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May 18 2015

Serenity: "Secrets are not my concern. Keeping them is." Culture Chronicle take a look at the Operative and explain why he is one of cinema's greatest villains. They also say that he is the film's true hero.

Thanks for posting this.
Good article!
The operative is not a hero. He may believe he is a hero, that his motivations are pure and in the end will benefit his society, but that is quite different than being a hero.

A hero questions the motivations of those above him. The operative does not do this. He blindly accepts edicts from his superiors. It is only when confronted with the horror of his superiors decisions does he even begin to question them.

No, Mal is the true hero of the story. He questions. He does the right thing even though it will cost him dearly and he may not succeed. He does not purposefully murder innocent people to get to his goal.
The Operative reminds me of O'Brien from 1984. A true fanatic who justify any action.
A good write-up. I don't watch Serenity very often; next time I do, though, I'll pay close attention to the Operative.
I wouldn't necessarily say the Operative isn't a hero, and I'm not entirely sure I agree with your definition of heroism quantumac, I'd just say he's a different kind from Mal. When one is trying to change things, one can try to champion the cause as much as they like, but until they get that worker, the guy who is one of them to change his mind, pick up a wrench, and throw it into the gears, it's not going to go anywhere. The Operative is that worker. He's the guy from the inside who changes his mind and, after taking the high-key hero's words to heart, actually makes it work at a ground-level. It's a more low-key heroism, one without whom heroes like Mal die as martyrs, and their cause dies with them. The Operative isn't necessarily a hero throughout Serenity, but I see the film as the beginning of a heroic arc for him.

I do really hope that future Serenity comics give him a place. I've been jockeying for a Core-centric resistance (ugh, don't get me STARTED on Core in revolution. A revolution by the Core people, with Core values, which I hoped the New Resistance of Leaves on the Wind would be, but aren't), and I really think the Operative could consolidate Core discontent, because if Simon is representative of the best of the Alliance like Whedon describes him to be and Simon is discontent then there must be others, and channel it properly into a revolution, succeeding where the New Resistance has failed because it espouses Core ideals and values and I'll stop with that now. Short of it is, I would really like to see the Operative lead a Core-centered resistance movement if there are to be more comics.
I would say that The Operative is a hero of the political system in power. Through Firefly and Serenity the viewers were led to sympathize with Mal, making him the hero of the story we were told. Yet, if one were to take an extended view of the galaxy ruled by the Alliance, what goal did Malcolm Reynolds really have? My guess is that he would love to destabilize the political system of the Alliance, and perhaps force a new civil war. This could lead to thousands more deaths. Ethically, from one perspective, that would be bad, to put it simply. From another perspective, the errors of the Alliance are unforgivable and it must be broken, so that a new system may be created whatever the cost. They damned an untold number of people and turned them into monsters. That makes them, how can I say this, really f-ing bad people. I'm not even mentioning what they did to River and others like her. Except I did. However, the supposed hero of the Alliance discovers their heinous war crimes (let's call them that, for lack of better words), and chooses to side with the hero of the viewer, whom he has previously been an antagonist to. He is misguided hero/villain who begins of a path of redemption.

I've read the article, not deeply though, because it is quite shallow. I think these are easy points to make. The whole he's a hero point is also very underdeveloped and I'm not sure what the message is there. I tried to get at in my own analysis, but, eh.

The only thing I can say is that this makes think of how deeply unfair it is that Chiwitel (his last name is difficulter) has never won an Oscar and how silly people are who say that Joss Whedon is a poor writer.
Having just re-watched the MAoS finale last night, I'm struck by the parallels between the Operative and Cal/Hyde. Both are true believers in their cause, and both are willing to commit heinous acts of violence to further that cause (or so they are led to believe by their respective authority figures). And both are convinced, at a critical moment in the narrative, to switch sides by the actions of the protagonist.

Cal isn't a hero in the classic sense but he does have his moments of heroism and self-sacrifice as an ally of the "good guys." The Operative takes a less active role; he doesn't so much take up the fight on the side of the good guys, he just refuses to continue fighting against them.
I do agree, alber, that the article itself is shallow, but I do definitely think if the argument is better framed, going in your line, moving away from the Operative as hero of the film to it being his heroic backstory (much in the way Serenity Valley is Mal's backstory), take material from the latest comic run, and pretend the canon cared about the Alliance and the Core as more than big bad government than it did. Also, I don't necessarily think the Alliance has to dissolve, but I'm overoptimistic. Joss himself felt the Alliance didn't have to go wholesale. Though, I doubt Mal's goals have anything to do politically. He simply wanted the truth out, not to necessarily to destabilize the Alliance, not necessarily to overturn it. The truth so that the Alliance can't do it again, wash his hands of it once it's out there. As evidenved by the comics, Mal doesnt care for joining revolution. I think the Operative is in a good place to finish what Mal started. The Operative is the hero of Core ideals, not necessarily of the Alliance, and I do think something interesting could come of it.

Granted, I only care about the Core in this canon.
The Core, is that from the recent comics? I haven't read those.
The Core as in the Central planets (referred to as both throughout the series), as opposed to the Rim and Border outer planets. The Core planets are where the Alliance comes from, so it's an extreme version and misapplication even of Core ideals and values (which are found in kinder and gentler ways in our characters who grew up in the Core). The Core doesn't actually feature much in the comics either.

[ edited by TenTonParasol on 2015-05-18 22:27 ]
Ah, right. It's been a while since I saw the series. I hope Whedon and his collaborators take some time to develop the Core planets and put them into the comics, or you know, something.
Interesting read.
But there were at least 3 points that I disagreed with.

1) Examine this scene where he kills Dr. Mathias... Sadness. Regret. Uncertainty. Itís tricky to pin down whatís going through the Operativeís head here.
I had a very different read on that. He didn't chose a simple, efficient method to kill Mathias. He chose an elaborate, excruciating method that appealed to his sense of justice. The Operative seems quite delighted in doing that to a man he had contempt for. Any sadness or regret was play acting, because he has to pretend to himself that he doesn't get pleasure from killing (the right) people.

2) And the hero should be the only one who can take the villain down.
Eh... I would agree that the villain should not be defeated by conventional means, but I found the most interesting villains were threatened by more than just the hero. They usually have the same heroic qualities (resourcefulness, determination), and usually have obstacles to overcome just like the hero does. (Beloq from "Raiders of the Lost Arc" comes to mind.)

3) He considers the Operative the hero because to truly make a difference you have to change the way people think.
The Operative had his belief system destroyed, but I don't think he changed the way he thought. He didn't decide to start helping those he hurt (like protecting River Tam), or find a new faith system. He just... stopped. I don't remember if it was said by Joss or someone else, but when Mal had his faith shattered (at Serenity), he found a way to move on, to find a crew to support and take comfort from. That made him heroic. The Operative being unable to do this leaves him short.
I think there's a merit to the point you're disagreeing with in your third point, OneTeV, but I do agree in that it's not in the film. Heck, it's not even really in Leaves on the Wind either, but at least the comics start that kind of thing. Really, this article does more than anything bring up the possibility for a heroic arc from the Operative and why the comics should move toward one. (Though I think I'm repeating myself at this point, apologies.)

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