• Aw yeah. This is gonna be good; like Dollhouse and the later seasons of Angel, this gave Team Whedon a sturdy genre grounding that they could build a lot o’ philosophical and ethical towers upon.

    I read the mythical underpinning here a little differently. The underlying myth here is of the American Frontier, not the Confederacy; Mal and crew aren’t ever going to defeat the Alliance, they’re trying to escape it. The story largely takes place where the Alliance–the Law–hasn’t really been established (we agree on the Libertarian aspects), and that puts it in the tradition of the sci-fi Western. (Deep Space Nine or maybe The Expanse is the Deadwood of this tradition, looking at what happens as the Law starts to take hold and the Frontier develops towards the City.)

    And Mal shooting Dobbs alone makes this worthy of the Ownage tag. What makes it even better is Mal’s little speech to Simon: note that Dobbs fulfilled the three conditions Mal set down.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      See, that’s true, but it’s hard for me to completely ignore the Civil-War-over-FREEDOM aspect of the backstory, or sentences like “I’m thinkin’ we’ll rise again!” in the very next episode. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the Confederacy myth is the basis of Mal’s character rather than the whole show.

      • ooo now that’s good, and throwing an ex-Confederate into the cast was something that happened a lot in Westerns from Stagecoach outward.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          Wait, so you’re saying Chris Mannix is a more historically honest version of Mal? 😛

        • thesplitsaber

          ‘nd throwing an ex-Confederate into the cast was something that happened a lot in Westerns from Stagecoach outward.’

          It was also something that simply happened in history too.

      • Miller

        That is very fair, and what is the Lost Cause if not a set of values that have proven impossible to live by yet impossible to truly let go?

      • thesplitsaber

        Ive always assumed that Mal represented post confederate characters like Ethan from The Searchers too.

        One of the confusing things, and maybe someone else can show where the show explains it, is specifics as to why the Browncoats were fighting the Alliance. Ive only ever seen it as a vague ‘they were trying to tell us what to do/they were tyrants’ but not really more than that. So yes, were the Browncoats fighting to be slave owners? For rights to bigamy pedophilia or other acts common on the frontier (on the morally right side miscegenation, equal rights etc)? Or was this a situation like the Ukraine in the 30s where the Alliance was exploiting the outer planets?

        It seemed like Whedon and Co wanted to keep it vague enough to not explain it, but also assumed people wouldnt fill in the gap with anything he found morally untoward.

    • To be extra-textual, the show was inspired by Whedon reading The Killer Angels and wondering what it would be like to lose a massive war and become a pioneer to avoid the victors. So it’s inspired by a bit of everything.

    • The Ploughman

      I also read frontier/Western ahead of Confederacy (and of course It Can Be Two Things) and it’s hard to say the American Frontier is a lot cleaner myth to put on a pedestal. I honestly don’t see a problem in invoking either one. Bearing in mind that this is a sci-fi show that clearly has no use for intolerance/racism/slavery, it’s interesting to look at the appeal of lost causes in a way that isn’t possible when depicting the literal Confederacy.

    • jroberts548

      The frontier and the lost cause are hopelessly mixed, both in myth and in reality. E.g., the Oregon trail terminated in a state that was founded as a whites-only utopia, and almost every single western has an ex-confederate major character.

    • DJ JD

      Stupid late to the game (I was out of town when this dropped, urrgg) but echo that. I never took a “the South will rise again!” fist-pumping hopefulness from Firefly; the Cause was lost and there was no going back. I took it more as a setting-as-tone for Mal’s – and by extension, the crew’s – disenchanted transience. “Home” as they knew it was gone forever; physically returning to where it once stood would’ve only been more uprooting. The idea that Whedon was indulging in some Glorious Dixie mythbuilding on this show never once entered my head.

  • – Interesting timing for this, given the day Joss Whedon has had. (I have no desire to get into the personal stuff, but will say my wife and I just had a very good discussion about Joss and where we stand in terms of his work. In short, whatever flaws he has, he’s still very important and the world is better for having Buffy and Firefly.)

    – I think that if the show had run a lot longer, the level of disdain for the Alliance might be been revisited, since Inara supported unification and Mal had a tendency to see things in black and white. Then again, there was plenty of evidence that the Alliance was not just the United Federation of Planets filtered through the Maquis on DS9. And Joss’s own distrust of authority was bound to come into play. (It’s ironic that Joss is doing more superhero stuff since in some ways most superheroes are authority figures unto themselves.)

    – The Civil War stuff is really hard to parse, even if Joss bent over backwards to establish that Mal hated slavery. I had a friend back then who refused to ever watch the show because of its sympathies to the South. It is a bit odd that Joss would feel that way, but Joss is not the most consistent of people.

    – The pilot was, as most of us know, aired last after Fox rejected it, burned off after the show was cancelled. It’s a pity since it was a really good pilot, a lot better than the actual first episode aired. But that is for next time.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      Re Whedon’s personal stuff: I wrote this like two days before that broke, and decided my stance is that I’m going to write about Firefly. I was never invested in Whedon as a person anyway (see: me only ever referring to him by his last name).

      • Miller

        Man, thank you for that. Whedon fans and Dave Matthews fans pull the same first name basis stuff for their fandom objects and it always drives me up the wall.

