American space western television series
Firefly is an American space Westerndrama television series, created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as an executive producer, along with Tim Minear. The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things."
The show explores the lives of a group of people, some of whom fought on the losing side of a civil war, who make a living on the fringes of society as part of the pioneer culture of their star system. In this future, the only two surviving superpowers, the United States and China, fused to form the central federal government, called the Alliance, resulting in the fusion of the two cultures. According to Whedon's vision, "nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today."
Firefly premiered in the U.S. on the Fox network on September 20, 2002. By mid-December, Firefly had averaged 4.7 million viewers per episode and was 98th in Nielsen ratings. It was canceled after 11 of the 14 produced episodes were aired. Despite the relatively short life span of the series, it received strong sales when it was released on DVD and has large fan support campaigns. It won a Primetime Emmy Award in 2003 for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series. TV Guide ranked the series at No. 5 on their 2013 list of 60 shows that were "Cancelled Too Soon."
The post-airing success of the show led Whedon and Universal Pictures to produce Serenity, a 2005 film which continues from the story of the series, and the Firefly franchise expanded to other media, including comics and a role-playing game.
The series takes place in the year 2517, on a variety of planets and moons. The TV series does not reveal whether these celestial bodies are within one star system, only saying that Serenity's mode of propulsion is a "gravity-drive". Re-runs start with Book or Captain Reynolds providing the following backstory:
After the Earth was used up, we found a new solar system and hundreds of new Earths were terraformed and colonized. The central planets formed the Alliance, and decided all the planets had to join under their rule. There was some disagreement on that point. After the war, many of the Independents who had fought and lost drifted to the edges of the system, far from Alliance control. Out here, people struggle to get by with the most basic technologies. A ship would bring you work. A gun would help you keep it. A captain’s goal was simple: Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying.
The film Serenity makes clear that the planets and moons are in a large system and production documents related to the film indicate that there is no faster-than-light travel in this universe. The characters occasionally refer to "Earth-that-was" and the film establishes that long before the events in the series, a large population had emigrated from Earth to a new star system in generation ships: "Earth-that-was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many". The emigrants established themselves in this new star system, with "dozens of planets and hundreds of moons" and many of these were terraformed, a process that was only the first step in making a planet habitable. The outlying settlements often did not receive any further support in the construction of their civilizations. This resulted in many of the border planets and moons having forbidding, dry environments, well-suited to the Western genre.
The show takes its name from the "Firefly-class" spaceship Serenity that the central characters call home. It resembles a firefly in general arrangement and the tail section, analogous to a bioluminescent insectoid abdomen, lights up during acceleration. The ship was named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, where Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds and Corporal Zoe Alleyne were among the survivors on the losing side. It is revealed in "Bushwhacked" that the Battle of Serenity Valley is widely considered to have sealed the fate of the Independents.
The Alliance is shown to govern the star system through an organization of "core" planets, following its success in forcibly unifying all the colonies under one government. DVD commentary suggests that the Alliance is composed of two primary "core" systems, one predominantly Western, the other pan-Asian, justifying the mixed linguistic and visual themes of the series. The central planets are firmly under Alliance control but the outlying planets and moons resemble the American Old West, under little governmental authority. Settlers and refugees on the outlying worlds have relative freedom from the central government but lack the amenities of the high-tech civilization that exists on the inner worlds. The outlying areas of space ("the black") are inhabited by the Reavers, a cannibalistic group of nomadic humans.
The captain of Serenity is Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the episode "Serenity" establishes that the captain and his first mate Zoe Washburne, née Alleyne (Gina Torres) are veteran "Browncoats" of the Unification War, a failed attempt by the outlying worlds to resist the Alliance. A later episode, "Out of Gas", reveals that Mal bought the spaceship Serenity to live beyond Alliance control. Much of the crew's work consists of cargo runs or smuggling. A main story is that of River Tam (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher). River is a child prodigy, whose brain was subjected to experiments by Alliance scientists at a secret government institution; she displays symptoms of schizophrenia and often hears voices. It is later revealed that she is a "reader", one who possesses telepathic abilities. Simon gave up a career as an eminent trauma surgeon in an Alliance hospital to rescue her and they are fugitives. In the original pilot, "Serenity", Simon joins the crew as a paying passenger with River smuggled on board as cargo. As Whedon states in an episode DVD commentary, every show he does is about creating family. By the last episode, "Objects in Space", the fractured character of River has finally become whole, partly because the others decided to accept her into their "family" on the ship.
