Well, I finished up the last three episodes of Firefly Tuesday night, and they weren’t that bad, though as Aimeric warned me, one of them was a fairly ordinary western set in a ramshackle whorehouse (approximately 60% sexier than a high-class bordello from what little we saw of it). I thought the last episode, “Objects in Space,” was going to be my favorite until the scary bounty hunter started in with some zany woo-woo Joss Whedon dialogue and the dramatic tension whooshed out the airlock. Oh, and we were set up for River to do something spectacular and violent, but there was no real payoff because she just did something clever instead. That would have been fine if the series had continued for one or two more seasons (the “‘verse” isn’t fleshed out enough for more than that) and the show’s secrets had unfolded gradually and naturally.
But of course it was cancelled, and Whedon had to rush his ending with this movie. We find out some things we basically already knew — that River had been extensively altered by the government to be a psychic living weapon — and some things we didn’t know, like where the Reavers came from, and why the government is so keen to get River back. Those last couple secrets are unfortunately a bit anticlimactic and only one of them is even faintly plausible. Perhaps the problem is that we know so little about the Alliance government — except that it must be bad because it does mean experiments on people and because Our Hero Mal fought against it on the yee-haw side of the Civil Star Wars. It’s never been clear what kind of regime this is — dictatorship? oligarchy? plutocracy? or just a corrupt republic like we have in the US of A? — so it’s hard to guess what’s at stake for this government if its secrets get out. People buy fewer Oaty Bars? There’s another Civil Star War in which the Rebels lose again? A “candidate for change” gets some votes?
And doesn’t it seem a little out of character for Mal to stake so much on this? It does, which is why in every other scene someone is talking about strength of belief, why the enigmatic Shepherd Book (whose past may now remain a secret forever, unless the series is revived, and maybe even then) has to pound into Mal’s skull the idea of “believing in River” — because Mal now has to do something stupid, profitless, incredibly dangerous, and completely against his nature, not to mention sort of pointless. Even today the media has a lot less power than we imagine; one conspiracy theory from a disreputable source is just a drop of oil in the ocean.
What happens is SO out of character, in fact, that Mal has to threaten his crew to get them to go along with it. This is incredibly clumsy writing for a show that prided itself on being about people and relationships. The latter don’t get their due either; I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are deaths in this movie and none of them are visibly mourned. Yes, we see their graves, but that’s not mourning. It just rings hollow.
I had some other minor complaints, like how Mal could hold his own for more than a minute in unarmed combat against a master assassin, or why the master assassin AND the scary bounty hunter from “Objects in Space” are both black and both ultimately diffident in bizarrely inconsistent characterizations. But what it comes down to is that the pacing and — I’ll admit it — pretty solid writing of the TV series didn’t quite work in this film. It’s too bad, because in a lot of ways this is better TV (and it’s HELLA better sci-fi) than the new Doctor Who, and even if you don’t like a person, you can’t always enjoy seeing them give themselves a wedgie. It’s sad.
When I heard Battlestar Galactica was going to wrap up this season, I was scared that it would end up like this: a rush job that didn’t and couldn’t do justice to the measured development you get with a solid TV series. It still might, but BSG has the luxury of 900-odd minutes to wrap up, and Firefly had only about 115. Serenity didn’t totally suck, but it sure didn’t blow me away.