Firefly and Western Literature
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Contexts

I thought I would try to brainstorm a few contexts for interpreting Firefly. The most important context, of course, is the genre western, and part of the fun of Firefly is the way it explicitly explores the western roots that many science fiction television series and sf films share. It’s been a while since I’ve seen John Ford’s Stagecoach, but I think we have some play on the western types from that film. The extended pilot (“Serenity” part 1 and 2) has the Firefly crew picking up passengers (as would a stagecoach), and I can see Jayne as a parody of the John Wayne character. We have several of the other types that are familiar from Stagecoach and other westerns, the doctor (although not a drunk as in Stagecoach), the prostitute, and that’s sort of where my Stagecoach memory runs out. Anyway, we have in Firefly several western character types, the use of multiple western visual and aural motifs (space as wide open plains, individual planets with western topographies, guns, clothing, Mal’s colloquial speech), and various western plot devices, train robberies, cattle rustling, etc.

There have also been at least a couple of other series that have combined western and sf elements quite explicitly, Wild Wild West and The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. (which I’ve been watching recently, with Bruce Campbell as Briscoe), both of which are set in the historical west with the sf elements imported into the western settings and plot (Firefly reverses the proportions). Multiple sf shows have had single western episodes. So, another useful context might be Firefly considered in relation to other western/sf hybrids.

That’s as much actual thought as I have for one day. On a slightly related note, I recently saw 3:10 to Yuma, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, which has Alan Tudyk (Wash!) in a supporting role as a doctor (well, veternarian, actually) whose character arc surprisingly reminiscent of the Serenity film. I didn’t realize he was in the film until he appeared on screen, and I thought, that guy is familiar. No, it couldn’t be! It was good to see him on the screen again.

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