This is the first in a series of articles on women from Firefly. Includes spoilers for Firefly and Serenity.
ZoÃ« is my favourite character, so I’ll start with her. She’s an action heroine in the same vein as Sarah Conner or Ellen Ripley. She the 2IC of Serenity, and makes sure none of the men forget it. Not that she has to do it overtly. She has this presence of power that the men of Serenity – excepting the captain, the only one she answers to – don’t question.
Except maybe her husband. Wash hates answering to his wife, but it came across to me more a case of a person who hates answering to the person he loves than a man who hates answering to a woman, let alone his woman. ZoÃ« is smarter, stronger, and generally more capable than he is, except when it comes to manoeuvring Serenity out of trouble spots. And he doesn’t love her any less for it; he seems to use her example as a challenge to do better.
A man not threatened by his wife’s superiority? How cool. How very, well, futuristic.
ZoÃ« makes it abundantly clear that she expects fidelity, and gives no less in return. In one episode, they’ve taken on a con artist pretending to be a helpless victim who attempts to seduce the captain, Mal, and then Wash. With Mal she succeeds, knocking him out with a poison seal on her lips, but with Wash, she has to knock him out the hard way – with a heavy, blunt instrument. He’s tempted, of course, she’s a beautiful, willing woman, but he ain’t kissing anyone but his wife.
ZoÃ« is absolutely dedicated and and capable of protecting the ship and crew. Several times Mal is otherwise occupied and ZoÃ« takes over the ship. Her wit and sass are far more commanding than the bossy, aggressive attitude usually given to TV women in charge.
Ultimately, ZoÃ« epitomises what I love about Firefly/Serenity. Almost everything she does, she could do as a man. Her capability as a soldier and negotiator, her dynamics with the rest of the crew, and her relationship with her husband, could be gender reversed and still have a competent, fleshed-out character you can root for.
That, I believe, is the ultimately goal of film and television. Or at least, it should be.