this I’m going to be referring to the Hidden Universe Travel Guides, Firefly: A Traveller’s Companion to the Verse The visual is the Complete and Official Map of the Verse, created and graciously provided by science fiction artifact creators Quantum Mechanix Links to both in the description In Firefly the term Universe refers to the cosmos in total All matter and the space between But, in general, the term ‘Verse refers to the system human’s occupy Within that system there are the core planets The richest and first colonized The hub of civilization Outside the core plants are the border worlds Distance fromthe Alliance makes this a little less regulated These are the spokes on the wheel of the ‘Verse And Finally, you have the planets on the Rim Most distant from Alliance influence and wildest of them all Hopefully that lends some clarity to the dialogue but it also informs one of my favorite exchanges from the show after Badger refuses to buy the goods he contracted Mal to steal: 201 “The wheel keeps on turning Badger “That only matters to the people on the rim.” It almost could be a throwaway given the camera movement and Mark Sheppard’s casual delivery but there is so much to one line Mal is using a Chinese an idiom which is The Wheel of Life never stops turning to tell Badger that his place of prominence on Persephone can only be temporary Life is always in motion Badger, in turn, flips the intended meaning of the phrase to being about the ‘Verse itself Persephone, his planet, is at the edge of the core planets, the hub of the verse And, like the hub of a wheel spinning, things don’t change that much The Alliance worlds are static dignified

Especially in comparison to life way out at the edge of the wheel, in this case, the rim planets There’s also a bit to unpack here about how that metaphor informs Mal’s character but we’ll get to that in time One of the criticisms thrown at Whedon regularly is his dialogue being a bit too clever As in unrealistic While cleverness may be a reasonable observation to make, most people don’t hear “To be or not to be…that is the question…” and say, “Why’s he talkin’ so funny with his wordhole?” Hamlet could just say, “Should I kill myself? Enh maybe…,” but the language elevates the art And, as hyperbolic as the Shakespearean comparison may be, I think it’s apt Mutant Enemy dialogue has a rhythm, meter, and cleverness that may transcend the realism that THESE characters are speaking it but works collectively with the shows to create something more beautiful and interesting Mal decides to take the cargo to one of the border planets and sell to Patience Z: Sir we don’t want to deal with Patience M: Why not? Z: She shot you M: Well yeah she did a bit Still (The irony of naming a trigger happy character Patience just hit me.) Mal lays down the rules of the ship and everyone gets acquainted M: You’re a shepard? S: Some of my personal effects are in the cargo bay Mal introduces Inara to Book as their ambassador and then… 30:30 She’s a whore, Shepard The moment might be the pinnacle of Mal’s dickishness in the series, putting Book in a position to be uncomfortable because of his faith while simultaneously deriding Inara and her chosen profession in one fell swoop After a crackling good dinner scene, Wash discovers they have a mole on board and it was someone in the cargo hold Mal decks Simon but it turns out he’s not the one 37:30 “Simon Tam You are bound by law to stand down.” A scuffle ensues and Kaylee gets panic shot Jayne, who just embarrassed Kaylee openly at dinner, is the first to go after the man who shot her 39:30 “Move.” – “Not going to happen.” – “I ain’t joking with you preacher.” Simon blackmails Mal into running then extracts the bullet while Jayne watches anxiously and, when she’s safe, Mal opens Simon’s cargo 43:00 “Hunh.” And this is how we meet, River Simon explains that River had been kidnapped by an alliance experiment and he went to save her in a famous bit of dialogue from the episode “I am very smart.” Mal sets Jayne on the shooter who tries to bribe him Inara threatens to leave Serenity if Mal abandons the Tams A reaver ship passes by Reavers are like…zombie space pirates We’ll get to them more in the future As they wait to see if the reavers will turn on them, Inara pulls out a syringe The reavers pass Mal tells Simon that Kaylee is dead, essentially punching him for the third time this episode It’s a very weird joke from the perspective of the storytelling and I’m pretty sure this is a reenactment of the writer’s room when Joss shared that idea because that joke is ALSO on the audience 1:01 The crew susses out that Patience is meaning to shoot Mal Zoe says that with a little