Firefly was probably a doomed series from the start. A space western? Really? But as Alan Sepinwall has noted Fox bought the series on the strength of this pilot episode, which introduced us to a world that sprung fully formed from the head of Joss Whedon, and then declined to air it, deciding instead to lead off the series with the next episode, The Train Job. As I said, Firefly had an uphill battle in any case, but for now let’s just have some fun reliving and discussing the series that was intended, starting with this episode, after the jump.
I was a late comer to Firefly. The series was canceled before I ever saw an episode. I happened upon it the next fall on vacation when the SciFi channel was running a marathon. I discovered Firefly in a rather random order. I would get drawn in for 2 or 3 episodes before I could pry myself away, and then pick it up again a few episodes later. All I knew was that this series and these characters had me hooked for some reason I couldn’t quite explain. Determined to figure it out I ordered the DVD and upon returning from vacation I began my rematch in earnest, the way it was supposed to be.
Serenity tells the story, but not the whole story, of how our band came to be. There was a war, and in that war a man lost everything. Malcolm Reynolds, our captain, was a man who had faith. Faith in god, in a cause, and in himself and his sense of duty and honor. We see him this way not as an introduction, upon introduction he’s a scavenger living by his wits off what he can scavenge from the ‘verse. You could call him an opportunist, a smuggler, a petty thief, or all of the above, and I doubt he’d argue. This is his life and he lives it day to day. But in flashback, at the battle of Serenity Valley, we see the man Mal was. A dedicated soldier rallying his troops to fight and hold for their cause; risking his life for that cause, and thanking god for sparing it by kissing his cross. And we see that Mal die, metaphorically speaking. Later we see a Mal who, thought he still insists on some of the courtesies and civility of life won’t suffer to hear grace said aloud at his dinner table. Throughout the episode we see one thing about Mal. It’s his ship, and his ship and his crew are his life now. The man he was may re-appear at some point, but for now that man is as good as dead. His life is his ship and his crew, and he lives each day by keeping both intact and flying one more day.
So, Mal’s crew. We meet them, but their stories aren’t as fleshed out as Mal’s. Zoe may be the easiest to explain, but in some ways the hardest to fathom. Zoe was Mal’s comrade in arms, essentially his partner, before either of them knew of any of the others. Zoe and Mal have history. At this point we’re not clear on it but it’s enough to create a bond that the war, or the subsequent peace, couldn’t break. But it isn’t about love, at least the traditional get married have kids kind of love. Zoe it seems reserves that love for another man. Wash, the pilot. Wash’s place on the ship is interesting. Mal is the captain, and Zoe is his right hand. That leaves Wash as the right hand in law? There is some tension, obviously, between Wash and Mal over Zoe. Zoe is trying to be what the two most important men in her life, two very different men, need, and that creates some tension. Call it a love triangle of a very different sort. I found it an interesting, and it plays out more in the future episodes.
Before there was Casey, there was Jayne. Casey is Jayne, sort of. We’re introduced to Jayne as essentially the muscle for hire. A mercenary along for the ride to handle the mayhem and get paid. Where do his loyalties lie? Well, neither Mal or Jayne seem to have any illusions about that. Jayne’s loyalties, like any good mercenary, lie with the man paying his fee. Some interesting day in the future, when someone outbids Mal, we’ll see if that comes to pass, for either. For now it seems they both know they’re a pretty even match, and neither is willing to test themselves or their partnership. Yet.
At last we come to Kaylee, the final member of the crew. Kaylee is tough to describe and impossible not to love. I always settled on a mixture of the Kansas farm girl next door and mother nature, but with machines like Serenity taking the place of nature. Kaylee is irrepressibly cheerful, helpful, honest, and apparently innocent. Her instant crush on the handsome doctor and her apparent admiration of Inara, the companion’s lifestyle hints at a more sheltered existence than their situation would seem to allow for. Her injury and near death seem to point to the dramatic crisis of this episode, hanging on to a shred of humanity in the face of their situation. With the contemplation of murdering and abandoning random people becoming part of their repertoire it seems some of our crew, the captain in particular, are in danger of losing that last little bit of good, represented through Kaylee.
Which brings us to our passengers. The crisis in Serenity is brought about through bad luck. Their first fence, Badger, declines to relieve them of some very hot cargo, necessitating taking on passengers to keep the ship running long enough to unload the cargo elsewhere. The first passenger, Inara, is a more or less permanent resident. A companion is apparently an important, if you’ll excuse me, commodity. She acts as ambassador and lends the crew some sort of respectability in the social circles they don’t seem to be a part of. In Mal’s world, Inara is still apparently thought of as a whore. This point is reinforced by the arrival of another of the passengers, Shepherd Book.
Shepherd Book is apparently a man who may have been much like Mal, based on his courage and his ability to step into and diffuse a situation. Yet unlike Mal, Book seems to have turned to his faith and away from the world he is now seeking to rejoin. Seeing that world is a shock to him. Only a few short days and he has fallen in with smugglers thieves, mercenaries, murderers, prostitutes and fugitives. For a man of peace and religion it seems at first horrifying and frightening, but then as Inara suggests, perhaps it is exactly where he is needed most.
And finally we come to the last of our additions to the little world that is Serenity. Dr. Simon Tam and his sister River. Simon represents the pinnacle of the civilization the rest (Inara aside) seem so alien to, and seem to be fleeing from. Simon however is fleeing for a reason, his sister. River is an unknown so far, but it seems she was the grist for the mill that is the Alliance. One of those things the leaders of a society always seem to feel is necessary, though regrettable. Simon, horrified, manages to free her and flee. He finds on the edge of that civilization there are others familiar with being the grist for the Alliance mill, and so for a while at least, he’s found a refuge for he and his sister.
As for the rest of this introduction, I can’t say enough about the things I loved. We are given a world fully formed with all the quirks and kinks that come from a society that evolves out of something, no matter how much people think they have it planned out. The curious lapses into Chinese, the, shall we say, uneven distribution of wealth and technology, the barbarity on the edge of civilization, all seem to fit into this world. You don’t even seem to question why nobody uses laser guns and why they sometimes ride horses.
I was hooked on Firefly before this episode as I’ve mentioned, but this is the episode where I think I finally understood and loved Joss Whedon’s new ‘verse.
Finally I want to offer my apologies for taking so long to get around to this, especially since it was my idea, sort of, to do this. I am presently, at last, on vacation in an undisclosed location hoping my employer doesn’t try to contact me for at least a week. Getting two weeks worth of work done in a few days to make this week off possible took a toll on my hobbies. One of the things I hope to do now that I have some time is catch up here.