Firefly: Complete Series (2002), Joss Whedon’s short-lived foray into sci-fi television, was (purposely or not) sabotaged by Fox when it finally premiered on network TV. The 14 episodes (that’s counting the movie-length pilot as a single episode) were rearranged by the network brain trust, completely disrupting the carefully constructed narrative that he wove through the episodes and making the character behavior inconsistent.
Put back in its intended order, beginning with the original pilot (it was dumped late into the season because the network feared it didn’t have enough action – how little they understood the attraction to Whedon’s shows), the series proves not just superb, but arguably Whedon’s best series. It is certainly his only original show that was so clearly and fully established from the beginning.
Darker, moodier, and filled with an electrified tension between the crew and their new passengers, the pilot episode “Serenity” (which was picked up as the title of the later feature film spin-off) makes a far better introduction to the series on all levels. It establishes not merely their present circumstances but the past war that has turned Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) into a suspicious, emotionally leathery man whose only duty is to the crew he comes to think of as family. The wounded loser of a civil war, he’s fled to the edges of the authoritarian empire in a cargo ship where he and his crew survive in the fringes of the law. They’re not picky about their cargo, only the price and the risk.
And note the terrific cast: Gina Torres as his second-in-command Zoë; Alan Tudyk as as Wash, the ship’s pilot and Zoë’s husband; Morena Baccarin as Inara, a professional escort in a culture where it’s actually a respectable trade; Adam Baldwin as the crew’s most mercenary and least trustworthy member Jayne; and Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, and Ron Glass filling out the crew. Pre-Mad Men Christina Hendricks is memorable in two episodes.
The handheld camera and on-the-fly looseness (even in special effects scenes) gives this show a feeling of roughness that matches the frontier flavor. Whedon called it a western in space and it is an apt description, not merely for the overt details (the scrub planets and roughhewn human outposts) but for the rugged, worn mechanics of the technology that appears to be endlessly recycled. No utopian existence here.
The three unaired episodes are among the best of the series, highlighted by a betrayal that cuts to the quick of Mal’s unbending loyalty and spurs his sense of hard justice, and while the final episode that Whedon produced before the show was cancelled was never meant as a finale, it ends the show with a powerful moment of reconciliation and community.
This is one show that you can binge watch in its entirety over the holidays without turning into a hermit.
The story was picked up for one last adventure in the big screen features Serenity.
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Firefly: The Complete Series [DVD]
Firefly: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]