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Date Posted: 10:35:10 10/18/03 Sat
Author: KdS
Subject: General Firefly thoughts (minimal spoilers for unaired eps)

For general information purposes:

Original FOX TV broadcast order:

The Train Job
Bushwhacked
Our Mrs. Raynolds
Jaynestown
Out of Gas
Shindig
Safe
Ariel
War Stories
Objects in Space
Serenity


Official order (as used by UK Sci-Fi channel) - episodes not broadcast by FOX shown in caps:

Serenity
The Train Job
Bushwhacked
Shindig
Safe
Our Mrs. Raynolds
Jaynestown
Out of Gas
Ariel
War Stories
TRASH
THE MESSAGE
HEART OF GOLD
Objects in Space


To start with the results of the change in broadcast order, I think that the decision to reject Serenity as pilot episode was an absolute disaster. Not only is The Train Job an inferior episode in itself, but the failure to show the events surrounding Book, Simon and Riverís arrival causes problems understanding later episodes. In particular, Malís attitude to the Tams in Safe comes across as gratuitously and inexplicably unfeeling if the trouble they caused on their arrival is not shown. Quite why the episode was rejected continues to be the subject of controversy, with the most popular explanation being a simple failure of communication between FOX and Mutant Enemy as to the availability of a double-length slot. The unsympathetic impression given by Mal at times in the episode has also been blamed, but he behaves in a similar manner in a number of later episodes that were broadcast. The result was, whatever happened, that an episode that did an excellent job of introducing the characters and their relationships was replaced by one that was inherently weak in concept and was made worse by shoe-horning in hurried introductions. I have difficulty in understanding why the option to show Serenity as a two-parter was not taken, as it was by the Sci-Fi Channel over here.

As far as the other major change goes, the postponement of Shindig and Safe until after Jaynestown, I have rather more sympathy with FOX. The unfortunate truth is that a regrettable number of the first few episodes of Firefly were simply not good enough to be shown in such a vital period of time for the series survival. Iím particularly thinking here about the pointless runaround of Safe and the downright insultingly feeble Our Mrs. Raynolds, probably the worst thing Joss Whedon has ever put his solo writing credit to. Once the DVDs come out in Region Two, it will be interesting to see if these episodes come off better with greater knowledge of the characters, but I doubt it. The precise reasons why the early eps were so weak will probably never be known, but it seems to me that in most cases the ideas were simply not good enough to carry the weight of early stand-alone episodes that were meant to let us get to know the characters. With such a large cast fighting for establishment time, the essential concepts of the early episodes needed to be very strong to grab an audience, and instead the ideas were simply not there. My biggest regret would be that the basic concept of The Message was not used early on, as it would greatly have aided the audience in ďgettingĒ Malís character. While FOX can be justly insulted for the Serenity/Train Job debacle, I think that bringing forward Jaynestown and Out of Gas, two of the best eps in the whole series, was a wise decision, even if it had unfortunate results for the development of the Simon/Kaylee relationship and the planned gradual revelation of Riverís power.

Iím aware that some people have not read my synopses of the three unbroadcast episodes, preferring to wait until the DVD comes out. I will say that I can understand why Objects in Space was chosen to end the series with a bang, as Trash, while a decent episode, would probably not have. However, the decision to make Objects in Space follow War Stories seems to have misled some people on the board into believing that Firefly was cancelled on the cusp of an intense and continuous run of arc-themed episodes. While they have certain connections to past eps, the three episodes that would have come between the two are mainly standalone, suggesting that the same leisurely pace would have continued for the rest of the season. (One should note, however, that one of these eps does contain an effective and amusing resolution of unfinished business which some on this board have explicitly lamented not seeing.)

Taking Firefly as a whole, I think it was a very courageous experiment which, had it had more network support, might well have survived some poor early episodes to assert a long-term role. I say ďmightĒ because of the possibility that some of the things which most distinguished it and made it most attractive to me were the things that would have reduced its mass audience. Iím thinking in particular here of the lack of extra-terrestrials and big space battles, the broadly decent but self-serving nature of most of the characters, and the concentration on the business of survival in hostile natural and economic conditions rather than saving the universe. Certainly the strength of the series was its ability to create a cast of deep and unstereotypical characters, and to develop their motivations to a depth that leave many series looking shallow.

Iím not sure about the plan for a Firefly film, because much of what I enjoyed about Firefly is far more suited to TV than the cinema. The film, one suspects, will probably devote itself to exposing the government conspiracy, wrapping up Simon and Riverís story, and answering some of the enigmas involving other characters, in particular Inarra and Book (I wonít speculate here, as I havenít got much beyond the ideas I put up on here after seeing Ariel). Yet much of the charm of Firefly once it got into its stride was its ability to develop character and atmosphere from slow-paced, relatively unspectacular incidents, and that cumulative effect, I fear, will be lost.

Final overall rating of episodes:

5*: Jaynestown, Out of Gas, Ariel, Objects in Space
4*: Serenity, War Stories, The Message
3*: Bushwhacked, Shindig, Trash, Heart of Gold
2*: The Train Job, Our Mrs. Raynolds
1*: Safe

And some things Iíll most remember, in no particular order:

Mal Reynolds; mercenary, at times viciously cruel, utterly devoted to his crew, desperately searching for something to base his life around, his greatest concern under torture being to save a friendís sanity
Jayne Corr; perpetually doing the right thing instinctively and the worst thing whenever he stops to think about it
Space wanderers whose mere proximity has sane men and women preparing their terminal escape routes
ďSpecial HellĒ
ďTake me Sir, take me hardĒ
The wonderfully subtle portrait of Simon and Kaylee picking their way to a relationship through a minefield of mutual class prejudice
Jayne begging Mal for his life and winning it back by showing some concern for other peoplesí feelings
Pomeline introducing a father to his son and coldly gunning him down in the same breath
Inarra as a vision of sophistication and grace on top of a dumpster in a desert, making one of the biggest guns youíve ever seen look like a delicate accessory
The lethal chess game between River and Jubal Early, the Serenityís crew barely comprehending pieces
The incredibly complex yet limpidly clear multi-layered flashbacks of Out of Gas
The blood slowly beginning to drip from the hospital guardís nose
The utterly perverse morality of internet fans reportedly more shocked by two women kissing than brutal torture and mutilation

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