oceloty: (Default)
So I've been thinking a lot about the Firefly episode "Safe." (Five hours on a plane, few of them productive.) I came to the conclusion that the episode is simultaneously very, very good and very, very bad. This is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and yet the first time I watched it, I was unconvinced whether I should keep watching Firefly at all.

Here's the bad: structurally, the episode just doesn't hang together. Something about the framework just doesn't work. I think I can see what the writers intended. There are three main storylines. In the past, Simon's old life falling apart as he tried to help River. In the present, Simon struggling to sort out his life as a fugitive, as he tries to help River. And, in the present, Book getting shot, with Mal & the crew figuring out how to save his life and the revelation that Book is more than he seems.

The problems as I see them are:

1. There's not enough setup for the revelation about Book. He's just kind of around until he gets shot, then Alliance makes a fuss about him. So we have payoff but it comes out of nowhere, so it feels more like "why?" than payoff, as if the writers suddenly realized they'd neglected his character. (In retrospect, this would have been more interesting after "War Stories.") As such, it feels like a random revelation instead of development, and this whole plotline doesn't really go anywhere.

2. There aren't enough connections between the storylines.
Yes, I get that Mal came through for Simon and River where the Tams did not, and they're part of the Serenity family now. (Can we just agree to pass over the movie's backpedaling of that development, because I already spent way too long thinking about this). Yes, I get that Mal made the hard choice to save Book first because he needed it the most, just like Simon made the hard choice to save River because she needed it. But I don't think those links were developed strongly enough in the story to be obvious without over-analysis. These dueling plotlines really needed stronger parallels or at least thematic links.

3. What storylines that exist are underdeveloped.
I think this is part of the reason the 3 lines don't come together well. There isn't enough Mal characterization in his storyline to make a strong parallel to Simon, hence the non-Jiangyin parts of the story feel incomplete. And don't even get me started on the bizarre contrivances of the Jiangyin kidnappers, starting with how they knew he was a doctor, middling with the out-of-nowhereness of the Patron and his crazy witchhunters (they have a *bell* for this thing? Good gravy) and ending with the ready-made stake. It's not a story so much as a bunch of random events strung together, and it feels like the wacky happenings exist so we can have key emotional moments. But there's no thought in assembling logic to get to that point.
It's interesting that the episode appears to have undergone significant rewriting, as the flashback sequences are very different in the shooting script. I think the aired flashbacks do a much better job at hitting the intended notes. I just wish they'd gone ahead and rewritten the present day sequences in a similar fashion.

And now for the confession: despite my criticisms, I really like this episode. Despite its numerous flaws, it does a fantastic job with Simon, River, and their relationship, something that had not happened to this point in the series. When this episode originally aired, we didn't have the benefit of the pilot to flesh out their characters. (The original order was: Train Job, Bushwhacked, Our Mrs. Reynolds, Jaynestown, Out of Gas, Shindig, Safe.) Consequently, Simon's character suffered greatly from his background being told rather than shown, River's character suffered greatly from consisting mostly of poetic, metaphorical rambling, and their relationship really, really suffered from being virtually non-existent.

Logically, the story makes no sense, but emotionally, this part of it does come together quite well. What "Safe" does is to make Simon and River into people, and to make their relationship the one that drives the show instead of the plot device behind it. When River tells Simon that she knows what he did for her, finally I see the person for whom Simon gave up his dreams. When Simon steps up to the stake and puts his arms her, I see the brother that River never lost. And when Mal and Zoe walk in with their guns and photogenic dusters -- well. Those Tams: they're complete pains, always getting into trouble, and have some bizarre fashion sense. And every time I see this episode, I fall in love with them again.
oceloty: (Default)
Lately I've had a lot of studying and writing to do, which is a surefire recipe for procrastination. Between Serenity and the new season of Spooks, I feel like I've been mainlining TV episodes for the better part of two weeks. While more legal than your standard narcotics, this is still not recommended as a method for improving productivity. However, it has gotten me to thinking about both shows. It's a little hard for me to figure out why I'm so taken with both right now (OK, avoidance of productivity, but let's pass over that) as I've always thought of myself as a serially monogamous fan (but let's pass over that as well). Both series have strongly devoted watchers but never achieved broad appeal in the US. I've been thinking about why this is.

Whereforeart thou Firefly (no Serenity spoilers) )

And on to Spooks/MI-5 (no spoilers) )

Overall, I think these two shows are pretty dissimilar in premise, but have great writing and performances. If I had to pick one I'd go with Firefly as I'm more attached to the characters, but fortunately I don't have to pick one! It's a shame that neither got the attention it deserved, but that won't stop me from enjoying both shows.

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oceloty

July 2012

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