When thinking about Joss Whedon’s cancelled series Firefly, I find it hard not to be reminded of J. Michael Strazynski’s Crusade. Both went for about half a season before getting dumped. Both had to come up with new first episodes to satisfy their studio. Both had a roguish, moody captain. Both tried doing the whole “no sound in space” thing accurately. Both have people occasionally strutting around in uniforms that make them look like bellhops.

There’s a difference, of course, in that Firefly doesn’t suck.[ftn]

There were two theories you could draw from the gradual decline of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One was that Whedon and his crew were running out of ideas. The other was that they were running out of ideas that could be done in the Buffy format. On watching the intended first episode of Firefly, ‘Serenity’, it becomes clear that only the latter was true. Like any good first episode should be, ‘Serenity’ is packed to the gills with fresh plotting and good characters.

Captain Mal Reynolds helps a ship known as Serenity, leading a band of criminals about a universe regulated by the cold arm of the Alliance. Reynolds was on the losing side of the civil war that granted the Alliance this dominance, and is suitably embittered. In the first episode, the crew take on some new passengers, and find themselves desperately trying to unload wanted cargo for cash — while avoiding the dangers of both the Alliance and the Reavers.

The Reavers are not, however, any creepy kind of alien race. While the show is abundant with every piece of culture the creators could find, there are no alien beings to be seen. Reavers are humans from the outskirts of known space who have been driven homicidally insane, and are feared by everyone in the universe, including even the toughest of our intrepid crew. While I’m normally all in favour of aliens, the decision to make an alien-free science fiction series is a good one in order to both differentiate Firefly from Star Trek, but also to accentuate the show’s key genre — the Western.

Yes, there may not be aliens, but there are horses, and deserts, and really cool old-fashioned looking guns. And the western element also goes some way to explaining where the majority of Firefly‘s drama comes from — tension. The episode moves a bit slower than your average TV show — but I found myself on the edge of my seat repeatedly. This is helped further by the soundless space, which works for Firefly and not against it as it did to Crusade. Perhaps we can hit a general rule here — if your show involves complicated space battles with big explosions — screw phyiscs and make yourself some booms. But if all you’re likely to be doing in space is hiding and running, then no sound will probably work better for you.

Firefly‘s characters also make a good impression. A lot of Whedon’s characters in the past have started as cliches and then been fleshed out later. These ones hit the ground running, for the most part. Mal especially is fantastic — brutal, funny, unreasonable, sensible. Just the kind of contradictions I like in a character, and brilliantly acted to boot. I won’t bother listing all the actors here, but Jewel Staite is amazingly adorable as Kaylee,[ftn] while Sean Maher’s nervous yet brave doctor, Simon, makes a very strong impression.

The only real tragedy of this tense, beautiful episode is that it wasn’t transmitted where it should have been — at the start of the show. In fact, American viewers got to see it last. “Last is kinda like first… it just comes a bit later,” comments Tim Minear in the next episode’s[ftn] commentary, quietly avoiding calling Fox idiots for not liking this episode and insisting on a new first story written in a weekend. But they are. Because this would have been one of the best first episodes of a series ever.


  1. Did Crusade suck? Only in the sense that it had godawful dialogue, some woeful acting, and the most pathetic musical score in the history of TV.
  2. Canadian as it turns out — no wonder. And 22 years old. Get me a plane, I’m going back.
  3. ‘The Train Job’, not such a good episode really. More on that later though.

54 Responses to “Serenity”

  1. Whats with the screencap of a girl pressing a luscious strawberry to her lips? This seems a pattern.. first it was the tongue-ring lesbian shot for buffy…I mean if you’re going to have photos purely for perve-factor, can’t you throw in a few I could appreciate? Spledid!

  2. In the commentary, Joss Whedon particularly said, that for him, Firefly was all about the strawberry. The situation out on the frontier is that fresh food like that is complete luxury for them.

    So I put the pic in. Also, as I said, I think she’s really cute.

  3. When thinking about J Michael Strazynski’s cancelled series Crusade, I find it hard not to be reminded of Wonderfalls. Both went for about half a season before getting dumped. Both had to come up with new first episodes to satisfy their studio. Both had a roguish, moody bartender. Both have people occasionally strutting around in uniforms that make them look like bellhops.

    There’s a difference, of course, in that Wonderfalls doesn’t suck.

  4. Jewel Staite is in three episodes of Wonderfalls. What a waste.

    Doesn’t this episode have a lot of exposition if it was intended to be the first episode?

    link What’s this? How long has this been going on?

    And why can’t I use html?

  5. I can’t believe that all those aspects are common to Crusade and Wonderfalls… Hmmm…

    Personally, I’m all in favour of exposition in a first episode as I enjoy it. But then, I’m one of the few I know who liked Fellowship of the Ring the most of the trilogy for similar reasons.

    The Firefly movie, Serenity, was picked up by Universal Studios, who want a Sci-Fi movie franchise. They’ve finished filming already.

