Thoughts on Firefly - Episodes 1-4

So, last night I watched the first four episodes of Firefly, and I figured I’d blog my thoughts after each episode. So I wrote up my thoughts for each episode after I watched it and… promptly forgot to post them. It was late. Don’t judge me.

Anyway. Here, in their original, unedited form, are my immediate thoughts on each of the first four episodes of Firefly. Thoughts on the other episodes will come right after I watch them. Assuming I don’t forget.

Episode 1: “Serenity”

Huh.

It wasn’t bad, I guess?

Okay, things that I liked about it. The space and western elements melded together much better than I thought they would. I was expecting something that felt kind of gimmicky and instead what I got was a really strong, coherent aesthetic. It is going to be an absolute joy to see what they do with this premise.

On the other hand… I thought this show was supposed to be fun? It’s not that I didn’t have a good time watching it, but it all just felt kind of… glum? I laughed here and there but mostly this episode just felt like it was up its own ass. Nathan Fillion in particular was… I mean, I wasn’t expecting him to be Captain Hammer in this, but I was at least expecting him to be charismatic and likable. Instead he’s just morose and joyless throughout the whole 90 minutes.

I don’t care for much of the other characters either. There are some exceptions here and there; Kaylee seems nice enough, even if her chipperness could be grating after a while. I’m intrigued by Shepherd Book as well. And I quite like Simon – I was expecting them to go through with his being the cartoony saboteur onboard, as they were framing him initially, and instead we got… well, probably the most likable character of the main nine. Oh, and Mark Sheppard has the best performance in this episode.

Others… Well, none of Zoe, Wash, or Inara left any kind of imprint at all, frankly. Hopefully that will turn around in the next few episodes and I’ll come to like them more. River could either be a very interesting plot or a very boring character. And Adam Baldwin gets the lovely triple-threat of being an unlikable person playing an unlikable character, and being a crappy actor while doing so. I’ve basically just resigned myself to hating him completely.

And there’s… not much else to say about it, I suppose. Apparently it’s the characters that really bring in the fans to this one and I’m just… not blown away by them yet. The episode was fine, but I’m decidedly not sold.

Episode 2: “The Train Job”

Oh, lovely. That’s much better.

Everything that I liked about the pilot (specifically, the iconography) is present here, and in places even more explicit, while almost everything that I didn’t like was just not a problem in this one. The humor that everyone apparently loves about this show was much more apparent, while the self-serious moroseness that I didn’t much care for in the pilot was jettisoned in favor of a few scary images and a bit of moralizing at the end (which I don’t mean to be a bad thing – I like where this series is coming down on morals. “Oppressive governments and people who try to profit by depriving the needy of their resources are bad” seems a pretty straightforwardly simple moral message, and yet it’s not one that enough television shows are willing to make). So that’s nice.

The only thing I didn’t like about this episode, off the top of my head, was that Niska is blatantly a Jewish stereotype. Could have done without that.

As for where I fall on characters this week: Mal and Zoe were much more likable this time around, so that’s nice. Jayne remains by miles my least favorite character (and clearly we’re supposed to not like him in a “he’s a jerk” way, but I would hope they’re not shooting for “he’s both boring and despicable,” because that’s what I’m getting), but as long as people keep not taking him seriously and injecting him with dopamine I think I can live with it. I’m still very interested by Shepherd Book; hopefully they go into why he’s familiar with Niska before the series, y’know, gets cancelled.

But, yeah. This episode much better emphasized what it is people like about this show, and really made me want to follow the series much more than the joyless slog that was “Serenity” did. This was a delight. On to the next one, then.

Episode Rankings:

  1. “The Train Job”
  2. “Serenity”

Episode 3: “Bushwhacked”

Oh, hey, look at that. I was kind of worried that we were going to spend 14 episodes on “run away from the alliance.” Turns out, nope, they get boarded in episode 3 and just get clever in how they keep them from finding Simon and River. Which was really clever, by the way – I expected them to be hiding in one of the smugglers holes, but, nope, it was, instead, something much better. And I love how nonchalantly everyone else takes being interrogated by the alliance feds. I like the Sorkin-esque hyper-competence of the Serenity crew – it’s a good way to keep plots moving. Although it does make me fear for plots started because the ship’s local-crazy-person gets herself into trouble.

