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Firefly - "Serenity" Movie - Big Damn Essay By Justhuman - Spoilers

Saturday 16 July 2005, by Webmaster

Big Damn Essay I meant to post my spoilery thoughts about the movie right away after the first screening, but I didn’t do it right away, thus dooming it. So here’s my review and commentary after having seen the movie twice. There definitely was some clean up of the film between the first and second screenings. I think there might have been a tweak here and there, but they may only be having seen the picture twice.


The whole move is about believing unreasonably. After the first movie, I saw a reviewer who didn’t care for the Book and Mal scene in which Book urged Mal to believe in something, anything. They felt the line came out of nowhere; I find that completely untrue. The whole movie is about believing; indeed, Mal’s whole story is about believing. But for the movie, it all starts with Joss’ intro to the piece

[Firefly] was ignored and abandoned and the story should end there, but it doesn’t, because the people who made the show and the people who saw the show (which is...roughly...the same number of people) fell in love with it a little bit...too much to let it go, too much to lay down arms when the battle looked pretty much lost. In Hollywood, people like that are called ’unrealistic’ ... ’quixotic’ ... ’obsessive’.

In my world, they’re called ’Browncoats’.


This movie should not exist. Failed TV shows don’t get made into major motion pictures unless the creator, the cast, and the fans believe beyond reason.

Big Damn Movie

Serenity opens with an Alliance schoolteacher explaining how man left earth-that-was and came out into the stars. The story is tweaked from what has been told/implied in canon and interviews. The changes are primarily that man left earth voluntarily due to a lack of resources and not because the planet went away. Also, the Firefly universe is a single gigantic solar system and not several star systems. The details make better science fiction sense with the technology of the ships matched with the tech on the planets; however, it leans away from the idea that earth-that-was ended violently... possibly in an apocalypse ... which, you know ties it into Buffy/Angel crossovers...well, the narrator is Alliance and therefore not necessarily reliable and there’s always wank ;-)

The small girl in the back of the room is River, so we know this is a dream or flashback. The teacher goes on with her history lesson explaining that the Central Worlds formed the Alliance and maintained civilization, while the border planets were, wild and uncivilized. The class erupts in commentary asking what motivated the Independents to fight the Alliance, and River tells them it’s because the Alliance meddles, getting into peoples’ business, getting into their heads, telling them what to think. The Alliance is meddlesome and people don’t like that. The teacher disagrees, claiming that the Alliance does no such thing. She sticks a pencil in River’s forehead.

We cut to a high tech science room where River is in a chair, fighting mind control by the Alliance. A technician confirms she is dreaming and jabs a needle in her head. The doctor in charge explains that it’s easier to implant triggers while they are dreaming. Simon is there, posing as a high ranking military officer, getting the overview on what’d being done to River - the Alliance is training her to be a psychic and an assassin.

This scene is a step away from what we were told in canon; however, we never saw River’s rescue in canon. Simon told us what happened when he first met the Serenity crew. Simon wasn’t necessarily obliged to tell the truth about the rescue. The big difference is that in the show, Simon tells us he paid people a lot of money to get River for him and that he knew nothing about what they had done to her. As we’ll find out later in the movie, Simon had good cause not to tell River’s full story to a bunch of hostile strangers.

As we watch the rescue, it pauses as River and Simon are about to board a ship. We find the Operative viewing security footage of the break out. The Operative has no name, rank or identity, only a security clearance that says he’s from the interplanetary parliament and has complete access.

The doctor that talked to Simon comes in and attempts to defend his methods and the unpredictability of the escape. The Operative demands he look at Simon’s face and tell him what he sees. The man doesn’t really have an answer and the Operative explains that the look on Simon’s face is *love*.

Pure, unadulterated love and devotion. We can see the Operative admires this greatly and sees that as the entire key to the escape. We will learn later that the Operative feels the key to accomplishing anything is true belief, with no doubts. Simon’s love is that kind of belief.

The operative recognizes that River is a weapon and a valuable commodity. His job is to maintain secrets. He tells the doctor that his sin is Pride, as he replays a snippet from earlier when the doctor brags to Simon that several key members of parliament have personally observed River. The doctor put key members of parliament in a room with a psychic.

Then the Operative demonstrates his villain shtick. He judges whether someone is worthy of his personal attention in their death. Without blinking, he kills the doctor’s guards — they are unworthy. The doctor on the other hand has contributed greatly to society but must now pay for his mistake. The Operative recommends ritual suicide, falling on his sword. The doctor declines and begins to run.

The Operative catches up to him and does a Xena move on a nerve cluster near the right hip. The doctor is effectively paralyzed where he stands. The operative brings the sword hilt to the floor, holding it on the proper angle. Slowly the doctor falls on the sword and the Operative deems it a good death.

