Hathor Watch-Along – Firefly, S1 Ep9: “Ariel”

Hey guys! It’s…not Sunday. However, it is time for the next episode of Firefly, “Ariel.”

This episode starts out with a cozy, domestic little scene in the dining area of Serenity, with Jayne cleaning his guns, Kaylee and Inara playing a game, River and Simon having something to eat (or not), and Wash and Zoe bickering in a friendly way. Mal walks in and says some blustery Mal stuff and so on, and then BAM – River attacks Jayne with a carving knife.

Short aside here: I actually really love it that Jayne backhands River in this scene. There’s a tendency in television to never have sympathetic male characters (which Jayne more or less is) hit women under any circumstances. Now, I’m a big proponent of the general attitude that hitting people is wrong, particularly if they are people who can’t defend themselves. However, I find it offensive that all women are automatically slotted into the “can’t defend themselves” category, and on a show with a fair quantity of violence, having your male leads engage in what would quickly become dangerously sexist behavior is absurd. So, yeah. I like that Jayne belts River one, because that is a reasonable response to getting sliced across the chest, regardless of who is doing the slicing, y’know?

Okay, onward! River’s brief foray into t-shirt reconstruction sets up the plot, giving Simon a reason to organize a heist that’ll give the crew a shot at some very lucrative goods in the form of medicines – and Simon a chance to take a look at River’s brain via a nifty hologram thingy. There follows a montage of the planning and preparation process that has some really entertaining bits to it, as well as some very thinky things. Jennifer had this to say via email:

The scene where Simon’s teaching Mal, Zoe and Jayne their paramedic lines is hilarious, but I love the dignity the actors give it. In a literate society, I often forget that it’s quite a luxury to be able to pick up medical terms from TV, books or the internet. This scene always reminds me to appreciate that privilege – in the Firefly ‘verse, it appears to be available only to the wealthy (Tams) and those schooled in specific trades (Inara and Book). And the same was true in our society until last century. (Yet another example of the power of pop culture to spread education – or miseducation.)

Of course, once they get to the hospital, things start going wrong, then badly wrong, mostly because Jayne turns out to be as deceiving as a low-down dirty deceiver. Some mayhem ensues, Mal, Zoe, Wash, and Kaylee think quick on their feet, and the day is saved and everyone is happy, hooray! Well, everyone but Jayne, who gets a wrench to the face and a serious death threat.

So, things I like about this episode! I like that we get to see Simon being as smart as he claims to be. His plan is really well-thought out, and we see him in action as a doctor, too. Simultaneously, we see how terrible he is at reading Jayne, which seems in keeping with his generally poor social skills. It’s a good episode for adding some depth to his character.

River gets more interesting in “Ariel,” too. We see her doing and saying more than just one or two inexplicable and wacky things (not a lot more, but still), and as Jennifer says, “There are a lot of great scenes in this one between River and Simon, showing her affection and concern for him. This says something about River rather than something about her mental illness.” It’s a relief to see her being a character instead of just a plot device.

I gotta say, though, that Jayne’s moral not-quite-journey is my favorite part of this episode, character-wise. Is it just me, or is he actually the most complex character in the show? It could be my deep appreciation for Adam Baldwin’s biceps talking, I suppose.

“Ariel” is pretty short on things that irritate me. Plot-wise, I find it frustrating that we don’t see any further development with the guys with blue hands, or the Blue Sun angle (I know some of this comes up in comics, yes), but that’s not really a fault of this episode, which was clearly meant to be foreshadowing something that didn’t get to happen because of the cancellation of the show.

The one thing that really makes my teeth grind is the way Mal reframes Jayne’s betrayal as against him rather than against Simon and River, and I’m not sure just why. Maybe one of you will have some thoughts on this.

How about it?

Next week, it’s time for “War Stories.”

Comments

  1. says

    I rewatched this on the elliptical at the gym recently, so it is sort of fresh in my mind. I didn’t mind that it was short on the Blue Gloves & Blue Sun angle…or RATHER I mind very much that the show was so badly mistreated & canceled that the seeds planted for a larger plot never had a chance to mature. I don’t blame the episode for that– it is supposed to be foreshadowing, not plot-lifting.

