An Overview of Firefly-Part of Fox Science Fiction Month

Firefly has become famous, in part, because it was canceled.  I myself lamented on its death in a previous article about shows that were mishandled by the networks they were on. Many jaded cultural observers and science fiction buffs use the show as exhibited A that most network television shows are not successful based on quality but on whether or not they can appeal to the masses.  This is sort of a hollow argument; in thirteen shows (actually, less than that as some shows were never aired on Fox to begin with) the show has spawned merchandise and a Hollywood movie.  The actors involved had an enormous career boost and Joss Whedon managed to get a second season of Dollhouse based on the response to this show. Most network shows would beg for such exposure.  And would Firefly have such a cult following if it had not been canceled?  Should it have been given more life?

Well, as much as I myself like the show, it is honestly better off as it is.  I cannot imagine what the future would hold in store for it, in the same way I cannot see what the show was building up to.  To have a long life, certain things need to be established; character development, an overall story arc, and methods for which characters could progress.  Aside from the characters, Firefly does none of this.  Oh sure, I can imagine many people telling me what could happen in the future.   But the problem is that the creators of the show could not; each episode is a series of ideas they were hoping to take off.  When none did….well, we know how this story ends.

The ultimate arc of the story is a ragtag crew of smugglers attempting to hide the Tams from the government.  River Tam may very well be psychic, but it is not explored in the shows life.  She was, however, a genius and an expert at combat.  Who she is and what she is hiding would certainly become important as the series progressed.  But what was going on in these first few episodes? That is, what overall story arc was being set up?  I haven’t a clue.  It is pushed to the background and the focus shifts to the actual crew of Serenity (it is a “Firefly” class ship, hence the title).  This becomes fun.  But by the end it was still trying to find its feet.  Maybe another few episodes would have done it.  The film Serenity does help restore what they were trying to do (explain River’s insanity, figure out how the cannibalistic Reapers came into existence, and have Malcolm Reynolds finally win the civil war he began fighting against the Alliance years ago) but it feels rushed and tacked on, more out of obligation than out of desire.

Far and away the best element of the show was Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his interaction with the crew. The crew consists of the pilot Wash, his wife Zoe, mechanic Kaylee, mercenary Jayne, a companion (prostitute, but don’t say that to her) Inara, and a preacher named Book. Oh, and the Tams, one of who works as a doctor and the other who spends a lot of time in the fetal position.  The show does become a sort of “crime of the week” show in which the Captain and his crew hire people, have to pull one of their crew members out of a jam, keep River Tam safe, and get away before the Alliance (an alliance between the U.S. and China that has colonized space and caused a civil war) and be back in time for dinner.  It sort of reminds me of the first half of the first season of Buffy, which operated the same way.  But by the end, there was a definite arc and the characters were clearly defined, as was the conflict.  It was defined in Firefly.  But it was not as well done as it had been.

So, did the show deserve to continue?  Well, yes, for a little while longer. I do love the series and  I would have certainly loved to see more of the crew. But this column is about whether what we see in the first few episodes mean that it could have continued on with its overall plot.   Frankly, I am just not sure how Firefly could.  Perhaps if it was expanded in later episodes.  It could not continue as it was.  But then, it did not need to continue to forever leave a mark, did it?  It was brilliant enough as is.  So, Browncoats, please do not call for my head on a platter. It was a great series that deserves to live in our memories for what it is, and not to pine over what it could have been.

Highlight: Out of Gas, in which a dying Reynolds reflects on how he managed to get the crew together while saving his ship after the life support system shuts down.  Also Jaynestown, in which one of the crew discovers he has become a folk hero and has to deal with the truth of his actions.  I also enjoyed the bit in Ariel in which Jayne is punished for his potential betrayal.

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