Serenity ~ June 11, 2008

Alas, one brilliant and promising sci-fi series was dealt an unmerited death blow before the completion of its first season in 2003 and fans were left wondering what would have been. And lamenting the shocking short-sightedness and lack of vision evinced by The Powers That Be. That series was “Firefly.”

Two years later, in the fall of 2005, the film “Serenity” was released and fans were given some measure of closure, while newcomers were probably a bit perplexed. It features the original cast from “Firefly” and it does try to tie up all the major loose ends. It picks up where “Firefly” left off so abruptly, with a rogue group of outlaws who survive in a galaxy controlled by the totalitarian regime called The Alliance by living on the wrong side of law, scavenging in space and performing jobs of questionable legality in order to keep their ship “Serenity” flying. As long as they can roam through space, they cannot be as easily controlled by the Alliance. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, a veteran Browncoat of the Unification War, a failed attempt by the outlying worlds to resist the Alliance’s assertion of control, is now the captain of a Firefly-class ship, “Serenity,” along with his first mate Zoe, who fought with him in the war. Their pilot is Wash, their mechanic is Kaylee, and Jayne is a mercenary that assists them in their heists and salvage jobs. Mal bought the spaceship Serenity in order to continue living beyond Alliance control and most of the crew’s work consists of cargo runs or smuggling.  Then one day, along comes Simon Tam and his little sister, River. Long story short, River was a child prodigy, whose brain was subjected to experiments by the Alliance/ Blue Sun group.  Simon gave up a highly successful career as a trauma surgeon to rescue her from the Alliance and as a result of this rescue they are both wanted fugitives. And this group of renegades and outlaws decides to risk everything to keep River away from the Alliance. That is what I found so fascinating. They do whatever they need to do to get by, but they choose to save this strange girl, who poses a danger to them, and to hide her and her brother from the government. They may be “criminals” to the government, but they are also heroes in their own way.

“Serenity” is set two months after the last episode of the series and Inara and Book have left the crew and gone their separate ways. Simon decides that he and River have to get off “Serenity” after Mal has River assist them on a job that goes bad. Simon and Mal fight over her safety, and Mal basically chooses to make them leave by antagonizing Simon. River continues to exhibit violent and dangerous behavior, despite Simon’s attempts to help her with medication. (This seemed incongruous with the last few episodes, especially given Mal’s prior treatment of River, but moving on…) Needless to say, that doesn’t exactly happen. By the film’s end, we finally know why the Alliance wanted River so desperately and a bit more of what they were trying to do with her initially. Although it was rushed and left out a lot, given that they were canceled and only had a brief film to finish the main plot, I shall not complain as vigorously as I am wont. I cannot believe that they killed off Wash! And Shepherd Book! There was so much backstory there that they never had a chance to delve into. Inara came off far better in this film than in the series as they do not delve into her occupation as they did in the show. Kaylee and Mal actually came across better in the series, overall, whereas Zoe, Jayne and Wash are about the same. Simon and River are still my favorite. River seems like she will finally be all right. Her fight scenes were amazing; such elegance and grace tempered with such power. (Summer Glau, the actress that plays River Tam, is actually a ballerina.)

The show felt rushed and lacked the humor I’d come to expect. I was looking for more depth and development for many of these characters, especially Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee. I would have loved to have some more background on River and Simon. I enjoyed the few flashbacks they had in the series of these two. The fact that the series has the relationship between two siblings as one of its focal points was another aspect that drew me in. Simon gives up everything for River and he loves her so much.

The ending was in fact the ending that Joss Whedon had in mind for the series, albeit it would have been with them uncovering it piece by piece, slowly, over the course of a few seasons, along the way finding out more about the “two by two, hands of blue” people and their creepy corporation, The Blue Sun group. Could have been fascinating, but there you go. I just love how Mal and his crew, by any definition outlaws and renegades, do the right thing – very Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest. They risk their lives for two complete strangers. So, I’d watch as a conclusion to the series, but not as a film in and of itself.

Also, the main villain, the Believer; his change was much less convincing than it might have been, particularly given how very committed he was in his belief that he had to serve the council without question to ensure a “world without sin,” even though he himself acknowledged that his actions were of such an evil nature that he could have no place in this “better” world.

Lastly, I thought it very interesting that the Alliance tried to “perfect” people but only ended up killing them or turning them into monsters, the Reavers. They tried to extinguish violence, anger, discontent, hatred, etc. One character says that it is our very flaws that make us human. He was close. It is our ability and the necessity of choosing to capitulate to these flaws or to fight them that characterizes our humanity. What value would there be in being kind, selfless or loving if you could not be anything else? It is because we have the potential for evil, even the inclination toward it, that our choice to deny it and fight against it has worth. So, in that respect, our flaws do make us human in that we must have the ability to choose to be flawed or to rise above our flaws. Without choice, there is no humanity. Only a machine, an animal, running on programmed instructions or instinct without the higher faculties that enable it to reason for itself what it will do.

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