Firefly was a terrific show from the mind of Joss Whedon, it followed the crew of a spaceship through the future human civilization, spreading out into space through a never ending frontier. After a brilliant but ill received thirteen episode half season, Fox decided to cancel the show. Due to a cult fan base Whedon was able to finish out his concept as best as he could through the movie Serenity. If there is one thing that the firefly experience show me, it is that television is a far superior medium to create a sense of genuine family connection than a movie can ever hope to be. While this may seem obvious with TV taking up much more time than a movie, the example of Serenity shows how the movie format looses much of the familial sense, even when it has been created before hand by a television series.
The crew that makes up this family like most doesn’t always agree and most certainly does no not share the same beliefs and views. While they are all a little different, the crew members can be placed into two separate groups. The first consists of the more rag-tag, back planet, raw members, Captain Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne and Kaylee. The other group is made up of the more cultured, refined members that have a little bit more civilization in them, Inara, Simon, River and Book. In the show itself it is this second group who are the new comers and must integrate into the family, except for Inara who has been with the crew for some time but is separated due to her legitimate profession as a companion.
We can see in the clip below from the pilot episode Serenity that the new members do have to go through some rough housing and prank pulling to become a member of the family. Simon, one of the new members of the crew is told by the captain that Kaylee has died (Simon is inadvertently responsible for Kaylee getting shot). While this seems like a cruel joke to play, this is Whedon’s way to show that he isn’t going to make it easy for these groups to join together.
It quickly becomes apparent that the Captain, Mal, is the member that keeps everything together. He takes it upon himself to protect his crew and in turn his crew stands by him. On multiple occasions he goes out of his way to play the paternal role and do what is right. In this clip from the episode Safe, a fairly early episode, Mal comes back to a planet after Simon and his sister River get captured. At this point it is still clear that they are not full members of the crew/family. That aside, mal comes back and asserts with the line “yeah but shes our which” that they have fallen under his wing and are on their way to becoming members of the family.
By a little past the midpoint of the series, Mal shows that the new members have become a part of the family. When Mal finds out that Jayne took money to turn in Simon and River, he is willing to take Jayne’s life for his betrayal. There are two great points that can be taken from this clip, first that Mal respects and protects the family unit as a whole over all else. The other point is that even after selling his “family” out to the alliance (the central big brother-esque government, that represents one of the villains of the show), Jayne has accepted death and just wants to make sure that the other crew/family members don’t know what he did, that they remember him as one of them and not for turning against the group.
One of the greatest moments of the series in terms of the solidification of the family is at the end of the episode Out of Air. During the episode there is some catastrophic damage in the engine room, Mal forces every one to leave and save themselves while he stays behind and tries to save the ship. He ends up getting the parts he needs from a scavenger ship but he also gets shot. The idea of the family is constantly built through this episode as the stories of each member joining the crew play as flashbacks. Mal is always the one who is protecting his family but this is a rare example of the family coming back to save and protect him. The real beauty comes through when Mal fading back to sleep sais “you’all gunna be here when I wake up?” We can see that It is not just the family that needs Mal but Mal himself that needs his family.
Unfortunately film cannot provide the time needed to create these incredibly strong family units. Television has the unique ability to be able to satisfy episodic story arcs as well as far reaching arcs at the same time. In one episode you can feel satisfied that the crew has done their heist and has moved the goods successfully and be satisfied, while during that same episode you can see that Simon has gone out of his way to make a small gesture to be a part of the group, a small step but a step along the way indeed!
In Serenity, the film conclusion to the series, there is something lost between the crew/family members. So much time must be devoted to the plot of a movie and to the introduction of these characters to viewers unfamiliar with the television show, that there is relatively little time given the relationships between the characters. The relation ship that Mal and Simon have created over the thirteen episodes of the television series is reverted and then thrown together in a three minute fight that occurs in the beginning of the movie. For anyone who has watched through the show it is a bit disturbing to move from the slower, more detailed way of story telling into this fast paced glazed over sampling.
In the end I am left with a plea to art makers and art critics, USE TELEVISION AS A LEGITIMATE ARTFORM. Through the example of Firefly we can see how massive and complex a story can be told through TV and how much better it can be than film, yet it is still considered a lesser medium. Hopefully through the technological advancements of DVD box sets and DVRs critics will embrace television as a higher form of storytelling.