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Serenity Review Part 3: Final Thoughts on the Movie and TV Series

Despite some lapses that made me wonder if the same crew was doing the writing, they are on a par with Star Wars and Star Trek

In Part 2 of my review last week, we talked about the events of the film Serenity (2005) and the impact of the deaths of two major characters during the movie. This time, we’ll finish the review of the film, and I will give my thoughts on the story as a whole.

After Wash’s death, the crew finds a hallway in which to make their last stand against the Reavers while Malcolm Reynolds goes to meet with Mr. Universe so he can relay a transmission from one of the last survivors of the planet Miranda. But Mal finds Mr. Universe dead in his chamber, with his equipment destroyed. Thankfully, Mr. Universe had a robot wife through which Mal records that final message.

There is a backup control room which Mr. Universe was confident the Alliance did not find. He goes to this control room, but it turns out, the Operative has survived the space battle. After hearing the robot wife’s recording, he meets Mal in the control room where the two have a final fight.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Serenity’s crew, having retreated into the hallway, attempt to close the doors. But the doors jam and Simon is shot in the stomach. This prompts River to unleash her fighting capabilities and she confronts the Reavers to save the crew:

In the end, both Mal and River win their battles, and the last transmission from Miranda is sent to the entire galaxy. The Operative, upon seeing Miranda’s horrifying final message, decides to spare the crew and even tends to their wounds. Everyone, even Simon, survives, and he and Kaylee — finally — end up together. The last scene of the film is between River and Mal, where Mal refers to River as an albatross, which according to ancient lore is a sign of good luck.

I’ve already made it clear that I love this story — but which is better, the series or the film? It depends on how you measure it. If one connects the film with the series, it’s reasonable to conclude that the end of Serenity left a great deal wanting. But if you take the film as its own thing, I think Serenity is better by far. Very little screen time is given to most of the characters, but despite this, one becomes connected to them almost instantly. The actors’ chemistry is more than apparent; everyone gives a solid performance.

And it was the movie that attracted me to Firefly’s world. If I’m being honest, had I seen the series first, I would not have liked that world as much. Firefly was a show that was trying to figure itself out, as is typical with any series on network television. It needed another couple seasons to really come into its own. Had it been given such time, I have no doubt it would have hit its stride. But I’d also like to point out that when Firefly was canceled, it was the ire of the fans which really gave it its iconic status.

People saw the potential. But often, what people imagine far exceeds what really would’ve been. And something even better happened. Thanks to the movie, the story actually ended, and it ended without becoming a parody of itself. How many series have we seen where the story starts out strong then becomes a goofy shadow of its former glory? The most recent British remake of Sherlock Holmes anyone?

The show had the privilege of ending on a high note, and this is a very rare thing in television and films. Perhaps, its undeserved cancelation was for the best. Now, we must hope that the Mouse doesn’t get his crumby paws on the series and ruin the story. Hopefully, the actors will be smart enough to reject such a project.

I believe people love Firefly because they imagine what might have been. But, given what was aired, the show had problems. The writing was often all over the place. The moments that were good were amazing; the moments that were bad were so awful it was hard to imagine the same people were working on the series. And yet, the actors were superb and I have no complaints against them. As for the “rules” of the science fiction world they inhabited, they were mostly consistent, save for Episode 5, where I think somebody must’ve hit their head.

But it is the movie that wraps the whole thing up, and despite its flaws, Joss Whedon accomplished something truly difficult. He managed to conclude a series, while still making the final film coherent enough to attract new fans — me for one. That’s commendable and impressive.

So, I’ll say again for the final time, I highly recommend Firefly and Serenity (2005). They are on par with Star Wars and Star Trek and, despite the unfortunate circumstances, have become timeless.

Here are my reflections on Episodes 1 through 14 of the Firefly TV series, thoughts as to why the series was canceled, and my review — and defense — of the spinoff film Serenity:

Firefly Episode 1: Can science fiction reimagined as the Wild West work? I strongly recommend the original 2002–2003 series for its careful development of the culture that grows up around world-building (terraforming). Firefly is an impressive blend of the future and the past and, if Disney+ carries through with its threat of a remake, be sure to see the original.

Firefly Episode 2: When Captain Mal gets a pang of conscience… In the 2002 series, he decides to return stolen goods when he learns of the plight of those from whom they are stolen — with fearsome consequences. The mystery deepens around the mind manipulation that new crew member River has suffered but we get at least one clue.

Firefly Episode 3: Should some people be left to die? After the space crew rescues the survivor of a pirate attack, Captain Mal faces off against The Shepherd on whether God can save even that man. Mal knows something of what happens to victims of Reaver attacks and he is soon grimly proven right about the ways they change.

