Hardyville in Space

Hardyville in Space

By Claire Wolfe

Getting to Hardyville has always been hard. If the trek over Lonelyheart Pass weren’t already tough enough, there’s the slight problem of Hardyvillians recently taking pot shots at visitors.

The Chamber of Commerce officially discouraged the shooting (first time in the history of Hardyville anyone ever dared opine against firing a gun). Nevertheless, Hardyville’s various forms of inaccessibility have, to put it mildly, discouraged people from packing up the old pickup, setting granny on top in her rocker, and tooling off to the middle of nowhere.

However, there is another Hardyville out there. Another place where a tiny group of freefolk live and love and trade as they see fit (and sometimes connive and steal – but only in the nicest way). There’s another group that’s surrounded by feds but doesn’t even think about joining the herd. Another gang of gun-totin’ individualists unstoppable by any power in the known universe. Or any power “in the ‘verse,” as they themselves would say.

There’s no Carty, but there is a guy named Jayne, who’s just as big and scary (though a lot less trustworthy) and whose favorite gun is named Vera. There’s a fabulously sleek and fit warrior-woman named Zoe. And a wisecracking pilot, Wash, who loves her.

There’s no Miss Fitz, but there is exotic “registered companion” Inara. There’s Kaylee, who’s just the cutest darned mechanic you’ve ever met. And the mysterious Shepherd Book, part celibate missionary monk, part … well, no one’s quite sure, but James Bond comes to mind. And .there’s …

But see for yourself. Experience for yourself.

Oh, the one bad thing is that this better-than-Hardyville bunch live in outer space, 500 years in the future. That’s even more daunting than Lonelyheart Pass, I know.

But in another sense they’re still easier to find than Hardyville. These fabulous future individualists are as close as Amazon.com or Netflix.com.

In case you missed it – as nearly everybody else did during the few weeks it was on TV – and in case you’ve missed the buzz that’s been growing louder for nearly two years now – I’m taking about a humble little failed 2002 Fox TV series called Firefly. And the humble little group of passengers and crew aboard the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity.

Humble. Yeah, about as humble as Nat Lyons with a Garand in hand.

A tough, handsome crewman…

The action on the spaceship Serenity (and on the planets it visits) revolves around Captain Mal Reynolds. Mal was a sergeant on the losing side of an interplanetary civil war. The rebels were beaten by the Alliance – whose hated “feds” now pursue the Serenity through space.

Mal is a character as new as the future, as old as mythology. Although all his hope is lost, he travels on, an Outlaw, a rogue, yet driven by nobility of soul, striving always to do the right thing. He is, as one resentful bad guy sneers, “A man of honor in a den of thieves.”

If you catch a resemblance to a defeated soldier of the earthly Confederate States, it’s no coincidence. Firefly is as much post-Civil War western as space opera. When Serenity lands on planets, you meet cattlemen and gunslingers, wagonmasters and frontier sheriffs. You discover small groups of people making their own way. You attend shindigs and hoedowns. And the word “untamed” comes to mind.

As the first episode gets underway (after a dazzling introduction that reveals the savagery and betrayal of the war), Serenity is just one more little Outlaw ship, conducting illegal salvage operations and trading on the black market. The real trouble begins when Mal and company take in young surgeon Simon Tam and his sister River. River is a brilliant, but completely mad, product of some unknown sort of Alliance medical experimentation. The Alliance will do anything – anything – to recapture River. And so Serenity hurtles through space, chased by truly scary government agents and bounty hunters while also trying to avoid the savage, cannibalistic reavers who roam space, preying off the innocent.

…and a talented, cute mechanic.

But that description doesn’t even begin to do justice to Firefly. The show has better production values than most feature films – brilliant direction and editing, atmospheric use of color and light, intimate camerawork, and possibly the wittiest dialog ever written for television.

A sampling:

Zoë: Shepard, isn’t the Bible kind of specific about killing?

