How I Met Your Mother

A couple of weeks ago I started watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, and as a lack of recent posts by me shows, I’ve been watching it obsessively and just finished watching the last episode of the 7th season.  Sadly, Netflix doesn’t have the 8th season of the show yet, and because I don’t want to watch the episodes out of order if I can help it, I’m not going to start watching the ninth season when it airs starting Monday.

HIMYM

There aren’t a lot of TV shows that I watch, and there are a few reasons for that.  The first is the time commitment, with working full time (plus having a decent commute), along with bowling in 3 leagues a week, I’m a fairly busy guy.  Along with that I still try to read as much as I can, which leads to another reason why in many cases I prefer books to TV.  With books the author knows that there is going to be an end, so the characters have growth arcs that they go through, and when they’re done with that arc, the story is usually over.  There are some TV shows that do a very poor job of that because they refuse to let the characters finish their arc, or you’ll run into a show where the writers don’t give the characters room to grow.  Or if the show runs a long time, the characters will finish an arc and then get another arc forced on them (this happens in books as well, and I complain about it with books as well).

Lastly, when it comes to comedies, there are a lot of times when the humor just doesn’t work for me.  With something like Family Guy, the show is almost entirely comprised of non-sequitar jokes, which – to me at least – get old pretty quickly.  Then there are shows like The Big Bang Theory, which I can’t stand because it does nothing but make fun of nerds for every episode, and being a nerd, that bothers me.  It also has a tendency to make fun of Sheldon being an extremely anxious person, which also bothers me as a person who has an anxiety disorder.  (And once again for clarity, it’s self-diagnosed, but I did study psychology so I have a semblance of an idea of what I’m talking about.)

Two of my favorite shows of all time are M*A*S*H and Scrubs, because I think both shows do a fantastic job of being outrageously funny while being able to stop on a dime and deliver some of the most poignant moments you’ll ever see in TV.  I can easily add How I Met Your Mother to that list, because it does so many things so well.

The most important thing about any TV show is the characters, and the 5 main characters on this show are wonderful.  They each have distinct personalities and a number of quirks that separate them from each other, but also allow the characters to play off of each other as well.  From Ted’s intellectualism, Marshall’s earnestness, Lily’s innocence, Robin’s bluntness, and Barney’s insanity, they all work perfectly on their own but they work just as well when mixed with the other characters.  In some ways, it’s exactly what made Joss Whedon’s Firefly work so well, you put a bunch of unique personalities together and you see what the results are.  And just like in Firefly, the results are wonderful here.

Another thing that the show does a wonderful job of is not overusing it’s jokes.  There’s a fine line between a running gag and beating a dead horse, and this show runs it perfectly.  It’s one thing to watch a season over the course of 6 or 8 months and not overuse a gag, but I watched 7 seasons of this show in 3 or 4 weeks and never got sick of the jokes.  I suppose the only way I can finish this paragraph is by saying that the writer’s willingness to show restraint in not overusing their jokes was legen – wait for it – dary.

One of the more interesting things that this show does is also one of the harder things to do in fiction, it tells a compelling story when you know the ending.  Because of the flashback nature of the show, there are parts of the show where you already know how it’s going to end.  The obvious example is Ted and Robin dating.  You’re told early in the first season (maybe even the first episode, I don’t remember offhand) that they don’t get married when Ted tells his future kids about how he met their Aunt Robin.  Yet even though you know they don’t end up together, they’re dating for most of season two and it’s still great to watch.

This is a show with fun characters, great humor that is never overused, and at the same time the show is able to stop and deliver a truly touching moment.  This is one of the best comedies that I’ve seen in recent years, and it’s one that I’ll definitely go through and watch again in the future.

HIMYM2

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Nostalgia for a time I never knew

Nostalgia is a strange feeling.  It’s something that you don’t experience until you’re a little older in life, or at least I didn’t.  But it’s something that is really interesting to look at and try and figure out why you have that feeling.  As weird as the feeling can be all of the time, it’s even weirder when you feel nostalgic for a time you’re not even old enough to remember.

I just finished watching a documentary about Johnny Carson, who I was never able to see on The Tonight Show (he retired in 1992, when I was 8 years old).  I really don’t watch that much TV, and most of the time when I do watch it I walk away either irritated or bored.  But I think I would have loved to watch Carson.  From all of the clips that they showed from his show on the documentary, he was very funny of course, but he also seemed like he had a very relaxed persona.

One of the points they made in the documentary was that Carson was willing to let the guest shine, to simply take a back seat and to do everything in his power to help the other person be successful.  Thinking about it after watching the documentary, that’s something that you very rarely see anymore.  The only television personality who comes close to having that type of personality is probably Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s Daily Show.

