Perhaps this is the curse of episodic, serialized storytelling, but Serenity: Leaves on the Wind didn’t, it seems to me, end as strong as it started. This final issue certainly sets up a great deal of plot threads for future issues, but it only resolves the least interesting question it brought up in its first, tension-filled issues, and flings open a lot of narrative doors without ever really exploring them. As a montage, or a trailer for a future “season” of comics, issue #6 is an adequate ending. But I was hoping for a strong, compelling and clear “A” story, with consequences and a real ending, and I’m disappointed that we didn’t get it here.
We pick things up as the “rescue Zoe” plot nears its endgame. As we saw in the last issue, Mal and the gang have captured an Alliance officer and they’re using River’s psychic abilities to extract the location of Zoe’s prison planet. This is immediately contrasted with the young “altered human” that they rescued from the Alliance laboratory. Only one of several, this young woman was treated with the same program intended for River, but in this case, the Alliance finished their work, emptying the woman of all her thoughts, memories and identity and filling her mind up again with tactics and loyalty. As River puts it, “She doesn’t know she used to be a person.” At first, Simon doesn’t think that there is anything he can do, but River, in an interesting moment of calm authority from her, insists that Simon is skilled enough and that she understands what this woman is going through. She knows that it can be cured and one’s mind can be put back together, although as Simon himself later admits, that is a process that hasn’t exactly reached its conclusion for River.
The actual escape itself would have been a thrilling, if unoriginal scene to watch. Georges Jeanty does all he can to make the scene seem fresh, but the fact is that we’ve seen the desert, the hover-car, the chase sequence and even the “barn swallow” manoeuvre before. It’s classic Serenity stuff, but the major potential pitfall of a spinoff comics series is that it fails to move the franchise forward. Even hard core “fan” readership isn’t going to stand for continuously recycled plots and situations for very long. A great example of a book that avoids this is, ironically enough, Buffy Season 8 and 9, and now 10. There, they put the characters is new situations and allowed them to grow and change, and take life-altering or life-threatening risks. There is some character growth here so far, but not as much as there could be.
For example, the whole plot with Zoe being imprisoned and separated from her baby girl comes off in the end as a disappointment. It seems as if Zack Whedon couldn’t decide whether that was the A-plot or the B-plot, or even if the team was thinking in those terms. Certainly, Mal’s behaviour in the last issue, where he broke away from the major political and long-term implications of capturing an Alliance officer to redirect everyone’s attention to Zoe, is a great use of that motivation and provided a strong character moment. But we hadn’t heard much about Zoe’s predicament for a few issues before that, other than a page or two reminding us that she was indeed on a prison planet by showing us cliche-ridden scenes of prison life. This, again, was a missed opportunity. Zoe on a sci-fi version of Orange is the New Black? That would have been a fascinating thing to explore, for even an entire “season”. But instead, it just becomes an artificial-feeling device. Zoe hasn’t learned anything from her time in prison, really, and neither has any other character. Perhaps the only long-term character point is that Mal still feels absolutely devoted to his warrior right-hand woman.
The rest of this issue really does move into montage territory, with plot boxes being checked off left and right and story points being made, but it feels like a trailer for the upcoming season, not the resolution of a compelling central plot. And that’s the core issue with Leaves on the Wind as it draws to a conclusion: there was no strong, central narrative arc. Other than Zoe’s story, which we discussed above, the other plot lines are potentially fascinating but not explored. They provide every hint of future exploration here, but I was expecting a bit more from Whedon and company.
Given that the plot points are being checked off, there are still some nice artistic touches to the final montage presented here. Jeanty provides a great sequence in which Zoe goes to meet “The Operative” in a forest for a gun duel, written with very little dialogue and evocative of a quiet stillness. It’s The Duellists in the wild west, with Japanese swords and two African characters: a great mashup of genres and styles that seems completely logical and normal and elegant in the Whedon vernacular.
When the “family” is reunited on Serenity’s bridge, with Mal and Inara being affectionate, Zoe holding her (and Wash’s) child and plucky, eager River sitting in the pilot’s seat with Wash’s old dinosaurs, it’s a moving moment. And Jeanty, of course, tosses in a couple of leaves on the wind to accent the scene.
But then, after the wonderful uplifting ending, we get three pages of rapid-fire plot, setting the stage for the return of Jubal Early and the secret of the “Female Operative” that scared The Operative so much in the last issue. These were plots I had expected to see resolved here, or at least brought to some sort of narrative conclusion. Instead, we’ll have to wait and read the continuing adventures of Serenity. Not exactly a chore.