Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nitpickery -- Firefly

Hey y'all.  Do you like sci fi shows?  Then I suppose you've heard about this one show called Firefly, which lasted only one season, and had a movie.  I believe it was the Fox network that cancelled it, if I'm not mistaken.  Now, Fox is notorious for cancelling stuff, but this time, you have to wonder if they did it right.

Of course, you might be one of those fans that can see no wrong in Firefly.  I ask you at this time to set aside your enjoyment of the show and consider what I'm saying for a bit.  After all, it's good to see the other side of things once in a while, and it's always possible to enjoy something that isn't perfect.  For example, there apparently was once a blogger who claimed Captain Picard was a wuss.  Instead of getting offended, I examined some episodes of Star Trek: TNG to see.  He's not a coward, but he did have a hard time getting Deanna Troi's mother to leave the transporter room, and acts as if he's got no spine whenever she's mentioned.

But this isn't about Star Trek.  In fact, it's really unfair to compare Firefly to Star Trek, so I'm not going to do that...for the most part.  There's some storytelling aspects that are acceptable to compare.  However, Trek is generally idealistic and Firefly isn't, so I won't compare a lot.

So anyway, this series is the story of several future people flying around in their spaceship Serenity, doing various jobs legal and illegal, whatever happens to come their way and will earn them money.  They have to stay far away from the central planets, because the big ol' government has taken over and of course cannot be trusted.

Hm.  I wonder if that's a stereotype...

Anyway, there's ten people on the crew.  Well, actually nine, because Inara technically doesn't belong to the crew, but is a separate person just hanging around.  But I'm just going to call her as a part of the crew for simplicity.

Now, there are three main aspects that any story has to deal with: world, characters, and plot.  With these three elements, you're good to go for telling any story that you want to.  The most important of the three is characters, because they determine what the plot is -- if you're a good writer.  Letting the plot determine the characters is usually a mistake (see: 2012.  Actually, don't.  It sucked).  I don't think Firefly made this mistake (much) but that doesn't mean the characters worked out all that well.

It's so hard to describe what problem this series had first.  Their problems are all tied together, plot, world, and characters, so I'm not sure where to start.  I guess I'll pick plot first, but that means talking about River and her brother Simon.

---- Plot ----

So there are two types of plot.  Dwelling plot, which is where little action happens but you learn about the characters, and driving plot, which makes the audience anticipate what's going to happen next.  Both are necessary for proper storytelling.  Dwelling plot is very necessary early on, because we don't know these people.  We have to find out who they are.

(Be warned, spoilers ahead)

This, however, gets pretty much shoved off early on by the far too early introduction of River.  The plot starts out with Captain Reynolds and his crew taking some people on a ride for a fee.  One of these is a doctor named Simon, who brings with him a cargo container that he doesn't want opened.  Surprise!  It's his sister, River who was kidnapped and experimented on.  Simon busted her out of there, and now he wants to smuggle her away.  And seriously, she's naked?  Fanservice on the first episode?  Ugh.  What brother would strip his sister naked and stuff her in a box anyway?

The reason why this is so bad early on is that River is wanted, and by putting a wanted person on a ship that already does illegal things, you're forcing the driving plot way too early.  A choice must be made on River for the sake of the ship, and whatever the Cap chooses is bound to have a huge impact on the future of the story.  This kind of choice should not be made early on.  If River had to be introduced that early, she should have been sent away to whatever destination she and Simon were going for, and then through some weird coincidence come back.

Instead, the Captain makes the dumbest choice possible.  He allows River to stay, with the excuse that Simon is a doctor, and they need a doctor on the ship.  Huh.  Are doctors really that hard to come by that you have to employ the brother of a wanted person?  To make matters worse, River has a weak connection to reality.  She says and does weird things, making her instantaneously noticeable wherever she goes.  Later we learn that creepy government goons are after her, willing to kill anybody that sees her.  As the cherry on top, River always has greasy, stringy hair.  Y'know, if the three other women on the ship have great hair (and keep in mind that one of these is a mechanic), then why can't they do something to River's?  Can't they at least try to make her not look like a crazy person?

So River is automatically a danger to the ship, likely to attract more trouble than her brother is able to cure.  Great.  Now, if you live in a universe where goons are killing people left and right to find a person, rumors of government killings are likely to be rampant.  Pretty soon people are going to figure out that the government is looking for a firefly class spaceship, thus destroying Serenity's potential business as a crew for hire.

