Hathor Watch-Along – Firefly, S1 Ep1: “Serenity”

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Hello, Hathor readers! Ready to watch a show together? We’re starting our first watch-along today, with the pilot episode of Firefly, Joss Whedon’s 2002 sci-fi series about a ragtag group of characters living on the “raggedy edge” of our future, space-faring civilization. We’ll be posting some discussion starters for an episode of the series each week on Sundays from here on out – watch the episode at some point during the week, then stop in at the post on Sunday to share your thoughts.

So here we go, with “Serenity,” Firefly‘s pilot. A quick summary of the episode to remind you what’s what:

The episode starts with a flashback to the Battle of Serenity Valley, featuring Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) as things go from bad to defeated for their side. Then we cut to the show’s present-day, as Mal and Zoe, joined by Jayne (Adam Baldwin), Wash (Alan Tudyk), and Kaylee (Jewel Staite), pull off an illegal scavenging operation on a derelict ship, narrowly escaping from an Alliance cruiser (aka, the law). Even with the ill-gotten goods, the crew of Serenity, the macabrely-named ship, is going to be short on cash. They decide to take on passengers at their next stop, bringing Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), Dobson (Carlos Jacott), and Simon Tam (Sean Maher) on board, along with Tam’s mysterious cargo. Inara (Morena Baccarin), a Companion (read: sex-worker), rejoins Serenity after an appointment with a client.

In short order, Book is introduced to Inara in a way calculated by Mal to embarrass and annoy as many people as possible, Simon is revealed to be a fugitive, and Dobson shoots Kaylee. There is some tense negotiating, Serenity runs from the law once again, and Simon’s luggage turns out to be carrying his sister, River (Summer Glau).

There’s some expositing all around, and then the ship narrowly avoids the attention of some Reavers before landing on Whitefall, where Mal wants to move their stolen goods. Things don’t work out perfectly during the transaction, but Our Heroes make it through okay. MEANWHILE, Dobson escapes and attacks Book, and then tries to kidnap River. Mal, who is so totally over this nonsense, shoots him in the face and throws him off the ship just in time for a daring escape from the returned Reavers. After all the excitement, Simon and River are offered a place on the ship and accept, and we’re all ready to go for episode two.

Phew!

Okay, let’s chat. FIRST, some things I totally love about this episode:

  • Kaylee. D’awwww. SO CUTE.
  • The bond between Simon and River. One of the things I think Firefly does really well is show the strength of connections between characters who love each other, whether the love is familial or romantic or what. Simon’s devotion to his sister is awesome, and the first scene between them always makes me tear up, no lie.
  • I’m a sucker for action scenes, and “Serenity” has quite a few excellent ones. w00t.
  • Simon’s little red glasses. Shallow and a little strange, I know, but I just think they’re hawt.

Annnnd things I do not love:

  • Our first intro to Inara’s work as a theoretically well-respected professional woman is via a client who totally disrespects her? Uncool.
  • Cultural appropriation and related ickiness. The “good dogs” thing, man! Why? Have y’all seen Shati’s “Secret Asian Man” vid? It is an excellently succinct critique. Check it: link.
  • The overwrought imagery of Inara resting her hand on Book’s bent head in silhouette after tending his wounds. Yes, yes, whore, man of God, we get it. Blech. I just think it’d work better if our cultural expectations had actually been in any way subverted, y’know?

Okay, enough outta me – what do you think about this episode?

And don’t forget to come back next Sunday, to discuss “The Train Job”!

Comments

  1. Tristan J says

    Awesome! I love this show, and I’m gonna love discussing it from a critical standpoint, especially with people who aren’t True Believers of the One Holy Church of Whedon (“He’s a feminist! He won awards! Clearly nothing he writes can be mysoginistic!”).

    I agree with you about Inara’s intro. In fact, she never really clicked for me on any level, aside from her scenes with Kaylee and with Shepard Book, and to a lesser extent Simon. As a belligerant love interest with Mal, she never really seemed like she and Mal really respected each other (so in that sense, her intro was perfect), so it just didn’t work for me. As a mystical high priest-prostitute lady, she came off as a little forced (though to be fair to the character that was more the fault of the bizarre high-class world she lived in, where apparently Companions are both wise mystics and “dirty whores”).