    The “you betrayed ME” thing also stuck in my craw. I just couldn’t tell if it bugged me about the EPISODE or if it bugged me about MAL, you know? He’s clearly a deeply flawed character.

  2. Ara says

    I thought the “you betrayed ME” thing was a sign of how River and Simon were finally being accepted onto the crew instead of being expendable passengers.

    But I wonder if what you’re trying to articulate is a sense that it implies betraying River and Simon would have been okay if they didn’t belong to the crew, even though they’re innocents and what matters is not that Jayne gave up two innocents to people who were going to kill them but that he betrayed Mal.

    On the other hand, Jayne had just told Mal that it didn’t matter because it wasn’t like he’d betrayed Mal, so from a character standpoint Mal might have felt that Jayne wasn’t likely to understand the whole “they’re innocents, we’re supposed to be good smugglers” concept, particularly since Mal doesn’t seem to have a good understanding of it himself– his honorable moments seem to crop up almost by accident and against his will. (What’s problematic with this to me is actually the way it meshes later on with the scene in the movie where they kill the inside man when the Reavers attack instead of helping him get away– it feels like they set up a character point in this scene and then ignored it in the movie.) Mal might have felt like saying “they’re mine, you did betray me” was the easiest way to give Jayne a second chance without having to constantly worry about a second betrayal that might go worse wrong than this one did.

    From a writing standpoint, leaving someone with the implication that two of your characters are non-people is not the best idea in the world and showing Jayne’s conception of his betrayal and Mal’s conception of his betrayal might have been best accomplished in a longer scene.

  3. Maria says

    I found Mal very “daddy”-ish in this episode, like Simon and River (two adults) are some relegated to being children because he’s the patriarch/captain of the ship. I found the conflation of ownership, boss-ness, love, and honor just… weird and icky.

  4. Marie says

    I took the “you betrayed ME” thing as evidence that Mal knows Jayne well, and knows what does and doesn’t motivate him. Since Jayne is the kind of guy who would give somebody up for torture and murder if it made him vast quantities of money, explaining to him that what he did was really hurtful to the people he’d been willing to see die isn’t going to make any headway — it’s not as if he didn’t know that already, he just didn’t care, or care enough. But what Jayne *does* seem to care about is Mal, because what Jayne seems to care about is authority and the threat of violence, and Mal seems to have earned his respect as a captain and somebody who could likely beat Jayne in a fight, or find him and beat him later. I think throughout the show, it’s shown that he respects and partially fears Mal; otherwise, he would have killed Mal and taken over the ship by now, and it’s implied that he probably will if he ever gets over that fear and respect, and Mal knows it. There are various moments in the series where Mal has to put Jayne back into place through an implied threat of violence, and an implied threat that he will win any fight between them, so obviously physical violence is a big part of what keeps Jayne from getting up to some horrible shenanigans, and obviously that’s a larger motivating factor than social attachments or empathy or, you know, considering long-term consequences and thinking through a plan, which he isn’t very good at.

    So, I took that line as Mal recognizing that explaining to Jayne that what he did was hurtful and mean and terrible to River and Simon is useless, since obviously Jayne doesn’t care, or he wouldn’t have done it. But Jayne *is* afraid of Mal, and respects Mal, and would probably never have tried doing that to Mal, so making it about Mal makes it into something Jayne cares about. Saying, “you betrayed Simon and River,” is obvious, because that’s exactly what happened, and Jayne obviously doesn’t care. But telling Jayne he betrayed somebody important to him, somebody he respects, and somebody who is willing and able to kill him, is a way of making Jayne care about people he otherwise would be willing to sell out.

    Also, it seems like up until that point Jayne’s only understanding of the gravity of what he just did lies in the fact that he almost got killed, too, and he didn’t get paid. He doesn’t appear to have any human connection to the betrayal, or any sense of emotion (although I think he does, it’s just very suppressed and not strong enough to motivate him). But because he has some emotional connection to Mal, having Mal prepared to kill him seems to finally allow him to see how horrible what he did was. If River or Simon had been prepared to kill him, it still probably wouldn’t have occurred to him that he had done something deeply wrong beyond getting caught, because what they feel and think doesn’t matter to him.

