From the very beginning (Mal in a dress! And a "Little house on the prairie bonnet! With a snarky married dialog! Who knew he would be married again by the end of the episode, and even from the husband's side, too?), it was just fun. Sparkling dialog - I think it was the most quotable episode until now, with both one-liners (man, how much do I love Wash?) and dialogs (man, how much do I love Wash & Zoe?), one followed by another and another - we laughed so much, and in between were even moved by some, and the time went by so fast.
I like the characters better and better with each episode. I'm very bad at choosing 'bests', so I won't. And I also like them all for so many different reasons, that there's no comparison here, really.
How much do I like Mal? How much more and more with every episode? He just keeps getting more layered and interesting, deeper and with more ability for fun. And I believe the actor in every one of these facets. It's like he has a hidden smile under his words, and a hidden core of seriousness and deep emotions under that smile.
I like Zoe and Wash separately, and I love Zoe and Wash's relationship. I loved Wash's responses to Saffron's seduction attempts - he's not a weakling who is following his boss-wife, he knows exactly who he's married to, and he's in love with her and he knows why. He says that not many people understand him and Zoe in first glance - so, even centuries in the future, there will have to be excuses made for a man who is both owning a spine and is married to a very strong and self-relying woman? I liked Zoe's trust of him (the whole notion of trust was interweaved into the episode beautifully, IMHO, from several aspects and kinds), I liked Saffron's eyes-rolling when he talked about this relationship (she really doesn't care, and doesn't want to care, and the whole point is that it's eventually her loss - and, of course, that I am such a sap), I liked how Wash clearly knows that his wife can't provide him with everything he needs (tasty food), and she doesn't need to (I mean, you can't get everything from just the one relationship with just the one person), but Zoe is disturbed by it - that strong able woman.
Book was wonderful. Mal made it quite clear that he didn't believe in any sort of deity (I'm paraphrasing: "you're welcome on my ship, god isn't"), and yet Book threats Mal with a religious concept "special hell" (is that where the Buffistas got this term?), as he has absolutely no power over him in this story in any way. And Mal took what he said seriously - not, the way I saw it, in the religious sense, but in the "I'm a very bad man" Wesley-in-BtVS-regarding-Cordy sense. As in "this thing is a wrong thing to do", no matter in what 'language' and set of terms it's being put. The whole "special hell" continuing thread, Book's knowing what's right in his eyes and finding a way to make it clear to Mal (and Mal listening to him!), and all that still with a brush of humor - I loved it. Everything in this episode seemed to have a good-sense-of-humor coat on it, from every side, the dialogs were so much fun (yeah, I know, that word keeps repeating - I'm not like Joss who can write for nine different people and have each of them have a unique voice and vocabulary of their own, I only have mine, and the 'fun' word just keeps veering in my head when it comes to this episode, sorry).
I liked it that when it seemed like Saffron would make her way tempting each member of the crew, there was no special point about her trying to seduce Inara - she just did. And it didn't fail because they were both women, but because Inara had a similar training and could read through Saffron (which was a very nice Inara moment, in my eyes). I also liked the strong emotional response Inara had to Mal lying on the floor, seemingly dead, and how, even when she was phased and half-unconscious herself, she kept trying to hide it, half lady-like half comic-relief. I loved it that Mal was so sure that he had guessed what happened in the end, only to show how blind he is regarding Inara - and, again, he seemed to have so much fun, and she was all Scarlett O'Hara waiting for Rhett to kiss her. Like I wrote, there was no part of that which wasn't fun.
As is inevitable, several characters got less attention, or mostly just the laughs. Again, Jayne is both the thug-for-laughs who is a bit scary and unsafe to be around, and still despite all jumps to follow Mal's orders in a snap. Again, Kaylee is a sweetheart, trying to do her best for her beloved ship. It was nice to feel that already, after so few episodes, I could tell that they're acting according to their 'personality', that they had a more-then-one-dimensional personality to act upon.
I liked how Simon and River was there, but weren't. Simon was pretty much only on doctor capacity, taking care of the wounded, giving some information, not much else. With River it as more distinct - I don't remember her having any lines, but she wasn't completely gone - she was there, she's part of the ship, she's not fading to the background even when she's not the focus. And yet there was no forced dialog with either of them, just to justify her presence. That's what I liked - that she didn't have to be justified in any way, that it was natural enough to just have her there, in the ship, even if not directly in the story.
