Serenity: Shepherd's Pie

Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, David Krumholtz, Chiwetel Ejiofor
(PG-13, 119 min.)

"Big Brother is watching you." George Orwell

Five hundred years into our future the world is anything but serene for the ragtag crew of spaceship Serenity. It’s job enough to keep the bucket of bolts running, let alone having to evade a lethal soft spoken assassin and roving bands of space cannibals hungry for new meat.

And if that’s not enough to keep steely-jawed Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) busy, he has an unhappy alliance with two passengers hitching a ride to nowhere. Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) earns his passage cleaning up gaping wounds the rebel warriors turned space pirates inevitably garner in their raids for plunder. But sister psychic River Tam (Summer Gau) is another story. 

Pragmatist Captain Mal –the usual end of rebel idealists on the losing side of wars – decides to use River’s mental abilities on one of their raids. It proves a good hunch when she alerts them to a hostage about to pull a gun and the imminent arrival of reevers, bands of space barracudas who are the unacknowledged scourge of the universe. 

At the seedy bar where they fence their booty, however, the demure waif with the sad eyed posture of a Martha Graham dropout suddenly morphs into Barbarella on steroids. Captain Mal ultimately realizes that the Alliance has programmed River to become a lethal weapon, but one with some dark secrets locked up in her psychic brain.

That’s why the Alliance has sent an especially efficient operative to terminate her. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays him with a deferential charm, a reasoned grim reaper who points out his victim’s deadly sins before helping him fall on his sword. As such he is all the more menacing, Frost’s “dimpled spider, fat and white,” and even more dangerous, a true believer.

Here’s where the swashbuckling antics of Hans Solo’s Star Wars merges with the underlying cerebral themes of Star Trek. Underpinning all of the space battles and narrow escapes is a dissection of utopias and their ultimate corruption every bit as compelling as Orwell’s 1984 or Aldus Huxley's Brave new World. Okay, maybe that’s a little much, but it is there nonetheless. Given the choice between unwashed freedom and civilized conformity, it seems, there are always a few holdouts for the former. And when man’s attempts to file off the jagged edges of human nature run amok, as they ultimately must, the true believers must work very hard and fast to cover up the inconvenient turn of events. 

And there is one very vast conspiracy out there trying to do exactly that. If the crew of Serenity is to unlock the secrets in River’s brain they must go to a place called Miranda and cross the edge of space that quivers with flesh eating reevers. Not everyone is up for the task. In fact, some of the crew, namely Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) think they should have abandoned River back when she laid the seedy bar to waste. Captain Mal is no sensitive Jean Luc Picard, commanding through the power of his reasoned intellect and human sensibilities. When the motley crew isn’t behind him he uses the old would you rather be the captain line, and Jayne answers yes. All that Mal can say is, Well, you can’t.” As things get even dicier, he tells them he will shoot anyone not obeying orders. Strangely, though, they all adore this man in the way a dysfunctional family cherishes its mildly abusive but well-meaning parent.

Getting through Reever territory requires some macabre machinations and Captain Mal proves he’s every bit as cunning as any submarine captain playing cat and mouse under the sea ever was. He also introduces us to a delightful geek, Mr. Universe, a kind of rebel space broadcaster in the mold of Wolfman Jack and his 250,000 watt antenna in the deserts of Mexico. And who says geeks don’t get the chicks? Mr. Universe’s babe is blonde and beautiful, even if she is not completely human. 

Go see Serenity for the thrills, the action, the romance, or perhaps just to tweak the television executives who cancelled the show mid-season when it ran under the title Firefly. Like love, it’s even better the second time around.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

For the first time, I was almost stumped. How to come up with a recipe for a film where no one actually eats or even mentions food? I guess careening about space in a ship that sheds metal at the same rate that Janet Jackson does her wardrobe is enough to concentrate on. Nor do the always-lurking reevers and their particular gastronomical eccentricities work to enhance one’s appetite.

But a crew’s got to eat, even among the chaos. And the cozy kitchen of ship Serenity looks like it surely has been the scene of some good dinners as well as a world of war stories to keep its crew up through the night.

The meal I propose is a tribute to Shepherd, played so well by Ron Glass, the enigmatic preacher of sorts who always sheltered Serenity’s crew when the going got tough. Too bad he and his flock couldn’t escape the wolves of the Alliance.

Now that the chase has slackened, perhaps Captain Mal and his faithful crew can sit down to a hearty dinner of Shepherd’s Pie. Our recipe makes use of leftover meat, an economical move for the hard strapped entourage. It also features great gooey gobs of that ultimate comfort food, mashed potatoes. Let’s face it. They’ve earned it.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie are very similar. Shepherd's Pie is made from lamb whereas Cottage Pie uses beef. In this version of Shepherd's Pie we use leftover Roast Lamb. 

  • 1 lb of leftover roast lamb (or roast beef)
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce (ketchup)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of leftover gravy (jus roti) or packet-mix gravy
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped parsley
  • 3 to 4 large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Trim excess fat off the leftover roast and chop very finely by hand or in a food processor. Mix the roast with the tomato sauce and enough gravy to make a thick paste,:stir in the chopped parsley, a little salt and pepper and spoon into a pie dish.

Peel the potatoes, chop into quarters and place in a medium saucepan with enough cold water to just cover the potatoes. Add a little salt and bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. When the potatoes are cooked, drain and place back on the heat for a few seconds to let any extra water evaporate from the potatoes. Mash the potatoes with one tablespoon of butter until the potato is very creamy - add a little milk if needed. Add salt to taste.

Spoon or pipe the creamy mashed potato over the minced roast mixture. Sprinkle with grated cheese if desired and bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the potato is golden and the pie is heated through.

(Serves 4)

Recipe Source: Cuisine du Monde