Outer space is a place of unknown mystery that is still being actively investigated, which makes it a place of unlimited possibilities that provides a fertile setting for creative on-screen storytelling. One immensely famous TV series called space “the final frontier,” which illustrates how the human imagination links it to another unexplored, dangerous place: the old West. The short-lived show Firefly is one of the most conspicuous examples of the “space Western” blend to be filmed and one of the best. The created world of Firefly allows for a development of characters and their interactions, like strong women and found family, that resonate in a fresh way.
On September 20, 2002, FOX premiered the new series Firefly, created by Joss Whedon. The story focuses on the 9 people who are the crew of the spaceship “Serenity” in a future where humans have colonized space and a powerful “Alliance” government exercises fierce control over all. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion) leads the disparate group as they take jobs to survive and avoid the authorities. The show didn’t even last an entire season, but a cult following of fans grew vocal about the series and a theatrical film continuing the story titled Serenity got released in 2005.
The writing team for Firefly knew how to create women who stake a place in the audience’s emotions. Zoey (played by Gina Torres) is Mal’s second-in-command, his war buddy, and she may be the best fighter on the ship, next to hired-muscle Jayne (played by Adam Baldwin). Inara (played by Morena Baccarin) is the registered Companion, or sex worker, who makes the whole ragtag outfit respectable. Kaylee (played by Jewel Staite) is the ship’s mechanic, and they frequently present her as a “genius” at what she does. Meanwhile, River Tam (played by Summer Glau) is the most important person on “Serenity” in terms of storytelling. She is a once-in-a-generation teenage prodigy who got experimented on and turned into a weapon by Alliance scientists. Her doctor brother Simon (played by Sean Maher) rescued her and go on the run, ending up on the ship. These ladies prove to be more remarkable than the male characters, though there are fewer of them.
Another impressive effect of the writing of this show is the way the audience feels that these various people are family. Mal often asserts to other characters, like Jayne, that Simon and River are part of his crew. Even in Serenity, after Shepard Book (played by Ron Glass) has left the ship and he tells Mal he’s not crew anymore, Mal says, “Yes, you are.” It’s clear that Mal considers “Serenity” a home and a place he loves, so if he accepts someone there permanently, the viewer understands he will fight for that person and expects the others to do the same. He basically says as much in the episode “Ariel” when Jayne almost sells out Simon and River to the authorities. This connection applies not just to the Tam siblings or the married Zoey and pilot Wash (played by Alan Tudyk), but all the characters. They all demonstrate they are bound together as a team, even Jayne sometimes.
The crew of the spaceship “Serenity” form a found family with more than its share of significant female characters, and the series Firefly, along with its film continuation Serenity, take full advantage of its setting to develop those aspects of its memorable storytelling. Something about the contrast between the visual elements of space alongside those of the Western creates an environment that feels right for these characters and relationships. The world of this ‘Verse is so detailed and entertaining that those die-hard fans who call themselves Browncoats will always hope for more. In the words of the slang found in this fandom, wouldn’t that be shiny?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.