Sorry I wasn’t around for the discussion in the comments section last week (stuff came up, you know how it is), but hey! Sunday! It’s Firefly time again!
This week the episode is “Bushwacked,” which I had to rewatch with one hand ready to cover my eyes. This one has always freaked me out, even after a jilliondy viewings. Anyway, for those whose memories might be a bit rusty, here’s a quick summary of the events:
The main action of the episode starts when the crew of Serenity come across a derelict ship spinning in space. It seems at first to be abandoned, but the creepy music and River’s creepy commentary lets us know that there’s something more, y’know, creepy going on. Amidst the tension, Jayne is a total jerk to Simon, firmly launching the Jayne/Simon hate!sex ‘ship in Firefly fandom. Hooray!
Er… Back to the show. We learn that the ship was attacked by Reavers, who left behind a lot of corpses and one survivor. The crew bring the survivor back to Serenity, talk about what Reavers are, strip the ship of valuables, disarm a booby trap, and…get caught by an Alliance ship. After a series of interviews (most of them hilarious), a search of Serenity that fails to turn up fugitives Simon and River (who are cleverly hiding outside the ship), and some more ruminations on the nature of Reavers, the Alliance flunky decides that Mal is a bad guy and needs to be arrested and stuff. Mal protests! And explains things! In a shocking turn of events, Mal is actually totally right about what’s really going on, and saves the Alliance guy from being eaten by the survivor-turned-Reaver, and everybody gets to go home happy. Well, except the dead people. Most of them get blown up.
There are some really interesting and cool things about this episode. I love the interview sequences – they are such interesting character portraits, and even what Simon and River are doing instead of being interviewed tells us something about them (River’s fascination with the stars versus Simon’s terror of the vastness of space). Zoe and Wash continue to be one of my favorite sci-fi couples evar. The structure of the episode itself, with the slow-building tension, is effective and intriguing. I think the music is particularly well-done.
And then there’s some stuff that makes me roll my eyes until my head aches. Jenn was emailing me about this episode, and she shares a couple of my big “OMG WUT”s, which mostly revolve around the portrayal of mental illness(es). River and the survivor/Reaver are both pretty clearly insane, but the way they’re depicted is quite different. Which on the one hand is very much as it should be – there’s not any one way to be crazy, of course, and in this particular case what’s going on with the characters is definitely unique to each of them. However, one of the big differences is problematic when taken in context with our cultural milieu in general (and, arguably, with Whedon’s oeuvre in particular): while the male Reaver has agency and enough rationality to make effective plans (for mutilating himself and killing people, sure, but still), female River is hysterical, incomprehensible, and ineffective. Hmmmm.
Beyond that, the whole Reavers thing is often pretty nonsensical. Jenn wrote:
In this ep, we have a guy who… what? Is suffering from Stockholm syndrome + 1? He’s seen horrific abuse, so he’s going to become like his abusers? Thank goodness that’s not how it works on non-fiction humans, or you can imagine the fallout from Bosnia, the Holocaust and tortured POWs – not to mention abused kids. I mean, we’d be extinct already with that amount of conscience-free sport abusers wreaking their havoc. So, you know, if there’s a pathogen Reavers are passing on that effects a transformation, okay. But Mal’s line of thinking in this episode is the result of Whedon wanting a new version of vampires, and not having thought through how these monsters transform their victims into monsters. It makes Mal look incredibly stupid (just observation and a moderate knowledge of history overcomes this idea) and it insults the vast majority of survivors of abuse and horror who absolutely did NOT go on to resemble their abusers in any way.
Myself, I don’t want to speculate on what Whedon was or was not thinking re: Reavers as vampires or whatever. No matter what he, or any of the other writers, meant to do, what is there on the show just doesn’t really make sense.
But what do you think? And can you watch this one without flinching?
Next week, we’re watching “Shindig” – see you again then!