JULY / AUG 2012: BY CARISSA HORTON
Ten years ago Joss Whedon created a sci-fi masterpiece of satiric wit and charm, Firefly. It lasted only fourteen episodes but each one is unforgettable. Anyone who’s seen it remembers the obnoxious Captain Malcolm Reynolds, his loyal 1st officer Zoe, who married Hoban Washburne, the pilot of Mal’s ship Serenity; the spunky mechanic Kalee, Shepherd Book, a preacher they picked up along the way, a charming companion named Inara, irritating Jayne can’t keep his big mouth shut and the mysterious River Tam, who was kidnapped by the Alliance until her brother Simon, a doctor, plotted her escape. This is Serenity’s crew, chock-full of misfits, malcontents and individuals of a violent sort.
Perfect characters tend to be dull. This might be why Joss Whedon continues to deliver hit television shows, even those canceled barely into their first season. His characters are imperfect, a complex jumble of emotions and choices, some good, some bad. Every single one except maybe Shepherd and Kaylee can be hated at some point. Mal is very flawed. There are many times I shake my head at his idiotic and even dangerous choices. Yet I’m still behind him, because it can’t be easy to captain a crew when they’re flying under the radar of the Alliance.
Serenity’s crewmembers are space pirates. Mal was on the “wrong” side of the war, meaning his side lost. He has no love for the Alliance so keeping a steady, respectable job is the last thing on his mind. All he wants is to be left alone, without interference from outside sources. He wants to lead his crew as he sees fit and live his life the same. This makes him a tad on the rebellious side, which explains why they’re always in tough spots.
Mal is violent but looks after his own. Once someone becomes a part of Serenity’s crew, no matter how odd they may be, they’re family. Mal isn’t keen on harboring Alliance fugitives like Simon and River Tam. But still he does. He has plenty of opportunities to leave River and Simon behind and I’m sure he contemplated all of them. But Serenity needed a doctor and Simon was awfully available. In their line of work injuries are the rule, not the exception. The longer Simon and River stayed on board, the more invaluable they became to Mal and his crew. Even though River suffered from what the Alliance did to her and at times dove off the deep end mentally, Mal still refused in every case to just abandon them. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments when it appeared that suddenly the Tams weren’t a part of his family anymore, but he always thought twice about the decision and did the right thing.
That’s what Firefly is about really, trying to decide right and wrong when a grey area makes it nearly impossible. Mal muddies the water of lawful justice and governmental right and wrong, but his personal choice of right and wrong was never muddied. I’d never claim that Malcolm is a pillar of virtue. He certainly isn’t on many levels of morality. But like many men of the Old West, Malcolm lives by a code of honor, a creed as it were. There are some things he just won’t do and neither would his crew. One episode has Mal stealing goods at the behest of a very influential and dangerous man. It turns out the crates are filled with medicinal supplies to counteract a horrific epidemic amongst miners on a certain planet. Mal doesn’t hesitate. He and Zoe deliver the medicine and when the Sheriff of that small town mentions that he had a choice all Mal can respond with is that, in this case, there was no choice. He would never mess with the lives of unfortunate and dying people, even if it meant running from an entirely new danger—the man who hired him to do the job—Mal will still do what he sees as the right thing.
I don’t just watch science fiction to see massive space ship battles and grotesque aliens, as entertaining as they are. I watch it when I’m deeply involved in the story and sincerely care about the characters, even the jerks like Jayne. There has to be a reason for a show to hold my focus. For Firefly it is the belief that Mal will try (to the best of his ability) to do the right thing by his crew and the innocents he is occasionally called in to protect. There was no flinching whenever he needed to kill someone he considered an enemy. But he would never raise a weapon to his own people with the intention of pulling that trigger. I can respect a man like that. I can look at him and despite the crazy notions and occasional moral lapses, I can still like him, imperfections and all. It’s because he’s real. No one is perfect… well, except for one Man and Malcolm certainly isn’t Him.
Humanity does the best it can with what it has. In other words, living in a sinful world and when you don’t have God in your life, you do what you can. Mal lost his faith in the war because the unjust trounced the weak. It’s a powerful reason to grieve for him. I don’t love Mal because he’s perfect, but rather because he isn’t. He’s just a man trying his hardest to live by a code that most don’t see. I’ll never forgive the writer’s strike that stole Firefly from its fanbase. Even with 14 episodes and a major motion picture called Serenity, there still isn’t enough, not by half. Firefly is a glorious flash-in-the-pan phenomenon that will never be forgotten, at least not by me. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Horton sews, knits, and writes. She works for Compassion International, which finds sponsors for third world children, and dreams of being an agent at a publishing house. She blogs about life, faith, relationships, and fandom in her free time.