Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
Burn the land, boil the sea
You cannot take the sky from me
So went the opening theme of Firefly, a boot camp/cowboy song with fiddles and guitars instead of electronic music. In 2002, Firefly was a sci-fi show that led a brief but exciting life, not even completing a full season.
Centered on the adventures of Mal (Nathan Fillon), a former soldier in a failed rebellion against the Alliance of Inner Planets, he and his crew are trying to make a living in the outer planets aboard the Serenity, an obsolete spaceship. But it’s a hard dollar to earn in a world that looks like the American West, complete with horses, six-shooters, and a code of survival that is more John Wayne than Captain Kirk.
Firefly only lasted for fifteen episodes — three of them never even aired. Joss Whedon, its creator, had had a good previous track record with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other series. So why did Firefly crash and burn?
Fans — and they were as devoted as you can get — blamed it on the fact that the series’ pilot episode wasn’t aired first, and of network TV’s dislike for science fiction in general. Personally, I think it had too many White Nationalist elements in it to be given a real chance.
In Firefly’s world, there are no bug-eyed monsters or Mr. Spock. It consists of the inner planets and outer planets. The outer planets recall the American West, both in landscape and populace. People use old-fashioned guns and talk like good ol’ boys. Many of them are veterans of a war against the inner planets that failed, and so it is reminiscent of the western fringes of the defeated Confederacy. The rebel army, which was called the Browncoats, fought against what look like Germans, but even though the Browncoats lost, the real winners seem to be the corporations and think-tanks that control the Alliance.
Mal, assisted by Zoe (Gina Torres), his second-in-command during the war, operate the Serenity, a Firefly-class ship, named after the last great battle of the rebellion – akin to Gettysburg for the rebels. Mal, still wearing parts of his old uniform and not shy about it, is a man who is a mix between G. I. Joe and Johnny Reb. Although he tries to make a living running the Serenity (they have a good day with an interplanetary cattle run), he’s always on the edge of the law, and from what we see of the Alliance, that’s where thoughtful, freedom-loving people should be.
The Serenity has picked up four passengers. One is Book (Ron Glass), a Shepherd from a monastery. The second, Inara (Morena Baccarin), is a “companion” — a sort of geisha who makes visits to her clients, and she’s very much in demand. She commands a high price and is Miss Kitty to Mal’s Marshal Dillon. There’s always fireworks between them. She is cultured; Mal isn’t. She supports the Alliance because she thinks unity between peoples is a good thing. Mal rumbles about how his people got the short end of that kind of unity. Inara is attracted to his feral masculinity, although she won’t admit it.
The most problematic passengers are Simon Tam (Sean Maher), a doctor, and River (Summer Glau), his sister. They are Alliance citizens who got mugged by the system. Simon rescued River from the Alliance labs, where as a political dissident her mind was being adapted for their purposes. There is a hefty reward for her capture. It’s problematic, though, because anyone who comes into contact with her has to be killed themselves. That loophole is never mentioned in the reward posters.
As Mal explains to Jayne (Adam Baldwin), his shifty crewman who tried to rat out Summer, “It’s the Alliance, Jayne. Their word is sand. Like that they’ll put you under.” In this world, “Alliance” has the same connotation we have for “Feds.”
Firefly’s dialogue sounds as if it comes from the American West. As Jayne explains, “It’s the rutting chain I beat you with until you understand who’s in command here.” Or Mal to a robber: “You best seek opportunity elsewhere, or my iron will make an end to you.” Or Kaylee (Jewel Staite), Mal’s cocky and earthy female mechanic: “I ain’t had nothing betwixt my nethers that weren’t run with a battery in it for as long as I can tell.”
The show offers an unapologetic view of life from the redneck angle. Jim Goad would love a bunk on the Serenity. It’s clear the outer planets have a freedom and vibrancy that has not yet been totally put down by the Alliance, which comes across as a corporate, PC world.
Whedon emphasized that Firefly was inspired by the Old West, the Civil War, and Jewish resistance groups in the Second World War. I doubt the last reference. If anything, Firefly’s language, style, and Mal’s independence reminds me of the movie Ride With the Devil and its bushwhacker fighter Pitt Mackeson, which is based on the novel Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell. His works, which have been called Hillbilly Noir, capture the violent but independent lives of the Ozark people.
Alex Linder’s wonderful review of this film that appeared at VNN in February 2004 recalls that when Mackeson decides to go to his hometown for a drink, he’s warned not to go into what is now a Yankee bastion: “They’ll kill you for sure.”
Mackeson laughs. “What a horrible fate. Oh, what a horrible fate.” Similarly, when Mal is warned that if he takes on the Alliance, he’ll die, he just answers, “Oh, terrible shame.”
River’s use of language and logic are unique in an enigmatic way as she prowls Serenity’s chambers like a cat, having terrifying flashbacks of her days as a lab experiment, or suddenly striking out and disabling anyone she sees as an enemy. She also is an enigmatic logician. When Book discovers her cutting long passages out of his Bible, he frantically asks why.
“Because it’s broken,” River says casually as she keeps snipping. “It’s full of illogical sections and irrational explanations. I’m mending it.”
This alone should have gotten Firefly a second season.
But Firefly was subversive. Where series like Star Trek show the United Federation of Planets uniting worlds and bringing people together, Firefly’s Alliance is creepy, and the folk on the outer planets just want to be left alone. One of Mal’s enemies from the inner planets is Vasik, a gangster with a Jewish accent and appearance. His short stature and glasses and high and raspy voice remind me of Anthony Fauci — although Fauci has more hair. Vasik wants Mal to steal a shipment of drugs that can be sold on the black market. “Dis is our doink business, Mal,” Vasik cheerfully purrs. Mal pulls off the heist but then changes his mind when he comes across a planet in need of medicine to combat a sickness being caused by hazardous waste. He returns the money he took from Vasik, but to no avail: Mal is hunted down to be taught a lesson. “Chew must obey, Mal.”
