Summer Classes: Firefly

The last thing you want to do over the summer is catchup on things you’ve put off but sometimes, you need a couple of extra hours. So this summer, we’re debuting a new feature “Summer Classes,” where I explore my massive pop culture blind spots and write about my trip experiencing them. Here, we take on the next 6 episodes of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.

You know, really not a lot has changed as “Firefly” approaches its conclusion. My problems with the characters remaining little more than archetypes, the show still depends on the plot and the charm in order to keep episodes coherent and a lot of the mysteries that Whedon introduced early on haven’t been fleshed out particularly well.

Even with all of that, these episodes just work better. I don’t know, maybe I’ve jived a little better with the show’s rhythms, maybe the reappearance of several characters has made the universe feel more filled in and complete or maybe its the focus on having some action but “Firefly” just feels more watchable and a hell of a lot more fun.

While the first batch of episodes was a sporadically dull, rather formulaic series, these ones have a lot more fun just by putting the characters in danger more often. Even in the lone dud, the formulaic and expected “Out of Gas,” there’s a legitimate sense of danger just by leaving Mal aboard the ship and at the mercy of others. Similarly, “The Message” takes a fairly expected plot twist (old war buddy doesn’t have the purest of intentions) and makes the whole episode work with a series of great action sequences and some fun and interesting different character motivations.

The standouts of this batch of episodes, as well as maybe the whole series so far are “Ariel” and “Trash.” Both episodes epitomize the differing goals of “Firefly” but they both do it in a way that shows the capacity Whedon’s sci-fi epic had to go on for years.

“Ariel” is the better of the pair, mostly for the great twists and turns as well as an excellent tense slow burn. While Mal and Zoe attempt to infiltrate an Alliance hospital to liberate medicine to sell on the Rim, Simon uses the opportunity to perform a brain scan on River to figure out what was done to her at the Academy. All of their plans are complicated when Jayne puts in a call to an Alliance officer, making a deal to sell out Simon and Jayne. The whole thing flows unexpectedly, with Zoe and Mal’s seemingly idiot proof plan hitting constant snags and Jayne constantly having to readjust his plans as more and more of River’s condition is revealed to the group.

On the other hand, “Trash” feels like an early build of the kind of show that FOX wanted Whedon to make. When the crew of the Serenity links back up with Mal’s sort-of ex-wife Saffron, they’re led to pulling a job on a series of orbital islands. The whole thing has a series of entertaining set-up and execution moves that fans of heist films are sure to recognize and the series of crosses and double crosses, although expected, are entertaining. That being said, Mal is particularly goofy here, rather than the hardened and occasionally cruel killer he can be and I was constantly wondering why he wasn’t shooting people first rather than asking way too many questions.

As I approach the end of the show, I think the thing which I’m constantly reminding myself is not to view “Firefly as a finished product. The hints of characterization, the unfolding of mysteries and the development of romantic relationships between the characters are little more than that, the beginning of something that could have been. And something that’s about to end.

Next Class: There’s a pair of “Firefly” episodes left and the companion film, “Serenity.”

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