So I'm trying to un-entangle some more thoughts about "Safe":
Flashbacks are tricky. I both long to see them, and worry that they never match up my expectations. And the deeper and more complicated the relationship between that characters being flashbacked is, the more I have both those reactions.
I mean, usually, when something is hinted at, the power of the hint itself may be bigger than anything that could actually be specified. Like, Book's funny story in "Out of Gas" - we never got to hear it, only that the entire Wash-less crew laughed out loud upon hearing it, and that made it automatically a very funny story and excluded the possibility that upon listening to it ourselves we wouldn't have found it as funny for us. Like the shadow that the maybe-damaged-maybe-zombie-maybe-who-knows-what Joyce cast on the window in "Forever" was way more scarier, to me, than actually seeing an actress wearing make-up and having special effects all around her. The 'not knowing' and vagueness may be more powerful than the telling of the story itself. I remember when "Fool for Love" was broadcasted in the USA, before I ever got to see it, and on the second season of "Angel" with all the Darla flashbacks, that I was wondering if anything actually shown on screen can match the emotional image in my head from the hints about the past from all the story that was told before. The thing with wonderful writers is, they can exceed the expectations of someone with a limited imagination, such as, well, me. So in these cases they definitely managed to do that. And in "Safe", too.
This whole trade-off air that was in the conversation between Simon and his father in the flashback - it all seemed like a relaxed loving family setting, the giving parents who care for their children, bright and energetic and loving. However, the whole concept of trading-off kept repeating in the father's words - he wouldn't have given Simon that gadget he wanted because he wanted it, but because he deserved it, because he was smart and capable. He mentioned Simon's fixed-already future of becoming a doctor, and even said that by that he'd repay his parents for their care. Now, I haven't been a parent yet, but from what I've seen as being a daughter of parents, I thought parental love is unconditioned, that the happiness and the welfare of the child is its own reward, not being brilliant or rich or successful. Of course these ambitions are natural, and a parent to a promising child can't help but build expectations, but not hang the treatment to that child on the fulfillment of them. And even I am not as naive as to think that relationships like this don't exist IRL all the time - it's just that I hope that when it's my turn to be a parent, I'll be able to surpass that.
And I loved the way it was contrasted, in this episode, with the way Mal treats Simon and River - he's not nice to them, he makes demands, he won't tolerate them disturbing his business, what keeps them all alive. But he doesn't keep them in his ship despite the problems they bring upon his head because of any sort of future prize (and with a cost of a possible present profit, in the prize offered on their heads). Yes, Simon is a doctor and he takes care of members of the crew, but that's done business-like, between adults - he's earning his living with the crew, and he, too, wouldn't have it any other way.
It's not about being nice and warm and fuzzy. Those may be the things that you think make you feel safe, but they're just the mask, the cover-up on the real emotions, whichever they are. I'm definitely not saying that being nice to other people is not a good and worthy thing to do, I'm just trying to say that you can take care of a person, be good to them, compassionate and trust-worthy and doing the best possible thing, without ever bothering with this 'being nice'. And they are so very often being confused, and the 'nice' person is also considered the 'good' one, while these are two completely unconnected qualities.
And Mal doesn't bother being nice. I remember in "Serenity" how he told Kaylee that he's a mean old man, and how she said that he's not - and she's right, and despite all his show of how not-nice he is, that doesn't make him not-good.
I love how Simon never hesitates to answer back to anybody, be it Jayne or even Mal. When he thinks he's right, he's right there with it. Again I wonder if I'm not just inserting observations when there aren't any, and certain lines were just written as jokes and I shoulder too much meaning on them. But the fact that I can still try, regardless if it were intentional or not, means that something is indeed buried there, right?
And in another 'I don't care if it's only in my head' case, there's that silly little duck that Kaylee liked and wanted to get Simon, his disgust with it and her agreeing with him - played for laughs, sure, but also to continue emphasizing the differences between them and how Kaylee feels that it makes her less deserving of him (and still not stopping her from trying). And Simon insults her captain, her way of life, the thing she just liked - and she only takes offense when he insults "Serenity". That's the one thing that makes her jump, and eventually be angry at the whole speech, and leave the store. Does it mean that she thinks that he is better than her in some aspects? That she's willing to accept that hierarchy of standards even out on the rim, when her skills are just as important as his?