luck they might “Our luck…you notice anything particular about our luck these past few days? You depend on luck you end up…” *Montage from the revolution Serenity lands at Whitefall Kaylee’s shooter escapes and him hitting Book like this makes me take Jayne’s side of things Patience double crosses as expected The reaver ship from early followed them Mal puts a quick end to the shooter and Wash, like an agile little leaf on the wind, crazy Ivan’s the Reavers and saves the day Mal intuits the deal the lawman tried to make with Jayne 1:23 “How come you didn’t turn on me Jayne?” – “Money wasn’t good enough.” – “What happens when it is?” And the episode ends with Mal making Simon and River members of the crew 301 “Everybody’s making a fuss.” Shun-SHENG duh gao-WAHN, (神聖的睾丸) is there a lot to go over here Serenity the episode is magic in the amount of information of it information it manages to give us about the characters, how the universe of the show works, and what we can look forward to in the coming season while STILL being a satisfying episode by itself There is a little bit of clunk but in general the episode never feels as though it’s dumping exposition on our heads and telling us how it was, so to speak Whedon just has the characters speak about the universe as though they have been living in it their entire lives (with the exception of the reaver section but we’ll get into that.) Most everything in the episode either emerges from, or supports the characters, and at the center of it all is Malcolm himself The Circle of Malcolm or Get Him to the Greeks The episode’s cold open puts a spotlight specifically on Mal himself and the contrast between who he was during the war and the man that was shaped after The opening show Mal has a humorous faithful man, loyal to his soldiers and with a dash of hopeful optimism He is planet bound and defending his stake in the dirt Six years after the loss in Serenity Valley, a very different Mal is captaining the Serenity One who has lost his Faith You’re welcome on my ship God ain’t His hopeful optimism… Our luck? And some of his humor Quippy Whedon lines aside of course Whedon and company use a structural convention for Firefly that they also used for the characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Buffy was the main protagonist (moreso than Mal) and the supporting characters around her all represented some aspect of Buffy herself – specifically her spirit, heart, and mind In the case of Mal, Book is his lost Faith Wash is he humor Zoe is his loyalty Simon his willingness to commit and to sacrifice River is promise and potential stolen by the alliance Kaylee is his hopeful optimism “I don’t believe there’s a power in the verse to stop Kaylee from being cheerful”

And Jayne…well… “Pain is scary.” Jayne can probably be seen as representing all facets of Malcolm’s masculinity The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (see what I did there.) “We are just so damn pretty…” There is quite a bit of greek influence here as well Mal is very strikingly like Odysseus, on his own journey to find (or keep safe) his home He is driven by the sense of nostos, “home” and “belonging” which he recreates and builds for himself not on a world or the home that he lost, but with his crew and ship (aptly named for the home he cannot return to, Serenity Valley).Like Mal, Odysseus put his faith in God (the gods) only to have them abandon him (Mal loses Serenity Valley/Odysseus is blown off course by Poseidon, losing his entire crew except for his own life (in Mal’s case that’s Zoe but we’ll get to that) Mal is a character aimlessly travelling with his home on his back, definitely part of the hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell (See any epic heroe who lost everything they loved and proceed to travel aimlessly for 12-13 books) Mal may not seem particularly virtuous or heroic by modern standards *shoots cop But, in an ancient sense, a “hero” is just a warrior…not some paragon of virtue Mal is on the soldier’s journey M: We’ve done the impossible and that makes us mighty Sidenote, I’ve always wondered how many stirring Henry the Fifth speeches were delivered to men about to die for the losing side HENRY THE 5th + BOMB “May have been the losing side Still ain’t sure it was the wrong one.” There is some intense referential wordplay going on with names and phrases For example: “We can’t die We are just too damned pretty.” On multiple viewings this line always struck me as a bit odd While Mal is definitely optimistic in the opening he never struck me as vain But the proto-Germanic root of “pretty” (praettig) actually means “cunning” or “deceitful,” which for Mal proves both