Sunday, December 30, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Ariel"

"The next time you stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face."

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Ariel." Original air date: November 15, 2002.

I don't remember having seen "Ariel" before. And now, I don't know what to do with myself. It feels like I just watched two feature-length movies in the last 44 minutes. One was a brilliant adventure movie and the other was some kind of Greek tragedy set in the future. Let me just note that this episode was supposed to air after "Out of Gas," which decimated me emotionally. In this case, I'm kind of glad that Fox decided to ruin the show's intended and logical order of episodes, if only because I wouldn't be able to handle so many emotions right now.

I love the way this episode opens - with the whole crew in the kitchen. There's a real sense of camaraderie, and it follows the end of the last episode, "Safe," quite nicely. It looks like Simon and River really are at home on Serenity - until River slashes Jayne with a knife, possibly in a misguided attempt to defend her brother. Somehow, Mal is able to be the perfect captain following an event like this and settles things with both Jayne and Simon.

Since Serenity has to land on the shiny, rich core planet of Ariel to drop Inara for her annual Companion physical, Simon takes the opportunity to set up some work for his shipmates and try to help his sister at the same time. He hatches a plan - yes, Simon, the straight-laced doctor, maps out an entire criminal scheme - for the crew to sneak himself and River into the hospital. I know, I wouldn't expect it from Simon either, since he talks all pretty and boring, like all the other rich people we see in the core in this episode.

The plan is laid out in the kind of montage you usually see in heist movies. Obviously, not everything goes as planned. Things go wrong in the most engrossing way possible. Mal and Zoe encounter a minor roadblock in their plan to steal meds from storage. Unfortunately, Jayne, Simon, and River are stopped by an even bigger hurdle. Which is Jayne's fault - he calls the Alliance to turn in the two fugitives, hoping for a payday and a more serene Serenity, and ends up being arrested, too. (You know, harboring fugitives, trying to outwit an evil empire, the kind of stuff that'd get anyone in trouble.)

Now Simon has to save his sister from the same people he already worked so hard to save her from, and it must be even harder for him to do so after he found out just how much damage they did to her. This is not a good day to be Simon or River. The bad guys who caught them, that they escape from, aren't even the real bad guys! I was scared enough of the men with the blue gloves just knowing that they had lobotomized River multiple times. Watching them make sure that their search for Simon and River leaves no survivors was terrifying. I know that in television, usually everything gets wrapped up all pretty and the main cast isn't usually in danger of being brutally killed, but somehow in this episode, I wasn't so sure. (And yes, spoiler alert: I know that not everything will be okay after this episode.)
"She feels everything. She can't not."
In this episode, Jayne wasn't the quip-ready, smirking tough guy I've come to know and love. He was unpleasant. I can't say I was surprised that his greed took over and he turned in River and Simon, but I can't believe that he actually went through with it and showed so little regard for them and the crew. The fact that he realizes he's done something wrong at the end of the episode, and shows remorse for it, was stunning. If I had been watching this episode when it first aired, my mind would have been blown.

If I had watched it back then, there are so many things I would have missed: the sharp editing, the stunning use of dialogue, and the way that colours are used. The scary steel grey of the Alliance, the crisp, sterile hospital whites, the bright colours of the 3D scan technology... Visually, this was such an impressive episode. I have no idea if the set designers and special effects people were just that good at making a lot out of a little, or if the show was so expensive that it just had to be cancelled. Then again, the latter would be ridiculous, since I'm sure that at least some money had to be spent on Temptation Island, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, that dating show hosted by Monica Lewinsky, and any lawsuits that may have followed the production of such shows.
But what do I know, right? It's not like I work for the TV network that cancelled this show. I'm just one of many fans with access to the episodes that were produced, and an appreciation for the people who made them.

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