[Edit: yeah, the usual]
I like it that Simon isn't content with the life that he leads on board "Serenity" - that he chose it, without knowing what he's getting into, that he hates some aspects of it, willing to suffer some others, but still never feeling like this is his place or like this is what he is meant to do. He both doesn't like the place his choices had let him to, and wouldn't be willing to take any other course, even knowing the consequences (IMHO). And despite that, he's not trying to sugar-coat things or pretend that he fully belongs. So, yeah, he's a snob, in a way. And resents some of the things that are vital to his survival - but that's the human 'not heroic' response, and that's why I like it.
Simon was angry at the woman from the village that kidnapped him, when she said that life takes people to places they didn't expect. He said that it wasn't 'life' that brought him there, it was the men who kidnapped them, and in that instance he was right - but it was his life that brought him in a rather unexpected way to the situation where he even was at a place that something like this could happen, where he could be taken from wherever it was he tried to call home. So, in a way, that anger was a more direct version of the emotions he expressed earlier to Kaylee - this kind of way of life was very very far from what he could ever imagine his life would take, and he resented the fact that he needed to pay that price, even though it was by his own doing.
I love the relationship between Simon and River, I love it that we finally saw that River is indeed aware to what Simon managed to do for her, that she feels sorrow for him, if not guilt. That she is aware of her situation, of her being "broken", that Simon tries to contradict that to her (him of all people, the only one of those around her now who knew her at her best), to make it seem, for her, as if things are well for him and his heart isn't breaking whenever he sees her. And I love it that she is determined at getting better, once she suddenly seems to be aware of her situation. And that despite all that, they're still teasing each other, she's still tricking him, he is still falling for it, and they have such an affection for each other. None of Simon's feelings is gone once River stops being the prodigy he once knew. He doesn't love her IQ, her future, her potential - he loves her, his little sister. What a contradiction that is to the way his parents expressed themselves regarding their children! I mean, in the flashback scene, his mom was more worried about the effect the stress and worry may have on his job than what it was doing to him ("Shindig", anybody?)
I didn't think about it until now, but what happened to River without her choosing, without her knowledge, is in a way what Simon chose for himself. Simon seemed to always be putting River's wishes above his own - even already as a child, he put aside his homework to play with her. And now, in order to change that same thing for her - the loss of her future, the breaking of her possibilities. Hers were taken by the government, and he chose to give up his - not in such a harsh way, and he still maintained his mind and identity, but still - in order to go for her and attempt to rescue her. He didn't find the bright girl he once knew, so now he's trying to dedicate his time to find that in whatever was left from her mind. Am I making any sense?
I begin to think that one of the things done to River (or one of the side-effects) is her sensitivity to all that's around her. She talked to Badger with his own accent and accounted some of his past details of life in "Shindig", for example, and she seems to know a second before everybody when something is about to happen (the fire in "Out of Gas", for another example). Here she managed to describe the cows' situation in a way that was both floaty and sense-making, and managed to realize what happened to the little girl who didn't speak, and to the "patron". I don't think it's anything like telepathy - it seems to contradict the show's premise, in a way, though I'm not sure why I think so. But a very high sensitivity, reading of even the smallest clues, may yield very similar results, even in a non-Sherlock-Holmes kind of way. I have no idea if this is a question that will get to be answered in any of the (oh, so few) remaining episodes, too.
I find it interesting that Simon is so different from whomever he grew up with: his love for his sister is completely not calculated, and he expresses it with hugs and touching, neither of which we never saw from his parents. Plus, he's a product of the same system as the Alliance, right? And still, he rushes to the aid of anybody in need, even those who kidnapped him, in complete opposite to the people who refused to treat Book (until, well, they were convinced). It takes some backbone to develop a way of behavior that is different than the one that surrounded you all your life, and Simon definitely proved he has such strength hidden in him (I mean, he still talks back to Jayne), but still. It's even a bit similar to Mal's having his own set of values and ignoring everybody else's, in a way. Hmm.