The Operative all this time is talking to a clerk, the "young miss" explaining that he will need more records about the behavioral conditioning so he can reach out to River.

The Operative is very different, but very reminiscent of Jubal Early, the bounty hunter from Objects in Space. The key similarity is that these men, like River, see the world differently. From Joss’ commentary on the episode, Jubal and River are very much on a primal level, seeing objects not as they are necessarily intended, but simply as something with a certain form. This allows them to step beyond pre-conceived notions, box thinking, and act. The Operative is seeing this on a governmental/societal level. People have roles and requirements - their forms. When they fail to move to keep the machine of society running, they must be repaired or replaced.


In the present, we join up with Serenity having a rough landing as the occasional piece of the hull flies off. Joss effectively uses this scene to introduce us to the crew and to Serenity, who is after all a character. Mal starts off with Wash on the bridge and then makes his way back through the ship, running into all the characters and showing room by room where we are until he ends up with Kaylee in the engine room, reminding Mal that the part that would hold together for two weeks was six months ago.

The shot and scene are very much for the new viewer, but not too onerous for the series veteran. Indeed, they expanded the set slightly for the movie, allowing us into the camera side of the ship more — for instance, there’s more than one chair on the bridge ;-)

Our characters are whom we’ve come to expect with certain refinements for Mal and Simon. — Actually, there are probably no new refinements for Simon other than we are looking at him with slightly different eyes in light of the opening sequence of the movie.

Mal is darker and bitterer than we’ve seen in the series — the Mal that Joss and Tim intended from the beginning, but FOX (asshats) found too inaccessible — Mal’s bitterness was one of the things they hated about the two-hour pilot and insisted Joss change. Joss and Tim re-edited the pilot and toned Mal down, so what we saw on DVD was not their full vision either.

Our intro to the crew and ship is a bank heist. Our characters are careful to point out that they are stealing from the rich and keeping it for their poor selves. It does a good job of letting the new audience know that we have bad guys that really aren’t so bad. River joins the team (seemingly picking up from Objects in Space). Simon doesn’t want her to go at all, but Mal is insistent about her earning her keep. What we find out is that he wants her there as crowd control. River uses her heightened perceptions to scan the people inside the bank and point out the troublemakers. This allows Zoe to put a gun up real close to that individual and explain that heroes get people killed — *ping* foreshadowing.

While Mal and Zoe are gathering the loot, River lets Jayne know that Reavers are coming. Jayne nearly wets himself and starts shouting for Mal - god, Adam, how do I love thee. Mal grumbles about people shouting his name in the middle of a crime scene, but then really hears what Jayne is saying. He tells the bank employee to get all the people down into the vault, lock it and don’t open up until they’re out of air.

Our gang hops on the mule to make their get away as the Reavers are landing. A bystander tries to jump on, but it’s obvious that it will slow them down. Mal pushes him off, telling the man to get inside, but it’s obvious to everyone that he has no chance. The Reavers are on him even before Mal finishes his warning. Mal shoots the man because that’s a better fate than what the Reavers have in store.

The Reavers chase the mule across the landscape — Let’s give some credit to Joss here because he knows what sells a movie. There needs to be action and chase scenes to keep the masses interested and if you can weave your story around that, bonus points. Joss does a great job.

Serenity is coming for them because they’re running out of time and in true daredevil fashions, Wash has Zoe turn the mule around and fly at the Reaver, so Serenity can come up from behind and scoop up the mule while it’s flying full bore.

Simon is beyond pissed that River was in so much danger, hitting Mal. Mal is pissed; they get pissy together and it’s agreed that Simon and River will leave at the next port, Beaumont. Zoe stops Mal at some point, not really interested in what happens to Simon and River but upset (in a very Zoe-like, non-emotional way) that Mal left the man behind at the bank - something they never would have done in the war. Mal makes reasonable excuses about extra weight and slowing them down. Zoe points out that they could have dropped the money. Mal momentarily looks chagrined, but then puts on the full tough guy routine, reminding Zoe the crew hadn’t been paid and pieces of the ship were falling off.

In this first part, Joss does a great job of establishing Mal as a man of contradiction. Someone who is obviously not all bad and not all good, who is trying to be selfish, but in a non-selfish way, most of the time. What Zoe calls him on is crossing a line that Mal doesn’t usually cross, giving up the innocent for less then admirable goals. We can see she’s uncomfortable with it. Zoe truly is our moral compass in the series, she runs along the middle ground, allowing us to gage how much "bad" behavior is okay in our gray little world.

