This past week, I have watched Firefly in its entirety through Hulu.com (which isn't that impressive considering there's only 14 episodes), as well as the follow-up film Serenity (released due to obsessive fan sites that didn't manage too well with cancellation). And now, perhaps a few years too late, Firefly has secured a place in my heart. The following are the reasons why:
1. The dialogue.
Almost every line of dialogue is believable, meaningful (there are no fluff lines!), and brilliant. Even the weaker characters - Simon, Book, Inara - have their shining moments of sarcasm. And when characters are faced with potential (and probable) death each week, it's tiring for them to say "Oh, no, we're all going to die!" and then insert dramatic music (I'm talking to you, Lost). This show approaches the same themes in various ways, and it's never static. The dialogue is almost always dry, but it is altered depending on where they are, who they're fighting, and their likelihood of coming out alive. And Malcolm and Wash have some of the best lines of dialogue of any characters ever.
Book: If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
Wash: Little River just gets more colorful by the moment. What'll she do next?
Zoe: Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It's a toss-up.
Wash: I hope she does the soup thing. It's always a hoot, and we don't all die from it.
2. Zoe. Period.
Finally! A strong female character that female viewers can respect and admire! She is sexy and strong and confident and smart and honorable and honest and moral and funny. She knows that her job is to follow Malcolm's orders (because she is the first mate, not because she is submissive to his will), but she also has such a relationship with him that she can add her two cents and protest certain plans. She is married and, furthermore, she wants to have a child, but there is nothing motherly or matronly or womanly about it. She wants a child because she loves her husband. She has been shown having sex with Wash, but it was never about the passion. You don't see her in the reverse-cowgirl position, sweaty and panting. You see her making love, feminine but still strong. She is the dominant role in her relationship with Wash, and it works for them. She doesn't order him around or abuse him physically or mentally; she merely disagrees with the typical domestic setup. And Wash appreciates her strength. Not ONCE during the entire show does he complain about her strength, her confidence, or her unwillingness to fix him a sandwich. She is able to hold her own against Malcolm, against enemies in a gun fight, or against Jayne and nasty mouth.
Wash: I mean, I'm the one she swore to love, honor and obey.
Mal: Listen... (beat) She swore to obey?
Wash: Well, no, not... But that's just my point! You she obeys! She obeys you! There's obeying going on right under my nose!
3. The subtleties between characters.
It really bothers me when television programs posit a "real world" concept... yet excludes many aspects of the "real world." Friends and Seinfeld did this, as do many comedies, now that I think about it. But with Firefly (and also How I Met Your Mother, to some extent), the characters actually listen to one another. When Malcolm and Jayne have a little tiff, Wash laughs. When Wash says something funny, Zoe smiles. When Zoe thinks Malcolm is being dumb but goes along with him anyway, she says "Yes, sir" in a this-is-a-trap-and-you're-wrong-but-I-wouldn't-miss-this-for-anything tone. The subtle nuances between characters are exciting to watch. I shouldn't have to watch the outtakes to see the actors having fun; I want to also watch the characters having fun.
4. Adam Baldwin, of course!
Jayne: (adding) Ten percent of nuthin' is... let me do the math here... nuthin' into nuthin'... carry the nuthin'...
Jayne: (mock reading Simon's journal) "Dear Diary...today I was pompous and my sister was crazy." (flips page) "Today, we were kidnapped by hill folk never to be seen again. It was the best day ever."
5. Best stand-alone episodes in a serial show.
There's the premise of the show: A rogue captain and his crew of surly misfits try to survive on the outer edge of the 'Verse by stealing (literally, space cowboys). Then there're the A-storylines: Malcolm and Zoe go get the goods, something goes wrong, And then there're the B and C-storylines: Malcolm and Inora's pride gets in the way of them confessing their love for one another, Zoe and Wash have a beautiful and loving moment together, Kaylee says something that is a combination of hope and doom, and Jayne considers leaving a life of morality for something more... amoral. And even though the show is serialized through their B and C storylines (love and survival, and the dependence of each on the other, are big themes of the show), the individual narratives are incredibly well done. "Out of Gas," "War Stories," "The Message" and "Objects in Space" are all stellar episodes that receive an A+ grade.
"Out of Gas": The Serenity engine explodes, and Firefly explores Malcolm's devotion to his ship through two flashbacks - explaining how the crew came aboard Serenity, and also the moments leading up to the end of Serenity. The episode begins in despair; Malcolm is bleeding and has fallen to the ground, and a voice-over comes on that says: "She won't be winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But she's solid. Ship like this, be with ya 'til the day you die." We know that Zoe came on board due to her deep bond with the captain over the war of the Independents against the Alliance (the Unification War), but then we discover that she didn't like Wash upon first meeting him (he would later become her husband). And Kaylee enters Serenity because she's having sex with Serenity's incompetent mechanic, and we see Kaylee in a sexual light rather than the hopelessly romantic and idealistic child genius. And then we discover that Jayne comes aboard because - why else? - Malcolm tricked him through a monetary bribe, causing him to turn on his original crew. So those are the first sets of flashbacks, but the second set (which would normally be shown in actual show time) really defines Malcolm Reynolds. Not as a man, not as a friend or a lover, but as a captain. One of the most compelling relationships on the show is between Mal and his machine, his one true love. And he chooses to go down with his ship even after Inora tells him to escape with her. Mal is a very tough character who refuses to leave any member of his crew behind, and this episode really delves into the heart of the man who tries so hard to hide his heart.
"Objects in Space": The bounty hunter Jubal Early really gives Boba Fett a run for his money. The scariest part about Early is that he is calm in his delivery of harm. "Have you ever been raped?" he asks Kaylee. "To me, it's just a body." And you get the sense that he will actually rape her before pursuing his bounty (River), but he merely ties her up, leaving the prospect of rape available for the future. And Early has a repeated line throughout this episode that is particularly haunting: "Does that seem right to you?" (To the doctor, Simon, he asks, "You oughta be shot. Or stabbed. Lose a leg. To be a surgeon, you know? Know what kind of pain you're dealing with. They make psychiatrists get psychoanalyzed before they can get certified, but they don't make a surgeon get cut on. That seem right to you?") If River isn't in her bedroom, does the bedroom still serve a purpose? He is contemplative and meditative, and this showcase of logic informs the viewer that there isn't something quite right with them. And what happens? Love wins over logic. The crew's devotion to one another beats out his cold-hearted lifestyle. The last line of the episode is him floating away in space: "Well, here I am." Now, physically, he is alone with nothing but his thoughts... until his oxygen runs out, anyway. And there is a moment in the episode where River disappears, and she comes on the intercom and says, "I melted. I am not on the ship. I am the ship." And Joss Whedon really created a universe where you wonder if River actually is the ship now, if she somehow transcended her body (and time and space...) in order to save Serenity. That's a true gift. For a show to not only suspend my disbelief but to actually make me believe something so unbelievable is quite remarkable. (I think it would have been a sci-fi cop-out if she had actually became the ship, but the process of getting me to believe that it was possible is the point of interest.)