Monday, January 18, 2016

Lessons from Firefly


                                 Burn the land
                                 and boil the sea,
                                 You can't take the sky from me. . . .

Set in the year 2517, after humans have depleted Earth and migrated to a new star system, Firefly follows the lives of nine mates of the Starship (Firefly Class) Serenity. Creator Joss Whedon pitched this show as "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things." 

But though these shipmates may have different dreams and aspirations, the dangers of deep space also unite them in a common goal. Survival.

So, what do the crew members see out there in "the blackness"?

The Captain--Malcolm Reynolds, played by a young Nathan Fillion--sees freedom, a way to avoid the Alliance oppressors and to be his own man. The Resistance army may have lost the war to the Alliance, but on his own ship, Mal is still a free man.

First Mate Zoe Washburne, who fought side by side with Mal in the war, sees the black as a place to be useful to the Resistance and to keep serving her beloved commander.

Loyalty doesn't motivate crewman Jayne Cobb--except loyalty to Jayne. He's a good man in a fight, Jayne--unless, of course, he knifes you in the back to make a profit. With Jayne, you never know.

Then there's the beautiful "Companion" Inara Serra, who rents one of the escape pods of Serenity. In this society, trained prostitutes form an elite class, and Inara lends a bit of ironic respectability to Serenity

Every resident of the Serenity has a story and a dream. I think that the Serenity crew and passengers see the black of space as a symbol of independence from the Alliance, an escape from the past, and a new beginning. Out there in the black, you have no choice but to face your deepest fears and discover your true self.

The cast of Firefly, L to R, Top to Bottom,
Ron Glass (Book)Summer Glau (River)
Alan Tudyk (Wash)Sean Maher (Simon)
Adam Baldwin (Jayne)Jewel Staite (Kaylee)
Morena Baccarin (Inara)
and Nathan Fillion (Mal)
--missing: Zoe (Gina Torres)

Cancelled by the network after only nine of the original 14 episodes had aired, Firefly is the poster child for all promising television series that are cancelled too soon. DVD sales for the defunct show skyrocketed, and the fan base remains to this day loyal, outspoken, and still expanding.

It was a great show and a great story that had just begun to unfold. It's really a shame, but it is what it is. Not only was the show cancelled, but Joss Whedon followed the series with a movie--Serenity--in which he killed a couple of characters, more or less nailing the coffin shut on the story of these nine intrepid travelers in space. 

Maybe someday Firefly will be revived. and the Browncoats will ride again. Maybe not. But storytellers across the galaxy can still draw on this story for instruction and inspiration.

  • Nothing is too out there or fringe if you have a passion for the story.
  • Every character has his own story. Although he interacts with others, he has his own history, philosophy of life, his own dreams, his own character flaws. Nobody was born into this world to be part of the supporting cast. Everybody lives in his own world.
  • Backstory should never intrude, but it can richly inform the present situation and the characters.

  • Setting can also enrich a story, even serving as a character at times. You could place these characters into a different setting, and it would be a completely different story.
  • Sci-fi and fantasy are still the best places to explore moral issues in story form.
And the greatest lesson we can learn from Firefly?
  • Don't quit too soon. Okay, so technically it was the network that quit on Firefly, a show that many with hindsight think would have gone on to be a huge success. But it's a caution for all writers. Don't quit on your story too soon. And sometimes quitting is simply filing it away in a desk drawer until a better time.
There may never be a better time.

Photo Credits:
    Firefly, Firefly logo
    Nathan Fillion, Flickr user RavenU] |P
    Gina Torres, source--Genevieve
    Adam Baldwin, Flickr upload bot (talk | contribs)
    Morena Baccarin, Flickr user RavenU
    Cast of Firefly, Flickr user RavenU
    Joss Whedon,  photo by Dominick D
    Mal, Zoe & horse, posted under fair use 
    Firefly 4-disc set, product shot

1 comment:

  1. Take a look in the drawer? Maybe it's time? Loved the analysis of Firefly's inspiration and examples!

    Blessings on your pen!