Friday, January 15, 2016

Why This Catholic Loves Firefly

There's this show called Firefly. It's  basically a space-western about a group of individuals who fly around in a ship named Serenity and try to evade the government's grasp, steal to make a living, and not die. The fact that many Catholics-myself included-love Firefly can seem weird at first. I mean, if you take a quick glance at the show, there are a lot of rather questionable elements that jump out. Across the 11 aired episodes (and 3 unaired episodes), there are sprinklings of sex scenes, nudity, and bad language (although most of it comes in a form of Chinese); furthermore, the"heroes" of the story are a bunch of crooks. So why exactly are so many Catholics enamored with this show? I honestly can't tell you the answer to this, because I can't speak for every Catholic Firefly fan out there. But, what I can tell you is why I love Firefly. I'd like to give you a better answer than "Firefly is wonderful because...Joss Whedon!" (though Joss Whedon is awesome) so in no particular order, here are some elements that I find particularly meaningful in Firefly:

The crew of Serenity realistically shows us the mutual love that Catholics ought to have for each other. 

There's a group of people, flung together for one reason or another, flying around through turbulent times in a ship. Sound familiar? How about the massively diverse group of people who find themselves together in the Barque of Peter, trying to become holier and follow the teachings of Christ in the Catholic Church? 

[Cool fact: a ship ("Barque/Bark of Peter") is an ancient symbol for the Church, because the Catholic Church brings souls across the stormy waters of persecution and craziness to the peaceful harbor of Heaven.] 

Photo from
The Catholic Church features a diversity of people, and the crew of Serenity exemplifies this variety. You have the NFP Couple (Zoe & Wash), the Super Nerds Who Know Everything About Every Church Council (River & Simon), the Tender-Hearted-And-Hopeful Jesus Freak (Kaylee), the "Burn the Heretic!" Fanatic (Jayne), the Insightful Mary Magdalene (Inara), the Compassionate & Convicted Priest (Shepherd Book), and the Scarred Soul Who is Trying to Persevere (Mal). 

Life on Serenity isn't always rosy and glowing; there are plenty of squabbles among crew members. Not everyone likes each other all of the time-and some of them don't really like another at all! Yet, they still share a genuine concern and care for each other, because they are all part of the crew. Furthermore, they don't live behind their dislikes or squabbles, and instead cultivate a familial atmosphere. They share meals, joke, laugh, and play games together. Serenity is their home, and they truly are family. In the same way, not every Catholic likes every other Catholic, but we are still called to love and care for each other. After all, we are in this "ship" together, with the goal of reaching Heaven. 

Mal and Inara show us that chaste relationships are possible.

Yes, a Registered Companion (who offers sexual services to many of her clients) and Captain Malcolm Reynolds (who has been around in the past) show us how to practice chastity and boundaries in a relationship. From the very beginning of the show, we can see the deep love and care that Mal and Inara have for each other. In fact, sometimes, you just want to sing music from The Little Mermaid to Mal, hoping that he'll actually sweep Inara into his arms. Seriously.

Every time you think that Mal and Inara are going to show some kind of physical affection towards each other-or at least declare their love for each other-they don't. Mal and Inara are business partners: she rents a shuttle from him so that she can expand her clientele. Business relationships dictate a need for appropriate boundaries. So, despite the fact that Mal and Inara have this mutual care and you  just know they're meant to be together, they hold themselves back. This message is so counter-cultural. In our society today, what do you see? The belief that if two people love each other, they should have a romantic relationship together and do what "feels right." Yet, Inara and Mal show us that it is very possible for two people who have deep love for each other to uphold chaste boundaries. 

We get many prime examples of fraternal correction.

Fraternal correction is a noble and necessary thing. It makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. If my sibling, husband, or friend is doing something utterly stupid and dangerous, shouldn't I mention that to him or her? Not only is fraternal correction discussed in the Bible (see Matt 18:15), but many saints have talked about it as well-like St. Josemaria Escriva: 
"When you correct someone-because it has to be done and you want to do your duty-you must expect to hurt others and to get hurt yourself. But you should never let this fact be an excuse for holding back." (The Forge, 566-567) 
On Serenity, we see fraternal correction at play many times. Right from the beginning of the series, the crew shows that they are unafraid to correct and help each other when someone needs a reprimand. For example, in Episode 1, Jayne makes a lewd comment at the dinner table. Without skipping a beat, Mal orders him to be quiet and leave the table. Later on in the series, Shepherd Book cautions Mal about his behavior with a young woman. He says: 
"If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater." 
And, of course, I can't forget to mention one of my favorite lines from Simon-which, if the need should ever arise (I hope it doesn't, though) I would love to geekily pull out in a conversation if a person is being inappropriate. 
"I'm trying to think of a way for you to be cruder. I just-it's not coming to me.
The crew of Serenity isn't afraid to call each other out, and neither should we. Prudent, loving fraternal correction is good for the soul! 

Zoe and Wash show us the importance of marital love.

