Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In this movie spin-off from Firefly, the crew of Serenity must protect one of their own – the ‘reader’ River Tam – who’s being hunted by an assassin…

Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Best performance: Oh, let’s just say all of them. This is one of the great ensemble casts, and it’s so lovely that they got a chance to shine on the big screen.

Best bits: Listing every single one would go on forever, especially given how witty the dialogue is. So despite its length, this is still a cut-down selection…
* The opening scene, explaining the world for viewers who don’t know the TV series… which is then revealed to be a dream as we cut to River being experimented on in laboratory… a scene that’s then revealed to be a hologramatic recreation being watched by a mysterious Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor).
* The never-named Operative’s partly noble, partly sadistic way of killing people. It involves paralysing them and letting them fall on a sword.
* The first image of Serenity itself: a CG shot of the ship entering a planet’s atmosphere. (You can see Mal through the cockpit’s window: cute touch.)
* A 253-second-long take, which introduces the seven crew members on board and lays out Serenity’s internal geography – all while the ship rocks and rolls from the re-entry. The dialogue is smart and stylish, and the shot ends on key character River. (There’s actually a hidden edit halfway through the four-minute shot as Mal and Simon move from the ship’s upper level to the lower.)
* The crew’s hover-buggy vehicle.
* River’s steampunk goggles.
* The slick sequence of the crew robbing a bank, which of course goes badly.
* The zombie-like Reavers show up! (These savage, barbaric people were hinted at in early TV episodes, but then seemed to drop out of the mix. A 15-certificate movie allows them to be seen, not just discussed.)
* Mal kills someone rather than leave him to the Reavers.
* River: “I swallowed a bug.”
* Kaylee, frustrated that her crush Simon is planning to leave: “Going on a year now I ain’t had nothing betweixt my nethers weren’t run on batteries.” Mal says he doesn’t want to know that; Jayne says he could stand to hear more.
* River beating up a room full of people – an action sequence demonstrably performed by actress Summer Glau herself.
* Simon explains that he has a trigger word that will put River to sleep. When he nearly says it, Jayne panics – assuming it works on anyone.
* Mal and Inara’s guarded chat over a vid-link. It’s obvious they haven’t spoken for a while (she was planning to leave the ship as the TV show ended), while there are fun cutaways to Wash, Zoe, Kaylee and Jayne eavesdropping on the chat.
* Mal says Inara’s call for help is a trap. The others question how he knows that. “Do you see us fight?” “No.” “Trap.”
* Mal’s first confrontation with the Operative. There’s cagey dialogue, then the Operative says he’s not armed – so Mal shoots him.
* Mal faces mutiny from Jayne. “You wanna run this ship?” Mal asks in frustration. “Yeah,” says Jayne. Mal: “Well… you can’t.”
* Shepherd Book dies…
* Mal’s macabre plan to pose as Reavers.
* The saturated look to the scenes on the planet Miranda.
* A super, smooth, circular Steadicam shot of River as she freaks out.
* Oh, look: it’s Sarah Paulson from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
* Serenity crash-lands.
* Wash is killed! On first viewing, it was around now that I started to assume the film was going to kill off the entire crew – an idea that the story then teases you with as virtually everyone is injured or placed in a life-threatening situation. (According to rumour, Wash bit the bullet because actor Alan Tudyk refused to sign up for potential sequels without a big pay bump.)
* Kaylee resigns herself to the fact she’s going to die. But then Simon says his biggest regret is never being with her. “As in sex?” she asks, perking up. She then resolves to survive the battle.
* River dives into a room full of Reavers and the doors close… When we next see her – in a dramatically framed hero shot – we discover she’s killed them all.
* The coda scene of Mal flying Serenity with River as his co-pilot.

Review: This film faced a tough task: having to appeal to both fans and newbies. And given that Firefly wasn’t a mainstream hit, most of the audience for this movie version would be coming to it fresh. So the River situation – the biggest character arc from the series – is focused on again, but the script actually goes deeper than ever before so old hands don’t feel patronised. We get a decent story, providing lots of action, a huge amount of wit and plenty of suspense. It’s extremely entertaining. It’s well written too, with information smartly hidden beneath breezy dialogue, and looks very cinematic. (The camerawork is often expressive and classy.) Maybe what’s most impressive is the economy. Many scenes are doing double-duty, servicing plot and character, action and exposition, drama and comedy… There’s just a sharpness to everything, which means the film rattles along and is never boring. It has very little fat on it. In fact, you could say it’s gone on a diet – presumably writer/director/creator/geek god Joss Whedon thought having nine regular characters was too cumbersome for a movie script. So two of them are absent as the story begins, while Wash is reduced to a pilot with mostly functional dialogue. Inara only joins the action after 42 minutes; Book is little more than a cameo. But this streamlining works well, with maybe only Book feeling short-changed. It’s practically criminal that the Firefly story ended here.

