How To Accept What You Can't Change In No Easy Steps

serenity rain

I’ve talked about The Serenity Prayer on this blog before (as well as the film Serenity). I even liked reading The Way of Serenity by Fr. Jonathan Morris. I feel particularly drawn to the Serenity Prayer lately because I’m having problems adjusting to change again. Or rather, the aftermath of the changes that came into my life. I’ve embraced the idea of trying new things, but sometimes, the new things are only there for a little while.

It’s kind of like going to Disneyland for the first time or to a seriously awesome retreat. When you try new things like volunteering or going to a new place, the experience can be amazing and overwhelming and you just get caught up in a blissful spiritual high. Then all of a sudden, you find yourself back to reality and you can’t go back and repeat that experience again.

I’ve been taking care of 2 bamboo plants and a small batch of mini-roses. Although I water them regularly, the roses are currently wilting and one of the stems of my bamboo plant is turning yellow. I can’t help but feel like these plants are reflecting how I feel spiritually. Plants can die from over-watering just as much as they can die from not being watered enough. Sometimes, spiritual thirst can come from wanting too much just as much as it can from not feeling anything.

Maybe it’s just one of those summer-is-almost-over kind of downer feelings, but I feel my life transitioning again and I’m not sure where it’ll go this time. I’m missing the fun stuff I did with my friends and dread being stuck in a rut again. But I have to accept where I am right now, whether I like it or not.

If there’s anything I learned this summer, it’s that God will always give you what you ask for, but not in the ways that you expect. There is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. Sometimes people only come into your life for a little while and sometimes there are people who will change your life forever. But you can’t cling onto whatever or whomever made you feel a certain way because those things aren’t God. If you love something, you gotta let it go. If you keep loving it, it will come back to you. Or whatever you want will come back in a different way. But it’s ultimately up to God.

So if you’re like me and right now you’re feeling bummed about summer being close to over (or already over depending on when you start school), pray the Serenity Prayer. I have my own modified version because I can’t resist making a Firefly joke.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

And if I can’t have any of those things right now,

I’ll just be here binge-watching Firefly

Photo courtesy of

Firefly Month: The Wisdom of Serenity, the Big Damn Movie

Ladies and gentlemen and Browncoats of all ages, we have come to the end of my Firefly Month. And the only way I can properly end this is with a recap and analysis of the Big Damn Movie Serenity.

I hadn’t seen this movie for a long time, so watching it again gave me thrills and chills. I think it’s a great way to bring newcomers into the fandom and it’s a sneak preview of what Joss had to give the world in Avengers. Keep in mind that the last time Joss made a movie, it was Alien Resurrection and before that, it was the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie starring Kristy Swanson. So to say that this movie is one of Joss’s best is saying a lot.

The prologue of the movie opens with a universe-establishing history lesson from Cam from Bones. Young River talks back to her teacher. Cut to River at the Alliance Lab, where she is in the middle of being lobotomized. The men at the Academy explain to Simon what they’re doing to River.  They intend on turning her into a living weapon. Simon activates a blast wave and the two of them escape the Academy.

It turns out to be a video seen by the bad guy of this movie, The Operative. He’s accessing the records and asks the Academy Doctor what his sin is, pointing out that it’s pride. The operative thinks that River picked up government secrets as she was experimented on. The Operative proceeds to kill everyone in the room in a disturbingly clean and precise manner and then asks about a way to get to River Tam’s triggers.

After the titles, we see Serenity preparing for a landing. Of course, the landing involves the usual atmospheric burning which included a hull scorching. This opening scene is majorly awesome. Former internet critic Welshy does a wonderful analysis of this opening shot in his Scene It video.

Mal plans to take River out on a job and Simon isn’t all too keen on it. This is a great intro for newcomers, but I’m very certain some of us are wondering where Book and Inara are. Mal, Zoe, Jayne, and River are planning a robbery of a security firm. River’s purpose in the robbery is to use her psychic powers to make sure the job goes smoothly.

Unfortunately, the job goes south when Reavers attack. River gets into a psychotic breakdown. The 4 head back to the ship as fast as possible. The Reavers are a LOT smarter and faster in this movie, making them all the more dangerous. They make it to the ship by the skin of their teeth, with only one Reaver on board. The Reaver gets dispatched of easily and Mal tells Wash to set a course for Beaumonde. Simon punches Mal in the face and tells Mal he wants off the ship.

Mal and Zoe have a conversation about why Mal chose to mercy kill a bystander instead of letting the guy onto their hovercraft. Mal has pretty much hardened. In the cargo hold, Kaylee says that the ship is falling apart in more ways than one. Not only does the ship need a repair, but Mal has seemingly drove away Inara like he’s pushing Simon and River out.

Once Serenity lands on Beaumonde, Kaylee gives Simon and River some tips before she and Mal go off to a bar/club called Maidenhead. Kaylee begs Mal to keep Simon and River on the ship, whining about how she hasn’t gotten laid in at least a year. She chastises Mal for letting Inara leave and walks out.

Mal meets up with Fanty and Mingo. River wanders into Maidenhead just as a commercial for fruity oaty bars plays. The commercial triggers her “living weapon” mode and she proceeds to she-fu everyone. Jayne tries to get her to calm down only for her to hit him below the belt and knock him out. Simon arrives and says a phrase in Mandarin that makes River fall asleep.The Operative watches from a distance.

Back on Serenity, Mal handcuffs River to the catwalk. He and Simon get into a fight again. Wash decides to ask Mr. Universe, a communications expert. They look over the footage and realize that the commercial had a subliminal message that activated her trigger. Simon takes care of River and she mentions Miranda. Simon thinks it might be a person or an alternate personality. River contemplates suicide, but Simon comforts her. We then cut to The Operative meeting with Inara, which can’t be any good.

Serenity lands in a moon called Haven, where Shepherd Book is waiting for them. Mal talks to Book about what to do with River. Book says that belief is going to help him get through this. Mal decides to walk out at the mention of faith, but Book points out that he wasn’t talking about God. Book, given his past with the Alliance, points out that whoever is after River is gonna strike from the shadows and won’t ask any questions.

Inara video calls Mal as the rest of the crew eavesdrops on them. She invites everyone to the Companion Training House where she’s staying and brings up the fact that she left some luggage on the ship. (Classic ex behavior.) When Mal enters the cockpit, Zoe deduces that it’s more than likely a trap and Mal agrees.

Mal arrives at the Training House and Inara chastises him for willingly going into the trap. The Operative comes in. He and Mal have a talk. Once The Operative mentions that he is unarmed, Mal shoots him. Of course, The Operative is wearing full body armor, which leads to him getting into a brawl with Mal and Inara. Just when The Operative thinks he has the upper hand, Inara points out that she wasn’t lighting incense. Cue a flash bomb that allows Mal and Inara to escape to the shuttle. Serenity sends out a handful of decoys and high tails it outta there.

On the ship, Inara points out that the reason that The Operative is dangerous is because he believes that killing River is the right thing to do and won’t stop until he finishes his mission. Jayne points out that Mal is being reckless, acting like he’s still in a war. Zoe orders Jayne to leave. Inara and Mal get into a fight of their own as the ship heads back to Haven. River has a dream of a distant planet and being attacked by Reavers.