Surely Captain Reynolds knows this.  Surely he's experienced enough to know that even illegal businesses depend on their reputation.  Nope!  Let's let her stay anyway.  And because the writers of this show don't understand business or plot, the crew of Serenity still gets jobs.  Everybody's happy.  Except the audience.

---- World ----

The world of Serenity is basically a very obvious symbol of class warfare, what with the rich planets getting all the government attention and with the borderworlds basically being ignored (as if the government is the only reason why a place is economically successful...).  Anyway, this world was basically intended to combine Western (think cowboys) and Eastern culture.  The crew of Serenity are basically the "cowboys" of the future, and people on the outer planets wear pioneer clothes, use wagons, and just generally act like hicks.

That's the thing though.  I know hicks.  I know more or less how they think, and that they are independent people who use grammar their own way: usually sharply.   It would have been handy if the people who made this show knew hicks.  The closest they can come to hickish is to have Nathan Fillion and the mechanic girl do terrible country accents.  Seriously, Nathan Fillion should never say "y'all".  Ick.

Nothing about this series is truly cowboy.  There's no western attitudes, just a bunch of boring, depressed people pondering over pop morality.  None of them have any chivilrous attitudes, grace, hardworking attitudes, or sharp dialogue -- the things that are naturally associated with westerns.  It's like they gathered a bunch of generic California people and told them to pretend they live on a space ship.

For that matter, it's not very Eastern either.  You have Chinese painted on a few places on the ship, one girl wears a shirt with an Asian style tower on it, and occasionally they speak in a really insulting sounding chinese when they curse.  Seriously, it sounds like mentally impaired people trying to speak french when they talk in chinese.  It's ridiculous, and their line delivery makes it absolutely clear that chinese is not their native language, even though they live in an "Asian-ish" future.

Well, if the future is so dang Asian, then were are all the Chinese?  Seriously?  Where did they go?  Oh, they didn't want to appear in this series?  Makes sense.  Totally don't blame them.

This begs for a comparison to Cowboy Bebop, which also attempts to blend western and eastern themes.  It's much more eloquently done.  Admittedly, Bebop mostly uses the cowboy themes as window dressing; the bounty hunter TV show hosts wear cowboy outfits and there's one appearance of Native Americans.  Bebop's attitude toward cowboy ideals comes across as sarcastic and disillusioned, as if it feels that the Old West is too idyllic.  It's an eastern story, whatever other themes it borrows.  Cowboy Bebop thus isn't trying to hard.  It knows what it is, and it balances its influences very well.

Firefly is unclear.  It's not western or eastern, despite trying for both.  Each is merely the decoration for the muddle of false morality that Firefly tries to portray.  Quite frankly, I'm not even sure what this series was trying to say, other than hope doesn't matter, heroes aren't real, and believing in anything will only result in disappointment.  Why do you even want to live in a world like that?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's go on a little more about the world.  Thing is, this show had a crap ton of potential.  It has a great setup.  A bunch of wanderers trying to survive in a universe that's against them?  Sounds great!  But how do you screw that up so bad?

Simple.  You don't elaborate.  The most "western" part of this series is the outer planets, which don't have much technology.  Huh.  Mud farmers?  Witch hunter Hollywood stereotypes?  Oh, how western.  Couldn't you at least have some of the people raise, y'know, cows?  Maybe wear handkerchiefs?  Would a cowboy hat help any?  Perhaps a woman who has, y'know, scruples?  An old-timey bar?  Something that might have actually appeared in the western genre?  They have prostitutes, but that's about it.

But what's also bad is that the series never elaborates on the government.  Why did that take everything over?  Who's their leader?  Why are they trying to experiment and create psychics (River)?  So the government calls itself the Alliance.  What is it an alliance of, exactly?  The Alliance of People Who Can't Think Up Good Names?

I'd give up on the name thing if the Alliance were explained in some form.  How is it run?  Who runs it?  Why are Alliance planets better than the others?  Is it actually possible to control more than one planet at once?  Look at our planet.  We've got a crap ton of countries on one planet, and it's hard enough to run one of them.  There should be some legitimate reason why the Alliance manages to hold so many planets together, even if it's as simple as a strong leader with good propaganda.  The Alliance is a basic part of the world of Firefly and its setting.  You can let some of it be mysterious, but not all of it, or else it might as well not be there.

