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The Big Damn Firefly Thread

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  • The Big Damn Firefly Thread

    Moved over from the Buffy News thread.

    Originally posted by shipperx View Post
    I'm going to be all MikeB and skim a bunch of topics.

    * Mark me down as another who doesn't care for Firefly.

    I tried, guys. I watched the entire run. But in every single episode there would be something that would yank me out of suspension of disbelief because some aspect of the world building would strike me as "Now, why in the hell would that happen?"
    I really liked Firefly. It's hard to measure a single-series TV show- but IMO, it had a stronger first season than any of Joss's projects (even though I only got to see the first several eps of Dollhouse).

    However, I do think it probably benefited from only being a single-season. I also picked up on the same strangeness that you did but I never had much expectation that they would be resolved in full because the series had so little time.

    So, I'm a lot more indulgent of Firefly's lack of backstory for its strange world than say, nine-season BtVS's failure to develop a coherent magic mythology, strange and contradictory slayer-mythology and jam-packed Sunnydale for a "one-Starbucks town".

    Plus, Firefly gave me an opportunity like no other series to develop my own personal canon!

    I was constantly off on thought tangents wondering what could have happened in the future that the post-space-exploration peoples reached backwards to a rather specific and brief 20-40 year period of time in the rural American West for its touchstones. What happened? Was there an apocalypse in 2190 that stranded the populace with no entertainment except old recordings of Sergio Leone westerns? I'm just... um... why?
    I don't know where you get 20-40 year time period. The Western culture of Firefly seemed like a hodgepodge of influences of both the American South and the American West through the 1800s-1900s (with influences from urban China but also rural China).

    Also, culture wasn't a monolith in Firefly. The culture of the Inner Planets was different from the culture on the ship was different from Jaynestown was different from the planet with the whorehouse.

    In my personal canon, the chaos of Earth's ruin and the need to explore other canon and then the fights between the Inner and Outer plants created huge chaos and lots of Balkanization. Different groups decided to deal with chaos in different ways.

    The Outer Planets that the Firefly crew tended to hang out in and associate with were the modern Tea Party types. They were hostile towards modernization and the Inner Planets, desperate to retain their own distinctive American culture. IMO, many of those types would like to return to a time where America was the superpower, it was conservative, men were men and women were women, and everyone was tied more closely to the land and nature than to spaceships and machines and the rest of it.

    However, the facts of their life and progress conflict with the groups of Outer Planet nostalgia. The fact is- you need to get around by space ship, they lead a difficult life filled with dangers and struggle so women can't be dainty, retro creatures of delicacy and everyone grew up on a lot of Chinese culture.

    Thus, it's understandable that the revolutionary Outer Planets have some aspects that are a heavy tilt back to ultra-Western Americanism and other tilts that mesh with the Inner Planet's blend of Asian culture with ultra-modern American urbanism.

    Why would there be female terraforma/farmers who decided that they needed full-length calico dresses to farm? This is the future. I understand the culture which caused this 18th and 19th century pioneer women, but why would a woman in the future (even a wildly alternate one) choose such impractical garb for farming on a foreign planet when (given the regular characters) it's also socially acceptable for women to wear far more practical clothing? If you're farming, you aren't doing it just for 'fashion'... and it's really impractical, and...
    My personal canon tells me the Outer Planets' culture tended to be sexist. As stated above, the Outer Planets are nostalgic. To quote Obama, the Outer Planet residents are poor and resentful of the scary changes that government and corporations hath wrought so they cling to their guns and religion.

    Mal, the Model of a Modern Revolutionary, is very sexist. However, he's forced to put up with women in pants and fixing his engine because his isolated and dangerous lifestyle demands him to put up with the most capable people that he can recruit on Firefly and bunch of those happen to be women. But he's reserve his right to be condescending towards Kaylee and insult and humiliate Inara as much as he can.

