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Joss had warned us that the film was going to be much darker. I knew this was code for "Crew Death". I did the 'math' and figured it was going to be either Book or Simon (in a last defence of River)
So when Books death came, I was ready. Some folk think that his 'last words' went on too long... but after several viewings I'm ready to argue that. the first part is really about Mal saying how sorry he is for this happening and Book easing his guilt (in a way).
The second part is where we begin to tune out. But I believe it is here that Joss gives us a very big clue to the mystery of Book himself. Books very last words (as I hear it after 6 veiwings) to Mal are...
"...River... I dont care what you belive... Just belive everything she -- "
which - to me - confirms my idea of Books backstory. He's an Ex-Operative. (The fact that he KNOWS what an Operative even is helps that along).
As to the death of Wash -- Man does that sting. After 6 times it is still painful to watch. but it does hold a purpose. Up untill that point we feel that the Big Damn Heroes(tm) are going to pull it off. They are going to beat the bad guys and escape all manner of Hell -- like they always did before.
And when a Reaver harpoon rips that away from us - the whole film changes. Now our heores don't look so big no more... Just damned.
As an aside - I will say that Joss messes up here. We are never given a chance to mourn for Wash. Zoe's first response is breif, and gets subsumed by the on-going action. We don't really get to see that wailing moment that would be just as cathardic for the crew as for us sad sacks in the auditorium. When the next few jokes come along they feel hollow and... I don't know... wrong.
I felt like yelling "How dare you ask us to laugh at a time like this?!?"
My other reactions include...
Denial icon_eek.gif "No WAY!... maybe they can fix him... maybe the alliance saves him... maybe it's a trick?..."
Anger icon_evil.gif "Joss Whedon sucks! -- I Hate him AAAAAAAAAARRRRGH!"
Bargaining icon_sad.gif "...ok... this was the rough cut... maybe they will change it before it comes out if they get the right feedback ...."
Depression icon_cry.gif "He's still dead.... "
and now Acceptance.
See... what follows Wash's death, only works because of his death. Zoe breaks the line to engage the Reavers in hand to hand combat. Why? It's such a bad, BAD thing to do.
She is out for blood and nothing but an axe to the back will stop her. Because of this Jayne can't get clear shots off -- which is what allows the Reavers to get a foothold on the room. This forces them to fall back --
When Kaylee says that she's starting to loose feeling from those darts in her neck, we really think she might not make it. This makes Simon try to go back to get his bag, which gets him shot down. Which makes River the only one left to save them (as Inara is busy trying to stop the bleeding).
Wash's death starts a chain reaction... we don't know if any of them are going to live. We really just don't know anymore.
and that is good storytelling.
My question -- what should we read into the fact that Whedon killed off the two biggest advocates for non-violence?