Flashback February - Firefly

Labels: , , ,

Of the four TV series that Joss Whedon has created thus far, it can be argued that Firefly is the most beloved.

There is a huge fanbase and several ‘Bring Back Firefly’ movements that are still active after 11 years of cancellation. If you are unsure about what I mean by a huge fanbase, allow me to explain: it’s a show that can attract over four thousand fans (or ‘browncoats’) to a convention panel ten years later. It’s a show that inspired a ‘Help Nathan Buy Firefly’ movement after a joke about winning the lottery. It’s a show that constantly pops up whenever the question of ‘Best Sci Fi Series Ever’ is asked. It’s a show that even Joss Whedon himself has talked about ‘uncancelling’ more than once.

It’s a show that, despite its one season fate, the fans will not allow anyone to forget.

Despite all this love for the crew of Serenity and their adventures, I have never seen Firefly before this week. It is with this fresh perspective loaded with hype that I entered the verse. Unfortunately, hype can inflate one's expectations to an unrealistic degree. The series is not without its flaws, but whether it's to the detriment of the show or part of the charm is debateable.

With all that out of the way, let's take a look at Firefly's first and (so far) only season.

While other series would like us to follow star fleet captains, rebellions and the like, Firefly instead follows a merry band of smugglers and some passengers they pick up along the way. As reflected from the opening theme ‘The Ballad of Serenity’, Captain Malcom Reynolds and his crew wander from place to place, never really at home and only looking to keep their ship in the sky.

The narrative we’re presented with is a wandering gunman story set against a science fiction backdrop; while there are many clear influences from both the western and science fiction genres, it is hard to pin down which of the two is the more dominant. While the ever-looming presence of an empire-like figure forcing our heroes to jump from place to place seems reminiscent of Star Wars, our heroes have more in common with the likes of Clint Eastwood’s Man with no Name than Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.

If I’m able to say that there is not one character on the crew that I feel is useless and frustrates me beyond comprehension, then both the actors and the show runners have done a fantastic job. Despite a cast of nine, each and every member of the Serenity’s crew have a strong character and never stay out of focus for very long. A lot of the great moments in Firefly are when you have members of the crew bouncing off one another whether it’s intimate moments on the ship or a party they’ve hijacked to get a client.

As I just mentioned, getting by is the driving theme of the story. Doing the right thing and looking out for yourself come up often during the series. The most notable of these is the character Jayne, who joined the crew through betraying his previous crew, and his occasional struggle with his mercenary lifestyle. He has often threatened to deliver two fugitives (Simon and River Tam, two regular members of the crew as of the pilot) to the Alliance and has actually done so in the episode Ariel. However, he shows remorse for his actions and helps them escape.

Jayne is not the only one who struggles with this; as early as the second episode Mal and Zoey learn that they were hired to steal much needed medicine from a colony after they have already stolen it. The episode ends with them returning both the drugs and their client’s money. While the protagonists of the series are mercenaries at best, there is a certain level of honour they all have. It illustrates that while they’ve all got the short end of the stick and it would be easier for them all to turn on one another that, just like the ship is their home, they’re all family. It’s a complicated family based on a mutual dislike of the alliance and smuggling, but it is still a family. It’s this added complexity coupled with how they all interact that I feel is Firefly’s real strength.

By now I am sure you’re wondering why I am singing all these praises despite before mentioning that the series is not without flaws. Well, I feel that now is as good a time as any to point out that Firefly, while a visually unique experience, suffers the same trappings as many sci fi series do.

I cannot say, with a straight face, that the image of Serenity flying in the sky looks believable. The interior is beautiful and I am in love with the more rustic look the firefly model has, but the computer graphics within this series is far from discreet. The same goes for many other buildings and cities in the series; the interior looks convincing enough, but the exterior looks like it belongs in a video game at times.

Finally, the guns sound like they should be firing lasers, yet what we have are old school revolvers and shotguns.

There, now I’ve covered the cosmetic side of Firefly and where I feel it falls flat.

Where Firefly suffers in terms of story is how dreams and flashbacks are sometimes handled in the series. In the pilot we’re treated to a flashback that reveals how Mal and Zoey know one another and were driven to their current lifestyle. We’re thrown in the middle of an adrenaline fuelled battle; the independents are forced to surrender, their leaders pull out to leave the survivors to die and Mal and Zoe just stare up at the sky as the ships sail away. While it is dramatic enough, the flashback feels very jarring and has little to no impact on the plot of the pilot. It also suffers because of a slightly lacklustre set and it takes a while to absorb that the man at the turret is, in fact, Mal and not a generic action movie hero.

I would be lying if I said there were no good flashbacks or time jumps in Firefly. The series generally handles these well and some of the strongest scenes in the series are flashbacks; one of my favourites is how they hire their current mechanic Kaylee. There is even one episode that jumps all over the place in time and still manages to make sense. However, this episode can be disorienting especially for new viewers and some of the flashbacks seem like they’re there for the sake of being there. Not all of the flashbacks are needed in their episodes and some could be sacrificed with no ill effect. However, they tend to be interesting enough to keep me from hating them too much.

In contrast to the more locked out Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I feel that most people could jump into Firefly at any point and catch wind of what was going on, how everyone meshed together and, most importantly of all, enjoy it. However, whether or not you do enjoy it is a little less straight forward. It may have a lot of similar elements to other science fiction shows, but it is different enough to either draw people in or scare them away.

If you’re not the type who can see past some lack lustre visuals and effects, then I do not recommend this series. If you don’t like getting western in your sci fi, then I do not recommend this series. If you’re not the type who enjoys focus on characters over the plot, then I do not recommend this series. However, if you’re itching for a sci fi adventure that takes you all over a rich, diverse verse and some humorous back and forth banter, then Firefly is for you.

Review by Greta Rehak


Post a Comment