Signature show elements
The show blends elements from the space opera and Western genres, depicting humanity's future in a manner different from most contemporary science fiction programs in that there are no large space battles. Firefly takes place in a multi-social future, primarily a fusion of Western and East Asian societies, where there is gross class inequality. As a result of the Sino-American Alliance, Mandarin Chinese is a common second language; it is used in advertisements and characters in the show frequently curse in Chinese. According to the DVD commentary on the episode "Serenity", this was explained as the result of China and the United States being the two superpowers that expanded into space.
The show features slang not used in contemporary culture, such as adaptations of modern words, or new words. "Shiny" is frequently used in a manner similar to the real world slang "cool" and "gorram" is used as a mild swear word. Written and spoken Chinese as well as Old West dialect are also employed. As one reviewer noted: "The dialogue tended to be a bizarre purée of wisecracks, old-timey Western-paperback patois, and snatches of Chinese".
Tim Minear and Joss Whedon pointed out two scenes that, they believed, articulated the mood of the show exceptionally clearly. One scene is in the original pilot "Serenity", when Mal is eating with chopsticks and a Western tin cup is by his plate; the other is in "The Train Job" pilot, when Mal is thrown out of a holographic bar window. The DVD set's "making-of" documentary explains the distinctive frontispiece of the series (wherein Serenity soars over a herd of horses) as Whedon's attempt to capture "everything you need to understand about the series in five seconds".
One of the struggles that Whedon had with Fox was the tone of the show, especially with the main character Malcolm Reynolds. Fox pressured Whedon to make Mal more "jolly", as they feared he was too dark in the original pilot, epitomized by the moment he suggests he might "space" Simon and River, throwing them out of the airlock. Fox was not happy that the show involved the "nobodies" who "get squished by policy" instead of the actual policy makers.
Firefly maintained an ensemble cast that portrayed nine crew members and passengers of the ship, Serenity. These characters fight criminals and schemers, Alliance security forces, the utterly psychotic and brutal Reavers, and the mysterious men with "hands of blue"—who are apparently operatives of a secret agency which is part of the megacorporation referred to in the DVD commentary only as The Blue Sun Corporation. The crew is driven by the need to secure enough income to keep their ship operational, set against their need to keep a low profile to avoid their adversaries. Their situation is greatly complicated by the divergent motivations of the individuals on board Serenity, but complex characterization was hampered by the show's brief run.
All nine of the main characters appeared in every episode, with the exception of "Ariel", from which Book is absent.
- Nathan Fillion as Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds – the owner and captain of Serenity and former Independent sergeant in the pivotal Battle of Serenity Valley. Malcolm grew up on a ranch, and was raised by his mother and the ranch hands. In the Unification War, he fought as a platoon sergeant in the 57th Overlanders of the Independent Army, the "Browncoats". He is cunning, a capable leader and a skilled fighter. Mal's main motivation is his will for independence. While he is not above petty theft, smuggling or even killing to maintain his free lifestyle, he is generally honest in his dealings with others, fiercely loyal to his crew and closely follows a personal moral code. He is openly antagonistic toward religion as a result of his war experience.
- Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne – second-in-command onboard Serenity, a loyal wartime friend of Captain Reynolds, and Wash's wife. Her surname during the Unification War was Alleyne. She was born and raised on a ship and served under Mal during the war as a corporal. Described by her husband as a "warrior woman", she is a capable fighter who keeps calm even in the most dangerous situations. She demonstrates an almost unconditional loyalty to Mal, the only exception noted being her marriage to Wash, which the captain claims was against his orders.
- Alan Tudyk as Hoban "Wash" Washburne – Serenity's pilot and Zoe's husband. Deeply in love with his wife, Wash expresses jealousy over his wife's "war buddy" relationship and unconditional support of their captain, most particularly in the episode "War Stories", in which he confronts Mal, even as they are being tortured by a dissatisfied customer. He joined pilot training just to see the stars, which were invisible from the surface of his polluted homeworld, and he joined Serenity despite being highly sought after by other ships. He is light-hearted and tends to make amusing comments, despite the severity of any situation.
- Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra – a Companion, which is the 26th century cross between a geisha and an escort or mistress, who rents one of Serenity's two small shuttles. Inara enjoys high social standing. Her presence confers a degree of legitimacy and social acceptance the crew of Serenity would not have without her on board. Inara displays great dignity, civility and compassion. There is strong romantic tension between her and Mal, who share many character traits, but each jokingly objects to the other's work as "whoring" or "petty theft", respectively. Both refuse to act on their feelings and try to keep their relationship professional.
- Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb – a mercenary. He and Mal met when they were on opposite sides of a dispute; Mal, while held at gunpoint, offered Jayne his own bunk and a higher cut than his current employer, so Jayne switched sides and shot his then-partners. In the original pilot, "Serenity", he intimates to Mal that he did not betray him because "The money wasn't good enough." However, previously he had pointedly asked the Alliance agent whether he would be required to turn on the captain to help him, and in "Ariel" defends his actions in alerting the authorities regarding Simon and River by claiming he had not intended to betray Mal. He is someone who can be depended on in a fight. He tends to act like a "lummox" who thinks he is the smartest person in space, but occasional hints of intelligence peek through this façade, giving the impression that he acts dumber than he is. As Whedon states several times, Jayne is the man who will ask the questions that no one else wants to. Even though he is a macho character, he has shown a particularly intense fear of Reavers, more so than the rest of the crew. Despite his amoral mercenary persona, he sends a significant portion of his income to his mother, again suggesting that there is more to his character than what he presents to the rest of the crew.
- Jewel Staite as Kaywinnet Lee "Kaylee" Frye – the ship's mechanic. In the episode "Out of Gas", it is established that she has no formal training, but keeps Serenity running with an intuitive gift for the workings of mechanical equipment. Jewel Staite explains Kaylee's character as being wholesome, sweet, and "completely genuine in that sweetness", adding "She loves being on that ship. She loves all of those people. And she is the only one who loves all of them incredibly genuinely." She has a crush on Simon Tam. Kaylee is the heart of the ship: according to creator Joss Whedon, if Kaylee believes something, it is true.
- Sean Maher as Simon Tam – a trauma surgeon of the first caliber (top 3% in his class at a top core-planet institution), who is on the run after breaking his sister River out of a government research facility. In the episode "Safe", it is revealed that he and River had a privileged upbringing with access to the best education. In rescuing River over his stern father's severe objections, Simon sacrificed a highly successful future in medicine. His bumbling attempts at a romantic relationship with Kaylee are a recurring subplot throughout the series, and at every turn he seems to find a way to unwittingly foil his own attempts at romance. His life is defined by caring for his sister.
- Summer Glau as River Tam – smuggled onto the ship by her brother. She is a highly intelligent, compassionate and intuitive child prodigy. Experiments and invasive brain surgery at an Alliance secret facility left her delusional, paranoid, and at times violent, though her uncanny ability to seemingly sense things before they happen leaves questions as to where the delusions end and reality begins for her. The experiments seemed to have made her a psychic. The experiments also gave her a seemingly innate ability in hand-to-hand combat, and she is capable of killing or incapacitating several opponents with ease. She gets frequent fits of anxiety and experiences post-traumatic flashbacks of her time in the Alliance facility. Her mental instability and uncanny abilities, paired with several erratic and violent acts, are a recurring source of fear and doubt among the crew, especially with Jayne, whom she once slashed with a knife. Jayne frequently requests that River and Simon be taken off the ship.
- Ron Glass as Derrial Book – a Shepherd (equivalent to a pastor). Although presented as a devout Christian, Book has profound, unexplained knowledge about criminal activities, police corruption, and military strategy, tactics, and weapons. In "Safe", he was shown to have sufficient status in the Alliance to receive emergency medical treatment from an Alliance ship, with no questions asked. He is also proficient in hand-to-hand combat and the use of firearms. While objecting to violence most of the time, on a rescue mission he joins the fight, stating that while the Bible is quite specific about killing, it is "somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps". Book is a moral guide for Mal and the rest of the crew, a voice of reason, conscience and spirituality. At the same time, he seems to get along well with the amoral mercenary Jayne, with the two spotting each other while working out using a bench press. His hidden backstory would have been gradually revealed, had the series continued, but was instead explored in the 2010 comic book The Shepherd's Tale.
