Firefly Retro Review: Meet Serenity

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With the 2013-2014 about to end, and with a mini break before summer programming begins in earnest, we're going back to watch/review one of television's shortest-lived, most beloved hits.

FIREFLY is one of the most sharply written, self-aware, character-driven shows I've ever had the pleasure to watch. 

The pilot is a rare feat in television. Most introduce characters and a story that are malleable, as the writers figure out what works and doesn't work with them over time. Quite commonly, characters aren't fully realized until well into the first season of a show.

Firefly is different in that the characters we meet in the premiere are exactly who they were meant to be. We know everything we need to know about who these people are in the first 90-minute episode. They don't change from here on out; they simply evolve naturally.

Firefly is set several centuries in the future, where mankind has expanded civilization to planets outside of our solar system, terraforming planets for human life. 

If anyone is worried about the science fiction element of this show, that's about as science fiction-y as it gets.  Apart from the setting and the fact that the main characters live on a spaceship, the show is about as grounded in the human element as anything out there.

We meet Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds first, who is knee-deep in battle during a civil war. Mal believes in his cause, and his faith in God is unwavered in the midst of the battle. That is, until he and his comrade, Zoe, are deserted by their command, causing him to lose everything. The Alliance, a merger of two political superpowers (the American and Chinese governments) is the winning side of this war.

Six years later, Mal is operating as captain of his own ship (Serenity) and crew in the shadows of the Alliance, pulling illegal salvage jobs and barely scraping by financially. Mal's first mate is Zoe, who is now married to Wash, the jocular yet talented pilot of Serenity.

Serenity's crew includes the mechanic Kaylee, whose mind for machines is as bright as her sunny disposition.  We meet Inara, who is a "Companion," this being an era in time where prostitution is one of the most highly regarded professions. 

Then there's Jayne, who is surly, crass, money-hungry and impulsive, but not quite as heartless and dumb as he appears to be.

When a salvage job goes bad, Mal and his crew are forced to pick up some passengers, who turn out to be a whole lot of trouble, as two of them are Alliance fugitives and one is an Alliance agent. They also pick up Shepherd Book, a Christian pastor who ends up at odds with Malcolm; Book is a man of faith, and Mal lost his faith when he lost the war. 

Firefly Crew

Our introduction to Dr Simon Tam is a great misdirect. Every indication is given that Simon is a shady, pretentious doctor with a secret. It isn't till later that we see he's really a softie with a heart for his sister River, a prodigious teenager who was abused by the government. 

Each character has several defining moments in the pilot. 

For example, we see a lot of who Mal is during his confrontation with Badger, his prank on Simon, his conversation with Simon at the end of the episode, and his rather unceremonious resolution of the problem with the Alliance agent on board the ship.

You got yourself a ship and you're a captain. Only I think you're still a sergeant. A man of honor in a den of thieves


Wash's character was as defined by his evasion of the Reaver ship as it was by his playtime with the toy dinosaurs. We see who Jayne is when he crudely embarrasses Kaylee at the dinner table, when he smartly interrogates and intimidates the Alliance agent, but also when he watches quietly as Kaylee fights for her life after being shot.

During Inara's first conversation with Shepherd Book, the pastor that joins the ship, she mentions that Malcolm intrigues her because so few men are mysterious anymore. Ironically, she says this to a shepherd who is a little too skilled at disarming a man with a gun.

We get great introductions to all the characters on the ship, but the pilot also sets the tone for what this show is going to be: basically, it's a western set in space. They're on a spaceship, but they dress, speak and carry weapons straight out of a John Wayne movie.

The integration of modernism of the central planets with old western motifs of the border planets speaks to the political and social climate in which the show is set. 

Even the music of the show tells the story, the score being a beautiful combination of Western and Eastern musical influences. The sharp, witty dialogue of the show brings levity which helps weave in and out of dark and serious territory.

The pilot episode of Firefly is one of the best pilots I've ever seen, and really set the stage for some great story-telling in the next 13 episodes to come.


  • The characters all speak English and occasionally Mandarin; this is a result of the American/Chinese governments in power.
  • Quite a bit of foreshadowing occurs in this episode, and while I don't want to spoil future episodes....
  • Remember Kaylee asking Mal to buy a new compression coil? Yeah, well....just keep that in mind.
  • "Men gone savage at the edge of space."  Keep that in mind, too.
  • Visit our section of Firefly quotes now.
  • Watch Firefly online via TV Fanatic.

Serenity Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
  • 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.8 / 5.0 (33 Votes)
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Firefly Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Mal: You're only going to scare him.
Jayne: Pain is scary.

Mal: I gotta know how close the Alliance is, exactly how much you told them before Wash scrambled your call. So I've given Jayne here the job of finding out.
Jayne: He was non-specific as to how.