Fifteen years ago, Firefly premiered.
And slightly under fifteen years ago, it ended.
Firefly’s cancellation remains a blot on the world of television. One of the best one-season wonders to hit the air, it was never able to capitalize on its potential, and had its plug pulled after a mere 14 episodes of its first season.
Sure, we got Serenity, a pretty good film that wrapped up the story, and there have been comic books that fill in gaps and continue the saga. But this was a TV series intended to last for seven seasons – it’s frustrating that the writers were never able get past the first.
However, I have good news. During one of my deep investigations into the unexamined side of popular culture, I stumbled across… the scripts.
Yes, that’s right. I have discovered the Holy Grail of the Browncoats. Scripts for every episode from Seasons Two through Seven – unproduced, unfilmed, and unread. Apparently, Joss Whedon and Tim Minear had written the entire series out beforehand, assuming this would force FOX to keep on renewing it. (They should have expected better from the network that had just yanked the rug out from under Dark Angel.)
Oh, some of you probably don’t believe me. Some of you folks probably think I’m writing this article just to get some clickbait-fueled attention. Well, I’ll prove that my intentions are honest. What follows now are my reviews of all the later seasons of Firefly.
(Full spoilers, obvs.)
The season starts off strong, with good follow-through from “Objects in Space.” River slowly becomes a more trusted member of the team, and we learn more about her and Simon’s backstories. Other elements later incorporated into Serenity are featured this season, including the origin of the Reavers (who play a major role in the action-filled finale) and the secrets behind the blue-gloved men. One of the best episodes is devoted almost entirely to a Book-centric flashback, detailing the story behind old Shepard. Inara returns and grapples with the pains of her controversial occupation. Simon and Kaylee get together, only for them to inevitably break up when she realizes her one true love is the ship. (It’s a lot less cheesy than it sounds.)
With the Reavers destroyed in the second-season finale, Mal turns his focus on the Alliance. To stop them, he enlists the help of Badger (with whom he shares plenty of screentime in a great bottle episode, amusingly titled “Objections in Space”) and a group of seedy renegades. This season suffers in part from a familiar “get the team together” feel, no more obvious than the arc where the Serenity team temporarily disbands (set up in an episode amusingly titled “You Can Take the Sky From Me”). But it’s compensated by the character arcs, including the emotional divorce between Wash and Zoe (she refuses to call him “her precious leaf”), and Jayne’s slow but steady reformation, which briefly results in a most unexpected romance with Kaylee. The season ends with the Alliance destroyed, but not before Badger heroically sacrifices himself by pushing the evil ship’s self-destruct button. Or… is he dead? The charred bowler hat that closes out the season may suggest otherwise.
With the Alliance gone, Niska takes center stage, becoming the new season’s Big Bad. He has become the pure embodiment of Shan-Yu, appropriating Asian culture to his own evil ends. (On the one hand, this leads to a lot of racist stereotyping; on the other hand Firefly at last features some Asian-American characters.) The season is padded out in the middle with a number of weak standalones (including “Washtown,” where the crew visits the crappy town where Wash is a hero), but revs up again for a tense final arc which pits our heroes against the actual Shan-Yu (appearing in the 26th century for reasons too complicated to list here). Kaylee falls in love with Simon in the penultimate episode with seemingly no buildup, then dies abruptly in the finale.
With the Serenity destroyed in the fourth-season finale, Mal commissions a new ship which looks exactly like the old one, and is simply dubbed “Serenity-D.” (What happened to A through C is a question that remains unanswered.) The crew gets a new mechanic named Bez, who (as we learn in another flashback episode) is the man who first brought Wash and Zoey together. Jayne has a sex-change operation and changes her name to Jayke. Jubal Early returns with no explanation and has a disturbing conversation with Bez. The season arc involves an evil Native American ship that tries to hunt down the Serenity-D. It’s thematically supposed to be “Space Cowboys vs. Space Indians,” but it’s really just kind of offensive.
The Big Bad of this season turns out to be Wash. Or… is it really Wash? Or has Wash gotten stuck in a holding dimension, allowing an evil twin to take his place? Meanwhile, River becomes a spy for the New Alliance, a job which requires her to wear a lot of sultry dresses while around the company of seedy older men. This leads to a lot of scenes where seedy older men get their limbs broken. Jayke falls in love with Mal in the penultimate episode with seemingly no buildup, then dies abruptly in the finale.
Still reeling from the death of Jayke, Mal goes on a walkabout to “find himself” in the wilderness. The entire season premiere focuses exclusively on him, with the only other character being a beach ball with a face painted on it. Wash recovers from his megalomaniacal stint (Zoey reminded him of the incident with the yellow dinosaur figurines), but worries about his place in the team. Inara spends a lot of time staring at walls. Every once in a while, something blows up. The series ends with Mal waking up next to Suzanne Pleshette, wondering if it was all a dream.
Thus ends Firefly. A shame we only ever got the first season, as there were some exciting elements in these later scripts. Perhaps someday, a Kickstarter campaign will revive the show, allowing us to experience the joys of this series in all its seven-year glory.
(What do you mean, you still don’t believe me?)