    I also perceived that as a moment where Mal recognized that having Jayne respect his authority wasn’t enough to keep Jayne around anymore. I thought he would have been willing to drop Jayne out of the ship if Jayne hadn’t displayed *some* ability to empathize and care about what he’d done beyond pissing off Mal and beyond having been caught. If the only thing that keeps Jayne from killing or selling everybody on the ship is his fear of Mal or capture, then eventually he’ll get over that fear, and he’ll be too dangerous to have around. But if he appears to have some ability to develop sentimental attachments, then there’ll be something restraining his behavior other than constant surveillance and brute force. So asking at the end there that Mal not tell everybody what he’s done illustrates that he cares about something other than Mal and his own skin, and I doubt anybody other than Mal (and Mal’s willingness to apparently kill him) would have gotten him to admit that.

  5. says

    Revena: I actually really love it that Jayne backhands River in this scene.

    ME TOO!!! And later Mal does it to Saffron. That’s one aspect of gender equality that I think Joss Whedon is good at – letting women get hurt and letting men hurt them without it throwing the whole scene into black and white “now he’s evil for damaging another man’s property” territory. Jayne was attacked and he defended himself. That’s utterly reasonable.

    In the beginning I did find it problematic that River got to attack a crewmate and stay sympathetic since she was just a crazy li’l girl don’tchaknow, a intersection of ablism, ageism and sexism that denied her agency. However, later in the episode we see that she did have a good reason after all. Her precognition let her know that Jayne would betray them – and her attack was part of what pushed Jayne to get rid of them, leading to a nice little effect-and-causation paradox.

    Ara: (What’s problematic with this to me is actually the way it meshes later on with the scene in the movie where they kill the inside man when the Reavers attack instead of helping him get away– it feels like they set up a character point in this scene and then ignored it in the movie.)

    That hardcore bothers me. The movie ignored a lot of what happened in the series to make it accessible to new audiences (Simon paying for River’s rescue versus doing it himself, which has since been retconned that he lied to the crew initially), but I don’t understand why Mal had to go through the same character arc. Why couldn’t he have had a new arc, one that built on his* development from the series but wasn’t dependent on it?

    *I typed “her” initially. I wonder if my subconscious is trying to say something about Mal?

  6. says

    Marie: Since Jayne is the kind of guy who would give somebody up for torture and murder if it made him vast quantities of money, explaining to him that what he did was really hurtful to the people he’d been willing to see die isn’t going to make any headway — it’s not as if he didn’t know that already, he just didn’t care, or care enough. But what Jayne *does* seem to care about is Mal, because what Jayne seems to care about is authority and the threat of violence, and Mal seems to have earned his respect as a captain and somebody who could likely beat Jayne in a fight, or find him and beat him later.

    This is precisely how I took it. Mal’s a pragmatist. In this very episode, we see him telling Simon he might have to “revisit the deal” if Simon can’t keep his end of it, so he’s certainly not seeing them as an extension of his own ego in that scene. Mal wouldn’t put someone out an airlock just because they’ve insulted him. So the fact that he put it in terms of a personal insult was, I thought, explicitly for Jayne’s benefit, because that’s how Jayne operates. It’s possible it’s just inconsistent writing, but it always struck me as Mal being out of character on purpose, in order to talk on a level Jayne understands.

    @Revena: Adam Baldwin is distractingly hot, but I’m pretty sure Jayne’s moral ambiguity and journey would be just as fascinating if he weren’t. It’s very, very much worth noting that what convinces Mal not to kill him is when Jayne asks him not to tell the rest of the crew what he did. The fact that Jayne has developed some shame about his actions, independent of his fear of Mal or of death, indicates he has at least some empathy and ability to self-criticize, which means he’s redeemable. That, along with his need to confess to the people in Jaynestown what he did before more of them die pointlessly, shows some definite potential.

  7. says

    I third Revena and Sylvia Sybil on liking that Jayne backhands her.

    Sylvia Sybil: *I typed “her” initially. I wonder if my subconscious is trying to say something about Mal?

    That he’s a mother hen? It’s funny. The stereotype of a mother protecting/disciplining her young fits exactly with the stereotype of a good (male) military leader. SG-1 fans frequently referred to Jack O’Neill as a “mother hen.” The fact is, parenting is a leadership task we delegate to women every day, yet we maintain the myth that women aren’t natural leaders. Yeah. Kids are way harder to manage than adults, because they really don’t get the whole concept of authority and have to constantly test it for about 18 years (sometimes more) in order to learn how it works. Tell me dealing with someone like that is not 100 times more exhausting than dealing with someone who understands it won’t serve his goals to flout your authority, even though he’d like to.