    However, the men on the Outer Planets don't need to put with that as much. If today's gender-make up of astronauts, political leaders and modern Western frontiersmen (exploring for oil and natural gas in the Dakotas and Montana) indicates anything, it's mostly men out there on those final frontiers taking risks while even today's emancipated women stay at home with the kids. Men came to dominate space (arguably even more than they do Planet Earth circa 2013)
    Speaking of practical, horses? Really? Horses are lovely, lovely creatures, but they are climate fragile ones. They don't take large, swift swings in temperature very well (they have to be acclimatized, and even then...) so shipping them from planet to planet? And is shipping horsefeed between planets really more practical than solar panels for machines? (It's the future and has spaceflight, so there could be solar panels) Or is it that horses are somehow magically okay with grazing on grasses on different planets?

    I mean, look, horses are grazing herd animals. It made perfect sense how they became domesticated in pre-industrial societies, and why they were used by settlers and natives exploring the temperate Eastern U.S. and (since we're talking Westerns here) it made even more sense that they were suited to settling the Great Plains. (Skipping shows for a moment, over on Game of Thrones, the Dothraki are a horse people and --lookee!-- they live on a grass plain Horses and grass go together. GRRM wanted a Hun-Lakota-Apache-analogous-ish people so... horse people ---> grass plain). Horses are perfectly adapted for grasslands (be it the Great Plains or the Mongolian Plateau) which was why they created wild populations when the Spaniards brought them over. Same reason the U.S. south is full on non-native pigs and kudzu. They found their ideal habitat.). Not even in pre-industrialized earth were horses ubiquitous. Hence the domestication and use of camels and llamas and alpacas and... seriously, horses on foreign planets? Isn't that taking "cowboys in space" rather more literally than is practical, because it seems like it wouldn't happen much beyond 'pets!' stage for a space-going people who are familiar with the actual needs of healthy horses.
    Lots of civilizations make environmentally impractical decisions. Have you ever read Jared Diamond's book Collapse? I recommend it- it's a great read. He argues that the Norse failed in Greenland in the Middle Ages due to cultural conservationism and a lack of assimilation to their cold, unforgiving new home. The Norse irrationally refused to eat much fish- even though it was the most plentiful food source. They insisted on keeping livestock that demanded way too much food and space and whose insatiable appetite coupled with poor methods of farming led to heavy soil erosion. The land's most plentiful and fertile pastures went to churches or burial grounds for the wealthy instead of being used for food.

    Jared Diamond argues that Australia makes similar mistakes. Like, Diamond argues that it's cheaper for Australia to import wheat and oranges instead of growing it and at extremely low yield relative to the stress that growing those products takes on Australia's generally dry, rocky soil.

    Horses could definitely be the equivalent. You'll note that the successful, Inner Planets don't really bother with horses. This is something that the impoverished, dusty, dry Outer Planets do. I could definitely see how, like the Norse, the Outer Planets cling to horses as culturally significant in their nostalgic cowboy lifestyle even though they are not the most efficient animals (or heck, plowing instrument given that modern technology is available).

    Examples of things it would make me wonder. So China became so dominant that it filtered into the language... Sure! I can see that... but why was there the language but so few (it's been a while since I watched any?) people? And, languagewise, it was far more related to old West than China... and why in the heck would that be?
    IMO, China and the United States influenced each other but they occupied their own planets. In the first season, we happened to spend time with planets occupied by mainly white people. In particular, the series spent time in the Outer Planets which, IMO, has the least integration because it's occupied with a tribal/pack mentality by rebels who oppose centralization.

    I bet there are Asian planets out there.

    When I'm thinking about things like "Why is this intentionally romanticizing Southern "rebels' from the Civil War...?" I'm failing to be wrapped up in the world being presented. I realize that not everyone's brain is going to go running down such tangential mental thought paths, but something about Firefly constantly did so to me.
    Mal and his Crew weren't really Southern rebels- that's not fair. I didn't see anyone insist on owning slaves. We don't know whether the Outer Planets made a long-standing commitment to be part of a nation and just suddenly left like the American Confederacy or whether there was a much looser and less nationalist affiliation between the Inner and Outer Planets before the rebellion.