Finally, some sort of hint about Book! I loved it that Book happens to be, again, the first to notice something may be wrong, that he continues to be the one who is alert and observant, even when compared to Mal. But of course the real revelation about him was identity card, and it's, in fact, just another layer of mystery. We still have no idea what was written there that created such a prompt response from the Alliance (and pretty much saved Book's life). Mal doesn't believe Book used to be one of them, but I see it more as him refusing to believe that a person he casts as a "good guy", a member of his crew, could ever be part of the enemy.
I love it that Book didn't just gather everybody around him and told them, I love it that he didn't even tell Mal - he said that one day he might, and left it at that, no fuss, no making-a-big-deal-out-of-it from his side (though it's probably quite a big deal for the others, even if only for the respect they show to his privacy. Well, at least for now). And I'm such a baby, in the sense that having this one hint only makes me want more.
I loved it that I both could and couldn't believe that Mal was leaving without Simon and River, in order to try and help Book. And Book was his least favorite member on the ship (well, maybe tied with River), being a man of religion when Mal lost his own faith. I loved it that I could believe that Mal assessed the situation, figured he couldn't do anything for Simon and River, and tried to save what he can. Not playing heroics of "we're not leaving anyone behind" and trusting the big old scriptwriter in the sky or whatever to arrange the order of events so that they will all end up for the best. He just made the best decision he could, and went to accomplish it. And it played so well with the whole theme of the episode, of being left alone without the help of your loved ones, and to the difference between how relationships look and how they really are, because it wasn't the nice thing to do, it looked bad, it looked like deserting two crew members without any attempts to do something about it, but it was the decision that saved Book's life because it was quick and immediate, and it was never with the intention of leaving River and Simon behind. It was the practical grown-up, dealing with the most urgent problem first and solving the other later, thing to do. And it worked (well, yeah, I know - it worked because the scriptwriter made it work, but still).
Inara still trusts the authorities more than any other crew member, as is logical from her position and place in life, I guess. Also, when Inara went on the bridge to suggest the go to a medical facility, saying she knows where they can find a doctor for Book - Mal was sure, until she specified it, that she was talking about Simon. He gave a whole speech as to why Simon doesn't deserve them to get back for him, which was probably another scenes in the line of "Mal isn't nice" ones, but what it really showed (to me, at least) was that his mind has not left Simon, that he's still on his mind and that despite doing the right thing in his eyes, he still doesn't ignore the other problems he'd need to solve once the most urgent one is over.
I love it that despite Kaylee and Zoe's trust of Mal (especially Zoe), despite their going with him and leaving the planet, despite their hope that he may find a plan to save Book, they both think they shouldn't have left Simon and River, and did nothing, not a single thing, to prevent that - they went along with Mal, they didn't even argue (and, again, at least Zoe has completely no problem in standing up to him, even if eventually she follows him wherever he goes). That kind of trust in a person - when you think what he did, what he made you do, is not the right thing, yet you didn't confront him and you went along with that - it's an amazingly strong thing. Scary, even, when there aren't enough checks to see that the person who is getting it deserves it.
I loved the cutting back-and-forth between the shooting scene and the one with River dancing. I loved the way it made me think that the dangerous storyline was the one with the guns and the criminals and the innocent happy here-in-order-to-be-a-contradiction one was the dancing happy girl (happy for a change, poor thing), and then have it all turned upside down over my head. It made the dancing scene look dangerous just by association even before it turned out to be this way. Well, both of them did.