  8. M.C. says

    Any time I watch this episode it reminds me more than any other that the concept of this show started out as “Han Solo – The TV Show”.
    Not sure why… maybe because when we see the beautiful modern city of Ariel I really get the feeling of a vew smugglers vs shiny big empire… or maybe because Nathan Fillon was so channeling Harrison Ford at the end…

  9. Robin says

    Ara I thought the “you betrayed ME” thing was a sign of how River and Simon were finally being accepted onto the crew instead of being expendable passengers.

    It’s certainly the next stage in that evolution. The process kind of begins in the pilot when Simon saves Kaylee’s life, and comes to completion in the series finale when River saves the whole crew. I’d also argue that Mal going back for the Tams in ‘Safe’ was a big step, too. Allowing new people into a constructed family can be a tricky process, so I find the crew’s cautious approach pretty believable.

    I will probably have more thoughts on this, but I’m going to have to mull it over for a day or two before I can articulate them.

    Maria, I found Mal very “daddy”-ish in this episode, like Simon and River (two adults) are some relegated to being children because he’s the patriarch/captain of the ship.

    It could definitely read that way. Mal can be overbearing / overprotective a lot of the time, particularly when it comes to “helping the helpless” (to quote another Whedon show). On the other hand, protecting his crew is one of those “captainy things” that he’s supposed to do if he’s going to be the hero of the piece.

  10. Søren Løvborg says

    This episode is awesome. Instead of the usual (quite literal) Space + Western type episode, we get a Heist movie + “E.R.” episode deal. According to my best estimates, this episode alone should have ensured a gazillion viewers for the show. (I won’t speculate how Fox managed to screw that up.) ;-)

    Sylvia Sybil: In the beginning I did find it problematic that River got to attack a crewmate and stay sympathetic since she was just a crazy li’l girl don’tchaknow, a intersection of ablism, ageism and sexism that denied her agency. However, later in the episode we see that she did have a good reason after all. Her precognition let her know that Jayne would betray them – and her attack was part of what pushed Jayne to get rid of them, leading to a nice little effect-and-causation paradox.

    I always thought of this scene as River literally attacking Jayne’s shirt, not Jayne. The T-shirt, of course, bears the logo of the omnipresent Blue Sun corporation. (In “Shindig”, she attacks the foodstuffs for the same reason, but it’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment.) Unfortunatetely, that does sort of bring us back into “crazy li’l girl” territory; I like your interpretation so much more. :-)

    Marie: Also, it seems like up until that point Jayne’s only understanding of the gravity of what he just did lies in the fact that he almost got killed, too, and he didn’t get paid. He doesn’t appear to have any human connection to the betrayal, or any sense of emotion (although I think he does, it’s just very suppressed and not strong enough to motivate him). But because he has some emotional connection to Mal, having Mal prepared to kill him seems to finally allow him to see how horrible what he did was. If River or Simon had been prepared to kill him, it still probably wouldn’t have occurred to him that he had done something deeply wrong beyond getting caught, because what they feel and think doesn’t matter to him.

    Actually, I think Jayne’s redemption (so to speak) starts a lot earlier in the episode, when Simon risks blowing his cover to save the life of a random patient. Jayne’s reaction in this scene is important: He is genuinely dumbstruck by Simon’s actions. While he is obviously unable to comprehend why anyone would do such a thing, it does seem to trigger a smidgen of respect.

    Next, as Jayne looks on as Simon examines the scan of River’s brain, there is no sign of indifference. He obviously asks what an amygdala is so that Simon can tell the audience, but his tone of voice indicates actual concern, instead of, say, anger. It doesn’t sit well with him what has happened to River.

    Crucially, he then abruptly announces that they have to run, 20 minutes ahead of schedule, to ensure a “quiet get-away”. Sudden desire to see his money sooner, or a change of heart about Simon and River?

    Of course, had Jayne received his reward money and been allowed to walk, he probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. As it is, the reverse betrayal by the police agent McGuinness just seals the deal.