If I had to sum up what Carson had – and what Stewart approaches – in a single word, it would simply be the word “Class.”  It’s something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.  Everything has to be bigger than before, the jokes have to be faster, the explosions bigger, the personalities more in-your-face, and I think it’s a horrible thing.

All of these changes come from the fact that we live in a different media world than the one that Carson was in, even than the one that Stewart started in.  I’m a random guy living in Ohio posting this online and as soon as I hit publish everyone in the world will be able to read these words.  In many ways this is a good thing, communication is one of the greatest aspects of humanity, and we have never been more connected as a worldwide society than we are today.  But like everything in the world, it also has it’s negative aspects.  Because there is so much striving for our attention, the only way to get noticed is seemingly to be louder than than everyone else, and it will work for a little while, at least until someone else comes along with a louder message.  Any semblance of class gets lost as we struggle to find meaning in the noise.  Unfortunately though, it often seems like there is no meaning, just noise.

It also makes me think about how well certain things in the past might have been accepted had they premiered today.  As funny as he was, I don’t know if Carson’s personality could sell a TV show today, let alone make him an American icon.  I don’t know if a TV show like M*A*S*H would even be noticed today if it wasn’t more outlandish early on.

So where does the title of this post come from?  Well, if you didn’t do the math earlier where I said I was 8 years old when Carson retired, I’ll come out and say now that I’m 28 years old.  I started high school in 1999, the internet wasn’t huge then, but it was up and coming.  I don’t really remember a time when we weren’t mostly connected.  But everything that I read and watch about history makes me think I would have been more in place had I been born 20 years earlier.

I know that part of nostalgia is that over time the cream rises to the top and that we don’t think about things that were popular 20 years ago that haven’t stood the test of time.  But I also think that we’re bombarded with so much media on a daily basis that we aren’t leaving time to look back and sort through everything to see what was worth paying attention to.  I also know that I sound very curmudgeonly with this post, and that I’m really not old enough to be this cynical, but I do miss the allure of a time that I never knew.

(Quick side note, the documentary that I watched was titled “Johnny Carson: King of Late Night” and is available on Netflix.)

Serenity

After I finished watching Joss Whedon’s Firefly, there was one more thing to do, watch the movie with the same characters.  As such, here is my review of the movie.  All of my other posts talking about Firefly can be found here.

Serenity

After watching Firefly the next step was of course to watch the movie based upon the show.  I’m not directly spoiling anything in the movie, but I do talk about it in a manner that will be unclear if you aren’t familiar with both the show and the movie.  At this point Firefly is 10 years old and Serenity is 7 years old, and there is a statute of limitations on these things.  Also, they’re both very good, so why are you still reading this if you haven’t seen them before?  Go watch them.

Serenity was shot a couple of years after Firefly was cancelled.  At first I thought that it was an attempt to bring closure to the series, but after watching it, it seems like another couple of episodes set in the Firefly universe.  I just watched the series for the first time, but for fans that watched it when it was originally run I’m sure the movie was a very welcome addition to the world.

Personally, I think the movie got off to a very rough start.  When I talked about the show, my first comment was that the actors needed no time to get into the characters, from the first episode they were immediately in character.  Especially early on in the movie, they just didn’t feel like the same characters.  As it went on, they got much better, but the differences seemed very big early on.

The biggest difference with any of the characters, and the biggest problem was Simon.  In the opening half hour of the movie, he’s a much stronger character than he ever was in the show, to the point where he is willing to call out Mal for the way he uses River.  Along with calling out Mal, he was also a very different character when he was helping River escape.  The confidence that he showed in that scene didn’t exist in the early episodes of the show.  I was also puzzled by the fact that he knew a ‘safe word’ to knock River out.  There were more than a couple of times in the series that he would have used it.

I was also troubled by the visual style of the movie.  It’s definitely darker in tone than many of the episodes, but the visual style was strangely different to me.  If it has been a while since you’d seen the show you probably wouldn’t notice, but if you’re watching the show in order and then immediately watching the movie like I did, it’s kind of clear to see.  Even the interior of the ship looked different to me.  As I got further into the movie, I got over it, but in the beginning it was troubling.

I’m also a little unsure of where this fits in relation to the series.  It’s obviously after the end run of the series, but I’m not terribly sure how far after it this story takes place.  The most noticeable part is that Shepherd Book is off the ship.  I was really upset with that.  I said repeatedly throughout my comments of each episode that Book was probably the deepest character, and they didn’t have time to explore him at all in the movie, so he was essentially cast aside.

Although River played a stronger part in the movie than she did in the show, I was a little upset that more of her story wasn’t covered.  I was hoping that the movie would explain everything about what happened to her and exactly what she was being created for, but instead it revolves around something that she gleaned from the mind of one of the higher members of the Alliance while they were observing her treatments.  It left the movie a little flat for me.

