Thursday, February 28, 2013

Firefly: a Western in... Space!

Firefly, a show created by Joss Whedon, is a space Western that follows the adventures of rebellious Captain "Mal" Reynolds and the rest of his crew. In the pilot episode Serenity we are introduced to all of the key crew members plus Simon and River (a mysterious doctor who is on the run with his sister.) Throughout the episode, although set in space, it is evident that Firefly utilizes the conventions of both western and sci-fi in order to amp up the action and tension of the plot.

When responding to Simon's question of how he can trust that Mal will not kill him, Mal responds with something along the lines of "I won't shoot anybody unless they have a gun in their hand and are facing me." This response is a clear example of the Western hero archetype. In Westerns, the intense fights generally occur as a two person shoot-out, where the fairness is clear, for both opponents are facing one another and have no advantages. The fact that Mal holds this sort of standard can only be traced back to the Western.

In Serenity, they elude to is a mysterious antagonist force called the reavers. At first glance, their mystifying descriptions of the reavers cause us to draw connections from them to the sci-fi element of unknown entities or aliens.  But with further speculation it is seen that these "reavers" are also like the Western's view and usage of Indians. The crew members speak of how the reavers will capture a ship and in their savage state of being, kill everyone. In many Westerns the Indians serve as an uncontrollable antagonist force with no mercy.

At the start of the episode we are given backstory as to who these crew members are. They all fought during the War of Unification, on the rebel side. Continuing off of that, at the present time of the film they are now like outsiders or outlaws. This is just like the usage of the Civil War in Westerns. Often times the protagonist is an outlaw on the run due to some sort of contribution they made during the war. 

An obvious example of Sci-fi is the setting of Serenity. It is in space... how much more sci-fi can you get? BUT, space is also similar to the feelings conveyed in the settings of Westerns. Space is far from civilization which is just like the distinction in Westerns between being in the wild versus being in a town/civilization. 

All in all Serenity does a beautiful job of molding together the two distinct genres of Sci-fi and Western. 


  1. Clarify: I didn’t find anything confusing.

    Values: I like the comparison between the isolation of space and the isolation of the west, giving insight into the common theme of wild vs. civilization.

    Also, the connection you make between Mal’s code of honor and that of the western hero is great. Both follow very strict moral codes and Mal pretty definitively represents a western hero.

    The Reavers/Native Americans connection is also really good. As you said, it doesn’t appear as if they would be related at first but after closer examination, they clearly are.

    Concerns/Suggestions: In your thesis statement, you mention that Firefly uses western conventions in order to increase the action and the resulting tension of the storyline. However, the rest of the post mainly focuses on how the characters relate back to the character-types in the westerns. While you make great, valid points, it might help your initial argument if you added in some information as to how the western conventions in Firefly relate to the actual plotline. Or you might consider editing your thesis statement in order to better fit with the rest of the post.

  2. CLARIFY - everything is clear, i have no questions.

    VALUE - I like that you come up with very specific circumstances from the show to make your points and explain how the film contains both sci fi and western conventions. Like Elena said, I think it is an interesting point that you brought up that both space and the "wild west" are relatively vast and empty places.

    CONCERN - Once again I agree with Elena that making that statement sort of as your thesis doesn't really work because it's not focused on. I do like your point but I think it needs to be brought up somewhere else.

    SUGGESTIONS - mention that point somewhere else.