We meet the oddball cast of characters in medias res, as in any great tale; that is “in the middle of things.” They’ve fought and lost wars, slept with hopeless macho mechanics, fled metropolises with a PhD in Courtesan, performed surgeries, bumswaggled fortunes and had their heads cut open by men with blue gloves.
Four women, five men and nine different story lines converge on a small spaceship that is past its prime but deep in the hearts of its passengers.
An Artistic Eye
Not that I mean to start you at the final episode, “Objects In Space,” but the love that constructed the opening sequence sings Joss Whedon’s praises. Whedon writes, directs and imbues the series with the sort of fusion one expects from great fiction. He’s decided to talk about emptiness, about the bare bones of existence, using a ruthless bounty hunter and the strangely damaged young woman who suffered at the hands of the men with blue gloves. Her name is River.
The camera, starting in space, flies into the back end of the ship and literally zooms through its entirety, landing in River’s bed. We do not know what’s coming, but our safety is surely at risk. The ship has been violated. And so simply and elegantly. What is inside? What is outside? Who can save us from this fragility?
Salvation often comes from the tenth character, the ship itself--Serenity. Constructed stem to stern, so that actors could move from room to room with extended shots, the claustrophobic and quite beleaguered set feels like a home. Which is part of the power of the rear entry just mentioned. That camera flies through our memories aboard ship.
When the captain, Mal, first sees this Firefly transport vessel in a used ship lot, it’s love at first sight. Each character comes to adore the place, and in the immensity of space, makes it home.
Here, I stand in awe. Not because the tales are outrageously zippy as in any action adventure series, but because the layers of back stories make one delicious cake. And the surprises brought by each episode make for fascinating views into human nature. We aren’t on a ride for sheer “whee,” we’re looking into the jaws of character. By which I mean the wheels and gears that make humans tick.
So yes you get the swashbuckling and danger and flights of fancy, as you would in any “space Western,” but you also admire the lives these renegades have scotched together, and how deeply they come to rely on each other. Honor each other. Manage not to kill each other. All in the struggle to survive. Or smuggle, rob and sell their way to freedom. Which quite often is hilarious.
And Did I Mention The Really Strong Women?