It's so weird.  This is supposed to be a "space western", but the government goons sent out after River are dudes dressed in modern business suits who wear plastic gloves.  No, not western suits, and no, not original suits that came out of somebody's imagination.  Generic, government stereotype goon suits.  These are the most we ever get to see of the government.  And they're dang boring.

Hey wait, if I'm going to complain about that, then I suppose I should complain that nobody on the Alliance planets wear western-ish clothes.  I mean, if the people on the outer planets do, why not the middle ones?  Y'know, you can have western symbolism, direct westernism, or both, but you can't have neither.  Or else it's not a western at all.  It's just a space opera that occasionally includes western costumes and a couple of non-hicks saying "y'all".

----- Characters ----

So what about the characters?  Characterization is the most important element of a story, and even if the western/eastern symbolism flopped, even if the Alliance is never satisfactorily explained, and even if the plot is bizarre, characters will save your series.

This is where one of my few comparisons to Star Trek comes in.  Specifically, the first series.  Have you ever watched those as an adult?  It's so dang hilarious how terrible it is.  The acting is atrocious, the plots are either weird as crap (I, Mudd) or paint by number pop morality (that episode with the "Yangs" and the "Koms"), and the props are obviously cheap.  What made Star Trek so successful over the years, besides its  hilarious cheesy madness, was the characters.  Kirk was a bold, if somewhat man-whorish captain.  Uhura had some weird lines (Mirror, Mirror), but you could see her soft side in certain episodes, like Trouble with Tribbles.  The best part is all the interactions between Spock and McCoy, and how they just goad each other.  Spock, for an emotionless Vulcan, has some pretty hilarious ways of judging McCoy's cultural stiffness, and McCoy gets in his share of one-liners.  Just watching these guys interact is fun.

So, can Firefly compare to this?  Let's go one by one.  Let's not start with Nathan Fillion.  I'll get to him later.  We'll start with....Inara.  Because she's the best thought out character in the series.

Okay, so Inara is a Companion, which is basically a fancy-pants form of a prostitute.  It's more complex than prostitution, because she has to wear the most perfect clothes, have perfect manners and dignity, and probably costs a lot of money.  Guys have to send her videos and try to convince her to choose them...you'd think that'd be pretty embarrassing if somebody intercepted that transmission.  The show is pretty ambiguous about the specifics of the Companions, but it works because the Companion Guild is not as central to the setting as the Alliance is, and it's the sort of thing that is best vague anyway.

Inara is probably the most well thought out character on the ship.  She is consistent, set in her ways, and provides a balance to Captain Reynolds.  The actress who plays the part does a competent job.  My main complaint with the character is that she's an excuse for unnecessary fanservice, but other than that she's a workable character.  Her actions are very consistent.

What, you're shocked I'm not hating on her?  Hey, I only nitpick things that deserve it.  Like how the screenwriters that reduced her to nothing more than a soap opera love interest toward the end of the show's single season.  Honestly, can't someone on a TV show actually be honest about how they feel about someone?  I'm really sick of artificial drama that comes only from people not friggin' talking to each other.  But that's not Inara's fault or the actress', so I'm not going to blame them for it.

But yeah, seriously, this series just has too much trashy crap in it.  As an audience, all I want is a fun sci-fi series.  I'm not interested in porn, however soft.  Can't one show be on air that isn't about sex?  And how about not glorifying the most demeaning occupation on the earth?

Moving on.   Let's pick....Shepherd Book.  They call pastors shepherds in the Firefly world, which is cool.  Something different.  Actually, the actor, Ron Glass, looks great.  With his almost golden skin and silvery hair, he looks just like a work of art.  He has these gentle eyes, so you totally buy that he could be a pastor.

....Until he talks.  When a guy in a series is supposed to be Christian, you kinda figure he might quote the Bible more than he quotes Asian philosophers.  You kind of figure he wouldn't say theologically irrelevant things like "a special circle of hell" as if he meant it.  You figure, he might, maybe hold an informal church service, or maybe sing a hymn, or actually talk about God -- it would have been funny at one point if some guys were hassling Serenity's crew, and Book goes up to those guys and starts talking about the forgiveness of God or something.  True, he does hold several funeral services, but that's about it.

Honestly, I had moderate expectations for the guy.  I was at least expecting him to serve as a provocation for Captain Reynolds.  Reynolds doesn't like his beliefs (at least he acts this way early on) and so this is perfect for some razor sharp confrontations between the two.

