If you’ve ever heard of Firefly before, it was probably because someone was complaining about how it was canceled after one season. Or maybe from someone complaining about the people who complain about it being canceled. This popular television show is infamous for just this reason: after only a year of material, the cult classic was canceled in a blow that devastated its fans. It is always sad when you start to google ‘Firefly’ and see that one of the top results is ‘Firefly season 2’ – probably typed by people who watched the first season on Netflix. The cancellation is sometimes accredited to the fact that Firefly was far before its time: a thrilling sci-fi story of sarcastic rogues and interplanetary travel would have fit much better right about now, rather than in 2002. Most of Star Trek was done by 2001, and the geek subculture hadn’t really flourished yet.
Firefly didn’t really care, though. Full of badass characters and amazing details, the TV show hit our populace in full force. So here is your primer to jump into the world that is Firefly!
THE PREMISE AND LORE
Firefly begins in the year 2517, around 500 years into the future. By now, humanity has used up our own planet – referred to in the show as “Earth That Was” – and has expanded to the rest of our Universe (or the ‘verse, as is the slang on the show). We terraformed as many planets as we were able, and created new Earths. American and Chinese (and other Asian cultures) have clearly fused, as no matter where one goes in the Universe everyone seems to know Chinese – they swear in the language – and many of the places have a Asian atmosphere to them combined with the American West. The more central planets in the Universe, where the richer peoples and the main governments settled, formed the ‘Alliance’ – basically the ruling government of the Universe. The planets further out were populated by the lower classes; basically dumped on the planet with little to no knowledge, experience, or supplies. When the Alliance tried to bring the outer planets under their rule, they rose up and formed the ‘Browncoats’, a military rebellion group. There was a 5 year war, called the Unification War – a war that the Browncoats inevitably lost.
The television show – which you should begin with if you’re trying to enter the fandom – opens by showing the watcher a ragtag band of mercenaries from the outer planets trying to survive on the Firefly class ship ‘Serenity’, a group led by Malcolm Reynolds.
THE CREW OF THE SERENITY
Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds
Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion, is the captain of Serenity’s crew; he is a sarcastic, goofy sort of man, but also one that commands respect. He is unwaveringly loyal to “his own” (the crew of his ship), arguably loyal to a fault. During the Unification War, Mal fought as a browncoat, and he’s still very against the Alliance, and very passionate about it. He named his ship ‘Serenity’ after the final battle of the Unification War, the Battle of Serenity. Mal is more than able to handle himself in a fight, but often doesn’t loose his head in one; he’s more likely to crack a joke going into combat than release a war cry.
Zoe Alleyne Washburne
Mal’s first mate on Serenity, Zoe was a fellow browncoat during the war. The pair have a fantastic, purely platonic, war buddy relationship. She’s very much a silent supporter of Mal, backing him up at all times. She’s very much “one of the men”. Zoe is a stern woman, and a powerful one, but does have a sense of humour that comes out, particularly with her husband.
Hoban “Wash” Washburne
Zoe’s husband, Wash, met the woman when he was brought on as the pilot for Serenity. Wash has a joker personality, most things coming out of his mouth being either a sarcastic comment, lame pun, or bad joke. He became a pilot to see the stars, when he couldn’t on his air-polluted planet.
Inara Serra is a ‘Companion’ that travels with the crew of the Serenity. ‘Companions’ are men and women entertainers who service clients one on one, providing whatever said client might need – for a price. This often involves intercourse, and is very much the stereotype of what they do, but a Companion – and Inara – would tell you that it’s so much more than that. It’s about providing what the person (same gender or opposite, neither is uncommon) needs. Sometimes this is sex, other times it is a massage, a cup of tea, or someone to talk to. Inara is a careful, articulate, and cultured woman. Most of the time friendly, but deadly when necessary (as a result of Companion training). Inara and Mal have a strange relationship – there is clear sexual tension, but the pair often bicker, Mal mocking Inara’s career. Inara rents one of Serenity’s two shuttles, living in it and using it to service clients off of Serenity when they arrive somewhere.
Kaywinnet Lee “Kaylee” Frye
Kaylee Frye is Serenity’s engineer. She’s a short, adorable girl who wears floral and has an unshakable optimism, but don’t let that fool you. Kaylee is a technological genius who is far better suited to talk space ships with the men than makeup with the girls. She’s saved the rest of the crew with this brilliance, and kept the Serenity running much longer than it would have lasted in the hands of a lesser engineer. Kaylee and Inara have a very sisterly relationship, often spending time together outside of work.
Jayne Cobb is a large, rather idiotic man. His personality revolves generally around how much money he can make, how many people he can kill, or how many women he can have sex with. He’s the sort of man who gets very – strangely and almost creepily – attached to his guns.
Simon Tam is a previously wealthy doctor from the Alliance. In the first episode of Firefly, Simon boards Serenity in disguise, but it is eventually revealed that he rescued his sister, River, from the Alliance, and is now on the run from the authorities. Mal allows the pair of them to remain on the ship since Simon is useful as a medic. Simon, a cultured and brilliant man, isn’t particularly suited for the rustic and dirty way the rest of the crew lives, and does sometimes butt heads with them. Generally a kind soul, though, he cares deeply for his sister, and – as it is eventually made clear – for Kaylee.
River Tam is an odd sort of girl. Simon’s teen sister, she was always brilliant. When she went to an Alliance Academy, they tested on her, leaving her a babbling shell of her former self. She and Kaylee eventually develop a sisterly bond as they spend more time together, but at first River struggles to operate normally with the rest of the crew, still tormented by what the Alliance did to her. She often speaks in mysterious riddles and half-formed sentences. Sometimes she seems to know things about people that she couldn’t possibly, or say things that don’t make sense – or make too much sense – and everyone is curious to know what’s going on with her. Though the series is about the entire crew, the main series plot revolves around River.
Shepard Book is a preacher, a passenger who arrived on the Serenity at the same time as Simon and River. Though he does not aid in the day-to-day crime that keeps Serenity flying, Shepard seems to stay on Serenity for the life experience, and to aid the crew in finding God. He’s a mysterious man, revealing little about his past but knowing a little more about military and mercenary matters than a preacher would.
The TV show, Firefly, is only one season of 14 episodes, and follows the crew of the Serenity in day to day workings. It’s clear that the producers were working up to something regarding River, but it isn’t clear what that something is, and the series ends in a cliffhanger as it was cancelled. There was such a demand from the fans for a finale that there was a movie made to wrap up ties.
The movie, Serenity, is the finale to the television show that wraps up the otherwise loose ends of the television show.
*Both the television show and the movie are available on Netflix as of this writing*
There were a number of comics following the movie release, finishing even more things about the series that were left cut off. The four main collections that include most of the comics written about Firefly are: Those Left Behind, The Shepherd’s Tale, Better Days and Other Stories, and Leaves on the Wind.
WHY FIREFLY IS WORTH A TRY
Firefly is a goofy tale about space cowboys that was simply too advanced for its time. Nowadays, the nerdy subculture would absolutely eat it up. Firefly is the perfect mix of funny and interesting, with the serious and dangerous twists integrated personally. If you’re looking for something lighter, the television show is for you. The movie is particularly darker, if you’re looking for the edgier side of sci-fi. It has a little for everyone – the show is spectacularly diverse, with women and different ethnicities represented easily.
Firefly is the kind of show that could change your life, if you let it – and you should.