The inherent mess of contradictions that is human nature gets the full treatment in this rare gem, a truly entertaining and well-written TV series. Firefly, following a bunch of space cowboys in outer space, manages to keep you on edge enough to make this ride worthwhile.
The year is 2517. After a fight between the Alliance and the rebels, a bunch of ragtags called the Browncoats, the Alliance has won and the Browncoats have dispersed. Malcolm 'Mal' Reynolds, a sergeant in the rebel group is now the captain of Serenity, a spaceship that travels the outer fringes of the universe, picking up jobs and cargo to get by. They take on a few passengers on the way who stay on, a young doctor and a priest being among them. However, there's more to these passengers than meets the eye...
What marks Firefly different from other such series on TV is the confusion.
Mal (played with panache by Nathan Fillion) is a walking blob of conflicting emotions. A proud Browncoat who refuses to back down to the Alliance, he is loyal and protective towards his crew. While no illegal job is off-limits if it brings in the money, his sense of right and wrong still prevents him from taking on certain assignments. Jayne is a mercenary gopher, only one big payday away from betraying his crew and captain, yet he seems to put his skin on the line too often for us to pigeonhole him. The other characters are equally nuanced, and everyone has a past that they seem to be trying to escape.
The writing is clever and this fictional universe eschews standard film or television sci-fi stereotypes. The decor is Wild West meets Star Wars, with a dash of Memoirs of a Geisha thrown in for good measure. In a world where the two remaining superpowers (USA and China) have merged to form the Alliance, the language of choice is English, though the local patois liberally uses Chinese, especially while swearing. The pacing is to die for, with wisecracks and shared light moments suddenly and unpredictably segueing into action set-pieces.
What is definitely difficult to capture, and therein probably lies the genius of writer - producer Joss Whedon is the sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps the crew share. Mal, Jayne, the ship's engineer Kaylee, the doctor Simon and his mysterious sister River are the pick of a slew of well-etched characters. The chemistry between all these characters is palpable and defines the series.
I must add, this was a midnight screening on Saturday night. The theater was almost full. The then year-old movie got a standing ovation.
The movie is enjoyable for the same reasons the show is. The black and white has dulled out to a very agreeable gray, and it's difficult to say that the villains are really so. The Alliance is well-meaning in the way censors are, and Joss Whedon clearly picks sides when in the movie Mal says "I like all seven" (sins, that is).
The very apt original theme song - written and scored by Joss Whedon. That's where the title of this post comes from.
If this series is even half as good as the fans claim it is, why did it have only 14 episodes and why didn't it go into a second season? And why am I watching it on DVD?