Reynolds:  You weren't just praying again, were you?

Book: Well, it's sort of in my job description, Captain.

Reynolds:  I could have sworn I heard my name in there somewhere.  I thought I told you not to mention me when you talk to your imaginary friend.

Book: Oh Captain, you know I would always respect your wishes when it comes to our differences in beliefs.

Reynolds: So you weren't praying for me, right?

Book: Like I said, I always respect people's religious differences.

Reynolds: ...That's it, you're getting off my ship.

Book: Very well.  When do we get to the next planet?

Reynolds: That takes too long.  You're going right now.

Book: Into the vacuum of space?

Reynolds: Don't worry, God will protect you.

Book: ...I can see you inspire a lot of confidence in your crew, Captain.

Well, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea.  They should argue a lot.  And it should be funny.

And then Book has all these stereotypical "Christian" bits.  Look, Joss Whedon, it's pretty dang clear that you don't know crap about Christianity, and I'm willing to bet you don't know crap about any other religion either.  There's kind of this writer's principle that you write about the things that you know, so how about not mentioning them from now on, okay?  Okay.

Jayne is probably the most solidified as a character on the show.  He doesn't really have a mysterious past he's trying to hide, he has no agenda, and is just there to make money and enjoy life.  All stories need character like these: ones that add personality but don't force the plot to bend to their wills.  Like Stephen the Irishman in Braveheart, Takino Tomo in Azumanga Daioh, and the crocodile in The Princess and the Pea, Jayne serves to flavor the story and fill a specific role in the story.

Jayne's role is the fighter/tough guy, and for the most part, he's pretty entertaining.  That isn't going to stop me from nitpicking, however.  As much fun as Jayne usually is, it gets really annoying over time that nobody takes him seriously.  Now, it's funny the first few times when you make fun of the tough guy, because you don't expect goofiness out of that kind of character.

However, at the end of the day he kinda dissolves into a stereotype.  People knock him so much that he ceases to have any serious meaning or present any serious threat.  He's just too dang goofy to take seriously.  This is all topped off with something that happened in the very last episode: while an assassin/bounty hunter is on the Serenity, he spends the whole time asleep in his bunk while everyone else deals with the bounty hunter.  If this were a goofy or humorous episode, it would be fine, but it's just too darn silly as a piece of a serious episode where everyone on the ship is in danger.

Those are the more positive characters.  Hold your breath, we're diving into the nitpickery.

Hoban Washburn, just called Wash, is the navigator for the ship.  He's okay.  It's just that it's insanely obvious that none of the writers really cared much about his character.  They give him a few jokes ("Juggling geese!") and then just make him do wimpy things.  He's afraid of saying the slightest iffy thing to his wife, as shown in the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds", where he sputters from even implying that his wife should make him some food.  It would be simple enough to say, "Öh, Zoe doesn't cook" or simply ignore any suggestions.  Or heck, maybe he could even ask her to make something, just because he likes something she cooks.  Maybe make something himself because he likes cooking.  My point is, he's acting as if a woman in the kitchen is so offensive it can hardly be spoken in polite company, and quite frankly I hate to think we live in that PC a society.

But that's a mere nitpick.  My real problem with Wash is that he's just there, and we don't know anything about him.  Does he like chess?  What's his favorite color?  Does he know any foreign languages?  Does he read a lot?  Can he juggle geese?  There needs to be something, anything the writers think is appropriate, that we can imagine Wash is doing when the camera isn't on him.  All we see him do is drive a ship.  He never shoots guns or involves himself intelligently in whatever scheme the Serenity is doing.  He's just there.

Wash is a wash.  And a wuss.  He's forever jealous of the fact that his wife is good friends with the Captain because the two are old war buddies, and what adds insult to injury is that the others act as if his feeling is entirely irrational.  Isn't it natural for a man to feel weird about his girl being too close to another guy?  Even if the Captain isn't attracted to her, why shouldn't Wash feel weird?  After all, Captain Reynolds is tougher, is the leader, and is pretty smart.  Wash is just silly by comparison.  His wife should understand his feelings and tell him straight up that she loves him.  Is that so hard to do?