In the kitchen, Jayne hears something from the other room. He gets his gun ready and looks for River. The rest of the crew hears a gunshot and find the kitchen locked. They search the ship for River, only for River to come out from the kitchen. She punches Simon in the throat and knocks Simon out. Mal finds River in the cockpit. She holds him at gunpoint. Mal asks River if she’s a person. She shows Mal what Miranda is: a planet.

Mal says that Miranda was an uninhabitable planet. But even though they’re close to Miranda, they would enter into Reaver territory if they were planning on landing on the planet. The ship lands on Haven to find the encampment burned by the Alliance. Mal finds a dying Shepherd Book. Book went down fighting to defend himself. Book says that he isn’t part of Mal’s crew but Mal says otherwise. Book begs Mal to believe in something, anything, and dies.

Zoe realizes that The Operative is probably tracking down everyone who’s ever worked with them. Mal is at the cockpit, looking at the footage of the people The Operative killed to get to them. Mal asks The Operative why he’s doing what he does. The Operative says that he believes in a world without sin. Then Mal gets a wonderful, awful idea.

Mal starts ordering his crew to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship. The crew starts to protest, but Mal stops the fight once and for all by saying that he wants to make his stand against the Alliance and he wants to go to Miranda. So Serenity dons her disguise. As the ship gets closer to Miranda, they hear distant screams of nearby ships, leaving The Operative in the dust.

Once the crew is on Miranda, they find that the planet was properly terraformed and well developed. Their search for a beacon signal leads them to a public area with corpses all around. River goes through another mental breakdown.

They make their way to a research and rescue building where the beacon signal was sent. River activates a recording of a researcher assessing the damages. The people of Miranda died because of a chemical called the Pax which was put into the atmosphere as a way to lessen aggression. Only problem is that the chemical worked too well, taking away everyone’s desires and drives until they let themselves die. However, a tenth of the population had the opposite reaction and turned into Reavers.

River throws up and realizes that she finally gained clarity. Mal makes it his mission to get that message out to the entire verse and aims to misbehave. They decide to reach out to Mr. Universe, who already has the Alliance in his house. The Operative tells his men to destroy everything.

An epic space fight ensues as Serenity makes its way out of Reaver territory. On the other side, The Operative waits with an entire Alliance army, ready to fire. Serenity comes in with a fleet of Reavers behind her, forcing the two armies to fight each other.

Wash maneuvers Serenity through the artillery fire and blasts in a seriously awesome scene. All the while, The Operative gets into an escape pod and heads for the planet. Serenity prepares for a very crashy landing but Wash is able to maneuver the ship and glide it into landing. The ship shakes, rattles, and falls apart inside, and comes to a stop at the hangar. But just before the audience gets a chance to breathe, Wash says “I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I-” and gets impaled in the chest by a Reaver ship, dying instantly. Zoe and Mal make a run for it and head inside with the rest of the crew to a bunker.

The crew creates a strategy. Zoe says they have to bottleneck the Reavers and prepares herself for battle. Mal asks Jayne for grenades as Reavers close in and sends a few out the door. Mal tells Zoe to hold the line as he makes his way into Mr. Universe’s room. He walks in to find the whole place wrecked up. However, the robot tells Mal that there’s a backup hidden and that the signal is still going.

As the Reavers close in, River breaks down. Kaylee laments dying while Simon decides to tell her how he feels about her. With the promise of finally consummating her relationship with Simon, Kaylee gains the will to live and prepares to fight.

Back at Mr. Universe’s, the Operative and Mal confront each other. Mal declares that he believes in getting the message out there and that he’s willing to die for it. Thankfully, Mal is a very quick draw.

The crew falls back as the Reavers close in on them. Jayne throws his last grenade. Kaylee says that the door can be shut, but only from the outside. Then Simon realizes he left his bag outside and gets shot.

Cue the beginning of River’s most epic moment in this entire movie.


You take care of me, Simon. You’ve always taken care of me. My turn.

Then River jumps out there, closes the door, and tosses Simon’s bad to the crew, all the while, she fights off the Reavers in the most epic fight scene since “Chosen.”

Mal continues to fight the Operative. During the fight, the Operative asks Mal if he knows what his sin is. Mal says “Hell. I’m a fan of all 7. But right now, I’m going to have to go with wrath.” The Operative stabs Mal in the side and prepares for his final blow, but we all know that Mal doesn’t go down without a fight. He refuses to kill the Operative and sends the message from Miranda out into the verse. When Mal returns to his crew, opens to River standing on the corpses of Reavers. The Alliance closes in, prepared to kill, but the Operative tells them to stand down.

A funeral is held. Zoe wears a beautiful white dress as she sends off the rocket. The crew gets to work repairing and repainting Serenity. Simon and Kaylee finally consummate their relationship while River watches, the little voyeurist that she is. And finally, on a rainy day, the Operative warns Mal that as of now, they’re all fugitives. The Operative is no longer working for the Alliance. Zoe says that Serenity is ready to go. Mal asks Inara if she’s ready to leave, but Inara isn’t so sure. Then Mal makes his way to the cockpit, where River is there, as his copilot. And the film ends with the ship flying through the rain into the black.

In the DVD commentary of this movie, Joss outed himself as an atheist and an absurdist. One theme prominent in this movie is the concept of belief. It’s telling that Joss chose to kill off Shepherd Book and Wash in this movie because Wash, like Xander in Buffy and Topher in Dollhouse is Joss’s Author Avatar. Symbolically speaking, Joss was killing off his belief in a higher power and his time with Firefly through this movie.

There’s this theme in Serenity of the “right to be wrong” because the Alliance was trying to take away free will in Miranda. During the Easter Vigil, one of the many readings is the fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Fr. Robert Barron said this in one of his Lenten Reflections:

“The serpent places in the minds of Adam and Eve the conviction that unless and until they determine the meaning and purpose of their lives, they will not be free. To put it in modern terms, their lives will not be lived to the fullest. But the knowledge of good and evil is the godlike prerogative to set the agenda for one’s life, to determine the difference between right and wrong. And this belongs to God alone. Just as he breathed life and being into us, so he breathes moral and spiritual purpose into us.

When we convince ourselves that we live on our own terms, we cease to be truly free and alive. When Adam and Eve grasped at this knowledge, they were expelled from the garden, not because God is vindictive, but because it is the natural consequence of making oneself into God. When we grasp at divinity, whatever life we have dries up. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our egotism, victims of the Great Lie.”

The thing is, though, is that Whedon isn’t anti-religious. He just hates bad religion. He includes Jewish characters in Firefly such as Amnon and Mr. Universe. And while Book has a dark and troubled past, he still advises Mal in spite of Mal’s hatred for God. It’s telling that Book’s last plea was for Mal to believe in something, anything, because Mal did find something to believe in: the right thing to do. The Alliance doesn’t represent God, but rather Man having a God Complex. As Paul said “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Make a world without sin, and you also remove grace. The name of the planet is also an allusion to this. Miranda is the name of the heroine from The Tempest. As in “O brave new world that has such people in’t.”

Kyle Cupp and I discussed the themes of Serenity and sin and he had this to say:

“When Mal says he aims to misbehave, he’s not defending moral anarchy or nihilism. He’s defying the Alliance’s false concept of what’s right. And their demand that everyone obey. It’s not God he really opposes, but idolatry. [The Operative] bought into the lie. He believes a world without sin is possible, for others if not himself.

