In terms of female complexity in characters, Firefly defines the female roles in films more than any of Josh Whedon’s other works. Firefly is a fourteen episode series set in an apocalyptic western setting surrounding the travels of a spaceship crew led by Mal. (Nathan Fillion) Unlike most of his other works Joss Whedon uses distinct strong, central female characters. The captain, Mal, is constantly surrounded by competent female figures, like his first mate Zoe (Gina Torres). Zoe is both confident and strong as she is compassionate. She is very straightforward and direct in how she handles difficult situations, while keeping a cool- head. Zoe is unabashed by her personal strength and willingly puts it all on the line to protect her crew/family. I personally admire such strong commitment demonstrated by her character.
Another central character is Kaylee (Jewel Staite), Now Kaylee plays the role of the engineer of the ship. A role usually played by a man in similar films. She actually took the position from the previous male engineer, with whom she was having sexual relations with. The actress who actually played the role of Kaylee was said to have gained some weight to do this role. It is a nice change up from the usual female figure found in Joss Whedon’s works. Kaylee is a mechanical genius. She’s also a very realistic, funny, self- reliant character. She is the dynamic image Joss Whedon needs to pull from for future female characters.
Inara is another character to take into consideration when looking at Firefly. She is a high class prostitute of the ship, where she runs her business and has selective power of her clientele. She is the only one who doesn’t take orders from Mal and has made it clear she has no connection to the crew other than her own personal use. She is an embodiment of passive control. She holds no direct power over the crew, but if push came to shove, I believe she could develop into a manipulative liability if the series continued.
Finally, River is Simon’s younger sister who was manipulated and tortured by the series adversaries, The Alliance. She is portrayed uniquely from the others. She is sightly crazy, but powerful. In the series we explore her telepathic ability as well as her empathetic character. She is strong willed and clever. One of her strong moments was the cold comment to the backstabbing member Jayne on how she could kill him with her brain.
It is not simply that the female characters are strong, but how weak their male counterparts appear in comparison. Simon has a weak disposition and Mal is constantly tricked and subdued by Saffron. Women play the roles of warrior/gunslinger (Zoe), innocent/mechanical genius (Kaylee), psychic/assassin (River), wise independent professional and prostitute (Inara) and various supporting villains and heroes (Patience, Saffron, Mandy). The new possibilities for females in film as dynamic characters can be further explored in the near future. The world of Firefly bases a persons worth more on morality, fighting for your friends, and doing what must be done. There is no resentment toward sex or ability, only self- empowerment and personal strength to fight the good fight no matter your gender.
If the series continued longer, I believe Joss would have been able to further develop his characters like he did in Buffy.Though flaws are present in the execution of the series itself, Firefly takes a positive role in female competency in central roles. I believe Joss should be proud of how well this series turned out, even with only fourteen episodes to make such a strong impact on today’s audiences as opposed to back when the show first aired.