However, don't let me knock Wash too hard.  He is adorable, in a little boy sort of way.  And that's probably why so many people liked him.  That, however, is not enough reason for his wife Zoe to marry him.  I'm continually perplexed as to why she chose him.  They have no chemistry whatsoever, and Zoe is so much tougher and sterner than him that it's ridiculous. 

The thing about women is, we always have something in our spirits that wants to be protected and provided for.  This translates itself in different ways according to the specific woman.  Some women want their men to provide them a lot of money and thus protect them from want.  Others want their men to be strong and handy around the house, or to be taller and larger than them so that they feel small in their men's arms.  Some women, myself included, want our men to respect our minds and ideas and make us feel intelligent, even serving as an idea soundboard so that we can communicate our ideas to him without him judging us for having ideas that aren't yet completely formed.  Women tend to talk out their ideas to gain input from others, as opposed to men, who usually don't say opinions until they are completely formed and settled in the man's mind.

At the end of the day, all women want men that make them feel that no matter how endeavoring or strong the woman is, that she still can be beautiful, absolutely feminine to him without fear or pretentiousness.  How in the world does Zoe get that from Wash?  He's not particularly strong, not big, doesn't earn a lot of money, has a wimpy personality, and the areas in which he is smart -- navigation, piloting, and mechanics -- Zoe doesn't have any apparent interest.  Human nature is thus: women do not like marrying someone weaker than they are.  Occasionally women will do so because their feelings of pity have been manipulated or because they are the type that feels they can improve a guy.  Trouble is, Zoe is neither manipulated nor an "improver".  Why the crap does she like this guy?

We don't have an answer to this question because the writers don't seem to like Zoe either.  We don't know her interests or hobbies either.  What does she like to do in her spare time?  Other than do her hair, of course.  Seriously, what is it with most of the women on this ship having good hair?  It makes sense for Inara, because it's her job to look good and she has the free time.  Zoe, on the other hand, is second in command and a good sharp shooter.  She's bound to be involved in various schemes, and having really good hair would realistically be an occasional treat for herself and her husband.  And wait, if it's an insult to women to be in the kitchen, then why is obsessive hair-doing inoffensive?

Yes, Zoe's second-in-command.  I wonder if it's awkward for Wash to answer to her like that.  Well, at no point does she ever give him any commands, so maybe she just lets Captain Reynolds boss him around.  Actually, Zoe never seems to give anybody orders.  Maybe there's some obscure moment I can't remember where she gives an order, but for the most part she's just a really good follower of Reynolds.  She does everything he says without questioning him.  What kind of second-in-command never questions her boss?  Presents alternatives?  Questions his logic?  Everybody else gives Captain Reynolds so much crap, but Zoe never bothers, even though her job as second-in-command actually entails questioning him.  And she never defends Reynolds to the rest of the crew either.

In fact, she doesn't do much of anything, besides shooting some guns.  There's not even a point where Zoe gets to use her intelligence to solve a problem.  Her and Wash are just there to fill out numbers; Wash is the driver, and Zoe serves to fulfill both a minority and feminist slot.  And they do very little else.  It's very obvious the writers don't really care about either of them, and never really had any plans of expanding their storylines.  On the plus side, they really would have cute babies.  Interracial babies are gorgeous.  I once saw one with golden eyes.

Another guy who gets the short stick in personality is Simon Tam, the doctor and brother of River.  In his case, it's a little understandable.  He's an uptight, constantly fretting brother who would have been the best doctor ever if he didn't have to rescue his sister all the time.  And that's his entire characterization.  I actually really like the episode where he instigates a scam against an Alliance hospital, because he's actually doing something of his own initiative to help the crew as well as his sister.

Other than that, he's pretty boring.  He just doesn't do anything besides help his sister and occasionally do something for the crew medically.  He has no interests, no books, no music, or just anything that would give him his own personality.  It's amazing how little I care about this guy.  Maybe the actor just never did a good enough job making Simon flexible.  He's a great big slab of boring.  He does have this "romance" going on with Kaylee, but that never really goes anywhere.

Kaylee.  Kaaaayleeeee.  The single most offensive character in this show.  Why?  Because she's a contradiction.  On the one hand, she's presented as an innocent; someone who is unassuming, likes frills, and is unreasonably optimistic.  On the other, she's a slut.  No, really.  She frequently talks about it.  In the last episode, she even jokes around about how she slept with an underage guy and got a spanking for it from her father.  In the second or third episode, Captain Reynolds approaches her, because the crew is in an iffy situation and he needs to plan what their next move is.  However, Kaylee actually tells him to leave her alone, because there's the chance she could get some.  And the captain actually leaves, making both characters more despicable in the process.  We could die?  No way, that's not more important than Kaylee getting some!

