Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Back to Life, after talk of death (Firefly at the Mission Week 7)

(A request: If anyone wants to add to or clarify this Firefly at the Mission entry, e-mail me. I’m reachable via comments here and at d00d.srsly @, and I want to be especially sure I didn’t say too much or get details wrong.)

As the Joss Whedon fans reading this know, his work features many examples of the Bad Death. I think the concept needs a name like that, and that almost sounds like a Whedonism, like “the Big Bad.” He knows how to make fictional characters die in a way that hurts, the way real-life death does.

(Which reminds me: Douglas Adams created the “death of the sperm whale” scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy because he was bothered by the American TV series Cannon, where passerby would get shot and killed by bad guys and there was no dramatic impact, no sadness that someone’s life had ended, even fictionally. Adams decided to create a character that would die solely for a plot point, and make the audience feel sad that said character did die.)

Think of the woman who dies trying to get off the bus in Speed (which Whedon rewrote). When that happens, Dennis Hopper makes a joke; Sandra Bullock cries, and Keanu gives her what counsel he can while they barrel down the freeway. A wild-ride action film takes time to deal with the emotional impact of that kind of loss. And think of the Bad Deaths in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy and Dawn’s mother Joyce. Willow’s partner Tara. Or think of Fred, on the Angel episode “A Hole in the World.” All were deaths that could’ve been purely plot elements, part of the simple movement from Start of the Story to End of the Story…but they had an awful verisimilitude in the hands of Joss Whedon and his fellow writers. Their deaths weren’t dramatic cheats, the equivalent of the “cop partner gets killed as he tells the star cop about his retirement plans” death you sometimes see in action films; their deaths were gut-punches. They hurt. Bad Death.

And Whedon and Tim Minear pulled off a Bad Death in Firefly’s “The Message” with a character we only met in “The Message.” Think of all the dramatic turns in just those 44 minutes: meeting that man in the coffin, seeing the flashback to the war, being surprised by his waking up, seeing him threaten the lives of Serenity’s crew when he’s threatened, watching him die, experiencing his funeral…that’s a lot of dramatic and emotional heavy-lifting. It’s a packed episode. And of course, it was the episode the cast and crew were making when they learned the show was going away after “Objects in Space,” so there’s that extra-textual touch of emotion. (I always thought that “The Masterpiece Society,” the first Star Trek: TNG episode filmed after Gene Roddenberry’s death, felt drained of energy, with the cast and crew still working through their loss.)

It’s a strong episode, and it had a strong impact on our Tuesday night screening crowd, I’d say. So did “Heart of Gold.”

Before all that, there was the waiting. We were lucky that the weather had cleared and that the skies were dry, so it wouldn’t be an uncomfortable wait. I waited near two people who played Scrabble, the board set in an especially bright pool of light. I once again saw the depth and breadth of Firefly fandom, how interesting the people attracted to the show are: people I spoke with included a man who collects builds vintage guns – he described a seven-barrel model of his that was used (for a third of a second!) in the film Master and Commander – and a woman who’d once worked as an escort and who appreciated how Firefly presented companions in an intelligent, nuanced, non-hysterical manner. And we had our usual collection of readers, adult-beverage aficionados (my group discussed whether it was possible to make a Red Bull-based beer), photo-takers, and generally happy-to-be-there people. Maybe we even had people dressed as Firefly characters again, but I didn’t see anyone like that this time.

And while I’m not sure if copies of it were on-hand, many of us spoke of the special edition DVD of Serenity, finally available that very same day, with extra-y goodness pressed onto those discs and giving us another way to demonstrate our fondness for all things Firefly and Serenity. I’ll be buying it. (LJ’s kradical – Keith R. A. DeCandido of the Serenity novelization – will likely be buying it because he gets mentioned positively on the cast commentary! And his mom definitely will buy it…)

Live Free or Die Hard started and ended earlier than it had the week before, and after it finished we all filed in, making the Mission Theatre reasonably close to full. The pre-show music this time included an inspired song about Jayne, to the tune of “A Boy Named Sue”; I applauded that song. I wasn’t the only one. This week’s trivia questions dealt with several episodes, not just that night’s, so as to avoid too many spoilers. (By the way, Mike, there wasn’t a “that” in “I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.” Yes, I proofread.)

And we also learned the News What Is Good:

Last June’s “Serenity Now” screenings at the Hollywood raised $13,000 for Equality Now (think about it: as the 2007 worldwide total is $108,000, Portland was responsible for 12% of that!) and over $1,000 for the Women’s Film Initiative.

That deserves its own paragraph.

Like that one.

Episodes then unspooled (I know, DVDs don’t “unspool,” but you still get what I’m saying, so the term works in context). Cort and Fatboy introduced “The Message” with talk of the special meaning of that episode’s funeral; Rick Emerson (apparently in a bunker; oy, radio stations are poorly lit) briefly referenced the possible good future for Futurama (DVD movies, yo!) as he introduced “Heart of Gold.” Ah: another show Fox handled poorly (aye, even hobblingly) that found extended life thanks to fans. I sense a pattern. I’m not the only one.

Two more Tuesdays to go: “Objects in Space” next week, the movie for free (hey, perhaps from the new DVD) the Tuesday after Labor Day. Make sure these are well-attended, people. Let’s go out with a bang. Don’t let a Bad Death happen to Firefly at the Mission. OK, that was a reach…
Tags: firefly/whedon

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