    And finally, you can use html, you just have to use these tricks to do it, so that I don’t have to trust you to use correct html.

  6. Nathan Fillion wrote a blog type journal as they were filming it too.. with photos of them all on location and stuff.. not that i was reading it, you know, daily, for that would make me a loser. Say nothing. And if that ‘correct html’ thing was a jab at me, I resent that. You did it too, I recall…

  7. Then perhaps it wasn’t a jab at you. I think we’ve all failed to close tags at some point.

  8. Indeed, we all have, and anyone new could come along and screw their code up too. Since these pages are served as xml to browsers such as Firefox which support it, if there’s one mistake, you can’t see a thing. So I can’t just let people put in whatever they want.

    Could you give us a link to Nathan’s journal Shannon? If it’s all still up.

  9. Its easiest just to assume you guys are jabbing. It works most of the time therefore its quicker than assumening elsewise =)I cant find the one I was referring to. Theres this link but thats not the Nathan Fillion (Captain Tightpants) one that I meant. Sorry =(

  10. Actually, I think you’ll find it’s becuase the planet in fact revolves around me. I think they teach you that in second year.. It’s my critical brain mass.. sucks everything into my mighty gravitational force..

  11. So my point was if this episode is watched at the end, isn’t there too much exposition?

    I always close my tags. Except for tags which can’t close of course.

  12. Evil page. I was refering to break tags that look like (br) with spikey brackets.

  13. But it was made to go first, and on the DVD it does go first.

    In XHTML, even a br tag closes, by being written as (br /).

  14. So if it was watched as the last episode, would there be too much exposition?

    (br /) makes no sense. You have to open a tag before you close it.

  15. Well, it wouldn’t make much sense as the last episode, since 3 of the characters make their first appearance. It could only work as a kind of flashback. But I think you’d be curious enough about the characters to enjoy it.

    Some of the surprises would be rendered a bit moot though.

    The opening of the tag is the (br bit. The closing is the /)

  16. I’m with Andy. XHTML is stoopid.

  17. You’re both stoopid, as well as HTML. How dumb is it to have some tags that close, and some that just … don’t? A little consistency in a language goes a long way.

  18. Easily! For something like a (br) what else do you need. Its not like it starts performing its function, something else happens and then it finishes performing its function. Its a one-off. Line break. There done. Why bother with open and close of there is nothing to go in between??

  19. Hear, hear.

    What happens if you want something in bold and in italics?

  20. So no one actually addresssed my point… The rest of HTML clearly establishes that a tag with no slash only opens and isn’t a complete entity of itself. Anyhow, that’s not the reason XHTML is good — it’s more to do with splitting data and formatting, forwards compatibility, and making life easier for web browsers.

    Bold and Italic, eh? Does this work?

  21. Easy as pie… if you go to the Markdown site, you’ll see that asterisks can also be used for emphasis, so you just do this:

    *__Big Important Text__*, which makes this:Big Important Text

    You’ve gotta get the thing symmetrical, so you can’t just use three underscores.

  22. I realise that XHTML is an “advancement” on HTML so its probably better in terms of formatting and being nice to the browsers or whatever. But what I’m saying is that its silly to add waffle to a simple tag. Complication for no reason. A line break does its one thing. And then its done. Why bother with this open/close business when there is nothing in between

    Oooh, big important text…

  23. And what I’m saying is, you need some way of distinguishing in the code between an opening tag, and a one-off, complete tag. Do you dispute this?

  24. I guess I dispute it, yes. If its br tag, you know it doesnt have a partner. Where is the confusion?

  25. We’re not talking about people here, we’re talking about simplicity in software. If you have a set language convention, it simplifies the tast web browsers have to do enormously. If it has to check every single tag it comes across when making its initial read to see if it’s specifically an img or br tag, that’s quite a time waster.

    Consistency in a programming language is to be striven for. Having one or two crazy exceptions to a sensible rule is a Bad Thing.

  26. So, how’s about that Firefly, eh? I’m loving the rest of it, I’ll have to review it all.

    For those who are aware of a Mr Hayko Riemenschneider, he turns out to be a big big fan.

  27. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to post at all, eh?

    Actually, as I recall Serenity was aired in midst season. It was not used as the pilot.

  28. Yeah… A silly decision. I believe it was shown at the end in the US.

    Everyone’s allowed to post here…

  29. Yes, Tom. Serenity was the last episode that aired. I believe they never aired all of the episodes. The order was something like this google’s lucky

    Heart of Gold, Trash and the Message never aired. Maybe it was a good choice. Now there is no silly hype. ;-)

  30. If that’s the order the wise and beneficent network choose to screen them in, then that’s the order I’ll watch them in.

  31. That last comment was from me. I forgot to put my name in. As you can see. I think the lack of Stargate is getting to my brain. Anyhoo, I have to go extreme window cleaning now.

  32. Not so child proof as Tom thought, eh?

    I don’t much like this order. They produced a pilot for a reason. Besides never watching the last see must suck. ;-)