On shows created by Joss Whedon

Terror Management Aboard Serenity

By Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D.

On that day, you will finally meet the man.


-Shan Yu, as quoted by Shepherd Book, “War Stories”


Death is a fundamental aspect of life, something with which every culture and every human must somehow come to terms. In the series Firefly, death is something that cannot be denied. Typically, we think of death as the worst imaginable situation. However, there is a benefit to death that is not typically acknowledged: death makes us who we are: soldiers, lovers, and friends. We learn this lesson in a very blatant way in the episode “War Stories,” which was filled with torture, pain, and death. Twice, characters discussed the works of Shan Yu, a psychotic Chinese dictator. As Shepherd Book explained to Simon at the episode’s beginning, “[He] wrote volumes on war, torture, the limits of human endurance… He said, ‘Live with a man forty years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.’” The crew of Serenity lived on the metaphorical volcano’s edge every day. Because of this, we truly met them. Their personal identities,


relationships, and ideologies would not have been so strong without constant reminders of their mortality.


We can all relate to the ways in which death can change us. We have all experienced either the death of a family member, the death of a close friend, or the fear of our own death. Recently, the field of  …

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