Why Firefly Is So Good

It’s a question I’ve seen repeated many times. Joss Whedon is an ultra-feminist and a virulent atheist. For the majority of his career he was most famous for making “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, a well written (supposedly, I’ve only seen two episodes) show that didn’t even try to hide its status as feminist propaganda. He is a supporter of a semi-radical feminist organization called “Equality Now”, and in general Whedon and I would possibly disagree on pretty much everything.

But then there’s “Firefly”, Whedon’s classic sci-fi television series about a group of rag-tag outlaws hiding out from the government on the smuggling ship Serenity. “Firefly” is unquestionably one of the greatest sci-fi series of all time. I’m not even a particularly big sci-fi fan, but the show had me hooked from the word “Go”. The show’s philosophy is one of anti-government libertarianism, but not in an in your face way. Mal, Serenity’s captain, might be the hero of the show, but he is certainly no white knight, and it is far from clear that we are supposed to approve of everything he does.

The crew is shown at various times to be more than willing to kill if it means accomplishing their goals, and essentially their entire livelihood is based around performing illegal transactions outside of the eye of the government. While the show is quite obviously sympathetic to Mal and the Serenity crew it also doesn’t shove the idea in our faces that libertarianism is the “best” form of government. In fact, the very worst episodes and moments of “Firefly” (and to be fair its worst episode is better than most shows’ best episodes) are when Whedon is peddling an ideology, the prime example being the relatively lackluster episode “Heart of Gold”, an obvious feminist propaganda episode that sacrificed plot for ideology. To Whedon’s credit though these moments are few and far between.

So how did the incredibly liberal, incredibly feminist Joss Whedon end up making a show so unbelievably good?

The answer, I believe, lies in this quote from Whedon:

“Mal is, if not a Republican, certainly a libertarian, he’s certainly a less-government kinda guy. He’s the opposite of me in many ways.”

Yes, it’s just Whedon essentially restating what I wrote. But that’s the thing: WHEDON said this. Mal is Whedon’s character. It is the mark of a great writer when you can take a character with views entirely to the contrary of your own and portray them in such a sympathetic way. That Whedon acknowledged that Mal is the opposite of him in many ways, including politically of all things, and still made him the hero of “Firefly” is a perfect illustration of why the show is so good: Whedon was able to put aside his political and personal beliefs in order to create a compelling character and tell a compelling story.

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4 Responses to Why Firefly Is So Good

  1. Ilíon says:

    Mal is, if not a Republican, certainly a libertarian, he’s certainly a less-government kinda guy. He’s the opposite of me in many ways.

    I would say that Firefly is so good, not because Mel is “certainly a libertarian”, but because Whedon, despite his leftism, mostly stayed true to the logic of the show’s initial premises — an oppressive, totalitarian government vs some people who just want to be left alone.

    Leftists like to pretend-and-accuse that conservatives are totalitarians at heart, but whenever they try to tell a story about individual opposition to oppressive, totalitarian government, even if the leftism of that government isn’t made clear or is activelt hidden, the fact that the Good Guys — who mostly just want to be left alone — are conservative (or libertarian) can’t be hidden.

    • I’d say that’s about right. Unlike with Buffy, which Whedon essentially admitted was propaganda, Whedon was able to put aside his personal views on matters and stick to the show’s decidedly conservative premise, and whatever I think of the man for that he deserves credit.

      Interestingly, Firefly was inspired by the Civil War novel “Killer Angels”, and came from Whedon’s wondering of what happened to the losers of that war.

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