Firefly and Serenity

Starring: Nathan Fillion Directed/Conceived by: Joss Whedon

I tend to like the works of Joss Whedon. I’ve seen all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve watched two and a half seasons of Angel.   Unfortunately, I also watched two episodes of Dollhouse...not his best stuff. I saw Serenity at the movies years ago, knowing it was based on a TV show but never having seen a single episode of Firefly.

I really missed out.  Fortunately, that was easily corrected.  Firefly is not only on Netflix, but you can also generally purchase the complete series for under 20 bucks.

Firefly exists in the world of science fiction – spaceships, laser guns, cities on far-flung planets – but acts like the wild, wild west.   The cast is very diverse: Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, currently better known as the title character from Castle) and his crew wander around the galaxy taking on random smuggling jobs and doing their best to avoid The Alliance government.  Mal and his first officer Zoe (Gina Torres) fought against The Alliance during the rebellion; Zoe’s husband Wash (Alan Tudyk) is the ship’s pilot.   To increase their income during a shortage of smuggling jobs, they take on some passengers.  In addition to the roving religious man Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), they also take on Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) – who secretly brings aboard his sister River (Summer Glau).  Once a child prodigy, she became the subject of mysterious government tests that leave her with troubling nightmares, erratic behavior and some unexpected skills.  Of course, both are now fugitives from The Alliance.

Mal is like a *slightly* more gregarious version of Han Solo – focused and practical, somewhat mercenary, but still with a personal code of honor and a quick wit. He does his best to keep the crew – particularly Jayne (Adam Baldwin) – in check and Serenity in the sky.  He’s a captain that will go down with the ship if needed, defend a woman’s honor and turn down a job (or at least return the goods) that steals from the poor to benefit the rich.

Every character brings a unique skill or past that comes in handy – such as Jayne’s status as a folk hero on one world and the ability of Inara, renter of one  of the ship's shuttles and ‘paid companion’ (i.e. highly trained consort, played by Morena Baccarin) to bring an element of class and gain access to higher levels of society than most of the crew can.

My favorite episodes include:

  • “Shindig” –  In which the ship’s mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) gets a chance to attend a ball in a fancy dress, is ridiculed by several bitchy aristocrats, and wins the attention of many men with her vast knowledge of spaceships and their engines.  Inara also receives an interesting proposition from a repeat client, and Mal inadvertently challenges a man to a duel (with swords) by punching him during an argument.
  • “Out of Gas” –  After an explosion disables key systems in Serenity, Mal sends the others off the ship while he fixes it and reminisces  about how he purchased the ship and assembled his crew.  This one is a rare example of a well-done ‘flashbacks’ episode (though, none of the flashbacks are made of clips from past episodes).
  • “Heart of Gold” – A friend of Inara’s requests help after a powerful local leader threatens one of her employees.  Similar to her recurring role as Lady Heather on CSI: Las Vegas, Melinda Clarke plays the tough, smart and sensual brothel owner (former companion) Nandi.

As Firefly met with an untimely cancellation, the storyline was carried on a little further in the 2005 movie Serenity.  After re-capping Simon’s rescue of River, the storyline picks up pretty much where the last episode of Firefly left off – same characters and all.  It’s not necessary to watch Firefly to understand or enjoy the movie, but the movie does close a lot of loops the series left open (but not all of them).

Serenity centers on River’s growing instability and decisions the crew is forced to make because of it.  The movie uncovers new powers or hers and the equally sharp dangers and benefits they can yield.  Understanding her swings between psychic clarity and apparent madness takes the crew into dangerous territory – with a government assassin on their tail –  and provides even more reasons to never trust The Alliance or move to an experimental community on the edge of the galaxy.

If you:

  • Can’t get enough of the Mutant Enemy mascot (grrr….arrr)
  • Like sci-fi and westerns
  • Like shows with multi-dimensional characters and shiny dialogue
  • Have ever wanted to roam free in the galaxy

Put them in the queue!

If you:

  • Will be disappointed by the lack of aliens (what, you were expecting the Mos Eisley Cantina?)
  • Don’t believe we will ever be zipping around the galaxy in spaceships in the future
  • Are expecting a cameo from Angel, Buffy or Spike

Don’t put them in the queue.

Written by Jennifer Venson