Despite the series' short run, several recurring characters emerged from the inhabitants of the Firefly universe:
- Mark Sheppard as Badger – an established smuggling middleman on the planet Persephone. He provided jobs for Serenity on at least two occasions. In the DVD commentary for the episode "Serenity", it was revealed that this part was originally written with the intention of Whedon himself playing the part. Badger appeared in the original pilot "Serenity" and in "Shindig", with a return in the comic book series Serenity: Those Left Behind.
- Michael Fairman as Adelai Niska – a criminal kingpin who has a reputation for violent reprisals, including severe, prolonged torture, against those who fail him or even irritate him. He appeared in "The Train Job" and "War Stories".
- Christina Hendricks as "Saffron" – a con artist whose real name is unknown. She first appeared in the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" as Mal's involuntarily acquired wife. She has a habit of marrying her marks during her scams. She returns in episode "Trash", where Mal jokingly addresses her as "YoSaffBridge", from the three of her aliases known within the show: "Yolanda", "Saffron", and "Bridget".
- Jeff Ricketts and Dennis Cockrum as "The Hands of Blue" – two anonymous men wearing suits and blue gloves who pursue River, apparently to return her to the institute from which she escaped, as shown in "The Train Job", "Ariel", and the Serenity: Those Left Behind comic. They kill anyone, including Alliance personnel, who had contact with her, using a mysterious hand-held device that causes fatal hemorrhaging in anyone at whom it is aimed. River, during anxiety attacks or psychological meltdowns, has repeated the phrase "Two by two/hands of blue" in a way that resembles poetic meter. This suggests that River has had close experience(s) with them.
|No. ||Title ||Directed by||Written by ||Original air date ||Prod.|
|1||"Serenity"||Joss Whedon||Joss Whedon||December 20, 2002 (2002-12-20)||1AGE79|
| Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and his crew aboard Serenity illegally salvage goods from a derelict ship. Because the goods are marked by the Alliance and an Alliance ship spotted an obsolete Firefly-class freighter leaving the scene, Mal's fence Badger refuses to handle the goods. Mal has to sell elsewhere. To make extra money, the crew picks up passengers: Shepherd Book, Simon Tam and Lawrence Dobson. En route to the new buyer, Patience, Dobson turns out to be an undercover Alliance agent tracking Simon. Dobson attempts to arrest Simon but is taken prisoner. Simon reveals that his genius sister River Tam, hidden in his luggage, was experimented on by the Alliance and that he is trying to smuggle her to safety. Patience tries to rob Mal but he takes the payment after a shootout. Lawrence escapes and holds River hostage but Mal shoots him and offers Simon and River haven aboard Serenity.|
|2||"The Train Job"||Joss Whedon||Joss Whedon & Tim Minear||September 20, 2002 (2002-09-20)||1AGE01|
| Crime lord Adelai Niska hires the crew to rob a train of unspecified goods. The crew is able to transfer the goods to Serenity flying above, but Mal and Zoe Washburne are forced to stay behind on the train. They learn that they have stolen medicine desperately needed by the locals. The crew argue whether they should deliver the goods to Niska. Ultimately, they decide to rescue Mal and Zoe first through subterfuge. Mal decides to return the medicine. However, Niska's thugs track them down. After killing some of them and capturing the rest, Mal and Zoe take the medicine to those in need of it and refund Niska's money.|
|3||"Bushwhacked"||Tim Minear||Tim Minear||September 27, 2002 (2002-09-27)||1AGE02|
| The crew discover a derelict ship that was attacked by Reavers and takes aboard the sole survivor (Branden R. Morgan). Shortly after, an Alliance cruiser orders Serenity to dock to it. Simon and River hide to avoid capture. The rest of the crew are interrogated. Refusing to believe in the existence of Reavers, the Alliance's Commander Harken (Doug Savant) decides that the crew will be charged with attacking the ship and murdering its settler passengers. However, the survivor kills some of the Alliance crew and escapes back to Serenity. Mal convinces Harken to let him help find the survivor. Mal kills the survivor, saving Harken's life in the process, and the crew is released.|