    She only really worked for me when she was either acting all motherly and sweet with Kaylee (her first scene with Kaylee being a great example) or when she acted as a cynical-yet-hopeful contrast to Book’s optimistic-yet-realist philosophy (see her and Book talking about praying for Mal, despite the fact I have forgotten what episode that was).

    Also, did anyone else find the very concept of Companions to be a really fucked up Oedipal fantasy?

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series!

  2. sbg says

    I enjoyed Firefly when it was on, and after Fox killed it dead, but I don’t own the DVDs. I’ll eventually be able to contribute a little more, but I’m going to have to go on vague memories for some of these. ;)

    One of the things I think Firefly does really well is show the strength of connections between characters who love each other, whether the love is familial or romantic or what.

    This I do remember very clearly. It is, honestly, a recurring theme for all shows that I like – if I can’t connect to the characters and their connections to each other, a show doesn’t make it past the first episode.

    Re: the action scenes. I did recently see the first minute and a half of the pilot (whoo!) and was instantly reminded of another favorite old show of mine, in the execution of the action/battle scene: Space: Above and Beyond. It was kind of eerie, really.

    I’ll be interested in the more critical pieces to this conversation – when I watched it, I’m pretty sure I was blissfully unaware of the, uhm, now quite obvious to me issues.

  3. says

    Tristan J – Yeah, I think the whole concept of Companions was poorly thought-out and more poorly executed. It could have been interesting, but it came off as a weird combo of exploitation (Inara bathing in this episode, for example. That is one looong scene) and shaming. And I agree that the best bits for Inara’s character were in her non-sexy interactions. The relationship between her and Kaylee is really sweet.

    sbg –

    I’ll be interested in the more critical pieces to this conversation – when I watched it, I’m pretty sure I was blissfully unaware of the, uhm, now quite obvious to me issues.

    Yeeeeah. I think I wrote about it/commented here some years ago whilst totally missing some really uncool stuff that stands out like whoa to me now. The race issues, in particular. Yay, white privilege?

    I still have great fondness for the show, though. The DVD set is one of my best purchases evar in terms of satisfaction-to-cash ratio.

  4. says

    I agree that the companions weren’t handled perfectly.

    Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to my old seminar paper on Asians in Firefly. It is possibly a little more apologetic than I’d write nowadays, but still. And I love “Secret Asian Man”.

  5. Tristan J says

    Revena,

    It also stops every now and again to say ‘Inara is being exploited and shamed, and that’s terrible’, which not only is hypocritical but also leads to irritating crap like the main plot fo Shindig.

    A question: Is this gonna be on any kind of timescale, or is it a ‘whenever’ kind of thing?

  6. Elee says

    I like Joss’ work and I’ll give him his feminist cookies, but he is by far not safe from failing, and quite spectacularly in some cases. As much as I love Firefly, I don’t even want to think what would have happened to the show/characters, if it would have continued for over three seasons. Because the awesome characters aside – whenever the feminist ideas get in the way of his artistic agenda, like kill-the-darlings, it isn’t the agenda that bites the dust. Frustrating, because he is one of the few who gets it, how to make intresting television without resorting to all-male stereotyped out of their mind cast acting out the same boring scheme ever and ever. Right now, I am only glad to have Zoe and Wash as probably the only happily married couple on TV, where the man fully embraces being the weaker half.

    The Companions – yeah, it had so much potential. It is to often the case of “tell, not show”, and what is shown is contradicting what is told. My reasoning goes, that you can’t show a truly egalitarian view of something that you grew up internalising as wrong, immoral and illegal. Even if (hypothetical-)you try it, in some way the subconscious will trip you up and the viewer ends up with something like the Companions.

    Also – Simons red glasses. Somewhere in the commentary it was said, that they were trying for a coldblooded, reptilian look in the beginning. You should watch out for every scene when Simon is switching into doctor-mode.

    Also also – any reason to rewatch the series is a good reason, whether with MarkwatchesSomething or with THL or on my own.

  7. M.C. says

    So I dusted off my Firefly DVDs to rewatch the pilot and realized how much I miss having my weekly space western on tv. I mean I’m reading Tanya Huff’s Confederation of Valor novels right now and really love them with their inclusion of multi-racial and queer characters. But it’s not the same as having it on my tv…

    Ok, back to the pilot. One of my complaints: Why is Zoe only second in command? Clearly she’s more competent than Mal and I’ve got the feeling that if she was a white man they would be partners. But since she’s a black woman he’s got to be the boss.