The Operative: I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer. Or did you think none of this was your fault?
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: I don’t murder children.

The Operative: I do. If I have to.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?

The Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?

The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

He’s almost a Moses figure for the false paradise promised by the Alliance.

I’ve been talking a lot about the Serenity Prayer and alluding to this during my Firefly recaps. If “The Message” was about acceptance and “Objects in Space” was about courage, the movie as a whole carried with it the theme of wisdom. Wisdom, as I’ve learned, is very different from knowledge. To put things simply, knowledge is the desire to know everything while wisdom is the desire to only know what is important.

In Serenity, the Operative and the Alliance represent knowledge. They used Miranda as a test site for gaining the knowledge of having as much control over everyone as possible. In contrast, Mal and his crew represent wisdom. Mal knows he’s in over his head and they all know that the odds are stacked against them, but they also use wisdom to press forward.

Zoe gains wisdom in this movie through the loss of her husband. She gets herself injured during the fight with the Reavers and there are some points where you wonder if she has a death wish, but ultimately, she moves on. The last line she says in the movie about Serenity also applies to herself as well. And it’s a relief to know that in the comics, Zoe eventually has a child.

Jayne doesn’t get much to do, given that he’s the muscle, but it’s interesting to see the number of times he goes out of his way to help River. It’s a really big character development given his misgivings for the Tam siblings. And while he keeps an eye out for River, he still acknowledges that they’re dangerous to the crew. But this time, he does this with a layer of sympathy for both of them.

I knew what was coming the first time I heard Wash say “I am a leaf on the wind.” I wanted to stop the movie there. But I didn’t. We get to see Wash be active in combat, albeit only through flying the ship in dangerous situations. But his landing of Serenity was still a wonderful moment in spite of what happened.

Kaylee was right to call Mal out for becoming such a cold-hearted person, especially towards Inara. Her desire to get laid is a source of humor and some eye-rolls from me. But hey, she gets to fight and she gets the guy in the end, so all’s well that ends well.

Inara doesn’t really do much in this movie aside from help Mal escape from the Operative. But it’s nice that she decides to return to Serenity. Sadly, given the length of the movie, their will they/won’t they will have to sadly never be resolved. Thank God for fanfiction!

But really, the movie is about three people: Mal, Simon, and River.

I think it was wise of Mal to bring River during one of his heists because he wants to make her useful in the hopes of getting her to function like a normal person. Simon is so protective of River that he borders on smothering her. However, it’s not until River goes to Miranda and finds the message left behind that River actually starts to gain the healing she needs. And once River gains her clarity, Simon decides on making his own life, starting with having a relationship with Kaylee. The movie starts out with River and Simon being the focus and crux of the movie centers on Mal’s belief that River was still human and still in need. In spite of him being hardened, helping River gives Mal and Simon some sense of purpose.

I think my favorite line from the movie is the one from the end. I think this shows what Mal believes in more than anything else.

Mal: It ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do, since you already know what I’m about to say.

River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.

Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse… but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love… she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down… tells you she’s hurting before she keels. Makes her a home.

And with that, my Firefly month comes to an end.

Attributions: Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions and are used for editorial purposes only.

The Courage To Change in Objects in Space

The episode starts out with River going through the ship, reading the minds of everyone on board. Kaylee and Simon are actually having a good time together, with Simon telling Kaylee about his days as a med student. River sees that Simon still wishes he was back with his friends, doing his job. The next people River sees are Jayne and Book. Jayne and Book are talking about the life of a Shepherd, with Book joking to Jayne that he hopes that Jayne isn’t considering taking orders. River still sees Jayne’s guilt over what happened in Ariel and gets a glimpse of Book’s past. River wanders over and sees Zoe and Wash making out, feeling all of that emotional intensity for a short moment before wandering over to the catwalk. Mal and Inara discussing Inara’s departure. When River reads their minds, Mal and Inara are looking away from each other. Inara says “I’m a big girl, just tell me,” while Mal says, “None of it means a damn thing.” You think that they’re thinking about the hopelessness of their relationship. You’d be wrong, but I’ll tell you why later.

River goes down to the cargo and steps on a stick. In her mind, she sees autumn leaves all around her as she picks up the stick. In reality, River is holding a gun and everyone’s pleading at her to put it down. Simon and Mal get it away from her and chastise her. River cries out that things are getting crowded and leaves, crying. Unbeknownst to everyone (except for River), a spaceship closes in on them. It’s someone who’s on the lookout for River, a bounty hunter named Jubal Early.

In Wash’s cockpit, Wash and Zoe discuss River. Mal and Jayne wander in, also discussing River. The four of them decide to keep River on lockdown. Zoe thinks that River can’t really harm them, but when the entire crew meets in the kitchen, Kaylee mentions the time in “War Stories” when River picked up her gun and fired on Niska’s men without even looking at them. Unbeknownst to them, River is listening from a lower deck. The crew discusses what to do with River as Jubal  also listens in. After a lot of discussing, Mal decides to sleep on it.

As everyone heads to sleep, Kaylee apologizes to Simon. Simon says that River loves being on Serenity and that it feels more like home to her. Of course, Simon still wishes he was back at the hospital. Kaylee asks if he likes Serenity and Simon just looks at her with saying a word, only for Book to kill the moment. Back in the dining area, Mal turns off the lights and heads into his bunk. As soon as he’s in, Jubal makes his entrance. Mal gets into a fight with Jubal and gets knocked out and dropped into his bunk. Jubal locks up all the bunks and makes his way to the engine room. He intimidates Kaylee and asks Kaylee if she’s ever been raped and tells her that he’s gonna tie her up and that if she makes any trouble, he’s going to rape her.

Jubal makes his way to the passenger’s quarters, knocks out Book and holds a very shirtless Simon at gunpoint. He plans to get River for the bounty  and was searching for them since the feds were tipped off on Ariel. Simon refuses to help. Of course, Jubal orders Simon to help him or else he’ll kill Simon and rape Kaylee, possibly even kill her. Simon puts a shirt on as he passes by Book and shows Jubal the infirmary. The two of them make their way into the catwalks. They head over to the shuttles. Inara tries to tell Jubal to stand down , but Jubal slaps her and locks her shuttle.

Finally, they head to the cockpit. Jubal yells out to River to come out. Mal and Zoe finally wake up. Then, to everyone’s surprise, we hear River speaking through the ship.  River says that she’s not on the ship, that she disappeared into the ship. She says that she is now Serenity and she is very unhappy. River then talks to Kaylee in the engine room. She calms Kaylee down and tells her to untie herself. River keeps playing games with Jubal, all the while communicating with Mal, Zoe and Kaylee. She gets Kaylee out of the engine room. Kaylee unlocks the bunks as Mal and Zoe listen to River. The power goes out as River continues to intimidate Jubal. As they continue their conversation, Jubal realizes that River is in his ship. (Of course, she is still reading his mind, in spite of what he claims.)

River decides to offer herself to Jubal and wants to leave everyone, not be a burden anymore. But just as Jubal is about to leave, Simon stops him. Jubal retaliates by shooting Simon in the leg and leaves the cockpit. Simon tries to get the jump on Jubal, but Jubal fights back. Jubal makes his way out of the ship, but to everyone’s surprise, Mal appears behind him. The shock makes Jubal lose his balance and he floats away into space. River leaves Jubal’s ship and into Mal’s arms.

