You Can’t Take the Sky From Me: A Review of Firefly

 

When all of your geek friends are telling you to watch a TV show, you know you need to do it. Last year one of my friends recommended I watch Joss Whedon’s ill-fated TV show, Firefly, but with Sherlock and Doctor Who going on, I didn’t get to it. After enough friends told me to watch it, I realized this needed to be a higher priority. Plus, with Doctor Who on hiatus till August and Sherlock on hiatus for who knows how long, I figured this would be a good time to get into another series.

Firefly. I didn’t really know what to expect. By the middle of the first episode I realized it was basically a space western, including a western ballad theme song. Sounds weird, or impossible, right? Well, somehow Whedon did it. And did it very well, I might add. The series takes place a few years after a failed revolution against the Alliance, the central government ruling the civilization parts of the galaxy. Nathan Fillion plays Captain Mal, who decided to go into black market transportation business after losing the Battle of Serenity Valley during the revolution. He purchased and renovated a Firefly class spaceship (similar in shape to a firefly) and named her Serenity. His crew includes Zoe, a compatriot from the revolution, Wash (Zoe’s husband, and Serenity’s pilot), Inara, Jayne, and Kaylee. During the first episode they take onboard the doctor,  Simon Tam, his sister River, and Shepherd Book.

In the following episodes, the crew and passengers encounter a multitude of adventures. It is discovered that Simon rescued his sister—a genius—from the Alliance after he found that her boarding school was a coverup for government experimental medical procedures. She was targeted for these experiments because of her advanced mental abilities. Simon gave up his promising career as a doctor and risked his life to rescue River and take her to the outer planets hoping to elude the Alliance’s search. No one knows why Shepherd Book, a religious figure, decided to leave his religious community and travel on Serenity.  If Firefly had lasted more than one season, there’s no doubt his backstory would have been revealed.

The series is very nicely wrapped up in the full-length movie, Serenity. I did feel there was some discontinuity between the characters in the series and movie. For instance, at the beginning of the series I really didn’t like Captain Mal at all (well, who did?) but by the end, I was growing quite fond of him. Then I felt like he had to go through that development all over again in Serenity. He started out the movie as quite the jerk, and it wasn’t until the very end that he redeemed himself.

Anyways…I really love the libertarian themes running through the series and movie. Though this small crew faces a lot of challenges, most are somehow related to the Alliance. Captain Mal takes Serenity out to the border planets where the Alliance’s power is weaker. Nonetheless, they are relentlessly pursued by the Alliance, either for the sheer pleasure of abusing the “little guy” or to recapture River who could be an invaluable asset to the Alliance. Between encounters with the Alliance, the crew of Serenity have to deal with the dangers of black market trading. Mal comments in the episode Shindig, that, “My work’s illegal, but at least it’s honest.” But with no recourse to a structured system of law, it is pretty rough being honest in an illegal market. In one episode they’re faced with an unnerving dilemma. They are contacted by a businessman, Niska, who also happens to be a sadist. During their meeting with Niska, he proudly shows them the tortured body of his wife’s nephew. This is his warning to him of what would happen if they fail to successfully complete the job for him. This job turns out to be stealing some boxes of cargo off a moving train. With some close calls, they get the items, but then discover the boxes contained desperately needed medicine for a community suffering from a deadly disease. So Mal is faced with either the guilt of knowing he would be at least partially responsible for the deaths of those villagers—or he could return the medicine and face the wrath of Niska. This is one of my favorite episodes because Captain Mal does the right thing despite any possible consequences. Indeed, Niska sends some of his hitmen to Serenity in order to recover the goods, but the crew manages to take them out. The medicine is delivered to the town, and all ends well. Except that Niska eventually catches up with Mal, and it doesn’t go well. But this is all in a day’s work for Serenity. 

Captain Mal isn’t really a conformist. To say he has a hard time following rules is an understatement. One of the most famous quotes from the series is Captain Mal, “I aim to misbehave.” As the failed rebellion of Serenity Valley demonstrated years earlier, there is little room in civilized country for an individualist like Mal. He’d far rather find his way in the border region—a place where there is no state, but little guarantee of justice either—rather than be subservient to the Alliance. This is no anarcho-capitalist paradise, and in the absence of any law structure (state-imposed or voluntary) it can be pretty unpleasant. But sometimes the thirst for liberty is powerful than our desire for safety. While perhaps some people would prefer safe tyranny to dangerous freedom, I would guess that most of us would give up a life of submission for the chance to be free.

 

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