On Firefly/Serenity

A Tale of Two Heroes

By Shanna Swendson

Before you can tell a story, you have to know whose story you’re telling, and when you’re watching or reading a story, you want to know whose story it is. In other words, who’s the hero? Not the hero in the sense of who wears the white hat and beats the bad guys, but more in the mythological sense–the man on a mission, the one who has to step out of his comfort zone and face potentially life-threatening situations and be forever transformed in order to achieve his goals.

Who’s the hero of Firefly? In the television series, that changed from week to week, depending on the plot of the particular episode–Mal was usually the one taking the lead, but Simon was the criminal mastermind behind the caper in “Ariel,” Wash refused to leave a man behind in “War Stories,” River saved the day in “Objects in Space,” and even Jayne got to be a hero in “Jaynestown.” But whose story does the saga as a whole tell? At first it seemed pretty obvious that Mal Reynolds would be our hero. He was the first character we met, the captain of the ship, the one running the show. But after facing the battle of Serenity Valley in the opening sequence, he became a man very specifically without a mission. All he wanted was to make enough money to keep his ship and his crew going so that he never had to answer to anyone else ever again. As much as he  …

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