Thursday, 19 November 2015

On Genre Conventions in Joss Whedon's Firefly (2002-3) and Serenity (2005)

"When Americans land on another world, it seems, they expect it to resemble the American West." 
- Paul A. Carter[1]

One of the most infamously short-lived yet popular programmes ever broadcast, Joss Whedon's Firefly (2002-03) died a relatively ignominious death at the hands of sheer studio incompetence (if you want to get angry, read up on how Fox misunderstood almost everything about the series' premise and direction style, transmitted the episodes in the wrong order and then wondered why no one was tuning in, before dealing it the killer blow of cancellation). And yet Firefly possesses its own potent cult status. It spawned a 2005 film, Serenity, which received very positive reviews and critical analysis (and was called the "greatest science-fiction movie ever" by SF author Orson Scott Card[2]). Online fan campaigns to resurrect the show have been extremely popular[3]. Upon first release, the series box-set notoriously sold out 200,000 copies in record time[4]. A New Scientist magazine poll in 2005 listed the show as the greatest science-fiction series ever [5]. In other words, the series has undergone something of a vindicated renaissance and is now rightly upheld as a great, if tragically mishandled, Sci-Fi series.

There are numerous reasons why Firefly is a very strong show: first off, the talents of the exceptional nine-strong cast, who visibly bonded together, are having the time of their lives making it, and always manage to lift even the weaker source material. Not that there's much in the way of weak material - given that writers on the show include Joss Whedon himself, Tim Minear, Jane Espenson and Jose Molina, and as such the scripts are as smart, funny and intricate as one could hope for. There's the gorgeous filming and set design. But these are all elements that have been justly praised elsewhere; I want to talk about something else.

I'd like to examine what interested me most about Firefly on my last viewing of the entire series, and that is the imagination, the verve and the lightness of touch with which the writers, and even to some extent the cast, toy with genre conventions and their subsequent limitations. Firefly is a series most obviously known as a "Sci-Fi Western"; that is to say, it takes place in a universe that self-evidently allows the tropes, imagery and iconography of both science-fiction television and classic Western movies to comfortably sit alongside one another in practically equal prominence. To present two such aesthetically different yet thematically overlapping genres, merged in a visual medium right down to a scene-by-scene level, is one achievement; that Whedon et al. manage to weave a wholly larger lattice of different genres throughout Firefly's oh-so-short 14-episode run is a marvel. The writers manage to land the eponymous spacecraft in all varieties of narrative structures, from Austenian courtly drama to existential horror movie to its own version of the Salem witch trials. This is a show with an alarmingly and yet deceptively flexible premise, one that, if given the space to do so, could no doubt have run the course of the seven full seasons Whedon had originally planned[6].

But without getting ahead of ourselves, let's start with those two most immediately obvious influences on the show: Sci-Fi and Western. What Whedon does in blending these two genres together to create his own unique narrative universe is particularly clever (and something he does in different ways in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Angel (1999-2004), The Cabin in the Woods (2012) and of course The Avengers (2012)). Their juxtaposition appeals because they are in one sense diametrically opposed and yet far more closely related than it would seem at first sight. Aesthetically, they make for an effective dichotomy: the one sleek, futuristic, gleaming chrome, concerned with humanity's relationship to technology and how it can improve its existence; the other reddish-brown in colour scheme, rustic, earthy, concerned with individuals as outsiders living out their own vendettas in a harsh and uncompromising environment. And yet there is a long-standing and closely-woven relationship between the two genres. Both are intrinsically outward-looking, whether into the vast cathedral of space or the plains of Nevada, both share a love of adventure and of travel, of journeying into the beyond, of exploring above and beyond the frontier (it's no accident, of course, that Star Trek: The Original Series used the famous phrase "Space: The Final Frontier", and Gene Roddenberry has often called his creation a "space western" [7]; in this regard one could quite legitimately draw a comparison between the Gold Rush of the 1880s and the space race of the 1950s.) Both are conducive to questions revolving around "civilisation versus the wilderness"[8], paralleling outcasts and centres of power; Whedon simply transposes Western stereotypes into a galactic setting and reinvents them as Han-Solo-like smugglers and pioneers. 