  8. Robin says

    Disclaimer: At the risk of being labeled as a “True Believer”, I will admit to being a devoted Whedon fan. That’s not to say I won’t notice or point out the things he (and his writing team) get wrong, but I’m certainly more forgiving than most, and always willing to give his work a chance.

    As many people have pointed out, the Companions — Inara, in particular — suffer from inconsistent characterization. I think a lot of that springs from their dual origins in the traditions of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold from American Westerns and Japanese Geishas. Merging the two proved tricky at best, and often resulted in weird contradictory attitudes from the people around her. Personally, I find Inara rather fascinating because the show and movie never had time to explore her history, and what little we do know about her indicates that she’s not a typical Companion.

    @M.C.: “Why is Zoe only second in command?”

    Zoe’s second in command because that’s been her relationship to Mal since the war and it works for them. He’s her commanding officer, the leader. She’s his backup, trusted enforcer, and voice of reason. A thing I’ve noticed in Whedon’s shows is that there’s always at least one “beta dog”, if you will. A main character who functions well as, and is contented to be, the hero’s go-to person. Buffy had first a few of them in Willow, Xander, and later Spike. Angel had Wesley and Cordelia (and suffered horribly when he ignored them, which was often). Mal had Zoe and Kaylee. Echo had Sierra and Victor, and eventually Paul. I think it’s yet another manifestation of that bond between the characters we’re all so fond of. It’s not romantic or the bond between blood relatives. It’s the love of constructed families that is such a strong theme throughout most of Whedon’s oeuvre.

    Is it problematic that the “beta dog” in Firefly is a black woman? Maybe. Then again, in a command-structure situation, someone’s got to be in charge to avoid confusion and contradiction in emergencies. So even if Zoe was yet another white man, that character wouldn’t have been Mal’s equal. He would’ve been just another white guy on TV. Personally, I think Gina Torres really embodied Zoe as someone who chose to continue following the guy who saved her butt in the war because he had earned her trust and loyalty. They clung to each other in the aftermath of a horrific battle, and inadvertently built a family around themselves on Serenity.

    (That’s probably enough babbling from me for now, but I’m really excited that this is happening. Yay, Hathor!)

    • says

      Zoe’s second in command because that’s been her relationship to Mal since the war and it works for them.

      I think MC was asking in a more meta sense. You’re giving the answer within the story, but Whedon could’ve (theoretically) written the story anyway he wanted, so the question is more, “Why did Whedon make Zoe second in command?”

      And the answer probably has to do with network prejudices (we know Whedon has actually fought networks to make shows with girls or women as leads). One problem with white male leads is that they can’t NOT be top banana. They must be in charge. So while the network won’t notice Zoe’s more competent in many ways than Mal, or at least his equal overall – they’re just not that bright, as a collective – they WILL notice if she outranks him. My guess is that Zoe is second because the network wouldn’t accept her outranking Mal, but she’s more competent than he is because Whedon wanted her to be super kickass. Or at least didn’t want to risk her looking INcompetent.

  9. says

    Mmm, Firefly.

    Despite not liking hard SF much, I actually liked the characters in Firefly, by and large, better than the ones in Buffy and Angel, and found Joss’s approach to sex and sexuality improved: there was a definite subtext in most of Buffy and at least early Angel that Boys Want Sex, (Good) Girls Want Love, and…ew. (And let’s not even get into the Issues with kink, and the equation of “has casual sex” with “is Troubled and will turn evil” in Faith.) And I liked the *idea* of the Companions.

    The reality…not so much. I get that there are theoretically supposed to be differences in the way different societies regard the Companions, but, first of all, that meshes badly with the way we’re supposed to think of the different societies. If the Alliance is where Companions get respect, and the Alliance is also Evil…yeaaaaah. Plus, none of the other ex-Brownshirt people have a problem with Inara, so Mal–who is otherwise rockin’ cool–just comes off as a giant asshat in this particular regard, with no real explanation.

