Monday, September 7, 2015

FIREFLY: Those Fuzzy, Grey Areas

Note: There’s still time to enter my blogversary giveaway, so hop on over there for a chance to win a copy of Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 (you know, if you want).

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

At first, when I came across FIREFLY, I was like, “Star Trek meets Wild West? O...okay. What could possibly go wrong?” I came into it wanting to enjoy it, but maybe not actually expecting to. And immediately the narrative swept me off my feet into the great void of space, or something dramatic like that. As evinced by my minor obsession with DOCTOR HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG and THE AVENGERS, I think it’s pretty clear Joss Whedon and I were supposed to be twins or something. Obviously.

If you’ve seen DOCTOR HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG, you might have noticed that Joss Whedon seems to have a penchant for portraying morally ambiguous characters. It’s hard to tell who’s the villain and who’s the hero, and that’s great because life is like that. Sometimes we’d like it to be easy—we’d prefer to label people as either all good or all bad and have it neat and contained like that. We’re orderly beings by nature, and we crave an orderly world complete with an orderly system of guidelines.

FIREFLY is definitely one of those grey areas.

So let’s talk about the characters.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds. As the captain of Serenity, Mal is in a position of authority. Not only is he responsible for his own behavior, he is also responsible for the lives of his crew, and it’s up to him to make sure he leads them well. Unfortunately, he has some personal issues he needs to work through—namely his history with the war and the Alliance. Because of this, he makes impulsive decisions, acts out of bitterness, and relies on himself and his wits far too often. While he may laugh and joke around like everyone else, deep down where it matters, he is an angry man.

Although we’re meant to root for him, since he’s the main character and all, we should also stop to consider that he is a smuggler and a thief. If it’s even slightly lucrative, he doesn’t hesitate to pick people’s pockets, fence stolen goods, and lie and kill when it’s necessary. Often it is. Of course, he has his own ideas of morality too. He won’t murder people in cold blood, and he’s not afraid to back out of a deal if it means protecting innocent lives. So, despite his interesting take on the law, he does have his own code, and he tends to stick to it. I’ll give him brownie points for that.

Jayne. I’m never sure whether I want to hug Jayne or hit him. True, he’s part of Serenity’s crew, and he’s loyal to a point. But the driving force that brought him to the ship in the first place—money—is what could buy him away again in a heartbeat, should he find the price tag high enough. While he experiences something resembling guilt at some of his missteps, it remains unclear whether his repentance is genuine or merely an act to convince Mal he won’t cave to greed again. It’s really a toss-up.

Zoe, Wash, and Kaylee. These are all genuinely nice people, and under normal circumstances, Zoe would probably be my hero. Whedon does such a great job of making them relatable, likeable, and believable, that it’s easy to forget they’re technically the bad guys. Considering their lives from the perspectives of those they’ve robbed, it might be a little more difficult to smile and laugh at their “life of crime” jokes. After all, villains come in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes they just look like your next-door neighbor or the class clown. (I mean, you have to watch out for the funny ones.)

Inara. Okay, I have some issues with Inara, and she’s the main reason why I’m slow to recommend this show to most people. As a Christian, I believe very strongly that sex belongs within the confines of marriage, and while it’s not my place to sit around and judge others who believe differently, I also don’t have to condone behavior I recognize as physically and emotionally harmful. That said, I do appreciate the moral questions that Inara’s character raises.

But perhaps I should tell you what she does for a living. In this futuristic society, registered whores like Inara are known as companions, and they are considered respectable, higher level members of society. Which begs the question of how that came to be. At what point, along the way, did someone decide this was not only okay, but something to be accepted and encouraged? And, before you answer that question, please take into account the despotic nature of the Alliance which allows and praises such conduct. Just something to think about.

Yes, I don’t deny that Inara has nice qualities. She sees the good in people, even when it isn’t there. She is compassionate, affectionate, and outgoing. She carries herself gracefully, with both confidence and poise. Yet no matter what her society might claim to the contrary, the life she leads comes with a heavy price tag, and Joss Whedon doesn’t leave that out of the picture. For one, I would argue she is ashamed of her job—otherwise why would she take offence when Mal calls her a whore instead of a companion? Perhaps she considers the two jobs as separate entities, or perhaps she prefers to hide behind a euphemism. Either way, we see how her hopes of a genuine romance with the captain can only ever be crushed, and though she sees herself as well-liked and well-respected, she misses the fact that her clients see her only as a tool or a plaything.

As for the other characters, Simon, River, and Shepherd Book, I’ll probably discuss them at a later date.

To Sum Up. I love so many things about FIREFLY, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s important to ask myself the question, “Does being likeable make a villain any less of a bad guy?” The crew of Serenity is cute and funny, and they mesh well together. The stories are tense and interesting, and the characters feel like real people with real problems and real hopes and dreams. Still I have to wonder if shows like FIREFLY do us a disservice by portraying a life of crime as exciting and fun, a viable option for those who would rather not be bound by society’s rules. I don’t want to undermine the fact that Mal has been deeply wounded by his experiences in the war, and that—consequently—he harbors no desire to abide by the Alliance’s laws. And I get that the popular moral spectrum has shifted in the five hundred years between now and then, leaving more and more fuzzy, grey areas. I also understand that the Alliance is not the sort of government you would want hanging over your head. But while Mal and his friends are nice, nice and good are not one and the same. And I’m not convinced we should root for devils just because they look like angels.


