firefly: war stories
1.09 / Original air date December 6, 2002
Written: Cheryl Cain
Directed: James A. Contner
Let's begin with a brief history of Firefly. Imagine a spaghetti-western on the frontiers of space, with spaceships instead of stagecoaches and where folks speak a dialect like English that's been dragged through a Chinese gold mining town. Now picture that show being created by the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Firefly is set 500 years in the future onboard a small firefly-class spaceship called Serenity. It had exciting plotlines, an ongoing arc, an ensemble cast most shows would kill for and a showrunner (Joss Whedon) with proven long-term vision in genre television. So how could it possibly fail, right?
Fox screwed around with the airing order, the timeslot and anything else they could possibly screw with until it was cancelled. It went on to become one of the best-selling DVD box sets of all time. A movie called Serenity was commissioned to finish telling the story. The movie was great, but five more seasons of TV would have been better. Bitter? Hell yeah, I'm bitter!
Of all the stories told on Firefly, "War Stories" was my favourite. The episode introduced new sides to almost every character onboard Serenity, including finding out that Inara takes female clients.
Inara is a companion, which in Firefly terms is a high-priced courtesan, conceptually like a Japanese Geisha. Amongst even companions though, Inara is considered exquisite, so much so that her clients don't choose her, she chooses them. Inara travels aboard Serenity, partly because she enjoys the freedom, and to be close to Captain Mal Reynolds, who she is secretly in love with.
Inara takes clients from planets where Serenity and her crew have their own business. In "War Stories", while Mal and Wash are off delivering medical supplies, Inara takes in a Senator from the planet for the evening, and we find out that Inara takes on female clients only when they are particularly special in some way.
Inara's bisexuality is common knowledge, but the appearance of a female client takes the crew by surprise. As the Senator comes onboard, Kaylee (the ship's cute engineer) is transfixed by the image of the two women, both richly-dressed and speaking with the polite manners of the upper classes. Kaylee blushes and stammers, but mostly she's simply intrigued by the glamour of it all.
While the women are alone together, Inara explains her sexual preference. She finds it liberating to be with a woman. She can relax, be herself, and not put on the seductive show generally required by men. The bedroom scene is sexually-charged, tasteful and erotic.
"War Stories" uses almost every character on Serenity to their best advantage. We see their strengths and weaknesses and we learn what the crew can accomplish individually, and as a team. Couple that with some of the series' funniest one-liners, nice special effects and the bisexual sub-plot and this makes for forty-two minutes of pretty spectacular television.
There could have been so much more, dammit. I suppose though we should be grateful for what we did get, and I'd still urge anyone who hasn't yet experienced this particular TV Universe to buy a box set, settle in and immerse yourself in yet another Joss Whedon masterpiece, because with Firefly even the theme song is cool.