I skimmed them, and I think the reason I didn't post them then was because they were even more confused than usual, and I wanted to re-read some of the things to see if I can actually make them make any sense before posting them, and then promptly forgot. At least I didn't promptly delete, so I can now subject you to a completely patched series-of-posts. Sorry about that, but I simply can't afford the time today to making them look prettier, and I'm afraid that unless I post them now, I'll completely forget about it for ever and ever. Um, in any case:
"Shindig" - that episode was so much fun! With ruffles and swords and dances and a flying chandelier!
I loved the whole take on the rules of society subject: there are the rules, and there is what's right, and they don't always coincide. It's perfectly OK to murder someone, in the sense of using a sword against a man who has no idea how to use a sword and has only that as a weapon, if it's called a "duel" and the rivaling sides have seconds or however they're called, but punching is considered not "gentleman-like". The whole episode plays with this concept, of the rules of society versus the rules that come out of being true to one's values, to having a set of beliefs and standards, completely unconnected to those of the people around, going straight on your own moral code. This is a rather dangerous concept (what if my moral code decides it's OK to murder, steal or insult people randomly as long as they can't kill me back? But that's another question, and while typing that I realize that Mal has completely no problem with any of those examples, once something, I don't know, bigger? is at stake, like the life of his crew or the sustaining of his ship).
The party standards being pretty much the same, both in the brawl (sp?) at the beginning, and at the fancy dance with the fancy clothes and the "no guns allowed" grid. The smuggling is considered illegal, but is then presented as a man who wants to do business with his own property and being stopped by some annoying laws. That Badger, who seems to try to conform to some sort of cultural rule, with his British accent and all, with his shining hat, couldn't get in touch with the civilized citizens, despite being able to and acquiring tickets for the dance, and needed the help of somebody like Mal, who has exactly one code of behavior, his own, and despite that (or because of that, or both) was able to present himself as respectable enough and even, eventually, get the job. And on top of all this, that respectable citizen, too high-up to communicate with Badger, was looking for no other than help in a crime. How Kaylee's sweetness beat all the rules and proper things to do in a party, and she ended up the most courted lady in the dance, because she is that sweet and people do enjoy her presence that much, whether she fits their codes of clothes or behavior or not.
I can't begin to imagine how much fun it was to design the costumes and the sets - especially the costumes, in this particular episode, I think. All the party clothes, for both men and women, with all the combinations of styles and colors and jewels and little touches and, of course, the ruffles! I was so glad that Kaylee got to wear the ruffles she liked so much. I never understand these things (I think that it was Sophia who talked somewhere in Buffista history about some obviousness in dressing characters and I was amazed both at the richness in that information and at my complete lack of ability to notice it myself), but I can only imagine it was a huge fun to combine pretty much every known style of dresses, from several historical eras (including some that haven't occurred yet!) and several continents (and, well, planets), all together in one big party. And the dances! It was all official "old school" dances, with very strict rules and steps (again with the rules!), which most of all reminded me the dance scenes in "Pride and Prejudice" (admittedly, I'm very lacking in the history-facts department, so that may be only my ignorance talking) - very little physical contact between the partners, parting and rejoining hands with the steps of the dance, having some of the steps done in groups - it must have been so much fun to choreograph that, just like the clothes, with the combination of old and new, with lots of imagination on top.
I said it again, but I can't say it enough - I like Kaylee more with each scene she gets. I love her joy, I love the way she's able to enjoy things, to find fun and beauty and smiles in pretty much everything around her. She seems to be that rare person, whom everybody likes but not in an annoying way to anybody else, and not in any sort of "I'm better than everybody else" air that some characters who are universally liked project. She's just so warm and delighted and overall adorable, that her very joy overcomes everybody around her. I would so much love to see the actress in a completely different role, just to be reminded of how much of a talent it takes to depict that sort of personality.