So now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the morality in FIREFLY Do you think it crosses too many lines—or too few? What do you think the show might be trying to say about Mal’s character? What about Inara? If you’ve watched Firefly and enjoyed it, do you think your appreciation of the show would change if Mal and his friends weren’t the main characters?


  1. This show is the besssssssssst like from September to May last year I wore my Firefly sweatshirt every day. BECAUSE THIS IS MY FAVORITE SHOW PRETTY MUCH. Like, in the trinity of favorite shows. And one of the reasons I love it is, indeed, because it is so morally ambiguous.

    I guess, for me, I fully support all of the characters because I am well aware that this is fiction and things like sex and violence and swearing on TV do not bother me. That being said, I feel like with the short first season we didn't get to really delve into the moral ambiguity as I normally would for a TV show because this was all just an introduction. We don't see them at rock bottom, ever. And okay, we do get to see that in the movie (*distant wails and sobs of grief and sadness and all the curse words ALL OF THEM I TELL YOU*) for some characters, as we do in some of the graphic novels, within the confines of the show it's hard to say exactly how morally ambiguous they really are.

    Jayne, for example, is a butt a lot of the time, but he never met his limit. He never had an ultimate choice. And so we don't know what choice he would make in that ultimate, because we never had time to expand on him.

    And, of course, I'm probably the wrong person to talk to because I love all things crime and evil, so I don't feel like it does us a disservice—but I am also not dumb or desperate enough to fall in with that crowd in real life. But I will always root for them because I find their heroism more compelling than their wrongdoing. And, in fact, if we didn't have people like them in the world, we probably wouldn't have the United States of America, etcetera.

    Anyway, things to think about.

    1. I love this comment, because you've given me something to think about. (And also, I'm super jealous about your Firefly sweatshirt, and goodness that shows dedication.) I would say it's actually one of my own trinity of favorite shows. I'm guessing for you Leverage is another, and then... what's the third one?

      I totally get what you're saying here, and this is one of the areas I'm still in flux in idealistically (if that sentence makes any sense). Sex and violence and swearing don't bother me, but on the other hand, I have to ask myself why I'm watching something with that stuff in it. I don't mind shows like Firefly because they're deep and interesting and worth thinking about. I don't think every show with stuff like that is something I'd want to watch, though. It really depends on the case. Mainly, I'm slow to recommend because I don't want someone who is bothered by sex and violence and swearing to be like, "Well, Liz is a Christian and she says it's okay", because I want people to follow their own consciences, not mine.

      But yes, the first season is far too short to do much more than introduce the characters and a little bit of what they might do under duress. And I wish they could have done so much more--I think it's one of the greatest tragedies ever that the show was canceled. (Also, I plan to review Serenity next Monday, if all goes well.)

      Jayne is such a butt. I think the only shows we ever get to delve into his character to any depth would be Jaynestown and Ariel, and I do like the glimpses we get of what drives him. But you're right, we've never seen him hit rock bottom.

      It's funny, because I sound like such a stiff, but when I'm watching Firefly, I do enjoy their heists and stuff. And I enjoy shows with crime and evil. I know that I'll root for their heroism, as you say, and find the good in them. But I tend to want to spare the innocence of other people, so to speak, so I don't often recommend stuff I like. It's weird. I'm still figuring out where I stand.

      So thanks for commenting and giving me something to think about. :)

    2. So, yes and yes, the other is Fringe produced by J.J. Abrams. It has been dead a while but it is SO GOOD.

      Mmm, yes. I think that's actually something I struggle with as a blogger because here I am like, "LOOK AT ALL THESE THINGS THAT DON'T BOTHER HEATHER ON A MORAL LEVEL" and then I realize I'm saying these things to an audience containing thirteen-year-olds. But, you're right. I mean, Game of Thrones similarly has those things in it but it is not nearly as deep, in my opinion. It is mostly emotional and not critical. And so in those cases, it is definitely good to follow your own conscience.

      It was totally a tragedy, but I am grateful they made Serenity because at least we get closure. Sort of. *still crying*

      Exactly. Like, we get that he's motivated by money, but I feel like it's such a routine affair for him. Like, he doesn't see it as betraying Mal because why would Mal care about them? He is doing something in regards to money that is probably a favor to Mal, all in. But there's never a moment where in Jayne's mind he explicitly has to betray Mal especially in regards to the job he does—maybe not even in the movie.

      *nods* You are being a catcher in the rye. And that is okay. I will just probably be the cliff that they fall off, though, because I am not very good at maintaining innocence. Ha.

