Serenity (Firefly episode)
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Introduction of Wash that gives a glimpse into his whimsical personality
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Joss Whedon|
|Written by||Joss Whedon|
|Original air date||December 20, 2002|
|Running time||86 minutes|
"Serenity" is the series pilot for the American science fiction television series Firefly created by Joss Whedon. However, Fox executives were not satisfied with this as a pilot, and so instead, "The Train Job" was created as a second pilot and was the first episode of the series aired. "Serenity" was not aired until the end of the series' run. This episode shares its name with the feature film Serenity, which continues the series after the final episode.
In 2003, the episode won the award for "Best visual effects in a television series" from Visual Effects Society, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 2003 for "Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form".
Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) are survivors of their rebel unit in the Battle of Serenity Valley during the Unification War, in which their side lost. They are now seeking out an existence on the edges of space in their Firefly-class spaceship Serenity, taking odd jobs even if they involve petty crime. They take on passengers to supplement their income, but one has a secret that makes their lives more difficult.
In 2511, Sgt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and Corporal Zoe Alleyne fight in the Battle of Serenity Valley during the Unification War. Without air support, the Browncoats are eventually defeated (and massacred) by the Alliance.
Six years later, Mal is the captain of his own transport ship, an older-model Firefly-class vessel he named Serenity, and Zoe is his second-in-command. The rest of the ship's crew consists of Wash (Alan Tudyk), who is the pilot and is also Zoe's husband, Kaylee (Jewel Staite) the engineer, and Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) the gun-for-hire. Inara (Morena Baccarin), a "Companion" (i.e. Courtesan) who rents one of Serenity's two shuttles, normally travels with them, but she is currently away from the ship on business. While the crew are illegally salvaging some crates off an abandoned spaceship, they are discovered by an Alliance cruiser. To escape capture, they deploy a decoy distress beacon. The Alliance cruiser falls for the diversion, but broadcasts a bulletin that a Firefly-class ship is carrying stolen Alliance goods.
The crew of Serenity travel to Persephone, where they intend to deliver the stolen goods to Badger (Mark Sheppard), the small-time gang leader who hired them for the heist. When they meet with Badger, he reneges on their deal, partly because he is worried about the Alliance broadcast on the rogue Firefly, and partly because he doesn't like the way Mal looks down on him. Mal decides to try selling the cargo to Patience, an old business associate who lives on Whitefall. Zoe has misgivings about the plan, since Patience once shot Mal, but Mal is desperate to get rid of the hot cargo, and bears no grudge since he was shot in a "perfectly legitimate conflict of interest." The crew joins up with Inara and picks up passengers to provide some supplemental income. The new passengers are a preacher named Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), a bumbling man named Dobson (Carlos Jacott), and a wealthy doctor named Simon Tam (Sean Maher) who brings on board a mysterious large crate.
En route to Whitefall, Wash discovers that someone on board sent a message hailing the nearest Alliance cruiser. Suspecting that Simon is the mole, Mal confronts him only to discover that Dobson is the "Fed". Dobson surprises Mal by telling them it is Simon he wants to arrest, not Mal. Later, while Dobson attempts to arrest Simon, he shoots Kaylee in the stomach before being overpowered by Book, who is surprisingly good at hand-to-hand combat for a Shepherd. When the Alliance cruiser orders them to dock for prisoner transfer, Simon threatens not to treat Kaylee if Serenity does not flee. Torn between the threat of capture and Kaylee's safety, Mal reluctantly agrees (after being prodded by Inara to do so) and flees from the Alliance ship. Mal goes to the cargo bay, opens Simon's mysterious crate, and is surprised to find a young woman inside in a cryonic sleep.
The woman in the crate is revealed to be River Tam (Summer Glau), Simon's sister. Simon explains that his sister was a brilliant child who was sent away to an elite Alliance academy when she was fourteen. After River sent him an encoded letter for help, he discovered that the Alliance was torturing and experimenting on the students at the academy. Simon left his job as a successful trauma surgeon to rescue her from the Alliance and is on the run trying to protect her from them. Mal decides to proceed to Whitefall as planned, dropping off both the goods and the Tam siblings.
Dobson has been tied up, out of the way. Mal tells Jayne to interrogate Dobson to find out what he told the Alliance about them. Once Jayne finds out that the Alliance knows nothing, Dobson tries to bribe him. He also told Jayne his first name is "Lawrence".
Soon after, they discover that a Reaver ship is approaching. Zoe explains to Simon that "If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very very lucky, they'll do it in that order." Luckily, the Reaver ship passes by without incident.
Serenity lands on Whitefall and Mal prepares to make the deal. Mistrustful of Patience, he sends Jayne to take a sniper position in the hills while he and Zoe walk out to meet Patience and her henchmen in a deserted valley. Mal gives Patience a sample of the cargo, which turns out to be nutritional/immunization bars, each one of which can feed an entire family for a month. Patience tries to kill them, so she can take the cargo without paying, but Mal and Zoe, with the help of Jayne, dispatch Patience and her gang, taking the money they were promised. Although, one of Patience's men shot Mal's arm, ripping a hole on his sleeve coat. Jayne then joins the others, having been contacted by Wash with bad news: the Reavers followed them to Whitefall.
Meanwhile, back on the ship Dobson escapes, knocking out Book and grabbing River. Simon inexpertly attacks Dobson, but after they scuffle, Dobson ends up with River grabbed by an arm and pointing a gun at her head. Mal arrives and shoots Dobson, dumping his body off the ship as they start to take off, the Reavers hot on their tail.