    Actually, having the everyman character be kind of an asshat re: jealousy/territoriality/otherwise sticking his goddamn nose into a woman’s sex life is a very Wheedon thing too. (XANDER, oh my God.)

  10. Mel says

    Elee, I’d qualify Wash as “physically weaker half”–he has strengths Zoe does not, as well as weaknesses, and I very much see them as equals. One of the more equal marital/romantic relationships I’ve seen on TV.

  11. says

    M.C.:
    So I dusted off my Firefly DVDs to rewatch the pilot and realized how much I miss having my weekly space western on tv. I mean I’m reading Tanya Huff’s Confederation of Valor novels right now and really love them with their inclusion of multi-racial and queer characters. But it’s not the same as having it on my tv…

    Eeee, love the Confederation novels! And I really love the casualness of it all; it’s mentioned but it’s not a Big Deal.

    Robin:
    As many people have pointed out, the Companions — Inara, in particular — suffer from inconsistent characterization.I think a lot of that springs from their dual origins in the traditions of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold from American Westerns and Japanese Geishas. Merging the two proved tricky at best, and often resulted in weird contradictory attitudes from the people around her.

    That’s an interesting observation and one I hadn’t heard before.

  12. Jaynie says

    I haven’t watched Serenity in years (I’ve always been more of a Buffy girl despite some of the problems), but I just wanted to say that I’m really happy to see this kind of discussion going on. Too often, the TV world is split into “Joss Haters” and “People who reject absolutely any criticism of Joss, no matter how valid or lovingly said, as hysterical ranting from deranged people who just don’t *get it*.” (As I discovered when I casually mentioned to one of the latter people that Firefly reminded me a lot of Blake’s 7, because of course it couldn’t *possibly* as Firefly is The Most Creative and Original Telly Ever.) It sometimes seems hard to find people who genuinely love these shows but still acknowledge them as flawed.

    My impression of Joss is that he generally means well but doesn’t always consider the implications of what he is writing. One thing I’ve noticed as I try to make my own writing less “white middle class educated cis-heterosexual westerner” dominated is that it’s comparatively easy to say “In this society prostitutes will be respected as a challenge to our preconceptions about them” and much harder to work out how that would affect other character’s perceptions, how it should change your telling of the story, etc. I really have to watch myself with a critical eye to catch the latter kind of problem (sometimes I try to figure out how a story would be reviewed here at Hathor!). Part of the problem then is that, since Joss gets a hell of a lot closer to the ideal than most telly writers, few people are willing to make such criticisms.

  13. says

    : Jaynie: (As I discovered when I casually mentioned to one of the latter people that Firefly reminded me a lot of Blake’s 7, because of course it couldn’t *possibly* as Firefly is The Most Creative and Original Telly Ever.)

    Just an aside here, not wanting to derail the thread: Blakes 7 is SO the progenitor of elements in many sci-fi shows: Firefly, Farscape… oh, at least 5 shows came to mind when I watched Blakes 7. And there’s nothing wrong with that – none of these shows were merely pale imitations of the original. All stories resemble other stories, even by accident, so there’s no harm in consciously borrowing something, as long as you inject some interesting twists to make it different.

  14. says

    Robin –

    As many people have pointed out, the Companions — Inara, in particular — suffer from inconsistent characterization. I think a lot of that springs from their dual origins in the traditions of the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold from American Westerns and Japanese Geishas. Merging the two proved tricky at best, and often resulted in weird contradictory attitudes from the people around her. Personally, I find Inara rather fascinating because the show and movie never had time to explore her history, and what little we do know about her indicates that she’s not a typical Companion.

    This bit really got me thinking! One thing is that I think what’s really being drawn on in the depiction of Companions is the Western “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” tradition and American ideas about Geisha. The cultural appropriation stuff is so obnoxious in part because it’s so very “oh, hey, this looks cool! Let’s use it without doing any research!” and I think the pseudo-Geisha trappings of Inara’s trade are a further part of that.

    I think what you’re saying about how the show didn’t have time to really explore Inara is a) true and b) possibly a reflection of the way that the show’s creators didn’t really spend the time to explore and develop the ideas behind Companions in general. I reeeeally wish that there was more in the canon to both the character and to her trade. I think there was some opportunity for some really intriguing stuff there that got totally missed.

    Betty – Wow. Thinky vid. Thanks for linking!

