In honor of the 15th anniversary of Joss Whedon's Firefly, we've been taking a look back at the short-lived space drama. While the series only aired 15 episodes (including the two-part "Serenity" episode) before it was pulled from FOX's lineup in 2003, it has become one of the biggest cult hits of all time. Fan campaigns to bring the show back on the air resulted in a feature film in 2006 to bring the story to a conclusion of sorts, and Dark Horse Comics has continued the story in one form or another. Even now, 15 years after it premiered, fans are still clamoring for the further adventures of the Serenity and her crew.
What is it that makes a show, which shouldn't even have been a blip on the radar, so popular for so long? For one, it was a hell of a good time. The humor and heart at play in the short series were evident from the moment it first aired. For another, when you view the episodes in the order in which they were intended, it makes a lot more sense than when it originally aired. Then, of course, there's all that unrealized potential. The show had barely started setting up its mythology before it was yanked from the schedule.
Really, when it comes right down to it, the thing that continues to capture our hearts and minds all these years later are the characters. The cast was diverse and interesting, full of disparate personalities dragged together by circumstance and desperation. The men on the show had, perhaps, some of the best lines of the entire run, especially since they were cast largely in the humorous roles. You'll be hard-pressed to find a fan who can't quote several lines spoken by Mal or Wash or Jayne at some point in the series. There are T-shirts dedicated to some of them.
But what about the women? Sure, they had an occasional line or two, though usually they were the straight men to the idiots with whom they were forced to share a ship. Naturally, then, their role was to be the only ones who ever knew what the hell was going on. Face it. Without these women, everyone on the Serenity would have been dead a dozen times over. I don't care how much fancy flying Wash can do.
Don't believe me? I've got receipts.
When River first showed up on the Serenity, she was literally a girl in a box. Her brother had smuggled her on board as cargo, locked in stasis and curled into the fetal position. Despite her initially waifish appearance, River very quickly became an occasional asset in the crew's struggle to stay on the right side of the many unsavory people with which they found themselves at odds. Early on, she tricked Badger into believing she's from his old homeland, keeping him from killing everyone in the Serenity's cargo hold, none of whom have any idea how they're going to get out of this mess. Later on, when a bounty hunter boarded the ship in order to capture her, she donned a space suit, headed out into the void, and then carried on a confusing conversation in which she attempted to convince him she'd been assimilated into the ship itself, all to keep her brother safe after he had been pretty much immediately captured. And then there were her contributions during the feature film, in which we discover that in addition to being a literal genius, she is also an incredibly skilled fighter able to take out a bar full of men twice her size - including Jayne - as well as take on an entire horde of bloodthirsty Reavers, once again ready to sacrifice herself to save the people she loves. Oh, and then there was that time her strange assortment of superpowers included the ability to actually sense the arrival of the Reavers, giving the crew enough of a warning to narrowly escape with their lives. And she did all of this as a mentally traumatized teenager. Also, she can kill you with her brain.
At face value, Inara doesn't seem like she would be one to save anyone from anything, but in the world of Firefly her mere existence likely kept each and every one of them alive and out of jail - at least to some degree. As a licensed Companion (the future's version of a legal prostitute) Inara also helped keep the Serenity legitimate. Well, as much as she could anyway when she was working with a group of space cowboys who had a knack for mucking up virtually every job they took. Inara's ability to navigate the Alliance helped to keep those prying government eyes from looking too closely on more than one occasion, and her contacts in high society netted them more than a few jobs. Then, of course, there was her big moment in the movie where, after warning Mal that her call is a trap and knowing he will come anyway, she booby-trapped some incense in an effort to aide their escape. I wonder what she would've done with the incense if he hadn't shown up …
Every ship needs a good mechanic, and the Serenity has Kaylee. She's certainly one of those "don't let her age fool you" types, though it might be more apt to say "don't let her personality fool you." Kaylee may be young and extremely bubbly, but she is no fool. For one, she's the only person in the verse who can keep the Serenity flying despite the fact that it probably should have been decommissioned years ago. In fact, she wasn't even Mal's original mechanic. The one he originally hired, a dude who looked like he'd rather be out catching some waves on some kind of surfing planet (I'm sure those exist), had no idea what he was doing. Kaylee, meanwhile, who had gotten a good look at the problem while engaging in some naked fun in the engine room, was able to come up with a solution without ever having laid hands on the equipment. Then there's the fact that unlike, say, Simon, she understands subtext. Kaylee isn't exactly subtle when she attempts to flirt with the young doctor starting all the way back in episode four. But it takes the entire series, plus most of the movie, for him to catch on. When he finally does and attempts a little subtext of his own, she's immediately got his number.
It's safe to say that none of them would even be ON the Serenity if it weren't for Zoe. From just the fleeting moments we see of the war over the course of the series, it's obvious that Zoe has always been the straight man to Mal's boyish insanity. Where he runs around yelling and shooting off his gun right and left, begging the enemy to take him out, Zoe has a plan. She is measured. Compared to Mal's mania, Wash's jokester persona, and Jayne's complete disregard for the basic rules of human decency, Zoe is the stalwart center. Not the moral center, mind you, that's Book, but Zoe keeps them centered, keeps them from going completely off the deep end. At the same time, she's also the protector. She's had multiple opportunities to literally rescue her male crewmates ("War Stories," anyone?) and her stern affect keeps those who might attempt to cross Mal and the others in line.