Scott Ellington's Blog

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The commentary track of Lullaby (Angel 3.09) is provided by Tim Minear, who co-wrote and directed the episode, and Mere Smith,  writer and script coordinator.  It’s the funniest and most insightful 43 minutes of focussed conversation since Lem Dobbs and Steven Soderbergh argued their way through The Limey. 

Lullaby is a pivotal episode in the development of the saga that brings a final end to Darla and introduces Connor, but Minear and Smith somehow manage to kill (one another and me) in the course of a stand-up/sit-down, microscopic leer behind the scenes of the making of M.E. product.  (I really believe that Darla became the soul of the franchise [and Connor was the stake in its heart]).  Plymouth Cock landed on Darla in a way that permitted her backstory to drop dimensional shadow on the whole whore of American history.  Mutant Enemy barely utilized that exquisitely beautiful teaching aid.

Late in the lively frivolity, derisive mention is made of That Old Gang of Mine (3.03) in which Gunn’s loyalties are divided between his old crew and his new one, while black characters perpetrate violent acts of indiscrimate racial intolerance against a local minority population (of dangerous and harmless demons).  I mentioned the rarity of media insight into black racism in an earlier post on Lakeview Terrace, which leads me to marvel at Tim Minear’s (and Mutant Enemy’s) courage in exploring that special brand of darkness that doesn’t seem to win awards or even lift many eyebrows.  (District 9 tried to go there too, but it overdosed on Stupid and Brutal before it succumbed to Moronic.)

I wonder that a white guy from Whittier (Nixon Country — 43.2% white, 1.2% black, 1.3% Indian in 2000) even took a sympathetic shot at addressing the black experience, let alone an intriguingly clear, equivocal one.  Apart from the unambiguously negative regard with which Tim remarked on That Old Gang of Mine, I’d really like to know how it was meant to fit in the M.E. product line, and how it failed to make the more satisfying statement he obviously intended.

The purpose of this post, however, is to mention a kind of alternative interpretive overlay in which I see significant similarities between Charles Gunn and Malcolm Reynolds. 

Gunn’s pickup truck is introduced in War Zone (1.20), bristling with a stake-throwing, bed-mounted machine gun, and Reaver-style Wash-stickers, strongly resembling “the boat”, late in the BigDamnMovie.  I see another similarity in the gradual raising of Gunn from the heartbroken leader of a streetgang (“muscle”) to the stature of a diplomat in the struggle against overpowering and nearly-immortal sanctioned corruption…which (to my mind [vampire/empire]) resembles the evolution of Malcolm Reynolds from the ungenteel son of an independent rancher to heroic soldier, outlaw, bearer of bad news for the established Allied government, and (ultimately) a leader and diplomat in a subsequent war for interplanetary independence.  I even wonder whether J. August Richards was eyeballed to play the role that was given to Nathan Fillion.  No telling, but there’s room for speculation.

One of many latent conflicts deeply embedded in Firefly is the distinct possibility that slavery and indentured servitude remained to be explored in later episodes/seasons, foreshadowed by Badger’s inspection of the teeth of a woman as Mal enters Badger’s office all the way back in the pilot episode, and Badger’s insistence, in that scene, on the importance of his elevated place (above Reynolds) in the wider social hierarchy in which a businessman on a border planet like Persephone ranks significantly higher than the captain of a Ford F-100.  I think the poignancy of a black Capt. Reynolds, veteran of a war of independence against a culture dependent upon the institution of slavery, would have provided the writers additional leverage in telling tales of biting contemporary relevance by means of the microscope of American history and the telescope of speculative, character-driven fiction.  Tag Glory, buzz Ali, circle The Hurricane and honor The Killer Angels by citing George Pickett’s parable of a gentlemen’s club from the point of view of someone who would not or could not belong to a society that would love to have him as a member; choice/no-choice; states’ rights versus federal obligation (to obliterate slavery).  We just can’t seem to put that pesky slavery thing to bed.

Sexual and racial imperfections in the American character were masterfully massaged in the course of the first two series, and what’s coming from the brand I most admire (Mutant Enemy) remains to be seen repeatedly and reinterpreted to death…the overdue death of obscene and obsolete institutions.

Can entertainment production companies teach, change unquestioned practices?  Can television teach?  Where’s Murrow?