My basic point is this: being innocent and being a slut are incompatible.  Anybody with a brain can tell you this.  I mean, crap, the very first thing that Kaylee does on the ship is have sex with some idiot who would have been the engineer if she hadn't shown him up in front of the captain.  To make this even more stupid, when the captain suggests that Kaylee join the crew (right after he catches her messing with some idiot?), she insists that she has to ask her parents.  Is a girl who sleeps around with losers really going to ask her parents for permission to do much of anything?  Guh.  Or maybe it's just her home planet's culture for women to be sluts.

Also, she has great hair.  If she's an engineer who works with greasy machinery all day, then how is her hair never once out of place?

Anyway, it's pretty surprising that Inara, the professional prostitute, is far less offensive than slutty Kaylee.  Inara may candy-coat her job from time to time, but she knows what she is and doesn't deny it.  Kaylee, on the other hand, is a soulless contradiction, who is doing her best (which, surprisingly, isn't very good) to seduce Simon.  Simon is too proper on his part, but presumably something would have happened had the show gone on for longer seasons.

It's characters like this that make me wonder if Joss Whedon doesn't really understand human nature.  Or maybe he's just being manipulative.  I dunno, people seemed to like it when he wrote Buffy.  Was that any good?  To be honest, I don't really want to watch it if it's a lot like Firefly.

Honestly, getting rid of Kaylee would be a logical decision.  After all, if Chinese culture has taken over, and there's chinese all over the ship, this would mean that the ship is of Chinese make.  So wouldn't it be logical if the engineer was Chinese?

This is getting pretty long, isn't it?  Well, that's why it took me so long to finish this.  In any case, I still have two characters to go.  Nitpickery, ahoy!

Let's go with River.  River is....I dunno, to be honest.  She's the only female on the ship with horrible hair, which makes little sense.  The engineer and the sharp shooter have great hair.  Does River have some sort of psyche scar against hairdos?  Did the people who kidnapped her and put her through all those scientific experiments make her afraid of brushes and combs?

Okay, okay, enough of that.  River really did have a lot of potential, and I admit that I have an affinity for characters that aren't entirely sane.  River just seemed a huge waste of potential.  She's just too strong.  She's good at shooting stuff, she's telepathic in a way, knowledge just seems to come to her, and she always seems to know just in time when her insanity would really screw up Serenity's plans.  The times when she really goes nuts are only when the crew is around, and therefore she almost never gets the crew into trouble with outsiders.

Again, I really like the episode where the crew is invading the hospital, because there River starts saying nonsensical stuff when her, Jayne, and Simon are captured.  She's really showing that she is nuts.  Honestly, you can consider the experiments the evil dudes did to her a success, because she's mostly put together.  As long as she's around people she cares about, she's the perfect soldier.

The only person she really poses a danger to throughout the series (I'll get to the movie some other time) is Jayne, who she cuts with a knife somewhat accidentally -- it was a delusion of some sort.  The trouble with this is that nobody takes Jayne seriously, and thus we don't take River's action seriously.  She's merely making a joke out of a character that already is little more than a joke.  If she stabbed, say, Kaylee (if only), this would be more shocking because River has no reason to stab Kaylee.  This would also be shocking if she attacked the captain or her brother, because these are the two characters that protect her the most.  Attacking Jayne?  Who cares, besides Jayne's fans?

Actually, it would be more important if River attacked someone not on the crew.  Like say, the crew is trying to convince a rich guy to let them ship some expensive metal, and then River has one of her fits and tries to attack the rich guy.  Honestly.  The best, and in fact most obvious way to create drama in this story is to have River ruin Serenity's plans.  No, don't let her get captured by idiots that thinks she's a witch (and quite frankly everyone sensible knows primitive people are no more stupid than modern man), let her actually interfere and ruin the captain's plans to make money.  Let it actually be a threat that she could be kicked off the ship.

That encapsulates the main problem with River.  As a character, she's perfectly capable of working, but she makes the plot go too fast.  She's the sort of character that demands that action be taken because she has people after her and potentially can ruin Serenity's operations.  Therefore, if she is going to be a constant member of the crew, then there has to be some way of making her plot slow down so that the audience can enjoy the crew's adventures every week.