|4||"Shindig"||Vern Gillum||Jane Espenson||November 1, 2002 (2002-11-01)||1AGE03|
|Inara Serra is hired by Atherton Wing, one of her regular clients, and accompanies him to a formal dance. Badger hires Mal to meet a contact at the same dance and try to set up a smuggling job. When Mal hits Atherton for the way he treats Inara, Mal finds he has unknowingly challenged Atherton to a duel with swords. Atherton is a skilled swordsman and duelist. Inara tries to teach Mal how to use a sword overnight. Despite all expectations, Mal wins the duel. The contact, who personally dislikes Atherton, agrees to hire the crew to smuggle cattle to the Rim.|
|5||"Safe"||Michael Grossman||Drew Z. Greenberg||November 8, 2002 (2002-11-08)||1AGE04|
| The crew delivers cattle to the Rim, but Book is gravely injured when they are stuck in the middle of a shootout. At the same time, Simon and River Tam are kidnapped by locals while sightseeing in town. Mal chooses to leave the Tams behind to seek help for Book. Desperate, they turn to an Alliance ship. At first hostile, the Alliance officer they speak to provides medical aid after seeing Book's ID. Meanwhile, the kidnappers belong to a community in desperate need of a real doctor, and Simon tentatively hopes he has found a haven for himself and River. However, the religious residents come to believe River is a witch and attempt to burn her at the stake. Serenity returns just in time to rescue the siblings. When Simon asks Mal why he came back, the captain tells Simon that he and River are part of the crew.|
|6||"Our Mrs. Reynolds"||Vondie Curtis Hall||Joss Whedon||October 4, 2002 (2002-10-04)||1AGE05|
| After completing a job for a small settlement, during the ensuing celebration, Mal learns that he inadvertently married a young woman called Saffron, part of the payment. Although Mal insists they are not married, Saffron is determined to fulfill the role of a subservient wife. Saffron is not what she appears to be, however. She later knocks Mal out, locks the ship into a course for murderous ship scrappers, and flees in a shuttle. The crew barely escapes.|
|7||"Jaynestown"||Marita Grabiak||Ben Edlund||October 18, 2002 (2002-10-18)||1AGE06|
| The crew lands on a planet to meet a contact. Although Jayne Cobb insists he is wanted there, they are dumbfounded to learn that he is revered by the locals as a folk hero. Mal attempts to use Jayne's status as a distraction to move smuggled goods across town. However, Magistrate Higgins releases Jayne's former accomplice Stitch Hessian, whom Jayne abandoned years ago during a botched robbery and now seeks revenge. Stitch publicly confronts Jayne, revealing what the townspeople believe happened to be false. Stitch shoots, but a villager jumps in front of Jayne and dies. Jayne kills Stitch and urges the townspeople to stop viewing him as a hero. Serenity is "land-locked" at Higgins' order to try to capture Jayne. Higgins' 26-year-old son Fess (Zachary Kranzler), encouraged by Inara to stand up for himself after he loses his virginity to her, as paid for by Higgins, orders the unlocking of the ship, and Serenity departs.|
|8||"Out of Gas"||David Solomon||Tim Minear||October 25, 2002 (2002-10-25)||1AGE07|
| An explosion in the engine room leaves Serenity with the engine and the life support system and its backup all out of commission. With only a few hours of oxygen left, Mal has the crew leave in the two shuttles while he remains aboard and hopes to contact a passing ship. In a series of flashbacks, Mal convinces Zoe, Jayne, Inara, Hoban Washburne, and Kaylee Frye to join his crew. Back in the present, Mal is able to hail a ship and secure the part needed to fix the engine, though he is shot by another crew when they prove to have less than pure motives. Mal's crew returns to Serenity in time to save his life.|
|9||"Ariel"||Allan Kroeker||Jose Molina||November 15, 2002 (2002-11-15)||1AGE08|
| While waiting on the Core planet Ariel, Simon hires the crew to help him smuggle River into a local hospital for a thorough diagnostic. In return, he will tell them how to loot the hospital for valuable medicine. Once inside, Jayne attempts to turn in Simon and River for the reward. However, the Alliance officer arrests Jayne as well in order to keep the bounty for himself. The crew escapes, but Mal realizes that Jayne betrayed Simon and River. Mal arranges for Jayne to suffocate when Serenity leaves the planet's atmosphere, but then lets him live.|
