Monday, September 14, 2015

SERENITY: Scary Girl and Hollow Man

Note: There’s still time to enter my blogversary giveaway, so hop on over there for a chance to win a copy of Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 (you know, if you want).

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

Can I just say? SERENITY. IS. INTENSE. I’m pretty sure Joss Whedon missed his calling—obviously he was meant to be Master Torturer or Head Executioner or something like that, because he is just a tiny bit brutal. I’m torn between sending him fan mail and sending him hate mail—it’s really a toss-up.

So let’s talk about this.

In my FIREFLY discussion, I introduced some of the characters, and with them, a bit of the moral ambiguity which forms the backbone of the show and its companion movie. But I’m not sure I delved into the many aspects of the story as well as I could have, so let’s go a bit further, beginning with the two characters who take center stage in SERENITY.

River. You thought you knew River before? Seriously, no—if you haven’t seen SERENITY, you haven’t met her yet. Just trust me. The most important thing you need to realize about River is that she is both extremely old—in that she has suffered extensive trauma, not to mention the fact that she makes geniuses look like idiots—and incredibly young—for example, her heavy dependence on Simon. In FIREFLY, we get a quick glimpse at the dangerous side of River, when she guns down three men and treats it like a game. Clearly this isn’t an easy case of cold-blooded killer vs. scared girl acting out of self-defense. What makes this even less simple is that she exhibits many symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. And given her unstable nature and her occasional run-ins with the crew, it’s difficult even to determine whether she’s friend or foe. While she generally feels bad when she hurts others, it remains uncertain whether she’s able to process this guilt fully.

Let’s give her a break, though, since she’s had the government poking and prodding around in her brain, turning her into a tool for its own use. Yet, after all that, she never intentionally plays the victim card, which might be why I’m especially fond of her. Considering her condition, she would be well within her rights to lie down and play dead, so to speak, to let the others do for her and pick up the slack. Instead, on several occasions, she risks her life for the lives of her friends and proves how truly strong she is, despite her brokenness.

Captain Malcom Reynolds. Mal is a hard nut to crack, in more ways than one. At first glance, he comes across as cocky and capable, almost light-hearted, a man who views life as a giant game. But he might possibly be one of the most broken characters you could ever come across, and he wears his over-confident exterior as a mask to disguise the part of him that can’t leave the battle of Serenity Valley behind, no matter how long it’s been since the end of the war.

In SERENITY, now that Inara is no longer living aboard the ship, we see a completely different side of Mal, and it’s more than a little bit unsettling. He is angrier, more unstable, less predictable. He’s a Firefly with no engine, floating about in the vast emptiness of space, and I can’t help but wonder if the echo of his pain is loud enough to drown out almost everything else but his thoughts.

Still, despite his deeply fractured psyche, he remains one of the best captains out there, because he cares deeply for his crew and his ship—no matter how poorly he shows it. And he possesses the invaluable ability to carry on even under the worst of circumstances—goodness knows, he’s had the practice. Other captains might be softer and kinder, gentler and more considerate, but few could lead their crews through as many horrific situations as Mal can without risking mutiny or worse.

Now on to other points of interest.

Simon. I’ve never been certain what to think about River’s older brother. On the one hand, he often comes across as weak and defenseless. When it comes to combat, odds are he’ll lose, and half the time he seems to lack even the will necessary to fight back. Perhaps, because he is a doctor, he balks at the thought of inflicting injuries. Or perhaps he is so neat and orderly and calm, right down to the very core, that he’s forgotten what it’s like to be aggressive. Either way, he doesn’t seem like a particularly strong character. But if you assumed that, like I almost did initially, then you would be wrong. Because Simon is one of the strongest characters in the show.

While he may not be quick to strike back, and while he may not be able to hold his own in a fist fight—as a general rule—he isn’t afraid to put himself in harm’s way if it means standing up for his sister or finding out information he deems important. More often than not, he thinks of others over himself. Throughout the brief span of the show and the companion movie, we witness multiple examples of his caring, patient nature as he deals with his sister’s unsettling mental illness. He never complains, never belittles River or speaks sharply to her. I’m not sure how many people would be able to die to self so consistently in order to see to the wellbeing of others. Jayne might be able to break Simon with his bare hands, and Mal might be able to outgun him, but they will never sacrifice themselves for others the way Simon does on a daily basis.