[Edited for "to be continued in the next post"]
And now, "I gush with too many words", the continuation:
Again, the 'small' touches, the character-interaction moments were among the prettiest, poignant and revealing ever. Wash and Zoe just hugging quietly when everybody else is having a good time, having a quiet moment to themselves. Jayne naming his favorite gun, calling her 'she', and getting drunkenly emotional over the rain-stick present. Wash sticking to and repeating the example of the juggling of geese (which is pretty much my new favorite good-for-all-purpose phrase). Both mentions of origin planets, from Mal and Wash, in the presence of Saffron (followed by the good Bible/myth whoas). Wash and Kaylee's professional admiration to Saffron's' skills, in the middle of all the danger. Book understanding they're trapped before almost everybody else. The scene in which Kaylee manages to get the ship working again, and Mal just kisses her on the forehead, for example - this is just what a big brother would have done to his accomplished younger sister, to show her how proud he is of her, how sure he is of her abilities, enough to count on them, and glad he has her with him. And the actors completely sold it, it seemed like the most obvious, flowing reaction, for both of them - it was one of my favorite moments of the episode, if not of the whole show (and how many times do you get to see such a deeply-loving not-in-a-romantic-way kiss on tv?).
Which reminds me - I like the variety of relationships that exist between the characters. In too many tv-verses, too many connections become 'romantic' or physical attractions, when there is such a wider range of possibilities that actually exist in the world, so rich and wonderful to explore. So, I guess this is another place in which this very fictional show is more realistic than most of the 'grown up' shows out there. It worked on the plot level, too - Saffron had one human-connection trick, and because of the variety and strength of the different relationships of the crew among themselves, she failed.
And I liked Saffron as the baddie. In fact, from all the 'single episode' baddies I've seen so far, I liked her best. Well, worst, because she's a baddie, but in the sense that she's the one I'd like to see again. Well, her and the Alliance, of course, but they're more like the long-arc baddies in my eyes, so I'm not counting them. And, um, well, several of the other 'one timer' baddies are already dead (mostly by Mal), so I can't see them again unless they're corpses bumping into the ship, like that poor man at the beginning of "Bushwhacked" and I think I'll leave that line of thought now, if you don't mind. Anyway, great villainess (is that a word?), she's probably angry with Mal and wants to get back at him.
Also, I'm such a sap, I always feel bad for the baddies who are all alone like this - she couldn't understand the net of trust on "Serenity", she couldn't realize how they worked together, how she didn't manage to break them apart, and that means she's alone. Then again, I'm the sappiest sap that ever sapped the sapearth- I've always felt sorry for Jareth on "Labyrinth" when he had to tell his little monsters when to laugh, because that's probably as lonely as a person can get, so you're more than willing to ignore me.
The vibe I got from this show, its 'idea' was the team work, the togetherness (if that's a word) of a group of people who are not only working together, but are also friends, the strength in trust. In a way, it was very much like one of the messages of BtVS - how the special slayer, in both strength and length of life, manages to escape her 'death wish' (FFL) and the fate of most slayers by having a group of people to tie her to the world, to work with her, to love and be loved by them.
There were so many kinds of trust there. The first one that comes to mind is the one between Wash and Zoe, which Wash didn't break. The crew teased Mal for the better part of the episode, threatened him, had friction between themselves too, in several ways. But the moment it was needed, the moment it counted - they were not only working together, but counting on each and every one of the others to do their share. That Saffron seemed like she managed to make them fight and shake the running of the ship, but right when it was needed, when it was beyond a joke, they went past all that. They didn't shove it under the rug, didn't forget it, the sources of those frictions are there, and they may rise and cause trouble again, but right now there's something more urgent that calls for their attention. So, again, they're being grown-ups about this (and not 'typical TV characters' about it, who in many cases need an outside wake-up call in order to realize they have to cooperate, they don't seem to understand it themselves), and work together.
Huh. Now it reminds me of Willow going back to work with Xander and Cordy after seeing them kissing in "Innocence" - things are not OK between us, but there are more important things than that. I guess it's either something I like as a theme and therefore see it often, or it's something Joss likes. And an even huh-er "huh", because, you know how so many of his staff members has practically only good words to say about him and about the team-spirit of the show(s)? How whenever he gets credit, he doesn't wait for a second to share it with whomever deserves it, and the crew doesn't hesitate to credit him with the parts he did, even when their names are on it? No wonder I get that vibe, it seems like he tries to spread it IRL, too.