Tangled Yarn

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Pull One String, You Pull Them All

First aired: The Signal: Season 7, Episode 13
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton
Edited by Bindiya Dale
Well, we're an odd conglomeration.

The world Joss Whedon created for Firefly is an amazing one, full of richness and depth. The new technology set against pioneering hardship, the inventive dialogue, the evocative costumes and the variety in spaceships and worlds visited combine to make the ‘verse we know and love. However, had Joss forgotten to people this ‘verse with interesting characters, I would not have fallen in love with it.

When I think about the nine main characters, I realise how in less capable hands they could have turned into rather sad cardboard cut-out figures. We could have had the noble captain, the brave pilot, the plucky mechanic, the holier-than-thou preacher, the prostitute with a heart of gold and other similar cliches. Instead, we have far more complicated and authentic characters. Mal may have his moments of nobility, but he is also bitter and closed-off. Wash can be brave, but would rather not be. Kaylee certainly has a plucky side, but reacts in a far more believable and interesting way when she finds herself in a gun fight in War Stories. Book does pass on some words of wisdom from time to time, but isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. And Inara is not ashamed of her job and has no desire to leave it behind.

It is not simply that these characters are interesting when taken individually though. The dynamics between them are also fascinating. Take any pairing of two of the nine main characters, and there is a fair chance that you will come up with an interesting relationship. There’s Mal and Zoe, for example, with their “war buddy bond”, which sometimes comes into conflict with the marriage relationship between Zoe and Wash, leaving a slightly prickly dynamic between Mal and Wash.

There are other antagonistic relationships too, such as the tension between Jayne and Mal that comes to the surface from time to time:

Look, we get back to Haven... in a few hours' time.
Oh, yeah. Hiding under the Shepherd's skirts... that's a manful scheme.
You wanna run this ship?
Well, you can't.

And then we have the closeness of Simon and River’s sibling relationship and some substitute family relationships between other crew members, such as the big brother-little sister dynamic of Mal and Kaylee.

There are romantic relationships too, or rather mainly the longing for such relationships on the part of certain characters. We see the suppressed desires of Mal and Inara occasionally come to the fore, usually only during a crisis of some kind. The dynamic between Simon and Kaylee is different, with the former making sporadic faltering attempts and the latter not doing a good job of hiding her interest, as Inara notes.

These two relationships are also good examples of how – even in the relatively short space of 14 episodes, a film and a few comics – we see development in the dynamics of many of the relationships. By the end of the film, Mal and Inara have made a little progress, and Simon and Kaylee have made a lot. Other relationships have clearly developed too, such as Mal and River’s. The relaxed dynamic we see between them as they fly Serenity through the storm at the end of the film is a far cry from the suspicion and tension between them that had often been in evidence before.

With so many great relationships portrayed in Firefly, and so much depth to many of these relationships, it’s impossible for one article to do the topic justice. And so this article is by way of an introduction to a series of articles we’re planning here at The Signal, with each article devoted to a different relationship. We’ll be trying to get to the heart of the relationships that interest us most by discussing just what it is that characterises the different relationship dynamics and considering such issues as whether these dynamics change as the series progresses, and where the relationship might be heading.

In the comic “Those Left Behind”, River tells Mal in her usual enigmatic way, “Ball of yarn... All knotted and tangled with different weights and colors. But pull one string, you pull them all.” Inara then arrives on the scene to remind Mal that she is trying to leave Serenity, but he appears to be doing all he can to put off her departure. River comments to Mal that he should, “Let the ball of yarn go.” Inara does eventually manage to leave Serenity and her absence has an effect on Mal, which in turn has an effect on other crew members:

Captain will drive us all off, one by one. Just like Simon and River. Just like Inara.

Inara’s particular “colour and weight” of thread is pulled from the ball of yarn and the relationships she had previously established with the other members of the crew are such that there are ripple effects on all of them. The same would be true of the other main characters, were they to leave the crew. Each contributes a different colour and weight to the tangled yarn that is the relationships between the crew members, and the stories they are weaving together.

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