Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity offer a brand new take on the well established science fiction film genre, one that many authors and viewers believe needed Whedon’s fresh new ideas to prevent further stagnating of the genre. Whedon’s Firefly focuses on the lives of Malcolm Reynolds (Mal) and his crew aboard the Firefly-class space ship named Serenity. Mal is the most compelling of the characters on the show because he is, in a way, the most fragile one. In the series premiere, “Serenity,” Mal is a complete man, fighting as a volunteer in a civil war. After his army is abandoned in Serenity Valley by their commanders while the latter negotiate a peace treaty, something inside Mal breaks; he becomes a fractured man, losing his faith in God, in humanity and in government. Over the next six years, he buys the spaceship Serenity and gathers a close-knit crew in an attempt to put himself back together and to create a new identity for himself. Mal's identity conflict speaks to Firefly's viewers, and we are able to relate not only to Mal and his desire to protect himself and his pseudo-family, but also to his efforts to make himself whole by establishing a place for himself in the world. Mal’s search for self identification through the development of loyal relationships is what inspires viewers to connect to Mal, which contributes to their untiring devotion to the Firefly verse.
By analyzing each of Firefly’s characters in relation to Mal, I examine how they contribute to his efforts to rebuild his identity through the construction of a combined family unit. I use close analysis of the episodes of Firefly and the film Serenity, as well as several essays and articles written about the series and film. I also take into account interviews by creator, Joss Whedon, and actor, Nathan Fillion, about the development of the character Mal and the series as a whole. Actor Nathan Fillion, who plays Mal, writes: “Looking at Kaylee, I could tell what kind of man Mal was. Speaking to Zoe, I could tell what kind of leader Mal was. Arguing with Wash and Jayne, I knew the limits of Mal’s patience. They made me Mal. Looking back, I know now that everyone in the cast was, in essence, his or her character” (Fillion 52). Viewers are able to identify with every character on Firefly because they are modeled after real people. Mal, and the rest of Serenity’s crew, are the kinds of people who don’t care how society defines them; they are the ones who strongly stand apart from the rest of society and give everyone else hope that they too can live their lives as fully realized individuals. Fans’ love for Firefly proves that there is a strong unit of viewers who rely on television not only to provide entertainment, but also to provide for them a set of inspiring, realistic characters who they can relate to.
Buscemi, Rose, "Mal-Adjusted: Integration of Selves in Joss Whedon's Firefly" (2009). Honors College Theses. 85.