07 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Stuff I Survived

I was 8 when a physician diagnosed my condition as the result of a perforated kidney.  I was hospitalized with an IV drip for a few days, then released with the stern advice to drink plenty of water more frequently to prevent clouds of blood in my urine and a tendency to pass out.  In the narrow behavioral confines of my elementary school environment, racing all the other boys and girls in my class across the schoolyard to the water-fountain/trough struck me as profoundly undignified, and so I knocked my participation in that particular indiginity off, and generalized the reflective mindset into a little bit of kidney pathology. 

Since then, I’ve taken to drinking water frequently and in moderation, but that early lesson in 50s elementary school behavior modification showed me the value (for teachers) of depriving kids of basic needs to afford their teachers a few moment’s respite from the incessant, annoying vagaries of largely-undisciplined children.  It was a fairly shrewd and subtle farmer’s trick that blew up in Mrs. Christopherson’s face when my mother tore into her verbally for depriving her students of face time at the drinking fountain, as a tactic of kid-control.  The fact is that I was silently on Mrs. Christopherson’s side of that argument.  Us kids were awful.  1958.

I’d probably just turned 18 when I bought Lance Raynor’s 1964 Honda 305cc SuperHawk, cheap.  I somehow drove it the 10 miles home (with no previous motorcycle experience) via the freeway and parked it in my parents’ garage.  The next morning, I set myself, prudently, to start safety-training by idling the engine in the driveway, then literally popping the clutch at high idle.

I flew from sidewalk to sidewalk in the blink of an eye, hit the far curb and bounced (like the bike) high into the sky, and landed on our neighbor’s lawn not far from the stalled engine and the tire that spun like an Indian massacre in a dramatic 20-mule-team wagon-disaster.  There was no traffic anywhere in sight, and apart from any neighbors who might be peeking out their windows at the novel engine noise-then-silence, my dignity and life might both survive this brush with their profound fragility.

So I raised, righted and started the bike, pointing it in a reasonable direction.  And I was off!!! on an irresistible adventure in the explosively seductive, intoxicating universe of motorcycling!  How I survived the first 40 miles of that journey, no one knows. 

Suddenly, I was rapidly approaching the T-intersection a bit west of Mill Valley, where a lazy right turn would take me up to Mt. Tamalpais, and going straight would lead toward Muir Woods and Stinson Beach.  Ah, but the  road on the way to the intersection, and the right turn that I fully intended to make, required a significant reduction in speed.  Alarm was clearly reflected on the face of the driver who watched me apprehensively from his place alongside the stop sign.  Neither of us should have survived that turn, but evidence suggests that we did.  1968.

About 15 years later I spent the night with my girlfriend who was housesitting for an extremely rich client at their ranch.  We’d spent the evening cavorting in their opulent surroundings, and in the morning, before Karen awoke, I elected to hang out with their horses.  One thing led to another, and I tossed a blanket and saddle on a dark Palomino, exercising all the virtual horsemanship I’d learned from a youth pretty thoroughly invested in the works of Walter Farley and Anna Sewell, among others. 

The horse must have read better books.  The blanket went on easy as pie.  Adding the saddle was only slightly more difficult.  Cranking the cinch was a bitch, and in only a couple of sidelong steps, the blanket and saddle were off the horse and strewn about the corral.  Undismayed, I hefted the blanket and saddle, and ran at the gelding from behind.  Again with the sidelong eyeball, and a playful acceleration placed a more/less random hoof, quite squarely, in the heart of my big, brass seashell-shaped beltbuckle. 

It’s a very odd sensation to run forward in a brilliant burst of youthful speed and willful determination as the single hoof of a half-ton horse flings you backward with amazing ease.  I’m talking ten to fifteen feet.  Somehow that hoof found the beltbuckle.  There were significantly easier (and more vulnerable) targets.  Sweaty and shaken I called it quits.  The last laugh went to the horse, but the dumb-luck award for beltbuckle selection went directly to me.  1983.

The point of these pointless stories (to which I’ll add further incendents, in subsequent edits, as they arise in my recollection) is that it’s really hard to practice devout agnosticism in the face of subjective evidence of divine intervention.  I’m not inclined to point to a guardian angel or some higher destiny or the nebulous construct of Luck, but stuff that actually happened, stuff that really should have resulted in mutilation &/or death…hasn’t yet.  I’ve learned to approach certain phenomena with greater respect; the south end of a northbound horse, motorcycle transport, educators…but that kind of trepidation is minimal protection against the history I’ve clearly demonstrated of bringing loads of stupid into dangerous situations.  I’m not the only one.

As though to punctuate that final sentence, the room just quivered with a minor earthquake.  I’d estimate a 2.7.

07 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments