Gone but Not Forgotten TV: Firefly

Number of Seasons: 1

Firefly comes from the mind of Joss Whedon, known of the tv series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the box office/geek cred giant, The Avenger. It follows the misadventures of war hero, Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his ragtag group of outlaws in the year 2517. They roam space as if they were gunslingers in the old west. They get by off the money they steal or earn from performing other criminal activities. The crew consists of:

  • Mal’s second in command from the war, Zoe (Gina Torres)
  • The charmingly dorky pilot, Wash (Alan Tudyk)
  • Mal’s main muscle, Jayne (Adam Baldwin)
  • The cute and spunky engineer, Kaylee (Jewel Staite)
  • A high-class professional escort, Inara (Morena Baccarin)
  • A young doctor on the run, Simon (Sean Maher)
  • Simon’s sister who was being used as a lab experiment, River (Summer Glau)
  • A religious sage with a dark past paying for a ride, Shepard Book (Ron Glass)

There is a rich backstory to the world of Firefly. When the Earth could no longer sustain the size of the population, mankind moved to the stars with a manifest destiny. Planets were terraformed (made to have suitable living conditions) by a ruling empire known only as The Alliance. When some of the outlying planets did not receive enough help terraforming from The Alliance, they fought for independence from the empire. Those who revolted were known as “Browncoats.” Mal and Zoe were part of those browncoats. They were holding the Valley of Serenity, which they eventually loss turning the tide of the war. From then on, Mal vowed to live beyond the Alliance’s reach collecting his crew and setting out on the open….uh, space.

They say that history is written by the victors. For instance, it is accepted the the American Civil War was fought over slavery, even though there were a few other reasons for it. It makes the Northerners look like understanding heroes of freedom and equality turning the tides. Of course, if that was the case, slavery probably would never have been considered. Anyway, it is kind of hard to look back objectively considering how hard it is to even believe that slavery ever existed. LIKE EVER! But I digress. The world isn’t that much different in The ‘Verse.  The Alliance has thrown the browncoats under the bus, brainwashed operatives into fighting for the greater good, and swept their mistakes under the rug. Of course, most of these idioms are much clearer in the movie sequel, Serenity.

Of course, the victors might write the history, but history is mythologized by the losers. Keeping with the American Civil War, the South embraced a way of thinking called “The Lost Cause.” It sought to romanticize the pre-Civil War South. They turned the focus from slavery as a cause of the war to the fight for state rights vs. overall federal control, even the truth is more of a combination of the 2 if anything. The South believed that they lost due to sheer numbers even though the South had more skilled and chivalric generals. This all mirrors the Browncoats fighting to secede from the Alliance, as well as the way that the crew looks at Mal Reynolds as a Robin Hood-esque lovable rogue, one who understands honor and decency when he is not being “forced” by the Alliance to participate in criminal activities. The Lost Cause also led to religious revivals represented by the ever present teachings of Shepard Book. He plays the old wise man archetype to each of the crewmembers ranging from simply a listener to a Confucious-esque philosophy one-liner machine.

All in all it is pretty clear that Firefly is a futuristic representation of the Southern “Lost Cause,” although I am pretty sure the Joss is not trying to say that it is right. The major theme of the show is obviously that the government is interfering with the freedom of the individuals. It is one that echoes through all of Whedon’s work. I feel that he may also look at “Lost Cause” as the same kind of doctrine that gets in the way of people from being truly free and able to progress. Mal, for all of his misgivings, represents that true individual. His only motivation is too just keep moving. He doesn’t try to revise the history of his war efforts. He accepts the lost; he just wants to be on his way. He doesn’t need to find solace in religion because he already came to terms with his lot in life.

Firefly is a cult sensation, which is kind of surprising. Given only a season to develop, it banks almost entirely on a cool factor leaving their characters to only scratch the surface of the development they could have. Regardless, Whedon and the cast create an indelible tv show that will top everyone’s “Should Never Have Been Cancelled” lists.

P.S. The man who coined the term “Lost Cause,” was named Jubal Early (a descendant of Nathan Fillion). Jubal Early was also the name of the bounty hunter in the last episode of the show.