Both of these are genres that are extremely capable of, and open to, flexibility and hybridity of various kinds, to the extent that even in their purer forms science-fiction and Western can be somewhat difficult to classify (Glassy suggests that science-fiction can be defined in a similar manner to pornography: you may not know what it is, but you know it when you see it[9], whilst filmmaker Quentin Tarantino memorably described his heavily Western-influenced 2012 film Django Unchained as a "southern"[10], further muddying the waters of genre labeling). Mark Twain was the first to mix time-travel with the Old West in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), Robert Heinlein blended the genres in his 1950 novel Farmer in the Sky, and numerous Space Westerns emerged in the 1970s and 1980s (with Outland (1981) being the most famous, although Lucas' Star Wars (1977) of course pays numerous homages to classic Western imagery). There is thus some history of overlap between the two, but there has rarely if ever been a genre collision this thorough on television. Whedon's original pitch was inspired by reading The Killer Angels (the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel by Michael Shaara concerning the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War); his goal was specifically to introduce the tactile, earthy, physical qualities he recognised in Old West culture into his own vision of space voyaging as a definitive break from the slicker science-fiction that was popular at the time[11] (and, sure enough, the 'verse of Firefly has its own version of the American Civil War - although, notably, it is one in which the anti-slavery argument ultimately loses, which permits Whedon and co the material, textural pleasures of a Deep South nostalgia without any of the uncomfortable associations that might have in the real world - as Evelyn Vaughan puts it, "we can face the tragedy of the Confederate soldier without the accompanying vilification"[12]). 

Different episodes toy with these respective genre conventions to varying degrees, but they are almost always both in evidence in any given instalment in the Firefly canon. What makes Firefly's mash-up of Sci-Fi and Western unique is the totality with which the two worlds are blended: most Space Westerns may freely borrow Western narrative techniques or icons (from the gunslinger to the showdown), but do not tend not to imitate the entire Western experience, ranch, cowherd, village, gully and all, as Firefly does. The series' mostly overtly "Western-themed" episode, The Train Job, opens with Captain Malcolm Reynolds being thrown out of a bar window as the result of a barroom brawl, an iconic scene in many Westerns dating right back to Dodge City (1939) and even present in Star Wars' Mos Eisley Cantina - and yet it is of course a holographic window through which he is thrown[13]. Later developments in the episode see a classically constructed train heist - a nod to the very first motion picture Western, The Great Train Robbery (1903) - conducted with the aid of the crew's sophisticated engine-powered spaceship. The same episode (written hastily over a weekend, in a similar manner to much "dime fiction" of the Western era) features evading a town sheriff's search for advanced medication as a plot point and a traditional showdown with the villains[14]. Tracey in The Message is involved in covert smuggling - but not of silver, or livestock, but highly prized internal organs. A gunfight at a brothel in Heart of Gold involves numerous laser pistols and a hovercraft. Canton in Jaynestown is a classically Western boomtown, complete with its own folkloric hero. Despite featuring a minimal number of Western elements and taking place almost entirely on a spaceship, the show's third episode - Bushwhacked - takes its name from the pre-Civil War (best date c.1840) term for fighting one's way through unknown, hostile territory. The list of parallels goes on[15].

Simply put, there is a point for any Firefly viewer in which the series' aesthetic ceases to be a strange mash-up of genres and somehow seems to become a completely normal, rational, fully developed world in which to spend one's apportioned quota of fictional television. In Wills' words, "horses canter alongside spacecraft, lone rangers wield laser pistols, outlaws fly through holographic bar windows, and cattle inhabit space cargo bays"[16]. The marriage of tones is, stylistically, pretty obvious; right from the title-sequence shot of the crew's Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity, soaring above a herd of horses in the desert, it's clear exactly what kind of duality we're dealing with (that shot was allegedly designed to explain "everything you need to know about the show in five seconds"[17]). And this union of opposites is also present in the show’s title, which in retrospect perfectly encapsulates its many attributes – a sleekness and litheness we might associate with advanced space travel, yet also something more elemental than other, merely mechanical spaceship names: it is, after all, the name of an insect that glows. The title (and indeed the ship) both boast of raw power and yet shrink into a certain cosy insignificance, just as the characters that sail in her are simultaneously daredevil, reckless marauders and a homely family unit. No other Space Western really enmeshes this balance to quite the same degree, as though Steinbeck could walk off his ranch, bump into Asimov and together they could hop in a spaceship and fly over to the next valley.

