Eric Gonzalez, 2L, is the former Opinions Editor for the Law Weekly.
Fast-forward 500 years into the future and imagine a world where America merges with China creating a new world order. If you do this just right, you might end up with the one season wonder television series Firefly.
Firefly was a science fiction TV series on the Fox network during the fall of 2002. Firefly documented the lives of the nine-person crew of Serenity, a “Firefly” class spaceship, as they traveled an unnamed solar system in search of employment while dodging the “Alliance,” the result of the fusion of America and China in the distant future.
Although the cast of Firefly shares the spotlight in the series, Serenity is captained by Captain Malcolm Reynolds, the undisputed leader of the crew. Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion, was a sergeant in the Unification War, a civil war where the outer planets in the system unsuccessfully attempted to free themselves from the Alliance’s regime.
Reynolds fought for the “Independent Faction,” who lost the Unification War six years prior to the setting of the series. As a former Sergeant, Reynolds is adept at using firearms, and at keeping his crew alive as they encounter a variety of mishaps during their attempts to smuggle goods throughout the system. Although, Reynolds’s prowess is often displayed during the show, his personality is often contradictory, and for the most part remains a mystery to the viewer.
Zoe Washburne, played by Gina Torres, was a Corporal under Reynolds’s command during the Unification War and is now first mate aboard Serenity. Like Reynolds, Washburne is skilled at using firearms and is also a force to be reckoned with in combat. During the series Washburne is married to Hoban “Wash” Washburne, the pilot of Serenity. Their marriage, while taking place on a spaceship in desolate regions of outer space, manages to remain stable throughout the series.
Wash, in addition to being Washburne’s husband and the pilot of Serenity, is very laid back and calm, which stands out as a stark contrast to many of the other characters in the series, especially considering their status as smugglers transporting fugitives from the Alliance. Despite his laid back demeanor, Wash is just as capable of dispatching threatening figures as anyone else on board Serenity.
Jayne Cobb, played by Adam Baldwin, at first glance appears like a stereotypical mercenary, only interested in his personal safety and his salary. For example, Cobb became part of Serenity’s crew while he had a gun to Reynolds’ head by shooting his former employer after being offered a higher salary and better living quarters aboard Serenity. Contrary to this initial appearance, Cobb at times seems to care for others, such as when it is revealed that he is sending his profits to his mother so she can take care of a sick girl.
Kaylee Frye, played by Jewel Straite, is Serenity’s mechanic despite her lack of formal mechanical training. Although the reason for this is never explained, it appears that Frye has a natural affinity for mechanics, often fixing complex problems in a matter of minutes. In addition to her mechanical prowess,
Frye also has a crush on Simon Tam, the ship’s doctor. Although their relationship is never made official during the series, it is obvious that the attraction between the two is genuine, albeit awkward. Also, Frye and Simon consummate their relationship in the movie Serenity, the full feature adaptation of Firefly.
Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher, is the ship’s doctor, Frye’s love interest, and designated guardian of his sister, River Tam, while on board Serenity. Simon had a promising career as an elite trauma surgeon on the planet Osiris, but gives it up in order to save his sister, who was being tortured and experimented on at the hands of the Alliance. Although, stiff and formal, often to the detriment of his relationship with Frye, Simon loosens up as the series progresses and slowly becomes ingratiated with most of the crew.
River Tam, played by Summer Glau, is a child prodigy with psychic abilities who, after receiving an invitation to “The Academy,” ostensibly an elite private school sponsored by the Alliance, was the recipient of various tortures and experimentation as the Alliance sought to turn her into the perfect assassin. As a result of her experiences at “The Academy,” River is emotionally and mentally unstable, often requiring her brother’s constant attention, although she is a virtually unstoppable fighting force.
Inara Serra, played by Morena Baccarin, rents a shuttle on Serenity from Reynolds and uses it to offer her services as a “Companion” for her clients. Although a Companion is essentially a whore, Companions are very respectable in the series and are often a sign of wealth and power. As such, Serra gives Captain Reynolds and his crew a measure of respectability they otherwise wouldn’t have. Despite her position, it is apparent throughout the series that Serra and Captain Reynolds have a mutual attraction towards each other.
Derrial Book, played by Ron Glass, is a preacher on board Serenity, although his past remains a mystery to the viewer. The few things about Book that were revealed during the series imply that he has knowledge of crime and firearms that a preacher normally wouldn’t have. Additionally, he seems to have intricate knowledge about the ways of the Alliance, and, when injured, was able to show his identity card to the Alliance and receive medical treatment with no questions asked.