|10||"War Stories"||James Contner||Cheryl Cain||December 6, 2002 (2002-12-06)||1AGE09|
| Angry that Zoe and Mal have an unshakeable bond as war veterans, her husband Wash demands to take her place on a seemingly routine mission. Mal begrudgingly allows Wash to go along. They are captured by Niska, out to restore his reputation after they failed to complete the robbery he commissioned in "The Train Job". Zoe has only enough money to ransom one of them. She unhesitatingly chooses Wash. The crew band together to rescue Mal.|
|11||"Trash"||Vern Gillum||Ben Edlund & Jose Molina||July 21, 2003 (2003-07-21) (UK)||1AGE12|
| When Saffron crosses paths with Mal again, she asks him to help her rob an extremely valuable antique weapon from a wealthy man. Once Mal and Saffron are inside, they are discovered, and it is revealed that the man is married to Saffron. Although the man seems initially oblivious, he is aware of Saffron's true nature and called the authorities. Mal and Saffron escape, but Saffron betrays Mal, stranding him naked in the desert, and tries to pick up the weapon. However, Inara gets there first. She leaves Saffron locked up in a storage container for the authorities, and the crew escapes with the weapon.|
|12||"The Message"||Tim Minear||Joss Whedon & Tim Minear||July 28, 2003 (2003-07-28) (UK)||1AGE13|
| Mal and Zoe receive in the mail the body of Tracey, a comrade-in-arms who fought with them at the Battle of Serenity Valley, and they attempt to honor his recorded wish to be returned home. However, a corrupt Alliance officer demands they turn over the body and the goods the soldier was smuggling. While searching the body for clues, they learn that Tracey is still alive and is smuggling organs. Tracey had double crossed his employers, but they killed his new buyer. Mal is ultimately forced to kill him to protect the crew, and Book blackmails the officer into leaving. Mal and Zoe take Tracey's body home to his family.|
|13||"Heart of Gold"||Thomas J. Wright||Brett Matthews||August 4, 2003 (2003-08-04) (UK)||1AGE10|
| Nandi, Inara's friend and a former Companion, asks her for help: she needs to defend her brothel from Ranse Burgess, a powerful man who impregnated Petaline, one of her employees. He is determined to take the baby once it is born. Mal and Nandi have sex the night before the battle; when Inara finds out, she is deeply hurt. The crew successfully defends the brothel, but Burgess kills Nandi before being captured. Petaline shows Burgess his newborn son, then shoots him. Afterward, Inara tells Mal that she has decided to leave the ship.|
|14||"Objects in Space"||Joss Whedon||Joss Whedon||December 13, 2002 (2002-12-13)||1AGE11|
| River picks up a gun she finds in the cargo bay (which she sees as a tree branch), frightening the crew into wondering if she is too dangerous to be let loose. Bounty hunterJubal Early sneaks aboard the ship in flight, incapacitates some of the crew and captures Simon. River agrees to go with Early in exchange for leaving her brother and the ship in peace. However, she orchestrates a plan to dispose of Early. Mal confirms her place as a member of the crew.|
Whedon developed the concept for the show after reading The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara chronicling the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. He wanted to follow people who had fought on the losing side of a war, their experiences afterwards as pioneers and immigrants on the outskirts of civilization, much like the post-American Civil War era of Reconstruction and the American Old West. He intended the show to be "a Stagecoach kind of drama with a lot of people trying to figure out their lives in a bleak pioneer environment". Whedon wanted to develop a show about the tactile nature of life, a show where existence was more physical and more difficult. Whedon also read a book about Jewish partisan fighters in World War II. Whedon wanted to create something for television that was more character-driven and gritty than most modern science fiction. Television science fiction, he felt, had become too pristine and rarefied. Whedon wanted to give the show a name that indicated movement and power and felt that "Firefly" had both. This powerful word's relatively insignificant meaning, Whedon felt, added to its allure. He eventually created a ship in the image of a firefly.
