Firefly, the brainchild of writer/director Joss Whedon, didn’t strike home with viewers until after its cancellation. Once the show hit DVD, its popularity skyrocketed and it became a cult success. Superb acting, brilliant writing, and the successful blending of two very different genres make this one of the best sci-fi shows out there.
War veteran Malcolm Reynolds and the ragtag crew of the firefly shaped spaceship Serenity aimlessly wander the galaxy searching for work, sometimes landing jobs like robbing trains or infiltrating hospitals. Everything changes when Simon and River Tam, a brother and sister on the run from the government, come aboard Serenity. Simon is a doctor, and River is a teenage girl who had been cruelly experimented on by the government, called the Alliance. Reynolds is at first reluctant to keep them on his ship, but soon becomes quite fond of them and even considers them part of his crew. With the Alliance hot on the trail, Reynolds and his crew become fugitives as well, and every job they take, every move they make, brings them ever closer to the horrifying truth behind what happened to River Tam.
Nathan Fillion portrays the complicated captain/veteran/criminal Malcolm(or Mal) Reynolds, and his powerful performance is unforgettable. He presents the seasoned veteran as a tough man with a soft heart underneath. He usually comes off as a rough and no-nonsense leader, but occasionally we get glimpses of a kind, honest man who cares deeply for his crew. Adam Baldwin plays Jayne Cobb, a skilled fighter and one of the shadier characters in the series. Cobb is an angry, gruff, and violent character, but thanks to Baldwin’s inspiring performance, he turns out to be one of the best aspects of the show. He walks around with a scowl on his face and rarely smiles, but as the show progresses, we find out that there is more to Cobb than his mean, merciless attitude. Alan Tudyk is Wash, Serenity‘s capable pilot and the husband of one of the crew. Tudyk has an impressive track record, having played in big movies such as Dodgeball and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but his role as Wash is by far his most memorable. Who doesn’t like a character who is introduced playing with toy dinosaurs? Gina Torres plays Wash’s wife, Zoe, and she is one of the most badass female characters in television history. Put a gun in her hand and you’re in trouble. However, Torres is at her best with her onscreen husband, who brings out the compassionate side of her character.
Morena Baccarin plays the wise and beautiful Companion Inara, who has strong feelings for Reynolds. Inara helps the Serenity crew on more than one occasion, and her wisdom and perspective are much needed onboard. TV veteran Ron Glass plays the peaceful and knowledgeable Shepherd Book, and his performance is quiet and profound. There are several episodes where the good Shepherd only appears for a few minutes, but he has such a commanding screen presence that five minutes watching the Shepherd is equal to an entire episode watching any other character. Sean Maher plays the timid, socially awkward Simon Tam, who grows more than any of the other characters in the show. His shift from shy, socially incompetent doctor to hero is a classic “zero to hero” transformation, and many will connect with him over other characters. River Tam is wonderfully brought to life by Summer Glau, who slips right into what might be the most pivotal role in the entire show. Almost everything that happens revolves around or goes back to her and the torture she endured at the hands of the Alliance. And finally, Serenity‘s mechanic, Kaylee, is played by Jewel Staite. Kaylee is Simon Tam’s romantic interest, and Staite does a fantastic job making the developing attraction between them believable.
In addition to an incredible cast, the show boasts quick, witty dialogue and some of the best character development in any show out there. Each character has layers, and with each episode, Whedon slowly peels away those layers. They cease to be characters and become real people. Audiences become so attached to the main cast that when the series comes to an abrupt end, they will be screaming for more.
Some might argue that the cancellation hurt the show, but in so many ways, it actually benefited it and how it resonated with viewers. Many subplots and loose threads, like the growing attraction between Mal Reynolds and Inara, are better left unresolved. Life is full of ambiguities, and the fact that many of the hints Whedon dropped were never fulfilled made it more realistic. I mean, come on, how often can someone say that every conflict, every experience they have had in their life has given them closure or been completely resolved? Almost no one. The fact that Firefly leaves that “What is going to happen next?” question mostly blank adds to its appeal and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions on what could and should have happened. Even Serenity, the film that ends the Firefly story, doesn’t answer all of the questions raised, and it is better off that way.
Firefly is entertainment at its best, unpredictable, exciting, and brimming with fantastic characters and fun new worlds just begging to be explored. While Whedon’s show was short-lived and under appreciated at first, its impact on television and the sci-fi genre cannot be ignored.