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Is River Tam of Firefly/Serenity Psychic or Merely Psychotic?

Serenity is the movie based on the short lived series Firefly, which was created by Joss Whedon, who brought us Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I think he's also helping out with the new Dollhouse series. In addition he also has penned a few comics.

Here's the wikipedia link:

It stars Summer Glau who plays River Tam, an augmented assassin who was trained in what was purported to be a special academy for gifted students but turned out to be a facility used to turn a select few of gifted students into assassins.

She's supposed to be around 17-19 in this series.

However, the actual star of the Firefly series was the ship itself, of the Firefly class, the Serenity.

From wikipedia:

"Set 510 years in the future, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of a transport and cargo ship. The captain and first mate are veterans of the Unification War, having fought on the losing side. Their lives of petty crime are interrupted by a :psychotic: passenger who harbors a dangerous secret."

Glau plays River Tam with glee. What Whedon gets her to say in the script is similar to what you get out of schizophrenic people or people rendered disturbed by trauma. However, the premise that Blue Sun, a monolithic corporation that runs the Alliance which has forced tight control over the central planets while barely civilizing the outer-rim planets, has allowed mind control (psyops) scientists to brainwash and torture River, is despicable.

Supposedly they went in and did a special kind of lobotomy, damaging her amygdala which controls our ability to respond to fight-or-flight stimuli correctly. The amygdala is also the centre of our emotions - it allows us to filter out harmless stimuli and to act on threats, focus on detail, etc. Without it, supposedly we undergo so much stress we go mad and violently so.

I know that with Williams syndrome, the connexions to the amygdala are wired differently from you or I. A person with it strives to connect with other people, is gregarious, and talkative, yet cannot connect cues to appropriate action in response to the usual hints and nuances we may appropriately act upon with ease.

In the case of River Tam, her behavior is based on a wide range of schizotypies with some mild psychosis that she choses to go in and out of with ease. I think that the medication that her doctor brother gives her is probably an antihistamine-like antipsychotic. However, I do not think she is actually psychotic. Rather, she is sensitive, possibly due to administration of an ibogaine-like compound created by Blue Sun as a mind control drug.

See ibogaine.

OK OK, I am thoroughly into Firefly. It's not a fun sci fi drama, considering that the Alliance and probably Blue Sun is based on a future Earth where China allied with America and Europe to conquer the stars, which reminds me of a certain novel series of which I forget the author where such an alliance rules the future Earth.

Dunno if the two are related, but I would not mind viewing Serenity.

Update: 20130130.1839

After watching Serenity, I have seen River Tam mature as a character who matures from victim of a State that creates child assassins with psychic ability into a young adult who chooses use her training to protect both her brother and the crew of the Serenity.

Her behavior points the way to the planet Miranda and her behavior there shows the vulnerable side of her character. Once the decision is made to reveal the secret of Miranda to the whole universe, River Tam decides to protect her brother and the crew of the Serenity when her brother is mortally wounded.

At that moment, she throws the med kit containing the means to save her brother towards the crew and then unleashes her martial arts skills on Reavers intent on killing anyone that crosses their path.

Afterwards, when Malcolm Reynolds returns from his task to broadcast Miranda's secret to the known universe, we see as the gate door opens, River Tam standing, dead Reavers scattered around her, swords in both hands.

It appears surreal to hear the Alliance commander demanding her to stand down. Yet I cannot help but consider River Tam as badass, deadly yet devoted not only to her brother but also the crew of the Serenity.

Is River Tam psychic? You bet! Is she psychotic? I don't think so, not when she's given a new purpose (protection of family - her brother - and friends - the crew of Serenity).

Overall, I give the movie 4/5 because it is the culmination of all the episode of the short-lived series.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Since this post I bought the Serenity movie and the series DVDs.

it was worth buying, as the movie and the episodes are thought-provoking.