Ten certain older civilised cultures out of 10

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Firefly: Objects in Space (13 December 2002, Joss Whedon)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A man sneaks aboard Serenity, hunting for River…

Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Best performance: Guest star Richard Brooks as the bounty hunter Jubal Early. He has a whimsical manner and spouts philosophy, yet is stealthy, dangerous and threatening. (Joss Whedon modelled the character in part on Boba Fett.)

Best bits:
* The opening SFX shot: a zoom into Serenity, through its innards and ending on River – the key character of the episode.
* A series of moments where River observes her colleagues – Simon and Kaylee, Jayne and Book, Wash and Zoe, Mal and Inara – and we see the conversations through her warped and possibly psychic POV.
* A stunning cut from River holding a stick to what’s really going on: she’s actually holding a loaded gun.
* The incidental music is great, especially an oboe-like cue linked to the character of Jubal Early.
* Silently, calmly and efficiently, Early breaks into Serenity while it’s alone in deep space.
* A pair of camera moves in the same scene of the crew discussing River – one goes through the floor to reveal River eavesdropping from below; the other goes through the ceiling to reveal Early eavesdropping from above.
* Wash scoffs at the idea that River is psychic. “That sounds like something out of science fiction,” he says. Zoe: “You live on a spaceship, dear.”
* Mal unexpectedly comes face to face with Early in the ship’s corridor.
* Early confronts Kaylee in a scene of real menace. “Have you ever been raped?” he asks nonchalantly.
* Simon asks Early if he’s “Alliance,” but Early mishears him: “Am I a lion? [Considering it] I have a mighty roar.”
* River talking over the Tannoy, claiming to have become the incorporeal essence of the ship. It’s a stunning bluff, coming just as you’re starting to think the episode is morphing into 2001: A Space Odyssey.
* River, despite only talking to him over a radio, knows that Mal has pulled a face.
* The reveal of where River is actually hiding: in Early’s spaceship.
* Jayne, who’s been sleeping through the whole incident, is woken by the noise of a nearby fight… so turns over and goes back to sleep.
* A super 77-second Steadicam shot that moves through various spaces, encompasses all nine regulars and ends on a smiling River.

Review: Objects in Space is a lyrical episode, full of beautiful imagery, mounting tension, deep questions, point-of-view switches and smart storytelling. In fact, it often feels more like an art film than an episode from a science-fiction show. Various threads in River’s character arc are drawn together then weaved into a thriller plot featuring the deliberately arch and cool Early. He and River are two sides of the same coin. They share an overwhelming awareness of existence and each *experience* life and the physical world, rather than just live in it. “People don’t appreciate the substance of things,” Early says at one point, not long after we’ve seen River fascinated by her mundane surroundings. Questions of how meaning is created also run throughout the story – for example, River picks up what to her is a harmless object, but we recognise it as a gun. Yet this is far from a drab existential exercise: it’s also gripping, exciting, tense, classy. What a sensational ending to the series, which makes you ache even more that it was cut so short. At least there’s still a movie to watch…

Ten embarrassingly large stacks of money out of 10

Firefly: Heart of Gold (4 August 2003, Thomas J Wright)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Inara is contacted by a friend who asks for help in defending her brothel from a local thug…

Written by Brett Matthews. Directed by Thomas J Wright.

Best performance: Another lovely turn from Morena Baccarin as Inara.