    3. I haven't seen Fringe yet (or Leverage), but maybe in a few months I'll be able to tackle those.

      Yeah, I always worry about the age group of my audience, not that I mind having younger readers. But I do want to be careful that I'm being age-appropriate and all that. I agree, Game of Thrones is a little bit different, especially because I feel like a lot of the sex and violence is there for shock value, rather than to make a point or delve into an issue. But that's just my opinion.

      Yes, I'm happy about Serenity, but simultaneously I'm like, "Gah, curse you for making Serenity", so it really depends on my mood. *sobs* *mutters, "I am a leaf on the wind" over and over again*

      You make a good point about Jayne. Looking back, I can see where that could be true, especially because he's opposed to Simon and River on the grounds that they put the rest of the crew in danger. It could be argued that he's thinking mainly of himself, but he doesn't show much of an indication that he'd sell out his actual friends. I think most of his problem is that he's not hugely intelligent. Of course, I wouldn't have him any other way.

      That's actually a pretty good description of me, although maybe not to that extreme? (And I was going to say, you make a nice cliff, but then I realized that probably wouldn't come across as a compliment. *backs away* *hangs head in shame*)

  2. :/ I have not seen Firefly. *runs out to get it*

    1. Yes, yes, go--flee this bloggish space and do not return until you have enlightened yourself.

      Or, you know, you could watch it when you get the chance. It's great--I promise.

  3. I REALLY want to see this show! :D I personally adore grey areas.I think it's more realistic to life, almost, because I mean...isn't everyone the antagonist of someone's story?? I basically can't say much else because I haven't seen it. bUT YES. CONSIDER ME OFFICIALLY WANTING. XD *glares at enormous TBR* Um...someday?!

    1. You REALLY need to see this show, especially if you adore grey areas. (And the companion movie, Serenity, would be up your alley as well.) And yes, good point about everyone being an antagonist. Greyish areas make for better discussions than shows with cardboard cutout morality.

      *steals enormous TBR* *hides TBR* I will return this only once you have watched Firefly. *smiles evilly*

  4. You bring up a lot of really good points. I think one of the themes of the show is pointing out these immoral points. Since the show really wasn't finished I think these could have been addressed at a later time. For me, the show made me ponder on these points. Inara is definitely why I'm uneasy about recommending this show as well. I like her a lot, but her profession is unsavory. I do think the show brings up a lot of moral contrasts with ambiguous and more firm: Mal and Shephard Book are polar opposites. This is a neat discussion. ^ ^ All in all I really enjoy the show. It's just one of those that makes you think. :)

    1. Why thank you. *bows deeply* I think you're right about the theme thing--and I definitely think the grey areas are the point. And if the show had been allowed to finish even one season, we might have seen a deeper, richer exploration of those grey areas. I wish Joss Whedon had given that chance. :( I like Inara a lot as well, and I just want to hug her and wrap her up in a protective shield. But while I enjoy the exploration of grey areas and iffy morality, I do hesitate to recommend this show to just anyone, mainly because I can't be certain of where other people are at, both morally and emotionally. And I don't want to recommend a show that might damage someone, not that that's guaranteed to happen or anything.

      Mal and Shepherd Book are definitely polar opposites, although Book seems to have shifted somewhat when it comes to Serenity.

      Thanks for chiming in--comments are what make a discussion special. :) And I'm glad you enjoy the show. :) I agree, it's definitely the kind that gives you plenty of food for thought.

    2. I agree. I think the show didn't get to its point of fruition. I'm the same way with her. She does seem like a genuinely kind woman. I think the characters would have changed more given more time, but the show was cut before any significant arcs could be made.


      No problem. I love discussing things like this. XD I think it would have become the next Supernatural (10+ kind of deal) if the network hadn't doomed the show. It's the greatest tragedy in geekdom I believe.

    3. I really like how Inara is so compassionate. And when Kaylee is injured in the pilot show, Inara almost acts like a loving, big sister, which is really sweet. And you're right, the show didn't give them enough time for proper character arcs. For instance, I would have loved to have known for sure whether Inara and Mal would have ended up together (and how that would have worked out, considering her profession).

      Yeah, I really wish the network hadn't doomed the show, and I wish I knew what exactly happened. I mean, I don't know all the details, so I can't pass judgment or anything, but it seems like the network wanted the show to fail--what with canceling it before the first season was even finished, and making the decision to air the episodes out of order. I mean, maybe they had some legitimate reasons for that, but still... Firefly as a 10+ season deal would have been adf;lkjsafd. Like, I don't even have words for how happy I'd be. I wholeheartedly agree--it is the GREATEST tragedy in the history of most tragic blows ever dealt to poor, innocent geekdom.

    4. I agree. I believe they did deep in my heart haha. XD

      I think that's what's so nagging. The show had so much potential and now we'll never know. I don't know what the network was thinking. If I had a TARDIS I'd change that point in time haha.

    5. Me too. *sighs*

      Yeah, like, I WANT TO KNOW THE WHY. Maybe they had a good reason for what they did? But still... *whines* *runs to fetch the Doctor* *asks to borrow the TARDIS*