This whole re-cap thing is turning out to be pretty difficult for me. Firefly’s pilot episode, “Serenity” is two hours (I’m sorry; 1 hr, 42 min without commercials) of awesomeness and I just don’t know where to start. The world Joss Whedon created is interesting and thought provoking. What would happen if technology developed to the point where we could terraform other planets and moons, but then we left the pioneers on those “new Earths” to fend for themselves? Would we all become space cowboys? Maybe. It seems plausible enough. The Alliance is everything we fear about big government – heartless, classist and self-serving – they’re pretty easy to hate and (pioneer + rebel) x (multiple planets) = space cowboy. I think that’s why there are no aliens in Firefly. It isn’t about exploring strange new galaxies and discovering new ways of life, it’s about human beings and how we treat each other. Even the reavers, the scariest motherfuckers in space, are men.; “men that went insane at the edge of space and became savage. They stared into the void beyond and became what they saw: nothing.”
But if the world is great, the characters are so, so much better.
We start with Mal and Zoe in a war-torn flashback of the Battle of Serenity Valley. They fought against the Alliance in the Unification War and Serenity Valley was sort of the Independents’ Bull Run. Mal displays his leadership with a combination of intense inspiration, “We have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty,” and humor “We’re not going to die… You know why? Because we are so very pretty.” While Mal tries to keep the squad going, Zoe seems to be everywhere kicking ass. It’s what she does, and she does it well, more on her later.
Flash forward six years. Malcolm Reynolds is captain of his own ship, with Zoe as his second in command, specializing in less than legal enterprises. They almost get caught on an illegal salvage run, but the day is saved by Wash, played by the oh so fabulous Alan Tudyk, and ship’s mechanic Kaylee. We meet Wash while he is playing dinosaurs on the bridge (I found this t-shirt totally by accident today and had a major squeee – ‘Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!’) He is fun and lovable and the only pilot good enough to pull off a Crazy Ivan in the face of imminent danger.
The crew takes their cargo to Persephone where they pick up some passengers and get stabbed in the back by their contact. While all this is going on, we get to see the exotic Inara for the first time. Inara is one of their long-term passengers who is a Companion, e.g. courtesan. Companions are legal, highly trained and give a ship an air of respectability, though they are not always respected themselves as we see at the end of her encounter.
So, Kaylee has found a few passengers, Inara has returned to the ship and Mal, Zoe and Jayne return to come up with plan B. Wait, who’s Jayne? At this point all he’s done is make some rude noises so I’m saving him till a bit later. The new passengers are Shepherd Book, a traveling holy man, Simon Tam, a doctor who seems a little fancy for this crew, and Dobson, who doesn’t make much of an impression. Shepherd Book is played by Ron Glass and he carries an enigmatic air. By his own words he’s been out of the world for a while and he just wants to see some of the ‘verse. He seems calm and peaceful till Wash finds out there’s an Alliance spy on the ship. Mal assumes it’s Simon, because he seems so out of place, but as they fight it out in the cargo bay Dobson, the guy no one payed any attention pulls a gun on them and informs Simon that he is under arrest. At this point Book disarms him with a swiftness. There is a bit of a fracas and Kaylee gets shot. There is an Alliance cruiser coming up to metaphorically pull them over and Simon refuses to save Kaylee’s life unless they run. There is argument, but they do it. The mole gets locked up, Kaylee gets saved and Mal searches Simon’s belongings to get to the bottom of things. Simon tries to stop him as he opens up the large weird box and reveals an unconscious, naked girl.
And I’m stopping here.
When the pilot is shown in two episodes this is where they split, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
I glossed over the female characters here for a reason. I like to save the best for last. The women of Firefly are fantastic. None of them ever feels like a ‘token’ girl. Zoe is quietly competent in everything she does. Her character is so calm that she could come off as wooden, but Gina Torres manages to convey controlled emotion rather than no emotion at all. She seems like a deeply passionate person and she must have a sense of humor – she married Wash. She is the kind of character you want to find out more about.
Inara and Kaylee are the Ginger and Maryann of their space island. Inara is flawlessly beautiful and her shuttle is like an oriental oasis, but there is more to her than just a pretty face. She is a big sister to Kaylee, a verbal sparring partner for the captain and the conscience for the whole ship.
Kaylee is my favorite. She is a little ditzy, but a genius mechanic. She spends most of her time in greasy work clothes, but gets pretty whenever she can and as Mal puts it “I don’t believe there’s a power in the ‘verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful. Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month.” Her response is a kiss on the cheek. With Zoe on one end of the spectrum and Inara on the other, Kaylee balances them both. The ship is like one big weird family and you get the feeling that Kaylee is the one who keeps them together.
Anyway… Join me next week for part 2 when we meet the frozen naked girl, Mal doesn’t get shot by Patience, and the reavers come to call.