Best bits:
* The whorehouse is covered in solar-panelling – a nice sci-fi twist.
* Inara disturbs Mal while he’s cleaning his guns. “It’s not altogether wise to sneak up on a fella while he’s handling his weapon,” he says. “I’ve heard that said,” replies Inara.
* Mal assuming that the distress signal is for him. It’s actually for Inara.
* Jayne doesn’t want any part of the job, but then Mal says, “They’re whores.” Jayne: “I’m in.”
* Jayne’s glee at being in a brothel. “My John Thomas is about to pop off!”
* The scene at the theatre, including a sadly briefly seen shadow-puppet show.
* Having met bad guy Ranse Burgess, Mal decides they should all run away.
* Jayne braiding his favourite prostitute’s hair.
* One of the hookers goes into labour. Simon and Inara, who’ll have to deliver the baby, say it’s their first time. “Mine too,” adds River.
* A shockingly nasty moment when Burgess forces a prostitute who works for him to give him a blowjob.
* Inara learns that Mal and her friend Nandi slept together – she pretends to be fine with it, but then we see her crying in private.
* River’s mostly dialogue-free fascination with the labour.
* Nandi is shot by Burgess and dies. Mal and Inara share a killer look that says, ‘Get him.’
* A shock ending: Inara says she’s leaving the crew.

Review: After a run of sci-fi-heavy stories, this is the most Western-y the show has been since at least Jaynestown. Featuring a brothel, bad guys on horses and a torch-lit frontier town, it evolves into a cowboy-style siege-and-shootout episode. It may have a rather dull and one-dimensional villain – not for the first time in this series, it must be said – but there’s also some typically witty dialogue and another boost of energy to the Mal/Inara romance.

Eight small, concealable weapons out of 10

Firefly: The Message (28 July 2003, Tim Minear)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew call in at a post office to find a package waiting for them. The package contains a dead body…

Written by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear. Directed by Tim Minear.

Best performance: Surprisingly, given that it’s not especially ‘about’ her, this is a good Kaylee episode. Jewel Staite has flirting and frustration to play in scenes with Simon, while the A-plot affects her character deeply.

Best bits:
* Kaylee and Simon swapping playful banter while at a freak show – until, that is, Simon jokes that every other woman he knows is married, a prostitute or his sister, so Kaylee’s his only option.
* River and her candy-floss-style confectionary that dangles from a string. “My food is problematic,” she says.
* Jayne received a package from his mother: it contains a hat. (“Pretty cunning, don’t you think?” he says.)
* Mal and Zoe received a package too: it contains a dead body.
* A flashback to seven years previously: Mal and Zoe fighting in the war and meeting a guy called Tracey (who we recognise as the corpse).
* Zoe: “First rule of battle… Never let them know where you are.” Mal then runs in, screaming and shouting at the enemy troops he’s shooting at.
* The space station, with its Asian aesthetic and big-screen advertisements, is not a million miles away from Blade Runner.
* Kaylee’s hammock in the engine room – a delightful example of how good this show’s production design is. There’s storytelling in every little detail.
* Simon begins an autopsy… and the body wakes up.
* Wash freaked out by seeing Tracey alive and well.
* Jayne wearing his new hat during the climactic showdown.
* The gang delivering Tracey’s now-dead-for-real body to his family on a snow-covered planet. Aside from one small pick-up, this was the final scene ever shot for the series, a fact the cast knew at the time.

Review: A low-key episode that – despite a nice melancholic tone – never quite punches home. Still eminently watchable.

Seven other schools of thought out of 10

Firefly: Trash (21 July 2003, Vern Gillum)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Mal bumps into con artist Saffron, who’s also kinda his ex-wife, she tempts him with a job that could make them both rich…

Written by Ben Edlund & Jose Molina. Directed by Vern Gillum.

Best performance: Christina Hendricks again. Her character was clearly being set up as a recurring villain/adversary/flirting partner for Mal, but sadly the show was axed before she appeared again. She’s a shameless liar and con artist, can beat people up, and has no scruples – yet you also feel sorry for her. At one point, Mal calls her Yo-Saff-Bridge, a jokey portmanteau of her aliases. We never learn her real name.

