14 Episodes, Sheer Excellence

Mandatory Music: listen to this to get shiny while reading this post. Go on, press the button:

The crew of the Serenity

The crew of the Serenity

If you don’t think a space pirate western sounds like the very best show ever, you have never seen Firefly. The best of Joss Whedon’s creations [cue uproar], Firefly flamed exquisitely for 14 episodes and went out, having been failed in a spectacular manner by its network, Fox. Despite the Fox fuckery (demanding a last-minute replacement for the pilot, showing episodes out of order or not at all, preempting it for ball games), during its brief run this show developed a fan base so rabid that Whedon was able to get a movie version of the show produced: Serenity. Here’s what you need to do: watch all 14 episodes of Firefly and then watch the film Serenity—which is a sequel, a dark and riveting and cathartic sequel that answers questions raised by the series. It’s all on Netflix Instant Watch. Here are my 14 favorite things about Firefly and Serenity.

1.  The language is so beautifully written and delivered, it is nigh unto cowboy Shakespeare. The language is highly idiosyncratic and specific to this show’s world; the confidence of its delivery is what makes it come alive. Here’s one example: “It may have become apparent to you that the ship could use a medic. You ain’t weak. I don’t know how bright you are…but you ain’t weak and that’s not nothing. You live by my rule, you keep your sister from doing anything crazy, you could maybe find a place here. ‘Til you find a better.

2.  The cuss words and slang specific to the FF world: “shiny” means cool, awesome, excellent, good news. “Gorram” means “goddamn” and a variety of Chinese cuss words are in play, but as they are in Chinese, I don’t know what exactly they mean. (In the FF world, the Asian and Western cultures have merged, and the characters often sprinkle their dialogue with Chinese phrases.)

3.  Nathan Fillion is the captain of the ship/head pirate, just lovely in his youth and Han Soloesque swagger/breeches, before he got all swole up like on this last season of Castle (oof). (Note: finding an unflattering image of the current Nathan Fillion is difficult, I suspect because the Internet loooooves him because he is Captain Malcolm Reynolds, dammit.)

4.  Strong women characters: Zoë is an asskicking warrior, Inara is an insightful and grounded businesswoman, River is a psychic assassin genius, and Kaylee is a mechanical whiz—an engine psychic, basically. Even the con artist Saffron/Bridget/Yolanda, ostensibly a villain in her 2 episodes, is admirable in her pluck and scheming. Each of these characters deserves her own post.

5.  Subversion of expectations: a hallmark of Whedon creations, this motif is addressed directly in the Serenity movie (“You are fooling yourself, Captain. Nothing here is what it seems. You are not the plucky hero, the Alliance is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena”). This technique brings shading and depth to the series as a whole and to the characters, as when bringing out Mal’s dark side in Serenity, or for comic effect, as in this scene:

[Mal is struggling with a guy who spent several hours torturing him; Jayne aims a gun at the torturer]
Zoë: Jayne. This is something the captain has to do for himself.
Mal: No! No, it’s not!
Zoë: Oh!
[Jayne, Zoë, and Wash shoot the torturer]

6. The same sense of humor evident in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and The Avengers enlivens Firefly. See again, for example, “This is something the captain has to do for himself.” “No! No, it’s not!” (If I kept providing examples, I’d just be listing every scene.)

7.  Wash. He is the best.

8.  The respect shown for the preacher, Shepherd Book, and the preacher’s message. Whedon is himself an enthusiastic atheist, but his show treats Book’s character with respect, ultimately placing him in the role of counselor to Mal, who has long ago lost his faith in God. In Serenity, they have a beautifully economical exchange on the value of faith in our lives. As someone who finds most religions repellent but is a big fan of Spirit, I like the preacher’s ultimate message.

Book: Only one thing’s gonna walk you through this, Mal: belief.

Mal: …I ain’t looking for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.

Shepherd Book: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?

Shepherd Book: I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.

 9.  Beyond subversion of expectations, just sheer contrariness. My favorite example is that Shepherd Book clearly has some sort of shady past as a high-level government operative, but FF merely hints at it, and Serenity refuses outright to provide details. He advises Mal on avoiding the operative on their trail, and Mal comments “It’s of interest to me how much you seem to know about that world…You’ll have to tell me about that sometime.” In any other movie or show, this is where the preacher would stare into the distance, pause, and slowly begin to recount his past mis/deeds and how he came to be a man of God as penance and so forth. Instead, Book just pauses and replies “No I don’t.” [BOOM drops the mic and walks off]

10. I like the fusion of the Chinese and Western elements, like when Mal is eating with chopsticks and has a tin cup next to his plate. Not to mention the sci fi elements being wrapped in with the mix, such as when their spaceship’s cargo bay is full of cattle, or even this bit of dialogue:

Wash: [River’s psychic?] That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoë: We live in a spaceship, dear.

11. JAYNE.

12. The theme song. Really, it’ll grow on you.


14. Ben Edlund (creator of The Tick! And thus of the original Roof Pig itself [at 0:51]!) wrote two episodes and produced as well.

For more info, read the AV Club’s recaps of Firefly and peruse their review of Serenity.

6 comments on “14 Episodes, Sheer Excellence

  1. […] 14 Episodes, Sheer Excellence (roofpig.wordpress.com) […]

  2. […] have to admit, the first thing I checked the list for was Firefly, and was relieved to see its absence. I know Firefly fans can be obnoxious in their enthusiasm, but […]

  3. Loved your music – lost Dad though!

  4. […] by osmosis and found its really fricking funny, and then realized that Ben Edlund (of The Tick and Firefly) was involved with the show. Well, there we go. I dug in and became a big fan. Season 1 takes […]

  5. Happy Turkey day to all

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