Jul 7 2011 5:03pm

A Love Letter to Firefly

One sultry evening in the autumn of 2005 while vacationing in Disney World, my wife and I passed a theater. The film playing was Serenity. We had seen a few episodes of Firefly on TV before it was cancelled, so we were familiar with the show. Having nothing better to do, we bought two tickets.

I was enthralled. Before the end credits rolled, I was determined to get the complete first (and only) season of Firefly as soon as possible and catch up on what I had missed.

In case you’re wondering what triggered this love letter to a show that’s been off the air for eight years, my wife and I recently re-watched the series on DVD. Scratch that. We devoured it like starving carnivores hunched over the carcass of a plump gazelle, staying up way too late for a couple with a young child who likes to wake up at the crack of dawn. But we couldn’t help ourselves. After every episode we had to watch “just one more.” And that feeling hit me especially hard after the last episode, “Objects In Space” (which should have won every damned award a TV show can win).

Some of the (many) things I love about this series—

The Setting: With its mixture of American and Chinese influences (and others I probably missed), Joss Whedon’s ‘Verse’ feels big and expansive. In contrast, Serenity—the spaceship where most of the show takes place—is homey and comfortable. Like Captain Jack Sparrow’s Black Pearl, Serenity is more than just a ship. It’s freedom in a shrinking world (galaxy). It’s home. Going with a Western-style feel was a bold move when slick hi-tech stuff tends to grab more attention, but it just fits. Firefly isn’t about technical jargon and endless Senatorial debates over trading embargos; it’s a human story about a band of misfits on the raggedy edge of space, and that’s what made it great.

The Characters: I’m a character guy. Whether in a novel, a film, or tv, I’m always most interested in the characters, and Firefly has some of my favorites. Captain Mal Reynolds is a scruffier, less refined Han Solo with a soft spot for the ladies. (For my money, Nathan Fillion is perfect in this role.) My wife likes Zoe, the first mate. I’m more partial to Jayne. You can’t trust him, and he ain’t too smart in the book-learning sense, but he’s a whole lotta fun. Damage my calm, indeed! The rest of the crew are aces, too. Not a boring one in the bunch, not even the stuffy doctor who can take a punch.

And tension? The cast is chock full of it. Jayne’s constant struggle with Mal over control of the gang. Simon’s conflict with Mal over the safety of his sister. Inara’s love/hate relationship with Mal. Wash’s irritation at Mal’s relationship with Zoe. Come to think of it, all that tension is centered square on Mal, which is right where it needs to be to drive the story. And because Mal, of all of them, can take it. He’s not a super-hero; he’s a survivor. Stab him, shoot him, torture him... he just keeps coming back.

The Themes: I touched on it earlier, but I love the show’s theme of surviving on the edge of civilization in a shrinking ’Verse. You really got the sense that time was running out for Captain Reynolds and his crew; that eventually the Alliance’s arm would reach so far that there was nowhere left to hide. I think that’s a very American theme, the desire to live free from the control of Big Brother. It’s no accident that the Independence-Alliance conflict closely resembles the American Civil War, barring the slavery issue. And, of course, River’s sub-plot speaks directly to the dangers of governmental control run amok.

It’s a shame Firefly didn’t get a longer chance to find its audience. But at least Joss and the cast got a shot at the silver screen. Stay tuned for my next article, “An Ode to Serenity.”

Jon Sprunk is the author of Shadow’s Son and Shadow’s Lure (Pyr Books). He is slowly going insane as he hammers the third book of the trilogy into shape.

Jared Garrett
1. Jared Garrett
Jon, you said it. Watching the last episode of Firefly, knowing that I wouldn't be able to follow the characters anymore-- was actually very sad-making. I felt like I had to mourn or grieve.
Jared Garrett
2. Carl V.
A love letter to Firefly never goes amiss. My wife and daughter and I are in the midst of our own rewatching of the show right now.
Jared Garrett
3. mike cobley
Jon, got it in a nutshell - the cancellation of Firefly will go down as one of the cultural crimes of modern corporate TV. I keep wishing that some magical realignment of possibilities would allow JW to make more episodes ... but in this degenerate age of profit-maximisation its seems a forlorn hope.
Jared Garrett
4. J M Kirk
Loved this show! Unfathomable to me why this was dumped while other drivel is kept on. The characters were great and worked so well together. I love watching 'Castle' with Nathan Fillion just to see how many 'Firefly' references he gets in - like the halloween space cowboy outfit! : )

sing with me now - 'The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne!'
Rob Munnelly
5. RobMRobM
I also watched Serenity first and finally got to watch the show on the Science channel re-broadcast of all episodes early this year. I enjoyed the witty, intelligent dialogue between and among the crew members, the mystery that is River, and some very nice guest appearances (especially Christina Hendrix of the ever-evolving names and marital status). I have them all DVR'ed and now re-watch occasionally. Shiny. I'll be in my bunk.