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!" - that comes straight from the Bible. I'm not sure about any of the other lines quoted (whoa, not-so-good myth), but this one I recognize from the Hebrew original. Now, my memory on this is sketchy and I probably need to check a couple of books before saying anything, but it wouldn't stop me from trying to see what I can remember without that. I think that it was mentioned twice in the "torah", in both "Exodus" and the fifth book, which I have no idea what is its English name, that witchcraft is forbidden. However, and that's a pretty big however, it was never specified exactly what that word includes. I remember a conversation I had once with my brother, about whether or not "Harry Potter"-style magics are considered forbidden under that, and we did open books then to check, only my sieve doesn't manage to keep things inside it long enough for them to actually, well, stay there at all. Another point is that the reason for this order was that these activities were part of a system of beliefs, of worshiping other gods and goddesses (which is, of course, a very big no-no in a religion that tried to be monotheistic in a world which was pretty much the opposite at the time), so these rules were part of the system of rules to exclude worshiping of other deities, and not as an in-and-of-itself ruling out practicing certain, I'm not sure how to call them, activities. So in no way a community that leads its life according to the bible would ever do what the villagers in this episode did, not even close. And the way my (admittedly, extremely limited) understanding goes, there's nothing inherently wrong in, well, any sort of story-book/movie witchcraft that I've ever seen, maybe even completely nothing wrong in it at all. In fact, what Simon says, about how if they kill River it's their lunacy and ignorance that kill her? That pretty much sums up what I think about the subject.
[Edit: I have to learn to write shorter]
So River pretty much called Mal "daddy", didn't she? Will that make it the first Jossverse situation without an evil father-figure? And is the only way to do that was for him to put that father-figure as the main character?
Mal's treatment to people is similar to the one in "Shindig" and, well, pretty much all the way - he treats the person, not what's around them. I liked the line of "but she's our witch" - he wouldn't pretend he likes her, he wouldn't be nice about her situation, but he's definitely going out of his way and through risking his own life (and his crew, and his beloved ship) for the welfare of that girl. And it was so completely obvious to him - you're on my crew, you're the people I choose to go through life with me, we're together in this, I'm doing whatever I can for you. Period. So I don't like you that much? And your sister even less? What does that have to do with anything? It's not about the sugar-coat around anything, it's the real deal, the core of things. And how bigger a sap than that can I be without turning completely into a three-letters word?
I like the notion of the family we build for ourselves as opposed to the biological one. I know that it's a theme that echoes a lot in the Jossverse (the Scooby gang, the MoG, in the former shows), but it resonates a lot with me, as well. I mean, I'm lucky enough that I can consider several biological-family-members as friends, as built-family-members, but I know that it's a huge stroke of luck, and that luck is pretty much the deciding factor here. The importance of the people around you come from just that - what they mean to you, what you're doing for each other, what you're doing together, and that is stronger than combinations of genes. River wasn't important to Simon because of their shared parents, she was important to him because he loved her. And Mal definitely had no biological reason to both turn to his hated Alliance or go back and charge in, in order to save Book, River and Simon. You choose the people you want to share your life with, the people you're not willing to give up, and who feel the same way about you, and that's your 'real' family. By marriage, you can turn one person (at a time...) to a family member "officially", but I don't think that, for example, Mal and Zoe are less 'family' than Wash and Zoe - it's just in very different ways. And I don't think that, in this sense, it's possible to not treat Mal and Kaylee as siblings, in a way.
And that's the meaning of "home", too - I mean, Simon's father, after threatening to leave him all alone, that he's not going to come for him, asked him whether he was coming home. But how can a place be a "home" for somebody, when the most important thing for him is treated like it doesn't even exist? Now, I'm not saying that parents should indulge in every craziness of their children, and I'm definitely not saying that is a parent thinks their child is wrong, they should nonetheless encourage them in their wrongness. However, in these circumstances, the complete lack of trust, the order of priorities, it all contradicted the definition of the rich and comfortable estate as "home". Oh, and for the record, I think that "daddy" Mal wouldn't hesitate to not-back-up a crew member who did something he found as wrong (Jayne, I'm thinking about you here, for some reason, which may be "enough money"). But despite everything, "Serenity" is home now, for all the people who live in it. Book said so, but I think that the ones who understood it deeper in this episode were the Tams.
Now, of course, the only thing I have left to do is mock me for being able to be such a sapping sap. Sigh.
