NUMBER OF SEASONS: 1 (14 episodes)
CREATED BY: Joss Whedon
STARRING: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau and Ron Glass
Here we go again with the third instalment of TV Flashback where this time we’ll be looking at another show from the golden era of the Whedonverse which has received ‘God like’ cult status since it went off the air in 2003. Whilst Buffy: The Vampire Slayer began it’s seventh (and final) season and Angel began it’s fourth season, Whedon’s concept of telling a sci-fi western after being influenced upon it when reading The Killer Angels, a novel by Michael Shaara chronicling the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon would bring on board Angel writer/producer Tim Minear to serve as Showrunner as he ‘understood the show as well as any human being, and just brought so much to it that I think of it as though he were always a part of it’.
Unfortunately however the show seemed to be set to fail from the get go, with the FOX executives rejecting ‘Serenity’ to serve as the shows pilot on the network as it lacked action and Mal was too ‘dour’, forcing Whedon/Minear and Co. to come up with a new pilot over the weekend or else the show wouldn’t be picked up….enter ‘The Train Job’ episode. Unfortunately episodes of the series were aired out of order and due to low ratings for the show (which was marketed as an action-comedy by the network) it was cancelled and only eleven out of the fourteen episodes were aired on the FOX Network (though they did air all of them on the Sci-Fi channel in the UK). It still didn’t stop the fandom that followed which led to a good critical response, cult status which led to the fairytale story of a small yet ambitious (and infectious) television show being revived…for the big screen in 2005 with Serenity. Now I’ll be giving a rundown of the series overall plot and arcs, the recurring characters that appeared which may have some familiar names and faces as well as do the usual top five favourite characters and episodes list and finally look at where the cast are now.
WARNING: SPOILERS BE FOUND SCROLLING DOWN
The show takes us into the early 26th Century, taking us to a variety of planets which have been terraformed in some form of fashion to resemble ‘Earth-that-was’. From the opening scene we witness The Battle of Serenity Valley taking place during the Unification War as the Browncoats takes on the Alliance. We see Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Alleyne Washburne in the trenches of the battle in which the Browncoats lose. Six years later Mal is captain of his own transport ship, an old Firefly-class vessel he named as Serenity, with Zoe his second-in-command, Wash is his pilot and Zoe’s husband, Kaylee the engineer and Jayne Cobb the gun-for-hire. Also onboard the Serenity crew is Inara, a Companion (high-society courtesan licensed by the Union of Allied Planets aka The Alliance) who rents one of Serenity’s shuttles. As they land on the planet Persephone they pick up passengers to provide some supplemental income in a preacher (Shepherd Book) and a wealthy doctor (Simon Tam) that brings with him a mysterious crate. Turns out that mysterious crate in question is a young woman in a cryonic sleep….his sister River.
Simon explains to the crew that his sister was a smart intellectual child that was sent away to an elite Alliance Academy when she was a teenager. Soon he received a letter from River which made no sense, which in turn he learned it was an encoded letter for help. Soon he discovered that the Alliance were torturing and experimenting on students at the Academy, leading to Simon sacrificing his career as a successful trauma surgeon to rescue River. Now they find sanctuary onboard Serenity where Simon works as the ships Doctor as they journey through the planets and moons running cargo runs and smuggling in order to make ends meet.
RECURRING CHARACTERS/WELL KNOWN FACES
Badger (Mark A. Sheppard)
Before he was stealing scenes in Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural, Mark A. Sheppard made an instant impression in the Firefly series as Badger, a smuggling middleman on the planet Persephone who provides jobs for the Serenity crew. The character provides some humour and sense of being ‘more upstanding’ than the likes of Mal and it’s normally his exchanges with Mal that make him all the more memorable.
Saffron (Christina Hendricks)
Saffron is a woman of many names, but did we ever learn her real name? Played by a then unknown Christina Hendricks, Saffron was a con artist that normally married her marks during her schemes, which finds her playing the role of naive, subservient wife of Mal in the episode Our Mrs. Reynolds before later appearing in Trash playing another game. She was an intriguing character that outmanoeuvred the crew on a couple of occasions using her wit and ability to get out of a particular jam.
