Monday, December 19, 2011

Firefly--"Serenity"

It is no secret I am not a fan of Joss whedon or his teenie bopper vampires. Whedon is a third generation screenwriter who catches far more breaks in Hollywood than he should because of his daddy and grandfather. As far as I am concerned, he has flopped around like a fish on the river bank since writing the first Toy Story. Nevertheless, I am going to give Firefly a secret shot. I missed the series’ short run back in 2002 because I was drowning in Constitutional and criminal law. I watched a couple episodes when the Sci Fi Channel began airing them in proper order a few years later, but did not get hooked. Fair warning--I have seen both ’Jaynestown” and ‘Out of Gas” without becoming a fan. Make of that what you will.

“Serenity” begins six years in the past with mal Reynolds and Zoe Alleyne as part of an army unit called Browncoats battling the Alliance in serenity Valley during the Unification War. The Browncoats are without air support, so they wind up slaughtered by the alliance. Six years later, Mal and Zoe survive as thieves and smugglers onboard a Firefly-clss ship called Serenity. The two are in charge of a small crew of misfits and a mercenary named Jayne Cobb with loyalty to the highest bidder. The crew makes a daring in space theft of alliance cargo.

They have a deal to sell the cargo to a two-bit gangster named Badger, played by the always great Mark Sheppard. Badger reneges on the agreement because the Alliance is now after Serenity and he does not like Mal’s contemptuous attitude towards him. The crew is desperate for cash, so mal decides he will sell the cargo to an old buddy in Whitefallwho once shot him over a “conflict of interest.” to make ends meet, the crew takes on passengers: a preacher named Shepherd Book, the nebbish Lawrence Dobson, and a wealthy surgeon named Simon Tam who is carrying his own hot cargo.

Hot cargo in more ways than one. After a confrontation in which Kaylee, another member of the crew, is severely wounded, Mal opens the casing to see what could cause so much trouble. It is a naked River Tam, played by Summer Glau, in cryogenic sleep. Simon explains that River is his sister. She is a prodigy who was enrolled at a special alliance school for the gifted. Students were tortured and experimented on, so Simon left his job to rescue her. Now they are on the run from the Alliance. Simon scores points by performing life saving surgery on Kaylee.

Dobson, who is the one who injured Kaylee, is suspected of communicating Serenity’s whereabouts to the alliance. He did not, but he offers a bribe to Jayne in order to help him. The offer is an important plot point for later. Dobson is eventually killed by Mal when Simon does not have the nerve to do the job himself, even though he has great devotion to his sister. With Dobson’s death, mal has now killed a federal agent.

Along the way to Whitefall, the crew encounters the Reavers they are introduced as a brutally sadistic enemy who skin their victims alive. The attempt to sell the cargo goes badly, and there is a slam bang action sequence in which mal kills a horse. Did PETA have fits over Firefly? I do not recall, but that is the first thing that came to mind upon seeing Mal fatally shoot the horse. The crew manages to escape, though battered and bruised, and destroy the Reaver ship. Mal offers Simon and River the chance to remain on Serenity if Simon will serve as a sawbones. Mal and Jayne have a confrontation over Jayne’s contemplation of accepting Dobson’s bribe. Jatne tells him the money was not enough for a betrayal, but one day, it might.

Firefly has a very unique feel to it. The atmosphere is a combination of wild west and Asian culture. The whole notion of cowboys dropping Chinese sayings is jarring, which may be one of the reasons Firefly never caught on. I appreciate the high production values regardless. As with Battlestar Galactica a year later the show utilizes CGI on the relative cheap, but does so effectively.

I also appreciate the gritty feel. The main character truly are living hand to mouth on the run out in the wild frontier. Two scenes in particular, both involving kaylee, emphasize the point. In one, Shepherd offers her a strawberry as added incentive to allow him on Serenity. she savors it--seductively, I might add--as a rare delicacy. The second bit is how bare bones the medical bay is for Simon to operate on her. Unlike the original Battlestar Galactica and especially Star Trek: Voyager, both of which supposedly depict desperate crews scraping to get by on limited resources, the crew truly is roughing it on Firefly.

“Serenity” is a solid episode which effectively introduces the main characters while presenting enough action to hold an audience’s attention. The safe for television nudity is gratuitous. That is always a plus. So is Jewel Stait sucking on a strawberry. Whoever came up with that idea is a genius. It is lamentable FOX did not air the pilot in proper order. The series might have attracted more fans if the network had.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

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