The crew lands on a busy planet and heads off to do their business. Simon and River part company, a nearly tearful Kaylee giving them advice about talking directly to ships’captains and not paying up front.


Everyone heads into the bar where Jayne and Mal are going to pay off their contacts. In the bar, everyone puts their weapons into lockers, as is the custom. Zoe and Wash look like they’re going to take advantage and go on a date. Kaylee is still complaining bitterly about Simon and River leaving, accusing Mal of driving them off like he did with Inara. She delivers one of the funniest lines in the movie about nothing having been between her nethers in over a year that didn’t have batteries — Apparently, the doctor is still not a smooth operator — Mal lets her know that this was information that he didn’t need to hear, but Jayne comments that he could stand to hear more about it.

Jayne and Mal disappear into a private booth with the twins, their contacts, discussing which twin is cuter... the slash is left as an exercise for the viewer - and please, feel free to write that foursome.

River comes into the bar, apparently having lost Simon, and becomes fixated on a cartoon playing on the big screen. The cartoon is a silly looking octopus, which probably has no more significance than that. Side note: As a young child I had nightmares of a cartoon octopus from a Porky Pig cartoon. Porky falls asleep fishing and is caught by the fish, which brings Porky home for dinner - the octopus comes later. One commentary book on the WB cartoons described it as "one of the most disturbing cartoons ever made for children." Joss, stay out of my nightmares!

River is triggered and becomes a fighting machine, beating up the entire bar, even Jayne when he goes to help her — in stark contrast to an earlier scene when Jayne picks her up gently when they are in the bank and River senses the Reavers coming. Mal is going for his gun because he knows nothing is going to stop her. Simon arrives, says a word, and she goes to sleep. Mal and Simon are the last ones standing. Mal picks up River and kicks Jayne awake. Everyone returns to the ship where River is chained to the deck. They’re going over the events in the bar again; Wash wants to start retelling the story from the point Jayne was beaten up by a 90 pound girl, because that’s never getting old ;-) *adores - one of my favorite things about Firefly is that no one gets away with anything. Nobody’s afraid to call anyone on anything.

Simon lets everyone know that he has known that there is a trigger to turn her into an assassin, but he didn’t know what it was. One of the reasons that he brought her out to the frontier was to avoid that. He was given the safe word by the people that helped rescue her from the Alliance.

Loud arguing occurs based on the information that Simon withholds. Eventually this rolls around to Jayne asking why the hell Mal brought them back on board. Mal asks Jayne if he wants to run the ship. Jayne says yes. This trips Mal up for a minute and then tells Jayne he can’t run the ship and gets around to his I’m-the-captain rant. No one is aware of what River’s trigger is, so Wash suggests getting some help from an old contact, Mr. Universe.


Mr. Universe is being bashed in many reviews as cheesy. In other reviews he is defended. I found him too convenient - at least how he was presented, but the thing is, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to have convinced me. Mr. U is wired into everything, the ultimate media junkie, picking up every stray signal across the ’verse — if someone transmitted it, he has access.

And see, I can believe there’s a character out there that does this. Conspiracy theorists in the Firefly ’verse with it’s mixture of Independents and Alliance makes perfect sense. Mr.U is a Lone Gunman without an ax to grind. Likewise, I do not find it unbelievable that Mal has weirdoes for friends; just about anyone that bucks the Alliance is Mal’s potential friend. But, damn-it, I needed something. He’s an old war buddy, Wash’s college roommate, a former client, they hauled illegal receiver equipment to him — any connection would have done. Mr. U does say that Mal and company hooks him up with the best stuff and he makes jokes about Zoe wanting him, establishing a closer relationship

Mr. U reviews a security tape from the bar and doesn’t see anything besides River kicking ass. Mal asks him to look before she started doing that, and Mr. U compliments him on the insight as he deconstructs the cartoon feed and finds the trigger. He notes that he’s seen that code floating everywhere lately. Someone’s going to a lot of trouble to find River. The feed was not out in the public - no warrants or news stories, but it had fingerprints on it — high level ones. Whoever wants River wants to do it quietly. River’s trigger is Miranda.

On a meta note, Mr. U is we, the fans. Going back to Joss’ intro, he was not stingy in praising the contributions of fans at conventions and on the internet, for buying and pimping the DVD. We kept the signal moving, much like Mr. Universe takes it all in and keeps the important stuff going. Mr. U is not part of the team, instead he’s at the side of the action but enthusiastically involved in it. Like him or not; he is us. Don’t spend too much time analyzing your reaction to him as a metaphor for your reaction to fandom ;-P

Serenity is on the run. They head to a Haven, a small colony world where Book has settled with a small group of people. The crew is tremendously relaxed with Book and the people that he’s shepherding — like this could indeed be a home away from home with them. Kaylee rushes in and hugs the kids; Jayne sits around the campfire, playing guitar.

