Writing about some of these early Firefly episodes is proving to be a bit of a challenge. With Fox’s decision not to air the excellent pilot Whedon and Minear had to re-introduce the story in two episodes that essentially retold us everything that was in the pilot. So there isn’t much to say about this episode. It fleshed out the characters a bit, tells us about the Reavers again, and lets us know they are humans, not aliens, and gives us an idea of how the alliance does business. That aside, it does do one other thing that I think is important to the series going forward. After the jump.
I’ve mentioned my admiration for Joss Whedon before. Even though a lot of his projects like Dollhouse and Firefly aren’t very long lived or commercially successful there is something they have in common with all Whedon’s work. On one level they all take themselves seriously. Yes the dialog, especially in Buffy or Angel borders on parody, as do the shows themselves on occasion, but they manage to do so without insulting the audience and while also dealing with some pretty heady stuff. Redemption, sin, evil, good, these are all explored in Whedon’s work, and Firefly will be no exception.
We’ve already seen the start of these themes. The “fallen woman” who is probably the most socially respectable according to alliance standards, the captain who has lost his faith in everything, but clings tenaciously to the humanity he has left and the little bit of the world he can control, the man of faith who is being tested and the mercenary who it seems has no loyalty or faith in anything, and perhaps never did. We see these characters as fully fleshed out people, but they also represent, through their struggles much of the human condition. And Whedon doesn’t sugar coat things, despite keeping it light most of the time. In Whedon’s ‘verse pure evil exists.
This episode did address one bit of Firefly mythology. The Reavers. It’s a re-introduction from the original pilot, but this time we see the aftermath of what they do. They are, for all practical purposes, pure evil. We don’t know what drives them or motivates them, but we see their effect on the civilization they border. They cannot be reasoned with, or persuaded, or bought. They seem to want nothing from civilization but an opportunity for mayhem. Those who live near the edges of this civilization, like Mal, understand that. To those like our young doctor or the alliance commander, used to the comforts and order of civilization they are a campfire story or an abstraction. To many of us, living in orderly societies, it’s hard to imagine such people, but they are there. Whedon doesn’t sugar coat it.
But Whedon also recognizes the other evil. The far more pernicious one. That’s the evil that creeps up on you so slowly and stealthily you never see it until it’s too late. Mal recognizes that evil. It’s the Alliance. This type of evil is about compromise and power, and the men who wield power. We don’t have the full story yet, but River Tam is the key. She’s the collateral damage that this society seems willing to allow. For whatever motives, whatever purpose, River was a human sacrifice to “the greater good”. Somewhere, some person in power decided that it was necessary to torture a teenage girl into insanity, all for the greater good, but the society at large never knows the price they pay or the humanity they lose when they allow those compromises to be made on their behalf.
Mal doesn’t much like the Alliance. He doesn’t seem on board with the morals of the elites, who see prostitution as a honerable profession, he doesn’t care for their use and abuse of the Tam’s, and he doesn’t much like them telling him what he can and can’t do. But what he hates is the pernicious evil that lets an official come into his world and tear it apart on a whim, and then doesn’t have the decency to allow his crew to scrape a living out of the ‘verse, because it wouldn’t be civilized. At least with the Reavers you know where you stand. With the Alliance, we’ll see if they ever figure that out.