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Firefly

What couples argue about when they watch Firefly and Serenity

Friday 30 October 2009, by Webmaster

Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal

Things My Husband and I Have Argued About While Watching Firefly

Before we get started, there’s something you need to know about my husband and me: We’re geeks.

And I’m not talking the kind of casual geek that’s popular nowadays, the person who enjoys the Lord of the Rings trilogy and plays the occasional hand of online spades. My husband and me?

We’re geeks.

My area of geekspertise is television. I did my undergrad in television, radio, and film back when ” tapes the size of your typical VW were the height of the new technology, and I started taping shows religiously about a week after the VCR was invented. Somewhere in my mother’s basement are piles of VHS tapes containing most of the episodes of Moonlighting, Northern Exposure, and The X-Files. When The X-Files launched a trend by releasing entire seasons on DVD, the skies of my world broke open with a thousand angels singing the hallelujah chorus.

My husband, he’s a fantasy game geek. He was on the Internet role-playing a text-based dwarf in 1991. He had first-person experience with Rogue. For Christmas one year, all he wanted was a copy of Deities and Demigods. He’s lost countless hours of his life to Ultima Online, and indeed only stopped playing when I told him I would take the baby and go far away if he didn’t. To this day, I think he’s okay with the choice he made, but we’re engaging a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Just seems safer for all concerned that way.

Now when two people such as us get married, the geekitude increases exponentially. You combine my love of television with his love of fantasy, and it’s completely unfathomable that we didn’t discover Joss Whedon until 2004—and then only because so many of my romance writer friends were talking about the incredible love stories. We started with Buffy, which had us completely sucked in by the time Xander’s buddies ate Principle Flutie. Then, after Netflixing Buffy all the way to the end, we started on Angel. When that was over, there was only one thing left:

Firefly.

The thing about Firefly is that, at the time, I was only beginning to realize that engaging storytelling is not genre-dependent. I am a fan of neither Westerns nor science fiction, so for me, believing that I would be remotely interested in a combination of the two was way beyond my limited vision. I had loved all things Whedon up to this point, and was fairly certain I’d be only meh about Firefly, so I was understandably resistant. Fast-forward twelve months, and you and Irony would find me fastidiously knitting my husband a cunning hat in anticipation of the opening of the feature film extension of the story, but at the time, I was less than enthusiastic.

But my husband—we’ll call him Fish because that’s what I call him—was insistent.

It was time for Firefly.

I dug my heels in. Even if I did like it, which was doubtful, I knew the history. There were only thirteen episodes before the short-sighted bastards at FOX canceled it. If it was bad, I’d be disappointed, and if it was wonderful, I’d be heartbroken. There was no possible good to come from getting involved with this show.

But Fish merely shook his head like a Buddhist Zen master and said, “Firefly. It’s time.”

It was our first argument about Firefly. As it turned out, it would not be our last.

*

Winters are long and brutal in central New York, and in the tiny apartment we lived in at the time, the TV was right next to the fireplace. One night, Fish got me drunk on cheap wine and took advantage, slipping the first Firefly DVD into the player. The rest, as they say, is history.

I fell in love with Wash immediately. The second I saw the loud print shirt and the dinosaurs on the ship console, I was all about Wash. He was the ultimate beta hero, the funny, smart guy who could fly a ship like a master and was secure with himself even in the face of his wife’s ability to kill a man at thirty paces without so much as a shaky trigger finger. Add to that the fact that Wash and Fish are so similar in personal style and temperament as to be brothers, it was the perfect fictional crush, one that reflected amiably upon my real-life chosen loved one and set the tone for marital harmony.

Fish, on the other hand, fell instantly for Kaylee. For the record, while it’s admirable and romantic that I would lust after the character most like my husband, he fell for the girl least like me. Kaylee is tiny and delicate, a whiz with mechanical things, and sweet and nave, always seeing the best in people. Me, I’m of stocky Anglo-German stock; I haven’t had a delicate moment since somewhere in the fetal stage. I laugh heartily, I speak crudely, all things mechanical mystify and frequently zap me, and I’m always surprised when I meet someone who is genuinely sweet to the core, not just pretending in order to put other people off their game. Fish readily admits that I remind him more of Zoe than Kaylee, and yet, Kaylee is the one he loves.

I try not to take it personally. Sometimes, I fail. What can I say? I’m human. And, as you can tell by the description I gave you, kind of a tough one to live with at that. Still, every now and again, Fish winds up the courage to ask me if I’d dress up like Kaylee, to which I respond by suggesting he bite one particularly unsavory part of my anatomy. He finds this amusing.

Between you and me, sometimes, so do I.

*

In the pilot, “Serenity,” there is a moment when Inara was entertaining a client, and he made a crack about her speeding up the clock to cheat him out of some of his time with her. A look of surprise and offense flashed across her face, and Fish said to me, “She doesn’t like her job.”

This was on a recent viewing, at least our third joint viewing of the total series, so I was understandably shocked that he could even say this. I grabbed the remote, hit pause, and stared at him like he was crazy. Which, he was, but I’d known that going in.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I countered, with my typical verbal dexterity.