We see them mostly in the background while Mal and Book consult about their situation. Mal lets some more of his pent up bitterness surface. Book takes it in stride, accepting Mal’s anger and letting it wash over him. Book explains the strategy aspects to Mal; it won’t be an army coming but an Operative and that is trouble that Mal has never known. Book lets him know that the Operative will be relentless --- a true believer in his mission. He will come at Mal sideways, because that’s how they think — again a harkening back to Jubel Early.

Book advises that if Mal is going to get stay out of trouble, he will invest in belief. Mal scoffs at this, pointing out that he’s taken Books advice on many occasions. I have to pause here because we did not see this in the series. Mal’s initial reactions to Book were hostile because the man was a shepherd. As the series progressed, we saw Book providing insightful info on military and police ops, that wasn’t ignored and there were times that Book took a moral stance and Mal went with it, such as burying the folks on the ship raided by the Reavers. However, though all this we did not see Mal in a position where he’d actively admit he was taking advice from a priest.

But, on hearing Mal say this, my first thought was a squee! because during the Firefly & Achetypes panel at [info]connexions I had put forth the idea that Book was fulfilling or would have fulfilled the archetype of mentor, if the series had continued. This was also wrapped in the discussion of whether or not Mal was on a hero’s journey. The canon was not sufficient at that point to really call it in any direction — indeed, we were happy with the possibilities. My thought was that if Mal was on that journey, it would be him verses the Alliance and that he already took up the battle by taking in River and Simon. Whatever Joss’ intent for the series might have been, we do get the hero’s journey for the movie — heck, much like the action sequences, the hero’s quest is good movie making material. So here we have our hero, Mal, talking with his mentor.

When Mal scoffs at belief, saying he’s not interested in sermons, Book fires back, Why is it when I mention belief, you think I’m talking about religion.

Thank you, Book. Thank you, Joss.

I’ve been saying or trying to say for years that spirituality and religious belief are the outpouring of a core human need that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with religion - and in this movie, it’s called Belief. Religion is actually easy, because it’s typically premade with a manual and mentors to help along the way. The problem in fact is that many people try to follow the manuals while still being on the shaky ground of not fully believing. For instance, the Dali Lama and Mother Theresa, probably true believers with no doubts in their minds. The average "Christian" who makes his to church on Sunday, because he’s supposed to go... not a full-fledged believer. The difference is that the true believers can reach inside themselves and pull on huge amounts of strength and determination from that belief.

Book is a believer and derives his strength from his spiritual beliefs. Simon is a true believer and derives his strength from his love of River. The Operative is a true believer and derives his strength from his beliefs in creating a better world, a world without sin, as we will see later.

Mal lost his belief.

In the opening of the series’ two-hour pilot, we see the battle of Serenity Valley. During the course of the battle, with a gung ho smile on his face, Mal pulls a cross out of his shirt and kisses it. He is obviously a man of faith that went into the war to do right by his people - a warrior who cannot lose because God is on his side. During the battle scenes, we never see him lose hope and he pushes that attitude on those around him, inspiring them to go on no matter how dire the situation. I doubt that Mal was every priest material, or that all his strength is derived from spiritual belief. Rather, the cross is a symbol in his mind of sum total of the values he was raised with on an Independent world.

But the outcome of Serenity Valley is not remotely shiny. We are given snippets throughout the series about how bitter the fighting was and what the losses were like. The true impact can be found in the deleted scenes from the pilot. Simon is looking up the Battle of Serenity Valley in an encyclopedia trying to figure out why Mal is so bitter. Zoe finds Simon listening to the encyclopedia account and fills in the missing details that the victors left out. A truce was declared and the rebels had to remain in the valley surrounded by the enemy. While bureaucrats sat around a table negotiating, Mal and his forces were stuck in the valley with no food or medical supplies, no resupply of any kind. They lost something on the order of 90% of the people that could have survived while the surrender was negotiated.

Mal lost his faith. Not only did he lose, but the people supposedly on his side screwed him and his people over. In the brief encounters we have seen with Reavers, everyone is scared, but Jayne acts more like a child facing the boogeyman, and Mal acts like a man who knows what atrocities look like.

Mal’s whole history speaks to his disillusionment. He becomes a thief, he picks on the Alliance when he has a chance, and he lives on a ship not settling in one place — settling means laws and expectations. He has stepped away from every lifestyle aspect that he joined the Independents to fight for and protect. The most obvious behavior is his reaction to Book and his anti-religion stance; taking most of his anger out on the symbol he chose for himself. Mal only relies on the allies at hand, the people closest to him.