Firefly Episode 4: Mal ends up in a swordfight amid outer planets. It all starts when ship’s engineer Kaylee decides she wants to dress like a Southern belle… The blend of space adventure and Western shows signs of strain in this episode but it advances the relationship between Mal and the Ambassador.

spaceships battle

Firefly Episode 5, Part 1: Brawls that don’t make sense, Part 1. In this episode, after the cattle are unloaded, characters act in an uncharacteristic way in order to create a plot crisis. The problem with characters acting out of role in order to drive the story is that the story begins to feel incoherent; the crisis doesn’t quite feel real.

Firefly Episode 5, Part 2: So River is now a witch? Simon and River are captured because a town on the planet lacks a doctor. But things take an occult turn… As I noted when looking at the first part, the characters’ behavior seems to defy their history but it does create plenty of action.

Firefly Episode 6: We Meet a Stagecoach — and a Vixen! Gary Varner: In this enjoyable episode, there is only one plot hole and it isn’t really significant. After foiling a crime, Mal finds himself wed to a local woman due to town custom. Usually, these plotlines are easy to guess… but this episode fooled me!

Firefly Episode 7: Jayne can’t live with himself as a hero Jayne Cobb, otherwise dumb muscle, once helped many people — inadvertently — and is stuck with deadly consequences when the truth emerges. In this well-thought-out episode, the Firefly series examines the burden of being a bogus hero to those who desperately need something to believe in.

Firefly Episode 8: The ship breaks down in space. What next? Mal, expecting to suffocate alone on the ship while the other crew members escape, relives the life that brought him there. While the flashbacks were strong and well-acted, too many plot developments seem implausible. For example, why didn’t the ship have spare parts?

Firefly Episode 9: A medical heist — the best episode so far Simon, with access to medical equipment, diagnoses his erratic sister’s neurological issues — after she has unaccountably stabbed Jayne.
Jayne plots a dire revenge against the crew, leaving Captain Mal with a very difficult decision.

Firefly Episode 10: Jealousy divides the Firefly crew in space. And yet jealousy plays a key role in saving Mal and Wash from a villain’s sadistic torture. Episode 10 is much stronger for building on Episode 9 and introducing danger scenarios that follow logically from earlier plot developments.

Firefly Episode 11: The Vixen! She’s back! Firefly TV heats up So why is Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert? We get to hear the story leading up to that. Saffron is now hitched to Mal’s pal; so imagine the poor sap’s shock when Saffron and Mal draw guns on one another.

Science fiction illustration of a battle cruiser spaceship travelling faster than the speed of light in hyperspace, 3d digitally rendered illustration

Firefly Episode 12, Part 1: The Amazing Mail Order Human Body The episode, while still interesting, returned to a pattern of puzzling plot developments Kaylee falls in love with an organ harvester? But doesn’t that mean Dr. Simon has just dodged a bullet? More to come.

Firefly Episode 12, Part 2: Kaylee falls for a recently undead man Further thoughts on the strange developments regarding the organ harvester. Before he grabbed Kaylee, I’ll admit, I was on the organ smuggler’s side…

Firefly Episode 13: If you are stuck at home in a rainstorm… Otherwise, you may just want to skip this one. But let me explain why. I can’t say for sure what they were thinking, but I will say this was the closest I’ve been to being outright offended by an episode of really anything.

Firefly Episode 14: Ending on a high note River proves to be a telepath but highly unstable, as she mistakes a gun for a stick and Mal must get it away from her. But in the midst of the uproar, a bounty hunter boards the Serenity, unnoticed…

Firefly: What worked, what didn’t… and WHY was it cancelled? When all is said and done, Firefly is one of those classic series that any sci-fi fan should watch. It was the victim of poor scheduling, out-of-order episodes and a confused marketing plan that sold it as a comedy — it’s an adventure with comic moments.

Serenity review, Part 1: My defense of the film’s initial choices (Part 1 of a three-part review) Some viewers have complained that director Joss Whedon changed the characters’s behavior in the film vs. the TV series. I believe they are mistaken. I fell in love with the film before seeing the preceding Firefly TV series. Possibly, failure to make that backstory clear enough cost the film a sequel.

Serenity Review, Part 2: Great scenes dogged by bad plot choices. We meet fresh villains and finally learn River’s secret: She knows the origin of the malevolent Reavers and it is not neat or pretty. I believe that one of creator Joss Whedon’s critical story decisions probably killed the 2005 film’s chances of a sequel, despite continuing interest.

Serenity Review, Part 3: Final thoughts on the movie and TV series. Despite some lapses that made me wonder if the same crew was doing the writing, they are on a par with Star Wars and Star Trek. Were the TV series cancelation and no film sequel a mercy in a way? The film ended things on a high note. Not all TV series or films with sequels are so lucky.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Serenity Review Part 3: Final Thoughts on the Movie and TV Series