He motioned toward the TV. “Look at her face there. She’s obviously ashamed.”

“She doesn’t like being insulted,” I said, still stunned that we were even having this conversation. “No one likes being insulted. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like her job.”

“She’s a whore.”

“She’s a companion,” I said through gritted teeth. “What she does is about the soul as well as the body, and she lives a completely respectable life. There might be elements of her job that she doesn’t like, and yeah, being in love with Mal complicates things, but she’s not ashamed.”

Fish turned his head toward me with a facial expression that said, “Lani, you ignorant slut,” but he didn’t actually say this because he’d lose an eye and he likes his eyes. Instead, he repeated, “She’s a whore,” as though that made his entire argument, which it did not. It did, however, buy him a full hour of stony silence from me, which he probably saw at the time as a win-win. Later that night, however, as the wonky spring in the couch gouged permanent marks into his backside, he came around to my side of it.

I am nothing if not persuasive.

*

FF03. “Shindig.” This episode was written by Jane Espenson, a writer who won over both me and Fish with her hilarious and insightful work on Buffy. It had gotten to the point where Fish and I would play The Jane Game: without looking at the credits on our second run through the full series of Buffy (I always have to watch the full series, in order, because I am mentally unbalanced) we’d guess whether it was written by Jane or not. More often than not, we were right; there was something about Jane’s quirky voice that put a stamp of individuality on her episodes. So when we saw Jane Espenson’s name on this episode, our little geek hearts leapt for joy.

As an example of Jane’s stamp, there’s a scene in “Shindig” in which Kaylee was admiring the poofy dress in the store window, and Mal made a comment along the lines of, “What are you gonna do in that rig? Flounce around the engine room? Be like a sheep walking on its hind legs.”

“Oh, man,” I said, cringing as Kaylee and Zoe got their frost on. Then Jayne leaned in with, “Is she mad or something?” and both Fish and I cracked up. Then Fish turned to me thoughtfully and asked, “Who do you think writes the opposite sex better? Jane writing men or Joss writing women?”

Wow. I had to pause the DVD for that one so I could take a moment and think about it. I decided that I couldn’t really judge Jane, because I wasn’t a man, although I felt like she got them down pretty damn well—especially their total cluelessness when it comes to the complexity of female psychology. Joss, for his part, is brilliant at writing women, never cheapening their strength by sacrificing their femininity. Zoe, Inara, Kaylee, even Saffron/Bridget/Whatever—they are all allowed to be both strong and girls, which is a simple but amazing thing to have done.

I stammered for a while, expressing some of these thoughts while others hung amorphous in the air around me, and eventually came up with, “I dunno.”

Fish shrugged, hit the play button on the remote, and said, “So, what are you making me for dinner, woman?”

I stared at him, my red-lasered gaze boring smoking holes into his skull. Eventually, he turned to me, his eyes widening to match the depth of his cluelessness, and said, “What?”

“Jane’s better,” I said flatly.

*

“Our Mrs. Reynolds” is easily our favorite episode of the entire season, and the most quoted. On any given day in our household, you will hear odes to this episode flying around the house. It is not unusual for one of our daughters (who have earned the ironic nicknames Sweetness and Light) to say something to each other like, “If you don’t give me that doll, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you!”

They may be too young to watch Firefly, but they’re not too young to quote us quoting it.

However, despite our abiding love for this episode, there is always a point when the friction hits between me and Fish. It’s usually when Wash says, “Good myth.”

For those of you playing along at home, this episode revolved around a conwoman who pretended to be a wide-eyed virgin but was really out to deliver Serenity into the hands of scavengers; the fact that this would require the deaths of the crew was not a big concern for her. So, like any clever girl with a prodigious rack, she drugged her lip gloss and planned to get various crew members to kiss her, thus knocking them out long enough to take over the ship and deliver it to the scavengers. Mal, of course, fell for this after Saffron quoted a lengthy, and very sexy, Bible passage, to which Mal responded with a husky, “Good Bible.” For Wash, Saffron chose a myth about Earth-That-Was, and while Wash was affected, he would not succumb, citing his love for a woman who could “kill me with her pinky.” At which point Saffron failed in her attempt at seduction and was forced to knock him out with a well-placed kick to the back of his head.

At this point, for some reason, Fish said, “Yeah, right.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, Zoe’s hot and everything, and yes, she probably can kill Wash with her pinky, but this gorgeous woman who gives good myth just offered him sex on a platter.” He met my eyes. I could tell by his expression that he knew he was in dangerous territory, but there was really no going back, so he continued with false bravado. “To which I say, ‘Yeah. Right.’”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “So you’re saying that if Saffon offered you sex, you’d take it.”

Right about this point in the conversation, smart got a lead on bravado. “I don’t fly a spaceship. That would never happen to me.”

“But if it did—”

“But it wouldn’t—”

“But if it did, you would have sex with her.”