The Operative and The Reivers. I love this plotline—the man who fights to keep the truth hidden, and the truth that says we cannot make humans perfect through our own power. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Just know that, in my opinion, Joss Whedon offers a very satisfying conclusion, both to the mystery surrounding River and to the questions concerning the Reivers’ origins, while simultaneously introducing a fascinating, terrifying new character.

The Alliance. Joss has created my favorite form of society—the honest kind. On the one hand, we have the stamp of the Alliance—gorgeous architecture; large, prosperous cities; exceptional healthcare and security. We have a homogenized cultural landscape, a beautifully balanced blend of Chinese and American customs with layers of historical reflections. But on the other hand, we also witness the losses that come with those gains. Beneath the Alliance’s enlightened front, we get to sample the brutality and the totalitarian undertones—the tension between the Independents, who only want to be free, and the Alliance, who will force its ideas of “freedom” on anyone smaller than it. Although the American and Chinese people of the future have come to terms enough to form a single cultural alliance, peace is far from complete, and the very efforts to build a perfectly utopian society are what create worse horrors than international tensions.

Intensity. While we never get to see any of our precious darlings hit rock bottom, we do come pretty close. And I have a theory that, with SERENITY, Joss means to break his audience rather than his characters. Of course I’m not bitter. But, suffice it to say, I’m not sure I’ve ever been as invested in a story’s conclusion as I was in the last, terrifying hour of film. Like I said earlier, I’m still deciding whether that warrants fan mail and praises or hate mail and threats.

The Humor. Fortunately, Joss understands how to balance emotional roller coasters and dizzying fight/crash scenes with comic relief. So if you were worried there’d be nothing to laugh at in SERENITY, rest assured, Joss does not disappoint. Despite the raised stakes and the lowered morale, our favorite characters are still our favorite characters, and while they fall quite a few times, they also have the chance to shine.

Time to discuss, my little coffee beans. If you’ve seen SERENITY (and/or FIREFLY) what are your thoughts? I haven’t really mentioned Shepherd Book, but I’d love to know your opinion of him. What is your take on the Alliance and the Chinese/American cultural blend?


  1. I've never watched this or Firefly, but this movie sounds so good! I'm especially interested in what you said about the characters: broken yet strong? Seemingly weak but with vast amounts of hidden strength? Count me in :)


    1. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY WATCH THEM--BOTH OF THEM. I mean, there is some inappropriate content, if that sort of thing bothers you. But the characters are so deep and complex and real and just adf;ljsadfkkadsf.

  2. So I didn't read your Firefly post. I've heard Firefly mentioned by different people and it sounded really interesting so I was like, "I'm just going to watch it for myself one day."

    But I had to read this one. . . because, I don't know, my self-control doesn't go that far.

    And now this show and Firefly sound even more fantabulous than before! I think I really like River. Are these movies or a TV series (forgive my ignorance. . .)? I might have to see if the library has them. Also, the captain sounds interesting too. I always hear people talk about him and now I know why. :)

    Oo, I love how you mentioned the intensity and the humor! I've been cooking up a post on that. It's a bit short though. *shrugs*

    1. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY WATCH IT. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my Firefly post, there is some inappropriate content. But it's still a great show.

      RIVER IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE CHARACTERS. A;LKFJADSFKL. Don't worry about it. :P Firefly is a TV series, and Serenity is a movie that comes after the series. And oh, Mal. *hugs Mal* He's also one of my favorites. WHAT AM I TALKING ABOUT, THEY'RE ALL MY FAVORITES.

      Oooh, I shall look forward to your post on intensity and humor. *sits on edge of seat, waiting*

  3. SERENITY IS MY FAVORITE THING. *hugs it* I'm pretty sure I watched the whole movie with really wide eyes because I swear Firefly is like something plucked straight out of my brain and I love it to pieces. And these are great points.

    1. SERENITY IS BRILLIANT AND AWFUL AND I LOVE IT. *hugs it too* Firefly is one of the most brilliantest things ever (that's totally a word). And oh my goodness I think I held my breath all the way through Serenity.