Other than that, there’s not a lot to say about this one. The Reavers seem a little too generic a concept for me; hopefully they don’t show up too much. And I liked that the episode totally changed what it was doing at the halfway point, but I do kind of wish that it had, you know, picked something to change to. The first half of the episode is working with a lovely horror aesthetic, and then that just stops, to be replaced with… lots of exposition, mostly.

So this one was alright. Not as strong as the last one. Which, actually, might be a good thing, because despite this episode’s status as “not as good as the last one,” I’m really starting to love this show. And that is, for my money, exactly what I want out of a TV series: even when I don’t love the episode, I still can’t wait to start the next one.

Episode Rankings:

  1. “The Train Job”
  2. “Bushwhacked”
  3. “Serenity”

Episode 4: “Shindig”

One thing I was excited for coming into this show was the fact that I was going to be getting another Jane Espenson episode of television. I’ve not watched Buffy yet (although considering how much I’m enjoying Firefly, I might have to try that one next), but I am a big fan of Game of Thrones – for which she wrote one of my favorite episodes of the series thus far – and I’ve watched most of Torchwood: Miracle Day – for which she wrote the two most enjoyable episodes of the five that I got through, and, apparently, the one of hers from that that I’ve not seen is quite good as well. There are also just lots of TV critics that I like who are fond of Jane Espenson, so I was excited to see if she lived up to the hype.

She does, of course. This episode was great. The Wild West iconography is conspicuously absent from this one, and is replaced by a sort of Jane Austen aesthetic, which I would think would be a recipe for disaster, but instead ended up working absolutely brilliantly. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense. Firefly’s main selling point has been melding the genres of the space opera, the western and pirating thrillers. One of the things I was worried about was that this would feel gimmicky, but, to my pleasant surprise, they’re doing exactly what they should be with the concept: more genre melding. Most shows wouldn’t have the good sense to realize that by episode four, their new genre is validly set up and becomes just another trick that television can play with. Firefly realizes this, and so takes the opportunity to tell a new kind of story: what happens when you take the characters from a Space Western Pirating show and put them in a new type of story. Additional points for doing so with Mal and Inara, the characters who are probably the furthest from and closest to, respectively, being Jane Austen characters (I guess Jayne might be further from that than Mal, but, on the other hand, Jayne sucks – although he did have his first decent line of the series in this one when he suggests that he gets naked to distract Badger).

It’s probably worth talking about how this episode handles honor as well, because that worked out pretty well, but I don’t know that I can adequately put how I feel about that. There are a lot of good things I could say about this episode. Mostly they just boil down to “it was great.”

Episode Rankings:

  1. “Shindig”
  2. “The Train Job”
  3. “Bushwhacked”
  4. “Serenity”
I am convinced Joss Whedon is getting some of his Firefly-was-cancelled-rage out through agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

An unlikely crew (who later all become fugitives) aboard a remarkable flying vehicle.

The leader is renowned, got his ship after a horrible battle that has changed him.

The second in command is smart and an amazing fighter. She has the leaders full trust.

The other crew members are the best of the best in their respective fields.

The leader of the ship is later tasked with starting up a new organization (Coulson reforms SHIELD, Malcolm Reynolds is asked to be the leader of the New Resistance in the Leaves on the Wind comics).

Ron Glass (Shepherd Book) made an appearance in Agents’ first episode as a SHIELD Doctor clearing Coulson’s team.

The cane Simon Tam used to knock out the Alliance people in the Academy made a reappearance in the second episode of Agents (used by Grant Ward).

10

“You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place.”

Serenity premiered in theaters September 30, 2005, nine years ago today.

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