    In the end, Mal doesn’t force Jayne to reevaluate his attitude towards Simon and River. He just forces Jayne to admit to something that Jayne probably didn’t even want to admit to himself.

  11. Marie says

    The second time I watched this episode, I did notice that Jayne was disturbed to know that River’s brain had been mutilated. I think it put a whole different spin on how he acted the rest of the episode. I mean, not that he didn’t “know” that he was handing Simon and River back to bad people, but now he *actually* knew what they were going to do to her, and I felt like the guilt of that was pretty plain on his face throughout most of the rest of the episode — though, again, like you said, if he’d gotten away with it, he would have just filed that away with all the other things he probably feels guilty about but will never deal with if he can help it.

    Søren Løvborg: Crucially, he then abruptly announces that they have to run, 20 minutes ahead of schedule, to ensure a “quiet get-away”. Sudden desire to see his money sooner, or a change of heart about Simon and River?

    My interpretation of this scene was that everything was still going according to plan for Jayne. He was disturbed, he shook it off, then went ahead with the fake “quiet getaway” plan anyway. I had always assumed his plan was to shake them out of their established plan early, so they’d be confused and dependent on him for instructions, turn them over, and then have plenty of time left to get his money, hide his money, clean up anything that went wrong, and make up a story for Mal.

    But, anyway, what I meant to say was that this was one of my favorite scenes in the entirety of Firefly, because as soon as Jayne starts talking about the “new” plan, the diagram of River’s brain that’s still visible starts lighting up like fireworks, ’cause hello, psychic! She *knows* he’s lying, and I think that with what Simon just told Jayne about River, and just his general sense of her, Jayne knows that River knows he’s lying, but now he’s committed and can’t back out. He just seems to quash all that down and swallow his awfulness, but for a moment or two, it seems like his nervousness is more about the shame and indecision of being fully revealed for being awful, instead of the nervousness of being caught. I mean, how horrible to have somebody know you’re handing them over to certain death, and they’re so helpless and resigned that they just let you do it, because there’s nowhere they can go.

  12. says

    Søren Løvborg: I always thought of this scene as River literally attacking Jayne’s shirt, not Jayne.

    That’s true, she is attacking the shirt. But he’s been wearing the shirt all along, so I saw her timing as related to his upcoming betrayal. Otherwise, wouldn’t she have attacked it the first time she saw it? And now I need to go watch “Shingdig” again so I can see her attack the food. ;)

  13. Tristan J says

    Did anyone else find it significant that Mal’s little airlock shenanigens are very similar to what Simon, Book, and most importantly Niska were talking about re: Shan Yu at the start of the very next episode? I ask because a lot of the frustration people have with Mal and his more douchey/mysgonistic actions is that it’s unclear if he’s meant to be seen as heroic for it or not, and I think the fact that he is subtley compared to the biggest non-Reaver monster in the show makes ‘the show knows he’s kind of a bad guy’ more plausible.

  14. Robin says

    Tristan J, …I think the fact that he is subtley compared to the biggest non-Reaver monster in the show makes ‘the show knows he’s kind of a bad guy’ more plausible.

    To quote my current favorite heist show (Leverage), “Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.”

    Or to frame it in D&D terms, Mal is a Chaotic Good character. He ultimately tries to do The Right Thing, even if he has to break the laws of the legitimate government to do so. He’s also very flawed, so he doesn’t always get it right, but the important part is that he tries.

  15. Patrick McGraw says

    Ara,

    What’s problematic with this to me is actually the way it meshes later on with the scene in the movie where they kill the inside man when the Reavers attack instead of helping him get away– it feels like they set up a character point in this scene and then ignored it in the movie.

    Re-watching the scene in question, these were two different people. The one who came running after the mule that Mal killed was the guy who was going for his gun during the start of the heist (giving us Zoe’s foreshadowing line defining a hero as “someone who gets other people killed”). The man in the vault that cooperated was told to get everyone who was upstairs upstairs down into the vault and not unlock it so long as they had air.

  16. Clay Mechanic says

    Tristan J,
    I perceive Mal as a genuinely bad person. He’s doesn’t just do what he must to survive – he puts himself at risk to cause pain and chaos. His obnoxious attitude to Inara has already been discussed. Also consider his behavior when he catches up with Saffron in “Our Mrs Reynolds”. There’s nothing to be gained – they just need to take the shuttle and go – but he threatens to rape her (“Looks like you’re getting that wedding night after all”) and shoot her.