  15. says

    Revena, thanks for correcting my html. (It’s also available on youtube@http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZr9wsZz_bk)

    I think it focuses more on the eroticising/exoticing/orientalism of the thing, which is pretty relevant to the Inara discussion.

  16. Savannah says

    I only ever watched the pilot, as the show didn’t really interest me, but I remember thinking at the time that Mal’s reaction to Inara was a critique of the Madonna/Whore complex. I.E. Mal thought she was beautiful and was obviously attracted to her, but was willing to whip out the ‘slut’ card whenever she annoyed him or he needed to assert his dominance. Reading these comments, though, I’m guessing that issue was never explored much further in a really critical light.

  17. Kimberly B. says

    I’d like to come back and comment again when I’ve re-watched the episode (I have the series on DVD and have seen it multiple times, but not yet this year), but I wanted to put in why Inara and the companions in general didn’t bother me as much: they reminded me of the Greek hetairai, high class prostitutes whose name literally translates as “companions.” They were better educated than the bulk of Athenian citizen women, so they could provide intelligent conversation and entertainment to their clients. I have always been fascinated by the hetairai, since they had greater freedoms than most women in an extremely patriarchal society . . . but that’s where the analogy to Inara and the Firefly style companions fails. Near as I can tell, ordinary women in the Firefly ‘Verse aren’t married off at puberty and kept secluded in the home (as Athenian citizen women were), so I can’t see being a Companion as a glamorous alternative to that.
    Anyway, sorry for the geeky digression! I love this series, but I also love the idea of picking it apart with you folks!

  18. Jaynie says

    Jennifer Kesler, Try telling that to a die-hard worshiper at the throne of Joss! :D I feel sad that Blake’s 7 is so often ignored since it’s *so* influential when you get down to it, so I like to mention when I see elements of it in other stories, mostly so that people might be inclined to watch it. Of course there isn’t anything wrong with borrowing and reinterpreting ideas — it’s not like Firefly is about a hero called Jake, an anti-hero named Mavon, etc. — but I have definitely met people who can’t tell the difference between pointing out similarities and accusing something of being a rip-off. :S

    Okay, I will stop derailing now. And maybe go watch the train job so I can play along properly next week!

  19. Tristan J says

    I hadn’t even thought about race in the show. That’s real food for thought.

    Sorry, I don’t actually have anything substantial to add, I just wanted to note that you guys had gotten me thinking. *awkward smile*

  20. says

    Kimberly B. – Classics geeks 4evah! *high fives*

    I think something like hetaerae was sort of the goal, but it just didn’t get there. I think the very nurture-y aspect to Inara’s character is another interesting piece of the wtf-are-Companions-anyway? puzzle. She’s like a sexy psychologist or something, which does call back to the high level of education and being able to entertain on a variety of topics idea, but… Yeah. Does anyone else ever sort of mentally compare Inara and Counselor Troi?

  21. says

    I know we’re all probably agreed that Mal’s calling Inara a whore isn’t cool, but there’s another thing in their relationship that bothers me: he’s her landlord, and it’s supposedly amusing that he barges in unannounced. There’s a reason that’s extremely illegal: it’s most often a form of sexual harassment (hoping for a free peep show would be among the least worrying behaviors involved). It’s really not a cute thing to do.

    Savannah: I remember thinking at the time that Mal’s reaction to Inara was a critique of the Madonna/Whore complex. I.E. Mal thought she was beautiful and was obviously attracted to her, but was willing to whip out the ‘slut’ card whenever she annoyed him or he needed to assert his dominance. Reading these comments, though, I’m guessing that issue was never explored much further in a really critical light.

    It certainly wasn’t explored, at least not enough to make something like that clear, but I can see where you’re coming from there. When I re-watched this time, I caught in the very first flashback war sequence that Mal pulled something on a chain out of his shirt and kissed it, which I’m taking to be a crucifix, indicating he was Catholic (until he lost his faith). Assuming Catholicism didn’t evolve in the Firefly ‘verse, and it was the Alliance telling people prostitutes are respectable now, he may be conflicted about more than just a base attraction to her: I think he considers her a good and worthy person, and that’s confusing the hell out of him.