In the infirmary, Zoe and Wash tend to Simon’s wound while Mal and Inara wonder about whether or not Jubal will survive. Book and Jayne lament not getting a chance to take on Jubal. Kaylee tells River a funny story while the two of them play jacks. And life on the Serenity goes on as Jubal continues to float out in space, alone.

“Objects in Space” is River Tam’s shining moment for the series as a whole. To continue the theme of the Serenity Prayer last seen in “The Message,” this episode centers on River having the courage to change the situation. She gives Kaylee the courage to untie herself and get out of the engine room in spite of Jubal’s earlier threats of raping her. River’s courageous enough to get a space suit and make her way onto Jubal’s ship as a way to intimidate him. She also wants to give herself up, but Simon won’t let her and neither will Mal.

The courage to change also applies to the rest of the crew. Mal still feels haunted over his loss of Serenity Valley, but still has the courage to let River stay in spite of her being an unpredictable person. The same goes for Simon, who still wishes he was back in his old job, but decides to move on from it and try fighting for his sister’s safety because he loves her more. Although it isn’t stated, Joss Whedon said that Inara is suffering from a terminal disease and has been suffering from that since the first episode and is more than likely the reason why she chose to join up with a band of smugglers and thieves; she wants to run away from that terminal illness because she can’t change that she’s probably going to die. The odd friendship between Jayne and Book carries hints that Book wants to help Jayne change his ways, since the good Shepherd was able to change his own life.

My Firefly month comes to an end tomorrow, when I recap on the film Serenity.

Attribution: Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

Firefly Month: Why Heart of Gold is the Worst Episode of Firefly

Monique’s intro: There are some episodes from the Whedonverse that I don’t think I want to watch again for a long time like “Seeing Red” from Buffy or “Belonging” from Dollhouse or any episode from Angel Season 4. “Heart of Gold” is my least favorite episode of Firefly. I hate it. So much so that I don’t want to watch it again, even for the purposes of analyzing it for this blog.

Not convinced? Here’s a scene from the episode that shows the usually composed Inara crying her eyes out.


I don’t just hate this episode because it blows holes in my Mal/Inara ship. But thankfully, Joseph Susanka is here to review this episode so that I don’t have to!

Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?
Mal: You’re on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?
Mal: You’re on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?

As a long-time (and unapologetic) fan of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the end of “Ariel.” In fact, it’s pretty near my favorite moment in any TV show I’ve ever seen. Why so? Because it is the most perfect distillation of why I love Malcolm Reynolds so much (and why the show works): This ragtag group of folks he works with aren’t just his crew. They’re his family. And when Jayne reveals that he feels the same way about them (despite his momentary — or should that be congenital — weakness for money), that shared affection and loyalty enables Mal to bring him back on board. Quite literally.

In other words, the end of “Ariel” underscores the one ethical constant in the Whedon Verse: Mal’s stubborn – almost impossibly stubborn – loyalty to the members of his crew. With his dogged fidelity as our anchor point, we can endure any amount of downright unsettlin’ behavior without losing our central confidence in the show and its semi-anti-hero; without it, we are but leaves on the wind.

All of which doubtless helps to explain why “Heart of Gold” is my least favorite episode in the entire show; an episode, in fact, that I might actually dislike. Because it’s an episode that drastically undercuts the very Mal I’ve grown to know and respect. The Mal who’s a great leader and a good man and (above all else) a loyal and faithful friend.

It contains some of the series’ most obvious Western tropes – defending a small and dilapidated fortress against almost impossible odds; gunfights and scenery-chewing, over the top villains on horseback; the hooker(s) with the titular heart(s) of gold – and Whedon is clearly playing with the genre in a number of interesting ways. So there’s much here that I could enjoy in a different context. But when Mal decides to spend the night with Inara’s former companion, Nandi, it feels like a real betrayal. A betrayal of the weird and complicated relationship he has Inara, surely; but even more devastatingly, a betrayal of his own character.

Unlike the hilarious (and ultimately, unconsummated) dalliance with Saffron in “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” where Mal seems genuinely conflicted and not entirely willing, his decision to embrace Nandi is a far more intentional one, which makes it all the more out of character. And I’m not the only one who thinks that; Inara herself, despite her best attempts to present a bold and progressive face when she learns of the previous night’s “festivities,” is devastated when she learns of Mal’s actions.

In fairness to Mr. Whedon, having one’s show cut off in the bloom of its youth can wreak a good bit of havoc with future story lines. It is entirely possible that this conflict between Mal and Inara would have served some larger purpose – a larger story arc that would once again confirm Mal’s loyalty to Inara and to his own principles of Faithfulness At Any Cost. But without that larger context, I feel that it does a real disservice to my favorite part of the show. It’s not that I object to Mal being revealed as a less-than- perfect man – the show gives ample evidence of his failings – it’s that I object to losing the one thing I’ve been able to hold onto all along; the one thing I could rely on. Having the rug pulled out from under one’s feet at the opening is fine, and often a very effective bit of storytelling. But to have it pulled out now, so close to the end? That, I do not care for. Not at all.

I’d just stop at “The Message,” if it’s all the same to you.
“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that…You find someone to carry you.”

Author addendum: Thankfully there is one amazing episode that follows after that. In my honest opinion, skip this episode after watching “The Message” and follow me to “Objects in Space.”

Attribution: All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only. P.S. Joss Whedon, you’re a bastard.

Firefly Month: Accepting What You Can't Change in The Message

The crew of Serenity find themselves at a marketplace located on a space station. A carnival barker claims to have an alien. Inside, however, Simon and Kaylee recognize the so-called “alien” as a cow fetus. The two of them are out on a date and Simon shows that he really has no game whatsoever, the gorram moron! Mal and Inara are having problems fencing the Lassiter that they got from the previous episode. Inara offers to fence the Lassiter to one of her clients, but Mal doesn’t want her getting in trouble. The two of them stop by a post office run by an old friend of Mal’s named Amnon who has packages for some of the crew. Jayne gets a package from his mother while Mal and Zoe get a crate.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Jayne hat.


Bask in its awesomeness, Browncoats because things are gonna get a little sadder from here on out. See, the package that Zoe and Mal get is a coffin with a body inside. Specifically, the body of their old war buddy Tracey. Flash back to the days of the Unification War, which shows that Tracey was a very amateur soldier, letting his guard down for the sake of a can of beans. Zoe advises him to be quiet. Cue Mal running in very loudly, actively drawing in enemy fire. Tracey doesn’t want to die and Mal says that everyone dies.

Returning back to our current situation, Mal and Zoe wonder why Tracey’s body was mailed to them without any return address. Amnon tells them to get the crate out ASAP because mailing human cargo is illegal.

Back on Serenity, Zoe finds a recorder clutched in Tracey’s hands and plays it. Tracey says that he fell in with untrustworthy folk and got killed because of it. he asks to be buried at St. Albans. He said that he has problems surviving in the real world. The ship heads off to St. Alban’s.

Meanwhile, back on the space station, an Alliance officer named Womack arrives at the post service and calls Amnon a quim. (So Avengers wasn’t the first time Whedon used that phrase.) He asks about the dead body and threatens to arrest and charge Amnon. The postman willingly provides the information. Womnack threatens to burn Amnon to death if he refuses to comply with his demands.

