Cancelled too soon.
How many times has that been true of TV? It was especially true for this imaginative series that was very addictive … so addictive that after its TV death it has spread into a feature film, to comics and to a role-playing video game.
Let’s hop in the ol’ Wayback Machine and dial ‘er up to 2002.
Firefly was a space western created by writer and director Joss Whedon. Whedon served as an exec producer, along with Tim Minear. The series was set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system, and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a “Firefly-class” spaceship. The cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.”
The series takes place on a variety of planets and moons. The TV series does not reveal whether these celestial bodies are within one star system, only saying that Serenity‘s mode of propulsion is a “gravity-drive.” The film Serenity makes clear that all the planets and moons are in one large system, and production documents related to the film indicate that there is no faster-than-light travel in this universe. The characters occasionally refer to “Earth-that-was,” and the film establishes that, long before the events in the series, a large population had emigrated from Earth to a new star system in generation ships: “Earth-that-was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many.”
The emigrants established themselves in this new star system, with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons.” Many of these were terraformed. The terraforming process was only the first step in making a planet habitable, however, and the outlying settlements often did not receive any further support in the construction of their civilizations. This resulted in many of the border planets and moons having forbidding, dry environments, well-suited to the Western genre.
The ship Serenity was named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, where protagonist Mal and Zoe were on the losing side. It is revealed in “Bushwhacked” that the Battle of Serenity Valley is widely considered the loss which sealed the fate of the Independents.
Throughout the series, the Allianceis shown to govern the star system through an organization of “core” planets, following its success in forcibly unifying all the colonies under a single government.
Settlers and refugees on the outlying worlds have relative freedom from the central government, but lack the amenities of the high-tech civilization that exists on the inner worlds. In addition, the outlying areas of space (“the black”) are inhabited by the Reavers, a cannibalistic group of nomadic humans that have become savage and animalistic.
Into this mix are thrown the protagonists of the show. The captain of the crew of Serenity is Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the episode “Serenity” establishes that the captain and his first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) are veteran “Browncoats” of the Unification War, a failed attempt by the outlying worlds to resist the Alliance’s assertion of control. A later episode, titled “Out of Gas,” reveals that Mal bought the spaceship Serenity to continue living beyond Alliance control.
Much of the crew’s work consists of cargo runs or smuggling. One of the main story arcs is that of River Tam (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher). River was a child prodigy, whose brain was subjected to experiments. As a result, she displays schizophrenia and often hears voices. It is later revealed that she is a “reader”, one who possesses telepathic abilities. Simon gave up a career as a highly successful trauma surgeon to rescue her from the Alliance and as a result of this rescue they are both wanted fugitives.