But the truth goes above and beyond the mere aesthetic balance between science-fiction and Western ideas – Whedon's programme has a much more complex, nuanced and fascinating approach to how it treats different genres, and what it borrows or rejects from each. For one thing, there is the type of science-fiction within which Firefly positions its Western influences - cyberpunk dystopia[18], most obviously present in the authoritarianism of the Alliance (especially terrifying operatives like the 'Hands of Blue'), and this is matched by Blade Runner-style film noir cityscapes when we visit inner worlds (and it is no accident that, like Ridley Scott's celebrated classic, this series blends Western culture and a pan-Asian aesthetic, from set design to clothing to dialectic profanities - the logic behind this, Whedon explains, is a future in which China and the US are the two great superpowers who expand outwards into space). This is a world soaked in dystopian trademarks, with the Western genre conventions acting as mercurial outliers of a bleak, authoritarian centre of power: from the "Fed", Dobson, who infiltrates the ship in the series pilot, to the aforementioned Hands of Blue to the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the Serenity film, they owe a lot to George Lucas' conception of an evil Empire and the place of the United Kingdom within the American mythos of its own history. Where the cyberpunk dystopia of the Alliance loses traction in the outer worlds it is replaced by a much more primitive, brutal and inhospitable form of civilization, which we have already established owes much to Western genre tropes: the Western as post-apocalyptic world itself debuted in Mad Max (1979).

Fascinatingly, this intersection is taken one degree further in the form of the Reavers: brutal, cannibalistic, atavistic creatures that - at first - are quite clearly the most regressive and primitive element of the Firefly 'verse, as though they are in some sense pre-humanity. But of course we know this is not the case. The Reavers are a horrifying end-point, fulfilling much the same function as the Cybermen in Doctor Who although with a considerably more gory aesthetic. The Reavers are what the dystopia genre could drive humanity towards - as power is centred ever more on an authoritarian government, the citizens of the outbacks struggle to survive, reverting further and further back into Western archetypes and even further still into horrifying atavism. It is a primitiveness that could only exist in the future, a brutality that comes about as a result of technological great leaps forward (see also the Tusken Raiders of Tatooine as the obvious Star Wars comparison, although the Reavers are of course far worse). Thus the campfire, anecdotal storytelling of the Western mould is confronted with dystopian, ugly futurism of the Metropolis variety, and the product is not especially edifying. Life is not particularly wonderful for either the civilized or the barbarous.

The dystopian, fascistic world of the Alliance, therefore, taints everything it touches - epitomised in the character of River Tam, fleeing the Alliance with god knows what surgical implants in her brain, implants which make her quick to disturb. It's an ugly, unpleasant genre. But it is of course a real one in many ways, in both our world and the world of Captain Reynolds, and the writers don't shy away from many of the horrific implications of the Alliance's activities (especially in the post-Iraq War Serenity film, which indicts the Alliance as being in some sense culpable for the creation of the Reavers in the first place, in which some have detected a parallel with the "radicalization" of the Middle East). All this is wholly of a piece with Whedon's avowed belief that "nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral and ethical problems as today"[19].

We have located, then, the central tension of the 'verse as it stands - an authoritarian, mostly capitalist power seeking to restrict and control and monitor the lives of its citizens, who are free to be as luxurious as they wish so long as they accept all the empire's uglier propositions. For those few who reject this narrative of the world - a difficult genre compromise, voyaging from one to another. Where Firefly particularly fascinates is in the ways in which it asserts the worth of seeing new perspectives and finding oneself in new genres, meeting new people, but also the worth of the journey itself - beautifully sashaying between the ethos, common to both the Science-Fiction and Western genres, of being an utterly unfettered individual, free to explore without the government interfering too much in your life.

What are some of these genres they land in? Crucially, the writers of Firefly are never crass in the way they approach. They don't literally land Jayne and Wash in a flat-sharing sit-com complete with every single stock joke of that sub-genre. Instead, they allow the different genres to mingle, whether that's an artsy and existential musing on Sartre's La Nausée blended with a murderous thriller involving a bounty hunter. Different characters come to be more closely associated with different genres, along both class and gender lines - where Mal and Jayne are fairly classic "Western outlander" types (actor Nathan Fillion based his portrayal on a hybrid of the morally ambiguous trio of Captain Kirk, Han Solo and John Wayne), a character like Inara belongs to a different world altogether (as we see in the episode Shindig), whilst River and Simon Tam come from yet another narrative again; ditto Shepherd Book, and so on. Culture clashes have always made for good storytelling, and the Serenity crew - an odd rag-tag bunch of mavericks - makes for an effective nine-piece collection with which the writers can drop us into a new type of story each week.