Along with going in a direction that wasn’t much explored in the show, there were also a couple of characters that weren’t in the show at all that played a big part.  I’m fine with the twins on whatever planet that Mal had a deal with, but Mr. Universe is someone who probably should have been a bigger part of the universe before the movie.

Part of the problem with the movie is that there are too many loose threads that I didn’t think were covered in the original run of the show.  I think that Joss had a bunch of ideas about where the show was going beyond the first 14 episodes, and when writing the script for the movie he put a lot of the ideas in.  Ultimately I think it was about 6 or 8 episodes of the show crammed into a two-hour movie.  I’m glad the movie got made because the characters were a lot of fun and it was a great chance to sort of ‘get the band back together.’  But ultimately I think it would have worked better stretched out over the course of a season, which I’m sure was the original intent.

(Note: I wrote this review immediately after watching the movie a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve found places online where they say the movie takes place about 6 months after the end of Episode 14.  Joss had originally intended the events of this movie to take place at the end of the second season of the show.)

Overall Grade

The movie was good, but the story would have worked better had Joss Whedon been given the chance to tell it over the course of several episodes rather than in a single movie.

7/10

So what’s next?

I’ve enjoyed taking the time to talk about something different, and there are a couple of other TV shows that I’d like to watch.  So I’ll continue to have my posts talking about TV shows.  I’m still going to plan having them posted on Mondays and Thursdays.  So then, here’s the question, what show is coming up next?  I’ve got three shows I’m considering now, A Game of Thrones, Dollhouse (another Joss Whedon show), and Breaking Bad.  I haven’t watched any episodes of any of the shows yet (although I have read A Game of Thrones) so for now I’ll just ask what you think I should watch first.

Firefly: Series in Review

So this is my final post talking about Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  Well, not quite final, there is still the movie to talk about, but we’ll save that one for later in the week.

As always, links to all of my other posts about the show can be found here.

Firefly Series Thoughts

So I’ve reached the end of Firefly, and I loved the show.  The characters were all a lot of fun – and not just the main characters, many of the side characters who may have only been in the show for one episode were also quite interesting.  The show told several very interesting stories, and it set up a lot of intriguing questions that they didn’t have time to explore in the show.  As the show ends I’m still really interested in exactly what they did to River as well as why they were experimenting on her.  I also really want to know more about Shepherd Book’s background, there were a lot of things about him that were never explained in the show, and I really want to know more about his past.

So now we get to the strongest part of the show, the characters.  Interesting stories can do a lot for a show/movie/book/whatever, but strong characters are what make fiction memorable over time.  There are 9 major characters in the show – Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Simon, River, and Book – and they all have a lot going for them.

Mal is the main character of the show and gets the most development in the series.  He cares greatly about the members of his crew, and is willing to do whatever needs to be done to protect them.  But while he’s caring with the people he’s close to, he is ruthless when he needs to be with his enemies.  There’s also a lot going on between him and Inara, which is hinted at early on but then addressed more directly in the last couple of episodes.

Zoe is one of the more active characters, especially in the early episodes, unfortunately, as the show went one she seemed to fall a little flat for me.  The show left some hints for conflicts with her in later episodes, but unfortunately we never got to see what comes of it.

Jayne is pretty much the hired muscle, not terribly intelligent, but violent enough to back up Mal and Zoe with whatever needs to be done.  There are a couple of scenes that show a slightly deeper side of Jayne (specifically the ending of Episode 12 when he starts to tear up).  He’s also the center of Episode 7, which was a lot of fun.

Early on I said that Wash was probably the weakest character in the show.  I’m going to revise this slightly, he isn’t a really weak character, but was overshadowed by the rest of the cast.  Much like Zoe, there were some signs of where they were going to go with his character had the show continued, but they never got to them.

Kaylee is my favorite character in the show.  For one she was very different from the rest of the cast.  She was always upbeat and happy, and was a welcome change from the more serious members of the crew and the darker nature of some of the episodes.  It was also a lot of fun to watch her and Simon throughout the show.  Their relationship was one of the more pervasive elements of the show, and I thought it worked out really well.

Inara is an interesting character; I mentioned that it’s interesting that she’s the most respectable member of the crew to society as a whole.  Along with that she had a lot of interesting interactions with the other characters.  Obviously she cares a lot about Mal, but it was also really interesting to see her interaction with Kaylee in various episodes, she really does care about the other members of the crew.

Now we get to the characters that joined the crew during the course of the show.  Lets start with Simon because I listed him first in the character roll call.  Simon is the nerdy outcast member of the crew.  It’s obvious that he cares about his sister, just as it’s obvious that he likes Kaylee but also suffers from foot-in-mouth syndrome.  On his own he’s not a terribly deep character, but his interactions with Kaylee really help him out a lot.