      • It’s interesting that a “cult of Joss” sprung up when we never hear about any such nonsense regarding any other big name TV auteurs. There’s no cult of Vince or cult of Matthew or even a church of Kirkman. I suspect this only occurred because Whedon put himself out there at cons and on the Internet at the exact right moment to do that, and the vast majority of people who work in TV – certainly the ones who don’t write SF/fantasy – would much prefer to steer clear of too much fandom.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          It almost certainly also comes down to his original audience being teenagers.

          • Except that many of us who were into Buffy and into Joss were not teens. I was 28 when the show premiered, and I was as hooked as most teens.

  • Miller

    I recall reading elsewhere that Mal, as his name implies, was intended to be more overtly unstable and dangerous but Fillion’s massive charisma led to that being tempered from the start. I don’t know how that would play out across a season (let alone the full series this never got to be) but Fillion’s charm is crucial for selling the often-obnoxious dialogue, just reading those snippets gives me Sideshow Bob shudders. Whedon has an excellent sense of jokes and way, way too much cleverness for his own good and that combined with a misguided notion of cornpone authenticity (and let’s not even bring up the Chinese swearing bullshit) would be lethal without the cast he has, as it is it’s merely debilitating.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      It’s interesting; I have the same reaction to Cabin In The Woods and early Dollhouse (I didn’t get far enough into it to know if it changes) that you did – too cutesy for its own good. In the context of Firefly, filtering his dialogue through that Southern tradition (and as you say putting it in the mouths of actors like Fillion) makes me love it.

      (I never got very far into Buffy, but that wasn’t because of the dialogue – the fact that the show is a fantasy both for and about teenagers makes me more forgiving of cutesy dialogue)

      • Miller

        I’ve watched very little Buffy but while I’ve mocked it, the teen factor definitely helps the dialogue. It feels like a ridiculous pose coming out of Firefly’s adults. I tend to run hot or cold on Whedon’s dialogue with very little middle ground, though.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          Just out of curiosity, what’s some of the dialogue you run hot on?

          • Miller

            Jeez, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. “You’re a dick” from the first X-Men movie? Maybe an example of Whedon style that somehow works for me would be “I am not a person with whom to fuck!” in Alien: Resurrection, its self-conscious cleverness is grammatically funny and amusing for the character who yells it (Ron Perlman’s proto-Jayne). It really depends and is as much me as Whedon, I know that much. I do rank “I aim to misbehave” as only a notch below “What happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning” in the stinkers department, if that tells you anything.

      • The Ploughman

        Get thee to the rest of Dollhouse! Yes, it’s pretty dire at the start, but once the threat of cancellation looms over the series, it becomes one of my favorite series of all time. The pace become breakneck and you see what was probably a drawn-out five year plan executed in two AMC-sized seasons.

  • Conor Malcolm Crockford

    Considering the current blow up in outrage culture thanks for not bringing Whedon into it! To be honest I’m just going to quietly keep watching his shows while I try to see when it’s okay to enjoy his work again or whatever.

    The Civil War thing is…strange because I approached the series with an anarchistic/left libertarian POV, so I interpreted a good chunk of it as an allegory as well for the Spanish Civil War (which was fascism vs. anarchists, communists, republicans, etc.) But looking back yeah, I can’t deny any of its affiliation with the Confederacy romanticism and I’m unsure how to feel about that. A lot of Mal’s lines and beliefs are in disregard to the law and in favor of a Camus esque anarchistic existentialism and that more than anything holds up (the Serenity film is a pretty perfect distillation of Camus’ ideas of rebels versus revolutionaries).

    • Drunk Napoleon

      The closest I came was checking the essay for positive descriptions of Whedon as a person, but luckily I just stated facts. It’d just feel hypocritical to muster up rage when I was reading and enjoying Lovecraft stories just the other week.

    • Fresno Bob

      I take the whole approach of Firefly as putting Han Solo into the Star Trek universe. The Federation is very much viewed as a positive entity in Star Trek, but Firefly challenges the assertion that a homogeneous galactic government of that sort really would be able to function on those principles. At least in Star Wars, the Republic (and the Empire) are repeatedly shown as clunky, flawed, and frequently ineffective (just as real governments are by the nature of their complexity).

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        I never got much into Star Trek but that was indeed always something that bothered me about its utopian socialism, much as it’s admirable – I don’t really buy into the idea of a giant super state that wouldn’t have issues with control and power.

        • Fresno Bob

          I think Trek was an attempt to showcase what COULD be, but the implications are kind of disturbing if you apply reality to it. Since the world of Trek is basically Colonial Gunboat Diplomacy based on American values.

          • The Ploughman

            Trek itself has questioned the possibility of rule by Philosopher Committee, particularly in early Next Generation episodes and especially Enterprise. I think it’s worth noting that these are not held up as the best examples of the series. The inherent goodness (or at least inherent desire to act as our best selves) as a given is what defines Star Trek in science fiction and allows it to explore strange new ideas and see how they stack up to humanity’s best ideas (it’s to Roddenberry’s credit that the show could have a kind of specific American-liberalish ethos like this and still achieve a universality).

          • Fresno Bob

            Oh yeah, I love Trek, and I am okay with accepting it for what it is.

  • Fresno Bob

    This was awesome. Great articulation of the strengths of the writing and characters. I just did a re-watch last year, but this makes me want to watch it again.