Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
A review of Joss Whedon’s Serenity; spoilers follow for not only this film but for Buffy and Angel.
Let’s get the first thing out of the way: Joss Whedon has at last figured out the way to truly and deeply hurt me. All he has to do is impale Wash on a great bloodydamn Reaver spear.
No other death engineered by Mr. Whedon–and heaven knows he’s engineered quite a few–in any of his work before now hit me as hard as this one. Not Jenny Calendar’s, not Tara’s, not Anya’s, not Jonathan’s, not Fred’s, not even Wesley’s or Joyce Summers’…none of them struck as deep into my gut as that of Wash. It’s not just the cold, sudden, unceremonious nature of it, and it goes a bit deeper than Wash being my favorite character on that ramshackle boat. It had something to do with his wide-eyed earnestness, coupled with his general joie de vivre even in the face of impossible situations; situations that he handled with an internal Zen and an external frenzy. It was his clear passion for Zoe and hers for him. It was the general Wash-ness of Wash.
I know why it was done, I thought it was handled perfectly in terms of drama, and I agree with the decision.
But Dammit, Joss.
The rest of the film: STELLAR. In the constraints of a two-hour film, with the first 20-25% devoted to newcomer exposition, the film managed to do everything it possibly could to keep the pace white-knuckled, the dialogue crisp and entertaining, and the characters sympathetic…including the sociopathic-yet-noble Operative and the perilously close-to-annoying Mr. Universe (who I decided I liked the second I realized he performed a Jewish wedding between himself and the LoveBot). Even those characters given the shortest shrift were given proper moments or sendoffs–I think it is clear by now that Book was at least a high-ranking member of the Alliance military, but it goes to the grave, and rightly so, if he was himself an Operative. Inara had her incense and her longbow. And Joss resolves half of the sexually tense relationships, thank God, by allowing Kaylee something twixt her nethers that doesn’t run on batteries.
Although I didn’t find any explicit modern commentary, there was enough simmering on the edges to make one think about it all later. Considering the American habit of creating one’s own worst enemies–see also the Viet Cong and al-Qaida–Joss reveals that the Reavers were the result of yet another ill-advised attempt by a shortsighted superpower to play puppet master with a fledgling society. And what a monstrous result, indeed. Firefly never had the chance to show us the Reavers in flesh-and-blood…instead, most of what we had were the reaction shots. We saw their handiwork in an early episode, we saw the abject terror they inspired in otherwise unshakeable tough guy Jayne, and we saw a frantic escape from one of their ravenous, smoke-spewing ships. This time, seeing the Reavers’ single-minded bloodlust and hearing the screams of their victims on the outskirts of space…screams that you can imagine never really end, with one group of unfortunates finally being allowed to die only as another raiding party finds a fresh quarry…this time, even with the mystery gone, they remain the stuff of weeklong nightmares. They are worse than any demon Joss has ever created before now, because they are still human beings, albeit taken to the limits of savagery and then tossed over.
River finally became something more than the enigmatic schizophrenic. She became a symbol of the resistance that Mal and Zoe once fought for. Truly independent of the horrors visited upon her by the Alliance, she cuts loose on their worst mistakes and emerges victorious. And she will not simply be an Alliance weapon. She remains River Tam, prodigal baby sister, and she remains the graceful, aesthetically minded girl she was before large needles were jabbed into her skull. The relationship Joss creates for her and Mal, epitomized in their final exchange, is a final step out of the void for both of them. She can relate to Mal, and he can finally understand what it was in him that kept her aboard even though she was nothing but trouble.
Suffice to say I loved the film, and that there is a special place in Hell for the no-neck brain-dead FOX executives that shuffled Firefly off to its original grave.
There is also a special place in Hell, for at least an hour or so, for Joss Whedon. Because dammit, man. He was Wash.