On Serenity, everyone reacts to Tracey’s death in different ways. Kaylee listens to Tracey’s recording constantly. Simon wants to comfort her, but doesn’t know how. Jayne and Book have a conversation about how they deal with death. Jayne wants to be active, seeks for ways to feel alive. River lies down on top of the coffin and says it’s very comfortable. Inara listens to Mal and Zoe’s story about a prank Tracey on a man named Colonel Oberin.

All of a sudden, the ship is under fire. Womack tells the crew to give him the crate or they’ll blast him to bits. Mal and Zoe inspect Tracey’s box, search his pockets, and come to the conclusion that Tracey’s smuggling something in his body. Simon prepares to make an autopsy…only for Tracey to wake up screaming. I guess Tracey was only mostly dead! (And as we Princess Bride fans know, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.)

No, actually he took a medicine that made him appear to be dead. It’s quickly revealed that Tracey is smuggling organs, grown in a lab. He was supposed to go to Ariel and get his organs back, but he found a better deal. Except the deal went south when the guy who made the offer was dead and bad people put him on the run. Serenity gets shot again. Mal negotiates to Womack to wait until they land to inspect the ship, all the while planning to get Tracey out as quietly as possible.

Tracey and Kaylee flirt a little as the ship comes to a landing and you almost want to ship them. Book notices that Womack didn’t contact the Alliance base on St. Alban’s. Wash tries to lose Womack through a canyon, but unfortunately, he tries to shoot them down instead. Wash lands the ship in a cave and puts the ship on auxiliary power. Womack rains down on them with multiple blasts and in fear, Tracey decides to get onto the deck, only to hear Book suggest that they let the Alliance on board. Mal decides to go with it…only for Tracey to hold the crew hostage. Mal tells Tracey to stand down, only for Tracey to shoot Wash. Zoe shoots Tracey in response. (Nobody touches her husband except her, after all.) Kaylee gets out of her bunk only for Tracey to take her hostage and any hopes of shipping Tracey and Kaylee go down at that very moment.

The crew chases Tracey to a bridge and Tracey insults them. Then things quite down long enough for Jayne to shoot Tracey. Womack boards the Serenity and Shepherd Book is surprisingly the one to call the guy out: Womack is far from his jurisdiction and is doing this job off the books. In other words, he’s a rogue cop. (You know one when you see one, Book my dear?) Realizing that Tracey being mortally wounded means that he’s carrying damaged goods, Womack leaves, insulting Jayne’s hat on his way out.

Tracey laments what he made of himself and dies as he apologizes to everyone. Tracey’s message plays one last tie as Mal and Zoe return his body to his family. Interesting note about this scene: everyone in the show found out that the show was gonna be cancelled at this point, so in a way, the funeral scene is not only burying Tracey, but any hopes of the show continuing beyond 14 episodes.

At first, you think that this episode is about dealing with grief. In reality, I think the theme is about accepting the things you can’t change and deciding what to do with it. Mal and Zoe have accepted that they lost the war and try to make the best of their situation. Tracey, however, was completely lost and his desperation came at the cost of his life. The standoff at the bridge where Tracey claims that he had no choice and Mal saying otherwise reminds me a lot of the argument between Ford and Buffy in “Lie To Me.” Tracey wonders what kind of people they are now that the war is over. My friend Ian’s analysis of “Lie to Me” brings up a philosophy from existentialism about the importance of choice. While I don’t agree with existentialism as a whole, I do agree that God always allows free will in every situation.

Tracey wanted to smuggle organs as a way to survive and thought that Mal and Zoe turned into “saps” for being so goody-goody (in his point of view). It’s true that Mal hasn’t completely accepted the loss of Serenity Valley or the war as a whole, but he and the rest of the crew of Serenity try to do good given their limited means, only asking the Alliance for help or using Alliance-friendly clients as a desperate last resort. They’re smugglers and petty thieves, but their work is honest and honorable compared to Tracey. On top of that, Mal was planning on making sure Tracey stayed hidden, meaning that Tracey didn’t have to shoot anyone or hold anyone hostage to get what he wanted.

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we can’t change. Unfortunately, things are gonna get worse before they start getting better.

Attribution: All screencaps are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

Firefly Month: The Importance of Communication in Trash

Once again, I am going to do my best to keep my fangirl squee for this episode to a minimum. In fact, I’ll save it for a few particular moments in this episode.

The episode starts with Captain Malcolm Reynolds naked as a baby in the middle of a desert. The episode then goes back to some time ago when our beloved captain meets up with an old friend of his named Monty for a smuggling job. Monty tells Mal that he has recently married a lovely woman named Bridget. Enter the lady formerly known as Saffron. Mal and “Saffron” point guns at each other and in the midst of their scuffle, the devious redhead inadvertently reveals that she knows Mal all too well and Monty ditches them. Unfortunately, Saffron doesn’t have anywhere to go. She begs him for a ride and even offers a deal on a heist with a seriously huge payoff.

The Captain returns to Serenity and gets invited into Inara’s shuttle, a very rare occasion. And by rare, I mean never. Inara laments to Mal that she hasn’t gotten any work in three weeks and thinks that Mal is keeping her from doing her usual job. They fight like a married couple, with Inara pointing out that their last batch of cargo was little geisha bobbleheads. And the audience and I go “OH JUST KISS AND MAKE UP ALREADY!”

It cuts to Mal taking Saffron out of the crate. Saffron explains the heist to the crew: a guy named Durren Haymer who collects a lot of Earth-that-was artifacts, including the MacGuffin of this episode, the Lassiter. The Lassiter is essentially the oldest laser gun in existence. Haymer, a member of the Alliance, currently lives on an estate on a central planet named Bellerophon and Saffron knows how to get inside. Of course, the gun is gonna be hard to get because taking the gun out of the house, it’ll alert security and the feds immediately.

Inara totally sees right through the scheme, smart lady that she is, and decides to stay out of it. Zoe decides to join in after punching Saffron in the face.

Simon and River are staying out of sight. River says “She’s a liar and no good will come of her.” Jayne, of course, doesn’t care so long as there’s payoff. River then points out “Jayne is a girl’s name” and Jayne reminds her that he’s got man parts. Of course, River tells Simon, after Jayne leaves, that Jayne is afraid that the Tam siblings will find out about his betrayal on Ariel. (And now you realize that River was actually talking about Jayne when she said “She’s a liar.”)

Zoe and Inara make small talk on a bridge. Inara is going to do her regular work and reminds Zoe that Saffron will more than likely stab Mal in the back.

As we move into Bellerophon, we realize that the estates are essentially floating islands. Mal and Saffron pose as members of a party prep crew. Kaylee points out that once they get the Lassiter, they’ll have to chuck it out the garbage chute since all the doors of the estate are tagged with security alarms. Kaylee will program the garbage bin to be flown to go to Isis Canyon, where Mal and the crew will get the loot.

While reprogramming the trash bin’s coordinate system, Jayne gets shocked  and knocked out. Saffron hears someone coming. It’s Durren, who recognizes Saffron as his wife on the spot and calls her Yolanda. Durren says that she’s been missing for six years. He thought that she ran off with the security programmer named Heinrich, but his body was found by police a short time after Yolanda disappeared.