River is the most intriguing character in the show.  Obviously the Alliance did some strange experiments on her, and we start to find out part of what they did throughout the course of the show, but we never learn why or exactly what she is capable.  I’m sure that the movie goes more in depth with her story, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Book is probably the deepest character in the show, and I really want to know a lot more about his background because there’s a lot going on with him.  While I fully believe that he’s a preacher, he obviously has his own take on things throughout the show, and the writers did a really good job of making you curious about him.

So lets recap all of this; amazing characters, interesting stories, and a unique setting.  So why did the show only last one season?  There are a couple of reasons.

The first is something that I mentioned early on in my discussion of the show, the theme song.  It definitely does grow on you as you watch the show, and it’s thematically very appropriate for the show, but on it’s own it’s not terribly good.  Why am I picking on the theme song so much?  Simple, it’s the first gate to get into the show.  If I hadn’t heard anything about the show, and was just flipping through the channels to watch something on TV, the theme song definitely isn’t going to grab me and make me watch.

The second thing that really hurts the show for the casual audience is the setting.  Even as someone who reads a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy, it’s weird.  Most of the time it’s not that big of an issue, but there are a couple of episodes where the combination of SciFi and Western is just too weird.  The best example of this comes from Episode 13 (Heart of Gold).  There’s a scene in Heart of Gold where Ranse is attacking the house where Mal & Co are defending Inara’s friend.  As Ranse is comingup to the house, he’s driving a hovercraft while all of the people following him are riding horses – that’s just a little too strange, even for me.

So all in all, I loved the show and I wish there had been more to it, but on the whole I understand why the show had a hard time catching on with a wider audience.

So there are my thoughts about the show as a whole, what do you think?

Firefly Watch: Episode 14

And we finally come to the final episode of Firefly.  I have to admit that I got more and more upset as I ran out of episodes to watch.  When I first started going through the show, I was watching two episodes a night (and then writing my thoughts after each one, which I kept in a Word file before posting them here) and I decided to cut back and only watch one episode a night, in large part to make it last longer.

Having said all that, I do have two more posts planned dealing with Firefly, I have a post lined up as a review of the movie, Serenity, which is set about 6 months after the end of the final episode (it basically would have been the end of Season 2 of the show had there been a Season 2).  I’m also planning a post wherein I give my thoughts to the series as a whole, including some of my thoughts as to why the series was cancelled when everything about it is so well done.

But those posts will be up next week, for now this post is simply my thoughts about Episode 14, links to all of my other Firefly posts can be found here.

Firefly Episode 14 – Objects in Space

I loved this episode, but then again I’ve loved all of the episodes of the show that have dealt with River’s backstory.  This episode opens with a short section that follows River and gives a brief example of what she’s really hearing when everyone talks.  She’s able to slightly read people’s minds, and they get this across by having the opening scene shift between the conversation that people are actually having and what River hears, which is quite well done, until she ends up with a loaded firearm at the end of that sequence and freaks out the rest of the crew.

At this point Kaylee tells everyone what happened with River at the end of Episode 10.  Then the fun kicks in when a bounty hunter who is after River gets on board the Serenity.  I was a little annoyed at how easily he got on the ship, especially after the same basic thing happened in the last episode, but beyond that this was a brilliant episode.

When Jubal Early is an interesting character, and they have small hints that he’s just a little off.  While he’s a little weird, he’s also a very good bounty hunter.  He knocks out Mal and then locks all of the crew quarters, then ties up Kaylee before knocking out Book and holding Simon at gunpoint while he searches for River, the guy is efficient if nothing else.  They hint that he’s a sociopath, when River is talking to him she talks about how he used to torture animals, and throughout the episode he talks to and about people like they’re objects.  Both are signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and I’m very pleased that they got them right.  (A while ago I did a series of posts talking about Sociopaths in our Culture that was divided into three parts.  The link to part 1 is here.)

Of course River is kind of elusive and hard to find, and then of course she comes on over the speakers in Serenity and says that she’s become one with the ship.  This is great because we’re not exactly 100% sure what River can do, and it’s played out very well when she’s messing with Early.

Sadly, this is the last episode of the show.  Obviously they intended to do a lot more with the show, but it was cut short.  Next up is the movie that follows the show – Serenity.  I’m looking forward to it, and I’m very curious as to what plot lines they choose to close up and which ones they don’t have time to get into.

Some Changes and a Warning

When going through the list of blogs I follow, I came upon this post by Morgan over at The First Gates.  He relates the story of a blogger who was sued for use of an image on her blog.  This leads to a very big question and gets into some questionable copyright lingo.  The biggest question as it relates to this blog is what qualifies as fair use when posting an image to a blog?  The answer is tricky.