[Edit: to be continued]
I love it that the seemingly tom-boy who couldn't bother to wash her face or put her hair away from her face has no problem in falling in love with a dress and expressing her liking out loud. The easiest way is to make a mechanic all about the "hard" science and neglect all other aspects of her personality. But the complex and so much more full-personality way of not negating her femininity, regardless of her "tech" abilities, gives her the opportunity to have a personality rather than just be a mechanic who is a girl. And good at her work without giving up the ability to have more facets than just her work. I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself properly, but in too many movies and TV shows, once a character is involved in some sort of science, s/he loses all other personality traits and become a walking textbook or an all-technological-problems-solver and all the personality is lost to that one characteristic.
And, again, I continue enjoying the relationship between Mal and Kaylee, in all its siblings banter and affection. I mean, to which other character would Mal turn to ask whether his clothes are too tight? And which other crew member will call him Captain Tightpants? (and that is where the nickname is from, right?) And when he finally gave in to her not-job-oriented party goals, he - in a combination of teasing and taking-care - couldn't avoid warning her to not get sick. And he hurt her feelings, she wasn't speaking to him, and he managed to find a way to not only solve that, but - in his very typical way - turn it over in the benefit of what he needed at the time. And never telling her how lovely he thinks she looks in her dress. If I had an older brother, that's exactly how I'd like to tease him (my younger siblings take very good care at the teasing of me).
I think this is the second time there was a direct interaction between Zoe and Kaylee (and the first time was in "Out of Gas", and consisted of Zoe pushing Kaylee away from the fire and not being able to interact that much later on), and even now it was through Mal - when he insulted Kaylee, he was immediately snubbed by Zoe, his mot loyal and old friend, in a name of some "women sisterhood" to make sure he knows he had been very much mistaken in his responses. They don't talk that much (well, on screen) or share that much, and each other of them seems worlds closer to Mal that to each other, but when that's what it takes, then it seems like neither of them hesitates to point him at where he's wrong and let him pay for that insult. It was a tiny little second, one response, probably mostly played for laughs, and it had so much - I hope I'm not the only one who sees these things, because the alternative is that I'm inventing them, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.
I'm not sure I understand what was the appeal in the offer Mr. rich made to Inara - I kept thinking, that was exactly the world she was trying to remain un-tied to, by boarding "Serenity" (of all ships) and getting to experience new facets of it. I don't know, maybe the appeal was there because of exactly that - a chance to check upon her choice, reflect on it and decide whether it fits her and answers her needs. I think she wouldn't have taken his offer in any case, no matter what Mal would or wouldn't have said (though I loved it that he cared enough to expose to her what he wished), I think she might have not taken that offer even after she promised him she'd stay with him in exchange for Mal's life (in a very Buttercup-in-"The Princess Bride" way, IMHO, which went along magnificently with the swords and the swords-fighting). In fact, now that I write it out loud think about it, I think it's quite logical that she enjoys the pretty and pampering aspects of that world. You don't have to denounce everything about something you choose to leave behind you. And she's good at it, too - she kept smiling and complimenting people all around her, and seemed like she is having good time while doing that (which can either mean she's really good at that part of her work, or that she really did have a good time - probably a bit of both). I like it that she stands up to Mal and argues with him, that she backs up her choices and is not ashamed or embarrassed about any of them, and she has no problem in both answering him right back and appreciating what he has to say and do. I like their banter a lot, too - neither cuts any slack to the other for being different.
I loved how River managed to catch, seemingly in a glance, what were Badger's weaknesses and attention-grabbing characteristics. It was like she knew all that the other characters knew about him (his attempts at respectability, his failures at those), and lots of what they didn't (or that I didn't get), but was somehow possible-to-be-deduced from what we knew, and used it all together to rattle him as much as possible. She had two short scenes, if I remember correctly, at the entire episode - taking off the papers from the cans, and accent-talking to Badger, and I thought they were both excellent - her interaction with Simon (in both of them) and with Book (in the first), and her sensitivity to what's around her, even if it sometimes seems as just another line of craziness (like her knowing the subject of what Book was reading in "Out of Gas" and his response to it by looking at him).