Mal points out that Saffron actually cared for Durren and was possibly the first man she married and conned. Saffron has a gun ready to go. Durren comes back in while Mal takes advantage of the moment to put the Lassiter in the trash. It’s at this point that Mal gets a gun out of the flowers he brought in and I start calling the little redhead “YoSaffBridge.” Durren points out that he activated an emergency button on his ring and the police comes right away. Saffron and Mal get out of the estate and YoSaffBridge quickly locks the feds inside as the two escape to the shuttle.

Mal and YoSaffBridge exchange small talk on the shuttle. She admitted that she did love Durren and wanted to run off with Heinrich, but didn’t kill Heinrich. In fact, she forgot the guy’s name. She actually starts crying at this point and Mal lets his guard drop long enough to sit next to her, which opens up the opportunity for her to get Mal’s gun out of his holster. She holds him at gunpoint and tells him to get naked.

Meanwhile, the crew of Serenity realizes that there’s a maneuvering issue. Kaylee quickly checks the engine room and realizes that YoSaffBridge sabotaged the ship again. They can’t make the rendezvous and land.

It cuts to YoSaffBridge in the dumpster looking for the laser gun, only for Inara to show up holding the exact laser gun. Too bad it doesn’t work. Thankfully, she has a backup that works just fine. To the little redhead’s surprise, Inara and the rest of the crew were all putting up an act, going along with the scheme, but creating a backup plan in case YoSaffBridge double-crossed Mal. Inara would act all huffy and storm off only to show up at the dumpster and get the laser gun herself. Inara points out that some of the crew’s performances weren’t as nuanced as she had hoped and was surprised that YoSaffBridge didn’t realize that everyone was acting. (But hey, they don’t have Companion training.) She closes up YoSaffBridge in the dumpster as the little redhead screams my second favorite line in this entire episode: “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! I HAVE A CONDITION!” Of course, Inara points out that she is not gonna die, but just be there long enough for the authorities to find her.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Jayne wakes up paralyzed on Simon’s operating table, drugged with some medicine Simon gave him so that he wouldn’t break his spine when he regained consciousness. Simon takes advantage of Jayne’s paralyzed state to talk about Jayne betraying them on Ariel. River takes this opportunity to show herself. Simon tells Jayne that they are working together and that he will never harm Jayne as long as he’s on the operating table and says that they should trust each other. River, of course, says my actual favorite line in this entire episode: “Also, I can kill you with my brain.” The Tam siblings leave Jayne to rest and wallow in his guilt.

Speaking of wallowing in guilt, we find a very naked Mal out in the desert. The crew of Serenity arrives to pick him up and all is well.

This episode is one that is worth repeat viewings. And not just because it’s the opportunity of a life time to see a naked Nathan Fillion. As stated in a previous blog, the last encounter with YoSaffBridge involved the lady tossing in the apple of discord and taking advantage of the crew’s preconceptions in order to deceive them. This time, she gets the tables turned on her. The crew creates a plan to make sure they get the loot whether or not YoSaffBridge stabbed them in the back. Repeat viewings show the instances where Wash and Kaylee are breaking character, a slight giggle here, an over-the-top line said there.

Inara and Mal continue to have communication issues. It’s implied that Mal was probably keeping them out on the backwater parts of the verse to keep Inara from getting into situations like what happened in Shindig, but Inara was right in the fact that their most profitable ventures happened on central planets. Mal was wrong to call Inara a whore just as much as it was wrong for Inara to call Mal a petty thief. But in the end, they finally decided to compromise. Inara gets to join in on Mal’s latest crime while Mal lets Inara do her work on a central planet. And Inara gets to see Mal naked.

Speaking of that, I’m going to end this post with my fangirl squee.

OMIGOSH HE’S NAKED! And Inara finds him and she’s looking at him naked. How is she not fazed by this?! Heck, how is the rest of the crew unfazed by Mal’s very naked state?! Stop smiling like that, Mal! I’m thinking dirty thoughts!

I’ll be in my bunk. And then I’ll be going to Confession.

Firefly Month: Who You Are In the Dark in War Stories

The episode opens with Book and Simon debating on who the people that experimented on River were in terms of ethics. Book wonders if they wanted to see what kind of person River was by constantly tortuing her while Simon thinks they were being more specific. Meanwhile, on a distant planet, Niska (villain of the week from The Train Job) gets word that Serenity is in the vicinity. He’s torturing someone who neglected a payment. The works of a warrior named Shan Yu get brought up in both scenes.

River and Kaylee chase each other around the ship like two sisters, fighting over an apple. Apparently Jayne bought apples for the rest of the crew. Kaylee notices that Zoe always cuts her apples. And this is where the titular war stories start. Zoe said that the reason she cuts her apples is because of tiny grenades placed inside apples given by Alliance troops. When the Captain comes on deck, Wash brings up the fact that they could’ve made more money by cutting out the middlemen, but Mal brings up the fact that they need to play nice. Wash and Zoe  argue about this later because Zoe lied to her husband about not mentioning Wash’s idea. Wash is naturally jealous of how Zoe accepts Mal’s authority without question and is willing to lie to him. Wash feels like Mal is another husband.

When Zoe gets to a shuttle to deliver the last of the medical supplies, Wash decides to volunteer to help Mal to keep Zoe and Mal apart. Unfortunately, what starts out as a “milk run” turns into an ambush.

Back on the ship, Zoe takes Jayne and Book to check on where Mal and Wash are. Shepherd is able to identify the kinds of shots taken and recognizes that the men who attacked were professionals. They also quickly realize that it wasn’t a robbery…it’s a kidnapping. And Zoe knows who the kidnapper is.

Mal and Wash are taken to Niska’s lair and start arguing, with Wash thinking that Zoe always supports the Captain’s orders without question. Of course, Mal points out that Zoe married Wash in spite of him ordering her not to. (Again, would’ve like to have seen that story.) Niska puts the two men into his electrical torture machine and the two of them are still arguing. (Which is kind of funny in a dark comedy kind of way.) It turns out, though, it’s Mal’s way of making sure that Wash is still alive.

Zoe comes onto Niska’s space station to buy back the Captain and her husband and asks her to choose. Zoe chooses Wash without hesitation. Niska cuts off Mal’s ear (I have to wonder did they really do that to Nathan Fillion in real life) and sends both of them back to Serenity. Realizing that he owes the captain his life, Wash and Zoe decide to get the captain back. Jayne tells the two of them that it’s suicide. The rest of the crew surprise Zoe by volunteering to be armed backup, including Shepherd Book who says that while he isn’t intending on killing the Bible “tends to get fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps.” Zoe’s order as they arrive on the space station is “If it moves, shoot it, unless it’s the captain.”

The assault on Niska’s space station plays out like a really good video game with Zoe, Jayne, and Wash leading the full frontal assault and the rest of the crew holding down the main gate and providing cover. Book holds true to his word and shoots at the kneecaps while River surprises Kaylee by shooting three people down with her eyes closed.

Mal struggles to escape Niska and Viktor as Zoe, Jayne, and Wash make their way in. Zoe thinks that the captain needs to take care of Viktor himself. Mal replies: “NO! NO IT’S NOT!” and the three of them proceed to shoot him down.

