So let’s talk about some of the themes of Firefly and how one of its messages seems to be incomplete and inconsistent.
The Firefly story upholds this idea of freedom as the moral absolute, framing it as freedom against an oppressive government — Mal fights against forced unification and then, when he fails to stop it, does whatever he can to maintain his own freedom by flying out of the Alliance’s reach. But, Firefly is also framed as a civil war story, in which the Browncoats are stand-ins for the Confederates wanting to “maintain their freedom” (which we all know isn’t what the Civil War was really about, but the Firefly world doesn’t have slavery in the same way).
So the show is making this problematic comparison, and then erasing the problem. The result of which is that the show just sterilizes the Civil War and seems to glorify Confederates.
But it IS showing us that the Alliance government is actually hugely oppressive and problematic. This is government without oversight. Not to mention the implied influence that Big Corporations (Blue Sun) have over the government, too. And this really does speak to the problems with some government in our world. See: police brutality, corporate interests, the Koch brothers…
So “freedom” from those things certainly looks like it makes sense and is worth fighting for (see: modern day protests, etc.). If you ignore the problematic Confederate comparison, it seems like Mal is a hero wanting the right things.
However, after losing the war, Mal just tries to run away from the oppressive government. This isn’t a great solution to the problem, and governmentless small-town libertarianism is not a better alternative: we see crime-lord-run planets, oppressive sheriffs, folks who can’t get the medical attention they need, witch-hunters… And our protagonists just choose to live outside it all.
Mal’s better world is NOT better for those without power, for those without the means to escape (like Mal). There’s no social equality here.
Because ultimately, we do need government — just, government free from corporate influence, with more transparency and oversight, etc. We need government that is just and helps the oppressed.
Neither the Alliance Core nor the wild Rim are good ways for the world to work — and while the show does demonstrate that, it doesn’t give a better solution. Until, perhaps, the movie, when we get a real protest/attempt to tear down the establishment, none of the characters are actually trying to make the world a better place, or even represent the desire to make the world a better place. Even in the movie, they end up wanting to tear down the establishment, but no replacement is offered.
None of the characters represent a better choice, an alternative other than stating that the current situation is Not Good.
Despite its attempts to convince us otherwise, Firefly’s universe is one without hope for something better.
Lucas J.W. Johnson’s Azrael’s Stop and Tales of the Stop, along with the Azrael’s Stop Official Soundtrack, are all available now for digital download!