Hands of Blue (Dennis Cockrum and Jeff Ricketts)
Appearing briefly in the final scene of The Train Job and resurfacing with immediate effect in Ariel, the Hands of Blue were two mysterious men who were hot in pursuit of River Tam, seeming to return her back to the facility in which she was being experimented on. As evidenced by the events that unfold in Ariel, they are willing to kill anyone, including Alliance personnel, that come into contact with River by using a hand-held device that has people bleeding from every orifice. The mysterious duo have left a lasting impression after what they were able to do in the Ariel episode and always wondered how that would have unfolded if the show had a good run.
Adelai Niska (Michael Fairman)
Niska appeared on the episodes of The Train Job and War Stories. A psychotic crime lord who has a reputation for violent reprisals against those who fail him or even irritate him and questions them on whether or not they know the writings of Shan Yu….as he tortures you. He’ll even show the crew that he means business and cement his reputation by showing them a bloodied body hanging from a ceiling, which we learn that it is his wife’s nephew who failed to complete a job. He may have only appeared in two episodes but he provided a genuine threat to Mal and company, especially in the War Stories episode.
Here is a list of other actors that have appeared in an episode (or two) of Firefly’s run that may be recognisable to some: Zac Efron (yep, little Simon Tam in the flashbacks…who would’ve thought he’d end up with the career he’s had so far?), Gregg Henry (Sheriff Bourne), Carlos Jacott (Lawrence Dobson), Erica Tazel (Doralee), Jamie McShane (Man aka man that tries to get Book as his passenger in the pilot), Doug Savant (Commander Harken), Benito Martinez (Boss in Our Mrs. Reynolds), Daniel Bess (Mudder), Kevin Gage (Stitch Hessian), Gregory Itzin (Magistrate Higgins), Edward Atterton (Atherton Wing), Kimberly McCullough (Chari), Frederic Lehne (Rance Burgess), Melinda Clarke (Nandi), Isabella Hofmann (Regan Tam), Jonathan M. Woodward ( Tracey Smith), Richard Brooks (Jubal Early) and Richard Burgi (Womack).
TOP 5 CHARACTERS
5. River Tam
River: No power in the ‘verse can stop me.
Granted some may have gotten annoyed with the characters traits on an episode by episode basis, but on replay value there’s always something mysteriously intriguing when watching Summer Glau act as River Tam. From her joyful wonder into the starry abyss in Bushwhacked to her playful manner in Mal’s acceptance of ‘family’ in Objects In Space, she’s the mysterious centre that drives the show that remains strange, tormented and completely sympathetic throughout as we come to learn of the ordeals that the Alliance has put her through leading her to become this all feeling/all seeing being.
4. Hoban “Wash” Washburne
Wash: Yes… yes. This is a fertile land, and we will thrive. We will rule over all this land, and we will call it… This Land.
I think we should call it… your grave!
Ah! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!
Ha ha ha! Mine is an evil laugh! Now DIE!
Oh no, God, oh dear God in heaven…
The pilot of Serenity that provided some well sarcastically timed comedic moments, Wash just lightened the mood up during the serious table discussions as well as that infamous first scene with the two dinosaurs. He interactions with the crew are light-hearted but can be serious when the time comes for it, even down to the conflict he has with his wife Zoe which comes to a head in War Stories.
3. Jayne Cobb
Jayne: Can’t get paid if you crawl away like a bitty little bug neither. I got a share of this job. Ten percent of nothin’ is, let me do the math here… nothin’ and a nothin’, carry the nothin’…
Let’s be honest…Jayne’s a bit of a dick. He knows it and the crew knows it. What makes the character great to watch, besides his comedic timing with perfectly timed deliveries by Adam Baldwin, is his characters growth which will unfortunately never be fully explored as even though he’s set to be killed at one stage, he still feels guilt for the things that he’s done and cares of the crews opinions of him. He may be brash but he has those moments from naming his gun Vera, to proudly wearing the hat his mother knitted him, he has a somewhat loveable quality about it underneath.
2. Kaylee Frye
‘I don’t believe there’s a power in the ‘verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful’. Words uttered by Mal and you can’t say that he’s wrong as Kaylee proceeds to be the shining light amongst the morally grey dilemmas the crew faces. Granted her optimism and relentlessly sunny nature may not have worked at all if it weren’t for the performance provided by Jewel Staite. Her quest to have an intimate connection with Simon remains engaging to watch throughout the series and she’s not afraid to call him out for stepping out of line.
1. Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds
Mal: Now think real hard. You’ve been birddoggin’ this township a while now. They wouldn’t mind a corpse of you. Now you can luxuriate in a nice jail cell, but if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.