true and useful Several times, (again, much like Odysseus on his own journey) Mal survives or beats his foes by means of a trick, beginning with stealing the food bars in the opening and evading alliance by sending out a false signal for them to follow “Cry baby cry.” But we can also tell a lot about a character’s arc based on the name they are given Joss doesn’t just name his people willy-nilly Mal, or Malus is the word for evil in Latin (Malcom, however, is the name of a hero in northern mytho-history.) So, in his name alone, Whedon has setup the inner push and pull of Mal’s character Simon of Cyrene was the man in the Bible wh o was forced to bear the cross of Jesus as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion Simon Tam, too, is compelled to bear a burden not his own Zoe is the Greek word for Life She’s like the guardian angel of Mal, always protecting him and, well, keeping him alive At several points, she proves useful in keeping others alive, too River’s is a strange one The River Tamar (T-ah-ma-hr) in England is named after a nymph, Tamara, who was incredibly gifted in dance “River was more than gifted…she was a gift…in even dance…” She left her home one day to dance with two Giants, but when her father found her (and she refused to bend to his will) he turned her into a babbling River always flowing towards the sea “She understands – she doesn’t comprehend.” Shepard Book is a mostly self evident one of course A shepard who is always mentioning the book He has a given name in the comics which maybe we’ll get into at the end of the episode guide 401 Inara or The View from Mal’s Pedestal As I said, entire videos could be dedicated to just Inara herself Inara was an ancient Hittite goddess of protection and retribution, similar to Artemis…only not a virgin Inara, in myth, takes on lovers to help her and the other gods bring power balances back in nature (specifically by eliminating dragons, in one myth) This is heavily represented visually The ship is very mechanical Inara’s quarters are warm, and inviting Balanced There is an erotic Inara montage that I always found a little male gaze’y and weird But whether or not the execution is perfect, the shot is supposed to be showing us a level of her…sort of… lack of belonging She was absent from the “family dinner” because she doesn’t feel welcome with Mal’s comments around new people She’s looking off while she bathes, pondering, like she looked off at the “I can’t imagine why anyone would ever leave” comment earlier by her client She’s contemplating her own sense of place and the “bathing goddess” image (applicable here as she is named after one) is frequent in mythology, usually as a means of purging a less than pleasant experience “She’s a whore, Shepard.” Usually when that bath is interrupted, the interrupter is killed horribly But instead, she welcomes Book Again, searching for belonging And I think her nude form is, again, intended to bring a sense of balance and the natural to Serenity

As a companion, she also provides a balance between Mal and the “proper alliance planets 14:48 Mal: Someone on this boat needs to make an honest living (Balance) When Inara (the greek goddess) is promised a man and a home, she disappears, never to be found again…when we first meet OUR on Persephone (Persephone was the Greek goddess of vegetation, and was married to Hades.) Her client asks about her hometown, she describes it as lovely “I can’t imagine ever leaving…” as Inara looks off sadly and responds immediately comes back with a smile and, “Well…I wanted to see the universe” And, a moment later “Do you really have to leave?” The question of freedom in life is tantamount through the season Being a companion gives Inara hers but it’s emphasized and told how Companions are respectable, yet shown in delicate moments how her personhood is not respected She is meant to provide “fun.” 501 Companions are more on line with Geisha or Tawaif of Asian cultures: courtesans and masters of music, conversation, poetry, dance, and etiquette In Firefly’s universe, this blending and acceptance of cultures gives rise to Companions But for folks like Mal, the concept of a respectable courtesan doesn’t exist because he rejects the world the alliance built This, and…he’s playing the jealous boy with a crush who shows that crush by kicking her in the shins 31:00: Kaylee “So how many fell madly in love with you and wanted to take you away from all this?” Inara “Just the one” (shot cuts to Mal…obviously) “I think I’m slipping.” The clients Inara has respect her position, but not her Mal respects her, but openly disrespects her position As a goddess symbol then, the scene in which he openly disrespects