Six Reasons Serenity Was Better Than Firefly

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 - 11:59AM
Sci-Fi TV Shows
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 - 11:59AM
Six Reasons Serenity Was Better Than Firefly
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It's unpopular opinion time here at Outer Places, just in time for the tenth anniversary of one of my favorite sci-fi films, Serenity. While Firefly fans love that Serenity exists, as it tied up many plotlines from the show that would have been left hanging, most would probably argue that it paled in comparison to the brilliance of the show. I was a huge Firefly fan, but as it only had one season, there were several kinks that had yet to be worked out, and Serenity single-handedly fixed almost every single one of them.

River gets a long overdue spotlight

I love Nathan Fillion as much as the next person, but Joss Whedon is much better at writing women than men, and River was always the most compelling character on Firefly by a landslide. Mal was certainly a likable Han Solo-esque rogue, but his emotional core could essentially be summed up with the phrase, "we protect our own." River, on the other hand, was much more complex, three-dimensional, and let's face it, bad-ass, and she probably should have been the protagonist all along. I like to think Joss Whedon agreed with me by the end of the first season, as he seemed to be setting up River becoming the co-pilot of Serenity and generally occupying a larger role in the (sadly unrealized) second season.

Balletic fighting style

This goes along with the River spotlight, but it deserves its own entry, because this is one of the best fight scenes I've ever seen. Forget about Daredevil's Oldboy-style single-shot sequence, the integration of Summer Glau's professional ballet training into her epic massacre of the Reavers managed to be simultaneously graceful and terrifying, much like the character herself.

The Reavers

As The Dark Knight taught us, a genre movie is only as good as its villain, and between Chiwetel Ejiofor's Operative (more on him later) and the Reavers, Serenity knocked it out of the park. Although, admittedly, the Reavers were a little more interesting when they were supposed to be normal humans who were driven insane by "the black," rather than casualties of a government-sanctioned drug, they are still one of the scariest cinematic creations I've ever seen. And I'm a huge horror fan, the kind who inappropriately laughs during certain torture porn scenes.

Serenity explained why the Alliance was evil

The entire premise of Firefly was a ragtag group of intrepid rebels living off the grid in order to avoid the influence of an evil, totalitarian government. But since the audience had no idea why the Alliance was sinister, other than a vague impression that they had far too much power, it was difficult to understand the characters' motivations for fighting the Unification War to begin with. But over the course of Serenity, we finally understand exactly what they did to River, and the chilling truth about Miranda clinches the Alliance as a nefarious, Big Brother-type organization. Serenity successfully turned the Firefly universe into a genuine dystopia, and was rewarded with Brave New World and 1984 comparisons from none other than Roger Ebert as a result.

There are clear emotional stakes

It would have made sense for Firefly to delay the reveal of the Alliance's evil agenda, as the audience generally learns that kind of thing along with the characters. But in the case of Firefly, it deflated all of the emotional stakes, as it made the characters less relatable. Several Firefly episodes, most notably "The Train Job," the first episode to air on Fox, involved the crew making moral questionable decisions for the sake of staying off the grid. But since we don't understand why they want to stay off the grid, it's difficult to sympathize too much with their moral quandaries. Serenity made it clear that they had little choice in the matter, and immediately raised the stakes of the characters' plight.

The Operative gives Firefly something to say

First of all, the Operative was awesome in general, in large part due to Chiwetel Ejiofor's captivating performance. (Joss Whedon was a fan of Ejiofor before it was cool, while the studio wanted to cast someone who was better-known.) But like all great villains, he was humanized and positioned as a moral foil to Mal, which finally made it clear exactly what Firefly was trying to say on a philosophical level. I'm convinced that had Firefly continued, this exchange would have been the philosophical thesis of the entire series:

Opening quote
The Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Mal: So me and mine gotta lay down and die... so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there... any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I'm a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.
Closing quote

The Operative is a manifestation of the Alliance's viewpoint: the ends justify the means, the desire for freedom is overrated and often selfish, and the few should have the power to make decisions for the many in order to create a better world. Mal and his crew would have spent the entire series fighting against that mentality, championing individual rights and challenging the notion that any higher power has the right to decide what a "better world" looks like, especially if their vision of a better world involves the subjugation of the masses, as we saw on Miranda. While many had issues with Serenity, this speech made the series add up to more than the sum of its parts, and showed us just how much better the second season would have been than the first.
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