In the fifth episode of Firefly, we get a much-needed flashback to explain more of Simon and River Tam’s life; unfortunately, the method that triggers it is a near-fatal gunshot wound and a kidnapping. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.
It’s very rare for me to enjoy a television show so quickly after being introduced to it. It generally takes me a half season to feel like I can invest myself into one. I blame most of that one time: I just don’t have the time these days to keep track of five to ten shows at a time. (Wellâ€¦sort of. Besides watching Firefly, I’m following The Walking Dead, caught up to every episode of Breaking Bad, which I am convinced is the second greatest show of all time, and am now working my way through Adventure Time. I thank the Internet and iTunes for making this possible.)
True story: I have not paid for cable television ever. In my entire life. I had it when I lived at home, but when I ran away to be off on my own when I was 16, I gave up keeping up on the few TV shows I was watching. This meant I largely missed the last two seasons of The X-Files (WHICH IS PERFECTLY OK). So, for years, I didn’t get into another TV show at all.
I know that my lack of consistent television-watching lead me to prematurely judge most, if not all, television as superficial. After The X-Files ended, I resigned myself to believing that the medium of television couldn’t possibly tell a narrative as complex, intelligent, moving, or entertaining as that show had done. So I stopped following anything and left myself concerned with film and literature.
In early 2006, I lived with a couple roommates who were obsessed with television, particularly a show called LOST. They both swore it was the best show ever and one of them was a huge The X-Files fan, too; confused, I thought the hype was simply too much for it to be as good as they said. And my friend Bianca gave me a challenge I couldn’t resist: How could I know the show was awful if I had never seen a single episode? So, on February 15, 2006, I sat down and watched, “One of Them,” the 14th episode of season 2. Halfway through that specific episode, I felt like a dolt. This is really good. AND SMART. What the hell? And then Michael Emerson was on screen and I remembered him from the penultimate The X-Files episode, WHICH IS REALLY GOOD, NAYSAYERS BE DAMNED.
The point of all of this is that despite that I have eased up on my inherent hatred of television to enjoy a lot of great series, it still takes a lot for me to actually like a show. I’ve managed to fall in love with The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Dexter since then as well, and it’s also why I wanted to start ‘Mark Watches.’ I have missed out on so much good television because I wrongly felt the entire medium was dead. I was incorrect.
SO YEAH, FIREFLY. This shit is awesome! I’m only five episodes in and I’m already so intrigued by this world and these characters that–yes, again–I am regretting to my commitment to do this one at a time.
“Safe” has a lot working for it to make it one of the stronger episodes of the whole series, and a bulk of that is the focus on River and Simon, who has suddenly become the most interesting characters of the bunch. And no, that is not because Simon is played by a young Zac Efron in flashbacks.
Continuing the story from the previous episode (and I am loving that each episode is still linking to the one before it), Mal attempts to deliver his cargo of cows on the planet of Jiangyin, which suspiciously looks like the mountains in Southern California. I kid, I kid. It’s hinted at first (and later confirmed) that this planet is full of much more agrarian work force and citizenship. I didn’t think it would play into the narrative much at all, but OH HOW I WAS SO DEARLY WRONG.
When the trade goes awry due to some shady figures and the Alliance gets involved, a shootout around a cow stable goes down. I don’t know why, but seeing all the cows moving around so calmly while a BRUTAL STANDOFF IS OCCURRING is seriously hysterical to me.
All right, on to actual serious things. Can we talk about how goddamn fantastic the contrast of River’s dancing is with the shootout? Oh man, it is so DEEPLY UNSETTLING because you know something is going to link the two of them, and as the music swells in volume and the cuts happen more rapidly, I kept thinking my heart was going to break open.
River has a connection to these people, I thought. She knows the instant that Book is shot and knows how awful it is. WHYYYYYYYY I DON’T GET IT. But then WOOPS SIMON IS KIDNAPPED AND RIVER HAPPILY FOLLOWS. What on earth is going on and why is River so “special”?
This question is not really answered, but the much-needed flashbacks to the Tam’s life before the show began do fill in a lot of gaps. Both the Tams are geniuses in their own right, but River started younger and her mind seems to be able to do more than just learn. (That comes into play later in the episode as well.) When she starts sending coded letters, Simon is the only one concerned about his sister; his parents are far too concerned about Simon’s future as a doctor and their own social standing. I think it’s important to acknowledge here how Simon’s privilege as someone from the (allegedly) upper class can actually work against him. Social status is more important to his family than the possible danger of River. So I respect that Simon was so willing to throw it all away in order to protect his sister.
The conflict that unfolds from the kidnapping is two-fold: Simon realizes he’s been kidnapped to become a doctor for a tiny community in the woods, while Mal is forced to abandon them on Jiangyin
in order to save book. I appreciated the situation in which Mal most needs a medic when that medic is not around, while the citizens of the hills most need a medic and kidnap the very one Mal needs. It’s very Full Metal Jacket. Bravo.
There’s a moment where I thought Doralee had convinced Simon to stay with them, far away from the Alliance, but Simon repeatedly hones in on an important point: OH RIGHT, YOU KIDNAPPED US. I’m glad he sticks to it, but it’s not that the irks the local folk. When River inadvertently reveals that her connection involves her ability to “read” people without speaking to him, the community believes that she’s a witch who needs to be burned at the stake. REALLY. I did sort of roll my eyes at the trope. I mean, how many small, backwoods towns have we seen in movies that are full of ignorant townspeople? It’s not to say they don’t exist (OH GOD THEY DO), but it was sort of expected when it first happened.
Simultaneous to this, Inara suggests that they get assistance from none other than the Alliance, who don’t take too kindly towards Mal and his crew when they dock with the Magellan. And since this episode turned out to be about the shifting perceptions we have of the characters, Book’s mysterious identification ends up getting him the best medical attention possible from the Alliance, who do not ask any more questions and allow them to leave.
And do we find out what makes Book so special? Of course not! Future episode! Drat.
This episode does end spectacularly for a couple of reasons. First: a literal deus ex machine. Once I saw the ship hover above the stake that held River and Simon, I groaned. REALLY. THAT’S THE SOLUTION. Until Mal gave his amazing speech about god and I realized that writer Drew Greenberg inserted a literal god in the machine to save them. If you’re gonna do it, do it like this. More importantly, though, was Simon and Mal’s exchange back on Serenity, regarding Simon being a part of the crew.
“But you don’t even like me. Why’d you do it?”
“You’re on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?”
Sometimes, Mal’s morals are pretty straightforward.
- I want to deal in black market beagles.
- Watching Kaylee get her heartbroken over Simon’s poor attitude and prejudices was pretty awful. 🙁
- Literally, one of my notes I took for this episode is as follows: never seen so much poo on network TV
- Another one: DO THEY ALWAYS HAVE TO FIND TROUBLE
- Jayne’s “Dear diary” lines were wonderful. Again, bravo to the writers.
- “She’s been through some trauma.” Understatement of the year, Simon.
- Simon’s conversation with Doralee got to be pretty frustrating, especially as Doralee tried to insist that God and life have a way of leading people to their destiny. Apparently God is totally into kidnapping!