Expat TV Series/Movie Review: Firefly and Serenity
I’m not a big TV watcher. In fact, I almost never watch TV. But once in a while a show comes along that really catches my fancy.
My kids introduced me to Firefly, sadly after it had already been cancelled. (That’s common with shows I like, I might add.) However, Firefly still has an extremely active fan base, enough so that they convinced Universal Studios to release the movie Serenity.
I’ve just re-watched both the series and the movie on DVD, and a more inspiring group of expats, misfits and rebels would be hard to imagine. Which raises a question: are expats always misfits? I suppose it depends on what kind of expat.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds grew up on a ranch, the son of a single mother. As a young man he joined the Independents to fight in the war against the Alliance. Unlike the Evil Empire of Star Wars, the Alliance was trying to take over the galaxy under the guise of “unification” “to make everyone better.”
After the war, won by the Alliance, Mal bought himself a spaceship, a Firefly class vessel which Mal names Serenity.
Zoe fought in Mal’s platoon during the war, and joins him as First Officer. Other crew include Wash, the pilot; Jayne, a very macho mercenary; and Kaylee, genius girl mechanic.
Inara Serra, glamorous registered companion (think latter-day courtesan), rents one of the ship’s two shuttles and uses it as her home and her place of business.
The crew takes on any work they can find — some of it even legal — to keep flying and stay out of the way of the Alliance. Times get tough, so they sell passage to a handful of paying passengers and that’s where the fun really starts.
Each of the characters comes from a different place. Inara grew up on a core planet heavily controlled by the Alliance and she supported Unification.
Wash became a pilot because it was the only way he could see the stars — pollution on his home planet made them invisible.
Kaylee’s father was a mechanic on an outer planet who struggled to find enough work.
Jayne’s background is never explained, and Zoe’s life before she joined the military and met Mal is a complete mystery.
Serenity becomes their true home. On board they are free (mostly) from the long arm of the Alliance and the restricting laws, rules and society it represents and they create their own culture.
Joined by the paying passengers, the Serenity crew find their home and their way of life threatened.
Shepherd Book is a preacher with a mysterious past who is welcome for himself, but whose religious beliefs are soundly rejected by Mal.
Simon and River Tam came from a very wealthy home and Simon had left a prestigious job as trauma surgeon at one of the top hospitals in the core. His little sister, River, had been part of a special Alliance school from which Simon had rescued her, making them both fugitives.
It’s a Western Space Opera
Throughout the Firefly series, which lasted only 14 episodes, creator Joss Whedon cleverly blends elements of traditional Westerns with “space opera,” a sub-niche of science fiction.
The characters are pioneers in every sense of the word, and with the exception of Inara they stick out like proverbial sore thumbs on the few occasions when we see them in a “civilized” setting.
Mal is a paternalistic leader who expects a lot from his crew, and protects them fiercely. He lives by a strong code of ethics — criminal behavior notwithstanding — and is given to quixotic gestures that cause big problems. In the second episode, for example, he returns several cases of stolen goods after he learns they contain desperately needed medicine. In episode 10, the criminal master who had hired him for the aborted job extracts a hefty revenge.
The series and the movie take you into Mal’s world and into his family aboard Serenity. It’s a cultural microcosm, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
What kind of expat do you think Mal is? Missionary? Social? Economic Escapist? Adventurer? Weigh in by clicking the Comment link below.