Firefly: Serenity (20 December 2002, Joss Whedon)

firefly-serenity-214

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Note: I’m reviewing the episodes in the producers’ preferred running order, which differs from the original broadcast pattern.

While carrying illegal goods in the hold, trader/thief Mal Reynolds and his crew take three passengers aboard their spaceship, Serenity. However, at least one of the guests is hiding something…

Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Best performance: Nathan Fillion as Captain Mal Reynolds, the ensemble’s lead. He’s Han Solo crossed with John Wayne – stoic but sarcastic – and is equally at ease with banter, action, authority and emotion.

Best bits:
* Wash (Alan Tudyk) playing with toy dinosaurs.
* Any shot featuring Kaylee (Jewel Staite).
* The sing-along theme tune.
* “Somebody on this boat has to make an honest living…”/cut to Irana (Morena Baccarin) sleeping with someone for cash.
* Badger (Mark A Shepherd) and his very fine hat.
* Kaylee’s umbrella.
* Kaylee eating a strawberry.
* Mal’s realisation that the agent is after Simon (Sean Maher), not him.
* Kaylee gets shot.
* The reveal of what’s in Simon’s box – and Mal’s resulting ‘Huh.’ (When this double-length episode is cut in two for repeats, this is the cliffhanger.)
* How scared everyone is by the unseen creatures called Reavers.
* Mal telling Simon that Kaylee is dead (just to wind him up).
* The gunman with the nice hat (this episode is obsessed with hats!).
* Mal shooting the bad guy dead rather than reason with him (very Raiders of the Lost Ark!).
* The ‘crazy Ivan’ manoeuvre.

Review: There’s a simple storyline, but it’s just a frame to hang the introductions and exposition on, and it’s all very fluid and watchable. The regular characters are instantly enjoyable company, with an easy rapport and interesting dynamics – tension between Mal and Jayne, a Mal/Inara romance, a marriage in the crew, newcomers with secrets, and so on. Wisely, the script introduces these regulars in groups so we’re not bombarded with information. We meet Mal and Zoe (Gina Torres) in a flashback prologue; then Jayne (Adam Baldwin), Wash and Kaylee in a little mini-mission; then Inara; then newcomers Book (Ron Glass) and Simon; then finally River (Summer Glau). And it’s a very strong cast of actors. Meanwhile, there’s a certain Blade Runner-ness to the level of detail and storytelling in the production design. The ship is especially wonderful, but there’s also a vaguely steampunk vibe to the world of Firefly – it’s science-fiction, sure, but the technology is often mechanical and analogue. Notably, as well as a sci-fi this is also a Western. The whole thing is built on clichés, locations, costumes and dialogue and musical idioms that remind you of the Old West. It’s a nice mixture, which also contains surreal snatches of Chinese in the dialogue. Eighty minutes zip by with fun and panache, helped by lots of handheld camerawork, some non-linear editing and a few terrific hard cuts that give the episode real polish. As a pilot for a TV series, it’s practically flawless. However, executives at the Fox network didn’t like it and didn’t screen it until after the show had been axed. Morons.

Nine perfectly legitimate conflicts of interest out of 10

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