Cult TV Hit 'Firefly', Still Flying
This may sound contradictory, but for the longest time I was a fan of the universe of Firefly without ever fully understanding the fandom for the TV show. I can still recall the advertisements for the premiere of the show and thinking it looked like something that was perfect for me, but I was just never home when it was on and wasn't nearly concerned enough to set up the VCR to record the show in those dark days before DVRs worked like magic. So I, like a lot of people, took to the space adventures of Mal Reynolds and the crew of the Serenity on DVD. I really dug everything about the genre-warping show, yet I didn't fall obsessively in love with it right away.
I suppose it was because the series was dead at the time and there didn't appear to be any prospect of resurrection (this was before Serenity had been announced), so I didn't let myself get excited about something I knew was at a dead end. But then Serenity began its long trip to the big screen and the early screenings of the film seemed to bring all of the Browncoats -- the name fans of the shows latched onto to describe their own loyalty to its cause -- out of the woodwork. Suddenly it became very cool to be a Firefly superfan and geek conversations all over the Internet were flooded with talk about how Fox's cancellation of Firefly was the most egregious slap in the face to sci-fi fans the network had ever issued. And while I wouldn't broaden that thought and call it the worst sci-fi cancellation in the history of television (as many have), I was certainly sad to see its life on both the big and small screens be so brief.
Now, thanks to Titan Books' recent publication of the ultimate compendium to fans, Firefly: Still Flying, I am once again reminded of why I did eventually fall head-over-heels for Fire.
The book is a remarkably comprehensive encyclopedia of insights into how the show was made both creatively and physically, but as much as I enjoy reading about all the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes, my favorite component of the 159-page tribute isn't a deep insight from show creator Joss Whedon or a wonderful anecdote from star Nathan Fillion, it's a piece of brand-new Firefly fiction written by Jane Espenson called "What Holds Us Down." It's only a few pages long, but that's all Espenson, who wrote the "Shindig" episode of the series, needs to tap into the core of why people love this show like few others.
If you're a fan, I could recommend grabbing a copy of Firefly: Still Flying just to read her story alone, but in case it will be a while before you can do that, Espenson's short is about Kaylee and Wash's attempts to survive a besieged and crippled ship. What follows are minor spoilers, so if you'd rather not know how this roughly six-page story ends, skip the rest of this paragraph and the one that follows. Most of the action revolves around Kaylee instead of Wash, but the heart of the story is all about Wash and why he's not only likable but integral to keeping all of Mal's crew together (it's particularly bittersweet when you keep in mind the events of Serenity). In an attempt to keep talking in order to stave off falling asleep and most likely dying, Wash explains to Kaylee that he is a carrier for an infectious hero disease. He's not actually a victim of it himself -- he's far too cowardly for that -- but everyone around him seems to be a hero when needed.
Kaylee laughs it off as Wash's distracting chatter meant to keep himself alive, but once the ordeal is over and the pair is back aboard the Firefly, everyone's favorite space mechanic has time to reflect on what really happened aboard that ship: Wash's infectious calmness had enabled her to stay collected enough to save both of their lives. She then explains to Simon that she finally understands why Zoe loves Wash: "He's a man what makes heroes."
And though I think that's a wonderfully sweet line that sums up Wash as a character, the reason it made me love the show is because I reckon Espenson could just as easily have been writing about Joss Whedon. The man has something in him that just brings the best out of everyone around him. It's not just the people involved with the show, though I do think Firefly/Serenity will be the high-tide watermark for most of their careers for a while; this infection has spread to the fans. Whedon can't keep his universe alive all by himself, but he can inspire the fans to want to keep it alive in art, fan fiction, and support of spin-off comics and books that take the characters into new adventures.
I think we can all agree that Firefly doesn't really have the most compelling story around, but it does have a most compelling "hero maker" at its core to make up for it. There may have been a time when Whedon was indeed keeping fans alive by delivering new episodes, but that era has long since ended. Now it's all about keeping the "hero maker" alive, of letting his foundation galvanize us fans to action when he can no longer do the show for us. He's placed the fate of Mal, Kaylee, Wash, Zoe, Jayne, Simon, River, Inara, and Book in the hands of fans; fortunately for us, there are enough of them around to not only make their own great contributions in honor of the show but to prove to publishers like Titan Books that there are still stories to tell and still people who will pay to hear them.