The basic ideas behind the fair use exemption to copyright law can be found here at Wikipedia.  The problem with this is that it’s very fuzzy as to what qualifies as fair use.  But the most troubling problem from what I’ve read is that there is no set standard for any particular type of media, each case can be looked at individually.

Here’s where that becomes a problem, and how it relates to this blog.  I post pictures of the covers for every book I review.  I’ve obtained all of these images by doing a simple Google search.  When I first started the blog, it was a fairly minor issue.  I only had a couple of reviews up, and very few images.  The problem now comes from the fact that I’ve got somewhere around 160 different book reviews up – all of them with images of the book attached to the post.

My very vague understanding of the copyright and fair use laws means that this could end up being a problem.  If you figure there are 160 book reviews, that amounts to quite a few different authors, artists, publishing companies, graphic designers, etc. who could possibly raise a fuss about the images being on my blog.  Now, my blog has a fairly small audience, and the thought of it getting notice from a major publisher and then being pursued by them beyond a simple DMCA notice and being asked to remove the image is admittedly quite small.  However, the odds of it occurring increase with each review that I post and each image that I attach to those reviews.

So what does that mean?  Well, for starters it means I’m going to go through and remove every image that I have attached to my blog at the moment.  I’ve received no warning about this, but the last thing I need is some new lawyer who just passed the Bar trying to win an easy case by going after my blog.  All of the content of my blog other than the pictures will remain unchanged as I spend the next several days going through my history and editing out the pictures.

One thing that I learned fairly early on in the creation of my blog is that posts look better with an image included.  It’s gives you something to look at as opposed to just staring at a wall of text, and displaces some of the monotony of constantly looking through a series of posts.  I’ll continue to try and include images, but in the future I’ll make sure that they’re all either in the public domain or they have a Creative Commons license that allows them to be shared.

I understand that the actions that I’m taking are a little extreme (just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you), and I’m not suggesting that everyone follow the same course of action.  I am however suggesting that you read Morgan’s post as well as those he links to and take what they say into consideration.  I know that personally I do this because I enjoy talking about the books that I read (or whatever else crosses my mind) and I like the interaction that I get with people through this blog.  However, the potential (however unlikely) legal and financial ramifications of this is something that I can’t overlook.  I’ll still be blogging, but as regards to using images in my posts I’ll be a lot more careful about what I use.

Firefly Watch: Episodes 12 and 13

We’re quickly coming up to the end of Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  Links to the rest of my posts about the show can be found here.

Firefly Episode 12 – The Message

 

Once again, a wonderful episode.  It’s come to my mind as I’ve been watching the show and writing up my thoughts about each episode that I’ve been heaping a lot of praise on, well, everything about the show.  Which if you’re not too familiar with the show might lead to some questions about why the show was ever cancelled, I’ve given it some thought, and I’ll talk about it during my wrap up of the show, which will come after two more episodes.  Yeah, I’m quickly running out of show.

Anyway, this episode set up a really interesting premise.  Mal & Co are at a space station picking up some supplies and they receive a large package, with a coffin and a corpse of a man Mal and Zoe knew from the war against the alliance.  He has a small message recorder asking to be taken back to his homeland to be buried alongside his family.  When they’re chased after by police who are after the body, they become a little curious about why, and then the fun starts when the corpse wakes up.

It’s become kind of standard for the show, so it’s not at all surprising to see the double-crossing that goes on all the time.  But it’s well done enough, and I’m watching one episode every night, if you were watching one episode every week, you probably wouldn’t notice the repetition quite as much.  This episode also has a tear-jerker of an ending, which is a welcome surprise since the show has mostly focused on the action and humor moments.

This episode does two things really well when looking at it from the character development perspective.  It continues to show Mal as a very deep character, one who is loyal to his crew and everyone he’s worked with in the past, but not beyond making tough decisions quickly when they need to be made.  Mal is the kind of Captain that people would run through a brick wall for, and it shows – both from his actions as well as the fact his crew has risked their lives to save him.

The other part of this episode that I enjoyed was the furthering of the romance between Kaylee and Simon.  I think it’s been done well, and it’s definitely been a lot of fun to watch.  It would help if Simon would stop putting his foot in his mouth, but it’s well within his character to constantly do so.

I’m also once again very impressed by Book, I said after the first episode that I thought he had the most room for growth as a character, and while he hasn’t changed much as a character, he has definitely proven himself to be the deepest character and one of the more mysterious (after River of course).

Firefly Episode 13 – Heart of Gold

 

I have two very separate thoughts about this episode.  On one hand, the characterization is once again absolutely fantastic.  On the other hand, more idiot plotting, I hate idiot plotting.

