Lord Humongus's Blog

The Andromeda / Fire-Fly connection.

Posted in sci-fi by lordhumongus on January 18, 2010

cast of andromeda

cast of fire fly

Having a lot of time in which to do nothing, I recently started catching up on a lot of Sci-Fi that I have missed over the years. Back in the days when I had meaningful employment, friends, and relationships I had very little time for things like television and movies.

This steady decline into slothful geekdom began several months ago, during which time I encountered Joss Whedon’sFire-Fly; the complete series” in my local library and became a fast fan. The pitiful condition of the dvd’s in the library made watching all of the prematurely canceled episodes very difficult so I wound up buying the set, as well as the accompanying movie; “Serenity” so that I could watch without the plot line lurching suddenly forward, freezing, or just turning into digital noise. When you drink as much as I do, the way you deal with the frustration of this phenomenon can sometimes become disproportionate. It was also scaring my dog.

You can only get so far with “Fire-fly” since the series was canceled before the entire first season aired. This is what people in the entertainment industry refer to as “Executive ball-peen cranial disorder” E.B.P.C.D. occurs when the executives of a media outlet green-light and produce a show (in this case with a developer/ writer/ director that has produced bundles of cash for them in the past with hits like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and it’s successful spin-off, “Angel”) that is so obviously well written and interesting that it garners an immediate cult-like following. Seeing the enormous potential cash-cow that they have inadvertently created the executives fly into a panic*, and begin running around hitting themselves in the head with ball-peen hammers.** After they have bashed themselves silly enough times, the resulting blunt-force trauma causes them to make programing decisions in much the same way that the American Congress makes fiscal policy.

Since I am one of those people that can only watch the same show so many times, I began searching on line for some other show that had enough episodes available to keep me from doing anything productive for a while. Enter Andromeda.

I have seen sporadic episodes of Andromeda in the past, but never really sat down and tried to watch it from end to end. Part of this is for reasons mentioned earlier (I used to have a life) and partly because it’s not a very good show. Well, that’s not completely true. I think that, because it was written by so many people, that it seems a bit random and compromised at times. My main complaint is how incredibly unsubtle it is at delivering its message. We all have an opinion, and since this is my useless excuse for a blog, you get mine. Andromeda is good enough, however, to keep me sitting there in a semi-drunken stupor for a while, which is probably why it took me several episodes to make the connection that I mention in the title of this post. (There’s also the case of the eminently likable Laura Bertram being on the show. Seriously, who can’t like Laura Bertram?)

I am well aware that Fire fly (2002) chronologically follows Andromeda (2000) and, therefore, as I layout the uncanny similarities I recognize that if anyone is copying something it would be the show that I consider better working off of a show I think inferior. With that said, I’m not positive anyone was consciously doing anything of the sort. As Audre Lorde once said; “There are no new ideas, only new ways of making them felt.” This is most likely true. There are something like six billion people on the planet, and billions more that came before. All of them have had ideas.

*It is common knowledge that entertainment executives are terrified of cows. This is why movies and television are substantively critical of people in rural and suburban areas. It’s got nothing to do with politics.

** Entertainment executives, being faced with the oddity of a manual tool, inevitably hurt themselves with it.

The Setup:

Firefly introduces us to a universe in which humans have been away from earth for an unspecified but rather long amount of time. The back story, which was never fully addressed in the series, informs us that the U.S. and China were the last two remaining powers on Earth when it became unsustainably overpopulated. As a result, people in the universe of Fire Fly all speak both English and Chinese. Now occupying a different solar system full of terraformed planets and moons, there was the inevitable frictions concerning the right to self determination which culminated in civil war. Captain  Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) fought and lost the war of independence against the Alliance government. We enter his story six years after the war where the former military sergeant now captains his own ship, operating outside of the law whenever possible. His only purpose in life is to survive as freely as he can while continuing to be a thorn in the side of the government.

Andromeda’s hero is captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo). Captain Hunt was a High Guard officer in the “Systems Commonwealth” (a very similar interplanetary organization to Start Treks “Federation”. This is no surprise since the show was developed by Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry and produced by his wife, Majel.) Captain Hunt’s ship was pulled into a black hole in the very first volley of a war that would destroy the Commonwealth. Trapped in orbit around the event horizon, time stood still for him while 300 years passed outside of his ship. In the first episode, a salvage operation pulls the eponymous Andromeda away from the black hole, and sets the real events of the series in motion as Captain Hunt begins a quest to re-establish the Commonwealth and return order to what has become a universe largely in a state of anarchy.

The fact that both of the main characters are military men is nothing out of the ordinary. As most sci-fi series are set in space and aboard star-ships, captains of those ships as military (or former military) officers and being the main focus of the show is a natural. The only notable exception to this rule  I can think of off the top of my head is the BBC comedy Red Dwarf (highly recommended) where there is little semblance of leadership at all.

