Talking around River
Sunday, June 18, 2006

[Previously posted to a dropped thread, of which there were several animated discussions):

One of my favorite ponderables is how River relates to each crew member, since her personality is so...spry. Concerning her relationship (or non-relationship) with Mal, I find it interesting that he spends a lot of time talking about River, or discussing River in the third person when she's present, but he never actually speaks to her. I assume he does this to avoid the implication that he's responsible for her. Mal wants it clear to everyone that Simon is responsible, that he is the person most qualified to care for her -- as a doctor and as her brother.

Near as I can tell, the first time in the series that Mal speaks to River is in the last episode, OiS, when she finds the gun in the cargo bay. Mal says, as he's lunging down the stairs "River, sweetheart, you want nothing to do with that. Put it down." In the tense moments that follow, Mal says "I'm not mad. Just lemme... [grabs the gun] Thank you." The conversation that follows is a mixture of Mal discussing the situation to the room at large, and berating Simon. "Fully-loaded, safety off. This is a recipe for unpleasantness. Does she understand that?", once again reverting to speaking around her with her present. River breaks the wall, answering to Mal, even though the question was not directed towards her, but oddly, referring to herself in the third person "She understands. She doesn't comprehend." To which Mal replies ascerbicly "Well, I'm glad we've made that distinction. No. Touching. Guns." So, the silence is broken. This breaking is what, IMHO, makes OiS the crown jewel in the series.

River speaks to the crew [sans Jayne] during the rest of OiS, as she masterminds their rescue from Jubal. Mal plays a key role in that rescue, directed entirely by River. When River prepares to re-enter Serenity after she casts off Jubal's ship, Mal and River speak just to talk, the first time since they've met. Mal isn't chewing her out, or taking orders from her, or talking about or around her. In that short time, they basically tease each other. The effect is charming. And it's as if, until that moment, I had wondered what was off-kilter through the entire series, and now I realize what it was.

I find it simply amazing that 14 episodes elapsed without two principal charactors speaking to each other. Did Joss send out a memo to his writing staff "Mal never says word one to River. Ever." Or did the writers intrinsically understand that River was not supposed to be Mal's concern? Ever?

Since circumstances finally served Mal to speak to River in OiS, this may have influenced his decision to involve her in the bank heist in Lilac in the BDM. He no longer had to go through Simon concerning her. It's been said that the reason Mal "sank to a new low" concerning River was because he no longer had the mellowing influence of Book and Inara. I think that may be true, but the other forces at work could be considered just as compelling. Mal may have simply known that River was an asset in a tricky situation -- albeit a somewhat unpredictable asset. I think he realized River's strengths, much like he realized Kaylee's when he first met her. Looked at from a different angle, this "sinking to a new low" of endangering River could be viewed as a pragmatic weighing of people solely by their skills and assets, irregardless of gender. This pragmatism would be a valuable charactor trait in a soldier, as soldiers are repeatedly placed in life-threatening situations where they have to rely on each other to survive. Mal is, if anything, still a soldier.

This pragmatism is what Simon takes exception to when he attempts to dissuade Mal from involving River. "And that's your guiding star, isn't it? What's of use!" Well, to a soldier, yes. And thus the catalyst for the BDM is set in motion. Mal realizes River's usefulness, Simon disagrees, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I also think it interesting that Mal and River speak only twice in the BDM. At the beginning, when he asks her "Hey little one, you understand your part in all this?", her reply being "Do you?", and at the end, when Mal explains to the psychic his theory on love and ships, and also, probably, life.



Originally posted by daveshayne:

Originally posted by Hera:
I also think it interesting that Mal and River speak only twice in the BDM.

There's also the conversation on the bridge. Sure River's end was limited to cocking a gun and then saying Miranda but the gun cocking was very conversational.


"Not completely as well as the series of Firefly..." - From a review of Serenity at amazon.de


Tuesday, June 20, 2006 2:52 PM


I'm so glad you moved this here, Hera.. I was afraid it'd gotten lost in the site difficulties.

I wanted to read this more and comment.

I'll be back.....


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