After encountering a booby-trapped spacecraft carrying the lone survivor of a horrific Reaver attack, Serenity is boarded by an Alliance Commander looking for Simon and River.
This one’s a bit tough, because it really is more of a psychological-thriller-that-happens-to-be-in-space than a hardcore science fiction story, which, I’d argue, is a benefit (not every episode of a sci-fi show has to revolve around being in space). Whether you’re in space or not, there are some aspects of humanity that are unlikely to fade anytime soon. When a show neglects this in favor of creating a hand-wavy utopia (Star Trek, anyone?), it feels entirely unrealistic, so ten points to Firefly for breaking out of the mold!
We find out a little more about the ship in this episode, which pleases me greatly. Although the fact that I’ve been calling her by the wrong name this whole time is a little embarrassing. Still, I’m appreciative of the well-done information dump. That an Alliance crew would share information about Serenity and her crew makes more sense than any exposé would from the crew members themselves.
So from my geek perspective, this a pretty decent episode. There was nothing so outstanding that I felt the need to rant about it, but I’m not disappointed either.
You guys, I can’t believe I even have to say this. I just. I really can’t. But Wash’s little speech? You know, about how he married Zoe for “Her legs, and right where her legs meet her back. That—actually that whole area. That and… and above it.” Oh, and let’s not forget, “Have you seen what she wears? Have you ever been with a warrior woman?”
Look, I’ll be honest here—I’ve had high hopes for this show. You can barely breathe in geek culture without someone explaining how feminist Joss Whedon’s shows are. And while I understand that it’s possible to include characters that have these kinds of views in a feminist show, and even used in a positive way, this is not it. Wash isn’t in any way called out or penalized by the narrative for his views, and the audience isn’t supposed to see it in a negative light. We’re supposed to laugh.
This smacks of something known as ironic sexism. Basically, the joke is based around the fact that everyone knows what’s going on is sexist. It’s somehow okay and humorous because the creator knows that what they’re doing is objectifying and inappropriate. They’re not satirizing sexism, just replicating it. Sure, we all know that what Wash is saying is horrifyingly objectifying, but the writer knew that we knew, and that made it funny. Right? Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Now, obviously, one badly planned joke does not a horrible show make. Everyone slips up—no show is perfect—and if I gave up on every show because of a single problematic scene, I probably wouldn’t be able to watch anything at all. Overall, things with this show have been good so far. Really good, and I haven’t done a complete 180°, and I’m not suddenly hating the show because of this.
But I am not amused.
I’d like to introduce you to another side of my geekdom: the psychology geek. And boy, does this episode have a lot for me to cover. We’re introduced to an unnamed survivor of the Reaper-attacked ship, seemingly someone who will need to be taken care of by the team. Until, of course, he goes mad and attempts to murder our heroes (and some random Alliance representatives) in a manner eerily reminiscent of those used in the attack on his ship. And Reynalds has some interesting thoughts about that.
First off, Mister Captain Man clearly does not have a degree in psychology. But despite that, his poetic descriptions are pretty close to real-life diagnoses. “They made him watch. He probably tried to turn away, and they wouldn’t let him. You call him a survivor? He’s not. A man comes up against that kind of will, the only way to deal with it, I suspect, is to become it,” he argues, and he may be right. Interestingly, his argument includes the idea that it was done purposefully. Did the Reavers purposefully allow someone to live in order to bolster their own numbers?
The first clue is in the importance of having only one survivor. Isolation is a pretty important tactic when it comes to conditioning. Humans are social creatures, especially in times of trial, and if they cannot find anyone else, they will eventually turn towards whoever is there. Leaving a victim with no one but their captor to rely on and trust aids Stockholm Syndrome, which, in turn, aids a brainwashing campaign. If the Reavers set out to create a new ally, the isolation would be incredibly important.
But wouldn’t the violence on his friends and family turn him away from his captors? Well, not necessarily. Such large-scale violence serves two functions: First, it creates and strengthens an incentive to obey—the incentive of continued life; it also may shock the victim into a very brittle mental state, which would be much easier to, well, snap and remold as necessary.
While we admittedly just have the broadest details of what happened, much of it seems to point to Malcolm being right, and the Reavers using psychological warfare to increase their numbers. While it’s a very unpleasant thing to have happening in any universe, it’s much more interesting than the usual “managed to hide well enough to survive and tells us his story” plot. I want to know more about the Reavers, about how their culture started; about how they think and what else they get up to. As the introduction of a group that will, I assume, be playing a secondary villain role, it’s quite effective.
So what do you all think about the Reavers? If you’ve watched ahead of me, do I have some more psychological fun times to look forward to? Are any of them going to get into bar fights?
Looking forward to next episode already!
Words by Helen Barford