[Edit: lost, but still long]
I also like it that her presence on "Serenity" is now treated as pretty much routine - they didn't even stop the cards game when she had an outburst, Simon just calmed her down, and I think that later they resumed their game without making any sort of big deal out of it (and I loved Book's comforting not-making-a-fuss paraphrased "so we'll have some mystery meals"). It's not that I don't hope Simon would get to the bottom of her problem or help her get better (which means, pretty much, give us the audience more clues regarding it, as a bonus), but I like it that they're taking an everyday dealing-with-what-we-have approach to the current situation, that they're getting used to dealing with it, that things develop and not remain as they were at the very first or second or third that something like that happened, and that it develops even so early on in the show's life (IIRC, this episode was supposed to be aired even earlier in the original order of the episodes, right?).
I loved it that it was Book who first noticed that River was arriving to the same room as the guards and drew Simon's attention to it. I'd love to know more about that character, and this wish grows bigger with every glimpse of hints at his past - and I'm taking his quick response and sharp attention as hints, if you don't mind, even though they connect very nicely to his current role in life as a person who is a religious leader of sorts, who therefore has to be both attentive to people around him and quick to answer for their needs. I have no idea if the two are connected, I have no idea if we're going to get some less-vague hints as to Book's history, but I like the character very much, regardless.
I loved it how Simon was in the plot to try and free Mal from the get-go, that he was the first one to jump and suggest that the release him (in fact, what with being both smart and capable, and ruthless when it comes to his sister, I hope he gets to play a larger role in the crew's endeavors, especially - but not exclusively - if River is either in danger or in need. At least the idea likes it in my head, if not in a written-and-filmed episode, that is).
I don't think I can stress enough, no matter how large are the paragraph I throw at the screen, the amount with which I love the relationship between Zoe and Wash - they are a married couple, with all the commitment and long-term aspects that go along with it, but they are very much in love, they very much enjoy each other's company, they can laugh together, respect each other's needs, relax in each other's company like they do in the presence of any other character (and I'm especially thinking about Zoe and Mal's relationship here, not that I don't adore what's done with that, as well, but the difference between them is what stands out to me - in Mal's presence Zoe is always alert, willing to follow his cues, to back him up whenever it's needed, always willing to pull him out of trouble, and the constant banter between them is so different than that she shares with Wash). She never seemed so at ease, so completely off her guard, in any other scene in the show that I can remember. It's like he is the only person who can see her in such a "place", and I don't know, maybe it's because he's such a non-combatant character, so different, in that regard, from the man with whom she shares her other meaningful relationship, that enables her to do that. Maybe that sort of weakness of him, his physical lack-of-combatant-readiness, is what helps the relationship to be so trusting and comfortable - they don't need to prove anything to each other, they don't need to express what they "act out" constantly to everybody else. Or maybe it has nothing to do with it, and that's its strength. I don't know. I like it that I don't know, that there are several possibilities, that it may have a little bit of several ways to it, that it's not a "one stroke" relationship.
Oh, and I loved how Wash is so completely at ease with his role as "not the fighting man". He has no problem stating that he was "going to watch" the show-of-power and beating-the-bad-guys, with his wife as leading that and a seemingly "softer" man than him, Simon, a part of all of it, too. It takes, IMHO, lots of self confident and being sure of your abilities and worth, to acknowledge your weaknesses and know what you can't do, what you're not good at, and on top of that, leave it to those who can, and on top of all that, even joke about it. Did I mention already how much I like the character of Wash, and Zoe, and the relationship between them? More than a million times, that is?
I liked how the characters, despite all their combined abilities - physical strength, knowledge of tactics, willingness to work together - couldn't both come up with a plan and execute it in order to save Mal. It's not that they couldn't, because they could, and it's not like they didn't want to, because they did - it was like they were missing the ignition, which is a great way, IMHO, to show how Mal is essential to the running of pretty much everything they do - it's like he is the spark that brings the action into life, even if only by his presence, by his personality, because there's not much that the combined forces of the rest of the crew members can't do, but it seems like they need his drive and enthusiasm in order to make that potential into a real action.
