Back in 2005 I remember going to the movie theaters to see “Land of the Dead” with my mom an equally rabid horror fanatic, and sitting down to watch the previews. I remember fondly sitting in front of the screen watching the trailer for the upcoming movie “Serenity” and marveled at how interesting it looked. It wasn’t love at first sight, it wasn’t immense curiosity, but just a mild interest that made me think about it and push it in to the back of my mind for a good while.
Months later prior to the unleashing of “Serenity” in to theaters, the Science Fiction channel in America aired a marathon of the entire “Firefly” and when I sat down to watch it from beginning to end it dawned upon me why “Firefly” was cancelled and taken off television so quickly many people didn’t even know it was on. “Firefly,” during the marathon, often began every episode with a brief prologue from Nathan Fillion explaining the basic premise of the series. And then it kind of saddened me that the producers or network simply didn’t have confidence in the show. And worse, they didn’t have confidence that the audience could play catch up.
Basically, “Firefly” is a series you could easily catch up with, but damned if the creators thought so. And so every episode was started with an annoying and repetitive rundown of the universe and the characters.
Since its cancellation, “Firefly” has been a juggernaut of the science fiction persuasion allowing a breed of genre fens to re-visit the characters of Serenity time and time again, in spite of its abrupt end on the FOX Network. For a long time after its uneventful end, “Firefly” remained a real hit with fans staying at the number one DVD sales list on Amazon.com and holding the spot for a very long time. The DVD set went on to sell like hot cakes and in spite of many fan petitions to bring the series back, the demands fell on deaf ears.
Of course in 2004, anxious to give fans closure to the series, director Joss Whedon gave his loyal browncoats the feature length installment of the crew of the firefly entitled “Serenity.” Joss Whedon managed to fit in the final storylines of the first season all in one sitting and did a bang up job of it, introducing new audiences to the Firefly universe, while also pleasing the loyal fans who lobbied endlessly for a new season. Hell, to this day fans are still aching and anxiously asking for a new season of “Firefly” in spite of the fact that most of the cast has moved on to successful series a long time ago. Whedon jokingly explained that in order to restart “Firefly” he’d have to ask the cast to quit their jobs.
And if there is a new “Firefly” season there’s no guarantee it will be a hit. That hasn’t stopped Joss Whedon from giving fans their own fixes of the “Firefly” crew here and there. Every now and then the cast re-unite for conventions, and appear on television shows together to give fans their own brief moments of Firefly. Jewel Staite and Sean Maher appeared on the hit show “Warehouse 13” as a couple tangled in a mystery about a masked superhero, Summer Glau guest starred as a rival to Adam Baldwin’s character in “Chuck,” most of the cast has voiced characters on the hit “Justice League Unlimited” animated series, and Nathan Fillion has provided numerous references to the series on his hit show “Castle.”
In spite of the fact that “Firefly” will never return to TV ever again–especially since Joss Whedon is now Marvel and Disney’s number one man after delivering a massive hit film about another lovable super team entitled “The Avengers”–the show still lives on in the hearts of legions of fans and continues to be a dynasty that’s spread primarily through word of mouth. I think what draws fans to “Firefly” is the same dynamic that drew fans to “Buffy” time and time again. The family factor. “Buffy” brought you in to a group of rejects who ultimately proved their worth against the forces of evil. “Firefly” escorted you in to a run down old hunk of metal named Serenity with a group of people you fell in love with instantly.
There’s the sour old dad, the content but strict mom, the goofy older brother, the lovable sister, and numb skull of a big brother, and of course three people they brought on board their space ship, all of whom with shady pasts hiding from the evil Alliance. With the crew of the Firefly, you felt automatically accepted and a part of something, and even if it was just for a little under twenty, forty five minute installments, you were at home and ready for some adventures. And unlike “Buffy,” the characters in “Firefly” constantly skirt the edges of villain and hero time and time again.
Though captain Malcolm Reynolds could be classified a hero, he’s never afraid or hesitant in murdering someone to make an example of them or to show he’s, in fact, very serious. Jayne will murder anyone like it’s a bodily function. Heck, in the course of the series he even betrays the crew for some easy money, and Zoe will in fact kill upon command, or if it’s necessary to survival of the people around her. Either way, it’s tough not to love these characters. And the minute you’re put on-screen with Wash playing with his dinosaur toys in outer space, you realize you really want to stay. And then once the crew takes off after almost losing their lives to mercenary Early who stows on their ship to take River away, you want to go back again and start the adventures all over again.
I make it a point of watching my DVD set at least three times a year, and I never want it to end. “Serenity” is a film that was primarily meant for the fans, to give fans what they needed. They needed a resolution to this universe once and for all, and Joss Whedon gave it to them, come hell or high water. The film didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, and Whedon swore off working with Universal or FOX ever again, thus relinquishing any hope of a box set or sequel for fans, but we were given a final good bye. It’s something very, very few cult television series ever allow its fans a chance at. There are at least a hundred great cult shows never given a proper send off, and with “Serenity” we were given one. And thankfully, the film ended up being quite excellent.
