Friday, 30 May 2008

Simon's speech

I am very smart.

I went to the best medic-ed in Osiris, top 3% of my class; finished my internship in eight months. "Gifted" is the term.

So when I tell you that my little sister makes me look like an idiot child, I want you to understand my full meaning.

River was more than gifted, she ... she was a gift. I mean, everything she did --- music, math, theoretical physics, even ... even dance --- there was nothing that didn't come as naturally to her as breathing does to us. And she could be a real brat about it to: I mean, she used to ... [awkward pause]

There was a ... a school, a government-sponsored academy: we had never even heard of it but it had the most exciting programme, the most challenging. We could have sent her anywhere (we had the money), but she wanted to go: she wanted to learn. She was fourteen ...

I, ah ... I got a few letters at first, and then I didn't hear for months. Finally I got a letter that made no sense: she talked about things that never happened, jokes that we never ...

It was a code. It just said: "They're hurting us. Get me out."

[Zoe asks, "How'd you do it?"]

Money. And ... and luck. For two years I couldn't get near her, but then I was contacted by some men, some underground movement, they said that she was in danger, that the ... that the government was ... playing with her brain. If I funded them they could sneak her out in cryo, get her to Persephone, and from there I could take her ... wherever.

[Inara: "Will she be alright?"]

I don't know if she'll be alright. I don't know what they did to her; or why. I ... I just have to keep her safe.
Simon Tam is explaining to the Serenity crew why he was smuggling his sister in a crate on board their ship; why the Alliance is after them; why he would risk everything, his own life, and the lives of others into the bargain. It's the Whedon ethic in a pure form: a high value on personal loyalty and obligation; a willingness to break rules; a suspicion of grand causes; and the utter rejection of wrongs done by groups "for the greater good".

And it is heartbreaking. People have talked about "found families" in Joss Whedon's programs --- the emphasis on the group of friends, over and above natural family --- but Simon and River Tam are an example of total, unwavering, illusionless devotion. River knows that her brother is a stiff: awkward, humourless, unrelaxed; and Simon knows only too well that River was always fragile, and that now she's broken ... and more than a little crazy. Yet for them, that doesn't change anything.

The sci-fi western Firefly was that rare thing: a cult television program that lived up to the hype; a pearl of great price that the network didn't properly recognise. It earned its impossible fairytale ending: the wonderful movie Serenity, a critical and popular success, vindicating the cancelled show. And bringing Simon and River's story to a fitting conclusion. It bears watching again and again, over years now, but recently the start of it all has been returning to my thoughts. The TV show is quite arch, even flip about some things, but there is a centredness to it as well, a real conviction. And this is exhibit A.


Joanna said...

Thanks for dropping by, Bruce - I've responded re. Persuasion on my blog. And we're big Firefly fans at our place - this encourages me to get out the DVDs and watch them again!

Bruce Yabsley said...

Hey, Joanna. I hope you enjoy the next run-through of F on DVD. I was surprised how well the pilot stood up on seeing it yet again just now (I must have seen it half-a-dozen times before, both on DVD and when I had cable). It does a superb job of introducing the characters and the world they inhabit; and it's surprising; and, in this part, heartbreaking. And yet the network didn't like it, and wanted to show The Train Job first ... it's unaccountable.