General Plot Summary:

Firefly is set in the year 2517 when humans from Earth have been forced to leave Earth due to a lack of resources and room for the growing population (“ ‘About Firefly’”). After developing technology to terreform (“ ‘Homepage’”) other planets so they can support human life, a new frontier is open to those brave enough to pioneer it. To govern the many moons and planets which have been colonized, the group of Alliance central planets wrested power from the self-governing Independent outer planets in a last civil war. Denied of their independence and forced to become members of the Alliance, Independents live on the outskirts of the galaxy, and are characterized by a repressed rebelliousness and disdain for authority. In these outer planets the land is less inhabitable and under threat from vicious bandits, but there is also increased freedom due to relaxed Alliance control.

Caught in this situation, Captain Malcolm ‘Mal’ Reynolds, a veteran of the war of resistance (“Firefly”), transports usually dubious goods in his ship “Serenity” and scrapes together a living for his crew. His second in command is his war comrade Zoë Washburne, and the remaining crew consists of pilot Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne, mechanic Kaywinnet Lee "Kaylee" Frye, and mercenary Jayne Cobb (“ ‘Characters’”). The Companion Inara attaches her small ship to Serenity, and operates her form of legalized, respectable prostitution when they dock on planets (“Firefly”). In the opening episode “Serenity”, the religious Shepard Derrial Brook and the young doctor Simon Tam are added as passengers who pay for transport to the other end of the universe. Soon after Mal establishes that he is the ultimate authority aboard his ship, Simon’s sister River Tam is found as a stow-away frozen in the cargo hold, and Simon and River are exposed as fugitives from the Alliance. Influenced by his Independent frustrations, Mal determines that they can continue to stay on the ship, and River’s escape from the Alliance quickly becomes a central theme of the series.

As introduced in Firefly and further explored in the film Serenity, River, a teenager of unusual intelligence, was kidnapped from the Tam family by a research facility disguised as boarding school. After decoding messages River sent Simon in cleverly cryptic letters, Simon sacrificed his quickly rising medical career in order to rescue his sister from the Alliance. However, ever since she returned, River seems changed, strange, and psychic. As the show progresses it reveals that an Alliance-supported faction called Hands of Blue did medical testing on River, especially concentrating on her brain (“River Tam (Firefly Character)”).

Even though their presence onboard Serenity causes tension when River becomes destructive or when the Alliance takes dangerous and unwanted interest in the “Serenity”, Simon and River add some lighter moments to Firefly. For instance, a love interest develops between Simon and Keeley in a charmingly innocent manner. The greatest tension with River, though, occurs when Jayne sells the siblings to the Alliance and attempts to turn them in to the Hands of Blue. Mal, Zoë, and Wash intercept Jayne in time, but Mal makes it painfully obvious that the crew is a family unit that is not to be bought and sold by locking Jayne on the outside of the flying ship. Mal retains his sovereignty and absolute control over his ship, and ever since the incident Jayne is markedly more respectful towards Simon. Simon’s discovery of the betrayal is never resolved due to the series’ cancellation.

The remainder of the plot involves the various jobs Mal accepts for “Serenity”. After dealing with a variety of smooth thugs, rough criminals, and hardened pioneers, the crew dodges the Alliance while transporting goods, which range from frozen bodies to a herd of cattle. In one episode they rely on Wash to out-fly a federal organ-collector, in another River must outwit a philosophical bounty hunter, and in still another they outfight a sexist customer in defense of a brothel (“Firefly”). In the meantime Mal and Inara pretend to both ignore and understand their frustratingly obvious attraction for each other.

The series was canceled while major plot themes were becoming fully developed. During “Objects in Space”, the fourteenth and final episode, tensions about Jayne’s betrayal of River and Mal’s threat to remove him from “Serenity” result in an argument that the young psychic overhears. River hears many other thoughts as well, and the extent of her mysteriously altered mind is alluded to. River’s uncannily perfect assassination of two Alliance guards during an earlier episode “War Stories” further emphasizes the great power the wispy girl has. Finally, a bounty hunter states that Book is not a Shepard, but the shocked crew never has confirmation of that fact from Book. The conclusion of the series is like an object in space, because although it is dense with potential, intrigue, and quality, frustrated viewers must watch as it floats in nothing. The storyline will remain perpetually halted unless the series is ever restarted.




General Plot Summary



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Last Modified 24 April 2006

Created by Julie Rooney
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