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You Can’t Stop The Signal

Let’s start with some dates to make you feel old. Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired 28 years ago. Deep Space Nine and The X- Files 22 years ago. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer 18 years ago. Let’s take something that possibly feels more current, the new Battlestar Galactica? First aired 11 years ago. What’s triggered this age depressing litany of dates? The fact it’s 10 years today since the film Serenity was released, which was the cinema conclusion to Firefly, which originally aired 13 years ago.

God, I do feel old.

Firefly was the first series I watched through purchasing the DVD sight unseen. I thought I’d made a mistake as I got through the first five episodes on the DVD (Serenity, The Train Job, Shindig and Safe) without feeling that impressed. In truth, I didn’t think much of it and wondered what all the fuss was about. If the future success was being decided on the shows first handful of episodes I can see why it didn’t get off to a good start.

Then I hit Our Mrs Reynolds and I was hooked. The episodes which defined the series as going beyond just a TV show, but a work of beauty are: Our Mrs Reynolds, Outs of Gas, Ariel, War Stories, Trash, The Message, Heart of Gold and Objects in Space. It is in these episodes the emotional heart of the show.

Yes, this means I don’t understand the appeal of Jaynestown.

The stereotypical ‘space show plot from shows like Star Trek’ set-up in Our Mrs Reynolds and how it changes and the resulting humour, and play on the relationship with Mal and Inara, is inspired being funny, exciting, romantic and tense all at once. Guess who plays the brilliant Saffron? Christina Hendricks off of Man Men and I only realised that today. She’s great and hot in it. The return episode Trash is just as good. Out of Gas gives us an excellent flashback of the crew coming together. Ariel is an awesome hiest. War Stories is more actioned orientated, but a great exploration of the three-way relationship between Mal, Wash and Zoe. The classic western scenario presented in Heart of Gold is only matched by the brilliant escalation of the Mal and Inara relationship, which continues it’s brilliantly done confusion and miscommunication. Heartbreaking.

This leaves The Message, which is a special episode because it leave a hole in my heart each time I watch it.

Tracey: [recorded message] Uh, okay. Uh, recording. Hi, I guess. This is a message for Zoë, and for Malcolm Reynolds. And I really hope you all are the ones listening to it. I’ll spare you the boring details. I’ve fallen in with untrustworthy folk. Makin’ a bunch of bad calls. All that matters is I expect to be shuffled off. And you two are the only people I trust to get me where I’m going, which is home. I’d like my body to be with my folks on St. Albans. We got the family plot there, and my Mom and Dad, well, they deserve to know I died. You know, it’s funny. We went to the war never lookin’ to come back, but it’s the real world I couldn’t survive. You two carried me through that war. Now I need you to carry me just a little bit further, if you can. Tell my folks I wanted to do right by them and that I’m at peace, and all. When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, well—Yeah, you know the rest. Thanks, both of you. Oh, yeah, and make sure my eyes is closed, will ya?

The Message, which I watch periodically, gets me every time the above message plays out at the end, as they do exactly what their ex-war companion wanted. This also highlights why the show is so great. It manages to pull together numerous strands in a glorious, rich and emotional drama that not only stops short of being melodramatic, it’s actually subtle, yet is intensely emotional. The character relationships, the backdrop of trying to live your life free of interference, being on the losing side of a war, yet managing to combine humour and character interactions that are just to die for. Despite being a ship-based genre show, it’s remarkable slow, rich and character relationship-based, which was probably it’s undoing. You have to be really into that, if you’re watching it for straight up action it’s not going to work.

Despite Firefly at its best being one of those rare shows I elevate to being a ‘thing of beauty’ rather than just a TV show, I can see why it failed. It’s setting can, at times, be a bit incongruous, taking the SciFi western potentially a bit too literally. As already mentioned, it didn’t get off to a good start at worst or it was a slow build at best, depending on your point of view. It’s also a show you can’t just watch for the excitement or the action, like a core of non-genre shows that would come 5+ years later, it is a show you have to enjoy the experience of actually watching because it’s beauty is in the writing, acting and the fabric of the show, not the exciting events themselves. You need to watch it carefully, not passively.

In my view, like the greatest of shows, you don’t watch Firefly, you experience it as a range of emotions and that is great.

This brings me to the Serenity film. I realise it cost a modest amount to make and only just made its money back. I realise it’s a film designed to cap off a TV series, though I believe it does a phenomenal job of standing alone considering the film’s origin. I really like Serenity, it’s like a concentrated version of all that is great about the TV series, ramped up to the max, looking gorgeous and squashed into 120-minutes intense minutes. It’s great because it is essentially a film about belief, while not being about religion. It’s just full of great scenes, interactions, visuals, action and is an intense, emotional journey. It’s brilliantly..cohesive.

And when River tells Simon he’s always looked after her and now it ‘my turn’ before running off to face the Reavers? Another moment that gets me…every time. There are very few shows that provide so many moments with real, emotional punch which Firefly has in droves.

I think I need to watch some Firefly and Serenity over the weekend as I’ve not experienced its beauty in a good, long while.

About Ian O'Rourke

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