Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk & Morena Baccarin, Firefly/Serenity, Coming to Chicago Comic Con!
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|♫“Take my love, take my land / Take me where I cannot stand / I don’t care, I’m still free / You can’t take the sky from me”♫|
|Firefly is an American space western drama television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as an executive producer, along with Tim Minear. The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a “Firefly-class” spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.”|
The show explores the lives of a group of people who fought on the losing side of a civil war and others who now make a living on the outskirts of society, as part of the pioneer culture that exists on the fringes of their star system. In this future, the only two surviving superpowers, the United States and China, fused to form the central federal government, called the Alliance, resulting in the fusion of the two cultures. According to Whedon’s vision, “nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today.”
Firefly premiered in the U.S. on the Fox network on September 20, 2002. By mid-December, Firefly had averaged 4.7 million viewers per episode and was 98th in Nielsen ratings. It was canceled after eleven of the fourteen produced episodes were aired. Despite the series’ relatively short life span, it received strong sales when it was released on DVD and has large fan support campaigns. It won an Emmy in 2003 for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series. The post-airing success of the show led Whedon and Universal Pictures to produce a film based on the series, Serenity. TV Guide ranked it #5 on their 2013 list of 60 shows that were “Cancelled Too Soon.”
The Firefly franchise expanded from the series and film to other media including comics and a role-playing game.
The series takes place in the year 2517, on a variety of planets and moons. The TV series does not reveal whether these celestial bodies are within one star system, only saying that Serenity’s mode of propulsion is a “gravity-drive.” The film Serenity makes clear that all the planets and moons are in one large system, and production documents related to the film indicate that there is no faster-than-light travel in this universe. The characters occasionally refer to “Earth-that-was,” and the film establishes that, long before the events in the series, a large population had emigrated from Earth to a new star system in generation ships: “Earth-that-was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many.” The emigrants established themselves in this new star system, with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons.” Many of these were terraformed, a process in which a planet or moon is altered to resemble Earth. The terraforming process was only the first step in making a planet habitable, however, and the outlying settlements often did not receive any further support in the construction of their civilizations. This resulted in many of the border planets and moons having forbidding, dry environments, well-suited to the Western genre.
The show takes its name from the “Firefly-class” spaceship, Serenity, that the central characters call home. It resembles a firefly in general arrangement, and the tail section, analogous to a bioluminescent insectoid abdomen, lights up during acceleration. The ship was named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, where Mal and Zoe were on the losing side. It is revealed in “Bushwhacked” that the Battle of Serenity Valley is widely considered the loss which sealed the fate of the Independents.
Throughout the series, the Alliance is shown to govern the star system through an organization of “core” planets, following its success in forcibly unifying all the colonies under a single government. DVD commentary suggests that the Alliance is composed of two primary “core” systems, one predominantly Western in culture, the other pan-Asian, justifying the series’ mixed linguistic and visual themes. The central planets are firmly under Alliance control, but the outlying planets and moons resemble the 19th-century American West, with little governmental authority. Settlers and refugees on the outlying worlds have relative freedom from the central government, but lack the amenities of the high-tech civilization that exists on the inner worlds. In addition, the outlying areas of space (“the black”) are inhabited by the Reavers, a cannibalistic group of nomadic humans that have become savage and animalistic.
Into this mix are thrown the protagonists of the show. The captain of the crew of Serenity is Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the episode “Serenity” establishes that the captain and his first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) are veteran “Browncoats” of the Unification War, a failed attempt by the outlying worlds to resist the Alliance’s assertion of control. A later episode, titled “Out of Gas,” reveals that Mal bought the spaceship Serenity to continue living beyond Alliance control. Much of the crew’s work consists of cargo runs or smuggling. One of the main story arcs is that of River Tam (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher). River was a child prodigy, whose brain was subjected to experiments. As a result, she displays schizophrenia and often hears voices. It is later revealed that she is a “reader,” one who possesses telepathic abilities. Simon gave up a career as a highly successful trauma surgeon to rescue her from the Alliance and as a result of this rescue they are both wanted fugitives. In the original pilot “Serenity,” Simon joins the crew as a paying passenger with River smuggled on board as cargo. As Whedon states in an episodic DVD commentary, every show he does is about creating family. By the last episode, “Objects in Space,” the fractured character of River has finally become whole, partly because the others decided to accept her into their “family” on the ship.
