Review: Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, the Brothers Whedon

Okay, nobody really calls them the Brothers Whedon. But perhaps they should.

The Shepherd’s Tale is the story of Shepherd Book from Firefly. If you are not a fan of Firefly, what the hell, dude? Why are you reading this review instead of watching Firefly from start to finish? I’m only going to spoil it anyway so you might as well trot along and watch it. I promise it will be worth your time. If you are a fan of Firefly, you are probably aware that Shepherd Derrial Book is a man with a mysterious past. From his keen knowledge of what the bad guys are thinking, to the fancy-pants medical treatment the Alliance gives him for free, to the time that one scary guy was all “That’s no Shepherd,” you know the man has a story to tell (“That’s my whole problem with picking up tourists; they ain’t never what they claim to be”).

The Shepherd’s Tale tells that story. It begins at the end, when the Operative has ordered an attack on Book’s home planet, and skips back and back and back in Book’s life. Before he was fighting for his life on a planet called Haven, he was shipping out on a ship called Serenity, and giving strawberries to a bright-faced girl with a parasol; and before that…you’ll have to read it to find out.

But I warn you that it left me unsatisfied. It was clunky. The transitions between time periods were TV show transitions, where Scene A ends, and Scene B starts with a line of dialogue that could have been a response to the last thing that happened in Scene A, but in fact is the beginning of Scene B. It doesn’t work quite as well in comics.

A bigger problem, as far as clunkiness goes, is that the revelation of the backstory of a character in an ensemble cast isn’t interesting when it involves zero interaction with said ensemble cast. As I was reading the comic, I kept being ZOMG, Mal’s going to be upset when he finds out about this! and then feeling sad that I would never, ever get to see Mal’s reaction to it. Book’s story is interesting on its own, I suppose, but I kept comparing it to how amazing it would have been if it had been revealed in dribs and drabs over many happy (well, this is Joss Whedon; over many bleak but enjoyable) seasons of Firefly.

Firefly comics just make my heart hurt from missing Firefly. I hate it that the show was canceled, and the movie was insufficiently successful to cause future movies to get made. I wanted so much more. I wanted Saffron to come back (and maybe in my head, she comes back and happens to mention to Mal that she didn’t kiss Inara NOT THAT I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS TOO MUCH OR ANYTHING). I wanted Inara’s and Shepherd Book’s backstories revealed, slowly, with reaction shots and snide comments from the rest of the crew. I hoped possibly there would be an episode where the Alliance tried to use Simon’s worthless parents to get at him and River. I may or may not have invented a whole scenario where Zoe got pregnant and Jayne was adorably overprotective of her.

Basically I just want Firefly back. I want it back. Please come back.

What I have been doing with my fancy university library card

Scaring myself, mostly. This library has a lot of books inside of it, but it also has the scariest damn stacks I ever saw. They have these dark, narrow aisles, and the doors in the stairwells between levels swing open and shut with loud, prolonged, ominous squeaks. I always have the exact call numbers of the books I want before I go, because sitting down at one of the catalogue computers, with my back to the darkened stacks, does not inspire feelings of comfort and safety. The main aisles are lit, but you have to press a button to turn on the lights in the individual rows of books, and these lights are set to go off automatically after a certain amount of time. What that means is that when I am walking down the main aisles, the lights are going off around me. It is scary as hell. I swear I can hear David Tennant’s voice going “Stay out of the shadows.” (Every shadow? No. But any shadow.)

(If you think that’s the geekiest thing I’m going to say in this post, you just could not be more wrong.)

I have realized it is no good to research fairy tales right now. The books of Warner, Zipes, and Tatar, as well as the Mirror, Mirror on the Wall that y’all recommended to me, are at my public library at home. I paid a fortune for my damn library card to this terrifying university library, and I’m going to use it to read books I couldn’t get at home. I shall be researching South Indian temple dancers, devadasis, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I read From Sacred Servant to Profane Prostitute on Saturday. This book, which was way too in love with its alliterative title, is an overview of the legal status of devadasis in this time period, mainly in Bombay and Madras. I am not as interested in their changing legal status (although that is interesting) as I am in their social status, but never mind, I learned lots of useful things. (I wrote down the names of a bunch of other books to track down after this.)

My most favorite thing that I learned from this book: When national and local laws removed the economic incentive for families to dedicate their daughters to deities, and finally outlawed the dedications altogether, a bunch of the devadasis went away and become stars of the stage and screen.

I also checked out a bunch of books about television. I read a book of articles about The West Wing and gained immense satisfaction from reading about its political bents, relation to truth, and implications of audience demographics. Then I read a book full of articles about Angel, which was better to the exact degree that I love Angel better than The West Wing (which is a degree that is quite considerable). It would be difficult to convey to you using only my words how much I enjoyed reading these articles about Angel. There was this one that talked about the musical themes used for the different characters, and the way the show uses them to convey the way the characters are changing – this is the kind of thing that fascinates me but I don’t tend to notice it when I’m watching a film or TV show. Another article explored the problematic racial dynamics in the show which, y’all, can get quite cringe-inducing (oh, God, that episode where Cordelia’s determined to save Gunn from himself makes me want to shrivel up and die).

Tale of woe: J. August Richards, the actor who plays Gunn on Angel, was a huge Star Wars fan when he was a kid, and he totally loved Han Solo. But whenever he and his friends would play Star Wars, they made him be Lando Calrissian because he was black.

I sometimes joke with my family that my calling in life is finding articles about things. I am constantly going on the internet to find informative and authoritative articles about whatever I am currently interested in sounding knowledgeable about. I am constantly reporting information that I have learned from reading random articles from MetaFilter, Arts and Letters Daily, The Browser, Salon, and Slate. I do not know that finding articles is actually my calling, but I certainly do enjoy it. When they are articles about topics that enthrall me, such as wonderful books or wonderful films or wonderful TV shows, I enjoy it even more. For an English major who passionately hated every history of criticism class I took at university, I am mad for actual criticism.

I have several other books full of scholarly articles about other beloved TV shows: Doctor Who, Buffy, Firefly, and The Wire. If the library had had books about other TV shows I love, you know I’d have checked them out too. I will be reading them in due course because I have adjudged this to be a worthwhile use of the money I have spent on this library card and the terror I experience every time I set foot in the library stacks. I may or may not have plans to curl up on my sofa tonight with cheesy fries and Investigating Firefly and Serenity.

(Don’t judge. Memory understands me. I think. (You do, don’t you, Memory?))

Part of this pop culture scholarship rampage is down to sadness that all my long-anticipated things have happened. Enchanted Glass came out, and The White Road came out. I read ARCs of Curse of the Werewolf Girl and Monsters of Men, and now Doctor Who is finished and over. It’s sad, dude, I’m sad about it, sad in my heart. Of course there is always The Guild, whose fourth season starts in a few weeks, and then a while after that there will be fall TV, which is fun to look forward to. So you can see how a girl would require some scholarly consideration of Wesley’s comedic timing.

Y’all, am I alone in this? Is my pleasure in close readings and feminist interrogations of my best-beloved books and shows indicative of serious mental disturbance? Tell me the truth. I can take it. Also, have you ever been in a scary library? Do you feel (as I slightly do) that the scariness is instilling you with a healthy respect and awe for knowledge?