Firefly Rewatch Episode 1: Serenity Now.

Firefly was probably a doomed series from the start.  A space western?  Really?  But as Alan Sepinwall has noted Fox bought the series on the strength of this pilot episode, which introduced us to a world that sprung fully formed from the head of Joss Whedon, and then declined to air it, deciding instead to lead off the series with the next episode, The Train Job.  As I said, Firefly had an uphill battle in any case, but for now let’s just have some fun reliving and discussing the series that was intended, starting with this episode, after the jump.

I was a late comer to Firefly.  The series was canceled before I ever saw an episode.  I happened upon it the next fall on vacation when the SciFi channel was running a marathon.  I discovered Firefly in a rather random order.  I would get drawn in for 2 or 3 episodes before I could pry myself away, and then pick it up again a few episodes later.  All I knew was that this series and these characters had me hooked for some reason I couldn’t quite explain.  Determined to figure it out I ordered the DVD and upon returning from vacation I began my rematch in earnest, the way it was supposed to be.

Serenity tells the story, but not the whole story, of how our band came to be.  There was a war, and in that war a man lost everything.  Malcolm Reynolds, our captain, was a man who had faith.  Faith in god, in a cause, and in himself and his sense of duty and honor.  We see him this way not as an introduction, upon introduction he’s a scavenger living by his wits off what he can scavenge from the ‘verse.  You could call him an opportunist, a smuggler, a petty thief, or all of the above, and I doubt he’d argue.  This is his life and he lives it day to day.  But in flashback, at the battle of Serenity Valley, we see the man Mal was.  A dedicated soldier rallying his troops to fight and hold for their cause; risking his life for that cause, and thanking god for sparing it by kissing his cross.  And we see that Mal die, metaphorically speaking.  Later we see a Mal who, thought he still insists on some of the courtesies and civility of life won’t suffer to hear grace said aloud at his dinner table.  Throughout the episode we see one thing about Mal.  It’s his ship, and his ship and his crew are his life now.  The man he was may re-appear at some point, but for now that man is as good as dead.  His life is his ship and his crew, and he lives each day by keeping both intact and flying one more day.

So, Mal’s crew.  We meet them, but their stories aren’t as fleshed out as Mal’s.  Zoe may be the easiest to explain, but in some ways the hardest to fathom.  Zoe was Mal’s comrade in arms, essentially his partner, before either of them knew of any of the others.  Zoe and Mal have history.  At this point we’re not clear on it but it’s enough to create a bond that the war, or the subsequent peace, couldn’t break.  But it isn’t about love, at least the traditional get married have kids kind of love.  Zoe it seems reserves that love for another man.  Wash, the pilot.  Wash’s place on the ship is interesting.  Mal is the captain, and Zoe is his right hand.  That leaves Wash as the right hand in law?  There is some tension, obviously, between Wash and Mal over Zoe.  Zoe is trying to be what the two most important men in her life, two very different men, need, and that creates some tension.  Call it a love triangle of a very different sort.  I found it an interesting, and it plays out more in the future episodes.

Before there was Casey, there was Jayne.  Casey is Jayne, sort of.  We’re introduced to Jayne as essentially the muscle for hire.  A mercenary along for the ride to handle the mayhem and get paid.  Where do his loyalties lie?  Well, neither Mal or Jayne seem to have any illusions about that.  Jayne’s loyalties, like any good mercenary, lie with the man paying his fee.  Some interesting day in the future, when someone outbids Mal, we’ll see if that comes to pass, for either.  For now it seems they both know they’re a pretty even match, and neither is willing to test themselves or their partnership.  Yet.

At last we come to Kaylee, the final member of the crew.  Kaylee is tough to describe and impossible not to love.  I always settled on a mixture of the Kansas farm girl next door and mother nature, but with machines like Serenity taking the place of nature.  Kaylee is irrepressibly cheerful, helpful, honest, and apparently innocent.  Her instant crush on the handsome doctor and her apparent admiration of Inara, the companion’s lifestyle hints at a more sheltered existence than their situation would seem to allow for.  Her injury and near death seem to point to the dramatic crisis of this episode, hanging on to a shred of humanity in the face of their situation.  With the contemplation of murdering and abandoning random people becoming part of their repertoire it seems some of our crew, the captain in particular, are in danger of losing that last little bit of good, represented through Kaylee.

Which brings us to our passengers.  The crisis in Serenity is brought about through bad luck.  Their first fence, Badger, declines to relieve them of some very hot cargo, necessitating taking on passengers to keep the ship running long enough to unload the cargo elsewhere.  The first passenger, Inara, is a more or less permanent resident.  A companion is apparently an important, if you’ll excuse me, commodity.  She acts as ambassador and lends the crew some sort of respectability in the social circles they don’t seem to be a part of.  In Mal’s world, Inara is still apparently thought of as a whore.  This point is reinforced by the arrival of another of the passengers, Shepherd Book.

Shepherd Book is apparently a man who may have been much like Mal, based on his courage and his ability to step into and diffuse a situation.  Yet unlike Mal, Book seems to have turned to his faith and away from the world he is now seeking to rejoin.  Seeing that world is a shock to him.  Only a few short days and he has fallen in with smugglers thieves, mercenaries, murderers, prostitutes and fugitives.  For a man of peace and religion it seems at first horrifying and frightening, but then as Inara suggests, perhaps it is exactly where he is needed most.

And finally we come to the last of our additions to the little world that is Serenity.  Dr. Simon Tam and his sister River.  Simon represents the pinnacle of the civilization the rest (Inara aside) seem so alien to, and seem to be fleeing from.  Simon however is fleeing for a reason, his sister.  River is an unknown so far, but it seems she was the grist for the mill that is the Alliance.  One of those things the leaders of a society always seem to feel is necessary, though regrettable.  Simon, horrified, manages to free her and flee.  He finds on the edge of that civilization there are others familiar with being the grist for the Alliance mill, and so for a while at least, he’s found a refuge for he and his sister.

As for the rest of this introduction, I can’t say enough about the things I loved.  We are given a world fully formed with all the quirks and kinks that come from a society that evolves out of something, no matter how much people think they have it planned out.  The curious lapses into Chinese, the, shall we say, uneven distribution of wealth and technology, the barbarity on the edge of civilization, all seem to fit into this world.  You don’t even seem to question why nobody uses laser guns and why they sometimes ride horses.

I was hooked on Firefly before this episode as I’ve mentioned, but this is the episode where I think I finally understood and loved Joss Whedon’s new ‘verse.

Finally I want to offer my apologies for taking so long to get around to this, especially since it was my idea, sort of, to do this.  I am presently, at last, on vacation in an undisclosed location hoping my employer doesn’t try to contact me for at least a week.  Getting two weeks worth of work done in a few days  to make this week off possible took a toll on my hobbies.  One of the things I hope to do now that I have some time is catch up here.

– Ernie

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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23 Responses to Firefly Rewatch Episode 1: Serenity Now.

  1. joe says:

    I’ve undertaken a mission – to finally watch all 11 Firefly episodes and the feature length movie. So far I’ve seen 5. I’m hooked.

    Great intro, Ernie.

    Mal is an amazing character. Even more than Kaylee, there’s layer upon layer of story to uncover. Part hero, part poet, part pirate, and very cool.

    The only one that mystifies me is the River character played by Summer Glau (which is the only name I recognized besides Adam Baldwin’s in the cast). Damaged? Certainly. Undeveloped? Probably. It sounds like there’s several seasons worth of stories in that character, and I don’t know yet if any of them got out.

    Ron Glass’s Shepard Book is a fascinating contraction. You’d almost expect Tam to be the preacher – he’s soft. Book is not.

    What you see in all the characters is a special kind of caring, especially in Kaylee and Inara. It’s the same kind of love we see in the Bartowski household, and even in the Buy More when Jeff and Lester are behaving themselves.

    • Rick says:

      Tam seems soft on the surface (major fish out of water) but you (and Mal) can see steel underneath. The best part of this series is how all the characters play off each other – brilliant casting and chemistry (apparently off the set as well) and that shines through so well.

      • joe says:

        I probably stand corrected on Tam, Rick. Let’s say, through the first 5 episodes I haven’t seen the steel yet.

        I can imagine it’s coming, though.

    • jason says:

      I really like Irina’s character, same as sarah, there obviously is a bunch of damage underneath, but on the exterior total class, but to a certain extent, that is true of most of the firefly cast I guess, really we all love baldwin & casey, but jayne sort of sucks as a character compared to the rest – one more comment, don’t know his name, but zoey’s husband might be what chuck would have become had he not had season 3, I like that chuck’s growth took him away from the stay in the car, handwringing, self conscious, jealous but clueless to do anything about it type.

      • atcdave says:

        I could see Wash as a Chuck parallel. He will never be his wife’s equal in a fight, but he has a valuable technical specialty. I kind of wish they’d left Chuck that way instead of going the superhero route.

  2. Rick Holy says:

    I didn’t get hooked on Firefly until several years after it was canceled. Didn’t know about it when it actually aired – but found out about it through different web sites.

    I’m with you. I absolutely LOVED that series. It was such a shame that it only had 14 episodes. How many series are there where not only do they tell a good story, but EVERY character is interesting.

    People, if you don’t know anything about Firefly, BUY THE DVD (it’s only one abbreviated season), and also buy the DVD of the movie “Serenity,” which came out some years after Firefly was axed. It kind of “finishes” the Firefly story.

    Again, every character on the show was great. I thought Summer Glau really shined as River. Adam Baldwin was great (what else would you expect from Adam Baldwin). So many of Firefly’s characters went on to (or are presently in) other series. Gina Torres went onto appear in one season of ALIAS as Sydney Bristow’s nemesis.

    Trust me people. Now that summer is here and there’s nothing to watch, Get Firefly and Serenity on DVD. You’ll watch them more than once – GUARANTEE IT!

    • atcdave says:

      And people won’t regret spending a few bucks. The DVDs (both series and movie) can be found cheap since they’ve been out for quite a while in several different issues. If money isn’t a big issue to you get the Blu-Ray (at least of Serenity), this show looks outstanding!

  3. Dave2 says:

    It seems that most fans of Firefly discovered it after it had already been canceled, myself among them. I found the mashup of future-tech and old west to be inventive, to say the least. “Chuck” owes a lot to Joss Whedon, aside from Adam Baldwin. Whedon’s approach to dialog, for instance, is being copied all over the dial (From Sarah’s “Thank you for saving me, I appreciated the tank.” to Castle’s “Who was murdered and was it gruesome?”) But what is most interesting is the layers of complexity of all the characters, from Mal to River. It’s not enough simply to have a compelling story, we have compelling characters, of whom we want to know more about.

    Chuck has the same kind of feeling. We want to know more about these people. Even Jeffster.

    • joe says:

      Dave, I agree with the sentiment, but I have to point out that Gene Roddenberry was famously quoted as having said that he promoted Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the Stars”.

      Oh gee – I forget. There are people here too young to have seen Wagon Train! I remember it for being one of my grandfather’s favorites. Sheesh.

      The idea of Sci-Fi westerns really goes back a long way.

      You pointed out something I meant to, but didn’t! Whedon’s dialog is amazing. When Jayne says “We’re humped,” you know exactly what he means, as does Casey. It’s incredibly inventive.

      • atcdave says:

        That is an important point Joe, Star Trek itself was a space western; it isn’t really that improbable a format. With “wide open” and lawless expanses, its natural for a starship (large or small) to take the place of explorers or settlers. Any number of earlier sci-fi shows and movies borrowed heavily from the western. Firefly was simply more overt about it than most.