    Significantly, Mal is alone when he does this. In “The Train Job”, his struggle seems to be between his willingness to steal the medicine, and Zoe’s opinion if he did. In “Serenity”, Kaylee suggests that without his crew to set an example to, Mal will not be a nice person. If this was intentional, it’s still a problematic stereotype: the bad man reformed by a good woman. (Zoe acts as Mal’s conscience more often than anyone else.)

    Even Mal’s initial willingness to carry Simon and River seems motivated by spite (he knows it will annoy the Alliance), not out of a desire to do good. His suggestion that Reaver witnesses turn into more Reavers (“Bushwhacked”) also says more about Mal than it does about Reavers.

  17. says

    Ooh, lots of great thoughts about the just-who-did-Jayne-betray thing – thanks, guys! I love that people are digging into this.

    Tristan J – Woah, interesting. I hadn’t thought of it as parallel in that way. Hmmm.

    I find the issue of whether or not Mal is a(/the) hero really intriguing. I think there can be no doubt that the story is set up to show him as the hero, but whether or not that succeeds is iffy. Like Clay Mechanic, I have big issues with Mal’s actual behavior as seen in the text of the series and movie, regardless of how the narrative positions him. I don’t know that I’d go with “genuinely bad person,” but he definitely reads as too flawed to be a “hero” to me, and I personally don’t find him sympathetic enough to be a non-heroic lead, either. I think that has a lot to do with the way he’s positioned (in a meta/subtextual sense) as “right” – or at least, right enough – about things that are really not, y’know, actually right. I find it easier to sympathize with, say, Jayne, because I am not being manipulated into agreeing with his behavior when he does reprehensible stuff.

    OMG, I am having such English degree flashbacks. RETREAT, RETREAT.

  18. says

    Clay Mechanic,

    Excellent points. I also think the writers intend to show Mal as a flawed hero, along the lines of Rhett Butler. But because they, like most people, are so misinformed about what sort of flaws you can have and still in fact be a good person (the fact that Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights is often framed IN ACADEMIA as a “flawed hero” makes my hair stand on end), they unwisely include these behaviors that only someone without a conscience would engage in. Consider the boundary trespassing with Inara: that sort of behavior has been linked with male characters who ultimately did have consciences and principles (Rhett Butler, for example) and framed it as a romantic gesture the ladies ought to appreciate. The old “Wow, your stalker must really love you, you’re so lucky” kind of thing.

    Ditto what Revena said about Jayne. Perhaps because there are fewer (and mostly better) models for the character who’s on a fence between good and bad and might go either way, Jayne is well-written. He engages in the sort of bad stuff that a person with conscience might well do out of ignorance, upbringing, or from convincing himself it’s justified. Mal does stuff that’s… far more problematic and hard to sort out.

    I keep coming back to a Jack O’Neill comparison. O’Neill on more than one occasion needs someone in his team to remind him of ethical issues, but it’s usually because he’s getting confused by competing goals and the team has the luxury of standing back and thinking about it. And on one occasion, Richard Dean Anderson took serious issue – as an executive producer – with something the writers wanted Jack to do, and ultimately that action plays like one of these problematic Mal scenes. The writers thought they had Jack simply making a hard decision, like commanders do, but RDA, needing to understand it from “Jack’s” perspective, recognized that they had Jack deciding to commit genocide and almost surely kill a team member in the process.

  19. Clay Mechanic says

    Revena,

    I think that has a lot to do with the way he’s positioned (in a meta/subtextual sense) as “right” – or at least, right enough – about things that are really not, y’know, actually right.I find it easier to sympathize with, say, Jayne, because I am not being manipulated into agreeing with his behavior when he does reprehensible stuff.

    Thanks. I’ve been trying to work out why Mal’s morals bugged me. Moral ambiguity is good, right? As you say, the problem is that everything from the costuming to the music tries to sell Mal as a cool anti-hero. And, as noted repeatedly on this site, despite his misogyny we’re clearly meant to ship him with the most conventionally attractive woman in the cast.

  20. Robin says

    SunlessNick, Which episode was that?