It was obvious wasn’t it? Malcolm Reynolds, even in the short period of time he lasted on the small screen, remains one of the best characters in the Whedonverse. A man whose faith has been shattered by war and corrupt government, we watch this space cowboy be the loveable anti-hero that rarely existed in the early 2000’s in comparison to how many of them exist now on the small screen. Quippy and charming, he can be heavy handed to the crew while carrying a deep-buried heart of gold and deep down they all know it and carry a undying amount of loyalty for him as he does for them.
TOP 5 EPISODES
5. Ariel (Episode 9)
Two by two… hands of blue.
Serenity travels to the core world Ariel and Simon comes up with a plan to steal drugs from the hospital.
This is the episode where Simon Tam came into his own by coming up with his own criminal mastermind scheme for Mal and Zoe to steal valuable medical supplies while he breaks into the hospital as well to use advanced piece of medical equipment to scan River’s brain and find out exactly what the Alliance done to her. Often awkward around Serenity, we see Simon in his element at a hospital as River looks on as Simon interferes their mission to save a patients life.
The episode’s not all about Simon though as this is the episode in which we learn that the money on the table comes too good for Jayne to ignore and he sets into motion to hand them over to the Authorities for the reward money. That turns its head leading to Jayne also arrested and leading to the frantic escape from the Hands of Blue as they kill everyone in sight in the holding area.
The shows big scene stealer however comes down to the confrontation between Mal and Jayne as Mal figures out that Jayne turned them to the Feds, therefor in turn betrayed HIM, he seems all set to have Jayne killed by being sucked out through the airlock…until Jayne’s plea to not tell the others what he did rather than begging for his life changes his mind. It’s a well crafted episode which was directed by Allan Kroeker and written by Jose Molina.
4. Objects In Space (Episode 14)
So you’re a bounty hunter.
No, that ain’t it at all.
Then what are you?
I’m a bounty hunter.
The Alliance has placed a bounty on River Tam’s head and a bounty Hunter named Jubal Early sets out to claim the bounty and tracks down the Serenity crew.
Niska may have provided genuine threat to the Serenity crew, but no one had threatened the crew in the way Jacob Early did in Objects In Space. A bounty hunter that is after River, he singlehandedly makes his way onboard the ship and finds ways to take out the big guns (Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Wash) without uttering a word. It’s when he uses his words however upon meeting Kaylee that things take the turn for the sinister as he talks in almost philosophical fashion before dropping the line ‘You ever been raped?’ to her and proceeds to threaten to do so if she in any way threatens his objective. It’s interesting how the character swings in mannerisms once he encounters Simon Tam, asks existential questions to various characters on life and nature, as he proceeds to find River.
The kicker? River attempts to convince Early that she has become part of the ship, talking to him via the intercom system. It’s a rather odd yet engaging play to watch unfold as River’s abilities begin to kick doors into Early’s psyche as Simon plays into the oddness of it all.
It’s a terrifically scripted and directed episode by Joss Whedon, none moreso than the opening sequence of how River sees things from her perspective, to the things the crew say to finding a twig amongst autumn leaves on the ship floor and lifts it…..then from everyone else’s point of view it’s a gun that she’s holding. It’s probably my favourite scene in the series.
3. Jaynestown (Episode 7)
He robbed from the rich, and he gave to the poor,
Stood up to The Man and he gave him what for,
Our love for him now ain’t hard to explain,
The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne.
Mal and the crew of Serenity land to pick up some contraband In Canton, a township on Higgins’ Moon, where labor is provided under servitude run by the local magistrate.
Jayne is the folk hero of Canton. Sounds funny on paper and it works tremendously well for comedic value in an entire episode, from how Jayne ‘earned’ his hero status, right down to the song dedicated in his honour.
Written by Ben Edlund (creator of The Tick) and directed by Marita Grabiak, they manage to make a way to show the obvious benefits for someone like Jayne of being a folk hero (admiration of the people…as well as the women available) as well as the consequences of his actions as his former partner he left behind Stitch Hessian (Kevin Gage aka Waingro from Heat) exposes him for the fraud that he is.
It’s the aftermath after the fight with Stitch and when one of the Mudder’s sacrificed himself to save Jayne that he lashes out at the townsfolk as he can’t understand why they’d still believe in him and his confusion and shame eats away at him to the point that he looks to Mal for answers in the final moments of the episode. ‘Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.’
2. Bushwhacked (Episode 3)
Seems odd you’d name your ship after a battle you were on the wrong side of.
