TV Rewind: Firefly’s Makeshift Finale Perfectly Captures the Series’ Everlasting Charm

TV Features Firefly
TV Rewind: Firefly’s Makeshift Finale Perfectly Captures the Series’ Everlasting Charm

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

If you are a fan of Firefly, then you are likely intimately familiar with the series’ fraught life at FOX. 

Airing concurrently with then-prolific, now-infamous creator Joss Whedon’s hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s final season in 2002, Firefly follows the crew of Serenity, a “Firefly class” transport ship in a futuristic world where all humans live spread far out in the galaxy after Earth was depleted of resources. The series notoriously was aired out of order by FOX, with the pilot episode, “Serenity,” airing as its 11th and final episode—out of the 14 episodes filmed, only 11 hit the airwaves. True Firefly fans will know that the correct order, where the events take place chronologically (as it appears on both Hulu and its DVD release, alongside the three unaired gems), means that Episode 10, “Objects in Space,” was the intended Season 1 finale. That last episode perfectly captures all the elements that make the series so compelling, and encapsulates exactly why it has remained such a cult hit all these years later. 

In many ways, “Object in Space” follows nearly the exact same plot as Firefly’s continuation film, Serenity. River (Summer Glau) and Simon’s (Sean Maher) connection to the overbearing Alliance puts the crew of Serenity in danger, and their efforts to decide what exactly to do with this troubled young woman divides the team, only for their shared love of both River and each other to bring them all back together—and stronger for it—in the end. However, the undeniable humanity present within Episode 10 is missing from the significantly more gritty and dramatized film. Where Serenity takes the crew across the Verse and places them in the path of death, destruction, and peril the likes of which they have never seen, “Objects in Space” is the series at its very best—locked on the ship, with only the dynamics of the characters (and one unwelcome intruder) to bear the dramatic weight of the episode. 

There is something striking about the way Episode 10 in particular presents each member of the Serenity crew, especially through River’s eyes at the very beginning of the episode. She sees two faces of each of her friends; the one presented to those they are interacting with, as we see Simon being affectionate with Kaylee (Jewel Staite), Jayne (Adam Baldwin) laughing with Book (Ron Glass), and Inara (Morena Baccarin) arguing with Mal (Nathan Fillion), and the one that reveals moments and memories River was not actually present for. In that opening sequence, River is both invisible and all-encompassing, with her connection to the crew and her inner-world only broken when she realizes she’s somehow holding a gun, with every single one of her friends trying to talk her down. With only the vast expanse of space around them, each character’s reaction to River and the potential danger she poses to them reveals their own fears and reservations, boiling them down to the most potent aspects of their personalities—Jayne, for example, is ready to kick River out, while Inara expresses concern for the wellbeing of not only the crew, but River herself. 

As the episode progresses, River remains the focal point, even as Early the bounty hunter’s (Richard Brooks) nonsensical ramblings and stomach-turning threats of sexual violence (because it’s a Whedon joint, it must always come to that, apparently) take up a vast majority of the middle of the episode. Early’s moments drag, but once the story re-centers on River and the Serenity crew’s relationship with her, everything falls back into place. It’s heartbreaking to watch River insist that she willingly give herself to this violent bounty hunter, to state so plainly that the crew would be better off if she could “just fade away” and allow them to lead simpler lives.

Throughout her relatively short but difficult life, River was forced to grow up too fast, used as a plaything for the Alliance and then whisked away to a dangerous life of thieving aboard Serenity; even in the middle of her own kidnapping, she is still the one to save the day in the end. She masterminds the perfect plan, where the crew will work in tandem to allow Mal to push Early out to space, allowing River to come back onto the ship safe and sound in turn. Of course there’s a hint of humor to it, but it is genuinely heartwarming to watch as River comforts the tied-up Kaylee or calms the trigger-happy Zoe (Gina Torres) while she puts her plan into action. When River floats back down to the roof of Serenity and asks for permission to come aboard, it encapsulates the series’ overall thesis: that this crew, these people, are a family, no matter what may try to come between them. 

As mentioned, not everything about this episode works on its own (and it certainly isn’t the series’ best outing), but its place in the grander Firefly canon as the true final episode provides the proper counterbalance to its less compelling scenes. That moment of levity between Mal and River on the roof of Serenity would not hold the same weight had it not been for Mal’s insistence just a few episodes earlier, in “Ariel,” that Simon and River were a part of his crew and thus were to be protected like family. It’s that connection between Mal and his crew that strengthens the tethers they all have to each other, and binds them together. 

As the episode winds down, Zoe removes the bullet from Simon’s leg while Wash (Alan Tudyk) lovingly stands with a brow mop at the ready for his wife, Jayne and Book lament their uselessness in the fight as they head to work out together, and River and Kaylee sit on the floor playing jacks and talking. It’s these small moments of connection and levity that make Firefly as charming and timeless as it is. It’s cool to see the Westernized space fights and the far-off planets, of course, but it’s this crew that makes the show, and “Objects in Space” understands that on a molecular level—and that’s what makes it the perfect series finale for a show that ended too soon. Similarly to why Buffy’s finale works so well, our favorite crew gets to just go on together. We don’t need to know exactly where they are going or what their next adventure will be, but we know it’ll be as a family, and that’s all that matters. It’s that decision to be more to each other than just drifters and crew-mates and stowaways that allows the humanity of this space western to remain the most important piece of its complex puzzle. 

And while the film continuation is a fun jaunt across the universe and features both incredible fight sequences and high-stakes action, that focus on human connection is missing, traded in for elevated drama. River becomes a highly trained sleeper agent, Mal takes his anger and frustration out on his crew, and this family is forced to watch their own be brutally taken from them in the name of shock and horror. It’s a good film, but it isn’t truly Firefly. So instead, “Objects in Space” acts as the perfect bookend for this gone-too-soon series, providing a nice stopping point before the crew moves on to their next adventures.

More than anything, there’s a type of, well, serenity in knowing that Serenity and her crew have thwarted those that aim to separate them one last time, and will continue galavanting across the galaxy together, thieving and aiding where they can, as they were always meant to. 

Watch on Hulu

Anna Govert is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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