Joss Whedon proved in this film that he could handled a massive cast and multiple storylines in under ninety minutes. Whedon closed up every character’s story within the time frame of the movie all while introducing a new villain, and allowing us a chance to say goodbye to the crew of the Firefly as they took their last crusade in to the black. And Whedon being Whedon didn’t end the film without sacrificing a few of our beloved characters. Particularly Wash. With no disrespect to Ron Glass and his immaculate performance as Shepherd Book, the most shocking moment in “Serenity” was Wash’s Death.
With Shepherd Book, his death had to happen. He was Yoda to Mal’s Skywalker. He was there giving wisdom’s helping him regain his faith and force, and his dying signaled that the Firefly crew had to once and for all snap in to action and stop the menace waiting in the skies. Mal looking down on Shepherd’s bloody body as he gave him his last words told him that he had to stop playing nice guy and start channeling that vicious warrior that got him through the wars in his early life. Wash’s death was like watching a best friend perish. It happened suddenly, quickly, and all life that he brought to you dissipated in an instant.
While Whedon is infamous for killing off any character in his movies and show he sees fit without consideration to fan boy revolting, his killing off of Wash was horrific, heartbreaking and a punch to the gut. Here we have this nice looking guy with a wonderful sense of humor, a good moral center, and a firm sense of heroism guiding us along this turbulent journey for a long time.
Whedon’s character Wash could have been his version of Jar Jar Binks, except thanks to Alan Tudyk’s constantly witty and brilliant portrayal, he was more like a human version of Chewbacca except with ten times more humor, charm, and depth and a lot less fur. Wash was the funny big brother you went to for advice and a good joke and in an instant he was taken from us in a senseless moment of carnage. And like typical Whedon, he just doesn’t give us time to register this event, he didn’t give us time to cry and soak in the fact that our best friend was gone from us taken in the heat of helping his crew because the Reavers were attacking… and if they didn’t move, Mal and Zoe would also be impaled for sure. And that wouldn’t be fun.
Watching Tudyk’s delivery of his line “I Am a Leaf in the Wind” in two periods felt like variations of two different lines of dialogue. When he’s flying through the reaver battle zone focused on his flight, Wash’s reciting of “I Am a Leaf in the wind–watch how I Soar” is his way of showing the crew that he’s protecting them and almost accepting his weightlessness in the face of danger, giving in to the grip of imminent death that allows him invincibility as if he’s trading his soul for his friends’ safety.
Then after he drops the ship and recites “I am a leaf in the wind” to where he is impaled, it’s his final words, his last wisecrack to the gang before leaving their eyes and ears. After watching Wash be impaled in his celebration of landing Serenity–almost as if Whedon was punishing the usual humble pilot for bragging at his small victory–all safety was lost. Watching “Serenity” that morning I felt a cold sweat stream down my face and said to myself under my breath, “If Mal dies, I’m shutting this off, I don’t care how this ends.” And I meant it.
Nathan Fillon’s performance as Malcolm Reynolds in “Serenity” is filled with urgency, terror, and a quiet rage that puts Mal on the verge of murdering anyone in sight just to calm the inherent anger at the situation before him. Dealing with the Operative, Mal realizes that he hasn’t in fact seen it all. And for the first time in many years, he has no idea how he’s going to escape this situation spearheaded by this masterful agent who will murder anyone, even children, to acquire River and bring her back to the Alliance once and for all. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a consistently brilliant character actor, and his entrance in to the Whedonverse is shocking and terrifying at the same time.
When we first meet him, we know he’ll do anything to tie his loose ends. Even murder. The origin of the Reavers–finally revealed in the film–is like something ripped from a horror movie. A clandestine government creates an airborne toxin to stop crime and turn its civilians in to peaceful beings.
The toxin has a side effect that turns them so peaceful they drop and die while the others turn in to vicious, violent, merciless, cannibalistic monsters. Until the film itself, the Reavers were mainly just boogeymen who put the fear of God in to everyone on the ship. Even Mal. When they enter in to the plot of “Serenity,” the tension thickens and Whedon increases the darkness of the story another ten percent, even if he occasionally lightens it with his usual hilarious one-liners.
Eventually the journey of the Serenity crew stops becoming about protecting River and Simon and transforms in to a mission of mere survival and getting the message to everyone about the corruption of the alliance, something Mal and Zoe knew for years but could never convince anyone to listen to them. With the death of Shepherd Book and then Wash, director Joss Whedon makes it abundantly clear to the fans that this is the last go around, and in the finale there’s a sense of calm among the crew, even if its unclear if they’re all out of the woods. They’re still fugitives. They’re still pirates. And eventually they’ll have to begin stealing to survive yet again.
“Serenity” never offered up a real closer to the romance of Mal and Inara because there’s a good chance Mal is married to Serenity, and may never find a lover more suitable, even with the woman he’s meant to be with. As we saw in “Out of Gas,” arguably the best episode of the series, Mal will go down with his ship, even if it means his own life in the process. And, let’s face it, their romance is much too complicated for one movie. Whedon allowed fans a final chance to say goodbye to the crew of Serenity, but fans haven’t let go of the series, even ten years after its cancellation. Thanks to the advent of the series set and the final movie, fans continue the adventures over and over again. And I’m one who follows along three times a year rooting for the Firefly crew to keep their journey going out in the black.
Here endeth the lesson.