Best bits:
* The episode begins with Mal, alone and naked and stranded in a desert. “Yeah,” he says to himself. “That went well.” Cut to 72 hours earlier…
* Mal meets a friend’s new wife… who turns out to be Saffron, the con artist from the episode Our Mrs Reynolds. Saffron and Mal immediately pull guns on each other. (The mate thinks she’s called Bridget. For ease, I’ll keep calling her Saffron.)
* Saffron tries to convince her husband that Mal a liar, but slips up and gives herself away. Mal looks smug.
* Oh, yeah: EVERY SINGLE FRAME THAT HAS CHRISTINA HENDRICKS IN IT.
* A long while after he gets back to Serenity with some crates, Mal opens one of them up… to reveal Saffron trapped inside it.
* While Saffron pitches her heist plan, there’s a funny two-shot of Wash and Kaylee listening to her. The former looks confused; the latter hangs on her every word.
* Jayne proudly asks a question that the conversation has already covered.
* Zoe punches Saffron.
* The intercutting of planning the heist and carrying it out.
* Jayne, Zoe and Kaylee in their aviation goggles as they dangle underneath Serenity to reprogramme a drone.
* While stealing the MacGuffin, Mal and Saffron are rumbled… by another of her husbands. (He knows her as Yolande.)
* Saffron lifts Mal’s gun while he’s being nice to her.
* Mal is abandoned in the desert. Naked. “Yeah, you better run!” he shouts at the departing space ship.
* Saffron, having tricked everyone, searches in a rubbish bin for the antique gun they were stealing… But Inara has got there first! (The reveal that Inara – who flounced off in a huff earlier in the episode – is actually part of a plan to double-cross Saffron is audacious. Add an extra mark to the score!)
* Inara traps Saffron in the garbage bin. As the lid closes, you can hear Saffron shout, “You can’t do this! I’ve got a condition!”
* Simon confronts Jayne about the events of the episode Ariel. He’s forceful but calm and reasonable. Then River adds: “Also, I can kill you with my brain.”
* Mal walks back on board Serenity and chats to his colleagues… while still naked.

Review: This is a sequel to Our Mrs Reynolds, and the second heist plotline in three episodes. And like that previous heist story, the cast needs to be whittled down so everyone gets a role to play. Shepherd Book barely features – he does seem like one character too many at times – while Simon and River are shuffled off. Another good one, with twists and turns aplenty.

Nine feminine wiles out of 10

Firefly: War Stories (6 December 2002, James Contner)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While meeting some traders, Mal and Wash are captured and tortured by an old enemy…

Written by Cheryl Cain. Directed by James Contner.

Best performance: A rare focus on comic-relief character Wash (Alan Tudyk). At one point his dialogue contains a stunningly long and complicated Chinese phrase, which has to be rattled off like a frustrated aside. (“Tai-kong suo-yo duh shing-chiou sai-jin wuh duh pee-goo,” which apparently translates as “All the planets in space flushed into my butt.”)

Best bits:
* Kaylee and River run around like children. Mal: “One of you is gonna fall and die and I’m not cleaning it up!”
* Jayne has bought apples for everyone. Subtext: he’s feeling guilty for what he did in the previous episode, Ariel.
* Wash and Zoe’s argument over her lying to him.
* Against Inara’s wishes, various crewmembers spy on her meeting a client. The client turns out to be a woman. “I’ll be in my bunk,” says Jayne, leaving the room.
* Mal’s frustration with Wash and Zoe rowing again: “Okay, I’m lost. I’m angry. And I’m armed.”
* Mal points out to Wash that Zoe doesn’t follow every order he gives her: she married Wash, for one.
* Mal and Wash bickering… while being tortured.
* Zoe walks into the bad guy’s space station, unarmed, to barter for her colleagues’ release.
* The head bad guy, Niska (who was also in The Train Job), says Zoe can have one of her friends back. He expects her to waver over such a Sophie’s choice… but she immediately picks Wash.
* Niska has Mal’s ear cut off and gives it to Zoe!
* Once back on Serenity, Zoe passes Mal’s ear to Simon and tells him they’re going to get the captain back. Jayne: “What are we going to do, clone him?”
* As Zoe and Wash tool up to rescue Mal, the others insist on coming too.
* A cut from the gang getting ready for the assault… to Niska being told that Mal is dead. (He’s speaking medically: they then revive him.)
* The assault on the space station – an action sequence built around specific characters’ personalities and abilities. (Zoe is unfazed, Jayne gung-ho, Kaylee scared shitless, and so on.)
* Mal fights back!
* River takes Kaylee’s gun and – without looking – shoots three bad guys dead. “No power in the ’verse can stop me,” she says, quoting a joke Kaylee made earlier.
* Zoe and Jayne find Mal wrestling with a bad guy. Jayne’s about to shoot the goon when Zoe stops him. “This is something the captain needs to do himself.” “No, it’s not!” shouts Mal.
* Simon telling Mal not to tug on his reattached ear.

Review: A nasty little story about torture, sacrifice and relationships. A dark episode on the whole, though there’s also humour, plenty of action and solid drama. Oh, and a perfunctory subplot about lesbianism too.