    However, I do agree that there was something rotten in the state of Outer Planetdom. There was a lot bad about the Inner Planets but the Outer Planets didn't even seem to try to work in the system to improve it. Instead, it felt like being a rebel meant to cut yourself and your children off from prosperity and a more integrated, advanced society. And while Outer Planets may have avoided creeping, silent totalitarianism, they resigned themselves to living in an outlaw culture where the strong violently dominates the weak but mano a mano instead of through Secret Police.

    Most of my analysis above relies on explaining Firefly's world by calling the rebels sexist, reactionary, and irrational.

    Still, I don't know whether the Outer Planets were romanticized or just hadn't been fully critiqued yet. As far as Whedon series go, Mal and his crew were treated with MUCH more open authorial cynicism than the Scoobies or the Fang Gang were in their first seasons. Angel and Buffy were firmly positioned as heroes in their first seasons who are pretty above most criticism and Buffy has always remained that. Mal is somewhere between a hero and an anti-hero.
    Last edited by Dipstick; 26-07-13, 07:39 PM.

  • #2
    I love Firefly. I get why others don't. However, as with Dipstick I admit that a lot of the allowances I make for the show are based on the assumption that some things would have been cleared up later. However, rather than taking Dipstick's tack of discussing the plausibility of the world on its own terms, which I think is valuable and she does well, I want to talk (very!) briefly about what the world meant to me as a parable.

    Serenity (the film) mucked this up a bit, though ultimately for understandable reasons. Still, the basic situation in Firefly was always: there are the inner planets where the Alliance rules, and the outer rim of the galaxy where the Reavers live. The Hands of Blue guys are control taken to the extreme, the Reavers chaos taken to the extreme. The Hands of Blue guys (later the Operative) are the worst excesses of the Alliance represented; killing off anyone who moves against the established order, eliminating any threat, allowing no room for freedom or compassion. The Reavers are the worst excesses of the outer planets represented -- backward, rapists, brutal killers with no moral voice whatsoever. The spectrum is repeated on different levels, and even on Serenity itself the spectrum moves from Simon and Inara, representatives of order and civility from the inner planets, to Jayne, the representative of chaos and amorality and brutal physicality from the outer planets. Mal, as the series protagonist, ideally is meant to position himself exactly in the middle, but Mal is also an angry, screwed up man full of resentment and unable to see clearly as a result.

    Serenity is the ship which has to survive in the space between these extremes, and notably it is surrounded by vacuum. I've always liked that the show avoided sound in space, but it's not just a matter of defying the general SF conventions for an attempt at something a little more realistic (i.e. space operas are all wrong when claiming that sound can exist in a vacuum). It's that Serenity is a Firefly, a small bit of light in the darkness; there is a void right outside. Outside the tiny community formed on the ship, there is literal nothingness outside -- no God, no community, no society. This is something that only SF and westerns (and westerns' descendents, like Kurosawa's samurai movies) have been able to portray -- the idea of Ethan Edwards (a racist, jerkass but brave and oddly sympathetic guy who I think is an antecedant to Mal in different ways) caught out to wander forever in the wilderness. It's not that morality doesn't exist -- it is important not to become the Reavers, for whom it does not exist at all -- but this is an existentialist show, in which there is nothing that exists directly outside the ship, and whatever meaning has to be created, from scratch and scraps lying around here and there, and held together day by day. It would be much "easier" to either reject morality entirely and go live a brutal existence like the outer rim planets or, even more extremely, like the Reavers; or to buckle down and accept the narrowly defined community valued in the inner planets. Serenity's home is in the parts of space between them, the emptiness where there is nothing outside.

