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.