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|Written by||Helen Eaton|
|Read by||Anna Snyder|
|Edited by||Jutta Jordans|
If we enter the Firefly ‘verse in the way its creators intended - via Serenity, the pilot episode of the series - it is plain from the first few minutes of viewing that the unification war is going to be important to the stories we will soon be told. The war may have ended six years before the start of the series, but the choice to start the pilot episode with a flashback to the war, is a hint that its presence will most definitely be felt as we continue our journey through the series. Similarly, if we first encounter the Firefly ‘verse through The Train Job, the same message is conveyed, though in a different way. Instead of a flashback, we see how on the anniversary of the end of the unification war, Mal starts a fight with an Alliance supporter. And if we come first to the film Serenity, the teacher’s words in the very first scene tell us about the war. Whichever way we enter the Firefly ‘verse, therefore, it is made very clear, that though the war is over, it is not forgotten.
One particular way in which the war lives on is in some of the relationships between characters. Chief amongst these relationships is the one between Mal and Zoe:
Mal started out in command of thirty soldiers and only one of those, Zoe, survived until the end. It is not hard to imagine how Mal and Zoe’s experiences in Serenity Valley created a special bond between them. The events described in the comic Better Days suggest that perhaps Mal and Zoe went their separate ways for a time after the end of the war. Zoe comments of the Browncoats’ surrender that Mal “took it personal, shut down some”, while she became a “dust devil” and continued to fight. But as Zoe says:
Instead of getting far away from each other in an effort to forget the tragedy of Serenity Valley and the disappointments of the war, Mal and Zoe chose to work together again, this time as civilians, on a ship called, of course, Serenity.
Zoe’s relationship to Mal as her captain does not seem to differ at all from what we see of her relationship to him as her sergeant. She clearly respects his authority and often calls him “sir” or “captain”, but, equally, she isn’t afraid to express her disagreement with his views or decisions. This relationship is one source of tension between Zoe and Wash:
This tension comes to a head in War Stories. Wash changes the shuttle ignition sequence so that he can take Zoe’s place on a mission with Mal, telling them that he “can’t stand the thought of something happening that might cause you two to come back with another thrilling tale of bonding and adventure”. When Mal and Wash are captured, the topic of conversation quickly turns to Zoe:
The experience of being tortured alongside Mal is a turning point for Wash in his understanding of the relationship between Mal and Zoe. Before heading off to the job which will lead to their capture and torture, Wash jokes to Zoe about not stopping for “beers with the fellahs” and wonders if they will sing army songs. It seems that beers and songs are his idea of bonding between fellow soldiers, but this changes after he and Mal are tortured:
Wash has his own Serenity Valley experience and begins to understand Zoe’s relationship to Mal in a new way.
In the course of Firefly, we meet two other former soldiers who fought with Mal and Zoe. One is Monty, a fellow smuggler, and a fellow victim of Yo-Saf-Bridge:
Perhaps Saffron’s companion training helps her to see that the relationship between Mal and Monty is not simply one of two acquaintances who happen to be in the same business, but the deeper kind of relationship that comes from a shared history in the war.
The other former soldier we meet is Tracey, a rather inept individual who only survived the war because Mal and Zoe were looking out for him:
When Mal and Zoe lift up the coffin containing what they think is Tracey’s corpse and prepare to bring it to Serenity, Shepherd Book tries to assist them, but Zoe refuses his help. It seems that having metaphorically carried Tracey through the war, Mal and Zoe want to be the ones to carry him, literally, at what appears to be the end of his life.
It is not just the relationships between former soldiers which are affected by the memories of the unification war. The war colours Mal’s relationships with many of his acquaintances, such as Badger, for example:
Badger’s needling of Mal about the war is not the only reason why the two men don’t get on, but it seems to be part of it.
Another example of the influence of the war on how characters relate to each other comes in Bushwhacked, when Commander Harken brings up the war as he questions Mal:
Mal tries to downplay his involvement, perhaps because he realises that an Alliance cruiser is not the best place to start a fight. Does he really believe that the war is over? He is no longer fighting against the Alliance as such, but he admits in the film Serenity that it “tickles him” that Simon and River have stuck a “thorn in the Alliance’s paw” and that is clearly one of the reasons why he risks having them on board Serenity. Similarly, in The Train Job, on learning that there are Alliance feds on the train, the prospect of robbing it pleases him as it will make them look “all manner of stupid”. The unification war may be over, but Mal continues to wage a cold war against the Alliance.
We learn in one of the flashbacks in Out of Gas that Inara supported unification, to which Mal replies, “Well, I don’t suppose you’re the only whore that did”. I wonder how the knowledge of this difference between them affected their relationship in the early days of Inara’s stay on Serenity. The contrast between this flashback and the present day shows clearly how the coolness between them has been replaced by warmth and understanding, but it seems likely that this thaw was not made easy by their differing views on the war. Perhaps Inara’s position has changed somewhat after seeing what life is like on the rim, and how much the Alliance meddles.
Another character whose relationships are very clearly affected by the war is Shepherd Book. In fact, his war experiences have affected him so deeply that he does not talk about them at all, and dies without ever having told Mal or the others aboard Serenity the story that we will learn in the comic The Shepherd’s Tale. Despite this, however, he manages to develop some close relationships with members of Serenity’s crew.
For Book, as for Mal, Zoe and others, the war may be over, but in the tangled yarn of their relationships, its effects linger on.
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