Eight writings of Shan Yu out of 10

Firefly: Ariel (15 November 2002, Allan Kroeker)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Simon offers the gang a job: help him break into a hospital so he can treat his sister and he’ll tell them which valuable medicines to steal…

Written by Jose Molina. Directed by Allan Kroeker.

Best performance: It’s a real ensemble one, this. Because he drives the story, Simon (Sean Maher) gets a lot of good screen time.

Best bits:
* While the team are chatting, River calmly picks up a knife and slashes Jayne across the chest. (Fun fact: his T-shirt has a Blue Sun logo on it. A plot thread would have revealed that the Blue Sun corporation are the bad guys who experimented on River, hence her reaction. But the show was axed before it was really developed.)
* Just in case we doubt our heroes’ morals while they’re planning to rob a hospital, Zoe points out that the stores of medicine will soon be restocked.
* The Ocean’s 11-style planning-the-heist montage – a briefing scene loaded with how difficult the mission will be, intercut with shots of preparation and rehearsal.
* Mal, Zoe and Jayne are given detailed jargon to recite when posing as paramedics. They spend ages mastering it, then don’t need it…
* Wash and Kaylee’s A-Team-style scene: suiting up the fake ambulance.
* The harshly lit and colourless hospital, a real contrast to the more earthy settings we usually see in this show.
* Jayne’s double-crossing them!
* Zoe electrocutes a troublesome doctor with defibrillation paddles. “Clear,” she deadpans once he’s unconscious.
* When Simon and River are arrested, Jayne’s also taken in for abetting criminals. Hashtag dramatic irony.
* The two guys with the blue gloves – creepy government types who are hunting for River and gruesomely kill anyone who’s come into contact with her. (The same characters had also featured in The Train Job.)
* During a scene in the hanger, Mal grabs Kaylee and pulls her in for a hug – an adlib, apparently. You can actually see how surprised actress Jewel Staite is.
* Mal punches Jayne then puts him in the airlock and threatens to kill him unless he admits his betrayal.

Review: Shepherd Book doesn’t feature at all, while Inara goes off on an unseen errand. The script is whittling down the characters so everyone has a role to play in the heist plot. And like all the best heist stories this is slick, breezy, infectious fun, which takes a number of surprising turns. It’s not especially Wild Westy, but in this instance that works as a nice change of pace.

Nine beautiful museums, not to mention some of the finest restaurants in the Core, out of 10

Firefly: Out of Gas (25 October 2002, David Solomon)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While a critically injured Mal attempts to save his ship, we see flashbacks to how the crew came together…

Written by Tim Minear. Directed by David Solomon.

Best performance: Nathan Fillion holds the whole thing together as Mal – he’s the protagonist of the main storyline and is in every flashback scene.

Best bits:
* The in medias res opening: Serenity deserted, Mal bleeding…
* The “What’s that?” gag in the first flashback scene. (By the way, all the flashbacks are shot with a harsh, sepia light. It’s a stylish way of distinguishing them from the main story.)
* Inara: “A companion doesn’t kiss and tell.” Mal: “So, there *is* kissing?”
* The dinner scene: all nine regulars sharing a meal, trading banter and celebrating Simon’s birthday. It’s so likeable you almost want the entire episode to be these people just hanging out. It’s the calm before…
* …an explosion rips through the ship!
* Wash’s flashback: he has a moustache and Zoe doesn’t like him.
* Back in the present, Simon Pulp Fictions an injured Zoe with an injection of pure adrenalin.
* Simon says he doesn’t want to die on Serenity. Inara pointedly replies that she doesn’t want to die at all. (This was foreshadowing for a story arc that never came to fruition: Inara is actually terminally ill.)
* Mal rowing with Wash – an argument that accidentally leads to a solution to their problems.
* Kaylee’s flashback: shagging Serenity’s old mechanic and then impressing Mal with her technical knowledge.
* Inara’s flashback: a scene with Mal that’s full of subtext and sexual chemistry.
* The incidental music is excellent.
* Another ship floats into view through the cockpit window.
* Mal opens the airlock once the other ship has docked and a gust of air hits his face.
* Jayne’s flashback: he’s in a gang holding up Mal and Zoe when Mal convinces him to switch sides.
* Jayne says Inara’s ship smells funny. She explains it’s incense.
* One final flashback: Mal spotting Serenity in a junkyard…

Review: In the pilot episode we learnt how Mal knows Zoe, and how Book, Simon and River ended up on board Serenity. So this episode could be considered to be a mopping-up exercise: we now see flashbacks of Mal buying Serenity, recruiting Wash, Kaylee and Jayne, and meeting Inara. But rather than being dry or functional, this is superbly fluid and engaging storytelling. The intercutting of the three time frames (past, present, future) is breathtaking. The dialogue fizzes with energy and attitude. It’s another tremendous episode.

