On Firefly/Serenity

The Alliance's War on Science

By Ken Wharton

After watching the movie Serenity and the episodes of Firefly, one might come to the conclusion that the show’s creators did not like science.

Or scientists, for that matter.

After all, the movie opens with white-coated “doctors” plunging needles into a young girl’s brain, and builds up to the revelation that secret scientific experiments killed 10 million innocent people and created the Reavers. True, the scientists are not portrayed as the main “bad guys”–the soon-to-be-skewered whitecoat in the movie’s opening scene seems particularly hapless–but without these scientists and their hideous secrets, the Alliance would probably seem like a pretty decent group of people.

You might also draw the same conclusion from the quite different scientific leanings of the “good guys.” Malcolm Reynolds and his gang don’t much care for fancy research. Serenity’s only technician has never had any formal training–machines just “talk to her.” True, they have a well-trained doctor on board, but that’s just a bit of happenstance. Indeed, we’re continually reminded throughout the series that medicine can be used for evil as well as for good. In the Firefly pilot episode, even Simon threatened to withhold medical treatment for Kaylee unless Mal helped him escape the Alliance.

And Captain Reynolds himself hardly ever mentions anything technical. When he does, he demonstrates that he understands the basic principles well enough, but has no interest in anything he can’t put to direct use. For example, in the Firefly episode “Shindig,” Reynolds saw an impressive floating chandelier at a ball on  …

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