Both men lost (through no fault of their own) what could be argued as the definitive battle of their respective wars. Both are imbued with an unshakable loyalty to the side that they chose, long after the wars that defined them and the events  their respective series are based upon were lost. The differences between them are many but, the similarities are more telling since they are completely integral to both the character and the entire plot of both shows. Mal Reynolds personal style, for example, is a 180 to that of Dylan Hunt, but both of them are driven by the same moral principals for more or less the same reasons.

kevin sorbo

Kevin Sorbo (Dylan Hunt)

Nathan Fillion

Nathan Fillion (Malcom Reynolds)

The Right-Hand “Man”:

Captain Reynolds right hand is Zoë Washburne (Gina Torres), a fellow solder he fought with in that definitive battle (The “Battle of Serenity Valley”, hence the name of his ship; Serenity) during the war.

Captain Hunt’s right hand is the ship, Andromeda, as played by Lexa Doig. The Andromeda is a sentient A.I. built into the star-ship.  She is, in essence, the ship itself and identifies herself as such. She also was, obviously,  with the captain during the fight that changed everything.

Both characters are played by women and have the kind of loyalty to their captains as can only be forged during war making the relationship between them and the captains unique. Also, both characters make up the entirety of the Captains official chosen crew, while the other characters come to be through other circumstances.

Lexa Doig (Andromeda)

gina torres

Gina Torres (Zoë Washburne)

The Muscle:

Keith Hamilton Cobb played the unfortunately named (and somewhat ridiculous) Tyr Anasazi on Andromeda. As a “Nietzschean” mercenary who makes a soft alliance with the Andromeda’s Captain Hunt, Tyr acts as a foil to Hunt who, while a capable and experienced leader, is also idealistic to a fault whereas Cobb’s character is (also to a fault) a cunning tactician and logical minded survivalist.

I wish to note that, in my opinion, both the character of Tyr Anasazi and his dialog were so over-the-top  that Mr. Cobb deserves a great deal of recognition for making him watchable. I can only imagine what this man could do with a good script.

Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) -Yes there is yet another Baldwin brother- encountered  Captain Reynolds whom he wound up working for in the exact same manner as Tyr; Hired as a mercenary to steal from, and to kill the ships captain if necessary. Jayne Cobb (another weird co-incidence is the names) also provides the self-serving survivalist to the captains loyal leadership. Although decidedly less intelligent and urbane than Tyr, both men are excellent soldiers, trackers, and spend most of their time worrying more about self-preservation and profit more than anything else.

If this weren’t enough, both characters add tension to the show by being somewhat unreliable in their loyalties, and both captains choose to trust them over the occasional worries of the other crew members.

Keith Hamilton Cobb

Keith Hamilton Cobb (Tyr Anastasi)

adam baldwin

Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb)

The Funny White Guy:

Alan Tudyk as Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne on Fire fly and Gordon Michael Woolvett as Seamus Harper on Andromeda.

In both shows, comic relief is provided by a rather pale and incredibly similar looking person. Not only do they both provide most of the one-liners, but they both do it in a very similar self-deprecating style. Both men not only look like they could be brothers, but both characters are respective geniuses as per their field, both are the wise-cracking jokester, both are -at best- the unwilling soldier, and both are in love with the captains right-hand woman.

In Fire fly, ‘Wash’ (the ships incomparable pilot) is married to Zoë. On Andromeda, Harper (the incomparable engineer) builds the ships A.I. a human “Avatar” to walk around in, complete with all of the parts a normal woman might be expected to have, just in case he is ever invited to make use of them.

Gordon Michael Woolvett

Gordon Michael Woolvett (Seamus Harper)

Alan Tudyk

Alan Tudyk (Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne)

The Unlikely Messenger of God:

Both shows toy with a certain level of depth that’s unlikely achievable without tossing religion in the mix to some degree or purpose. In addition to all of the similarties mentioned so far, though, both take an uncannily similar approach to the subject.

Reverend ‘Rev’ Bem (Brent Stait) is the answer the Andromeda writers came to. A horrible alien creature known as a Magog; who’s natural inclinations would drive him to kill and eat sentient species (as well as paryalize and lay eggs in them) the Reverend inexplicably resisted his baser urges to become a peaceful ‘Wayist’. The Wayist seems to be a fairly transparent blend of Zen Buddist and Christian. Everything belongs to “The Divine” and all things ultimately serve “His” purpose.

Ron Glass (Yes, from Barney Miller) plays the somewhat more nuanced “Sheppard Book”. Like most things in Fire-Fly we never get to unravel much of Book’s past, but it is abundantly clear that, in his former life, he was more than a little important in the Alliance government.