Jared Garrett
6. TheAdlerian
When the show first came on I was excited about having some good science fiction. However, after watching the first couple of episodes I was disgusted by the cowboy theme because it was obviously another cheap ass, let's raid the costume department, low budget show. People would be more likely to dress as we do now if poor than dress like it's the 19th century. Also, I dislike Joss Whedon's weird masked sexism and I was OUT.

However, just a few months ago I decided to watch the whole thing on Netflix just to see why everyone loved it so much. I managed to get over the cowboy thing and I believe that the cast is what makes the show good. The plots were pretty standard western stuff, but they were good to watch because the actors brought something extra.

It's too bad it didn't have a longer run, but again the setting wasn't appealing and I think that's why people didn't tune in. You're nullifying the sense of awe by making people in the future look like they just returned from a square dance.
Jared Garrett
7. Potch
I don't know that anyone has ever said it better. Firefly was a gem. It makes me happy that so many years later, people still have this feeling about it. Everything about the show was spot-on perfect.
Jared Garrett
8. Potch
Um. Wow. I just read the comment above mine. "Joss's weird masked sexism". WHAT???? There is nothing of the kind in ANY of Joss's work. Joss is all about strong female characters.
A.J. Bobo
9. Daedylus
I wonder sometimes what would have happened had Firefly been allowed to stay on the air. Because it was so short and got such low ratings, there's only one DVD set and it's cheap. I think the low price helped people discover it and become part of the rabid fan base.

Don't get me wrong, I think what was done to Firefly's TV run was a crime against Science Fiction. I wish we could have seen more of the story that was (still is?) in Joss's head. Serenity is awesome, but I want more.

On a different note, about a month ago I was trying to convince my sister-in-law to watch Firefly. She was already a Castle fan, so all I really needed to say was "Nathan Fillion". I decided to describe the characters to her a little. The best description I could think of for Mal was "like Han Solo - only more so".
Ashe Armstrong
10. AsheSaoirse
We all know Firefly. We all love Firefly. Except...we love it
because it was a potentially brilliant show that got the deluxe Fox
treatment. There are issues though that most fanboys and girls just don't discuss. They seem to prefer their ravings.

So, first up is the fact that what we got was the first season. How
many shows that last for more than a season are exactly what you got
first in later seasons? I'd say if any, the number is a fluke. Even
the Whedonverse holds to this. Go back and see Buffy season 1 and
compare it to season 2 and especially season 3. Compare Angel's first
season to its later seasons (granted, Angel spun off after the sexiness
that is Buffy season 3, but still).

Don't believe me? How bout characterization? I'm just going to focus
on Mal here, feel free to bring anyone else up. Mal's characterization
doesn't start getting consistent til about the second half of the
season, I'd say (this statement could warrant a rewatch on my part). True, we basically get who he is from the start but that first season is usually the actor getting comfortablewith the part and I'd say Nathan getting comfortable in his tight pants is no exception.

And like @6 TheAdlerian said, the costumes were an issue sometimes. Personally, I loved the feel of the costumes because I want to dress in a modern/19th century combo of comfort and cool. And as much as I like the whole space western idea, some of the ideas were just silly. Wagons? We have spaceships, you're on this terraformed planet via a spaceship and you're transporting things in wagons?

And that whole episode where River is almost burned for being a witch was just odd as hell. Again...spaceships...that fly through space...with laser space. Things like that are still frustrating.

And what about the East-West combo? China and America basically had a baby and it's the future. Outside of everyone using (admittedly odd) Chinese curses and a few decorations here or there, you didn't see tons of evidence for it. (Props to the Weylan-Yutani reference in ep 1 though.)