Ten nav sats out of 10

Firefly: Jaynestown (18 October 2002, Marita Grabiak)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew are stunned to land on a planet where Jayne is revered as a folk hero…

Written by Ben Edlund. Directed by Marita Grabiak.

Best performance: Adam Baldwin’s having a blast as the routinely funny Jayne. The character is a selfish thug with a childlike outlook, but it’s still believable when he feels guilty for his actions.

Best bits:
* Simon and Kaylee’s sweet chat about swearing. He’s anti, she’s pro. (It’s set-up for a gag at the end of the cold open).
* Kaylee saying goodbye to Inara, who’s off to meet a client. “Have good sex!”
* The huge exterior set of the mud farm.
* Simon sees the statue of Jayne. “Son of a bitch!” (There’s that gag.)
* Book’s shocked to find River ‘fixing’ his Bible – ie, striking through passages that don’t make sense, ripping out pages and generally editing the text.
* Jayne and co hide in a bar, wanting a low profile. Then a guy with a guitar starts singing a song in praise of “the hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne!”
* The whole song, in fact.
* River freaks out when she sees Book with his usually tied-back hair hanging loose.
* The twist of who Inara’s client is.
* Simon and Kaylee getting drunk together. “You’re pretty funny.” “You’re pretty… pretty.”
* River, still obsessed with Book’s wild hair: “His brains are in terrible danger!”
* Jayne symbolically knocking the statue over.
* Kaylee tells Simon they slept together while drunk. (They didn’t: she’s just winding him up.)

Review: There’s a lot going on. The zippy and fun main story is about Jayne and his connection to the people of Canton. There are also subplots centred on Inara and River, while the Kaylee/Simon romance goes through a few more gears. Terrific stuff.

Nine inherent metaphoric parallels out of 10

Firefly: Our Mrs Reynolds (4 October 2002, Vondie Curtis Hall)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Mal is stunned to discover he’s got married by accident…

Written by Joss Whedon. Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall.

Best performance: It would be very embarrassing for me when I finally marry Christina Hendricks if I hadn’t picked her now in this category. The words womanly perfection spring to mind.

Best bits:
* The cold open: a trap to lure in some bad guys, which involves a stagecoach and Mal posing as a woman.
* The fireside party – Jayne drunk, Book seeing to the bodies of the dead bad guys, the first appearance of Saffron (Christina Hendricks) and lots of dancing – which abruptly ends with a hard cut to the next morning.
* Saffron’s on the ship!
* Saffron’s married to Mal! (After this revelation we get another of Nathan Fillion’s wonderful reaction shots.)
* Zoe calls the whole crew together so they can tease Mal.
* Inara’s look of hurt when she finds out Mal’s married.
* Book’s warning to Mal, worth quoting in full: “If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theatre.”
* Saffron coyly asking if Mal wants her to wash his feet. Mal just walks away.
* A fantastic rug-pulling act-break: Jayne suddenly appears in front of Mal with a huge gun… which he then offers to trade for Saffron. (The gun, by the way, is called Vera.)
* Saffron waiting for Mal in his bedroom. Naked. I have no words.
* Mal collapses after kissing Saffron. (He’s been drugged by her lipstick.)
* Saffron – who we now know is a con-woman – rolls her eyes while Wash talks about his happy marriage.
* Saffron tries to seduce Inara, but savvy Inara sees through the ruse: “You’re amazing – who are you?!”
* Inara in a daze, having kissed Mal and therefore been dosed by the lipstick, but trying to tell everyone she fell and hit her head.
* The snowy coda.
* The final scene with Mal and Inara.

Review: It’s not showy or significant or epic or experimental. It’s just a standard episode telling a nice self-contained story. However, judged on its own merits – on how well it achieves what it sets out to achieve – this is a rather magnificent piece of television. The script is packed full of plot, character, subtext and comedy – so much wit! – yet the whole thing is as light as air. There simply isn’t room for improvement. A quiet masterpiece.

Ten very nice qualities out of 10