A Modest Proposal About Firefly
Very recently, a friend of mine was going through a pretty painful and sucky breakup, so she came over to my house and we spent the day getting her mind off of it. We did what I assume everyone does in this kind of situation — I popped a bowl of popcorn, and broke out my Firefly DVDs. We watched the two-hour premiere, then “The Train Job.”
My friend never watched Firefly when it was actually airing – she first saw it a few years ago in one DVD marathon session. So we were talking, and she mentioned that she couldn’t understand why it had never gotten enough of a following to keep going. Here’s how that conversation went (roughly, I wasn’t taking notes):
Me: You know that 2-hour premiere that introduced all the characters, and the world, and the girl in the box?
Me: That aired last.
Her: Wait, what? How? What? What aired first?
Me: “The Train Job.”
Her: That makes no sense! How would anyone know what was going on?
I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, so I actually did watch the Firefly premiere. “The Train Job” is a great second episode, and it tried mightily to function as an introduction to a series, but I remember seeing the screen go to black and being all, “Um? Huh? What’s going on here?” Now, I kept watching because the actors were good, the gunfights were fun, and there were a lot of amazing lines. But it was kind of a struggle – it was a few episodes before I actually figured out what the hell was up with Simon and River (several subsequent episodes also been aired out of order did not help with this problem), Book’s whole hidden badass side was way more hidden than Whedon had originally intended, Mal and Inara’s whole arc was all whaaa?, and so on and so on.
As that last paragraph shows, I don’t think I’ve ever quite recovered from my frustration over how Firefly was so completely shafted and mismanaged by the network – it had an incredible world, intricate character relationships, and at least enough potential storylines to fuel four seasons before it started to limp. Instead it gets put down halfway through the season, and Ghost Whisperer got five? Where is the justice.
I learned nothing from the experience, either, since then I went and fell in love with Dollhouse. Damnit! At least Whedon got to resolve that one – though the second season packed in about three seasons worth of arc. Even Vampire Diaries would’ve been all, “Hey, slow it down a little!” (I’m almost terrified to watch SHIELD when it comes out.)
If the above didn’t give it away yet, I’m also one of those people who became committed to the idea that at some point the stars would align, all the actors would be available, there would be some kind of bloody coup at Fox, and Firefly would come back. (damn SciFi for not taking it – really, SciFi? No number of Stargate spinoffs can redeem you in my sight!) Now, there was the movie – and it was an awesome movie, which I saw in the theater, and I own the DVD. And after the movie I *completely* believed that the show would get picked up again… which of course it did not.
The ten-year anniversary of the cancellation was last year. There were a lot of cool events, and it was nice to gather ‘round, watch the show again, curse the sudden (yet inevitable) betrayal of Fox, and dream of what could still be…
And that’s when I really did finally get it – this ain’t coming back.
Even if there was the will, and the money, and a network, and an opening on Whedon’s calendar, it just won’t happen. The actors are ten years older. You can’t just start up the show and be all “this picks up three months after the events of Serenity.” Ten years shows. Nathan Fillion is not getting back into those tight pants. Summer Glau cannot pass as a teenager anymore. Alan Tudyk’s character was killed, so I don’t have to think of a reason for him.
But ten years would also impact storylines – as an audience member, I can buy space cowboy. (Because it’s *awesome*) But I can’t buy that ten years would go by without Mal and Inara finally settling the relationship one way or the other. And losing Wash was horrible for Zoe, but she would’ve had ten years to grieve and move forward. River at 26 would be an incredible, slightly-crazy badass, but I doubt she would have anything but full control at that part. Her brother is incredibly smart – ten years and he’d have her brain super-glued back together.
Also, ten years later? Simon and Kaylee would have a spunky eight-year-old helping out in the engine room, and I’m sorry guys, but I just cannot watch a show with a precocious child on it. Not even for Whedon.
Jayne, I grant you, could probably pick up his arc exactly where it left off and have it be believable.
So, I have to accept that where the characters are at the end of the film will have to be my ultimate resolution with them.
That intricate, amazing, fascinating space-cowboy world with its fascinating underpinnings of the overlap of corporations and government, haves and haves not, the right to misbehave, a ruling system out of control, cows on spaceships, religious variations, and what the fuck was Blue Sun anyway?