This one begins very simply, Inara gets a call from a friend (Nandi) who was formerly a companion asking for help.  Of course Inara asks Mal to help, and being the standup guy he is, he decides to take up the job.  The basic premise is that one of Nandi’s girls has gotten pregnant, and the father wants the child.  Mal & Co are called in to help protect the baby.

I have two big problems with this episode, both of which come from the gunfight towards the end of the episode, so obviously if you haven’t seen it this will spoil the ending.

The first problem, as Ranse and his boys are coming up on the bordello; Jayne shoots the person who was manning the turret on Ranse’s hovercraft.  Just shoot Ranse, he’s the only one who has a legitimate reason to be storming the premises, and he’s the one who rounded up everyone else and got them to attack Nandi’s bordello.  If he dies, it’s over.  This irritates me all the time.  Don’t piddle around and draw things out, get the job over with.  Ranse dies, everyone else calms down, nobody else has to suffer.  But if we do things the simple way, we don’t have the emotional moment at the end with Inara and Mal (which this episode does set up very well).

The other problem that I have with this episode, Wash and Kaylee are going back to Serenity so they can fly around and disrupt the attackers who are all riding horses.  When they get into the ship, they’re immediately fired upon by more of Ranse’s people who have gotten into the ship ahead of them.  Lets think about this for once second: you have an interstellar transport ship and you DON’T LOCK THE GORRAM DOOR?!  Aside from that, your plan has them getting there minutes before they have to take off?  Shouldn’t they have been there hours before they expected the skirmish to begin?  Wash at least should have been there if not Kaylee as well.

Idiot plotting aside, this episode does a great job of exploring Inara and Mal’s relationship – or lack thereof.  It’s kind of obvious that there is something between them, if for no other reason than the fact that Inara tolerates Mal’s behavior far more than she really should.  Along with this, there was another very interesting story seed planted in this episode.  While they’re working to set up the ambush, Zoe and Wash are arguing about having a child.  It’s obvious that they’ve had the discussion several times before, and they both have very valid arguments for their specific sides.  Unfortunately, both of these story seeds come in the penultimate episode of the show, which means I doubt they have time to explore either of them very much from this point on.  Which is unfortunate.

Firefly Watch: Episodes 10 and 11

This is my sixth post in my ongoing series wherein I discuss Joss Whedon’s show Firefly.  Links to all of the previous posts can be found here.

Firefly Episode 10 – War Stories

 

I briefly discuss each episode, but this one has more spoilers relating to the plot than most.

This is an interesting episode for two reasons.  The first is that is calls back to one of the earlier episodes as we run into Niska again.  He was the crime lord from The Train Job, and he has a reputation to uphold about not letting anyone get away from him as Mal did in that episode.  The second reason I really liked this episode is that it gave more backstory about River.

After Mal and Wash are captured doing what should have been a simple drop, Zoe goes to try and buy their freedom.  Niska being who he is, decides to only let one of them go, Zoe chooses Wash and returns to the ship.  So of course they have to go rescue Mal.  After the crew gets over the insanity of the mission, everyone decides to help, including Book, Simon, and Kaylee.

Book obviously has a much more interesting past than he has told anyone on the crew, and I really hope they explore it more in the next four episodes.  I just realized that I’ve said that about 4 or 5 times in reference to different characters in the show, and I’ve meant it every time, the characters really are that interesting.  The part of the episode that really intrigued me was at the very end dealing with River.  Kaylee goes into shock towards the end of the episode when faced with having to possibly shoot some of Niska’s soldiers.  River comes in, picks up the gun and quickly dispatches 3 soldiers without blinking.  She then says “no power in the ‘verse can stop me.”

So the mystery of what was going on with her clears up a little more.  The Alliance was obviously training her to be a superior soldier.  This also explains why they were messing with the part of her brain that deals with emotional regulation.  If you have a brilliant tactician who is completely cut off from their emotions you would have a very powerful weapon on your hands.  Considering Summer Glau (River) is billed second for Serenity, I’m sure that at least her part of the storyline comes to a conclusion, even if other threads of the story are left unresolved.

Not a whole lot else to say at this point except that I’m really intrigued by everything going on in the show, I love the characters, and I can’t wait to watch the remaining episodes.

Firefly Episode 11 – Trash

 

Another recap from a previous episode, Saffron shows up again, this time offering to cut Mal in on a job for a priceless artifact.  The various crewmembers work extremely well at setting up Mission Impossible types of stories, and this is the second time in 3 episodes that they’ve done it.

I had a couple of small issues with this episode though.  The first came when they were just about to steal the gun they’re after and the owner walks in on them.  Just brain the guy, take the gun, and leave.  Especially once he says that he’s called the cops on you.  The second part came at the end, Mal knows that Saffron is going to try and double cross him at some point, hence the final twist at the end of the episode (which really was well done).  So why does he even put himself in a situation where she could get his gun?  Setting up the opening/final shot of Mal naked in the desert was funny, but kind of suffered from idiot plotting.