    But TBH, my brain kind of glazes over once you throw Shepherd Book in. I had my own issues with religion to work out, so I find it hard to relate to characters who are having *different* issues with religion.

  22. says

    Mel,

    Zoe has weaknesses Wash doesn’t? Care to name some?

    I very much see Zoe as the stronger of the couple, in just about every sense of the word. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  23. says

    Great video, Betty!

    Revena:
    This bit really got me thinking!One thing is that I think what’s really being drawn on in the depiction of Companions is the Western “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” tradition and American ideas about Geisha.The cultural appropriation stuff is so obnoxious in part because it’s so very “oh, hey, this looks cool!Let’s use it without doing any research!” and I think the pseudo-Geisha trappings of Inara’s trade are a further part of that.

    I get that feeling, too. I started a thread a while back, asking how you would go about writing a fiction in which sex workers were respected. What kind of world could that happen in? Exactly how would they be respected? How would people think of them? And we had a great discussion, but never came up with a concrete answer. It’s an overly ambitious premise to be just one little element in a complex show, but I don’t think they realized that. It feels to me like they thought “Wouldn’t it be wild if prostitutes were respectable?” and then drew on the tropes you named without examining how it all came together.

  24. says

    Jenn –

    there’s another thing in their relationship that bothers me: he’s her landlord, and it’s supposedly amusing that he barges in unannounced.

    Dude, yes. The hah hah, he invades her privacy thing is creepy, not funny. And I think Mal’s tendency to violate Inara’s boundaries could have been written in as an undesirable facet of the character to good effect, actually – he’s supposed to be flawed. But the way it gets played for humor is pretty unnerving.

    Book goes to Inara’s shuttle without being invited in the pilot, too, but for some reason that doesn’t bother me as much, even though Inara actually is (partially) naked when he does it. Maybe because I feel like in that situation he’s someone who means well (bringing her dinner, wanting to apologize for embarrassing her earlier) and doesn’t necessarily know the rules, rather than someone who has been told he can’t walk in whenever?

  25. Elee says

    Mel: I’d qualify Wash as “physically weaker half”–he has strengths Zoe does not,
    Uh, I thought I made clear that I meant Wash’s physical weakness, because there are enough examples where the male half in the relationship is portrayed as emotionally or morally or what not as inferior, but seldom physically. Man=strong is typical.

    Spartakos,
    Zoe isn’t some holy prodigy. She has trust issues, she isn’t exactly an outgoing person – which, considering she fought in a war and lost and is a veteran of the battle of the Serenity valley (watch the deleted scenes for a better explanation) is not surprising. I know she comes off as more interesting character because she is so badass, but he lightens her broody silence and gives her an outlet to define herself outside of military structures.

    Kimberley, Revena – whoa, I wasn’t the only one thinking of hetaerae. *joining classical geeks* I know of one author who wrote the hetaerae a whole lot better than Joss would ever manage, and I’ve never seen a show that came near that level of respect for the character, so maybe I’m spoiled (mind, he has another baggage aplenty), but he is kind of obscure reference because it is a russian author from 20s (Thais of Athens, by Ivan Efremov/ Yefremov. Go read it, I dare you). Also: has anyone read the “Memoirs of the geisha”? I was flabbergasted how little the film and the book had in common (like the authors fervent wish to be a geisha).

  26. Robin says

    @Jennifer — Well, during the Serenity Valley flashback Mal definitely has a cross on, indicating that we was raised in some sort of Christian tradition, but I don’t think it was a crucifix specifically. Given how the show shied away from defining exactly what faith Shepherd Book espoused beyond some flavor of Protestantism, I don’t think the writers ever decided just how fundamental Mal’s childhood religious education was. Though, from what we hear about his hard-workin’ mama in ‘Our Mrs. Reynolds’, I doubt it was anything too patriarchal.

    @Revenna: “Book goes to Inara’s shuttle without being invited in the pilot, too…”

    No, he knocks and she says, “Come in.” As comfortable as she is with her body, I can’t imagine Inara bathing with the shuttle door wide open. If she’d asked him to go away, he probably would have offered to leave the food and respected her privacy.

    @Kimberly — As a Classics major I am kicking myself for not making the connection between Companions and hetaerae. Excellent insight.