Serenity (the pilot episode) is primarily an action movie about a war veteran and his crew (note the way the episode opens) trying to evade capture of both the Alliance and Reaver sides of this dystopia, as set alongside Western showdowns (such as the one with Patience). The second episode, The Train Job, commits most thoroughly of all of Firefly's fourteen installments to the Western iconography - as explored in detail above, through bar-brawls, train heists and a sheriff. It's the quietly creepy third episode, Bushwhacked, where one starts to get a sense that this is likely to be quite a different show every week; the bright and breezy colours of Arizona-like canyons are replaced by dark and atmospheric Alien-style horror. This is not the action-movie horror of an enormous ship of pursuing Reavers, but the slow-burn variety - eventually morphing into an adrenalin-fuelled exploration of what it is the Reavers do. Piece by piece, the show is adding new elements to its already broad repertoire.

Jane Espenson's Shindig, the fourth episode, is also one of the most impressive and important in genre terms. David Budgen identifies how the high society circles in which Inara moves are a distinct nod to "Southern aristocratic values"[20], specifically invoking Gone with the Wind (1939), as is the way in which the sophisticated dance ends with a traditional rapier duel. And yet there is also a great deal of dialogue written, in Espenson's words, in "Jane Austen style"[21] - the show is consciously evoking a classical period of literature to emphasize that, no, this show is not all about gun-toting heroics or cannibals. Mal - one of the more straightforwardly "Western" characters - finds it difficult to fit into this quasi-courtly, quasi-aristocratic world, as we see from his initially inexpert handling of a sword against posh boy Atherton Wing. He comes up trumps in the end, naturally - defeating Atherton against the odds - because the narrative rules of the science-fiction/Western coalition to which we are slowly becoming accustomed have to reassert themselves at the end of each episode. But until that point there is the threat that he will be undone by a much more 18th century genre - a genre personified by Inara, Atherton and the other members of the elite.

This tension continues throughout Firefly. The show's fifth episode sees an (admittedly hastily played out) re-enactment of Arthur Miller's iconic 1953 play The Crucible on the backwater world of Jiangyin, right down to a very similar witch-hunt born out of paranoia and desperation. While no one member of the crew is notably identified with this world - Salem witch-trials being difficult to classify as any one genre, although literary horror perhaps comes closest - it's particularly interesting that it is Simon and River Tam who are left abandoned and threatened in its midst. The episode is punctuated by flashbacks to the Tams' easygoing and luxurious childhood and former life prior to the series' beginning: the decor is sedate, tranquil, modern. "With voices like money,"[22] as F. Scott Fitzgerald might have put it, and thus a perfect blend with the narrative threat that is trying to capture them - a reactionary throwback to a far less privileged world. Episode Six - Our Mrs Reynolds - is a particularly skilfully written character-based romantic comedy that disguises itself as a spy story-cum-confidence trick, marrying together the two by having Mal's prospective wife also be the traitor in the midst. Jaynestown pulls a similar trick in eliding an intrinsically comic situation - Jayne Cobb as folk hero[23], complete with his own infuriatingly catchy song - into a relatively serious musing on Magistrate Higgins' slavery, another overt nod to the Deep South.

Out of Gas and Ariel are two more milestone episodes. The former is an eccentrically-constructed piece of drama that centres on Mal, dying and alone in his ship, but then juggles all manner of cleverly-told flashback sequences to show how he met his crew. Out of Gas very smartly revolves almost entirely around one setting (a trait it shares with the season finale), as both the "present-day" sequences and the "past" sequences take place in the ship itself. The crew's entire histories with the captain become his hallucinatory experiences as he faces his mortality by himself, in the empty blackness of space, bleeding his life force away. It is as though one starts to wonder if all one's joys were imaginary (hence his beautifully tender question "y'all gonna be here when I wake up?" when he is finally reunited with his crew in the present). It's the classic "back-story" episode that also manages to be a melancholic musing on those moments in which we are all out of gas: asking fundamental questions about solipsism and community and considering our place in the universe. Ariel, in turn, is a masterstroke - taking a hospital drama, smashing it together with a bank heist, and then using this powerhouse combination to make some beautifully engineered character decisions. Unsurprisingly by this juncture, the gang's raid on a Persephone hospital bears some wonderfully rich fruit, right down to the Western-oriented Jayne trying to memorize dialogue right out of a Casualty-style medical drama. This wild and crazy double-crossing character doesn't belong here, not in this genre, and he's only in it because Firefly - both show and vessel - is capable of transporting him there.