Oh, no. That I will *not* give up on. Because here’s the thing – the world can be returned to, props can be rebuilt, and the effects budget would probably go a bit further nowadays. Yes, Whedon is busy with SHIELD (for the year and a half that it will run, and then shatter all of our hearts *again*), but this is a guy who had Buffy, Angel, *and* Firefly running simultaneously. He can multitask. Plus, all of the amazing writers who were on staff are still around, and the thing about writers is that they just get better with age (well, to a certain point – after about seventy they start getting weird). The *world* of Firefly can still sound, look, and feel the same. It just needs to be populated with a new crew.
This brings me to my modest proposal – a game for Firefly fans to fill in a little time before the next Whedon-esque heartbreak. Think of it like a cross between Mad Libs and paper dolls.
Here are your set parameters:
The time: Five years after the conclusion of Serenity.
The place: A Firefly-class starship.
Now here’s where you get to start filling in.
When Firefly came out in 2002, the big run-up to the show was based around a kind of formulaic presentation of the characters (the better for the rest of us to wrap our heads around). These were the categories:
The Captain (Mal Reynolds)
The Soldier (Zoe)
The Pilot (Wash)
The Mechanic (Kaylee)
The Mercenary (Jayne)
The Ambassador (Inara)
The Shepherd (Book)
The Fugitive (River – though technically she and Simon were *both* fugitives, but she didn’t have much else to do during the first few episodes. Though later she became spooky and badass)
The Doctor (Simon)
I was trying to find the article that I originally read that list in (it also had a reporter asking Nathan Fillion to free-associate phrases, and one of them was “space hooker” – Nathan’s response was “Poor Morena.”), but failed. I did, however, find it used in (of all things) an OK Cupid Firefly-themed personality test. Huh.
That’s nine parts that need to be cast. I’m going to add one more: The Villain. In the original series this was Two By Two, Hands Of Blue (also known as Those Guys With Blue Gloves On).
Ten categories to fill, and the need to establish the basic storylines that a pilot would start with. I’ll go first!
About the character: This Captain would, like Mal, be a Browncoat combat veteran. The same financial and ethical pressures that pushed Mal into the fringes would’ve done the same to this former sergeant once Unification occurred. Though often alone, the Captain harbors an unresolved love interest in the Ambassador.
About my casting choice: Cassidy Freeman played the vampire Sage on Vampire Diaries, and before her death (pretty much every character on that show dies), she did a great job of giving a nuanced and very strong performance. I also saw her on the second season of Once Upon A Time, where she played Jacqueline (otherwise known as Jack and the Beanstalk), and she did a good job killing giants. In action scenes, she has a good physical presence. I think she could be an awesome Captain.
About the character: Like Zoe, this Soldier served under the Captain during the war, forming a close and unbreakably loyal bond. Even when he disagrees with the Captain, once an order is given, the Soldier will follow it.
About my casting choice: Enver Gjokaj played Victor in Dollhouse. Over the course of the show, during which time Enver showed the ability to play *a lot* of different characters, it was revealed that Victor’s original personality had been a soldier. I thought he really sold it during those scenes. Plus, we know Joss Whedon likes him – he played one of the NYC cops in The Avengers who have a brief exchange with Captain America.
About the character: Unlike Wash, this Pilot is also a veteran of the war. Flying for the browncoats in some of the worse battles of the war, the Pilot was shot down and spent almost several months in an Alliance prison camp. When the war ended, the prisoners were freed, but the Pilot has been left with PTSD. A brilliant pilot, but with a lot of demons and a poor attitude, eventually the only job she could find where she wouldn’t get fired was flying her sister’s Firefly. Yup, this is my use of the sibling connection – the Captain and the Pilot are siblings. (plus, how else to explain the presence of two gingers on a spaceship?)
About my casting choice: Penny on Dr. Horrible, Charlie on Supernatural, plus Codex on The Guild – Felicia Day is a lot of fun on the screen. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her play a character as dark as the Pilot, but I absolutely think that she could. Plus, this would be her third Joss Whedon thing – the first time I saw her was on Buffy.