    Scorched Earth, season 4, episode 9. [/continuitynerd]

    It’s a really powerful episode, and O’Neill’s dilemma does have a lot of similarities to Mal’s in ‘Ariel’. Good insight, Jenn.

  21. says

    And Jack’s actions in The Other Side make an interesting contrast – he’s a real shit, but you can understand where he’s coming from, and eventually he apologizes unreservedly and solves the problem by, well, kind of murdering someone, but the someone is pretty much Hitler, so, um… yeah, extremely flawed hero, but clearly with a functioning conscience.

    I also keep thinking of the Byronic hero (“mad, bad and dangerous to know”), which is a really troubling prototype, because ultimately he’s not a hero: he’s a troubled bad guy we’re invited to sympathize with, from a safe distance. We wouldn’t invite him over for dinner, though. Ultimately, he’s not a good guy at all, even if he sometimes does good things. This may have worked in the Romantic Era, but welcome to the post-Ted Bundy world. Audiences are cynical, and we instinctively look for the answer to one question: does he have empathy? If so, then however badly he behaves, he’s capable of goodness. If not, then no matter how well he behaves, don’t turn your back on him.

    They write Mal both ways, and it drives me crazy.

  22. SunlessNick says

    Robin,

    Thankyou for the nerdhelp. And yes, it was powerful.

    Clay Mechanic,

    And, as noted repeatedly on this site, despite his misogyny we’re clearly meant to ship him with the most conventionally attractive woman in the cast.

    Who is also the woman most frequently targeted by his misogyny. I once described the way Mal and Inara are written being a case of boundaries being conflated with inhibitions, and by implication, Mal’s constant breaking of Inara’s boundaries being conflated with the shedding of her inhibitions. But they’re different things, and the former is what I was seeing; every time they had Mal and Inara interact outside the immediately practical made me dislike Mal.

  23. says

    SunlessNick,

    Yeah. I know people who are upset they didn’t officially end up together in the Big Damn Movie, but I’m relieved. If I’m to get behind that ship, I need to see Mal grow the fuck up. My fanon interpretation is that Inara sees potential in him but realizes he’s not there yet.

  24. Maria says

    SunlessNick,

    That’s kinda what bugs me about fan responses to Sansa and Catelyn in GoT, as though the most conventionally femme women are prizes for male characters AND/OR are the logical targets of misogyny

  25. Clay Mechanic says

    SunlessNick:
    I once described the way Mal and Inara are written being a case of boundaries being conflated with inhibitions, and by implication, Mal’s constant breaking of Inara’s boundaries being conflated with the shedding of her inhibitions.

    Mal invades Kaylee’s personal space at the end of this very episode, when he hugs her for no apparent reason. According to the Wikipedia entry on Ariel, this was not in the script – so part of the trouble with Mal is the actor playing him. The director and editors left it in, so must have thought it was sweet – but it makes no sense.

    On the other hand, I like the way Kaylee describes the plan to Inara: “We killed Simon and River, stole a bunch of medicine, and now the Captain’n Zoe are off springing the others that got snatched by the Feds.” Kaylee doesn’t freak out and panic over small mishaps like half the crew being arrested.

  26. says

    Tristan J: Did anyone else find it significant that Mal’s little airlock shenanigens are very similar to what Simon, Book, and most importantly Niska were talking about re: Shan Yu at the start of the very next episode? I ask because a lot of the frustration people have with Mal and his more douchey/mysgonistic actions is that it’s unclear if he’s meant to be seen as heroic for it or not, and I think the fact that he is subtley compared to the biggest non-Reaver monster in the show makes ‘the show knows he’s kind of a bad guy’ more plausible.

    Having just watched this episode for tomorrow’s review, I agree that your take is valid, but I have a different read. Shan Yu may have been a monster, but I think the show is treating his conclusion as correct: that it’s when you put someone at death’s door that you really see who they are. This is why I was arguing upthread the significance of Jayne’s dying request in the airlock being for Mal to make something up and not tell them what he did, and how it revealed him to be capable of remorse. So I think the Shan Yu writings, which Book obviously seemed to respect on some level without respecting the man behind them, are authorial voice. It could even be the writers’ attempt to explain Mal’s actions, by suggesting his goal was not so much to kill Jayne as it was to convince Jayne he was about to die and then see if Jayne evidenced any conscience.

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