Friday, July 23, 2010

Life After Jacob's Foot: The Absolute Best of Firefly

Like I did during LOST's run, I've read countless interviews with Joss or listened to his commentary tracks or any other interview he's done. Surprisingly, I was unaware of Firefly's existence until I read the chapter in an unofficial Joss Whedon biography. The concept sounded intriguing but I neither understood nor appreciated Firefly until I watched the show. The show began re-running on SciFi a few years ago (maybe 2005) so I began watching it. I watched one episode and disliked the quality of the episode's look. I enjoyed the Pilot. There are moments in the pilot that will simply hook a new viewer to the show. Sudden emotion; very powerful and very direct. I'm thinking of the trick Mal plays on Simon, the doctor who is new to the ship and on the run from the Alliance after rescuing his sister from the Academy, regarding Kaylee's death. She was hit by a bullet shot from an undercover Alliance agent's gun, treated by Simon and she does live which is something we discover when there's a sensational tracking shot of an anguished Simon running to the infirmary to check on her. When Simon arrives, he finds Kaylee up and talking with a ton of life in her. I also think of the moment when we meet River and we find out the contents of the package aren't a what but a who. Lacking a credit card, I quickly persuaded persons who do to order me the DVD stat on The DVDs came in the mail. I watched the entire series. Following "Objects In Space," I said to myself, "Joss did it again."

Firefly, as I mentioned briefly yesterday, is a gem of a series. Anyone who watched Serenity, the movie, received a brief glimpse into the world of Firefly but Serenity is no Firefly. Serenity can't take us to the many planets or give a certain character a centric story besides Mal. Serenity is a great movie but if you want the story of these people, you've gotta watch Firefly.

The entire series is worth watching numerous times. I also enjoy reading the shooting scripts which are available on FireflyWikki; however, it would be a cop-out to rank all fourteen episodes of the series. The goal of the rankings is to name the five very best episodes of the series, to single out the episodes that capture the spirit and execute the show's unique vision and stories best. With that said, let me end the preamble and enter into the world of episodic television rankings:



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Jayne is the antagonist on Serenity. He exists to create conflict. He's a man entirely out for himself. In this episode, some cargo needs to be transported from Canton. Jayne is worried because he's not well liked by the Magistrate because of something that happened a few years ago. Jayne and his crew stole money but, while leaving, the flying craft was hit and quickly losing fuel. Jayne had to drop the money and the Mudders viewed Jayne Cobb as a hero. The Magistrate tried to take the money from them but they rioted and were able to keep the money. Canton is a place that sells mud and the working class refer to themselves as The Mudders. It is a place that stinks and another reminder to Simon of how far from civilized life he is and he thinks he's going mad when he sees a mud statue of Jayne because, after all, he described Jayne as a man-ape thing but admitted an ape is more trained than Jayne.

Jayne resists the idea that he's a hero because he knows he is not a hero; however, he slowly embraces the idea until the truth comes out about how he threw a man out before the money. One Mudder, Meadows, doesn't waver in his admiration for Jayne and takes the bullet for him. Jayne doesn't understand why Meadows would do that. Mal tells him that it's not about Jayne, that it's about what the Mudders needed. Jayne still doesn't understand.

The heart of the story involves that idea of what people need. Book needs the bible and its teachings even though he admits that the bible is broken. The important thing to him is that the bible fixed him. This is what he tells River. Simon tells Kaylee that he needs to continue being proper because being proper is the only thread he has, besides his sister, from the life he left behind for her.

Jaynestown is a meditation on the idea of heroism and the importance of faith. It's also a very, very funny episode.


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The episode in which Jayne betrays Simon and River. The Hands of Blue cause some chaos. And, yes, this is episode with the infamous airlock scene.

After struggling to appear as a buyer of mud because the Foreman couldn't know the true intentions of Mal and his crew in "Jaynestown," Simon becomes a criminal mastermind of sorts. Serenity travels to the central planet Ariel. The central planets are booming with Alliance folk. Simon's actual plan involves running tests on his sister to find out exactly what's going on with her and to determine what the Academy did to her. The plan is tricky because they need to be kind of dead to access the area where they need to go. Also, Jayne is with them and responsible for them while Mal, Zoe, Wash and Kaylee steal some pricey medicine.