Book understands that religion is a button for Mal, and he knows how to avoid pushing it on Mal, but at the same time stay firm to his own beliefs. For Mal, he reemphasizes the point that this protective cocoon Mal has erected around himself, Serenity, and her crew, cannot hold out. As Kaylee pointed out earlier, anything that threatens the security of the cocoon is driven off — Inara, Simon and River. At some point he’s going to have to come out again and put his faith into something. The crew leaves Book and tries to go about business.

As Mr. U predicted that the Operative planted the trigger in the media and has seen the tape of the bar fight, identifying Mal after Mal picks up River. He goes to Inara.

Mal receives a call from Inara. They have a pleasant but awkward chat about Mal coming to visit her, take a job - the whole crew eavesdrops. When Mal joins them on the bridge, a funny little scene ensues

Zoe: Trap? Mal: Trap. Others: Trap? Mal: Trap. Others: We’re going in if it’s trap? Mal: Inara wouldn’t do it willingly, so she’s in trouble. Kaylee: Well, you know sometimes people just want to see people, maybe she just want to see you. Mal: You all watched, right? ever so slight embarrassed looks from... well, maybe just from Kaylee Yes. Mal: Did you see us fighting? Kaylee: No. Mal: Then trap.

Followed by another funny moment

Mal: Okay if I’m not back in an hour, you... you turn this ship around and come in and rescue me. Zoe: What, and risk my ship?

Indeed the agent is waiting with Inara. We are not fully given what Inara’s new circumstances are, other then she appears to be training new companions. It’s an interesting development that’s not explored — indeed, I don’t think any of the new audience members will know that Inara is a professional whore. I think they’ll come away with her as an ex-girlfriend, which I’m okay with. Inara’s story is very secondary to this plot.

There is fabulous snark between Mal and Inara, who seem capable of fighting with each other while paying attention to the actual threat *adores, this is another Firefly, trademark; see War Stories

Operative: You can’t make me angry Inara: Oh yeah? Talk to him for an hour.

Operative: She [River] is an albatross. Mal: As I remember, that was good luck until some idiot went and killed it (to Inara) Yes, I have read a poem.

The Operative beats the crap out of Mal, while explaining to Mal that he is strong because he’s a man that believes in what he’s doing. He would have gotten exactly what he wanted except that Inara was resourceful enough to plant a bomb in the burning incense. Mal and Inara escape with the ship.

River and Simon have been unsuccessful in trying to determine what Miranda is when River has a dream about the school again. It tips her off and she decides she needs to get loose to explore it. She starts by attacking Jayne who has swallowed enough liquor to go and try and kill her. She then disables Simon, who is a threat because he can put her to sleep — to the audience at this point, it appears that she’s been retriggered by the dream.

Mal tracks her down on the bridge, where they point guns at each other again. Mal holsters his and tries to talk her down, wondering if all she is the killing machine, like the crew is afraid of. He was banking on River being a person. It is here in the private moments that we see a bit of the residual belief Mal has - the part that survived Serenity Valley. He volunteered to protect his people, the innocents that couldn’t protect themselves. In Our Mrs. Reynolds, Saffron slips under his defenses, and Mal talks happily for a moment about his mother and the ranch he grew up on, but then abruptly halts as the happy memory is stopped by something extremely bitter. I think Mal’s family, maybe even his world was wiped out by the Alliance — there was nothing to go home to after Serenity Valley. Or perhaps they survived and Mal couldn’t face home after Serenity Valley

There’s something that Mal finds compelling about River and her plight. Something that makes him keep them on board when all common sense and Jayne and Zoe recommend ditching them. In this moment with River, putting his gun away, he’s showing his belief, trusting that he’s not doing this in vein.

River isn’t triggered and she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. What she wants, she finds in the nav database — a planet that she says is Miranda.

The crew dives into the research, but can only find the sketchiest records of an abandoned planet and failed terraforming. They contemplate investigating, but Wash and Zoe immediately point out that Miranda is on the other side of Reaver space.

They arrive back at Haven and find the world dead; a small Alliance attack ship destroyed the settlement. Book on his deathbed, having shot the Alliance ship out of the air.

Book: Not very Christian of me. Mal: You did the right thing. Book: Coming from you that means... absolutely nothing.

They both laugh and Mal keeps calling for the doctor, but no amount of help is going to save Book. As he gives up his dying breath, he puts grabs Mal’s face, staining Mal with his blood and demands that Mal start believing in something because it’s the only way out. — Continuity note, blood on Mal’s face, no blood, some blood, no blood, lots of blood — it’s in the league with Kirk’s bloody tunic in Wrath of Khan. Hey, but that’s what editing is for, I’m sure it can be repaired with a bit of CGI.

