Monday, April 18, 2011

Firefly: Trash Review

Back, in all her buxomy glory (turns out 'buxomy' is not an acceptable adverbification of 'buxom' just as 'adverbification' is not an acceptable noun form of 'adverb'), is Kristina Hendricks of Mad Men fame. However, despite attempting to kill the gang in her previous appearance, Trash sees her teaming up with Mal and co. for a historic heist. It's a fun, light-hearted romp through Firefly's universe with some interesting sets and clever plans. As is the show's custom, it occasionally veers a little too close to camp for my comfort but, with a naked Nathan Fillion, who can really complain?

Fan service.

Kristina's Saffron (now going by Bridget) reappears married to an old war buddy of Mal's named Monty. Mal exposes her for the snake she is and Monty leaves them both on the desolate planet where they had originally met up for some trade. Despite seeming to abandon her there, the viewer soon realizes that Mal took Saffron on board after being tantalized by a heist she has planned. These scenes, despite being planet-side, crackle with energy and fun. Mal and Monty share a believable camaraderie and there are a few funny lines making light of Monty's surprise at the fight that immediately breaks out between Mal and Saffron. This lighthearted tone almost makes one overlook the transparent pulley-system which floats Monty's ship off into the night.

"I take it you two have met."
While this energy is fun to watch, parts of Trash avoid more dramatic moments for the sake of humor. The focus on comedy gets in the way of emotional beats that, after 10 episodes of investment, deserve slightly more respect. Back on board Serenity, Mal and Inara share an amusing scene in her shuttle where she accuses Mal of intentionally keeping her away from potential clients. He responds by accusing her of using feminine wiles and Inara calls him a petty thief. It's good, airy fun but I almost wish it wasn't so comedic. It takes some gravitas out of a relationship which otherwise has proven to be occasionally gripping.

Similarly, while amusing, the crew seems far too placid in their reactions to Saffron's return after her attempted treachery. Only Inara behaves believably offended. Granted, Zoe gets to deck Saffron at the scene's conclusion but it is more slapstick than catharsis. I would have liked to see more resistance to Mal's plan and even some anger directed at him for secretly stashing Saffron aboard. But these are nit-picky complaints against an overfull fun episode.

Once again employing the jump-cut juxtaposition between plan and execution, we watch Mal and Saffron sneak into a house where a valuable laser gun is being held, disguised as florists. The rest of the crew sets about reprogramming garbage drones in the service of a heist which is sufficiently clever to remain entertaining. While set on-planet, Trash's environs are pure science fiction: floating cities above an endless ocean. Though everything looks vaguely uncanny, the plastic sheen can be forgiven for being a product of 2003's TV-special effects capabilities. While it doesn't compete with the haunting silence of Firefly's space scenes, Trash's planet-based action is sufficiently convincing.

Mal and Saffron no sooner find their quarry than it's owner, Durran played by Dweir Brown, stumbles upon them mid-heist. Instead of reacting with anger though, Durran rushes into Saffron's arms. It's the third husband of Saffron we've met in only two episodes and Trash doesn't pull any punches poking fun at this fact. Both the scene of their reunion and Mal's consistent ribbing as they make their escape with the laser gun are genuinely funny.

But the focus on fun over plot finally unravels in the final act of the episode as Trash's internal logic collapses on itself. Mal is betrayed (no big surprise there) yet again and Saffron seems to have the upper-hand. But there was a back-up plan that is revealed too late to save it from feeling like an unfair deus ex machina. Why couldn't the rest of the crew simply follow the garbage drone down to the planet? When did Mal create this back-up plan? In the end, we wind up with Nathan Fillion naked in a desert, waiting to be picked up by his crew. Trash seems content to end this way and, through a steady dose of humor, the viewer is able to shrug off the uneven emotional beats and occasional plot holes for the enjoyment of Fillion's full moon.

Easy living.
It's not, by any stretch, the best entry into Firefly's aborted canon but neither is Trash the worst. In fact, it feels for all the world like the odd episode of Cowboy Bebop; clearly written to fill the space in a season's lineup and provide the show's writers with an emotional break. It's lighthearted, fun, and its irreverence for the show's more serious aspects is infectious enough that the viewer doesn't mind.

Interestingly, Trash was never aired on Fox, suggesting that the producers realized it was merely filler. But isn't a little filler here and there necessary?

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