I think I'm going to make a regular feature of this blog where I (comparatively) briefly comment on previous posts. Either because my mind has changed or I've thought of something more or people have provoked me.
Today, some more musings on Serenity. Do NOT read this if you haven't seen the movie yet!
I seem to have been validated in my earlier assertion that newcomers might like this movie more than Firefly veterans. I believe this is almost entirely due to Wash's (and, to a lesser extent, Book's) death. Simply put, we like these characters, and it makes us sad when they die. This is a completely natural and human response, and I think it speaks volumes about what an amazing job Whedon and company did in making these characters come alive for us. More selfishly, I found myself upset that we'd lose the humor Wash brought to the show, and the interesting religious discussions made possible by Book's presence would become less frequent. In contrast, people who had only been with these characters for ninety minutes would still find the death shocking, but probably not feel the same sense of lost.
The question I hear most often is, "Why did Wash have do die?" I don't claim to know Whedon's mind, but I'm guessing he died exactly so we would ask that question. One is directly led to examine the relations between fiction and reality; we have been trained to believe that every single death has a purpose. Book's death spurs Mal to investigate Miranda; the colonists died to create the Reavers. In the world of fiction, where the author controls everything, any event was imagined by the author and serves some purpose, sometimes of atmosphere but more often of plot.
By contrast, events in the real world often seem chaotic or confused. Those of us who are religious can say we discern the will of God in what happens (though we are often unable to explain His particular choices). Those who aren't religious can either be mechanistic/fatalistic (every specific thing that happens is the inevitable result of the Big Bang) or random (stuff just happens; it doesn't need to make sense). In any case, though, you have a sequence of events that people look at and put their own interpretations over. Most of us are fortunate enough to not encounter death very frequently in real life (certainly nowhere near as often as we find it in books, movies and video games), and I am guessing that many of us feel that these individual deaths are senseless. When one of my favorite teachers was killed by a rare blood disease, was that teaching me some sort of point? When the single nicest person I've ever met was killed in a freak road accident on a frozen highway, was that advancing some cosmic plot? These deaths and others really shook me, not because they seemed ominous but rather the opposite, because they seemed too pointless.
I think that's the feeling Whedon was going for. Yes, it's manipulative, but the fact of the matter is the senseless deaths are by far the most common, and deaths that occur for a tidy and easily discernable reason are the exception. Somehow, the director managed to bring the real world crashing into the world of fiction, reaching for genuine grief instead of plain shock.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Tudyk was asking for too much money and got cut from the sequels.