This pattern is repeated throughout Firefly - for instance, War Stories is both a love-triangle episode and a powerful, tortuous depiction of survivor's guilt. But for the sake of brevity, let us now turn our attention to the very last episode of this all-too-brief show, Objects in Space. The deserving subject of much critical analysis, it is a piece of television that transcends its format, having been picked by Whedon as his one single piece of work that represents his worldview above all others[24]. What makes Objects in Space so remarkable is the way that it tells both a tautly wound thriller - the tension is agonizing in places - and a powerfully philosophical piece of work, a companion piece to Sartre's La Nausée ("the most important book [Whedon] ever read”[25]). There is no *dropping* into other genres on other worlds - quite literally, the ship lands nowhere else, because the entire story takes place in and around Serenity's confines - because Sartre and Whedon's philosophical concerns inform every single kind of story. Who are we? What are we doing here? As living beings, what is our connection to our inanimate surroundings? Are we really anything more than objects in space? Whedon has the astonishing gift of turning a bounty-hunter, a character at the centre of a thriller, into a mouthpiece for his own ontological questions. Like Out of Gas, the story takes us through intense and powerful evocations of loneliness in order to restate the central importance of a family unit, of not seeing people as object-things with whom one can do as one pleases (this is where bounty hunter Jubal Early ultimately falls foul of the crew).

This wonderful, playful way in which Whedon and co. toy with immensely powerful and studied genre formats does, of course, recurs in Serenity (the 2005 film), although I personally think it demands less analysis than the series that yielded it. One thing that the film does do which is arguably never really attempted in the series is to comment on its own use of the medium with which it tells its story - escaping its genre, if you like, to gaze down upon itself from an audience member's vantage point. The series may have always been aware of its own genre tropes, certainly, which implies a certain degree of knowingness and winking at the audience, but Serenity took this one step further - take, for instance, Telotte's example of the Operative stepping through the projected holographic image of River Tam early on in the film[26]. It is as though he has been watching footage of Firefly: the series, and has decided the stories being told are not to his liking (or the liking of the people whom he represents), and as such he must curtail the telling of such stories right this minute. He appears to possess control of the images of these characters - and since they are characters on a television set, images is all that they are. They are in some sense fixed now, and that is the one thing a good, fluid story can never be. How fitting, then, and yet how tragic, that the film is in fact our last foray into this fictional world.

