Ten years ago, feminism’s favorite writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) created a sci-fi series about a crew of misfit space cowboys. Despite the series’ cancellation after only one season and a feature film flop entitled Serenity (2005), Firefly remains a cult favorite.
Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a washed-up “brown coat” from the losing side of the Unification War, is the fearless, cool, and cranky captain of “Serenity,” a Firefly-class transport ship he and his crew use to perform, er, questionable activities. After Mal rescues the frantic doctor Simon Tam and his comatose sister River, he finds himself and the Firefly’s crew wrapped tightly with a government conspiracy plot.
Drawing from influences of space operas and old-style Westerns, Firefly starts out as a campy action show; scenes consist of “witty” dialogue, guns a’blazin’, and crappy CGI, and instead of being constantly censored, the characters speak subtitle-less Chinese when ever they want to sling around curse words. There are a lot of lip-biting moments of, “Oh, that was awkward,” but as the layers of the plot unfold, it becomes clear Whedon had a lot intended for the show thematically: struggles with religion and god, the death and corruption of innocents in war, prostitution as a respected occupation, and the strain of class differences.
The actors performances are phenomenal: from the wide-eyed, slightly psychotic River (Summer Glau) to the smart-talking, ethically-lacking Jayne (Adam Baldwin). Every character takes a stereotype and bends it in a way that makes everything seem new, even hashing out minor characters, so as not to leave anyone empty. Each episode centers around a different member of the crew, creating a web of connections and relationships so unmistakably Whedon. Dialogue feels natural, and the embraces, looks, and strain between characters tells their history without ever really speaking of anything specific.
Although the very last episode “Objects in Space,” will leave the mind reeling with questions, Firefly holds enough subtle clues to allow the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions as to what is actually going on aboard Serenity. Of course, there is always the option to watch Serenity, which is not necessarily bad, but tackles multiple seasons’ worth of plot points in a measly two hours.
Lovers of sci-fi, westerns, character-driven stories, and/or lots and lots of guns will become enamored almost immediately, and since both the series as well as the film have been made available on Netflix, there’s really no reason to not spend a Mountain Dew-charged weekend soaking up the drama, suspense, and fun of Firefly.