One of the things I love about good Stories is that they force us to examine important questions about ourselves and our world. One of those important questions is the idea of a personal code of honor. In the modern world we have seen law and civilization replace the concept of the honor code, but we still explore the idea of ethics in school and out – especially when life and art put the idea front and center. We can all benefit from more reflection on ethics and developing our own personal code of honor.
I am a huge Joss Whedon fan and one major reason is the creation of his short-lived, but amazing, television series Firefly. The Sci-Fi Western is set in the distant future when humanity has fled the “used up” Earth to a new universe with many planets. This series of worlds is recovering from a civil war between the highly-technical and autocratic society of the Alliance and the defeated rebels. Whedon explains that his story explores “how politics affect people personally…When there are shifts in a planet, those tiny little guys are the ones who are affected. So let’s hang out with them—not the Federation heads or the Jedi Council.'”
Firefly‘s heroes are nine crew members and passengers aboard a ramshackle spaceship called Serenity (a major battle that signaled the rebel’s defeat and the name of the movie that provided closure for the Firefly series). Cobbling together a tenuous freedom through smuggling, transport fees, and shuttle rental, the crew includes many archetypes and in fact, find many character’s inspired by John Ford’s iconic 1939 movie Stagecoach, whose characters similarly cross open and fairly unsettled frontier.
One of Whedon’s favorite archetypes is the loner with a distinct sense of justice, that may not reflect the accepted society standard of right and wrong. Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of Serenity, is a hero who is everything a hero is not and yet he has a strong personal code that displays itself in his loyalty to his crew (see this clip from Safe), his championship of the underdog and downtrodden (see this clip from Heart of Gold), and sacrifice for others (see this clip from Train Job). Safe is a great example of the lengths he will go to for his crew, his family, because in this same episode he must risk entering the lion’s den, an Alliance cruiser, to save one person then stages a dramatic rescue of the Doctor and his sister, who were left behind in the rush to save the Preacher. Heart of Gold highlights the strong sense of justice that sent him off to fight for the Browncoats. He just doesn’t believe that the rich and powerful should be allowed to run roughshod over everyone else. However, it is the Train Job that truly emphasizes how much he is willing to put the greater good first. He knows that delivering that medicine to the people who need it rather than the man who hired him to steal it will put himself, and likely his entire crew, at tremendous risk.
While offering an entertaining scope from humorous to poignant, Firefly is at its heart a morality play about the ethics and morality that should govern society, especially that the ends do not justify the means. We can all learn a great deal about ethics from Malcolm Reynolds and the way that he puts the good of others before himself while asking only that he be allowed the freedom to live the life that he chooses. When was the last time you witnessed true heroism? It doesn’t always arrive on a spaceship and wielding a big gun, sometimes it is simply doing the right thing. That is a code we should all live by.
Have you explored the ethics of the Firefly universe? How has Malcolm Reynolds inspired your own personal code of ethics?