Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sunday Best: TV Dramas of All Time #14 - Firefly


This show is the prototypical "canceled-too-early" show.  And when you watch it you understand why.

Firefly is the space western you always wanted but never knew you did.  Joss Whedon created something wonderfully unique in the TV sci-fi genre.  Set in a distant future where American and Chinese cultures have forged together, the different planetary systems are healing after a devastating civil war.  The result is that many people take to the distant systems for freedom in a rougher, but less confined way.  The parallels to the traditional western cannot be overlooked.

But what makes this show work is the great ensemble working together.  Led by Capt. Mal Reynolds. (Nathan Fillion), his crew and passengers create a splendidly weird balance.  You have the saintly priest Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) to the literally villainous Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin).  Mal himself is (as I believe Whedon put it), Han Solo if Luke and Ben never found him in the cantina.  He is a man of broken faith (in God and in good causes in general).  And yet he cannot help fighting for the angels.  He is the perfect embodiment of Whedon's contradictory internal forces of despair and heroism.

As a Catholic, it may be disturbing to some to have the main hero so anti-religion.  But I have always respected Whedon in that he did not caricature people of faith.  Shepherd Book has his flaws.  But even Mal recognizes and honors his goodness and charity, even when he yells at him.  That isn't to say that the show espouses a overtly Christian theme.  Whedon dives into great ambiguities and wrestles with them in ways that are not only entertaining, but thought-provoking.  Perhaps it is good that the show ended sooner rather than later.  You can only balance on the fence of despair or hope for so long before you go one way or another.

The spectacle of the show was also amazing.  The design was raw and sleek all at the same time.  He made space a terrifying ocean of freedom.

This show had everything going against it.  It had a terrible time slot and Fox decided to air the 3rd episode first.  The pilot does a good job of slowly introducing all nine main characters.  But to first encounter all 9 in a single heist episode was too much.  Audiences couldn't connect.

There was a fantastic movie that was made as a epilogue to the series.  In order to hold on to the balance, Whedon had to split the difference and have his characters hold on to a philosophically unintelligible position: belief is good no matter what it is that you believe.  But besides that thematic mess, the movie was a fantastic way to say goodbye.


This was some of Whedon's best television work.  It organically wove in a compelling plot with fascinating characters, a rich mythology, and terrifying villains.  If this was the first episode shown, I think more people would have been hooked.

There weren't enough episodes for the show to get bad.

"Heart of Gold"

This episode isn't bad.  But it gets a bit on the nose too much about sexism.  Also, in Whedon's universe, prostitutes have risen to respectable positions called "Companions."  This episode centers on the contradictions therein.  I do give Whedon credit that he doesn't simply throw out all old sexual morals with this development.  Shepherd Book has real trouble with Companion Inara (Morrena Baccarin) and her job.  Also the fact that she sells her body is a real impediment to any romance between her and Mal.


The main conspiracy of the show revolved around River Tam (Summer Glau), a young genius who was the product of horrible experimentation until she was saved by her brother Simon (Sean Maher).  This episode not only brought those elements to the foreground, but it was a reminder that the main characters are not always what they appear.  The performance of both Baldwin and Fillion at the end of the episode is superb and you feel anger and conflict.  Excellent ep.


There isn't much more to say about Firefly that hasn't already been said by its legion of fans on the internet.  If you haven't seen what all the fuss is about, I would check out every episode on Netflix as soon as possible.

1 comment:

  1. Well said.

    Firefly ties with Babylon 5 for second or third place in 'all time favorite TV space opera'.