[Edit: I am, obviously, a little nuts]
One of the things I loved best about this episode was how Mal didn't become an able swordsman overnight, he didn't know how to use that weapon and every other ability that he does possess wasn't enough to make him win the fight. In the terms of the duel, he failed, he lost - and I loved that point of the story, and the character, more (not less!) for that. A character can't be all-better-than-everybody-else all the time, and remain interesting. Even Buffy, who had her physical super-abilities, was a completely "regular" human being in any other aspect, with falling down and failing and struggling and being weak. And that - not the super-strength - was what made her such an interesting character, that can be identified with, that can have a meaning to all the other people who don't have super-powers. And that's what Mal represents, too - it's not like he doesn't have any virtues, but he has weaknesses, too, and he doesn't spring out of every problem with the solution all laid out and achieved no matter what are the odds against him. Despite what Inara tried to teach him during the night, he didn't learn how to fight a sword, he wasn't a good swordsman, he lost the duel. The fact that he won later, not only staying alive but also getting the job, came from what may be seen as a character flaw, at least in the eyes of the people of that planet - he beat his opponent with his fist, he took advantage of a moment of distraction. He played again by his own rules.
And that may be what I liked most about the episode - how in the envelope of a fluffy light story, it had some deeper thoughtful themes all hidden under the colorful lovely ruffles (it's like my favorite new word). In that way it reminded me of the former episode that was so light - "Our Mrs. Reynolds". The whole thing of the rules that define something, be it the dress code, the legitimacy of a profession, of a job, of whichever social norm, facing the - I'm not sure I know how to phrase this - the internal value of that thing. Am I making any sort of sense? I have this problem of something being clear to me to the point that I can't translate it into words.
It was shown most, of course, in the relationship between Mal, Inara, and that Mr. rich-and-full-of-ego, that dead-fiancee guy from "Alias" whose name I can't remember. Mr. rich (Aha! I've looked in the transcript, and thanks to shrift and her helpers I now know that his name is Atherton) judges Inara based on her occupation alone - that determines how he treats her, for better (at first) or for worst (later on), he doesn't see the real person behind the "title" that society rules had put on her. Mal, however, has no problem in insulting that title, because the one thing that matters to him is the person, regardless on names. That was his mistake at the beginning of the episode - he "titled" Kaylee with her job, the mechanic, and failed to remember that she's also a woman who enjoys and loves more than her job. He was sneered enough by Zoe to realize something was wrong in his behavior. But with Inara, maybe because he would like to ignore her job, it's much easier for him to not confuse the personality of the human being in front of him with one aspect of that personality. Especially if that aspect is mostly made by other people's rules.
It was like everybody's true personalities came out in the open, despite all attempts, by themselves or others, to prevent that: Kaylee's natural sweetness won the hearts of most of the men at the dance, Atherton's less-than-gentleman-like nature was revealed when he was willing to kill a defenseless (in sword-fighting, at least) man, River nailing Badger's history, the nasty girls in their pretty dresses, and most of all, Mal's line about himself - "Mercy is the mark of a great man. Guess I'm just a good man. Well, I'm all right". Because, you know, he is. He's not that grand hero that most of the stories put at the center, and he's not always nice (and I do remember that scene in which he so cruelly lied to poor Simon about Keylee's death), but he is "all right", and in the end, he is one wonderful character to watch (and, I can only guess, to write, and to act).
I'm not sure, again, that I know how to say this, but that thing I can't untangle-to-words was the most important part of the episode for me - how the intrinsic set of values that Mal carries with him, that he applies towards everybody, that he has to create on his own because he pretty much lost all references when he was deserted and lost his faith - that this set of truths is both what's keeping him going and what he keeps going for. Maybe I need to think about this some more before posting that, I don't know.