About the character: Like Kaylee this character is brilliant at keeping a Firefly running on a shoestring budget and salvaged parts. This Mechanic is somewhat less effervescent and idealistic than Kaylee, but instead shares more personality traits and worldview with Wash. Far less jaded than the Captain, the Soldier, the Mercenary, or the Pilot, but better suited to life on the edge than the Ambassador or the Shepherd.
About my casting choice: He spent how many years recalibrating phase polarity as an ensign on the Enterprise? It’s about time that Wil Wheaton had a ship’s engine entirely to himself.
About the character: Jayne is probably the one character who would actually be believably in a similar situation and in an emotionally similar state as he was originally. He got off Serenity when he found a farm owned by an attractive and wealthy widow, figuring that he’d be set up for life. Six months later they were divorced after the widow discovered he was a jerk, and he was left with nothing except his hat and his favorite gun Vera. With Serenity on the other side of the ‘verse and in need of a job, he hired on with this crew. Amoral, aggressive, and kind of a lummox, Jayne as the Mercenary is perfect in every way.
About my casting choice: Adam Baldwin might actually fit into his old Blue Sun tee-shirts. Plus, who better?
About the character: Even by the middle of Season 1, it was getting old to see Inara spending half her time under some dude of the week (yes, it wasn’t just dudes, but when it’s only one woman and how many guys? I’m calling trend). Yes, fan-service is fun, but I wonder how long we really would’ve stayed interested in companions. Plus, their place in society was fairly problematic, despite Whedon’s efforts. So this Ambassador isn’t a companion, but instead is a galaxy-trotting cultural anthropologist from a hugely wealthy family on Osiris. It’s kind of like if a Kennedy black sheep when road-tripping. All these different planets with various sub-cultures that can range to individuals juggling goslings for fun? A traveling anthropologist would have a field day. She’s gathering information for what she hopes will be a ground-breaking book on cultures in the outer planets, and how better to get into all these lawless places than renting a shuttle on a scruffy Firefly? Of course, things have gotten a bit more complicated since she arrived, now that she and the Captain are avoiding talking about their attraction – and given that they fundamentally disagree and come from such different worlds, the path to true love will *not* run smoothly. As a scion of one of the preeminent families of her world, the Ambassador has a lot of connections, and she is much more politically aware and informed than anyone else on the ship. Bonus: If she and the Captain ever got things better settled than Mal and Inara, Adam Baldwin could say “I’ll be in my bunk” again.
About my casting choice: Dichen Lachman did some interesting stuff as Sierra on Dollhouse, and I bet that she could do some great intellectually curious yet privileged rich girl stuff. Plus, she’s a Whedon alum.
About the character: Book was awesome, plus he had a hidden past that slowly came out. What was also great was how he could add in to a lot of moral discussions – his viewpoints were usually extremely black & white, which added contrast and conflict with the extremely morally gray approach of Mal, Zoe, and Jayne. Losing a person of the cloth would be a loss to the show and the places where it could go. So, this Shepherd (like Book) was originally just a passenger who got on in the pilot, but due to those events became a member of the crew. She is a missionary who was heading to the outer planets to preach the holy word, and her outlook is very stark – there are good actions and evil actions. She comes to view her purpose as encouraging the Captain toward making morally good decisions (similar to Book). In outlook, she emotionally ends up filling Kaylee’s role – effervescent, relentlessly optimistic, and a buoyant personality. What events in her life led to the Shepherd choosing missionary work – well, it’s called a *hidden* past for a reason. (maybe she dropped out of companion-school?)
About my casting choice: It’s probably my most out-there – the only thing I’ve ever seen Ashley Williams do was Victoria on How I Met Your Mother – but she was really good, has nice comic timing, and she has the most glorious smile.
