Joss Whedon once said that Firefly was the source of more joy and pain than any other project he has ever worked on. It is fitting, then, that both those things run through its successor Serenity. After Firefly‘s cancellation, there was little hope of resurrection yet through the tenacity of Whedon and the fans, Serenity was born. Through this miraculous sequel we the viewers got to see Whedon’s joy and pain on full display.
We first see this joy first in Zoe and Wash‘s relationship, played by Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk respectfully. Despite nearly dying during a simple robbery due to a reaver attack they embrace each other and admit how close that could have been. Amid the chaos of their lives, they still make time for each other. Their relationship is built on love and trust rather than death and violence that defined the relationship of Mal and Zoe due to their time in the war.
This idea that their relationship is built on love and peace despite their harsh surroundings continues later in the film when the crew is trying to decide whether to kill fellow crew member, River Tam. River has information about the Reavers that a man known only as an operative of the alliance is trying to keep secret. Zoe attempts to defuse the situation as well as hear out her husband. To Zoe, Wash represents the normal safe life she’s never had. She’s so used to following Mal’s lead but her relationship with Wash brings her a sense of peace that she’s never really had before. Previously her focus was taking orders and shooting at whatever enemy was gunning for her and Mal.
However, that peace is shattered when Wash is killed in a battle with the alliance. The rational calm that Zoe has always been known for falls away as she rushes towards her husband’s side screaming for him to get up so that they can get away from the operative and his forces. It’s only Mal’s command which brings her back to herself, putting her vengeance aside to finish the mission.
The job whether it be a simple robbery such as at the beginning of the film or dispensing information to the other planets because it’s the right thing to do is the thing to do, keeps Mal Reynolds, the captain of the Serenity, going.
At the beginning of Firefly, Mal and Zoe are fighting the Battle of Serenity Valley. It is during these moments that we get to see a joyful Mal, who often makes jokes to keep his soldiers’ morale up. He believes in their fight for independence and believes they can win. Amid the Chaos, Mal does something we don’t see him do much of for the rest of the franchise smile.
When I saw those scenes for the first time, I could almost see Mal’s spirit break as they receive the call that there won’t be any more troops coming to the rescue. His faith that they would win the battle and by extension the So when they are preparing for the aforementioned robbery and the ship’s mechanic Kaylee tells the captain to have faith that the job will go well. Mal simply says “Not today.”
This nihilistic cynicism that Mal carries with him permeates the character. Despite this, when they arrive on one of the planets that often shelter them after a heist the crew embraces the inhabitants as old friends. A little boy jumps into Kaylee’s arms at the sight of her. I believe this demonstrates that in spite of all the darkness around them it is important to take time to enjoy the good things the world has to offer regardless of how fleeting these moments might be.
However, Mal is unable to see it that way. When he speaks to Shepherd Book, who originally lived aboard the ship but is now living on the planet, explains to him how belief is the only thing that is going to get them through this. Mal then proceeds to tell Shepherd Book how he isn’t looking for help from some higher power. Shepherd Book looks at him with a jaundiced eye and says, “When I talk about belief, why do you assume I’m talking about God?”
Shepherd Book demonstrates that despite being a man of God, there are some things more important than belief in a higher power. This point is driven home later on as the Shepherd lays dying after an attack by the operative. He grabs Mal’s face and says “I don’t care what you believe, just believe.” This spurs Mal to help to distribute the information that the operative is working so hard to keep secret.
To me, the deaths in this movie were absolutely necessary. A lot of people were invested in these characters and stories, So when this movie was green-lit and the franchise was given a second chance at life, that meant there had to be at least some death. To allow all of our favorite characters to live would deprive the story of any consequence. As great as Firefly is and was, that version of the story was over now. The stakes had to rise and the story had to evolve just as Mal does throughout the movie. In the end, despite all the death, the movie serves as a fitting conclusion to the end of the franchise, reminding us that love of the universe would always keep us together.
Serenity is a movie about belief, family, and what it takes to do the right thing. Through the pains of cancellation and the joys of rebirth, Whedon was able to give us one last story in the verse about what it means to be human. The saga of Mal and the crew of the Serenity may be over but those trials of joy and pain will be with always be with us providing lessons for the rest of our lives.