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Better living through Firefly’s River Tam

Rosie (bsgfan2003 to some of you) has graced us with another Guest Clack for our week of 'Firefly'-themed posts. Here she contemplates the positive effect River Tam had on the rest of the Serenity crew.

Years ago, when my oldest son was born, I decided to get a Saturday job, so there would be one day a week I could get dolled up to look like something other than a sea hag. I worked in a bridal shop selling wedding gowns. One day, a group of five sisters came in to help one of their own pick out a gown. Obviously, I was watching them all closely, trying to determine whose backside I needed to kiss the most, in order to get a gown sold. I noticed that they moved like a school of fish, swirling around a particular sister that was not the bride, whispering to her and giving her gentle pats. On closer inspection, I noticed that the sister getting the attention was fragile in some way. I was in total awe of the protective instincts of the sisters. Their eyes told me not to stare at Fragile Sister, or to even try to formulate what was ailing her. They were a bulwark of unspoken protection.

This made quite an impression on me. I thought to myself, this is a successful family. I feel the same way about Firefly, because of the the Fragile Sister, River Tam.

Of course, there are other, incredibly obvious reasons that Firefly has become a successful cult phenomenon. Many people — across every social and political strata — can hear the theme song’s words, “…burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from me” and apply those words to any personal tyranny they might be experiencing. It’s clear that Firefly sells itself. What intrigues me about Firefly is how the characters hoist themselves out of the spiritual muck, by protecting a fragile and damaged young lady. They become a successful crew-family.

We all know that because of River Tam, everyone on Serenity’s crew gets shot at more often, but let’s examine how she actually improves each character, shall we?

Simon: Such a talented Doctor. We know that if not for River, he’d be practicing medicine uninterrupted, and his life would still have meaning; but without his predicament with his beloved sister, providing a reminder to humility he could have easily have turned into an arrogant arse. His relationship with Kaylee is of the sweetest kind, and keeps him reaching for growth as a man.

Book: No doubt Book has many experiences that he can draw on as a man of faith. But River’s innocence acts as a renewal for his faith. She is a constant reminder that there are those who would seek to corrupt the innocent, and that he is still needed to nurture her innocence and to fight the good fight.

Mal: His honor was simply crushed by the war. By sheltering and protecting River, Mal wins battles he thought long lost to him. River restores the lost honor to Mal in way he would never admit to. Mal’s honor returned makes it more possible for him to have a relationship with Inara.

Jayne: River makes the crew a crewfamily, the crewfamily provides necessary re-raising of Jayne. He is forced, kicking and screaming to take baby steps towards unselfish personhood.

Kaylee: Simple sisterhood is an automatic improvement for Kaylee, and of course their would be no Simon for Kaylee without River.

Inara: River gives Inara another purpose. No one is just their work. River also improves Mal, which makes a relationship more possible. Like Kaylee, she also gains simple sisterhood which is invaluable.

Zoe and Wash: Zoe is a warrior do-gooder. River provides Zoe the opportunity to do what she does best and feel good about it. For Zoe and Wash as a couple, she provides the innocence of a child they will never  have.

Serenity’s crew is relieved of the yoke of whatever personal victimizations they have experienced when they turn to stand in protection of River Tam; we, as viewers, delight in this. We want to be a part of this crewfamily that takes care of their own. We want to sit at the table with them, and share their fruits and protein birthday cake. We feel better for having watched Firefly.

Photo Credit: FOX

Categories: | Clack | Features | Firefly | General | Guest Clack | TV Shows |

7 Responses to “Better living through Firefly’s River Tam”

June 15, 2011 at 4:29 PM

Love your analysis, Rosie. You’re right that protecting the fragile/innocent makes us better people. I’ve often heard of people changing for the better after becoming parents for the first time – the arrival of a baby forces them to be less selfish and more responsible. Likewise, when confronted with any being that is in need of help and protection, we are challenged to act selflessly, and the way we respond to these opportunities shapes our character bit by bit. In the case of Firefly‘s crew, they usually respond in the right way to River’s neediness, but what’s wonderful about the way these characters are written is that they often contemplate responding in selfish ways. So very human. So very honest.

June 15, 2011 at 5:45 PM

Oh yeah babies re-wire thinking for sure. It was true for me in that I became more charitable in my thinking, when before, ah, not so much.

June 15, 2011 at 11:19 PM

Ditto. Nice analogy. I hadn’t quit thought of River as touching any of the characters (outside protecting her), but you’ve brought in new insight –

June 15, 2011 at 11:12 PM

Well put. A good crew is a family, and I’m not sure, despite Mal’s role as the patriarch, that this crew would have ever gotten to that point if it hadn’t been for lil’ River. There’s no power in the ‘verse that can stop her.

June 16, 2011 at 11:05 AM

I could stretch it really thin and say that River was born unto them from the cryo-suitcase. :D

June 17, 2011 at 9:39 PM

I don’t think that’s stretching things thin, really. Hell, it was about as symbolic as can be with her completely nude in a fetal position!

BTW, I love this article. I’ve never really looked at River that way, but it makes perfect sense. Great job, fellow nerd! :o)

Oh, and I love the picture. Very “Morticia Addams!”

June 17, 2011 at 11:37 PM

Wow. I’m humbled by the compliments. I guess it’s now safe for me to go back to my comfy lounge chair of profound befuddlement. :)

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