We’re prepared for Book’s death as soon as we see Haven; indeed, It was rather inevitable, because classically, it is the mentor’s role is to die.

Zoe pieces together what happened, while Mal deals with Book. The Operative didn’t know they were going to Haven; he went after anyplace that ever gave them shelter. She has Wash get on the Cortex to warn their friends, but it’s all too late. Mal looks at scenes from three or four planets — friends dead. Mal and the Operative have a conversation — it’s not clear how the came in contact with each other, but they are talking live on an untraceable signal.

The Operative is very calm and explains that his quarry went to ground, limiting his options. He tells Mal that Mal is responsible for these deaths and there will be more death until he has River Tam. He is building a better world. Mal and the Operative spar back and forth - the Operative emphasizing his true belief that he is helping to create a world without sin, acknowledging that that he is a monster and there is no room in this brave new world for him. Mal eventually cuts off the call and goes out to the others, who are doing what they can to do right by the dead.

Fueled entirely by anger, Mal demands that they cross Reaver space to get to Miranda and the bottom of the mystery. Despite protests all around, they "desecrate" Serenity so she looks like a Reaver ship. They do a Reaver paint job on the ship, make the engines leak radiation and tie the bodies of the dead to the front of the ship. — A note: TBQ questioned the science of bodies tied to the front of Serenity. I noted during this viewing that the gave us a good shot of that and what’s tied to the nose are skeletons. I think the flesh burned off when they broke out of the atmosphere, but the bones remained — still don’t know if the science completely works, but slightly more believable with the visual.

We have some nail biting moments as the pass unscathed though the Reavers on the way to Miranda.

Going off the advice of the file that says terraforming failed, they go out in suits, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that there’s air on the planet and cities abandoned for no apparent reason. — And there are cities, over a dozen that they pass — this wasn’t a small settlement. More grisly, they walk past buildings with people practically mummified, doing everyday tasks.

They do find the one last remaining power source on the planet. It’s coming from a ship. and inside they find a recorded message. It’s a scientist that explains the substance they doped the air processors with - the Pax - failed. It was supposed to make the population passive and controllable; it made the population so passive that they sat down and just stopped, not caring that they were dying. This is a great horror to our heroes, but then the story gets worse. 1/10 of 1% of the population reacted just the opposite to the drug and became inhumanly violent. This is the last the scientist tells us because in an off stage moment she is attacked and it is obvious to everyone that the violent members of this society are the Reavers.

They stop the tape, trying to absorb the level of horror. The Alliance experimenting on an entire planet, killing everyone and creating the Reavers. River throws up, and Simon rushes to her, asking if she’s all right. River says she is and then surprise crosses her face — she knows she’s better. What’s been haunting her all along is the deaths of every person on Miranda, weight down her mind and spirit.

They go back to the ship to plan strategy and it’s the shot from the trailer where Mal asked them to go one step further and help him broadcast the message to everyone. He knows that somewhere down the line the Alliance will do this again and that the word has to get out if they’re to be stopped. Mal has found his mission again, buried in all his hate.

Indeed, this is one of the issues of the hero’s tale — finding an enemy one can fight. During the war it was easy; the enemy wore purple belly uniforms. When they lost, all that was left was the entire Alliance, which is too much for one person to take in, let alone take on. Most descriptions of Star Wars will say that it is Luke verses the Empire; however, in each chapter, Luke must face the "champion" of the Empire - the Deathstar, Darth Vader and finally the Emperor. The enemy must take on a form that can be fought. ... which, on a wankier note was one of the reasons why the First Evil sucked as an enemy and things got better when Caleb showed up. They kept trying to set up direct confrontation with the First, which was a mistake - she should have been the Empire; the ultimate enemy but Buffy should have been fighting her avatars.

They contact Mr. Universe on their way out of the Reaver zone, so he will be waiting for them. They suspect that they will have to face the Alliance before they get to Mr. U — indeed, they figure the Alliance must know about Mr. U. Mal’s plotting for that as well.

Back at Mr. U’s place, the Operative is surrounding Mr. U with a platoon of soldiers. Mr.U is run through with by the Operative’s sword. And on a meta note -hee- Joss gave us a death scene, which is considered an honor. And the scene reads as FOX and the networks sticking it too us just because we want the signal to go on.

As Serenity gets to the edge of Reaver territory, they can detect a fleet waiting for them. Mal shoots a Reaver ship and then dives into the fleet, initiating a huge space battle.— Yup, that was the whole plan - not very bright, but very Mal. Serenity is taking serious damage along the way from both Alliance and Reavers. The Operative who was cool about blowing Serenity out of the sky gets pissed off when the Reavers unexpectedly break through — one of Mal’s missions accomplished, breaking the Operative’s kung fu.

