The Lost Potential of Firefly: Knowingly Adding Nothing to the Discussion of this Cult Classic

Firefly details the misadventures, both legal and illegal, of the cargo ship Serenity and its crew as they avoid detection from the bureaucratic Alliance and earn a living doing odd jobs on the intergalactic frontier. Firefly was originally released in 2002, fifteen years ago, thus putting it into the “retro television” category albeit just barely. Regardless, Imma write about it. Fight me. (Spoilers Ahead)


Siblings River and Simon Tam. Screenshot from the pilot episode “Serenity”

I first saw Firefly as a freshman in college when my roommate at the time introduced me to the works of Joss Whedon. We watched about 4-1/2 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and maybe 1 season of Angel, but I fell for the space western Firefly. Since then, if I don’t watch it for myself at least once every two years then someone around me starts watching it. Early last year, I introduced my host-mother in New Zealand to it. Later in the year, my flatmate cracked and watched it after years of avoiding it. The more I see it, the more my feelings metamorphosed from rose-tinted amazement to my current love-despite-the-flaws state.

My favorite aspect of Firefly, and certainly the aspect that appeals to a lot of fans of the show, is the community of the crew supported by a pillar of witticisms. The show is littered with quotable lines like “You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I beat you with until you follow my command”(from “The Train Job”) and “Well, my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle” (from “Our Mrs. Reynolds”). Beyond that, we see the characters interact in meaningful ways in the background. From Kaylee playing games with River to Zoe and Wash flirting in the cockpit to Jayne and Shepherd Book lifting weights together. The show plays up the sense of family and throws the crew into oddball situations that require some combination of creativity and luck to get out of and paid (though getting paid takes priority).

What appeals to me personally is the story centering on Simon and his sister River. From the first episode, we learned River was recruited to be a government experiment and Simon gave up everything–his entire savings to his reputation as the best doctor in the core planets to the good graces of his parents’ name–to rescue her from the “institution” where she “attended school.” Simon’s main arc is split between him helping River recover from her brutal trauma and his slow-building romance with Kaylee, Serenity’s mechanic. Meanwhile, River is hunted by some of the most cunning and skillful agents from the Alliance. This is where, I suspect, Shepherd Book would have come into play if the series were allowed to continue beyond the half-season it was given.

Shepherd Book is introduced as a pastor in the pilot episode, spiritual and calm and oddly knowledgeable about weaponry. Little is revealed of his actual past, but hints are dropped at meaningful places throughout the show. For instance, when he is fatally shot in the episode “Safe”, he receives medical assistance from an Alliance ship without questions. He helps lead a charge to retrieve Mal from the crime lord Niska in the episode “War Stories”. In various other episodes, he can identify weapons and analyze gunshot resideu on walls. This is entirely speculation, but I suspect he was an Operative like the antagonist in the movie Serenity before finding religion. Further, I believe he would have been central to helping Simon and River remove their names from the Alliance’s Most Wanted list if the show would have been allowed to continue. Unfortunately for everyone who has heard of the show, Firefly was cancelled before it had a chance to expand on any of the arcs introduced in its short fourteen-episode run.

That being said, I am somewhat disappointed with Simon’s arc in the movie Serenity. At the beginning of Firefly, Simon is self-conscious about his place on the ship due to River’s disruptive nature being impossible to control. By the end of the series, Simon and River made a home for themselves on Mal’s crew. Simon’s skills as a medic are invaluable (and Mal makes pains to avoid Alliance ships anyway). Simon also hired his found family for a job in “Ariel” which solidified his place on the ship, especially after Mal’s threat to Jayne in the final scene. Yet when Serenity the movie opens, we see that once again Mal and Simon are arguing about River’s place on the ship, then Simon and River are kicked off in the beginning of Act 2. The dynamic between Simon and Mal took a step backward somewhere between the end of the show and the beginning of the movie. Without seeing how or why this came to be, the transition is jarring.

Firefly is a western for the modern day that was cancelled too soon for its own good. I recommend it for anyone who calls themselves a geek and television buff


Screenshot from pilot episode “Serenity”


One response to “The Lost Potential of Firefly: Knowingly Adding Nothing to the Discussion of this Cult Classic

  1. Pingback: (POTTED LID) The Lost Potential of Firefly – KT's Bookshelf

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