Firefly in Five Lines

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Helen's Choice

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First aired: The Signal: Season 6, Episode 20
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton
Edited by Andy King

Here’s a challenge for you. Pick your five favourite lines from Firefly and Serenity. Go on, try it. It’s not easy, is it? Five favourite lines per character is maybe doable, or perhaps per episode, but choosing just five examples out of the wealth of fantastic dialogue in fourteen episodes and a film is difficult. The words “riches, embarrassment of” spring to mind… Nonetheless, this is the challenge the writers of The Signal are going to undertake, and I’m up first. The rules are that the choices must be single lines rather than exchanges between characters and must somehow encapsulate what the writer enjoys most about Firefly. In addition, the five choices must include no more than one line already chosen by another writer. Bonus points (of the imaginary variety) will be given for not picking the most common fan favourites and, of course, in the best tradition of school essays, “reasons must be given for your choices”. I’d like to start with a line that I love mostly for its absurdity and its perfect delivery:

She's terse. I can be terse. Once, in flight school, I was laconic.

The idea that being laconic is something to remember happening once, like going skydiving, just tickles me and the set-up, with a contrast implied between “terse” and “laconic”, as if they weren’t synonyms, adds to the punch.The line is a great example of Whedonesque humour matched with superb comic timing, and it reminds me why I love Wash, and why Alan Tudyk’s portrayal of him is just so good. All it takes is for someone to use the word “laconic” in my earshot, and a goofy grin spreads across my face in memory of this line.

I'm a mean old man.

Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, Mal’s line here has always intrigued me. He seems neither mean nor old so why would he say this? What is in his past that has left him with this view of himself? When we talk about mysterious pasts in Firefly, we usually mean Shepherd Book, or perhaps Inara, but I’d like to know more about Mal’s background, and especially his pre-war life. What was it like for him growing up on Shadow? What was his family like? The line I’ve chosen is also another example of great writing coupled with a great performance, as Nathan Fillion delivers the line with a quiet sadness that adds to its power.

You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this?

For me, the heart of Firefly is about the search for belonging. Characters find a family in the crew of Serenity and a home in Serenity herself. There are many lines that speak of this theme, but I think my favourite is Mal’s offhand comment to Simon. The juxtaposition of the sentimentality hiding behind the line and the casual, almost irritable, way it is spoken by Mal is perfect. The scene that follows of the crew around the dinner table, enjoying a meal together, is a wonderful picture of a created family and a fitting visual complement to Mal’s line.

Shepherd Book used to tell me, “If you can’t do something smart, do something right.”

There are many reasons not to love Jayne and therefore my love for him is hard to explain, despite what the song says. He is self-serving to the point of treachery and for all his wonderfully quotable lines, he can be quite unlikeable. So I love this line from Jayne in the BDM because it gives me permission to like him. Shepherd Book’s conscience seems to have rubbed off a little on Jayne and he is the first to speak up in favour of following Mal’s lead and taking on the Alliance. Jayne’s words show that he recognises the existence of a right course of action and thus also a wrong course of action, namely, doing nothing. He chooses to do what’s right, despite knowing what it could cost.

Besides, why would I want to leave Serenity?

The scene between Mal and Inara at the end of Shindig is one of my favourites in the whole series. The two characters spend most of the episode bickering and clashing as they cross over into each other’s worlds, but by the end of the episode, they are together in the one place where they both belong, on board Serenity. As they talk about the events on Persephone and enjoy some of Kaylee’s “fresh” wine, they are finally content and relaxed in each other’s company. Inara’s question, “Why would I want to leave Serenity?” brings me back again to the theme of belonging and finding a home that I love in Firefly, but on another level it also speaks to me personally, as a Browncoat. I’ve found Firefly and Serenity and have had so much pleasure enjoying them, and the extended ‘verse that has grown up around them, why would I want to leave?

So there you have it: the humour, depth, heart, bravery and warmth of Firefly, in five lines.

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