About the character: Remember the operative from Serenity? That guy was amazing, and when his intense faith in the ultimate rightness of the people he served was broken, it absolutely shattered him. Wouldn’t that guy be a cool crew member? The Fugitive was an operative of the Parliament who was sent out to retrieve a scientist who had gone on the run, taking all of her highly classified research with her. The Fugitive caught her, because he is a motherfucking operative and he does not mess around. But where he caught her was tiny moon in the middle of nowhere, and the defenses she’d set up around her lab were able to completely disable his ship. So instead of knocking her out and throwing her in cold-storage for the trip home, he needed her mobile. He got her to the one ship in the area – a scrappy Firefly with a motley crew. He flashed his badge and said that he was from the government and was requisitioning the ship to fly him back to a military outpost, for which he would pay them an obscene amount of money. But that gave the scientist the chance to talk with him, and tell him about exactly what the Parliament had wanted her to create with her research. And the truth of that broke his faith, and broke him. Now the only thing he wants to do is protect the scientist, and the crew of the Firefly are willing to let the two of them hide on the ship… for now. The Fugitive is repulsed by the kinds of jobs that the Captain and her crew take, and everything about them run contrary to the rigid rules of law that he believed in and upheld for so many years. But on the occasions that he participates, the Fugitive can kick ass.
About my casting choice: He was Helo on Battlestar Galactica, and Paul Ballard on Dollhouse. He can work tortured man of honor like there is no tomorrow, he’s a Whedon alumni, and he does crazy good fight work. He would totally bring it.
About the character: Simon had two jobs on Firefly – one was to protect someone else (River). The other was to be able to sew people up well enough that Whedon could end most episodes with one or more members of the crew suffering from gunshot wounds. With the level of violence usually seen on a Firefly, a doctor is necessary. This Doctor is also hiding from the government, but she takes up River’s role as the focus of the government desire – she is the object that they want to recover. The role of protector is shifted over to the Fugitive (and his devotion to her protection is not from a sibling desire, but because it is the only reason he can think of right now not to commit suicide). The Doctor was a top-level scientist in the Alliance government, and after the events of Serenity and the massive exposure suffered by the Parliament, she was assigned the task of researching what about the Pax turned normal people into Reavers. She believed that she was given this job in the hopes of being able to reverse the process (the was also the Parliament’s publicity campaign after the origins of the Reavers were revealed), but when she started making real progress on the task, she discovered that the Parliament actually had no intention of fixing the Reavers – they want a fool-proof way of *creating more* Reavers, as the ultimate nuclear option to threaten or unsettle rebelling worlds. She ran, the Fugitive was dispatched and caught her, but now she has him protecting her and the Captain harboring them. She destroyed all records of her work and progress, but she is the only person who could recreate it, which is why she’s running.
About my casting choice: Uhura! And Nichelle Nichols was good recently on Heroes, so I’d personally like to see her in a role that had some meat on it.
Ruthless Yet Honorable Head Villain
About the character: The defection of an operative is kind of a big deal, plus the research into weaponizing Reavers is drydocked without the Doctor, so a crack team has been dispatched to find the Fugitive and the Doctor – though they only need her to be alive. In charge is Ruthless Yet Honorable Head Villain – he’s an older version of the Fugitive, really, but with an even more powerful belief in the overall rightness of the system. He wants to capture the Fugitive alive, since he believes that the Fugitive can be brought back into the fold. RYHHV has the power and authority in this mission, so he’ll mostly be coordinating efforts from whatever Alliance ship is currently their headquarters.
About my casting choice: George Takei rocked on Heroes, so the guy has still got it.
Sneaky Untrustworthy Vice-Villain
About the character: Sneaky Untrustworthy Vice-Villain is the second-banana in this hunt. He isn’t an operative himself, instead he is a political aide to one of the members of Parliament. He is present to observe the hunt for his masters and make sure that their interests are taken care of. Unlike RYHHV, SUVV is slimy and underhanded, and will go back on his word and stab people in the back. He would prefer to kill the Fugitive and anyone who harbored them, then torture information out of the Doctor. Will probably kill RYHHV at some climactic season end episode.
About my casting choice: Alexis Denisof is a Whedon veteran of Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and now Much Ado About Nothing. It just completes everything to have him be on Firefly as well.
About the character: Yes, RYHHV and SUVV might be masterminding things and giving orders, but that leaves one guy who actually has to go do stuff. And that guy is Gopher #1.
About my casting choice: Reed Diamond was fantastic as Mr. Dominic on Dollhouse. He can be serious, he can be funny, and he can also do a fight scene.
So, overall, I’ve shown that I have put much too much thought into this. However, there it is, and my questions to you are:
What characters would you re-cast in my version?
If you made your own version, what would it be?
Comment and share – come on, let’s have a little fun!