This adorable married couple graces Serenity with their humor, devotion, and love. Times get rough, battles are fought, and Wash and Zoe are always looking out for each other. For example, in Episode 2, Zoe and Mal are off on a mission, and the crew wants to take off without them. Wash, who pilots Serenity, staunchly declares: "I'm not flying anywhere without my wife!" Through short comments, small caresses, and one-on-one conversations in the cockpit, the love and care that these two display is beautiful.  Not only that, but Zoe and Wash remind everyone of the need for affection in a marriage. In everyday life, I know that many married couples have trouble "keeping the spark alive." Life gets crazy, stressful situations arise, kids or activities take up lots of time and energy, and too often, it can be really easy to neglect the couple's relationship. In Firefly, Zoe and Wash are constantly on the run. They have their fair share of disagreements, misunderstandings, and very stressful situations. Life is not easy for them. Still, they prioritize their relationship. They make an effort to always reconcile, find some peace, and get alone time together-whether it is in the bedroom or just away from other people. 

We also see the presence of grace in the most unlikely of places.

At one point, Inara and Shepherd Book are in the kitchen of Serenity while the crew is off on a mission. The interactions between Shepherd and Inara continually reminded me of Christ encountering sinful women in the Gospels. Yes, Inara is in a respectable position-in the eyes of their world-but she's basically a cross between a geisha and a prostitute. Shepherd doesn't seem to approve of what she does, but he still is loving and understanding in his conversations with her. Anyways, here are Inara and Shepherd in the kitchen, and they have this short-but beautiful-conversation: 

Shepherd: "I feel useless."
Inara: "You could always pray they make it back safely."
Shepherd: "I don't think the Captain would much like me praying for him."
Inara: "Don't tell him. [she turns away] I never do." 

Throughout history, God has worked in unexpected ways. He doesn't wait for a place to be fully sanitized before He enters; He comes into the muck. Whether it's Jesus Christ being born in a smelly stable with a bunch of animals, or the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing in the "pig stye" of Lourdes, God always seems to pick the most unexpected ways to bring forth His light and peace. He works in both devout and sinful people, in the priest and in the prostitute, bringing His grace and help to those in need. Most of the crew on Serenity are not religious, but they still become channels of love and grace. Time and time again in Firefly, we see how God's grace pours through the most unlikely of sources and situations. 

Mal shows us that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is possible.  

In "Shindig," (which is my favorite episode!!!) a lot of the story focuses on Inara and her work. It's no question that Mal dislikes Inara's work, for he shows his disapproving attitude many times. He'll bug her about "whoring," and she'll spar back about "petty theft," but he never means his words as a deep insult of who she is. Mal particularly gets irritated when he sees Inara (or some of the other women in the show) being treated as an object by others. He won't hesitate to stand up for her honor, because while he may "hate the sin," he truly "loves the sinner."

Mal even begins to show us that he could have potential as a Theology of the Body student.

Whenever she pops up in the series, Saffron is always on top of her game. She has a plan, and she never really lets a person see who she really is. Yet, in "Trash," there's a moment when Saffron appears to be completely ripped apart. All pretenses seem to be dropped. In response to this, Mal makes a comment which, naturally, made me think of St. John Paul II's audiences. 

In his remark to the fully-clothed Saffron, Mal shows us that nakedness does not only refer to the mere absence of clothes. Much deeper than that, nakedness is an experience of the other person in vulnerability and openness.  St. John Paul II takes this even further in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. He says that the Original Nakedness between Adam and Eve "...undoubtedly describes their state of consciousness, or even better, their reciprocal experience of the body..." (TOB 11:3). This nakedness describes the mode in which Adam and Eve are experiencing each other; it is an experience of the heart, where the spirit and flesh are integrated. Did Mal include all of this depth behind his remark to Saffron? I highly doubt it (especially since in the context of the scene, Saffron's "nakedness" may not be what it appears), but I still think this connection is worth thinking about. 

This show blows my mind.
Firefly touches on some amazing themes that I, as a Catholic, love. I find it so beautiful that a series created by an atheist includes so much profundity that many Christians-Catholic and non-Catholic-will appreciate (similar to Doctor Who). This speaks of the natural desire for Truth and Beauty that every person has imprinted on his or her heart. There are so many fantastic elements in Firefly, and every person has different aspects that he or she enjoys about this show. I may even blog more about this series in the future, because there are so many rich themes to be drawn from it, which I didn't even get to today. If there are any particular aspects of Firefly that you love, feel free to chime in! Have a wonderful day! 


  1. Really enjoyed your analysis of the show, and it kind of makes me want to watch it again, since it's probably been about 3 years or so since I've seen it.

    1. Rachel, I'm so glad you enjoyed this! When I first saw the show about 4 years ago, I liked it and saw that it had some good elements (particularly with Inara), but didn't really think too much about it. Recently, I found it on DVD & on a whim I bought it and re-watched it-and I think coming back to it a second time around, now that I'm at a slightly different place in spiritual growth and maturity, I'm able to appreciate it in different ways. If you are interested in re-watching some of it, I think it's available on Hulu (though you may not have the same programs on Hulu where you live, I don't know how it works exactly) and they usually offer free short-term trials :)

  2. Andy loved this show! He's talked to me a little bit about it before, but I've never seen it. I think I just might have to check it out :). This is a great explanation of it, which has definitely compelled me to want to see it.

    1. This would definitely be a great date night for you guys :) I just watched the movie that was made to give closure to the show, "Serenity," and that was excellent, as well.