    In the vein of appropriation / western ideas of Geishas, yes that is a more precise description. From what I understand, a lot of that explicit influence in the character came from research by costume designer Shawna Trpcic (not a typo, I promise) and actress Morena Baccarin (Inara). I imagine that they had discussed incorporating more of those character traits with the writers, but the cancellation put the kibosh on actually doing so.

  27. Gabriella says

    RobinNo, he knocks and she says, “Come in.”As comfortable as she is with her body, I can’t imagine Inara bathing with the shuttle door wide open.If she’d asked him to go away, he probably would have offered to leave the food and respected her privacy.

    Really?I could have sworn there was a scene somewhere in the series where she says something like ‘when i fail to pay the rent you can barge in how you like’.

  28. says

    Elee,

    Re: Wash/Zoe strengths and weaknesses…I wasn’t claiming that Zoe was any kind of “holy prodigy” (I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean, exactly). Yes, she has trust issues…but honestly, so does Wash (note his insecurity re: Mal & Zoe’s relationship). As far as her not being outgoing, or the way he lightens her…these are not (IMO) matters of strength/weakness, but simply personality differences. I’m not an outgoing person, but I don’t see that as a weakness in myself…it’s just a way I’m different from other people.

    I’m not trying to bag on Wash; I think he’s a great character. But as far as strength, which I define as the ability to overcome obstacles, hardship, or diversity (be it physical or mental), I tend to see Zoe as the stronger of the two.

  29. M.C. says

    Sylvia Sybil: Eeee, love the Confederation novels! And I really love the casualness of it all; it’s mentioned but it’s not a Big Deal.

    I agree. Huff did the same with the Blood Books in which no-one cared about Henry being bisexual.

    So, what other SciFi books do you read? Anything similar to the awesomeness of the Confederation novels? :)

  30. says

    M.C.: I agree. Huff did the same with the Blood Books in which no-one cared about Henry being bisexual.

    I haven’t read the Blood books yet, still working my way through the Confederation, but that’s good to know. When I started reading Huff’s Twitter/Livejournal I learned she is living with (married to?) another woman which I think really helps with the casualness of sexuality in her work. It feels normal and not a big deal to the characters because it’s normal and routine to the author. (Or so I speculate.)

    So, what other SciFi books do you read? Anything similar to the awesomeness of the Confederation novels?

    Well, Bujold, of course. I think her books are the Holy Grail of space opera. Some steam punk like Meljean Brook, some sci fi romance like Linnea Sinclair. I’ve actually been meaning to read more sci fi, especially military sci fi, (which is why I picked the Confederation novels up) so if you have any recs I’d love to hear them.

  31. says

    Re: Book in Inara’s shuttle – Hah! You’d think I hadn’t just watched this or something… He totally does knock, y’all are right. I was remembering that Inara is still topless when he comes in, but had forgotten that he knocked first.

  32. cycles says

    Here’s what I find most interesting about the series: Firefly happens in the distant future, but people still ride horses, shoot revolvers, and wear clothing made of non-space-agey-looking textiles. They live in hovels in the wilderness and carouse around bonfires drinking moonshine. The mere act of surviving is hard, not smooth and techno-riffic like in Star Trek: The Next Generation or other sci-fi series.

    I’m used to sci-fi settings that attempt to speculate what technology might bring humanity some day. Silver spandex and laser guns and communicators and stuff. Other than the Academy and the Alliance Hospital, Firefly’s refusal to show us a glimmery science-y future makes a statement about privilege: yeah, high-tech systems and gadgets do exist in the future, but only in some places – areas of affluence or government control. If you’re an average schmuck colonist, you don’t have access to future technologies. You get dropped off on Expendable Planet #729 with some cattle, coffee and bullets. Good luck; try not to get dysentery.

  33. says

    Cycles – Aaaand now I’m imagining the Firefly cast in a game of Oregon Trail

    Seriously though, very interesting point. I’d love to talk about this more when we get to “Heart of Gold,” for sure. But even in just the pilot it seems to me that there are some interesting things to consider about which kinds of technology actually do seem to have become common enough for the people on Whitefall and Persephone to have – weapons and communications equipment. The guns in the shootout with Patience and co. aren’t super-fancy-pants silver chrome models, but a few of them have some ray gun-type futuristic-ness to them. And on Persephone, we see some advanced techy communication/information devices. This makes me think about a lot of old-school sci-fi lit, where the same two technologies have major importance. The novels that come to my mind are more or less in the space opera tradition, which is all about frontiers and etc. I’m not sure what, if anything, I think that means, but it’s intriguing.

