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Friday, January 4, 2013

Firefly Ep 1: Serenity - James' Review

Episode 1: Serenity

For a long time, I put off watching Firefly. It was really a combination of reasons,
the main one being that I didn’t believe all the praise the show got. But as I neared the
end of my Star Trek marathon (every single episode of every single show including the
movies), I started to plan out my next SciFi show, and Firefly came up as a possibility. It
was only 15 episodes, so I figured I could breeze through it.

The first thing to note is that you really can’t just breeze through it. The show is
much to complex. The characters are detailed and interesting, and the story requires
some dwelling upon to fully appreciate it. This is immediately apparent in the first
episode. The show starts of with a bang, quite literally. Shots of explosions and gunfire
make it apparent that this is a full fledged war. This is where you first meet Mal and Zoe.
Mal is immediately portrayed as a risk taking, enthusiastic individual, and someone who
truly believes in what he’s fighting for. The latter fact is realized when he is told to
surrender by whoever was in charge of his army. Zoe has no real development in the

The first half of the episode introduces all the characters in two ways. Mal, Zoe,
“Wash”, Inara, Jayne, and Kaylee’s roles and personalities are introduced, and we see
the “new” members of the crew, Simon, Book, and River. Up until the scene where
Kaylee is greeting people at the ship, I was really enjoying the show. However, Kaylee
really began to get on my nerves. The blatant, and frankly a bit obnoxious, immaturity
didn’t strike me as funny. Her frequent use of the word “shiny” in place of “good” or “fun”
made me think she had the mind of a three-year-old. As for the other characters, I
thought they were all done really well, and seemed very authentic. Mal is a bit of a
cliché, but hey, who doesn’t love a classic character?

Now comes Book. I absolutely love him. He’s coolheaded, intelligent, and kind,
and doesn’t force his beliefs onto others. I find his character refreshing in two ways, one
being that he acts as a sort of “shore leave” from the sometimes gritty and stressful tone
of the show. Book is the friend you can talk to after a long day of work, and feel
immediately better afterwards. The other reason is the fact that he doesn’t press his
beliefs onto others. So often you see religious individuals, and even non-religious
individuals trying to prove their point and press their beliefs onto others endlessly and
tirelessly. Book understands that his beliefs are not the only beliefs, and respects that
wholeheartedly. His relationship with Inara highlights this, as he begins to farm a
friendship with her. He even jokes about the lectures he can give about her line of work
(prostitution), and states that he has no intention of using them. I am exited to see more
of their relationship.

One of the things that did bother me though, was the whole Western theme. To
put it bluntly, it seemed unnecessary, not well thought out, and at times, unrealistic.
Now, if the show had a Wild West vibe to it, or some motifs or comparisons to life in the
Wild West, I would have jumped right on board. The idea of the lawless “Rim” is almost
the exact situation of the Wild West. However, it went beyond allusions and similarities.
Everyone talks like they’re in a spaghetti Western, all the civilian guns are very close to
the old 1800’s weapons, the dress style is, without exaggeration, exactly the same as
Western movies, and even the music is folky. While it’s not exactly “tacked on”, the
Western style really seems like a gimmick that Joss Whedon thought “would be kind of
cool, I guess”. Why are guns 500 years in the future less high tech than they are now?
Even the military guns are the exact same models that the military uses today. Some
things can be explained away like the style of dress, but then why do they talk like
Rooster Cogburn without the accent? The music is purely folk-Western, and has
nothing to do with the SciFi aspect of the show, and seems completely irrelevant.

As the story continues, it becomes clear that Simon is hiding something. It comes
as a shock when he turns out not to be the government agent Mal suspected him to be,
and even more of a shock when the incompetent agent shoots Kaylee in the stomach.
But what really caught me off guard- well, actually I knew what was going to happen
next because I had seen the next scene when I was younger while my Dad was
watching it. But if I had not known, what would have really caught me off guard was
what Simon was really hiding: his sister, River.

The story slows down a bit at this point, though Kaylee is still battling for her life
with Simon trying his best to help her. A bit later on, Simon starts telling the story of
what happened to River, that she was extremely intelligent and that the government
was performing tests on her. He smuggled her onto the ship in response to a plea from
River to get her away from the government scientists. Frankly, the story was a bit cliché,
but I could have shrugged it off if River was a better character. Throughout the rest of
the episode, she added nothing except panicky scenes, tantrums, and scary mutterings,
shoving the fact that something “wasn’t quite right about her” into my face. There could
have been some really great insight into her character right from the start, but instead
the writers chose to make the viewers not care about her instead. She is the only really
weak character in the group (at least Kaylee is somewhat interesting), and I hoped that
would change soon. After only about 40 minutes, I was sick of River just sitting there,
adding nothing to the episode except for a potential hostage for the Alliance Agent.

One thing that I wish the episode did earlier on was show the crew fluidly working
together like they did in the exchange with the colonists near the end of the episode.

They carried out a plan fluidly and almost flawlessly, showing that they are able to work
together well. However, this didn’t seem to be the case previously. I got the impression
that Mal just gave them orders, and the crew just screwed around until work got done. I
will be interested to see which of these facts is predominant in the upcoming episodes.

The end of the episode ended with my two favorite characters (Book and Inara)
talking, with Book opening up to his most unlikely friend. Well, actually there was one
more scene, but I really don’t care much about Mal or Simon, so it really didn’t any
anything for me personally, except to set up the stage for the next episode. Overall, the
show doesn’t really live up to its reputation, but defiantly has potential.

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