Logic tells me I shouldn’t like this show, but I love it. The series’ creator, Joss Whedon, is an avowed atheist, and his “worldview” comes out in what he creates. But one does not have to be a believer in God in order to be a genius. (Whedon is also behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Dollhouse, all three of which are favorite shows of my son, Matt. I have viewed the first episode of Dollhouse, and plan to try to watch the entire series soon. The other two? We’ll see.) One of Whedon’s great strengths is the ability to create believable, likeable characters, and the series Firely is a showcase of this skill. (It has been argued, however, that his weakness is creating believable believers—his preacher character, Shepherd Book, is, for many, a weak link. See, for example, this blog entry by Dan Phillips about the movie which followed the series: Serenity: a Christian movie review.)
Perhaps we relate so well to the characters in Firefly because they are so much like us. Whedon has been quoted as saying, “nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today.” This is in contrast with such science fiction creators as Gene Roddenberry, who envisioned great advancements in these areas. Whedon sees humankind as flawed and irreparable, were Roddenberry believes we will overcome our weaknesses by shear willpower. Christianity, on the other hand, finds the answer for our ills in God’s Grace working in people’s lives.
This perhaps begs the question of why I love Roddenberry’s creations, and why I simply adore what I know about Whedon’s. I will attempt to answer the last part of this by describing the main characters (except Shepherd) from the series and commenting on why they are endearing. Before that, however, I must add that the dialog in this series is hilarious, and laughter is, in itself, cathartic – which is reason enough to like the show. It is also hopeful. It has a Star Wars: A New Hope kind of hopefulness about it, as can be illustrated by a quote from the end of the episode, The Message:
Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, when you can’t do that…
Zoe: …you find someone to carry you.
Not only do we care about the characters, but the characters, for the most part, learn to care about each other. There is much in the series about genuine caring for each other. If that’s not a theme a Christian can get behind, I don’t know what is. Now about these characters (some minor spoilers):
Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds - Mal is the leader of the group who has a deep-seated resentment toward the Alliance which runs the star system. He is a criminal who makes his living mostly transporting goods illegally between the planets. I like him for the same reason I like Han Solo from Star Wars. He is what Princess Leia would call a “scoundrel,” but he is a principled scoundrel who genuinely cares about others. As River will point out, his name means “bad” in Latin, and he seems to live his life trying to prove he is not what his name means.
Zoë Washburne -First officer and wife of the ship’s pilot, “Wash,” Zoë has divided loyalties, but deals with them well. In one episode she must convince her husband that her loyalty to Mal is in no way sexual. She has reserved herself for her husband. She is a great example of what is means to be supportive without being a doormat. I think Jesus would approve.
Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne - Wash is often the voice of reason on the ship. While Mal and Zoë are used to fighting their way through, Wash often steps in to help cooler heads prevail. Reason and passion are a good combination to have on board a space ship. Reason and faith are a good combination in life.
Inara Serra - It took me awhile to figure out that Inara was being portrayed by the same actor (Morena Baccarin) who played Anna in the TV series V in 2011. A few years and long, thick hair make quite a difference. The unique way Baccarin carries herself makes her perfect for both parts. As a “companion,” Inara is trained in deception (Something in which Anna was also skilled.), adept in making her clients believe the fantasy she provides. Companions are trained prostitutes, sanctioned and regulated by the government. Her presence on board gives Serenity, the Firefly class cargo ship, some respectability. I can’t help but compare her to Rahab of Jericho (Joshua chapters 2 and 6 in the Bible), but Inara’s ability to chose her clientele was probably not the experience of Rahab. In any case, I am reminded that Rahab experinced redemption, and is actually mentioned as an ancestor of Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 1. And certainly Jesus did not think “harlots” were beyond hope.
Jayne Cobb - As River (I’m getting to her.) will point out, “Jayne” is a girl’s name. Ironically, he is the most misogynistic member of the crew, and is also a Judas character, willing to betray his peers for the right price. Unlike the Judas in the Bible, however, Jayne somehow makes it back into the good graces of the group. Grace being the operative word. I wonder how many churches would take Jayne back after what he’s done.
Kaylee Frye - Kaylee on the surface seems the tomboy type, and her mechanical skills keep Serenity going. But she also has her feminine side. Although clothed most of the time in a jump suit, she also delights on being able to wear a frilly dress. She is a reminder to women that you can pursue whatever vocation you have skills in without having to lose touch with your womanliness.
Dr. Simon Tam - Simon sought refuge on Serenity after helping his sister, River, escape from an Academy were they were experimenting on her brain. He has feelings for Kaylee, who obviously likes him, too, but his ineptitude in social situations, as well as the need to constantly care for his sister, keep a damper on their relationship. His tireless and selfless devotion to his sister is certainly a plus for the show.
River Tam - Simon’s sister is a genius, which may account for why the Alliance was experimenting on her. Her experience has left her in a state where she is unable to suppress strong feelings. This makes any stressful circumstance unbearable for her. Her genius also comes out in unexpected ways, and she seems to have an uncanny insight into people and situations. Much of the show and the movie Serenity (I hope to review that soon.) revolve around Simon’s attempt to find answers to River’s mental instability. Such hope for healing is another good reason to like this show.
Firefly is currently available on Netflix live streaming.