  34. M.C. says

    Sylvia Sybil: I’ve actually been meaning to read more sci fi, especially military sci fi, (which is why I picked the Confederation novels up) so if you have any recs I’d love to hear them.

    I’m pretty new to SciFi books. I adore Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels, but they are more SciFi Fantasy. Carl Sgan’s Contact is brilliant, if you like something serious and realistic.
    And as far as military SciFi goes, I’ve heard that Mike Shepherd’s Kris Longknife novels are good, but haven’t actually read them yet.

  35. says

    M.C.,

    I remember reading some of MZB’s stuff in high school, but I don’t remember if I read Darkover or not. I’ll have to check them out.

    I read the first Kris Longknife book. It was interesting enough that I finished it but I didn’t feel the need to read any of the sequels.

  36. Robin says

    @Jennifer: “Catholic, Protestant – really doesn’t matter. They both have massive sex hangups.”

    Not all Protestant faiths are alike. They run the gamut from more-conservative-than-Catholicism to extremely liberal and modern. I don’t practice any of them myself anymore, but I see the full range in the course of my job. As a general rule, yes, most of them have more old-fashioned ideas about sex, but it’s not really fair to lump them all together any more than it would be with the various sects of Judaism or Islam. And who knows how those faiths might evolve in the 500 years between now and Firefly‘s setting of 2517?

    I will concede that the apparent Buddhists in the show have what I (and I suspect you) consider healthier attitudes toward sexuality, though.

  37. says

    Robin,

    You’re right. What I had going on in my head was that the Bible clearly condemns sex outside marriage, along with homosexuality and all sorts of other stuff. Any sect claiming to be based on the Bible is STILL indirectly promoting unhealthy attitudes even if they teach their own congregation otherwise. If a sect is enjoying the cultural protection they get from being part of the Bible Borg, they don’t get any points with me by saying, “Oh, but we’re different because our attitudes toward sex totally contradict the Bible.” Uh, no. To me, that’s like saying, “I belong to a country club that discriminates against certain people, but that’s okay because *I* would let them in.”

  38. Sarah says

    Revena,

    I think those two categories get priority because of how we view exploration. We assume there will be hostility so weapons and defense are necessary. And we presume there will be a need to stay in touch with the mother ship, so to speak, so communications tech is necessary. Making things nice for colonists? Not necessary. Not profitable. So you throw out at the end of the line to try to make a place habitable with as little as is considered necessary.

  39. says

    Sarah – *nodnod* That makes sense. I’m thinking it might also have something to do with the way that the politics of old school space opera sort of skew Libertarian-ish – the concept that freedom and democracy (or, really, meritocracy?) are fundamental and can only be defended by force (whether from aliens or a controlling government). The need for communications is often tied into democratic processes, too.

  40. says

    Jennifer Kesler: I get that feeling, too. I started a thread a while back, asking how you would go about writing a fiction in which sex workers were respected. What kind of world could that happen in? Exactly how would they be respected? How would people think of them?

    There was a sequence in one of the Bujold novels where our heroine comments that where she comes from, being sex worker is kind of like being a hairdresser – providing a personal service on a professional basis.

  41. Raeka says

    On the subject of Inara and the Companions Guild — I totally agree with everyone on that it seems like Whedon tried to create a world where it was as morally neutral as any other society, but tripped up on his own cultural hangups (not that I think I could do it either…).

    I do want to add that what I DID see in the world he’d set up was a profession that was finally powerful enough to frame the narrative of itself. Does that fix everything? No, not at all. But it was interesting to finally see prostitution with the weapons it needed to change its public image.

  42. Veronica says

    I think Kaylee is a bit ridiculous in this episode. She serves as the embodiment of female innocence to the the point where it is insane. She gets shot and basically says “Aw that’s alright, I’m so sweet and nice it don’t bother me at all”. This has always bothered me, because it makes Kaylee so one note. Kaylee’s whole purpose becomes to make Mal see good in the world, but she’s so good and sweet she’s almost inhuman.

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