As previously mentioned, Firefly takes place in a future where humans have populated a distant solar system, where the Alliance, representing the fusion of the United States and China, recently reconquered the outer planets after a bloody civil war. Despite formal control of the outer planets, people in the farther reaches of the solar system largely live their lives without much government interference, although this results in a lack of essential supplies that are available to planets in closer proximity to the Alliance’s center of control.
Throughout the series, Captain Reynolds and his crew traverse the outer planets looking for work, usually surviving off payments received for the successful completion of various smuggling operations. Although much of the show concentrates on the crews’ attempts to complete various missions, the series also contains several subplots that were developed during its television run.
First and foremost among these subplots is the status of Simon and River Tam as fugitives from the Alliance. In the first episode, the crew picks up Simon and River as passengers only to discover that have been on the run from the Alliance since Simon rescued River from her torment at their hands. Throughout the show, the tension of having known fugitives aboard Serenity boils under the surface of the series, at one time resulting in an attempt to return them to the Alliance.
There are also several romantic relationships that are explored during the show, including the relationships between Wash and Zoe, Kaylee and Simon, and Inara and Captain Reynolds. Although only Wash and Zoe are in a committed relationship during the series, it is apparent to the viewer that there is a mutual, although complicated attraction between both Kaylee and Simon and Inara and Captain Reynolds.
In addition to the romantic relationships made apparent throughout the series television run, all of the main characters, and some of the minor characters, have in depth personalities, allowing the viewer to empathize with them. For example, Simon Tam, although glad that he rescued River from the Alliance, also wishes he lived the life he did before he rescued her. This results in him sometimes expressing dissatisfaction with his current situation, to the detriment of his budding romance with Kaylee.
In Firefly, the environment is also incredibly detailed. For example, the fusion between the United States and China is represented not only by outfits that match both Western and Oriental Culture, it is also represented by a fusion of English and Mandarin Chinese into a hybrid language that is spoken throughout the series. The language relies mainly on English (so that American viewers can watch the series without subtitles), but occasionally uses a Chinese phrase to enhance the imagery of a cultural fusion.
The environment is also detailed in the way it contrasts the divisions between rich and poor people, manifested in the series as the contrast between the inner and the outer planets of the solar system. The outer planets, which are an example of the Old West and frontier life, are often desert or otherwise barren locations, whereas the inner planets are much more hospitable, often containing major cities, lush forests, and large oceans.
The divisions between rich and poor are also apparent in the appearance and manner of the characters on the show. For example, Simon, who was raised on the inner planet Osiris and previously led a privileged life, acts very proper and dresses in fine clothing, while most of the other crewmembers, who are not used to such a lifestyle, wear plain garments in muted colors. Of the other crewmembers, only Inara also wears colorful and expensive clothing, which displays her high status as a companion.
This show was incredibly in depth and has had a loyal fan base during and after its brief television run. Unfortunately, it ran on the Fox network, which has a history of changing airtimes and airdates of series that its runs, which has the effect of confusing potential viewers and preventing shows from gathering the following necessary to maintain high ratings.
In the case of Firefly, many episodes of the series were aired out of order, which prevented viewers from fully understanding the developments occurring throughout the series. For example, Fox aired both the intended pilot and the intended season finale in the middle of the series, as opposed to the beginning and end of the series, which would have underscored the character development that occurred during the season.
Fox also preempted the show with sports events on various occasions. This, even more so than airing the episodes out of order, ensured that very few people were able to follow the plot of Firefly when it aired. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case with a lot of interesting shows that air on Fox. Futurama received the same treatment before it was cancelled, although unlike Firefly, it has managed to make a come back on Comedy Central, where four full length movies aired and a new season is currently airing.
Airing the episodes out of order and preempting the show with sporting events might not fully explain its low ratings (perhaps a lot of people just didn’t like it), but it definitely contributed to the shows small audience during its run and assured that it would get cancelled after only one season.
Fortunately, the episodes, including a few that were never aired on TV, have been released in DVD format, enabling people who never got the chance to watch Firefly on TV to watch it whenever it is convenient for them. Firefly also spawned both the feature film Serenity and multiple comic series based of the series. This means that you can and should watch a couple of episodes of Firefly, or at least watch Serenity, if you have some free time on your hands. You won’t regret it.