During filming of the pilot episode, Whedon was still arguing with Fox that the show should be displayed in widescreen format. Whedon filmed scenes with actors on the edge of both sides so that they could only be shown in widescreen. This led to a few scenes on the DVD (and later Blu-ray) where objects or setups that were not visible in the original 4:3 broadcasts were displayed—such as the scene in the pilot where Wash mimes controlling the ship with a non-existent yoke. The pilot was rejected by the Fox executives, who felt that it lacked action and that the captain was too "dour". They also disliked a scene in which the crew backed down to a crime boss, since the scene implied the crew was "being nothing". Fox told Whedon on a Friday afternoon that he had to submit a new pilot script on Monday morning or the show would not be picked up. Whedon and Tim Minear closeted themselves for the weekend to write what became the new pilot, "The Train Job". At the direction of Fox, they added "larger than life" characters such as the henchman "Crow" and the "hands of blue" men, who also introduced an X-Files-type ending.
For the new pilot, Fox made it clear that they would not air the episodes in widescreen. Whedon and company felt they had to "serve two masters" by filming widescreen for eventual DVD release but keeping objects in frame so it could still work when aired in pan and scanfull frame. To obtain an immersive and immediate feel, the episodes were filmed in a documentary style with hand-held cameras, giving them the look of "found footage", with deliberately mis-framed and out-of-focus subjects. As Whedon related: "...don't be arch, don't be sweeping—be found, be rough and tumble and docu[mentary] and you-are-there".Computer-generated scenes mimicked the motion of a hand-held camera; the style was not used when shooting scenes that involved the central government, the Alliance. Tracking and steady cameras were used to show the sterility of this aspect of the Firefly universe. Another style employed was lens flares harking back to 1970s television. This style was so desired that the director of photography, David Boyd, sent back the cutting-edge lenses which reduced lens flare in exchange for cheaper ones. Unlike other science fiction shows which add sound to space scenes for dramatic effect, Firefly portrays space as silent, because sounds cannot be transmitted in the vacuum of space.
The spacecraft Serenity was digitally rendered by special effects house Zoic Studios. The shape was inspired by the shape of the firefly insect, and its tail section lights up in imitation of it.
Production designer Carey Meyer built the ship Serenity in two parts (one for each level) as a complete set with ceilings and practical lighting installed as part of the set that the cameras could use along with moveable parts. The two-part set also allowed the second unit to shoot in one section while the actors and first unit worked undisturbed in the other. As Whedon recalled: "...you could pull it away or move something huge, so that you could get in and around everything. That meant the environment worked for us and there weren't a lot of adjustments that needed to be made". There were other benefits to this set design. One was that it allowed the viewers to feel they were really in a ship. For Whedon, the design of the ship was crucial in defining the known space for the viewer and that there were not "fourteen hundred decks and a holodeck and an all-you-can-eat buffet in the back". He wanted to convey that it was utilitarian and that it was "beat-up but lived-in and ultimately, it was home". Each room represented a feeling or character, usually conveyed by the paint color. He explains that as you move from the back of the ship in the engine room, toward the front of the ship to the bridge, the colors and mood progress from extremely warm to cooler. Besides evoking a mood associated with the character who spends the most time in each area, the color scheme also alludes to the heat generated in the tail of the ship. Whedon was also keen on using vertical space; having the crew quarters accessible by ladder was important. Another benefit of the set design was that it also allowed the actors to stay in the moment and interact, without having to stop after each shot and set up for the next. This helped contribute to the documentary style Whedon strove for.
The set had several influences, including the sliding doors and tiny cubicles reminiscent of Japanese hotels. Artist Larry Dixon has noted that the cargo bay walls are "reminiscent of interlaced, overlapping Asian designs, cleverly reminding us of the American-Chinese Alliance setting while artistically forming a patterned plane for background scale reference". Dixon has also remarked on how the set design contributed to the storytelling through the use of color, depth and composition, lighting, as well as its use of diagonals and patterned shadows.
Their small budget was another reason to use the ship for much of the storytelling. When the characters did go off the ship, the worlds all had Earth atmosphere and coloring because they could not afford to design alien worlds. "I didn't want to go to Yucca Flats every other episode and transform it into Bizarro World by making the sky orange", recalled Whedon. As Meyer recalled: "I think in the end the feel was that we wound up using a lot of places or exteriors that just felt too Western and we didn't necessarily want to go that way; but at some point, it just became the lesser of two evils—what could we actually create in three days?"