All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

Back on the ship, Simon reattaches Mal’s ear and Zoe makes her husband a bowl of soup. Then Mal attempts to fulfill his word by ordering Zoe to sleep with him and the two of them flirt in the most uncomfortable way possible. Of course, they have about as much unresolved sexual tension as Captain Hook and Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time. By that, I mean they have none at all. Even Jayne thinks it’s unsettling. Wash, of course, has no choice, but to steal Zoe away and declare to the Captain “We’ll be in our bunk.”

The underlying theme of this is “who you are underneath.” The reason that the warrior Shan Yu comes up is that he believed that you don’t really know a man until you torture him. The concept also applies to the rest of the crew of Serenity when they are put into a combat situation. We see that Zoe is cool under pressure, but loves her husband and her captain, albeit in different ways. We see Wash’s jealousy and vulnerability. We see hints of Book’s past by his knowledge of famous torturers and uncomfortably good marksmanship. We can see that Simon isn’t good with a gun, but his sister is. Most of all, we see why Malcolm Reynolds is the captain. He’s able to endure hours of torture and helps his comrades stay in line. His decisions may not be understandable, but they work out in the long run. The way that the crew works together will play a majorly important role next episode.

Firefly Month: Loyalty, Justice, and Mercy in Ariel

The episode starts out with a typical day on the ship. The crew is on their way to a core planet called Ariel, where Inara is going to get a checkup as part of the requirements of her Companion guild. Shepherd Book is absent from this episode, spending time with his monastery. All of a sudden, River grabs a knife slashes at Jayne’s chest. Once again, Blue Sun Corporation is to blame here (Jayne was wearing a Blue Sun t-shirt), but again, nobody knows that yet. Jayne gets major paranoid that River could go after any one of them. Mal, however, insists that Simon and River are part of the crew. He decides to put River on lockdown and reminds Simon to keep his sister in check.

Once the crew of Serenity lands on Ariel, Simon comes up with the idea for a job. Simon informs them of the types of medicines they can steal from the hospital, medicine that can be easily restocked, in exchange for getting access to a diagnostic ward that has a 3D neuro-imager. Simon basically figures he can kill 2 birds with one stone: find out what’s wrong with River and actually contribute to the crew outside of just being a medic.

Simon lays out the plan for smuggling him and his sister into the hospital. Jayne, Zoe, Mal, and Wash disguise themselves as EMTs and rehearse an elaborate emergency situation in which Simon and River pretend to be dead. When Simon explains the plan to River, she’s scared, but Simon reassures her that everything will be okay.

Mal, Zoe, and Jayne make it to the hospital and are able to take River and Simon to the morgue without anyone asking questions. Jayne is in charge of making sure that Simon and River are okay, but Jayne takes advantage of the situation to call the feds to turn Simon and River in. The three of them pass through the recovery ward and Simon takes care of a patient on the brink of death due to a bad medication mix. He calls out the doctor on making a rookie mistake while River smiles at her brother with pride.

Mal and Zoe are able to get to the medical supply room without too much trouble while Jayne, River, and Simon make it to the 3D neuro-imager. Simon takes a look at River’s brain and realizes that the Academy attempted to lobotomize River and cut her amygdala out. For  those who didn’t pay attention in biology class, the amygdala is that part of the brain that suppresses emotions. This means that River feels everything without any self control. Add to the fact that she can read minds and has some slight clairvoyance and you basically have a soup full of crazy and wrong trapped inside of the body of a 17-year-old girl. Even Jayne is horrified, but still plans on turning traitor. So when River gets a panic attack, you realize it’s because she knows what Jayne is gonna do and is fearing the worst. And her premonition turns out to be correct: Jayne leads them out of the hospital to get the reward money only for the federal marshal to turn traitor on Jayne in return.

Mal and Zoe make it back to the refurbished space ambulance with Wash and realize that something is wrong. Kaylee checks the space version of the police scanner and finds out that Jayne, Simon, and River are captured. Jayne and Simon fight off the marshals while Mal and Zoe go looking for them. Unfortunately, reinforcements come in. Remember the two men wearing blue gloves AKA the Hands of Blue from an earlier episodes? They’re back and they’re armed with sonic transmitters that have the power of literally blowing people’s brains out from the inside. Jayne, River, and Simon make a run for it, with River leading the two men to an exit, where Mal and Zoe are on the other side waiting for them.

The team makes it back to Serenity with some minor scratches. Simon thanks Jayne for helping them escape the feds. However, Mal is smart enough to realize that Jayne was the reason that Simon and River got flagged by the feds in the first place and knocks Jayne out, leaving him in the cargo bay airlock in the sci-fi version of what is called “keel hauling.” Jayne confesses to Mal and asks Mal why he’s taking it so personally. Mal reminds Jayne that if anyone turns on the crew, it’s considered a mutiny for him. Jayne begs Mal for mercy and Mal thankfully does so, telling Jayne that the next time he decides to turn traitor to not act as a coward. The episode ends with Simon giving River medicine.

There are 3 major themes in this episode: the concepts of loyalty, justice, and mercy. Simon wants to prove his loyalty to the crew of Serenity by giving them a mission that has a big payoff. Jayne learns how there is no honor among thieves, or in this case within the Alliance. He also learns that loyalty isn’t an individual thing.

That end scene with Jayne getting “keel hauled” by Mal is a perfect example of justice and mercy working together. Some people might think that Jayne got off too easy, staying alive and all. But he has to live with Mal constantly questioning his loyalty and the fact that he betrayed a man who’s trying to figure out what’s wrong with his sister, who is not in full control of her actions. It was right for Mal to warn Jayne not to do what he did again and it was also right not to let Jayne suffocate. It’s also interesting that Shepherd Book wasn’t in the episode because he and Jayne have an odd friendship and if anyone has the right to absolve Jayne of his sins, it’s the good Shepherd.

Justice is rendering to someone what they’re due and mercy, as pointed out by Mal earlier, is the mark of a great man. Mal showed to Jayne why he’s the captain of the ship. Since Shepherd Book is absent, it’s up to Mal to distribute the justice and the mercy that Jayne deserves and needs.


Firefly Month: Solid Ground and Synchronicity in Out of Gas

Out of Gas is unique in the sense that it’s told in anachronistic order. I’ll start with what I call “present day”:

The episode starts out with shots of an empty Serenity, which already tells the audience that something is wrong. Just as we start to wonder where everyone was, we see Captain Mal Reynolds collapsing onto the floor of the cargo hold.

The episode then flashes back to the crew of Serenity sharing funny stories around the dinner table and celebrating Simon’s birthday, when all of a sudden there’s an explosion from the engine room. The explosion knocks Zoe out and disables the life support and auxiliary power. To make things worse, they’re flying under the radar which meant that finding help is next to impossible. Kaylee explains that the ship can’t be fixed without a certain part, meaning that they are proverbially “dead in the water.” Mal tells everyone to evacuate the ship while he waits for help.

A while after everyone leaves, another ship arrives, but unfortunately, the people who have that part that Mal wants turn out to be scavengers and not good Samaritans. Mal manages to get them off and get the MacGuffin, but collapses.

And now we’ll move on to the scenes where Mal’s life flashes before his eyes.