Some possible solutions:
- Make it so the Alliance actually gives a crap about keeping the experiments with psychics a secret.  Quite frankly, it's pretty stupid that the Alliance would just kill everyone who ever talked to River, because then you'd have the families and friends wondering why these people were killed.  Eventually it's going to get out what they're looking for.  If the Alliance has to keep this under wraps, then no one will suspect River and she can logically stay on Serenity.
- Keep Reynolds from knowing her background.  If the captain doesn't realize that she's a threat, there will be no reason for him to want to kick her off.  And there will be more intrigue.  And there won't be a really awkward scene where we find out Simon crammed his naked sister in a box.
- Make it so River does actually get kicked off the ship for two or three episodes, before returning in some interesting way that makes the crew realize her potential.
- Make River crack slowly, rather than be nuts all at once.  She's getting worse, let's say, and Simon has to figure out a way to help her.

The thing that is extremely obvious to the objective viewer is that the writers like River.  In fact, they like her too much, to the point that are unwilling to put her in any bad situations.  They're not willing to let her mess up the crew or get more insane.  This is actually a pretty common writer problem.  The writer is so worried about his "baby" that he fails to realize that the character would be a lot more interesting if they were in a lot more danger and a lot less perfect.

Other than that, I think the actress does an okay job.  The writing she gets isn't always great and that sort of throws her performance off.  Also, people in television keep giving her really stiff roles, like as a terminator in the Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Just for once I'd like to see her smile on a show or something.

Let's wrap this up.  One more character to go!

Captain Malcolm Reynolds runs the Serenity.  Yup.  This really is a nitpick, but I can't stand his name.  It's just so dry and unpalatable.  It feels like I'm eating a loaf of dry bread when I say it.  Sorry, that's weird, isn't it?

This guy is played by Nathan Fillion, on whom my ex-boyfriend had a huge man-crush.  I'm not sure why.  And if he ever says "y'all" again, I better not be around, because I'll be tempted to smack him.  It's seriously the worst hick accent I've ever heard in my life.  He speaks hick almost as bad as he speaks chinese.  Honestly, he should either go full hick or just give it up and be a plain person.  Sheesh.  Are true rednecks really all that hard to find, Hollywood?

Okay, now on to the role itself.  *sigh*.  I don't know where to start.  Let me restate two above points: he once stopped forming plans to let Kaylee try to seduce Simon, and the only person who should disagree with him is the only person on the ship that doesn't contradict him at every turn.  Dang, Zoe, you can at least tell him your contrary opinions when no one else is around.

Seriously, everyone treats Reynolds like crap.  Inara yells at him a lot of the time, which is sort of reasonable because she's not actually part of the crew.  Shepherd Book pesters the captain about morality, Jayne wants to do his own thing, Simon thinks he can say whatever he wants, River isn't capable of listening, Kaylee wants to go sleep with everything male, and Wash...well, Wash doesn't give the captain much trouble, but then again he avoids confrontation whenever possible.

Honestly, there are several scenes were Malcolm is being yelled at by his characters.  He brings it on himself when it comes to Inara, because his relationship with her is a lot more friendly.  They constantly talk about stuff together, and Malcolm is clearly more open to her.  This I don't really detract from his ability as a captain, except maybe it's bad that he lets Inara fuss at him when the others are around.  Inara, understandably, doesn't really handle professionalism on a ship well.  Probably because she's very independent.

Again, I'm pretty disappointed in the relationship between Malcolm and Book.  Either they should forever be at each other's necks, or they should figure out a way to work together.  Or both.  As it is, I'm still perplexed as to why someone like Reynolds would allow a preacher on his ship when he doesn't like God or religion or people telling him what to do.  Reynolds is built up to be this tough guy who you shouldn't piss off, as people keep talking about him as if he's some sort of hardcore dude.  Not so with Book.  I mean honestly, it should take a while for the captain to be convinced to let Book stay on his ship, if Reynolds really is the stubborn, hardcore leader that people seem to claim he is.

Another reason why I really like the episode where the crew breaks into the Alliance hospital (seriously, it's the only good episode they have)  is that Malcolm actually shows, once and only once, the possibility of living up to his own hype.  He almost kills Jayne, and in the attempt forces Jayne to respect him.  However, this has the obvious flaw of being against Jayne, the character that is forever getting crap from everyone.  Jayne wears a dinky hat, is mocked by Simon, gets stabbed by River, sleeps through an attack on a ship, and several other things happen to him that destroy his credibility.  And this is the only guy that Malcolm can get to respect him.  Well, crap.