      • Dave2 says:

        Yeah, but Kirk never said “Now think real hard. You been bird-doggin’ this township awhile now. They wouldn’t mind a corpse of you. Now, you can luxuriate in a nice jail cell, but if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”

        Like atcdave said, Firefly was a tad more overt with the western comparisons…

      • joe says:

        Hum… Good point, Dave2. Kirk never wore a pretty floral bonnet, either. 😉

        And that was a horse-drawn cart he was in too, wasn’t it? Yup, it was, pardner.

      • Dave2 says:

        An’ he looked so purty

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Ahh, but Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Chekov did re-enact the gunfight at the OK Corral. Sort of.

      • joe says:

        …and Kirk didn’t play chess. He played poker.

      • jason says:

        joe – I seem to recall kirk could beat spock at chess, “those damned ilogical humans”? … followed by the famous castle / fillion / mal / kirk / shatner smirk?

  4. jason says:

    I started on firefly 2 weeks ago, got thru the movie finale last night. REally enjoyed it, thx to ernie and dave who pointed me that way.

    To those who may not realize, the pilot is named serenity, and so is the 2 hour post script movie that wraps things up. Be sure you watch the pilot first and the movie finale last, I would think it would maximize the viewing project fun, even though firefly is not strongly serialized, the characters do grow and reveal themselves over time.

  5. SWnerd says:

    This might seem weird, but I actually saw the movie before watching any of the episodes. It was watch instantly on netflix so I gave it a shot. And really it works fairly well as a stand alone but I was hooked and wanted to see more. So I watched the episodes on the WB as they became available. I loved it. When the complete series came on watch instantly, I rewatched the entire thing over including the movie.

    It’s a great series that deserved a much longer run. But even though it only has 14 episodes it still makes it into my top 3 all time favorite series. The entire cast is spectacular with each character having distinct personality traits that complement the others so well. And I’m all about the characters in my media consumption.

    Of course, considering the types of shows that get the biggest ratings, it doesn’t surprise me that it never found a vast audience. It’s like Chuck: it appeals to the greatest viewers, just not the greatest “number” of viewers. 🙂

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Well said SWNerd. I’m very much on record as preferring well drawn compelling characters to some grand story. I find even the simplest stories, like the wagon train in space or the nerd with the computer in his brain work well when you care about and invest in the characters.

    • atcdave says:

      Same here swnerd, I saw the movie first. It really explains itself pretty well, I had no problem following. And I ran out and bought the DVDs immediately (and the Blu-Rays when they came out a couple years later!)

  6. OldDarth says:

    Loved the series and found out about after it aired.

    Great cast and I still follow what all of them are doing to day.

  7. Lauren says:

    Thank you so much for choosing Firefly to as a summer re-watch Ernie! I’m pretty sure I’d lose count if I tried to tally up the number of times I’ve watched every episode in this series.

    Like SWnerd and several other said above, the characters draw them in to a show. I’m no different and Firefly’s characters KILL me. In a good way.

    Not only is Firefly high on the list of favorite all time shows, Malcolm Reynolds is one of my favorite fictional characters in anything, ever. To sum him up in a few words would be impossible but an example from this episode always make me fall in love with his character all over again. Kaylee, healing from her gunshot wound, smiles and tells her captain that he’s nice. Mal half smirks and in a self-deprecating voice says: “No I’m not. I’m a mean old man.”

    Anyways, count me in for the re-watch 🙂

  8. Crumby says:

    Finally, got to watch this first episode!

    I found the first part a little slow but got immediately curious about the characters. As everyone pointed out, they are really interesting.

    And the cast is good. Whedon loves is people. I’ve seen Fillion in Dr Horrible, Gina Torres in Angel (and Alias but that Abrams), I think Adam Baldwin played in Angel too, Summer Glau went to the Dollhouse, as well as the guy that plays Wash (don’t know his name).

    Anyway the ‘verse is obviously really interesting too.

    I’ll watch the next episode tomorrow!

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