Eventually Serenity breaks free enough to run for Mr. U’s planet, but she’s badly damaged. A Reaver hits them with an EMP, blowing out their primary and back up systems, leaving them literally falling out of the sky. Wash expertly makes a brick fly.

I am a leaf on the wind. I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar.

They crash mostly intact on Mr. U’s doorstep. Shock and victory take them for a moment as they start to scramble to get off the ship. But before they can, a harpoon crashes through the main window, impaling and killing Wash. After the May 26 screening, nobody seemed sure if it was the Reavers or an after effect of the crash. Last night I saw very clearly that it was the Reaver ship, as we looked out the window and saw it launch a second harpoon that Zoe ducks as she tries to convince Wash to get up. I think they added additional footage here, but it’s very possible that the shock during the first viewing just made me miss it.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want Wash to die. A *huge* fandom stink has been made about it. (eta: see this fandom wank post.) I feel for the Wash devotees, but their arguments for trying to save him are crap.

1) The death was not gratuitous. As soon as he was brutally killed, it became a very viable idea that anyone could have died. It kept me on the edge of my seat. 2) It was not a Tasha Yar death. He flew a brick and landed it safely, saving the crew; he was a hero. But landing the ship didn’t take it out of danger. The Reavers were right behind them, as all the subsequent scenes verified. The Reavers were 110% in character for being there. 3)Death of a popular character will drive fans away. Not so much. Again, I feel for the Wash fen but, I’ll take good story over favorite character. Also, if only the fans go and see the movie, it’s a bomb. The general public has no attachment to these characters and the bang of Wash’s death will still hit them where they live. For there to be more movies, it has to be a compromise between what fans want and what will sell. /Washrant

Zoe is distraught, but Mal pulls her out because there are still bad guys after them. They get into Mr. U’s stronghold and make a plan to defend an area with a fallback to a narrow corridor behind blast doors they can seal. Zoe tells Mal to go do it. Kaylee asks where Wash is, and Zoe tells them that he’s not coming. Before he goes, Mal grabs Zoe and asks if she’s here. Zoe tells him to go.

As Mal rushes off, Jayne reiterates Mal’s stance, telling Zoe she can’t be mad --- they have to keep their cool if they’re going to make it out. Zoe *looks* at him - Do you think any of us are getting out. Jayne looks at Inara, Simon, Kaylee and River, who is a basket case again because while she got rid of most of Miranda’s population, she’s got the Reavers stuck in her head.

Jayne says that maybe he’d get out — *adores gallows humor

Mal meanwhile charges ahead into the house with the message. Mr. U lies dead in the arms of his robot wife. It all looks lost but then the lovebot speaks back the message Mr. U recorded with his dying breath. He tells Mal where the backup transmitter is by the "hard to reach" generator. He tells Mal once more "Can’t stop the Signal" Meta note: Joss gave us a good death scene, letting us live up to our full role as fans, pimping our show with our dying breath - we weren’t Tasha Yared either.

Mal goes for the generator.

Simon and Kaylee have a brief chat before the enemy arrives about regrets and non-action. Simon admits to regretting never having been with Kaylee. Kaylee, who had mostly been paralyzed with fear, says the hell with dying, cocks her gun, and is ready to fight. You go girl!

The Reavers break in and the crew is fighting hard, frightened out of their minds, and grieving over Wash’s loss. Zoe is quietly becoming a berserker in this, charging the Reavers, even though she knows better, and Jayne is shouting at her to get back to the line. She’s hit badly, but they pull her back, squirting a bandage into the long gash down her spine. Kaylee is hit in the neck with something that starts sapping her strength, Jayne is hit.

They fall back to the hallway, badly hurt — and here’s a good point to emphasize, Joss killed Wash out of nowhere. And now during the rest of the movie, the audience pees its collective pants because if he can kill Wash like that, he can kill them all.

They had rigged the blast doors to close and not open again, but something jams them partially closed. Zoe tells Jayne to toss the last grenade, which buys them a couple of moments. Simon is desperately trying to help Kaylee, but his bag was left behind. He gets up, like he might go for it, and is shot.

Simon is hurt and apologizing for not taking care of River. River is distraught. The two of them are in an isolated little world as the camera shows Zoe and Jayne firing frantically at the opening, while the fighting sounds are damped — great directing (uh, if that’s the department that gets credit for that)

River tells Simon that he always takes care of her and then something lights in her eyes as she stands and says, My turn.

She dives out the door and starts hacking the Reavers to pieces. She unjams the door and tosses Simon’s bag in. Inara tries to patch up the wounded — everyone in the corridor, as River fights and fights, looking doomed.