Honestly, I would love it if Malcolm actually acted like a jerk or someone hardcore for once.  The trouble is, he's so weak willed and feeling that it interferes with his ability to be captain.  Seriously, the guys on Cowboy Bebop almost never get the bounty they're after, and I have more respect for them.  Can't Reynolds show off his attitude for once?  He's always feeling sorry for people, and he doesn't even have the conviction to kick River, someone that causes the government to kill everyone who speaks to her, off his ship.

One more point on River.  It's really clear that the writers on this show like her the best, but it's also really clear that she is a different story than the rest of the crew.  One part of Firefly is trying to be a space western, but River's part of the show is trying to be a government conspiracy sci-fi.  These two are pretty much incompatible, as you're trying to cram too many determining details into a show.  Heck, combining westerns and space is pushing it.  Adding government conspiracy is just too much, especially when any captain with a brain in their head would get River off their ship, unless they had the power to get the Alliance to stop chasing her and felt like doing so.

And that brings me back to a fair comparison with Star Trek: the captains.  Now, it's true that any given starship captain has far more power than Reynolds, but the principles of leadership apply.  The captain has to get the crew to respect him.  In Kirk's case, he's always making bold moves that pan out in the end, because he's willing to listen to Spock and McCoy.  With Kirk's boldness, Spock's logic, and McCoy's medical knowledge, they can do anything, really.

Does such comraderie exist on the Serenity?  No.  For one thing, nobody's as logical as Spock.  I don't expect anyone on a rag-tag group of space mercenaries to be as smart as him, but shouldn't someone be there to make Malcolm's plans a bit more logical?  Someone to step up and say, "Well, this isn't such a good idea, but if we added this it just might work"?  Simon also is a pretty pathetic medical officer.  He's much more concerned with his sister, and as much as Malcolm assures him that he really is a part of the crew, Simon milks benefits from being on the crew rather than using his medical knowledge to help them at any given situation.  He's in it for himself and his sister, which he makes abundantly clear.  While this is an understandable human feeling, it's still up to Reynolds to get respect from his crew, and therefore his failing.

In the episode Our Mrs. Reynolds, the titular woman gets Reynolds to open up about his past.  After a bit, the captain stops himself and realizes that nobody can get him to open up like that.  At this point, I'm going, "huh?"  The captain is not guarded previous to this point, and for that matter, not afterward.  In fact, during that very same episode, he goes to Inara for advice.  It's pretty clear that he doesn't mind talking about emotional topics.  He doesn't hide his past, and he has no gruff exterior behind which to hide.  This scene makes it blindingly obvious that the writers of this show don't really understand how human nature works.  Either that or Nathan Fillion does a pathetic job of acting out the toughness that apparently was actually supposed to go along with this character.

Actually, I'm far more willing to blame the writers than Nathan Fillion.  I'm sure it was Joss Whedon and company who not only gave Fillion the bad material, but directed him to present the character in a really wimpy, emotional way.  Because Fillion is a proper actor, he does what his director tells him.  Unfortunately.  Of course, if Fillion did take matters into his own hands, they might have fired him.  Well, considering the show only lasted one season, he might as well have risked it.

In short, I just can't take a guy seriously when only one of his crew (Zoe) respects him, he can't tell a girl how he feels about her, and he lets people on his ship that are only going to aggravate him or get the Alliance on his tail.  It's just too stupid.  I'm too used to captains like Kirk, who are bold and decisive, or Captain Picard, who is determined and clear thinking, or Captain Sisko, who is good at controlling himself in tense situations.  None of these captains, not even Kirk, would allow some chick to ignore his plans just to go sleep with somebody.  None of them would keep someone on board that always gets them into trouble.  Granted, Reynolds is more of a rebel leader than an official captain, but come on, at some point logic is going to have to enter the picture if he wants respect from his crew.

Now, I was going to critique the episodes more thoroughly, especially the episode where they go to rescue some whores -- why in the crap are the whores fighting against a town when that's the source of their income? -- but quite frankly this blog is long enough.  For my next Firefly blog, I'm going to talk about the movie.  It's a bit different from the series, as it had to fit in the plot that was intended for future seasons.

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