    Really, there hasn't been as much of a great mythology exploring that order/chaos thing since, well, those Westerns -- John Ford about the building of society in expanses of desert, and, by the time of the Sergio Leone and Peckinpah Westerns and eventually Deadwood, about how the civilization built was bound to be corrupt and was built partly by trampling on anything that went away. So while the Western elements of Firefly were often silly if taken at face value, the show really was a Western in the most essential thematic ways, even while also being a show about the transformation of humanity with new technology, the realm of sci-fi.

    OK, so, rambling. While Mal is more sympathetic to the outer planets than the inner, because he values freedom more than he values security, it is notable that episode after episode brought up contrasts between Simon and Jayne, and pointed out that Simon is the better man in almost every respect, even though he was initially regarded with distrust by Mal. Simon, as the best of the Inner Planets, and Book, representing the best (perhaps?) of religion, are the main (permanent, as it turns out) passengers Mal knowingly takes on board in the pilot, and they are some of the biggest things he is supposed to integrate in himself -- Mal left civility and faith behind in Serenity Valley, and those are the central flaws of this guy. It seems to me that while the show does support Mal more than it overtly criticizes him, the structure of the show is about getting Mal back to the place where, even without reembracing God per se or embracing Alliance values per se, he can recover or create via Simon and Book (and, ultimately, Inara and River, and the whole of his crew, even Jayne) the parts of himself that have been left to rot when he took on his angry iconoclastic persona. Serenity, the film, starts this process, while also allowing Mal to turn his iconoclasm to something productive, though it also complicates that.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Skippcomet View Post
      The character of Kaylee, OTOH, I find to be typical of his type in terms of personality. An Oh-so-happy, "girly" (for lack of a better term, sorry) girl in a role not normally associated with girls who is intended to be the audience's moral guide to "you're supposed to side with/like what this character likes."
      IMO, Kaylee isn't really much a moral guide. If this series has a moral guide (and IMO, it's beautifully stacked with less moral guides than BtVS and AtS), it's Simon.

      Yes, there's that line in the pilot commentary that Whedon got the audience to like Mal right off because Kaylee liked him. Jayne is softened by his relationship with Kaylee. (Although, it's much more because Jayne is nice to Kaylee than Kaylee is nice to Jayne.) However, that's pretty much it. It's not much more a bestowing of "moral guide" than Joss saying in the commentary that he got the audience and Willow to fall in love with Oz together through the Innocence speech. It's a singular instance that focuses on organic relationships.

      Other than that, Kaylee pretty much keeps her yap shut about moral issues or how the audience is supposed to feel about the latest controversy.

      Whedon has Moral Canary in a Coalmine characters. However, IMO, they are Buffy, Fred, Giles, Tara, and AtS Cordelia and probably Simon. I don't really like the Moral Canary in a Coalmine tactic. (Hence, my mildly derisive name.) However, one thing I can about Whedon is that it's not a "type". That's a personality and appearance-diverse list of characters right there.

      Brilliant analysis, Local Max. I agree with every word.

      Originally posted by Local Maximum View Post
      The spectrum is repeated on different levels, and even on Serenity itself the spectrum moves from Simon and Inara, representatives of order and civility from the inner planets, to Jayne, the representative of chaos and amorality and brutal physicality from the outer planets. Mal, as the series protagonist, ideally is meant to position himself exactly in the middle, but Mal is also an angry, screwed up man full of resentment and unable to see clearly as a result.
      Well stated. IMO, Zoe is right next to Jayne on the Outer Planet spectrum but she offers some balance. Zoe is rough hewn and also a designated *fighter* (instead of a pilot or passenger or mechanic or even captain). Her stock in trade is war. However, Zoe is a more positive alternative because she has loyalty and compassion to regulate her love of violence and living outside of the law and civilization.

      In a true Lord of the Flies study, one believes that society needs more or less regulation and strictures and order based on whether one feels that there are more Zoes (who can be pretty trusted with freedom) or more Jaynes/Saffrons (who need as much rules and police work and suspicious authority as possible). However even Zoe, with all of her positive and even exceptional virtues, has chosen to live a life of crime where she lives off of violence and stealing. It's not really a ringing endorsement for an anti-civilization approach.