      And thank you. *bows deeply* *loses balance and falls over*

  4. I've never seen neither Sereny nor Firefly. As a matter of fact, it's the first time I've heard of them. But they seem like amazing movies with great characters and plot. I'll try to watch them:)

    1. *congratulates self for introducing someone to the existence of Firefly* They have great characters and great plots--the only shame is that the show, Firefly was cancelled before they could really do all that much, but the movie, Serenity makes up for that a little.

      You should totally watch them. :) Thanks for commenting!

  5. Serenity is a great movie. Loved it. I'm so glad we at least had that for closure. XD I loved the blend of Chinese and American cultures. That's one thing that made Firefly/Serenity appeal to me so much. I also have conflicted opinions of Simon, but I think is unfailing commitment and love for River is what wins out. His love for her is unconditional and that's really inspiring. ^ ^

    1. It is, isn't it? It was definitely great for closure--I love the way it answers some questions so we're not left hanging too much. I'm with you on Simon. I didn't like everything about him, like the way he represented the coldness of the Alliance (to a point) even though he was one of the good guys. But he has an amazing heart, and he's so giving. That's definitely something special.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

    2. I agree. At least we had that. Other shows didn't give us that much.

      Each character had their own good features even if their badness tried to suppress them. That's what I liked about the Serenity crew.

    3. Yeah. XD

      You're right--all the characters are three-dimensional that way. Their good sides and their bad sides make them realistic and loveable.

  6. I think my favorite memory of Serenity was that I was showing it to my best friend for the first time, and my mom told us it was time to eat, and so I waited to pause it until JUST AFTER THE IMPORTANT PART OF THE LEAF ON THE WIND SCENE and she screamed at me and chased me around my dining room because she was so mad.

    I think my biggest contrast to you is that I have always loved Simon. Like, from episode 1, Mal was like, "What is this your true love or something?" and I was like, "No, she's his sister" and then Simon was like "No, she's my sister" and I was like, "SIBLINGS FOREVER." I think I love Simon because, like him, I'm the eldest and I sympathize greatly to his almost forced role of caretaker, his motivation from love, and his willingness to try routes others can't. Like you said, he can't fight—but as we see in "Ariel" he was willing to sacrifice his reputation and future for River's sake, and in some ways that is all a man has. He has an amazing capacity for selflessness, and I admire that so freaking much in him. *squeals at Simon*

    Okay, and I have to talk about River... I like that at the end there is the prospect of healing. Like, it's implied more in the following graphic novels, but part of what River's problem was that she wasn't doing what she was intended to do. And she's dangerous but she's beautiful and she's not inhuman. So I love her too.

    And I love Mal. I probably just have a crush on that guy and also Simon but not Jayne or Wash. Although I love Wash. Wash knows life.

    Lastly, the reaver plotline was one of the things I also really enjoyed, just because it helped things make sense to me—it really tied the universe together, if you know what I mean. I wish we had seen that explored everywhere, but we didn't. Instead, we got what we got.

    But you know what? What we got was beautiful, and as the Vision said, something is not beautiful because it lasts. Firefly is a gift to us, and I shall scream for what I got, not for what I didn't.

    Excellent analysis, Liz! :) You took so many of the words out of my mouth!

    1. *falls off chair laughing* I can totally picture this, and I can totally understand why. I felt like doing something crazy myself when I first saw that scene.

      Yeah, Simon definitely grew on me pretty quickly--and I'm glad you picked up on his good qualities right away. I think I was seeing him too much through Mal's eyes, and I thought he was pretty suspicious looking at first. But you're right, he is a very, very great guy, and the fact that he's willing to sacrifice everything that could possibly important to him for his sister is the most amazing thing ever, and the show wouldn't be the same without him.

      I agree about the River thing. As soon as she figures out this Miranda thing that has been haunting her, and as soon as she uses her skills to help her friends and brother, she begins to act almost like a whole person. And even though she'll probably never get back to the way she was, that isn't important. She is so much stronger at the end of Serenity than she ever could have been before.

      *hugs Mal* I actually really liked Jayne and Wash too--sometimes I wonder if Jayne is my favorite character, but I think I'd have to go with Wash or Mal. I CAN'T DECIDE, WHO AM I EVEN KIDDING?

      I'm so glad we got what we got--and what the Vision said is so true. I'd rather spend my time being grateful for what they were able to make, then moping that there isn't more.

      Thank you! :)