The central focus of the story becomes Jayne's betrayal. The betrayal caught me by surprise when I first watched it because I did not expect it. The previous episodes made it clear that Jayne had no use for the Tams but, still...damn. Jayne doesn't hold the same principles that Mal does. When Mal saves River and Simon from being burned at the stake, he simply explains it with this: "you're on my crew." Jayne is not that man. Any way in which he can help himself, he will help himself. The Tams have a large sum attached to their capture. Jayne creates a whole mess of chaos because crazy Hands of Blue will kill whoever they meet on their path to getting River back. As for River, she's a mystery at this point in the show but this episode clearly shows that her head was being messed with. River is a genius. River also terrifies Jayne. The situation Jayne creates is eventually resolved. The Alliance looking for them is not, of course, but the crew makes it out of Ariel safely.

"Ariel" is an excellent Simon episode. He tells Jayne, after Jayne is hurt, that he'll never hurt Jayne while he is a patient under his care, and he cares so much for River. The episode also showcases Mal's enormous loyalty. Rather than write about it, watch it.


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The funniest episode of the series. The episode introduces Saffron, portrayed by the awesome Christina Hendricks (of Mad Men fame now). This is a good Mal episode because we learn a lot about him through Saffron. He ends up married to her after saving a town from bandits; however, by episode's end, the marriage was just a way for Saffron to put them in harm's way. Mal is the opposite of Jayne because Jayne just wants to have his way with her. Mal refuses to take advantage of Saffron. He feels uncomfortable by how subserviant she is. It's all an act, of course, but Mal doesn't know it until he's passed out after one hell of a seduction by Saffron and she begins her true plan. We learn about Mal's life before the Browncoats and before Serenity. Saffron opens him up in ways no one else can besides maybe Inara and, later, River. For an anti-hero, Mal has many virtues and they are on display.

The episode is the funniest episode Joss Whedon has ever written. The scene between Saffron and Wash, when she has to knock him out and begins a seduction attempt, is brilliant.


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"Out Of Gas" is an origin story. Using the words 'origin story' is odd considering Firefly is not a comic book and the words are usually reserved for the comic book world. The words work to sum up "Out Of Gas." We learn how the crew came together on Serenity and we learn how important these people are to Mal. Every single one of them. We also see just how much he loves Serenity. The final scene of the episode features Mal being wowed by Serenity even though the dealer thinks Serenity is a piece of trash.

The story is non-linear and the A story and the episode opens with a wounded Mal, near death, in a ship with no oxygen and no crew (because he sent them to safety) ready to die and go down with his ship. 'Out of Gas' emphasizes one of the most consistent theme throughout every Whedon story: family doesn't have to be just blood. The crew is Mal's family and Serenity is home. Serenity saved him from a very dark place.

"Out Of Gas" is one of Minear's finest hours and the same goes for David Solomon who has been with Joss through every series as a director and producer.


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My absolute favorite episode of Firefly. I love the character River and this is her episode. I love the commentary for this episode as well. Joss convinced me to read Sartre after I finished listening to him speak about the episode. "Objects In Space" is a very philosophical episode that deals exclusively with existentialist philosophy. The conversations between Jubal Early and River Tam highlight this.

A bounty hunter comes aboard Serenity for River. He takes Simon hostage but River saves the crew and her own brother from Jubal Early. She also sends him out, alone, into space. Before Jubal Early arrives, River has another violent episode which brings up the debate of whether or not to kick her and Simon off of the ship because of the problem River has been. River is just very damaged because what the Academy did and she's psychic so her thoughts have been scrambled because she's been scrambled. Serenity, the movie, will heal River. This episode is the one in which everyone accepts her. Most importantly, Mal accepts her. There's a great piece of info at the end of the Serenity commentary (the love discussion) when Nathan Fillion wondered how to play the scene and, later, he told Joss that all he did was look into Summer Glau's eyes and he know how to play the scene. To clarify: there is no romantic relationship between the two. It's platonic.

This episode begins the removal of the many layers that make up River Tam and it is an outstanding, outstanding episode.

ON MONDAY: The Best Directed-By-Joss Whedon Episodes!


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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.