As a science fiction fan, I was partially aware of Firefly’s cult status, and when coming across the movie adaptation a few years later, I was compelled to watch the 2005 sleeper.
In the face of 26th Century overpopulation, human beings sought open outer space, and like in the settling of the American West, outliers resisted the centralization of government control. Devastating war ensued before “the Alliance” formerly brought human kind under the authority of “civilization.”
We are first introduced to “River,” who is enlisted into a military program to groom children into assassins. The prodigy gleans rebellion from the outset. “Why do you want to tell people what to think,” she pleads.
Her teacher has the propaganda queued up at the ready. “We aren’t telling people what to think, we are teaching them how to think,” she reassures River.
Jumping to the present, River’s brother Simon shows no pause to ponder the complexities and is only interested in unraveling the injustice done upon his sister. Abducting the teenager from government control, Simon is left at the single minded mercy of “the operative,” who holds nothing back in pursuit of the “better world” the Alliance wants to bring. “You know what your sin is,” he asks the scientist who has allowed River’s escape.
Like a Knight’s Templar defending the glory of God, he proselytizes, “Pride.” And then the operative played by, Chiwetel Ejiofor, assures the doomed man that his is a good death in the name of “a world without sin.”
Again, the philosophical load is lightened upon meeting Serenity’s commander, Mal (Nathan Fillion) and his galactic band of petty pirates. Enlisted by Simon to ferry River to safety, Mal meets all manner of calamitous reality with a tone that redirects the situation to comedic safety until the drama unfolds.
“This is your captain speaking. We are having a problem with our energy sequencer so we might experience some slight turbulence and then…explode.”
His crew is definitely along for the ride. “I don’t want to explode,” crew member Jayne Cabb whines sarcastically.
Still, Mal wasn’t always as cynical, but his journey back is a stubborn one. After cutting a random man loose to die a gruesome death, his copilot questions his Mal’s humanity. “During the war we would never have left someone behind,” says Zoe.
“Maybe that’s why we lost,” Mal replies bitterly.
Then learning that the government will do anything to recover River, Mal seriously considers leaving the girl to her fate.
But her telepathic abilities could serve Serenity’s aims well so Mal’s cynicism takes the lead. In the process of another less than on the level deal, a subliminal message directed at River clues Serenity to an off the grid planet named Miranda. The crew perplexed by the ommission, Mal’s indifference begins to waiver. “Half of history is hiding the facts the victors don’t want you to know.”
A threat leveled at a contentious old flame officially tips the scales, and knowingly sends Mal into a trap that puts him face to face with the Operative. Parading his ingenuity for getting past government defenses, the operative doesn’t take the bait. “You can’t anger me,” the operative stays on message.
The ex-lover begs to differ. “Spend an hour with him,” she retorts.
Serenity’s escape clearly gives credence, but the operative still acts dispassionately in pursuing the vision the alliance has entrusted in him. Laying waste to one of Serenity’s ports, Mal’s attempt to take the high ground comes up short. “I don’t murder children,” he transmits to the agent.
“But I do,” the operative justifies the means.
Unwilling to relent at whatever cost to all those he knows, Mal and crew uncover the secret. Miranda was a test case in which negative emotion was to be weaned out of humanity.
The result: A complete failure and 30 million dead.
Now the race is on. Serenity can either get the message out or th operative will stop Serenity so the government can re-engage with their holy endeavor.
The outcome awaits one final encounter, and a one liner that secures Mal’s transformation – even if it still contains his signature cynicism.
Admitting to the operative his willingness to die for his cause, Mal seems ready to concede – until he’s faster on the draw.
“Not exactly plan A,” he deadpans.
It’s not hard to estimate who comes out on top and science fiction in search of social engineering is nothing new. The Han Solo type bad boy neither. But Serenity delivers in a unique enough way that hopefully a sequel emerges. May it just happen before Mal’s jaded ways return. On the other hand…