Mal orders Inara, Simon, and River to Inara's shuttle, preparing them to escape in the shuttle if the ship is boarded by the Reavers. Jayne carries the still-convalescing Kaylee to the engine room, and Book offers to help them. With Jayne and Book carrying out Kaylee's instructions, Wash is able to pull off a Crazy Ivan (or VIFF), and Serenity escapes.
Jayne tells Mal that they should dump the siblings, since Dobson had told him during the interrogation that the Alliance will keep coming after River. Mal, suspecting that Dobson tried to make a deal with Jayne, asks why he didn't turn. Jayne responds that the money wasn't enough, but it'll be an interesting day when it is. Jayne leaves as Simon enters. Mal suggests to Simon that he and River might be safer on the move than hiding in one place, and points out that Serenity is always moving, and in need of a medic, to which Simon accepts.
This episode has two deleted scenes.
- An alternate opening scene showing the aftermath of the Battle of Serenity Valley. Most of the Independent soldiers are dead. Mal and the survivors witness the long-awaited arrival of the medships; when Zoe says "Thank God" for the ships' arrival, Mal bitterly asks whose side God is on. This scene was deleted because the studio wanted a more action-packed opening scene. This scene would have explained why Mal, who is seen kissing a cross on his neck during the battle, lost his faith in God.
- A scene where Simon is taking care of the wounded Kaylee. Book asks why Simon chose to come aboard Serenity and Simon replies that it seemed disreputable. Book suggests that Simon lacks a knowledge of history. Simon researches the Battle of Serenity Valley on his encyclopedia and Zoe tells him about how many soldiers died during the battle and its aftermath. She tells Simon that Mal won't kill him unless he's got no other option. When Simon asks why Mal named the ship after such a horrible battle, Zoe replies that "once you've been in Serenity, you never leave."
This episode introduces a major story arc of the short-lived series: that of River and Simon. It reveals Simon's deep, selfless love for his sister and that his life is now defined by her.
Despite the script stating that Dobson is killed by Mal, Joss Whedon had planned to bring the character back. Although the series was cancelled, Dobson coming back for revenge was a key part of the plot in Serenity: Those Left Behind, a three-issue comic book miniseries intended to bridge the television series and the movie Serenity.
As Joss Whedon points out in the commentary for this episode, every show he does is "about creating family". To achieve the sense of family, he centers some action around a dinner scene at a table, and directs warm light into the faces of the characters. Strengthening this theme is the interaction between Simon and his sister River. Simon has done a selfless act in rescuing his sister, and his life is now defined by it. Whedon wanted to show a relationship like that that was not a parent-child relationship.
Another theme is the fusion of Asian and frontier culture. As Brett Matthews said, you couldn't ask for a better mission statement for the show than the shot of Mal with a Western tin cup and chopsticks. He then contrasts this to the tall, vertical Alliance cruiser that detects them, as he wanted to show how inefficient the Alliance government was.
He also wanted to show a lifestyle that was very tactile and physical, and contrast it to the lifestyle of the contemporary audience where things "fall in your lap."
This episode was originally intended as the pilot, but since the original version didn't suit Fox, it did not air at first. The beginning sequence was reshot before it did air, to give more of the "action" that Fox wanted. Instead, "The Train Job" aired as the pilot - "Serenity" was the last episode to air.
Also, at the time they were shooting this, Rebecca Gayheart was playing the role of Inara Serra, but Whedon knew that it was not going to work out due to Gayheart's interactions with other cast members and personal stress after her vehicular manslaughter case, and so shot scenes with her interacting with the crew in singles, so that the only part that would have to be reshot would be the shots of Inara.
After the Reavers are introduced, the screen goes to near black before cutting to commercials. Whedon wanted to give the audience time to "breathe" before being hit with commercials, but a true black would automatically cue the ads. Instead, he went with a color that was as close to black as he could go without causing this.
- Carlos Jacott as Lawrence Dobson, an Alliance "Fed." This is also one of Whedon's "hat tricks" for the episode: an actor that has appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, as well as Firefly.
- Mark Sheppard as Badger, the crime boss located on Persephone.
- Andy Umberger as the captain of the Alliance cruiser Dortmunder. He is also a "hat trick." In Buffy, though, he wore the heavy makeup of an important recurring character, the demon D'Hoffryn, Anyanka's boss, so he's barely recognizable, as Fillion notes in the DVD commentary.
- Philip Sternberg as Inara's client.
- Eddie Adams as Bendis, one of the members of Mal and Zoe's unit in the Battle of Serenity Valley.
- Colin Patrick Lynch as Radio Operator.
- Bonnie Bartlett as Patience.
- *Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
- Firefly: The Official Companion - Volume One, pg 13
- Espenson, Jane, ed., with Glenn Yeffeth (ed.). Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's "Firefly". Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books. ISBN 1-932100-43-1.
- Rhonda V. Wilcox; Tanya Cochran (20 May 2008). Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Joss Whedon's Worlds Beyond: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Investigating Cult TV Series). I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84511-654-5.
- Joss Whedon (1 Sep 2005). Serenity: The Official Visual Companion. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-082-3.
- Joss Whedon; et al. (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume One. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-314-5.
- Joss Whedon; et al. (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume Two. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-372-5.
- Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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