In this week’s Fandom Flashback, we hop aboard this Firefly and sail away on Serenity.
Fandom Flashbacks are a weekly Hypable feature that looks back at old shows (classic, vintage, and freshly dead) and takes our readers onto memory lane as we express our favorite moments, characters, and plots.
“I don’t care, I’m still free. You can’t take the sky from me.”
Created by Joss Whedon following his Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, Firefly is a space western set in the 26th century aboard a transporter spaceship named Serenity.
In Firefly’s timeline, when humans used up Earth, they had to move on to a new solar system to terra-form new moons and planets for human habitability. The central planets where the elite and wealthy classes lived were adequately terra-formed, but the outer rim planets filled with the poor were left with a desolate landscape.
It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.”
When the Alliance wanted to unify all of the planets under one rule, the outer-rim planets that wanted to remain independent fought back in a war. But after losing the war for indepence, the “Browncoats”, like Serenity’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds, were left trying to make a living as pioneers on the outskirts of the galaxy.
After acquiring his crew of fighters, a pilot, and a mechanic, Mal set off for the skies to find his freedom. The crew makes a living by smuggling stolen goods across planets. Along the way, they acquired a Companion for legitimacy, and ended up with a preacher and two fugitive siblings in tow.
Malcom Reynold’s Crew on Serenity is an odd assortment of thieves, runaways and adventurers who, for whatever reason, feel most comfortable aflight in the sky. And though they may often fight, by the end of the series, they’ve become a family, united by their distrust for the Alliance and their love for each other.
The grumpy but loveable Captain of Serenity, Mal is a former “Browncoat” sergeant who fought during the Unification War. A petty thief and smuggler, Mal is still an honest and moral man defined by his loyalty towards his two true loves: his ship, and his crew.
The Captain’s most trusted and loyal friend, Zoe served under Mal during the Unification War, and is now Serenity’s second-in-command. A disciplined “warrior woman,” her calm and confident demeanor makes her a fierce fighter, but her soft side comes out around her goofy husband, Wash.
Zoe’s head-over-heels-in-love husband and Serenity’s genius pilot, Wash is both the voice of reason and the voice of the audience amongst a crew that often has to live a life of extremes. Generally a quippy and light-hearted man, Wash is always sensible, and often advocates for nonviolent solutions.
A hired gun working for the Captain, Jayne puts on a selfish, brutish front, but occasionally allows his sensitive side to peek through. He isn’t afraid to be upfront and honest about the hard questions, and though the crew often questions his judgment and trust, he remains remarkably loyal to the Captain.
Serenity’s genius mechanic, Kaylee is a sweet, cheery girl who genuinely loves and is genuinely loved by every member of the crew. Though often portraying a positive, childlike outlook on the world, she isn’t afraid to go after what she wants and conquer her crush on Dr. Simon Tam.
A registered Companion, Inara carries all of the dignity, elegance and compassion of a 26th century courtesan who has spent a lifetime perfecting the craft of comforting human loneliness. Her high education gives her high social standing, and affords the Serenity crew a degree of legitimacy.
Once an elite medical researcher and top trauma surgeon, Simon gave up his career to protect River from the torture projects the Alliance were inflicting on her. Refined even in the outskirts of space, his selfless devotion to caring for his little sister has left him hiding on Serenity as the ship’s doctor.
A genius in every sense of the word, River is a remarkable child prodigy who the Alliance was attempting to turn into an unstoppable war weapon. The experiments have left her delusional and paranoid, and she frequently scares the crew with her erratic violence and apparent psychic abilities.
A Christian preacher, Shepherd Book is the moral compass of the Serenity crew, advocating for nonviolence and mercy. His back story is occasionally questioned, as he has superb fighting skills and an in depth knowledge of criminal and Alliance activities.
The Serenity crew’s omnipresent antagonist, the Alliance is the authoritarian government that controls the known universe since the victory of the Unification War. Though their overall morality remains ambiguous, the Alliance is responsible for performing horrific mental experiments on River.