Greg Edmonson composed the musical score for the series. He stated that he wrote for the emotion of the moment. A reviewer averred that he also wrote for the characters, stating: "Edmonson has developed a specialized collection of musical symbolism for the series". To help illustrate the collection, the reviewer gave leitmotifs, or "signatures", various names, noting that "Serenity" recalls the theme of the show and is used when they return to the ship, or when they were meeting in secret; it was "the sound of their home". The slide guitar and fiddle used in this piece are portable instruments which fit the lifestyle of the crew: "the music they make calls up tunes played out in the open, by people who were hundreds of miles away yesterday. 'Serenity' conjures the nomadic lifestyle the crew leads and underlines the western aspect of the show." Another emotional signature was "Sad Violin" used at the end of the Battle of Serenity Valley but also to set up the joke when Mal tells Simon that Kaylee is dead in the episode "Serenity". The most memorable use of "Sad Violin" is at the end of "The Message", when the crew mourned the death of Tracey. This was also the last scene of the last episode the actors shot and so this was seen by them and Edmonson, as Firefly's farewell. To denote danger, "Peril" was used, which is "a low pulse, like a heartbeat, with deep chimes and low strings". The reviewer also noted character signatures. The criminal Niska has a signature: Eastern European or Middle Eastern melodies over a low drone. Simon and River's signature was a piano played sparsely with a violin in the background. This is in contrast to the portable instruments of "Serenity": the piano is an instrument that cannot be easily moved and evokes the image of "the distant house and family they both long for". The signatures were mostly established in the first pilot, "Serenity" and helped enhance the narrative.
In every episode, the musical score intensified my experience of this intelligent, remarkable show. Using and combining all these signatures, Greg Edmonson brought out aspects of Firefly's story and characters that were never explicitly revealed in the other elements of the series.
Whedon's use of music in his television shows has been regarded as 'filmic', in that he has been argued to use it to remind viewers at 'pivotal moments' of earlier events, resulting in a tighter continuity throughout the season.
The musical score expressed the social fusion depicted in the show. Cowboy guitar blended with Asian influence produced the atmospheric background for the series. As one reviewer stated:
Old music from the future—the music of roaring campfires and racous [sic] cowboys mixed with the warm, pensive sounds of Asian culture and, occasionally, a cold imperial trumpet, heralding the ominous structural presence of a domineering government. Completely thrilling.
The show's theme song, "The Ballad of Serenity", was written by Joss Whedon and performed by Sonny Rhodes. Whedon wrote the song before the series was greenlit and a preliminary recording performed by Whedon can be found on the DVD release. The soundtrack to the series was released on CD on November 8, 2005, by Varèse Sarabande, although a 40-minute soundtrack was released by Fox Music in September 2005 as a digital EP. "The Ballad of Serenity" was used by NASA as the wake-up song for astronaut Robert L. Behnken and the other crewmembers of STS-130 on February 12, 2010.
|1.||"Firefly — Main Title"||0:52|
|2.||"Big Bar Fight" (from "The Train Job")||1:56|
|3.||"Heart of Gold Montage" (from "Heart of Gold")||2:10|
|4.||"Whitefall/Book" (from "Serenity", "The Message")||2:20|
|5.||"Early Takes Serenity" (from "Objects in Space")||2:36|
|6.||"The Funeral" (from "The Message")||2:36|
|7.||"River's Perception/Saffron" (from "Objects in Space", "Our Mrs. Reynolds")||2:14|
|8.||"Mal Fights Niska/Back Home" (from "War Stories", "Shindig")||1:54|
|9.||"River Tricks Early" (from "Objects in Space")||3:30|
|10.||"River Understands Simon" (from "Safe")||2:04|
|11.||"Leaving/Caper/Spaceball" (from "Trash", "Objects in Space", "Bushwhacked")||2:39|
|12.||"River's Afraid/Niska/Torture" (from "Ariel", "The Train Job", "War Stories")||3:21|
|13.||"In My Bunk/Jayne's Statue/Boom" (from "War Stories", "Jaynestown", "Bushwhacked")||2:28|
|14.||"Inara's Suite" (from "The Train Job", "Serenity", "War Stories")||3:29|
|15.||"Out of Gas/Empty Derelict" (from "Out of Gas", "Bushwhacked")|