Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Take my love, take my land

Sigh... yeah, Buffy was a good show. Angel was a good show. But watching Firefly reminds me of what a wonderful show is like. I knew that it was good, but it seems to get better each time I view it, and I don't hesitate to call it Joss Whedon's masterpiece.

This is a show that everyone should watch. Even if you don't enjoy science fiction, even if you don't enjoy Joss Whedon, the pure quality of the show demands recognition. I'm struck once again by how it WORKS on all fronts. The acting is great, with possibly the best casting I've ever seen in a show. The storyline is really cool, gripping and fun. The tone is pure Joss Whedon, a wonderful mixture of drama, mystery, humor, and just a twist of horror. Watching it again, I particularly appreciate the structure of the show. I've grown used to serial dramas, like "Lost" or "Battlestar Galactica", as opposed to episodic dramas, like "House". Firefly strikes a wonderful middle ground, with each episode completely standing on its own as a thing that can be appreciated, but combining to create a marvelous kinetic energy. There is so much I missed the first time around that I've been picking up on second, third, or fourth viewings. I love how Kaylee is complaining about an engine part in the early episodes, and later on, the captain's refusal to pay for a replacement leads to an entire episode of pain. As Whedon proved with his two earlier series, he is a master at constructing rich, intricate worlds that follow their own logic.

And there's the rub. The tragedy of watching Firefly is not just that it was so short-lived, but that it would have only gotten better as time went on. Just think of how much better Buffy Season Four was from the first season, or the last season of Angel was from its spare beginnings. Part of that is the accumulated potential a show acquires as it further expands its boundaries, but another part is Whedon's genius at playing with convention and digging into his characters. And frankly, this is a genre that would have gained greatly from the experience. While I enjoy a lot of sci-fi, it is generally not known for much experimentation within the medium: a show tends to set its place and conflicts early on and not vary far from them. By contrast, Firefly embodies Mal's free-spirited ethos, and one gets the feeling it would never stop wandering.

I should probably speak a little to the Firefly/Bebop link. You can't argue that it doesn't exist, but watching the two back-to-back, it's actually a weaker connection than I would have thought. Both series have the same two-word summary of "Space Cowboy," but beyond that, they seem like very different beasts. Spike is a man running from dishonor and searching for redemption; Mal is a good man who is trying (and failing) to become bad. Both ship crews function as families and are mildly dysfunctional, but the crew of Serenity tends to ultimately function as a unit, while the division within Bebop never ends. The messages of the show are ultimately different as well... Bebop ends with one man ultimately acting alone against all odds. Time and again, Firefly stresses the value of friendship, family, and community. That's probably the thing that struck me the most on this viewing of the show. While Firefly is, at its surface, a fiercely libertarian work of fiction (good folks fleeing the big bad government), the people who form close bonds with one another always win out against those who mistrust and go it alone. It seems to have an overall philosophy that, in an odd way, could almost be labeled family values. The key is that, in Whedon's world, everyone chooses their own family.

Thoughts on the show:
Favorite episode: Ariel. They're all really good, though.
Episode I'd show a newcomer: The pilot, ideally ("Serenity"). Failing that, "Shindig." (Why not "Ariel"? I think it's the one episode that demands some prior knowledge - specifically, you need to understand River and Jayne.)
Favorite character: Mal is the obvious choice. I have to go with Wash, though. He fits so neatly into my Horatio ideal of the sidekick.
Favorite villain: Badger is villain-ish, right? If he doesn't count, I'd have to go with Saffron.
Favorite supporting character: Badger is kind of supportive, right? If he doesn't count, maybe Nandi... she had spunk.
Favorite weapon: I think it's hilarious that the laser pistols always break. That's part of the genius of the show - sure, technology may be very advanced, but when you're scraping your existence off a rock, with years between contact with the rest of the 'verse, you'll want to stick with something that works. Horses don't break down or require fresh oil, and while you have a shot at repairing a jammed pistol you probably won't be able to repair a laser power cell. That being said, my favorite weapon is probably the pistol that Mal uses to pistol-whip people. Or the jet engine.
Favorite location: Besides "Serenity," of course, though that is one of the best-realized spaces I've ever seen on the screen. Hm... either the creepy Reaver-hit ship in "Bushwhacked" or the whorehouse in "Heart of Gold."
Favorite song: "The Hero of Canton."
Favorite fictional word: "Rutting." (Or, as they always say, "Ruttin'".)
Favorite line: Oh geez, how can I choose one? This show has some of the best writing ever. That being said, I'm partial to, "Dear diary, today I was pompous and my sister was crazy. We were kidnapped by hill folk, never to be seen again. It was the best day ever!"
Favorite costume: Jayne's cunning hat.
Favorite dynamic: I really like the Mal-Kaylee relationship. Zoe-Wash is great as well, and very unusual to be portrayed on television. Simon-Jayne is a great source of laughter.

Sigh... farewell, Firefly. Take me out to the black.

Next up: Space cowboy double feature.

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