As Donna Bowman puts it so beautifully, "You need an endless supply of stories to tell, and there are two ways you can get it: by setting your characters down in a place where stories come to them (police station, hospital, law firm) or by sending them out to the frontier where anything can happen. That’s the connection between science fiction and the western—people heading out to “the final frontier,” to coin a phrase. And so I got goose bumps watching the world of Persephone stroll by Serenity's open hatch, because it’s that oldest of story-generating devices: the crossroads. Combine it with the frontier, and you have everything you need to kickstart a million stories"[27]. Bowman nails it. Firefly manages to be both the show that explores, that heads out, and yet the show that sits back and lets stories wash over it. Braving the unknown as per its own genre and yet capable of dropping down into any other, often ones with which the audience is cosily familiar. Serenity walks this line a little less successfully, but is still streets ahead of its science-fiction contemporaries by dint of its wit and its invention. I shall give the final word to Jes Battis, who writes of the series: "if we writers keep crossing the wires, and crossing the genres, by fusing beloved SF archetypes together, then producers will eventually realize that the canon actually endures because it is flexible, and that once you’ve stitched everything together, there really are no genres—just stories"[28]. We're all characters, after all; Whedon is a character in his own mind and his fans' conception of him and as God of his own universe; each Firefly character is something slightly different to each of us. The process of living life consists of visiting genre after genre, merging them and blending them in new ways depending on the places we go and the people we meet. We are, of course, all stories in the end.
  1. Carter, Paul A., The Creation of Tomorrow: Fifty Years of Magazine Science Fiction, Columbia University Press (November 1, 1977).
  2. Card, Orson Scott, "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" (September 30, 2005.)
  3. Chonin, Neva, When Fox canceled 'Firefly,' it ignited an Internet fan base whose burning desire for more led to 'Serenity', San Francisco Chronicle (June 8, 2005).
  4. Russell, M.E., The Browncoats Rise Again, The Daily Standard (June 24, 2006).
  5. "The World's Best Space Sci-Fi Ever: Your verdict", (October 26, 2005).
  6. "Well, obviously I designed their world and these characters in this ensemble to sustain seven years [sic] worth”: Whedon, Joss, in "Serenity Set Visit: IGN visits the set of the Firefly movie"IGN, (November 8, 2004).
  7. York Times (July 22, 1986).
  8. Wills, John, "Firefly and the Space Western: Frontier Fiction on Fast Forward", in Firefly Revisited: Essays on Joss Whedon's Classic Series, Michael Goodrum & Philip Smith (eds.), Rowman & Littlefield, (February 2, 2015).
  9. Glassy, Mark C., The Biology of Science Fiction Cinema, Jefferson, N.C: McFarland (January 1, 2001).
  10. Tarantino, Quentin, in  (April 27, 2007).
  11. Whedon, Joss, Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, Titan Books Ltd (September 1, 2005).
  12. Vaughan, Evelyn, "The Bonnie Brown Flag", in Serenity Found: More Unauthorised Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, Jane Espenson (ed.), BenBella Books, (September 10, 2007).
  13. Wills, John, "Firefly and the Space Western: Frontier Fiction on Fast Forward", in Firefly Revisited: Essays on Joss Whedon's Classic Series, Michael Goodrum & Philip Smith (eds.), Rowman & Littlefield, (February 2, 2015).
  14. Ibid.
  15. One such cheeky parallel is that of the old Western narrative staple, a female gunfighter disguised as a man. At the start of the Firefly episode Our Mrs Reynolds, the ship's gun-toting male captain Mal disguises himself as Jayne's "wife".
  16. Wills, John, "Firefly and the Space Western: Frontier Fiction on Fast Forward", in Firefly Revisited: Essays on Joss Whedon's Classic Series, Michael Goodrum & Philip Smith (eds.), Rowman & Littlefield, (February 2, 2015).
  17. Firefly DVD boxset, “Making-of” documentary, cited at (Release date: April 19, 2004).
  18. Sutherland, Sharon, and Swan, Sarah, "The Alliance Isn't Some Evil Empire: Dystopia in Joss Whedon's Firefly/Serenity", in Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier, Rhonda V. Wilcox & Tanya R. Cochran (eds.), I.B. Tauris (July 30, 2008).
  19. Whedon, Joss, in the "Serenity: Relighting the Firefly" DVD extra, Serenity DVD (Release date: December 20, 2005).
  20. Budgen, David, "A Man of Honor in a Den of Thieves: War Veterans in Firefly and Serenity", in Firefly Revisited: Essays on Joss Whedon's Classic Series, Michael Goodrum & Philip Smith (eds.), Rowman & Littlefield, (February 2, 2015).
  21. Espenson, Jane, in Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers In Joss Whedon's Firefly (ed. Espenson and Glenn Yeffeth), BenBella Books (March 11, 2005).
  22. Fitzgerald, F. Scott, describing Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, Charles Scribner's Sons (April 10, 1925). 
  23. It's also interesting to note Budgen's point here (see footnote #20 for source) - that the core Firefly cast are in essence a Robin Hood line-up: Mal is clearly Robin, thieving from the rich; Shepherd Book is Friar Tuck; Inara is Maid Marian; and Jayne, in turn, is Little John (both have an emasculating name).
  24. Whedon, Joss, from the Reddit AMA thread (April 10, 2012).
  25. Preece, Caroline, from Den of Geek's look at Objects in Space (December 1, 2011).
  26. Telotte, J. P., "Serenity, Genre and Cinematization", in Science Fiction Film, Television and Adaptation, Jay Telotte and Gerald Duchovnay (eds.), ART, (August 2, 2011).
  27. Bowman, Donna, the AV Club review of the pilot episode Serenity (June 1, 2012).
  28. Battis, Jes, Captain Tightpants: Firefly and the Science Fiction Canon (Winter 2008 edition of Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies - Firefly & Serenity edition).

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