“You are a nice man, Captain. You’re always looking after us. You just gotta have faith in people.”
Though there’s an argument to be made for every one of Serenity’s crewmembers as the “best” character, there’s something special about Serenity’s champion and cheerleader, the brilliant, shiny mechanic, Kaylee.
A fan favorite both on the ship and in the show, Kaylee is in many ways the heart of the crew, consistently unifying them through love — as her unguarded nature allows her to be the only one who is able to love each and all of them, wholly and genuinely.
According to Joss Whedon, if Kaylee believes something, it is true.
A bright, positive young woman, Kaylee is able to be sincerely happy aboard Serenity because she genuinely loves the work she does on the ship, as well as everyone on it. She sees the beauty and good in each of them — even when they can’t see it in themselves.
Her childlike outlook on the world makes her bright and passionate. She delights in beautiful yet objectively tacky things, and wears her heart on her sleeve openly. Though Simon’s fancy clothes and elite education leave her feeling shy, she’s generally a confident, self-assured woman. Self-educated, her knowledge of mechanics is purely intuitive.
A peacemaker on the ship, Kaylee detests violence, but is always willing to go to the mat for her friends. She’s brave, but not fearless. Scrappy and resourceful, she holds the ship and the crew together with sheer love and strips of wire.
“I’m not on the ship. I’m in the ship. I am the ship.”
Every episode of Firefly’s all too short 14 episode run is a standout in it’s own way, peeling back another layer and revealing another mystery in the lives of Serenity’s crew. The finale of the series however, the remarkable Objects in Space is a true feat of television mastery: a bottle episode that both encapsulates the series, and expands the world to leave us wondering at what might have been.
Two things are essential in the perfection of this episode: the hero and the villain.
|I aim to misbehave.”|
Jubal Early is a monster in every contradiction of the word. Unlike most of Firefly’s villains, who usually come off as greedy aristocrats and goofy thieves, it’s implied that Early ultimately inflicts harm for the pleasure he gains from it. In the most shockingly terrifying scene in the series, we watch Early threaten to rape Kaylee while he waxes on about philosophy. And as he watches her plead through tears, her terror crippling her into submission, we recognize that this man is heartless.
And yet, in what makes him perhaps even more terrifying, we recognize that he is incredibly intelligent. A philosophic villain, he spouts out truths and anomalies, all the while absurdly asking, “Does that seem right to you?” And every once in a while, it stops us, as it does the crew, to wonder if in some bizarre way, this mad, cruel man makes sense in that he wants to push the world to ask the hard questions, even if he isn’t much interested in the answers.
He manages to be both horrific, and in his own way, classy — a gentleman villain in a world of petty thieves and corrupt government entities. His ability to rationalize and verbalize not only his own actions, but the inevitable actions of others makes him a master manipulator — even enlisting Simon’s “help” in his search to capture River.
SIMON: I don’t think my last act in this verse is going to be betraying my sister.
JUBAL EARLEY: You’re going to help me, because every second you’re with me is a chance to turn the tables. Get the better of me. Maybe you’ll find your moment. Maybe I’ll slip. Or, you refuse to help me, I shoot your brain out, and I go upstairs and spend some time violating the little mechanic I got trussed up in the engine room. I take no pleasure in the thought, but she will die weeping.
So, in a twist both eagerly welcomed and delightfully unexpected, the hero of the episode for once isn’t the cool-under-pressure Captain, but rather River, the flighty girl that everyone’s spent the series trying to protect. To see River as this unexpected hero at the end of the series is a contradiction to what we thought we knew about her all along, even as late as earlier in the same episode.
As the crew has spent the better part of the season finding River at turns irritating, pitiful, and eventually terrifying, she finally gets the chance to come into her own, and use her powers to protect those she loves. We, like the crew, come to not only understand more of River’s mentality, but to respect her as a survivor, as well as a brilliant woman. And once we’ve seen what she can do, even we can’t help but believe, like Simon, that perhaps it is true: as crazy as it seems, why couldn’t a mind like River’s finally mold itself into Serenity?
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