May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.
The crew of Serenity stumble upon the ruins of a transport ship and decide to search the vessel for any salvageable goods, only to discover that the ship is not entirely deserted.
This directed and written Tim Minear helped give us a bit more exploration to the myth of the boogeymen of Firefly…..Reavers. The Serenity crew encounters a drifting space craft in which they go to check it out to help survivors or loot the supplies of the dead.
Besides seeing a Reaver ship in the pilot, we’re still not aware of what Reavers look like or what their true origins are, other than the line Zoe tells Simon about them in the pilot of what they plan to do if you encounter them ‘If they take the ship, they will rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing, and if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.’
The crew soon discover that all but one member of the space craft has been killed, with Mal knowing exactly what caused it and that they best put the survivor out of his misery. As civilisation catches up with them and they get caught by the Alliance, the survivor becomes what he witnessed….a Reaver, mutilating his own body, twisting wire into the wounds in his face and killing everyone in his path.
It’s a distinctively well shot episode as it handles the material of how man can become the darkness he witnesses, which makes the Reavers all the more frightening as even ‘surviving’ the ordeal is a fate worse than death.
1. Out of Gas (Episode 8)
Hey! What you two think you’re doing? Fightin’ at a time like this? You’ll use up all the air.
When Serenity’s life support system fails, Mal orders the crew off the ship – but he stays behind.
It’s not often that a flashback/present heavy episode can be an effectively well handled episode nowadays, but that’s exactly what David Solomon and Tim Minear done here with Out of Gas.
An explosion onboard Serenity leaves the crew in a dangerous predicament as the ship only has a few hours of oxygen left, leading to Mal staying behind incase someone answers their distress signal, while we get flashbacks as to how the crew members came to be onboard the Serenity.
The use of the flashback stories, from how they’re filtered, to how they’re edited to fit the next sequence in the present moment is tremendously well handled. It’s a well written and directed episode that remains a true classic from the series and often use it to get people that never checked out Firefly to seek out the remainder of the series. The flashback ending of Mal looking at the Firefly in the distance still brings a slight grin to my face.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
NATHAN FILLION since Firefly/Serenity went on to star in feature films White Noise 2: The Light, Waitress, Super, Much Ado About Nothing and Monsters University as well as do voice acting work as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern in a few of the DC animated films and on the small screen he’s appeared in the short lived Drive, Desperate Housewives and the long running series Castle. Oh and let’s no forget Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog…let’s not forget that.
GINA TORRES since Firefly/Serenity went on to have a recurring roles on the small screen in 24, Alias and Hannibal as well as star in Suits and also provide the voice for Vixen and Airachnid in the Justice League and Transformers Primer animated series respectively. She also appeared on the big screen as Cas in the Matrix sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions.
ALAN TUDYK made an appearance in another Joss Whedon series known as Dollhouse and has appeared on the big screen in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, I Robot, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and then on the small screen in the TV series Suburgatory. Notably however Tudyk has been busy in the voice acting department providing voice performances in Halo 3/ODST, Young Justice, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Big Hero 6.
MORENA BACCARIN has been making a name for herself on the small screen having roles in V and Homeland as well as recently appearing/providing voice acting in recent DC television shows Gotham and The Flash. This year on the big screen she appeared in Spy and next year she’ll appear in the long awaited Deadpool solo film.
ADAM BALDWIN after Firefly/Serenity appeared in a recurring role in the final season of Angel and then also appeared in a long-running series in Chuck and currently appears in The Last Ship. Also provided voice work for DC in animated film Superman: Doomsday as well as video games such as Injustice: Gods Among Us.
JEWEL STAITE has appeared in a host of television shows such as Wonderfalls, Stargate: Atlantis, L.A Complex and the final season of The Killing.
SEAN MAHER has had roles in the small screen, recurring in Make It or Break It, The Playboy Club and also Arrow as well as appearing on Much Ado About Nothing and provided voice work for Nightwing in Batman vs Robin and will reprise the role in the upcoming Batman: Bad Blood animated film.
SUMMER GLAU has had recurring roles on the small screen in The Unit, The 4400, Dollhouse, Alphas and Arrow as well as being a main cast member in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Sequestered. Also appeared in the film Knights of Badassdom.
RON GLASS has appeared on the big screen in Lakeview Terrace and Death at a Funeral as well as appear on the small screen in Shark, Dirty Sexy Money and recently in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.