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Mark Watches "Firefly" : Episode 1 - Serenity

Wednesday 1 December 2010, by Webmaster

In the first episode of Firefly, we are introduced to the world of Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds and his crew aboard the ship Serenity. Desperate to gain income while simultaneously maintaining a low profile, they pick up a set of passengers that changes the fate of their lives and the course of their ship. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.

The opening scene of Firefly is hard to ignore and I can’t recall a more action-packed opening to a show that I’ve ever seen.

Full disclosure: I realized about five minutes into this episode that, about a year ago, I watched this pilot with my friend Kat. I remembered pretty much nothing from it, though, except a few minor plot points. As with any Mark Reads entry, I’d like to ask you all to avoid spoiling me in any way. Don’t answer my rhetorical questions or hint towards the future. I know it’s hard. TRUST ME. But I would appreciate you not ruining the surprise from here on out.

The series cold opens on a battle scene, and one we don’t really seem to get much of an explanation for. Zoe Washburn, who is already becoming one of my favorite female characters I’ve seen on television, is there, serving under Mal. There, we get to see Mal’s sense of unwavering optimism (and realism) come into play. Facing a dire situation and the impending loss at the hands of (what I think is) The Alliance, Mal tries to reassure a fellow soldier that the odds are on their side.

“We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty.”

But the mighty can’t factor in random chance, and I loved the amazing slo-mo camera pull away, the horror on our heroes’ faces as the ships come in and that soldier so afraid of dying is shot and falls away.

We cut to the present, six years later, and Mal runs the Serenity and, unsurprisingly, Zoe is still his second-in-command. What this show does brilliantly in one episode is introduce us to a very large and diverse cast in less than 90 minutes. It’s impressive how I feel like I already have a grasp on the nine major cast members without reducing them to stereotypes. (Which isn’t to say there aren’t a few tropes pleasant in this pilot either, and I’ll get to Inara’s characterization in a moment.)

Even though I had actually seen this before, I was surprised by how well the sci-fi and western themes melded together. Except…where did those horses come from? Does Patience live on Whitefall? I mean…they seemed to show up from nowhere. Which made me wonder where on earth they keep horses if they travel to other planets and then ride horses there.

Why am I thinking of these things

Mal, desperate to keep funds flowing to his ship and his staff, is taking any sort of job, legal or not. It’s on one of these jobs that they unknowingly pick up a cargo of Alliance immunization and nutrition bars, which would potentially bring them the exact sort of attention they don’t want. Unfortunately, Badger, the man who hired them for the job, doesn’t accept the cargo when they arrive on Persephone, presenting them with a complicated situation: How can they get rid of their cargo and secure enough money for the Serenity ship to continue on?

Even in this first episode, as they travel to multiple places with the passengers they pick up in Persephone, the sets used are dense enough to feel real, but aren’t complicated enough to get lost in. I love the use of open spaces for a great deal of the moments in the pilot, especially the Persephone marketplace, because it’s a wonderful way to add realism to the fantastical scenes of this show. I mean, we’re dealing with a world hundreds of years in the future and it still feels rooted in something real and tangible.

But the real credit here goes to the characters (and the dialogue) that Joss Whedon has created. I’ve heard from many credible friends of mine (AND I MEAN THEIR OPINIONS ARE CREDIBLE why does that sound like I rate my friends based on some bizarre criteria) that Whedon writes some of the best female characters on television and I’m starting to feel the same way. Kaylee, Zoe, and Inara are all fiercely independent in their own way without feeling like caricatures. I am always hesistant to see women in sex work portrayed in television or film because they’re largely based on damaging stereotypes and while I’m going to give Whedon credit that this story fleshes out more, I cringed when Mal called Inara a whore. I really don’t like that word at all, but I also understand it’s not Whedon calling sex workers whores either. I sense there’s a much more complicated backstory to the relationship between Mal and Inara and I’ll chalk the moment up to insulting anger on Mal’s part more than anything else. On the contrast, I loved how interested Kaylee was in Inara in a completely genuine way, not bothering to other her because she has a job different than hers.

I can’t say I know where this show is headed in the next thirteen episodes. I remember now being very surprised by the revelation of River Tam inside the cargo that Dr. Simon brought on board. Naturally, I’m intrigued as to what exactly is so special about her brain. But even as the main narrative thread that will most likely tie all these episodes together, River is still more than a one-dimensional character. In a sense, she doesn’t feel like a plot piece at all and I really appreciate that. I imagine we’ll learn more about her struggle with her identity as the episodes move on. It’s ok to admit that she is the catalyst for keeping Dr. Simon on the ship at the end of the episode, but I can already see how much detail has gone in to crafting believable characters.

Despite that I’ve said it many, many times, I love when writers take great risks with their characters. Even though Kaylee didn’t die, the threat of her death felt very real. Seeing Mal and Zoe get shot also proved that Whedon and the other writers aren’t afraid to cause pain. Actions have more realistic actions in this universe than most science fiction does. It makes the story all that more exciting.

Because I simply don’t know how to describe and talk about the 30 billion things that happened in this episode (and probably future ones), I’d like to end all of the ‘Mark Watches’ posts with a section that deals with extraneous thoughts and musings I have that didn’t fit in the main narrative. Thoughts

OH GOD, THE REAVERS. What are they??? Why are they so brutal? That matter-of-fact moment when Zoe explains what they do is simply terrifying. NO. THANK. YOU. I want that apple peeler that Badger has.

Shepherd Book’s crisis of faith is introduced very early into the series and I’m surprised there were so many scenes between himself and Inara. I want to see more.

I haven’t said anything about Wash yet, as I re-read this review, and this is a crime. Alan Tudyk is fantastic in general, and I think I might like his character more than anyone else. We’ll see.

I think I remember why I avoided this show for show long: Nathan Fillion was cast in that show Castle and his character was so irritating in just the previews that I avoided this show subconsciously. I swear I am getting much better at not doing this. I SWEAR.

I didn’t think Dobson would be killed (and certainly not by Mal) in the first episode. I expected Jayne.

Why was Jayne so sweaty before the Reavers were about to show up that first time? Are they really so bad that even Jayne is freaked out by them? Prediction: We’ll see the day when Jayne is offered enough money.

Adam Baldwin should be in most things.