I practically jumped at my seat when I heard Zoe saying the "Big damn heroes, Sir" line. I mean, when the Angel thread was named this way, I knew that it was said by Jasmine's actress on "Firefly", but by the time I got to watch the episode, she was completely "Zoe" to me, and I had no idea it was coming. It was such a lovely surprise! Now I wonder which episodes some of the other Firefly-isms I didn't watch yet come from. I'm watching this in reverse, first the phrase, then its origin!
Needless to say, I loved the parallels between Simon and River's biological parents, to Simon's own treatment of River, and to Mal's taking-care of Book and saving Simon and River. He left them when it was vital to saving Book's life, but he never intended to leave them behind for good, he never meant to not come back for them. Even though he had to leave, even though he had to 'not play nice' for a while, he came back (and, as TV characters go, with perfect timing, too). And it was emphasized both in the multiple lines the story went, in the background of the characters, and, of course, in the flashbacks.
[Edit: a really big paragraph was cut here. No, really!]
The best part with a story that involves flashbacks is the way they are interwoven with the present - the way "Out of Gas" did it, for example (boy, you're probably so tired from reading that episode name in a post from my keyboard. Sorry about that) - each detail of the past that the writer chose to show had a direct meaning to the present story of the characters, it illuminated things in a different light, or a brighter one. I think it was done very well here, as well: The difference between the relaxed and sure-of-herself child of the opening scene and the screaming and out-of-control young woman of the following one. Simon's mother assurance that there's nothing that can keep him and his sister apart for too long, immediately after they were both kidnapped and Simon was without a way to even begin to know what happened to River, and followed by her finding him this time. Book calling "Serenity" home, right after Simon's father asking him to return with him and choose the future and life he had chosen for him, to go to a place he can no longer call home, since he lost the trust of the people who lived there, and again after the woman from the village presented Simon with that question.
I loved the continuity with "Shindig" - that this episode was the other end of the deal that they fought in order to get in that former episode. I think it's lovely that we got to see both the beginning and the end of a story, and that it's in fact two separate stories, more meaningful than the actual deal that fueled it all up.
My "lovely touches" list: Mal's throwaway line of "don't worry, we won't leave without you", which both turned out to be a lie and a truth, and the main point of the story, both stories. River explaining the cows in her River way, and Mal not only listening to what she says (in his pay-attention-to-everything way), but also thinking it makes sense. Book being the first to notice that something may be going wrong. The dance theme continuing with River - in the flashback it was mentioned that she had a dance recital, and when she saw the villagers dancing, she needed very little observance to comprehend the dance moves and join the dance. The obvious joy on River's face while she was dancing, and the way Simon looked at her at the time. Mal determined on getting the money (and managing to do it) despite being fired at every attempt to reach his hand and get it. Zoe and Mal treating Book with their earned-on-the-battle experience, and together. Simon's assurance that the crew will come for them, and the way it was contradicted with the ship taking off. Zoe trying to be calm in front of Book, hiding Simon's absence. Inara going on the bridge uninvited, just he same way as Mal does on her shuttle all the time (and him being annoyed by this reversal of roles, too). Jayne going over Simon's stuff, stealing money, while all this mess is going around. Kaylee holding Book's hand, even though he's unconscious ("He did it for me, once"). Simon being all doctor and professional-like as soon as he encounters a sick person who needs his help, even when this person is one of those who kidnapped him and his sister. The contradiction between that and the alliance refusal to take care of Book until his mysterious identity convinces them otherwise. Mal's refusal to believe that Book may have anything to do with his hated Alliance. Both Zoe and Mal acknowledging that life would be simpler without the two fugitives (and using that word, not "better"). River recognizing the "post holer" from the store when she's being tied up to the pole. Simon's recurring politeness.
I just loved the way that last scene looked like a family sitting to eat together. I've said it before, I think - I have no idea what was the real relationship among the crew. I know that they say that it was amazing, and I really want to believe that, and that it shows on these scenes in which they portray the connection between all these 10 characters (I'm counting "Serenity", too).
[Edit: There. Shutting up now.]