Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.
This week’s heresy:
“Since it’s cancellation, and subsequent reincarnation on the big screen and in comics, Firefly has achieved cult status. But although Firefly doubtless has its attractions, it pales when set next to a similarly prematurely-cancelled show, Farscape.“
I preface this heresy with a simple statement: I am a fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
In part, that is a defence against the circling swarms of Browncoats who will no doubt descend to tear me to shreds — but it is also because it’s true. I was a late convert, but I do think that the western-SF series and it’s attached film are very good.
I just think that Farscape is better.
Farscape, for those who aren’t familiar, was a 2000s era sci-fi show made by the Jim Henson company with a largely Australian cast and crew. It told the story of a human astronaut shot across the galaxy, ending up on the wrong side of alien law, and teaming up with escaped alien prisoners whilst searching for a way home.
Firefly, for the three people in the world who haven’t heard of it, is a show set in a dystopian-ish future where a bunch of cargo haulers and small time criminals skirt around the edges of Alliance space.
There is a lot of similarity between the two, particularly in the quirkily funny, yet serious, tone they adopted. Both take very character driven approaches, focusing on a small band who the viewers get to know. They also do the grand sci-fi thing of exploring human nature. Where they differ is in how they do this.
In Firefly, Mal Reynolds is an old soldier, and an old fashioned gunslinger type. He is the father figure of the ship, cantankerous but grounded. Farscape‘s John Crichton is, from the very start, a man out of his depth. He zings from one crisis to the next, never quite in control, but improvising his way through an alien universe. The former character archetype is the more common on fiction, but the latter is the more interesting.
In John we have a man forced to adapt. He doesn’t have time to freak out, he just has to survive. And in time, as the series develops, so do the rest of the crew. Maybe Firefly would have matched up, had it not been so prematurely cancelled, but that’s a what if for another day. Farscape boasts genuine character development, with the transitions of enemies to friends and then sometimes back to enemies again.
Firefly, for all its strengths, lacks that development. Its characters are, mostly, static, with little growth or journey as part of the unfolding story. Joss Whedon writes witty, poignant TV — Buffy and Dollhouse spring to mind — and as I said maybe he would have managed it. But the one season and a film that exists do not deliver on that.
Let’s finish by bringing it down to a simple question. Given the choice, which ship would I rather be on; Serenity or Moya?