Monday, June 27, 2011

Relationships, Time and Space, and Why Firefly Was Unique

Nine years after Firefly went off the air, online groups still maintain petitions for the series to be reinstated. Nathan Fillion even said that, given $300 million from FOX, he would buy the show himself and start producing episodes again. That wouldn't work.

I’d love to see Firefly complete its planned seven-season run as much as anyone else, but if Nathan Fillion bought the franchise tomorrow and was producing episodes by this Friday, what we’d get wouldn’t be the original Firefly. It would be different in a dozen subtle ways. It would not be the same.

A piece of artwork, like Firefly, is a unique snapshot of time and space. We may assume that there was only one chance for us to get Firefly, just as there was only one chance for any piece of literature or culture. Scientific discoveries build on previous discoveries in such a manner as to seem inevitable, but there was nothing predetermined about Shakespeare’s plays. If he hadn’t written them when he did, they would not exist as we know them. They capture a moment in the writer’s life, in his culture, in the lives of the people around him and of a dozen other factors of which we know nothing.

In much the same way, the existence and details of Firefly depended on thousands of different factors. The actors were each at a specific place in their acting careers, and were directed to act in a specific way. The writer was at a point where he wrote the dialogue a specific way. The creation of the show came from an idea that Joss Whedon had, which might not have occurred at any other time. CGI had advanced enough that good-quality images could be produced for the show. The show was influenced by outside factors; for example, FOX reportedly inserted the mysterious “two by two, hands of blue” men into the show to create a conspiratorial vibe. It’s topical and timely; the idea of Westerners and the Chinese going into space together and forming a joint civilization might not have happened fifty years ago. It’s timely in a greater cultural sense; the main characters largely disdain religion, casual sex is acceptable, violence is common and profit is king.

 The point of all this is, without all of these factors working in concert (many of which everyone was unaware of), Firefly would not be the Firefly we know. And if it was produced again today, many of these factors would come into play. The actors are at different places in their careers; they are physically older, they have matured, or they have gone in different directions career-wise. The writers’ style of writing has no doubt evolved. The distinctive look of the show would be difficult to reproduce. It wouldn’t be the same.

Like a piece of artwork, relationships are also unique in time and space. They happen when two (or more) people come together at a specific time in their lives, wanting specific things and being specific people. And while they last, they can be absolutely wonderful. But when they’re over, trying to recapture them can be like trying to travel back in time, trying to recapture old feelings and lost possibilities.

Sometimes, you have to let those feelings go, and trust that maybe one day when the stars cross again, the two of you can make it work again. You (singular) look back on that time for what it was and for what you (plural) had, but you can’t remake Firefly this minute. Perhaps, one day, you can make something new, but for now you have to let it go. There's nothing wrong with looking back fondly, but you shouldn't try to shape the future in the image of the past.

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