The show blended elements from the space opera and Western genres, depicting humanity’s future in a manner different from most contemporary science fiction programs in that there are no large space battles. Firefly takes place in a multi-cultural future, primarily a fusion of Occidental and Oriental cultures, where there is a significant division between the rich and poor. As a result of the Sino-American Alliance, Mandarin Chinese is a common second language; it is used in advertisements, and characters in the show frequently use Chinese words as curses. According to the DVD commentary on the episode “Serenity,” this was explained as being the result of China and the United States being the two superpowers that expanded into space.
The show also features slang not used in contemporary culture, such as adaptations of modern words, or new words altogether. For example, “shiny” is frequently used in a similar manner as the real world slang “cool.” Written and spoken Chinese as well as Old West dialect are also employed. As one reviewer noted: “The dialogue tended to be a bizarre purée of wisecracks, old-timey Western-paperback patois, and snatches of Chinese.”
Tim Minear and Joss Whedon pointed out two scenes that, they believed, articulated the mood of the show exceptionally clearly. One scene is in the original pilot “Serenity,” when Mal is eating with chopsticks and a Western tin cup is by his plate; the other is in “The Train Job” pilot, when Mal is thrown out of a holographic bar window. The DVD set’s “making-of” documentary explains the series’ distinctive frontispiece (wherein Serenity soars over a herd of horses) as Whedon’s attempt to capture “everything you need to understand about the series in five seconds.”
One of the struggles that Whedon had with Fox was the tone of the show, especially with the main character Malcolm Reynolds. Fox pressured Whedon to make Mal more “jolly,” as they feared he was too dark in the original pilot, epitomized by the moment he suggests he might “space” Simon and River, throwing them out of the airlock to die. In addition, Fox was not happy that the show involved the “nobodies” who “get squished by policy” instead of the actual policy makers.
Alan Tudyk as Hoban “Wash” Washburne—Serenity’s pilot and Zoe’s husband. Deeply in love with his wife, Wash expresses jealousy over his wife’s “war buddy” relationship and unconditional support of their captain, most particularly in the episode “War Stories,” in which he confronts Mal regarding their relationship. He joined pilot training just to see the stars, which were invisible from the surface of his polluted homeworld, and he joined Serenity despite being highly sought after by other ships. He is very light-hearted and tends to make amusing comments, despite the severity of any situation.
Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra—a Companion, which is the 26th century equivalent of an escort, mistress, hetaera, courtesan, or oiran, who rents one of the Serenity’s two small shuttles. Inara enjoys high social standing. Her presence confers a degree of legitimacy and social acceptance the crew of Serenity would not have without her on board. As a highly educated Hooker with a heart of gold, Inara displays great dignity, civility and compassion. There is strong romantic tension between her and Mal, who share many character traits, but each jokingly objects to the other’s “whoring” or “petty theft,” respectively. Both neglect to act on their feelings, and try to keep their relationship professional.
Summer Glau as River Tam—smuggled onto the ship by her brother. A highly intelligent, compassionate and intuitive child prodigy. Experiments and invasive brain surgery at an Alliance secret facility left her delusional, paranoid, and at times violent, though her uncanny ability to seemingly sense things before they happen leaves question to where the delusions end and reality begins for her. The experiments seemed to have made her a psychic, providing her with a seemingly innate ability in hand-to-hand combat, and she is capable of killing or incapacitating several stronger opponents with ease. She gets frequent fits of anxiety and experiences post-traumatic flashbacks of her time in the Alliance facility. Her mental instability and uncanny abilities, paired with several erratic and violent acts, is a recurring source of fear and doubt among the crew, especially with Jayne, who very frequently requests that they be taken off the ship.
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