Mal bought Serenity with Zoe, back when the ship was in a supposedly dilapidated state. Zoe is wary of it, but clearly she’s never seen home makeover shows. Mal hires Wash to be the pilot and a mechanic named Bester. Zoe does not like Wash, which again makes me wonder how the two got together in the first place. Later on, we find the mechanic Bester in flagrante delicto with Kaylee in the engine room.. Bester said that engines make her hot. Mal points out that the ship needs to get off ground because they’re behind schedule. Kaylee, mechanical genius that she is, points out the problem and gets hired on the spot at Bester’s expense. Some time later, Jayne gets recruited to the team when he and a band of robbers take Serenity at gunpoint and Mal bribes Jayne into turning to their side, offering room and board and more money. Finally, Inara is taken onto the ship, citing that her status as a Companion will create a sense of credibility and status. She asks for 3 things: complete autonomy, that Mal never walks into her shuttle without permission, and that Mal never calls her a whore. Well, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad, right?

Going back to the present day, Mal is able to give himself enough adrenaline to get the MacGuffin into the engine room and get the ship running again, but passes out before he can send a call to the shuttles to return to the ship.

The next thing we see is Mal waking up in the infirmary and I start wondering if we’re watching the end of Inception because Zoe supposedly regained consciousness and ordered both shuttles to return to the ship, thus saving Mal’s life. Too bad we never see that scene and are left guessing whether or not Mal and the rest of the crew died and the rest of everything is just an afterlife thing. I’m not gonna say I hate you, Joss Whedon. Not yet. I’m saving that for later. For now, I’m gonna roll my eyes and roll with the punches.

This was not an easy episode to analyze. This episode runs on backstory, which doesn’t lend much to finding themes or questions about morality. But then this old adage came to me: “God draws straight with crooked lines.” Also known as “everything happens for a reason.”

Synchronicity, as defined by Carl Jung, is “two or more events that are meaningfully related, but not casually related,” a coincidence that actually means something.


One can also argue that synchronicity is another way of saying “divine providence.”


At the end of the episode, we see that Mal originally looked at a large rocket-type ship before choosing Serenity. We also learn that Wash and Zoe weren’t a case of “love at first sight” and Kaylee only came onto the crew by chance. Jayne joined the crew because there would be more money and better service, Inara joined the crew because they needed her as much as she needs them and the pilot shows that everyone else on the ship started out as passengers.

But eventually, we see what all these moments lead up to: Zoe eventually gains a husband, Jayne gets to act as the crew’s enforcer and muscle, Kaylee gets to do what she loves for a living (working with mechanics, not the other thing; get your mind out of the gutter), Inara has a sense of independence, the Tam siblings find refuge, and Shepherd Book gets a home. What does Mal get out of it? He gets a family.

I think it’s fitting that the first flashback we see in the episode is when everyone’s gathered around the table exchanging stories and celebrating Simon’s birthday. They’ve come a really long way from how things started.

Joseph Susanka of “Summa This, Summa That” says:

He’s “out of gas” at the beginning of the timeline, searching for somewhere to anchor himself. The ship is what he finds. But through the course of the episode, as we see everyone coming together (and eventually, his efforts to protect them all as the ship *seems* like it’s deserving/betraying him), we come to realize that it’s the people on the ship that really anchor him. The real “solid ground.”

So instead of taking the idea that everyone died, I’d like to think that Providence came in to turn things around for Mal. After all, there are bigger things that the crew of the Serenity has to face.


Firefly Month: The False Gods and Broken Bibles of Jaynestown

Every Browncoat worth their salt knows the story of the man they call Jayne, but what they don’t realize is that the moral of the story involves learning about idolatry and how broken Bibles can fix people.

The crew of Serenity goes to a far off moon called Canton to make a deal. Jayne is a bit more paranoid this time around because he went to Canton before and believes that there are people there that have a bad history with him. Simon comes along, posing as a buyer of the mud produced by the laborers. The foreman establishes that the laborers are basically slaves.

It’s not until Mal and the others spend some time in a tavern that they learn why there’s a statue of Jayne: according to the song, Jayne stole money from the magistrate and gave it to the laborers. Basically, they saw him as their Robin Hood, rebelling against the magistrate out of compassion for the poor. Unfortunately, the truth was that Jayne had to eject the money he stole to survive an anti-aircraft tag. It just so happened that he released the money he stole right over the mud farmer’s village.

When the villagers realize that their hero has come back, Jayne is at first elated at how much attention he’s getting. Mal decides to take advantage of the situation to use Jayne as a distraction while the rest of them get the job done.

Unfortunately, there was something Jayne left out of the story: he had a partner in his robbery, one who got captured and got the blame while Jayne got away. The guy is out for revenge. Jayne is also conflicted of the lie he’s now living. He’s proud that the villagers gained the confidence to stand up for themselves, but their courage came from an act of circumstance and not from anything he really did. A villager gets killed trying to protect Jayne from his partner when he shows up in the town’s square intent on killing the hero of Canton.

It’s the fact that a villager gave up his life for him that Jayne realizes how wrong the situation is and knocks down the statue. At first, it seems like the crew of Serenity is stuck on Canton when they find the ship land-locked. Thankfully, with the inadvertent help of Inara motivating the magistrate’s son, the crew of Serenity was able to get away. But what really bugs Jayne is the fear that the villagers won’ t really lose their faith in him.

The theme of Jaynestown is obvious: Jayne is made an idol and he knows he’s not a god, so he had to take down the statue.

To quote Elizabeth Scalia’s Strange Gods

“We get ideas, and we embrace them and pet them and polish them until they own us and hinder us, and we are no longer free.”

Jayne didn’t want the villagers to have their faith in something created from a lie, mostly because he knows he didn’t really deserve their love and certainly didn’t deserve a villager sacrificing himself to save him. He also knows that they are capable of standing up to the magistrate on their own, which is why he had to take himself out of the picture. And no, the fact that his initials are JC are not lost on me, but Jayne also knows he’s not the second coming of Christ, either.

But there’s also something else learned from this episode that comes from the subplot centering on River and Book, in which River Tam is “fixing” Book’s bible. The two of them have a debate on the stuff she’s reading. Later on, she apologizes for her actions only to get scared off by Book’s hair, which he keeps unkempt as part of the rules of his order.

The subplot between Book and River bugged me to heck because I know that Joss is an atheist, so at first glance, the dynamic between River and Book is reminiscent of your typical atheist vs believer conflict. Thankfully, my fellow Patheos blogger Kyle Cupp has a different take on this scene, which he explains in his book Living By Faith, Dwelling in Doubt.

“Shepherd Book says the the Bible isn’t about making perfect sense but about faith ‘You don’t fix faith,’ he tells her. ‘It fixes you. I would say that faith doesn’t fix you so much as it gives you the fortitude to press on in your brokenness. But Shepherd Book’s underlying lesson is spot on. To live according to a plurality of stories means living with tension and inconsistencies and irreconcilable differences, sometimes because the fragments tell a false tale or conceal much more than they reveal, often because each fragment, taken in hand, becomes a new way of looking at the whole, disclosing something different about a reality that passes all understanding. Shattered stories are part of the human condition. People have dealt with fragmentation and uncertainty since the beginning of our species.”

So even though Jayne’s actions in Canton were not altruistic, he gained a sense of compassion for the people, enough so to force them to look to someone bigger than himself to find their courage and willingness to fight. Unfortunately, Jayne won’t always be this humble or compassionate. But that’s a few episodes from now.

For now, let us sing the song!