Again, I love the concept and the characters and understandably, we all want more. I guess I'm just sick of the abject fawning over the show as if it was perfect from the start.
Kevin Winter
11. KWinter
John, I agree with all you said.I too like the mixed settings of the frontier west with that of a futuristic society with spacecraft and laser weapons, and then with a dash of Chinese culture as well. I stumbled upon Firefly a while back. I as well was disappointed when I found that the show only had one season. I did have the joy of seeing Serenity when it came out on DVD. As a matter of fact I went right out and bought it without ever watching it before. It was like water to a man who had been lost in thr desert. I could only see Firefly series when a channel on satalite decided to air it, but could not see anything new. The movie was very enjoyable to say the least. There were only two problems. One beimg that it was a movie , and therefore had to end. This of course means no more Firefly. Also, there was a rather unfortunate change in the character line up during the movie. It was concerning Wash, who is probably my favorite character in the series. I do like all the characters in the series for their particular quirks and personalities. I think I like Wash the most because he is the least likely to be confused with being the burly hero type. However, he is quite capable of bravery, chivalry, and self sacrifice for the crew when it is needed. I think this is what attracts Zoe to him. This also gives hope to the normal everyday person. Seeing him play that part allows society to see that you don't need to be and epic type of person to make a difference. I won't ruin it for the who haven't seen Serenity. I will say that if you are a fan of Serenity you'll want to see this movie.
Jared Garrett
12. jmd
Love the series. Love Fillion. Just watched it again this weekend on the Science Channel.

Just had to add this, as one of my other reading sites posted this -
j p
13. sps49
At least we get to watch Jayne's multi-great grandfather on Chuck.

And the show was canceled because not enough people watched it. I didn't watch it, partly because I wasn't sure when it was on (maybe there was something else on I liked at the time) and partly because all the western-y shades of brown were too blah to pique my interest.

It took watching the movie on DVD to convince me to get the TV DVDs.
Tim Maughan
14. TimMaughan
Never got Firefly, must admit. Too many pretty people in sci fi always rubs me up the wrong way. Bit the Western/Asian/Future setting is a great one - as proved by the much tighter, more stylish Cowboy Bebop several years earlier...

/ducks for cover
Jared Garrett
15. Drax
"After every episode we had to watch “just one more.” And that feeling hit me especially hard after the last episode, “Objects In Space” "
I followed this show on it's original transmission and despite having bought the DVD boxset three times (twice as gifts) I've never been able to bring myself to watch the three untransmitted episodes.
So when I rewatch it (in transmission order) and Objects In Space fades from the screen I know there's still some places in the 'Verse I haven't seen yet and some time yet to spend with Serenity's crew. As long as those three episodes remain unwatched then Firefly lives a little while longer, even if it's just for me.
Joe Vondracek
16. joev
What's all this talk of Firefly's "first season"? The show didn't have a full first season; only 14 episodes were made, and of those, only 11 were originally aired. It might not be unusual for a show _today_ to have less than 20 episodes in a season, but at the time that Firefly appeared, that was unusual.

As to viewership, some people were undoubtedly put off by the concept, but I remember when it first aired being frustrated because Faux kept pre-empting it. (I could've sworn that they changed nights on it, too, but the info that I can find indicates that all of the original air dates were in the Friday night death slot.)

Over the years, I've observed that, more than any other show that's come and gone, more people bemoan the early demise of Firefly than any other show by a very wide margin. I see this in print, on the Interwebs, and on TV. There isn't another show that even comes close to that level of pining for what might have been.

Here's to hoping that Patrick Rothfuss buys the rights to Firefly and we get another movie or a mini-series out of it!
Jared Garrett
17. hohmeisw
I saw Serenity before Firefly with a group of friends who had all seen Firefly first (I didn't watch much t.v., so I knew nothing about it). I loved Serenity; it conveyed the characters perfectly to me, set up the universe and ship in which they lived so I understood it, and introduced the main conflict (River), advanced and resolved it well. Later I found out about Firefly, watched it, and while I still loved the characters, if I had seen the show before the movie, I would not have watched it through. Firefly, while decent, did not work as a t.v. show (it worked very well as a movie). Mal was inconsistent, wavering too often between post-Rebel Han Solo, and Solo who would gun somebody down in a bar without a thought. River, despite being the obvious main source of conflict, was mostly ignored, with a few "subtle" hints that something was up with her (and the whole witch episode was really weird, and not in a good way). The first season had no real plot to move it forward, and no reason to watch it unless you instantly fell in love with the characters (which I had, through Serenity). I'm glad it got the movie, but I can't blame them for pulling a weak show.
Jared Garrett
18. Cat
Stephen Brust white a rather superb Firefly novel which you can find here

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