The Operative arrives, looking for Mal and the Lovebot repeats the message she gave to Mal. Heh - I wonder what that says about fandom?

Mal and agent have a fight over the generator that can only be reached Indiana Jones style. The fight overall, eh, but Mal at one point does pull a sword out of his side, because Mal’s been known to do that kind of thing. Before the fight starts, the Operative asks Mal if he truly believes without a doubt in what he’s doing. Mal affirms that he does. We can see by the gleam in the Operative’s eye that Mal has now become worthy.

Mal fights back hard, even after pulling the sword from his gut. But the Operative does the thing with the nerve cluster - just like the doctor and then he starts positioning the sword when Mal hits him, kicks him in the throat and tries to break his back.

It seems that nerve cluster got frigged up during the war :)

He gains the upper hand, but instead of killing the Operative, he basically ties him to the railing and makes him watch as he launches the signal. We hear the audio of the recording as Mal makes his way back to his people, occasionally watching the horror in the Operative’s eyes.

Mal rejoins the wounded and they open the door, ready to make their last stand. River is there, a sword in one hand and an ax in the other, shadowed in dark

*Pure Illyria* I mean, it really could have been Amy Acker and hell, I think we have seen Buffy like that.

— I recommend all of you to [info]thebratqueen’s write ups for discussion of Joss and his obsession with giving the scrawny girl power ... and his obsession with her feet ;-) And also the discussion of what a friggin mistake it was to force River and Simon’s story onto Wes and Fred.

This moment of victory is short lived as the Alliance blows open the wall, guns trained on everyone. They ask over the comm for the kill order from the Operative.

He tells them to lay down arms.

The epilogue of the movie is the burial of Wash, Book and Mr.U on Mr. U’s backyard while they rebuild Serenity. ETA: Since writing this essay, there’s been discussion among fans about Book and Wash’s names. They are clearly written on the grave markers as Hoban Washburne and Derrial Book. I’m not sure where some of the other varients of names came from, but that’s what I saw in the 2nd and 3rd screening. Second time I was definitely looking for it; I’m a writer and a canon whore.

Rebuilding Serenity is a pretty scene and emotionally soothing. Some people are making a big deal of Mr. U being buried with the others. I don’t get why — it was his bloody planet and his transmitter and his instructions. He’s as much a hero as the others were — *ahem* the fans are just as much heroes in getting this made movie about a cancelled TV show made. Joss is honoring *us*; let it go.

The Operative lets them go because there’s no point now that the signal has gotten out. He points out that it will only slow down the Alliance, not stop them. He sent a message that the Tams are no longer a threat, but he doubts they will listen forever. He is no longer their man but he and Mal exchange friendly death threats none-the-less.

Zoe tells Mal they are ready to launch. Applause for Gina Torres. I cannot even describe the way she looked, how she carried herself, but without breaking Zoe once, she put into just her body language her grief for Wash and the full knowledge that this ship was about to sail with a new pilot. There are no tears, but anyone who says she was unemotional, just wasn’t really watching her here or during the funeral scene — folks, she wore a dress. Actually, I wonder if she was wearing her wedding dress. During the commentary for Shindig, the costume mistress pointed out that the leather string around Zoe’s neck is the equivalent of her wedding ring. I think that might have been her wedding dress.

We end with River and Mal on the bridge of Serenity. Mal is starting the ship up and asks if his little albatross is going to help him. River grabs the wheel, and launches them into space, showing she knows what she’s doing. Mal asks her if she knows the first rule of flying and then stops, figuring she can read his mind.

She says she likes to hear him say it anyway. Pulling her feet up onto the chair, she wraps her arms around her knees and becomes a little girl in demeanor — this really emphasizes all the moments that River and Mal have alone. River looks to him as a father and Mal really feels it’s his job to take care of her. It’s something they don’t talk about, but simply share — something they both know would not withstand Simon’s jealousy.

Mal tells her the first rule is love - which is eye rolling and sappy for just a moment until he explains more about needing to love the ship you’re on beyond all reason because she won’t take care of you if you don’t. If you do love her she’ll always take you where you need to go — er, that’s not a quote or even a decent paraphrase, but that was the sentiment.

I love my Big Damn Movie.

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  • Just a quick note on Mr. Universe. In the movie novelization, it is revealed that Mr. Universe was a classmate of Wash while doing his pilot training and that Mr. Universe was a horrible pilot who got his license by hacking into the computers there. As for Book’s name, also in the novel there is a scene where the Operative actually shoots Book and looking down at him says something along the lines of, "Ah, Derrial, funny finding you here. And dressed like that."