Firefly and Western Literature
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‘Heart of Gold’ – the last hurrah

As I understand it, HoG was never aired on TV – appearing only on the DVD. It strikes me it has, as we have commented, many explicit Western traits, more so than any other episode.  I’d like to believe it was closer to the Western Whedon wanted to put out: Wild Bunch in Space. The episode is the ‘not-Western’ (that really is a Western), going close to the origins of the show as ‘ a mix of genres, a Stagecoach kind of drama with a lot of people trying to figure out their lives in a bleak and pioneer environment’ (Whedon), since as Adam Baldwin (Jayne) says, ‘Well, Firefly is a Western and I grew up watching Westerns like The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, Once Upon a Time , The Good the Bad and the Ugly, movies like that’ (94).  This is true in the details of the episodes in the ways this blog has been picking away at for weeks – the clothes, the sets, the guns (Zoe’s is from the TV sci-fi western ‘Adventures of Briscoe County Jr’), music, language, story-lines, references etc — BUT also in its crew — Cinematographer David Boyd – who later worked on Deadwood – was selected because of and his passion for Westerns by Whedon, especially a detailed knowledge of  The Searchers – something he had in common with Whedon.(84, Companion, Vol 2).

So I like to think of HoG as a swipe at the Studio and its rejection of the Western; its fear of Whedon’s post-Western vision. In Philip French’s, Westerns (Manchester: Carcanet, 2005) he defines post-westerns as films in which ‘characters are influenced by or are victims of, the cowboy cult; they intensify and play on the audience’s feelings about, and knowledge of, western movies’ (85), and although a limited, early definition (one I’m building on in my own work), it has something to say about Firefly, about the way the audience is invited into the text, to play around in its many echoes – a framing device here, a line of dialogue there, a name, a plot … And yet there is the sentimental aspect to Whedon’s Western vision, of a new hybrid community, ever-mobile, multi-racial, unfixed ROUTED not ROOTED. We see it in HoGold above all, the new Alamo/Last Stand – with a twist; a wagon train going nowhere-and-everywhere.


3 Responses to “‘Heart of Gold’ – the last hurrah”

  1. Did Zoe’s guns belong to the character Lord Bowler in The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr.? If so, the homage is certainly appropriate. Lord Bowler, played by African American actor Julius Carry, started out as a rival bounty hunter / sidekick for Briscoe County, Jr., but ultimately became a co-star on the series.

    Briscoe County was a western with sci-fi elements (sort of reversing the proportions on Firefly), and it also delighted in smashing together different genres into one episode (including, at one point, a parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). Fans of Joss Whedon would certainly find a lot to like in Briscoe County.

  2. This I don’t know never having seen ‘Briscoe’ – the Companion book just says it came from the show – a ‘Mare’s leg’ pistol which was also ‘inspired by 1958’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ (with Steve McQueen).

  3. On sad note, I just discovered that Julius Carry, the actor who so effectively played the role of Lord Bowler in The Adventures of Brisco County, died just a few weeks back:,CST-NWS-XCARRY22.article

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