      It's not that morality doesn't exist -- it is important not to become the Reavers, for whom it does not exist at all -- but this is an existentialist show, in which there is nothing that exists directly outside the ship, and whatever meaning has to be created, from scratch and scraps lying around here and there, and held together day by day. It would be much "easier" to either reject morality entirely and go live a brutal existence like the outer rim planets or, even more extremely, like the Reavers; or to buckle down and accept the narrowly defined community valued in the inner planets. Serenity's home is in the parts of space between them, the emptiness where there is nothing outside.
      Beautifully said. One thing that I really love about Serenity's culture is that folk's value is determined by what they can do and that changes every day. The Inner Planets are regulated by status that is handed down and taken away by the government. Simon and his parents got the benefits of the government and their wealth ensuring that everyone regards them as special no matter what. However, the government decided that it didn't want River to be an independent genius but instead, a trapped broken prisoner and that's what happened.

      The Outer Planets have a very simple life where people mainly do back-breaking manual labor and have sex and seat. No opportunity to go beyond. To get a job where you use your wits and aspire to something bigger than being a farmer or slave, you're either a war lord or you pretend at just being a simple girl who wants sex and love but who is actually social climbing. However, there's no room for professionals or skilled workers, much less intellectuals.

      However on Serenity, you can see more starkly what people need and what's valued because it's a smaller space. And people need pilots and mechanics and force to get items like food and money. But then, even the Jaynes or Mals are forced to admit that they also need medical care (Simon) and beauty and glamor (Inara) and stories to pass the time (Book and Walsh) if not, religion, than some feeling of peace (Book).


      • #4
        I agree that Zoe is very close to Jayne; though, I wonder if Kaylee is the closest. Kaylee hits on different tropes, and is not violent like Jayne/Zoe; but she seems to be less educated, less refined than Zoe. Kaylee is second only to Jayne in terms of crassness, disregard for grammar and earthy openness about sexuality (as opposed to Inara's refined openness about sexuality). In fact, given that there are a lot of Jayne/Simon parallels and conflicts, it makes sense to position Kaylee closest to the edge since the show also spends a lot of time on the Simon/Kaylee romance, which symbolically is about the possibility of merging the edges of society, etc. Further, Kaylee's understanding of engines is a different kind of brilliance from Simon's logical deduction, but is just as impressive, and is also notably something that exists "without" education system or anything like that. She is not as immoral as Jayne (though even Jayne's moral compass eventually starts showing itself), nor does she have the same rough-hewn edges or sense of fear of survival that Jayne and probably Zoe have. Kaylee does seem like someone who grew up without really fearing death or starvation (or death by starvation), whose daddy was successful enough in his small way that they were doing okay, but who had no real opportunities to expand on her considerable gifts for machines until Serenity came along. In the inner planets, she could have become a fantastic engineer, with her spatial sense and ability to keep track of so many moving parts at once; on the other hand, it is possible, even probable, that she would not have discovered her gift in the core planets where she wasn't constantly working with machines, day to day, and realized that they "talked" to her.

        Of course, Jayne, despite coming under criticism often for fairly obvious reasons, is exceptional in many ways too -- Book suspects in "The Message" that Jayne will live longer than anyone else on the ship and he is basically a tank when it comes to fighting and survival.

        I think my overall depiction of the spectrum from Inner to Outer planets would be: Simon - Inara - Book - Wash - Mal - Zoe - Kaylee - Jayne.

        Simon and Inara are both very close to the Alliance-coded side, but the thing that marks Inara out is that she left Sihnon and the core planets to join Serenity willingly, whereas Simon only did so because his sister's life was in danger; we don't know Inara's backstory, but there are implications that there is some rebellion in her actions. Those are the two who seem to have the highest level of professional training and are the most valued members of core-planet society.