How much do I love the continuity? I was thrilled to meet a former villain again - I think that upon watching "Our Mrs. Reynolds" I said that I'd love to have Saffron interact with the characters again, because she highlighted so well the connections between the crew members, as a "one time" baddie, but I was delighted to see Badger. And his hat, which became all the more, I don't know, meaningful and important and standing-for-something, as it seemed that Badger can't be civilized enough for the people he wants to do business with, despite all his accent-having and hat-wearing - the one baddie who tries to fit in with society, even in a token paid to a dress code, can't and has to ask for Mal's assistance in it.
[Edit: I just deleted a whole paragraph because its last couple of words didn't fit in this post. So it's a little, very little, shorter than it may seem. Yeah, it didn't work on me, either]
Yet another sort-of-continuity (if you're in my head, at least) was the treatment to curses - like Simon before, Inara watches her language, so when she does curse, it has all the more meaning. I wonder if that point appeared both here and in "Jaynestown" completely independently, since these are different writers, but I like it whether it is or isn't. Oh, and another continuity touch that made me smile was Kaylee's love for real fruits. The scene with her biting that strawberry in "Serenity" was just lovely, and I find it so charming that they not only remembered that characteristic of hers, but brought it into play again, in her joy with the food. And, again, it was done in the best continuity was of "you miss nothing if you don't know what's its past, and you get a whole extra layer if you do".
And here are my "how small touches make a character shine" beloved list: the balls in the game not being 'real' (great combination of future and past), Wash joking with himself while piloting the ship, Jayne never stopping to think before making crude remarks at Zoe - and Zoe's continuing peaceful threats that she can hurt him (which keep making his shutting up!), Jayne finding the correct word when (the really pretentious) Badger and (the pretentious in a different way) Mal can't, Kaylee silently repeating Mal's words and making a face to her engine when she's "not talking to him" followed by her immediate obedience when he says that there's a job for her, Inara stopping in the middle of the discussion of her future to exchange some polite words with another party guest as if she was talking about nothing of importance, the announcement of Kaylee and her escort (not the other way around, as it used to be! And she was the one who got to take Mal to the dance this way, regardless of anything else!), Mal knowing exactly what Inara was wearing and saying it as if he didn't really, playing the card game over chores, Jayne cheating while Book and Simon tend to River without even blinking an eye, Inara talking to nobody but Mal when she's dancing with him, Zoe being the calm first person to realize they're not allowed to save Mal and stopping Jayne in time, Inara willing to ignore the rules in order to save Mal's life (with Mal, untypically, not backing down), Kaylee changing her clothes but remaining with her make-up and bow in her hair once she's back on "Serenity" (because that's probably the way it's done IRL, in equivalent situations), Badger remarking that he likes River, Jayne (being perceptive, again) mentioning the diversion before everybody else but still too late, Inara - the same Inara who couldn't watch in "Out of Gas" when Simon treated Zoe - can't keep her eyes away from the duel with all its bloodiness, Mal never (not for a minute) losing his sense of fun all throughout, The sign on the opening to Kaylee's room - so completely her in so many ways, and the dress that lives there and just delights her in its prettiness, the around-things-let's-only-hint final conversation between Mal and Inara.
And, just for the record, I have no idea how Mal and Inara could sit near all those cows and drink. Cows smell, and awfully, and it takes time to get used to the smell. A good friend of mine used to rent half-a-caravan in a kibbutz that had cows, and the way from the bus-stop to her place passed across their place (how do you call a cow's home in English? In Hebrew it has a specific name), just a few meters aside from it, and I can't even begin to describe how horribly it smelled (city girl that I am). Now, she got used to it - only when I complained about the scent did she realize it used to disturb her, too, when she first moved there, but it took her weeks upon weeks to get to that level of not-caring. I hope the cows in the future are perfumed or have the smell digitally removed, because otherwise poor little "Serenity" wouldn't be fit to human habitation for a very long time.