This is what I consider my best Serenity essay, though I do have others and am working on another one.
I hope you enjoy
I am going to preface this with knowing Joss, Miranda is after Shakespeare and not what I write about below. It is just an interesting hook/analogy to illustrate my point. I hope you can overlook this.
Serenity revolves around a planet named Miranda. This name holds special significance to Americans. No cop show would be complete without it. Ernesto Miranda v Arizona protects the most fundamental rights of the accused. "You have the right to remain silent..." The fifth amendment prohibition against self-incrimination is only as good as the awareness of the accused.
It was this awareness that was taken from the people of Miranda. They were not the accused. Just like River, they were innocent. Both were experimented on by the Alliance in an attempt to make man better. River was the Institute's best reader. Miranda's problem was that the people responded too well to the chemical placed in their air.
Not everyone responded by getting overly docile, docile to the point of death. one tenth of one percent became overly aggressive, became Reavers. This is a powerful metaphor. It could describe the Welfare state, where our good intentions to support people has led to a violent subculture typified by gangsta rap. It could describe US Foreign policy around the globe, most notably the cluster fuck Middle Eastern relations have become. It could describe the social situation where kids take guns to school and blow each other away. In short it could describe any attempt to subdue a segment of the population that results in an overly docile popular with no motivation as well as an overly aggressive segment.
As an existentialist, I see the show through that lens, which fortunate for me is the lens of the creator/director/god. Firefly was about freedom and Serenity does the same thing. In this tightly written script, every plot element revolves around this.
Simon Tam voluntarily gives up everything for his sister in order to give her back her free will. The Operative knows why he did this, love. It is this love that gives his life meaning. In order to rescue his sister, he puts on the guise of the Alliance. He uses the monster, but does not becomes one. This is because he has something to believe in.
River Tam has her free will stripped from her. We seen her several months after "Objects in Space." She is much more cognizant, so much so that Mal takes her on a job. We have seen River pick up on the Reavers in "Bushwhacked." We see her flip out when they come close. River has a special bond with the Reavers. In Serenity this bond not only exists on a metaphorical level, but a mental one.
In one of the most beautiful fight scenes, we see River triggered. This is not like "War Stories" where she effortlessly shoots three men. The trigger of a gun was defused in "Objects in Space." This time it takes the Alliance to deliberately trigger. What a weapon she is, a loose cannon who does not control her own actions.
Until they are at Mr. Universe's. Just as Simon's love for her causes him to give up everything and risk everything for her, just as Simon adopted the visage of a monster, River does the same thing. She voluntarily faces the Reavers to get Simon's medical bag. She is not the scared little girl cowering in the corner. She is the weapon, who has taken control. She has reclaimed her free will. She has something to believe in so she does not have to be the monster, even if she can use the monster's face.
The Operative believes himself to be a monster, but he believes he does this to make the world better. He is not part of that better world, but he strongly believes in that better world. He believes he is making a difference and will do whatever it takes to help that better world. Small problem, he has no problem being kept on a need to know basis. It is this ignorance that interferes with his free will.
Just as the Miranda rights protects the rights of the accused through awareness, it is information that protects our free will. The Operative uses his free will to create a better world. He does not realize that using any means necessary does not create a better world. It creates Miranda. Mal makes him face this and saves The Operative guy. In return, The Operative saves them, endangering himself.
Malcolm Reynolds believes in free will. It is perhaps the only thing he believes in. That belief is not strong enough to sustain him. He reacts to those who would take it away, but does not have motivation to act himself. Whereas what the Alliance has done to River is mirrored in the Reavers' over aggression, what the Alliance/Battle of Serenity Valley has done to Mal is mirrored in the people of Miranda.
Mal goes to Miranda through Reaver territory by adopting the guise of a Reaver. He does this in more ways than the ship. After he gives directions on how to deface their home, he shoots an Alliance soldier in cold blood. He becomes the monster in order to fight the monster.
When faced with the true face of a monster, not the Reavers, who are people turned violent against their will, but the Alliance who did this to them, he finds something worth fighting for. Not just revenge for what happens, but making a better world by preventing it from happening again. As he faces the Operative at Mr. Universe's generator back up wav station, he finds his belief, the same as the Operative, but with his awareness, he is not a puppet of the Alliance.
Both the people of Miranda and the Reavers show the dangers of taking away someone's free will. Mal sees the Alliance as meddlers. He sees freewill as something worth having. He doesn't want to be a puppet. He does not truly understand what the danger of having your freewill taken from you.
Freewill is something our souls cry out for. Without it, our souls can either fade away until they are dead or we can turn overly aggressive. It is belief that protects our freewill. With something to believe in, we have something to act on. Without that, we just fade away. If all we have is an overly strong belief, we will fight at all costs to protect that belief, just like the Operative guy, just like the Reavers.
As usual, Joss' wonderful story was another masterpiece of existential literature. Serenity revolves around the question of freewill, how does one maintain it, what is the risk of its loss, can one get it back. It is a tight exploration of these questions.
and I've just touched the tip of the iceberg that this wonderful movie is
So what do you think?