her and does so in a way to deliberately make Book uncomfortable works metaphorically as Mal’s rejection of the divine And, at the end of the episode – both representations of the divine are trying to figure out how to live on Serenity and, by association, in Mal The character work in this episode is absolutely delightful The dinner scene in the middle of the episode, for instance, features a moment with Kaylee probing Simon for info, Jayne crudely calling out her crush, and Mal kicking him from the table In one fell swoop we get info about Kaylee’s interest in Simon, Kaylee and Jayne’s brother/sister dynamic, Jayne’s gutter sensibilities, and in the astonishing fact that Jayne actually submits to Mal’s command, the power structure on the ship The scene is a virtuoso clinic of showing rather than telling And later, after she is wounded, Jayne stays anxiously on guard outside her window Wash and Zoe appear to be recently married (it’s not really clear when their relationship began) and are still figuring out the place that Mal holds in their relationship with Zoe’s loyalty to him Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal So what do the dinosaurs mean? “Curse your sudden and inevitable betrayal.” Well, I’m a big fan of symmetry and I have a feeling Wash was representing the final scene between Jayne and Mal “How come you didn’t turn on me Jayne? By the standards of the mainstream culture of the ‘verse, Jayne and Mal are both dinosaurs – clinging to an outmoded way of living And their dialogue at the end is specifically about the question of whether Jayne might betray him “I think we should call it your grave.” The Intricacy of the Design Most of the episode is beautifully designed, and I love the ship itself For Whedon, the design of the ship was crucial There were not “fourteen hundred decks and a holodeck and an all-you-can-eat buffet in the back”.[32] He wanted to convey that it was utilitarian and that it was “beat-up but lived-in and ultimately, it was home”.[33] The tech on board feels dated but tactile and real More Alien than TNG The space suits look like samurai armor The Alliance cruiser looks like a pile of skyscrapers on a platform, reflecting a common mistrust throughout all Whedon’s works of corporate culture and homogeny And I loved the bait and switch of the gold bars being foil wrapped food And the show has, hands down, the best soundtrack of any mutant enemy series 4:38 – the use of the fiddle when the Alliance takes the valley is haunting Odds and Ends As with most first seasons of course some stuff doesn’t work The alliance uniforms are pretty cheese ball and look like costumes reused from another science fiction epic And actually, the alliance uniforms we’ll see in The Train Job were reused from Starship Troopers As the bearer of Christ’s burdens, Simon getting punched for someone else’s wrongdoing is the first of many times Simon takes a hit for…well, someone else The “Simon Takes It On The Chin Counter,” is at 3 starting with this episode *fight bell sound effect 哎呦 I love the idea of the two earthly superpowers ending up being the last remaining cultural influences in the universe It explains the crews occasional use of Mandarin in the series and, while that works as explanation within the fiction, it has brought on two of the regularly repeated criticisms of Firefly: The lack of asian characters on the show and the use of asian iconography feeling too much like cultural appropriation Sure, if China became the dominant superpower of the core planets then you may not see a lot of Chinese out on the rim of the verse, but that has always felt like a bit of a copout to me as America was supposedly the other and the show is mostly an endless series of white actors speaking American english Something to acknowledge, is all If you’re interested in a quick episode by episode translation section of Firefly’s Mandarin ( sometimes Cantonese,) let me know in the comments “Hang On Travellers.”

It’s difficult to get too deep into the meaning of the show with just the first episode but the questions at its heart are all here and, in their own way, each character on the show is asking them What is a life? What is a home? Are we ever truly free? Where do we belong? “How come you don’t care where you’re going?” “‘Cause how you get there is the worthier part.” Many of the characters begin the journey of the show escaping some event that upended their sense of normal and their place in the ‘verse These defining moments can feel as though they stop time But life is a thing always in motion 1:25 “We’re still flying.” “That’s not much.” “It’s enough.” And, as the saying goes, it’s what you do afterwards that counts