He swallowed, and as the smile curved over his mouth, I could see he was going to try to hop on the back of a joke, hoping it would lead him out of very scary waters. “Of course. You can’t kill me with your pinky.”

“But I can make you miserable for the rest of your life.”

He patted me lovingly on the knee. “You’re gonna do that, anyway. Might as well get good myth.” Then he laughed the weak, scared laugh of a man who knows he’s not getting out of this alive.

Twenty minutes later, I was enjoying a nice bubble bath with a glass of wine while he made dinner for Sweetness and Light.

That one had been almost too easy.

*

“The Message” started out with the crew of the Serenity on a planet collecting their mail, and Jayne received a cunning knit hat—complete with goofy earflaps—from Ma Cobb. As we were watching this, the Big Day—September 30, 2005, the day the movie Serenity would finally be released and give us another much-craved Firefly fix—was just a few months away.

With no attempt at subtlety, Fish echoed Wash’s comment: “Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.”

Fish waggled his eyebrows at me, as though I’ve been waiting my whole life for the opportunity to knit him a cunning hat, and who’d have guessed I’d ever have such luck?

The fact was, the idea of knitting him the cunning hat made me all warm and gooey inside. We’d already lined up a sitter. Serenity would be our first date night in months. As I planned out the trip to the yarn store in my head, I smiled at him and said, “Yeah, right.”

He took my hand as we watched the rest of the episode, and I knew he knew he was getting the hat.

But I didn’t argue about it.

*

September 30 finally arrived, and I had never been so excited for a date in my life. We left Sweetness and Light learning how to draw horses with the sitter and headed off for dinner and a movie. Over dinner, Fish wore his cunning hat in the restaurant, and we got the occasional odd look, but we were in upstate New York; most everyone here had seen odder. When we got to the theater, we were giddy. The cunning hat was recognized by others waiting to hit the movie on opening night, and we all stood around chatting about episodes, and each of the boys (in our little group, including Fish, there were three) jumped on any opportunity to quote Jayne’s famous, “I’ll be in my bunk,” line.

I exchanged a friendly eye-roll with the only other woman there, but we were both smiling.

Fish and I took our seats in the theater, holding hands as the lights faded, ready for the movie experience we’d been waiting for all this time. It was both exciting and overwhelming. Everything moved at lightning speed and I could hardly catch my breath, but it was so wonderful because it was Joss, and someone else was minding the children.

Then we got to the climax.

Wash was killed.

Wash was killed.

I felt as though I’d been speared through the heart myself. The rest of the movie happened, the survivors of Serenity fought the good fight, and the Big Story ended Big, just as it should have.

But I was still in Serenity’s cockpit, with Wash, a mantra repeating in my head. He is not dead. I do not accept that. Something will happen. Something will bring him back.

He. Is. Not. Dead. The movie ended and the lights came up and Wash was still dead and I felt horribly betrayed. I looked at Fish and, despite Jayne’s cunning hat, I knew why I was so attached to Wash, and why Wash meant so much to me, and even as Fish joked me through the lobby and out to the car, I couldn’t shake the feeling like part of him was dead in the cockpit of Serenity.

On the way home, we discussed the film, and I got angry.

“Joss made a mistake,” I argued. “Zoe was already a bad-ass. So, Wash dies, and she just becomes more of a bad-ass? There’s no arc in that. It should have been Zoe. Can you imagine how much more powerful it would have been if Zoe was killed, and Wash turned into a badass? Plus, for the future movies, there’s so much story there, so much to do with that. With this, it’s just Zoe being more of a badass.”

“I don’t know. I think—” Fish started, but I didn’t let him finish.

“I love Joss, and he’s a genius and everything, but this was wrong. It was a weak choice. A bad call.”

“But, look at it this way—”

“No,” I said, and at that point, Fish got the hint and changed the subject.

In the fifteen months since that day, we’ve had variations on this argument probably about half a dozen times. Fish thinks I’m being silly, which is a point I’m often forced to concede, and he even offers to sit with me and hold my hand through the whole thing so I can feel him live and ticking by my side. Still, I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I’ve watched the opening sequence a few times, but I always end up picking a fight about something stupid, and then I find an excuse to leave the room.

It’s nuts. I know it. And someday soon, but probably not today, I will sit down and watch Serenity again, because it is Joss, and it is brilliant, and it’s not Fish in that cockpit. Hell, the guy can barely maneuver the mini-van without knocking the sideview mirror off on a tree branch. In a lot of ways, he’s not Wash. But he’s devoted, and funny in a quirky way that not everyone gets, and he has questionable fashion sense, and if Saffron tried to seduce him with the lip gloss of death, I think that he would say no, and only partially would it be because deep down he believes I can kill him with my pinky. Mostly, it would be because he’s faithful and loving and despite my faults, he wants only me.

Don’t tell him I said so, though. I can still squeeze at least two more bubble baths out of that argument. Three, if he brings up Nathan Fillion’s naked butt in “Trash.”

And if I know my guy, he absolutely will.