I know it’s out-of-date, I know the show has been finished since before I graduated. But I know, too, the bitterness will never end. So here it is in a neat little package, why I still re-watch Firefly.
1. It’s shiny.
2. Joss Whedon is awesome.
3. Psychopathic, super intelligent, weapon wielding young woman? Um, hell yea, what’s not to love?
Seriously, though, there are some progressive issues Firefly brought to the table for both men and women characters. I will focus on the female characters, but how the male characters are portrayed is very important, too. Joss Whedon has a colorful history of writing stories incorporating strong females. When an interviewer once asked him why he continued to write strong female characters he replied, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” (Yes, I fangirl over a writer, guilty as charged). This is clearly evidenced in Firefly. On Her Story Arc’s Scale of Inclusivity, I would rate Firefly 15/15 (and trust me, I’m not easy to please when it comes to shows or movies).
Here’s a quick run down of the characters:
Kaylee: She knows everything there is to know about mechanics (without really having studied). She is often depicted in grime, oil and sweat, but don’t be misled. Kailey still enjoys frills, girly things and sexual freedom. She often spends her time with Inara, inquiring about her job and asking advice.
Inara: A revolutionary take on prostitution, Whedon depicts Inara as an “Ambassador” who chooses her clients. These Ambassadors are well-trained and certified (more like Geishas) to entertain in the ways of love and socialization. Not only is Inara beautiful, but she is an excellent swordswoman, level-headed and caring.
Zoe: The Lieutenant to Captain Malcolm, Zoe is a soldier at heart. She takes orders and often does not push back, understanding and trusting her Captain. However, Zoe is a strong-willed, independent-minded woman. Not even her husband can push her to go against that which she believes. When necessary, she will make her voice heard. And don’t get in the way of her aim.
River: A young woman taken by the state for experiments, River is an enigma. Slight in stature and soft-spoken, her misconstrued ramblings scare the crew. However, she comes to the rescue with her super intelligence and grace, assets that far outrank her older brother.
Not offensive to women = 1 pt
The story was not offensive to women because it incorporated different personalities that most women can identify with, limited violence towards women, and demonstrated they are within their power to change their circumstances. There were violent scenes, but the violence towards the female characters was limited to the same violence towards the male characters (i.e. n/a on the sexual violence). Sexual violence bothers me because the visuals cause very strong, emotional reactions, but occasional violence (we’re not talking Saw here people) is not a big deal to me as it creates necessary tension. Interactions between female characters were frequent and realistic. Talk of relationships was kept to a bare minimum and instead women spoke more about their ideas and weighed in on decisions.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
The main protagonist was a male, Captain Malcolm Reynolds. However, his supporting Lieutenant was a strong-willed woman, Zoe. Furthermore, many of the supporting characters were female as noted above.
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
As mentioned above, there were more than two women in the show who spoke to each other on multiple occasions and it was not about men. Well, this was Whedon we’re talking about, so of course they’re not obsessing over their next crush. These women had some rebelling to do!
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
Uh, hello, Western meets space meets Asian culture, how is that NOT entertaining? The main intrigue and engagement involved River and what happened to her. Not only was this suspenseful for the watcher, it focused on a brilliant, female prodigy who, throughout the series, seemed to be helpless without her “dumber” brother, Simon. Until the end, when the crew was cornered and only River could save them all.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
Firefly met, and in my opinion, exceeded the expectations of Above and Beyond General Media. This was because women throughout the series have almost equal face time and representation. As you plow through the series (and I hope to make yet another convert), you will find that all the characters do not stay one dimensional. In the small time frame of 14 episodes and a movie sequel, Whedon accomplished what many writers and producers fail to do over years: create unique characters that grow as the story unfolds. Zoe grew from a loyal Lieutenant to one that questioned her Captain and voiced her opinions. Kaylee grew from her innocent, unimposing self and became more determined to do things for herself and stand up for what she wanted. Inara demonstrated her confidence in her profession and the respect it brought to the crew eventually becoming more involved with the group’s purpose. River gradually became functional as the story progresses and was their savior.
Each female character is her own individual and ergo brings individual assets that are essential to the function of the crew. Firefly is a brilliant representation of diverse female characters and I can only hope it will eventually inspire other producers. And it’s shiny! So go watch and remember: they can’t take the sky from you.