There is also Jubal Early, a black bounty hunter who is after River. He captures the crew one by one and threatens Kaylee with rape if she tries to escape — and means it. Wow, a black man threatening to rape a white woman. How often does televitz show that?
There were too many examples of Firefly being un-PC, and I’m sure someone at the network picked up on things such as Vasik and Jubal’s characters and decided it had to go. Plus, there were all of those good ol’ boys gettin’ on with life and staring down the Alliance. Southern accents are verboten on TV unless it’s being used by someone evil or stupid (such as in the series My Name is Earl, where the main character’s ex-wife marries a black guy — let’s rub it in, huh?). And Westerns in general have vanished from TV as a genre. Too American and non-urban.
Nevertheless, the casting of Zoe as the wife of Wash (Alan Tyduk), the Serenity’s white pilot, can be seen as a PC move. Granted, but both are great actors, and I imagine Whedon didn’t care about interracial marriage, or possibly someone at the told them that they needed to do it to balance things out. I imagine Hollywood has commissars at every level to make sure everything passes the diversity test. Firefly also suffered from not being carried by a major network. If it had been on HBO or AMC, it might have had a chance.
Serenity was a follow-up movie that the fans demanded after the series was cancelled. It clears up some loose ends. Mal is still sort of on the run, and when he pulls off a hold-up, Reivers appear: a kind of space apache, savage cannibals who come out of nowhere.
At the bar where Mal negotiates a price for the loot, River sees a drippy TV commercial with Mario Brothers/Emoji-like cartoon characters. She stares, mutters “Miranda,” and attacks everyone in the bar, killing and maiming until Simon gives a code word that knocks her out. Mal deduces that the commercial contained a subliminal message. The implication is that while people in the Alliance may watch TV, TV is also watching them, and they can send out a signal to trigger a response.
Serenity’s prologue consists of a flashback where River as a child is going to an Alliance school. Everyone is multicultural and dressed in semi-Asian style (Chinese culture seems predominant throughout the series; everyone even swears in Chinese). In a lush park, the black teacher extolls the virtues of the Alliance, and can’t understand why the outer planets keep resisting.
“Because we meddle,” River answers. “We try to change their minds. We shouldn’t meddle.”
Flash-forward to River being tortured and programmed.
Mal visits Mr. Universe, a webmaster who is logged into everything. He’s a wise-cracking Jew with his Lovbot, a blonde robot (the wedding shows him stomping a wineglass — “Mazeltov!” — while the Lovbot is propped against the wall: the ultimate shiksa. As Mr. Universe says, “There is no news; there is the truth of the signal.” This is a good comment on media culture.
Mal and his crew learn that there was a planet called Miranda — once a colony that has now been erased from memory. When Serenity approaches Miranda, they pass through Reivers who circle the planet like a malevolent ring of Saturn. On Miranda, there are dead bodies everywhere. But the colonists didn’t die violently; they simply willed themselves into death and refused to survive.
Mal discovers that Miranda was used for drug experimentation and mind control.
It went wrong. One part of the reaction made the colonists simply give up and die. The other part turned some of the colonists into Reivers.
Rumors that the COVID vaccine is being used to subvert human society and relationships while ostensibly saving us from “the virus” seem to echo Miranda’s purpose. The vaccine’s deadly consequences seem to parallel the catastrophe of the doomed colony.
Mind control is a well-known sci-fi theme, but it goes beyond that. In American writer Charles Brockden Brown’s 1799 novel Ormond, he describes the titular character, a member of the Illuminati who comes to young America, thusly:
Ormond aspired to nothing more ardently than to hold the reins of opinion-to exercise absolute power over the conduct of others . . . in a way which his subjects should be scarcely conscious. He desired that his guidance should control their steps, but that his agency, when most effectual, should be least suspected.
This is a very prescient view of media culture and who controls it, and is a familiar theme in everything from H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, with its Morlocks and Eloi, to The Wizard of Oz. I also think Whedon borrowed from the movie Forbidden Planet, which is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In it, the Id is a machine that amplifies human emotions that in turn become monsters that can tear men to pieces. As a result, an advanced civilization is destroyed in one night. And indeed, the section on Miranda where the disc revealing Miranda’s terrible secret is discovered is called C-57-D – which was the name of the space cruiser in Forbidden Planet.
Mal fights to get this information to the planets. “I mean to confound these buggers,” Mal says of the Alliance. “They think that they can make people better. And I do not hold to that. So, no more running away. I aim to misbehave.”
Again, another reminder of Ride With the Devil.
When Mal does this, the assassin sent to kill him and collect River views the disc and refuses to hunt them any longer. He tells Mal that the Alliance was damaged by the information he revealed, but that the fight will nevertheless continue.
Firefly’s subversiveness made it a classic. I was surprised that Leonard Maltin called it “a watered-down Star Wars,” given that Star Wars is the ultimate brain-dead movie franchise.
For anyone sympathetic to White Nationalist views, Firefly seems reminiscent of our cause, and that of racial and national struggle more generally. The Alliance’s mind-control efforts of the Alliance again recall Ride With the Devil, where a Southerner explains to some Missouri bushwhackers the point of the Yankee’s schooling:
They rounded up every pup-pup into that schoolhouse because they fancied that everyone should think and talk the same freethinking way they do, with no regard to station, custom, or propriety.
As pop entertainment, you can do worse than Firefly.
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