I have been putting off writing this entry for a long time, which is in no way a reflection on my opinion of the show. It’s more like I’m afraid I can’t do Firefly justice, especially considering the rapturous devotion of its fans. If you’re a loyal browncoat you probably know the pilot backwards and forwards. If you’re not, it may be that you blinked and missed it before Fox canceled it. (I won’t rehash the whole fan outcry/Serenity story.)
It’s not like Joss Whedon invented a new genre here; we’ve seen space anti-heroes before. And I, for one, was not a Whedon fan prior to this, so I wasn’t like “Hooray, a new show from the creator of Buffy.” The show just hit all the right notes with cool setting, fascinating characters, great dialogue, and a healthy dose of dark humor.
The show opens with an in-the-trenches war scene, which could be out of any number of movies. The clue that something is different is that the aircraft flying overhead look like nothing we’ve seen before. A man (Mal, played by Nathan Fillion) and a woman (Zoe, played by Gina Torres) are leading a shell-shocked contingent against an attack. Their language is slightly heightened; in fact, the whole scene is a bit confusing the first time around. All we really need to know is that the troops are forced to lay down arms when their back-up abandons them. The look on Mal’s face and the music playing tell us all we need.
Music is huge in this pilot. The score is a twangy, gritty collection of music reminiscent of old westerns. Its juxtaposition with high-tech space travel gives Firefly its own unique tone.
We jump ahead six years from the battle scene to a spacewalk by a crew of three. The striking quality of this scene is that it is very quiet—opposite the previous scene—with sound seemingly sucked up by the vastness of space. Meanwhile the pilot of the ship, who seems to be keeping an eye on the mission, is actually playing with dinosaur toys on his console. (I may have to add this to my list of best character introductions.) “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” cries the Stegosaurus to the Tyrannosaurus.
From there, we start to meet the rest of the crew. There is the ever-cheerful mechanic, Kaylee (Jewel Staite). There is a “companion,” or prostitute, Inara (Morena Baccarin). And there’s Jayne (super-dreamy Adam Baldwin), all-around tough guy. The pilot is Wash (Alan Tudyk), Zoe’s husband.
The crew has to quickly shut down the ship’s power as they pass an enemy, and we find out a few details. The ship our crew flies is an out-of-date model called a Firefly. Its name is Serenity, and it becomes a character unto itself over the course of the series. The ship and its crew are, for lack of a better term, off the grid. They’re clearly hiding from something.
Captain Mal and company land on a dusty planet and pick up some new passengers, a preacher, a doctor, and a third man. A lot of characters and a lot of information are introduced very fast. The show demands your attention and is worth watching over and over, because so much happens. The dialogue is layered with character revelations and plenty of wit. The basics are, they’re short on cash, carrying stolen cargo, and on their way to seek help from a woman who once shot Mal. This is not going to go smoothly.
If you haven’t seen this, watch and enjoy the twists and turns for yourself. No one is who they seem. They all have secrets. Some violence beaks out now and again. And the doctor is transporting some very unusual cargo. Our protagonist, Mal, seems cool on the surface, even when angry, but clearly that war experience—and maybe a lot of other pain—is seething beneath the surface. Oh, and there are enemies out there in space called Reavers, to whom the crew’s reaction is bone-chilling. Just watch it.