Even though they played a very minor part in the episode, Simon and River probably had the biggest move in their story.  Along with the brain damage that the Alliance did to River, they’ve also done some other strange things.  One of the effects of this is that she displays ESP in various episodes.  For example, in Out of Gas she realizes that there is going to be a fire before the explosion occurs.  She is also able to read minds, and I think that Simon is starting to realize this.

Jayne gets knocked out in the episode, and of course Simon is called upon to help him, which of course he does.  But there is a very short and very effective scene where Simon confronts Jayne and asks him how much he was offered to sell them out.  Mal was able to figure it out immediately, but he didn’t tell anyone else on the crew.  Jayne was obviously remorseful since he bought apples for everyone in the crew, but didn’t tell them why.  This scene ends up doing a wonderful job of building Simon’s character by showing that he’s willing to trust someone that obviously can’t stand him, and it does an even better job of increasing the mystery around River when she threatens Jayne.

As I’ve said with every episode, really solid and I enjoyed it.  I’m starting to get upset because I’m running out of episodes though.  It really is depressing.

Firefly Watch: Episodes 8 and 9

This is my fifth post discussing Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  Links to the rest of the posts can be found here.

Firefly Episode 8 – Out of Gas

 

Another dark episode, this time Mal nearly dies because of an explosion on the ship that causes Serenity to lose life support systems.  That ends up only being about half of the episode, because the other half is a flashback showing how Mal found the crew for his ship.  This episode is interesting in that it weaves several different stories together at the same time: Mal trying to fix the ship, the events directly leading up to Mal having to fix the ship, and the flashbacks showing how everyone met.

We know from the opening episode that Zoe fought with Mal in the war against the Alliance, and she’s there from the very beginning, once Mal convinces her to stay at least.  They start looking for people to fill out their crew, and one of the first people they find is Wash, who Zoe immediately hates of course.  Again Wash has the sparsest story, he was simply a pilot for hire who was introduced to Mal through a third party.

Jayne’s backstory is a little different.  He was of course working as a mercenary, and the group he was working with had captured Mal and Zoe.  We already know a lot about Jayne’s character, and this scene ended up being another chance to show Mal being creative in manipulating other people, he talks Jayne into coming to work for him in exchange for a pay raise and his own room, and we all know how that ended up working out.

Inara joining the ship worked out well also.  Even in their first meeting she showed that she was able to manipulate Mal a little by using some logic, in this case by simply saying she’d be able to help more than any other person Mal could have rented the shuttle out to because of her status as a companion.  There were also quite a few jokes in there that came from having seen the show before, that she told Mal he could never barge into her shuttle, as well as yelling at him for calling her a whore and saying it will never happen again.

Kaylee’s story was also interesting, and probably did the best job of emphasizing her current character.  Kaylee had an interest in engines, going as far as to sleep with the original mechanic Mal had hired to fix the ship.  When Mal walks in on them, Kaylee quickly fixes the engine and is quickly hired – once she asks her parents of course.  I thought it did a great job of showing off her innocence, while also explaining why she was starting to be so forward with Simon in some of the earlier episodes.

This episode does a great job of telling the primary story out of order (while it’s been split into two segments) as well as giving a ton of backstory for the characters.  It seems like every show has one episode where they talk about everyone’s backgrounds, this one worked out very well.

Firefly Episode 9 – Ariel

 

So Simon ‘hires’ the crew to do a job for him so that he can get some information about what happened to his sister.  It’s a relatively easy job, sneak into an alliance hospital, steal a lot of medicine while Simon is running a scan on his sister, and then get out and sell the medicine on the outlying planets.  Really easy when Simon can explain exactly how to do everything, the only problem comes when Jayne decides to turn in Simon and River to the Alliance.

This was a very tense episode; they set up a Mission Impossible type of story, and then immediately throw a wrench into it.  I had one problem with it, if you’re going to do something like that, you wouldn’t leave Jayne with Simon and River, you’d leave Zoe.  Hell, bring Wash or Kaylee in; they’d be able to do the job effectively while not endangering the mission at all.  But if you do that you don’t really have the story, so I’ll accept a little bit of idiot plotting for a quality episode.

All that said, we finally find out part of what was done to River.  They severed her Amygdala from the rest of her brain.  The Amygdala is a part of the central brain that controls emotional reactions, and it being separated would cause a reaction similar to what River has been experiencing throughout the show.  I complain a lot when TV shows, movies, or books get the science or psychology wrong, so I’m pleased to see a show where they get it right.