Shepherd Book: Very specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzy around the area kneecaps.

Inara: It sounds like something this crew can handle. I can’t guarantee they’ll handle it particularly well.

Nandi: If they’ve got guns and brains at all…
Inara: They’ve got guns.

Mal: The next time you decide to stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face.

Zoe: I know somehthing ain’t right.

Wash: Sweetie, we’re crooks. If everything were right, we’d be in jail.

at a scrapyard

Kaylee: Figures – first time in the Core, and what do I get to do? Dig through trash. Why couldn’t he send me shopping at the Tri-plex, or – ooh. Synchronizers!

Mal: It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of son of a bitch or another.

And here’s more. (Some of it you just have to hear to truly appreciate.)

A mysterious Shepherd…

A lot of the dialog is downright Hardyvillian:

Mal:That’s what governments are for. Get in a man’s way.

Mal: Anyone gets nosy … just shoot ’em.

Zoe: Shoot ’em?
Mal: Politely.

But above all, Firefly has these great people – nine misfits traveling through space together in various uneasy combinations of strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, secrets, hopes, and passions.

And it has a commitment to the idea of individual freedom and resistance to authority that hasn’t been seen on television since the classic 1960s series The Prisoner.

I’m not exaggerating to say that even if you hate television, you may love Firefly. I’m not exaggerating when I say Joss Whedon, the series mastermind, rivals Stanley Kubrick in filmmaking creativity. I’m not exaggerating when I say it may break your heart when you view the last episode of this amazing show – and that you just might want to slip the first (of the four) DVDs back in the slot and start watching all over again immediately.

So how did anything so fabulous appear and disappear with barely a squeak?

…and a mysterious Companion.

Fox cancelled Firefly after only 14 episodes had been filmed. No, Fox committed attempted murder against Firefly by airing the episodes out of order, failing to promote the show, and then pre-empting the episodes repeatedly so that even the most enchanted viewers couldn’t find them. Lots of Firefly fans will tell you that it was indeed a deliberate murder attempt because this show was too unusual, too freedom-oriented, too upsetting to the status quo, or even too metaphorically favorable to the defeated American south to be allowed to succeed.

I don’t know about that, but I do know Fox didn’t succeed.

Despite Fox’s best efforts, fans found the show – if not on TV, at least in a nice little package. At Amazon.com, nearly 1,100 reviewers have given the DVD set of Firefly a five-star rating.

More than 30,000 Netflix customers have given it an average rating of 4.3 (out of five) stars.

Hundreds of fan sites – most notably this one – bid to turn Firefly into the Star Trek of the twenty-first century. (Only better; trust me on this – much, much better.)

Although only a dozen episodes of this great show ever aired, Whedon and the whole ensemble company – driven by fan support and personal passion – went onto a movie set within 18 months to start filming a movie called Serenity. They’re at work right now.

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Click To Enlarge group photo.

And although I had to be darned near forced to start watching the thing (TV averse as I am), I am truly enchanted, in love, and filled with sorrow at the loss of this precious series. I even tried to nominate it for the Hardyville Freedom Film Festival, until webmaster Oliver pointed out that … well, it wasn’t – yet – a film.

Next year in Hardyville then. The movie Serenity is due out on April 22, 2005. If it’s half as good as the TV series, it’ll wipe out any competition in its category.

But for now, if you’re reading Backwoods Home because you value self-reliance, individual liberty, working together voluntarily, the adventure of living outside the mainstream, self-defense, the free market, and the kind of values you perceive Americans once pursued when the country was young … then get the DVD set of the series, watch it, cherish it. Firefly is a rousing, heartening, exciting expression of all that you love.

NOTE: Mild sexuality, strong language, and even a bit of chaste nudity make Firefly suitable fare for teens and adults, but not small children. Rest assured, however, that the worst cussing is in Chinese. Chinese? Yeah, Chinese.

Don’t ask. Just watch.

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