        Even Book's secret seems to be that he was an Alliance operative or general or some such, so that he's always fairly Alliance-/order-identified; it is worth noting that his religion is ever-so-slightly out of touch with Simon's modernism and Inara's Buddhism, and is a little closer to pre-Serenity Valley Mal's and Jayne's faith. Wash doesn't seem to come from the core core planets but he doesn't seem low class like Kaylee or rough-hewn, had-to-scrap-to-survive like the more violent parts of the gang. He even went to flight school (as he said in War Stories), which marks him as, I believe, one of only a select set, since we only know that Simon and Inara and probably Book went to some sort of professional training. (Though, Zoe, as career military, may have.) Mal and Zoe I'm actually not sure who is more properly on each edge, but Mal is meant to be closer to the centre, and Dipstick's arguments for Zoe at the edge are convincing enough that I would keep her there.

        River is actually a wildcard who spans the spectrum, because she's closely identified with both Simon and the core planets, and the Reavers who are totally beyond social restrictions. They play this in various ways; they do this with Early, too, who is a wild man who rejects moral structure and even the accepted meaning of words but is still on the Alliance payroll. Since River can span the entire spectrum, she can be a symbol for many different things at once -- she is the definitive representation of the worst actions of the Alliance, as one of their own destroyed; and she is a representation of both the good and the bad of the structure-free outer rim. Unencumbered by social restrictions, with the Alliance having stripped away any limitations to her natural gifts, she is both capable of being the best fighter and the most intelligent person on the ship and also the most unpredictable and dangerous, basically unable to control even herself. Meanwhile, the opportunity to grow up with extreme natural gifts and to have these enhanced through education marks her out as an example of the best/worst of the Alliance, as well. I think it makes sense that she is the biggest wildcard in the show and also that she is the person around whom Mal's personal mission, in Serenity, eventually has to form, because she's the only person who represents the entire world in herself (the world that Mal has to take into himself).

        Perhaps because it takes place in an imaginary future and doesn't require explicit references to the present, I think this is the only Whedon show that fairly successfully (successfully to me at least) dealt with class conflict. (Dollhouse, oddly, didn't touch on class much, partly because the clients were all extremely wealthy; still, even most of the dolls seemed to have been middle-class in their pre-doll life.) Angel tried with Gunn but I don't think that ever really worked; Buffy gestured toward it with Faith, which worked to a degree but felt incomplete.
        Last edited by Local Maximum; 27-07-13, 05:36 PM.


        • #5
          Firefly and Serenity are still top sellers.

          Wow. Maybe this is a reason why Joss Whedon loves Firefly and Serenity so much. They are still HUGE sellers on


          Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

          #7 in Movies & TV > Blu-ray


          Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

          #8 in Movies & TV > Blu-ray > Science Fiction
          #15 in Movies & TV > Blu-ray > Mystery & Thrillers
          #20 in Movies & TV > Blu-ray > Kids & Family

          For the comparison with BtVS:

          Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,258 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

          #90 in Movies & TV > DVD > Horror

          For the comparison with AtS:

          Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14,280 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

          This was frankly shocking to me that Firefly and Serenity are actually still so popular to this extent.


          • #6
            All said regarding writers, producers, actors, directors, viewers, readers, etc. are what I remember, my opinions, etc.

            Serenity is currently on Netflix. I wonder if Disney would want to put something in the Firefly/Serenityverse on streaming or whatever. Some of the actors are available.


            • #7

              In case it's of interest.....

              “I like who I am when I’m with him. I like who we are together.”


              • #8
                I've actually got both Firefly and Serenity on DVD (shockingly old-fashioned but then I'm old). I've seen Serenity and enjoyed it. For some reason, I only watched the first episode of FF but I liked it. Thanks for the timely reminder!


                • #9
                  I mildly enjoyed Serenity, but sadly didn't think much of Firefly. I didn't find the world building all that convincing and the stories were often a bit 'meh' imo. Sacrilege I know.


                  • #10
                    ♥ Firefly
                    Wasn't too keen on Serenity, tho.