In this way, both “holy men” come from backgrounds which would make them mortal enemies of the captains they now serve.

While Rev Bem’s character fights the occasional battle with his inate tendancies, relying on his faith to bring him through and in doing so, providing an example to the rest of the crew (and us, I suppose) Sheppard Book is obviously a wiser and more centered person. He has his crisis early on and, thankfully, gets it out of the way. While, as mentioned, we never really find out much about where he came from, I don’t think it would be a stretch to assume from the evidence given that he was a high ranking military officer (perhaps a general) in the Alliance who retired in good standing. Now “walking the world for a while” the good sheppard does something different with his life while providing a moral connection point for the rest of the crew (and us, I suppose).

Brent Stait

Brent Stait (Rev Bem)

Rev Bem

Rev Bem

Ron Glass

Ron Glass (Sheppard Book)

The Mysery Girl That’s a Lot More Important Than You Thought She Was (or Maybe You Figured it Out):

The previously mentioned, highly likeable, Laura Bertram Plays the role of Trance Gemini on Andromeda. From the very first episode we are treated to rather blunt foreshadowing that there is more to Trance than meets the eye, even though what meets the eye is a purple alien with sparkly skin and a devils tail. They don’t stop dropping hints there, though, lest you didn’t pick up on it the first time or two, conversations about what kind of being Trance actually is, the name of her people, where they come from, etc.  make the otherwise affable and bubbly Trance visibly uncomfortable and she always dodges these questions.

In Fire-Fly, River Tam (Summer Glau) is a brilliant young woman who was essentially kidnapped by the Alliance who performed experiments on her brain which drove her insane. Her brother, Simon Tam (Sean Maher) throws away his career (and acceptance of the rest of his family) as a gifted and proportionately rich surgeon to rescue her. In an ongoing attempt to figure out what the Alliance did to his sister, Simon is thwarted by her fragile mental and emotional state.

The two characters could hardly be anymore different from each other. While Trance is happy, positive, and in complete control of her faculties, River is detached, haunted, and borderline psychotic. However, the both of them prove to be much more than what they seem. Trance turns out to be from a race of people so incredibly powerful and long-lived that she could arguably hand Dylan everything that he wants in the form of re-establishing his Commonwealth (and more) without the bother of all five seasons of the show.

River, for her part, IS the entire show. A powerful psychic and man-made weapon, hers is the story which succinctly describes the loss of personal freedom which  Captain Reynolds feared and  fought against the Alliance on behalf of . River, out from under control of the government, was such an enormous liability that she was, in her own way, the most powerful person in the known universe.  Again, the series did not survive long enough for anyone to reach this conclusion but the movie (Serenity) happily tied up most of the loose ends that really needed to be dealt with. River Tam, in essence, was the only character that needed to exist in order for the story to be told.

Laura Bertram

Laura Bertram (Trance Gemini)

Summer Glau

Summer Glau (River Tam)

Ties That Don’t Necessarily Bind:

Rebbecca ‘Beka’ Valentine (Lisa Ryder) of Andromeda, is the ‘other’ second in command (I suppose the ship can’t reasonably be expected to command itself). She is somewhat similar to Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite) from Fire-fly although there is no obvious link tieing them together. Both are independent women who are self taught (graduates of the school of ‘hard knocks’ if you will) and play a dispensable role. Kaylee (Staite – who is every bit as likable as Laura Bertram as Serenity’s mechanic), is also very like the Trance Gemini character in what she adds to the relationship dynamics of the show.

Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin– Fire-fly) has no counterpart on Andromeda that I can see. Her character is that of a high-class prostitute and adds an interesting dimension to the show. It’s interesting, though, that Joss Whedon did a bit of a tongue-in-cheek regarding her name. Inara is the name of a Mesopotamian Goddess that used seduction in the name of revenge and Sera (with one r) translates from Italian as evening – I.E. Lady of the evening, and from Spanish as (roughly) “it will be” suggesting, if you accept the Spanish translation, that there was more to her character as well, had they ever gotten to that point, as she was also the star-crossed love interest of Captain Reynolds.

While these last couple of  characters do not dovetail as obviously as the rest, it is interesting to note that the regular cast of Andromeda was 7 people with 3 of them being women (just under half) and the regular cast of Fire-Fly was 9 people with 4 of them being women or; just under half.

All of this makes me wonder if Fire-fly was canceled less from E.B.P.C.D. and more because someone got angry at the creators for eating everyone else’s rodenberries.

Sean Maher

Sean Maher (Simon Tam)

Lisa Ryder

Lisa Ryder (‘Beka’ Valentine)

Jewel Staite

Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye)

Morena Baccarin

Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra)