Monday, February 21, 2011

Firefly: Safe Review

Oy. This gang should really stay off the wild west worlds. They don't have the production values to make them feel like alien planets instead of someone's backyard. I get the importance of a cowboy vibe to the show's overall identity and all, but much of Safe was just jarring. That is not to say that the episode is a total loss. It simply stands in stark contrast to Shindig's tight pacing and Bushwhacked's immersive atmosphere.

The episode starts with the delivery of the cattle obtained at the end of Shindig to some less-than-honest ranchers on a dusty world. There is a thematic focus on the burden of the Tams on the rest of the crew. During the delivery, Mal shoos Simon and River away so they don't disrupt the deal. They bump into Inara and Kaylee in a dusty knick-knack shop and Simon (somewhat inexplicably) explodes at Kaylee. There's a class-romance undercurrent to their attraction but this scene between them feels contrived.

Young Tams.
The development of the Tams' problems in the present is supported with flashbacks demonstrating Simon's limitless love and loyalty to his little sister. A young Zack Efron plays flashback Simon and is saddled with some hilarious bits of dialogue. Firefly's insistence on its various sci-fi quirks is admirable but the occasional Mandarin curse needs to go, particularly when delivered by an inexperienced Zack Efron. (A similar complaint can be leveled at the application of laser-gun sound effects to Smith and Wesson revolvers. Is the show afraid we'll forget we're in the future?) Notwithstanding the odd cringe-inducing bit of Mandarin, these flashback scenes are nice. They help cement the sibling relationship between the two adult characters and fill in more of the mystery surrounding River.

While River and Simon wander aimlessly through town, the cattle deal goes south and Shepard Book winds up shot through the chest. This affords us some gratuitous shirtless shots of Ron Glass who, it must be said, keeps himself quite trim for an older gent. And JUST when the crew finally have a need for Simon Tam's doctoring skills, he goes and gets himself and River kidnapped by hill people. (The kidnapping takes place at some bizarre, dancey-folkey-pagany-thing that seems so incongruous with everything else on the show that I don't even want to speak of it. Suffice to say, Firefly has some serious thematic inconsistencies that are on full display in Safe.)

Fucking hill people man. Those guys suck. Ignorant as a post, dirty, and always kidnapping 'skilled' people to help their society survive. But a MacGuffin is a MacGuffin so let's press on.

"That's so dah byang hwah Dad!"
Simon, being the Hippocratic-oath-swearing doctor that he is, jumps in with both feat to help the infirmed  hill people while River wanders around being River. That is to say, wanders around communicating with mute, abused children and generally being creepy. So of course the ignorant hill people decide she's a witch (can't give a hill person too much credit) and commence to burning her at the stake. And just when all seems lost, Mal and co arrive to save the day. (They decided to take Shepard to a nearby Alliance cruiser where the preacher's mysterious ID card opens many doors that would otherwise remain closed to the rag-tag bunch.)

Much of this episode feels directionless though the series' signature irreverent wit is happily intact to guide us through. The aforementioned flashbacks to the young Tam household are interesting but ultimately pointless. The continuing mystery surrounding Shepard Book's past is further mystified but it doesn't feel like it will ever be resolved. And the continuing eccentricities of River are becoming more and more supernatural though the other characters in the show (save the hill billies who want to burn her) don't seem particularly surprised. Oh yeah...and Kaylee wants to bang Simon but he's too much of a sister-obsessed sissy to do anything about it.

Let us never speak of this again. 
Safe isn't bad by any means but it does parade some of the show's worst attributes. Namely a handful of unanswered mysteries, inconsistent themes (that pagan folk dance is really a buzz-kill), and not enough Nathan Fillion. Weak though it is, the final scene between Simon and Mal is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Simon: "Captain, why did you come back for us?"
Mal: "You're on my crew."
Simon: "Yeah, but you don't even like me. Why'd you come back?"
Mal: "You're on my crew. Why we still talking about this?"
Continuing proof that a show which depends on Nathan Fillion has problems larger than Fox executives.

1 comment:

  1. I never think there's any way they can wrap up the loose ends by the end of the 45 minutes, but they always seem to manage somehow. I kind of liked the way they juxtaposed the Pagan Folk dance with the botched cattle deal... Especially when River seems to intuit something has gone awry. Kind of poetic!