On 'Firefly'

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

I'm not going to say much after this post, because I think cult sci-fi shows tend to attract a kind of heat that I'd rather avoid. Anyway, as I hinted, I enjoyed most of the early episodes. But having finished the run, I have to admit that I was neither shocked that Firefly was cancelled nor particularly sad. There were just too many questions left hanging too long, and worst of all, questions which after awhile, I just stopped caring about. (I think I'm going to skip the movie. I just don't much care about what's wrong with River.) 


I consider pacing to be part of story-telling--knowing when and how much to give your audience, and gradually instilling in them a confidence that this journey, down this rabbit-hole, does lead somewhere. When it's done right, I stop worrying about the unresolved questions and watching the characters. I wanted to know what Don Draper's secret was--but I wasn't watching Mad Men because I was seized by a desperate urge to find out. I wanted to know how Stringer was going to get his comeuppance--but I didn't turn on The Wire thinking, "Maybe this will be the week." I watched Mad Men and The Wire because I loved watching the characters. I just liked how Slim Charles talked, and how Betty Draper didn't. I fell for Simon's Baltimore, and Wiener's New York. They made a world that made me say, "I want to go to there," not "What happens next?"

Perhaps that's too high of a standard--but it's my personal standard for narrative. All of the characters were likeable enough, but I wasn't deeply interested in them. What I was left with was a lot of clever creepiness--black bounty hunters with Confederate names, psychics who babble incoherently, a priest who is probably not a priest--draped over the creaky architecture of a story. I felt like I could see Whedon's hand moving events, not characters with all their flaws and credits, moving events. I could see the "TV" in the TV.

I think that there's a whole school of story-tellers presently working who are fascinated by the aesthetics of the weird and supernatural, the fantastic and unseen, but utterly bored with whole people and tight narrative. The Sixth Sense ruined it up for everybody. We're all sitting around waiting on some undisclosed secret. You don't need a great protagonist. But you do need a twist. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/06/on-firefly/57628/