There was also a bit of a recap of something Jayne said in the first episode, that when the money is good enough to betray Mal, it would be an interesting day.  Well, the money was good enough, and he didn’t see it as a betrayal of Mal, just the doctor.  Mal figured out that Jayne turned on them, only to get double-crossed by the Alliance.  Mal had a little discussion with Jayne about what happened, and I don’t see Jayne trying to turn on anyone in the crew again.

I was also really intrigued by the Alliance doctors who were sent to pick up Simon and River.  They had a very unique weapon that killed people in a rather gruesome way – by causing them to bleed out from every orifice in their body; eyes, nose, nail cuticles, it’s a grisly death, and they’re not shy about using their little toy.  The mystery of who they are and why they want River is slowly unfolding, and I’m really curious to see where it goes in the future.

Firefly Watch: Episodes 6 and 7

This is my fourth post discussing Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the home page for every post of the Firefly watch can be found here.

Firefly Episode 6 – Our Mrs. Reynolds

 

I really enjoyed this episode.  To this point it’s probably the best episode in terms of everything tying together.  Several of the previous episodes had incongruous elements, like the random bar fights that they get into.  This episode starts with the crew completing a mission, and then in celebrating their success they get tied up in one of the strangest situations thus far, Mal getting married.

Mal’s ‘wife’ Saffron was very convincing in her role, and I was quite surprised by the twist as she turned on the crew.  I think I would have liked to see a little more of a hint that she was cooperating with the people operating the net, but it probably would have made it a lot harder to keep her betrayal a secret until the last minute if there was any foreshadowing that she was working with them.  It’s kind of a minor complaint though.

One of the things that I really liked about this episode was that it really felt like it continued the character’s relationships from the previous episodes.  There are a lot of shows that you can watch the episodes in any order, but this show definitely seems to have a strong serialized story.  The main thing I’m referring to is that Mal and Inara aren’t fighting quite as much in this episode, they seem more civil, primarily as a result of the events of episode 4.

I’m also impressed by how well the writers continue to show the characters being clever in using what they have at hand.  Again this is best shown by Mal’s suggestion that Jayne put his gun in a suit so that he’s able to fire it in a vacuum.

As much as the stories are interesting, the real reason that this show works is the characters.  They’re all interesting, and they all come across as being real people.  Jayne in particular steals this episode.  Complaining that Mal doesn’t take him seriously just before he tries to trade a gun for Saffron was a great scene.

For the first time in the run of the show Wash is in a couple scenes for more time than it takes to make a wisecrack.  But right now I still think he’s the weakest character and that he’s there mostly for comic relief.  In contrast, I’m also really interested in Shepherd Book; he definitely has a lot more in his background than he’s told the rest of the characters.

Firefly Episode 7 – Jaynestown

 

It seems that after every episode I’ve railed on about how much I love the characters in this show, and this one is no exception.  This episode might also be the clearest example of why the characters are as interesting as they are, and why the show works as well as it does.

The main story of this episode centers on Jayne.  When they return to a planet he visited years ago, he’s very nervous because of a job that he pulled there.  Of course his worries are entirely unfounded, no one in the town wants to kill him, they worship him as a folk hero.

This episode emphasizes one of the things that the series does so well.  The characters all have backgrounds, they had full lives before the show started, and they have full lives in the scenes that we don’t see in the show.  Jayne’s past obviously catches up with him in this episode, and the reactions of the rest of the characters are perfect as well.  They don’t simply let it go, Jayne is embarrassed by it and everyone else has to harass him about it for the duration of the episode.

Another aspect of the show that is highly emphasized here is that nothing in the world is black or white, but everything exists in shades of gray.  Again this is epitomized by how much Jayne is troubled by what happened at the end of the episode.  Jayne was a fun character before this episode, but this really worked to give a depth to his character.

Another reason for the show’s success is that every character has points of friction when they interact with other characters.  There were two character pairings in this episode that highlighted this aspect.  The first was River and Shepherd Book.  Kaylee tells Simon to go onto the planet with the crew, and Book says he can keep an eye on River.  Those two interacting was fantastic, watching Book’s reaction when River starts to “fix” his Bible because she analyzed it and it didn’t make sense was fantastic.  And then later when River freaked out because of Book’s hair, which is pretty frightening when he takes it out of the mini ponytail he normally has.  It was fun watching those two throughout the episode.

So I’m at the halfway point of the show, and it’s got a lot going for it.  The worldbuilding is still a little odd to me – old west meets space mercenaries is a bit strange to get used to at first – but the characters are so strong that it makes it easier to suspend your disbelief about some of the more disparate elements of the Firefly universe.  I think Kaylee is still my favorite character, but it’s not by a wide margin over anyone else, although I still think Wash is the weakest character.  Wash has played a slightly bigger part in the past couple of episodes, and I’m hoping that they go deeper into his character as the show goes on.