The Women of Firefly/Serenity: Zoe

This is the first in a series of articles on women from Firefly. Includes spoilers for Firefly and Serenity.

Zoë 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. Zoë 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.

Zoë 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.

Zoë is absolutely dedicated and and capable of protecting the ship and crew. Several times Mal is otherwise occupied and Zoë 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, Zoë 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.


  1. Nialla says

    Zoe was always at the top of my favorite character list, for much the same reasons you mention. And not just favorite female character, though the fact that she wasn’t defined by being female was a huge reason I liked her.

  2. says

    I looooove Zoe, and I especially love the way her marriage with Wash is depicted, as you mention in this article. They seem to be a real partnership, very loving, very equally giving, and I think it’s great to see that with characters on a sci-fi show.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    It’s a very subtle distinction, how we often identify women (and other marginalized groups) by gender (group) first, job second, while men are just simple “soldier”, “lawyer”, etc. Zoe was a soldier who was also a wife and a woman. So simple, but so important.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Agreed. I also loved that we didn’t see them getting together. So often, TV romance is all about the getting together, not the being together. It was so nice to see an established couple who was fun and romantic to watch.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    And don’t forget Zoe’s relationship with Mal – true combat buddies, like we normally only see in the form of two men.

    I loved the ep where Wash convinced himself there was some sort of latent sexual tension between the two of them, and then got to experience firsthand the sort of bond combat and tight scrapes produces.

  6. scarlett says

    I think the only time we see Wash and Zoe’s backstory is in an ep where they show the backstory of the whole crew. WEe’re introduced to Wash and she makes some passing comment about how she wasn’t too fussed on him.
    I could never decide who’s chemistry I liked her more with, Mal or Wash. She has these fantastic equal relationships with both of them. I think Firefly was Whedon’s best attempt at female characters, I couldn’t believe it got cancalled so early.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Her comment about about Wash in the flashbacks is “He bothers me.” Mal asks why and she says. “I don’t know. He just bothers me.” :)

    According to one of the producers on the DVD commentaries, it was cancelled because too many women were watching and not enough men. Big shock there.

  8. scarlett says

    Goes back to the (supposed) theory that men are allegedly better advertising audiences then women, or maybe just that what self-respecting man wants to create a product mainly consumed by women? (Maybe someone should clue in Georgio Amarni…)

    Was talking to a male friend today about F/S who said he wished there had been more shippiness between Wash and Zoe. I wonder if that was an isolated opinion or a male opinion, because the women F/S viewers I’ve talked to liked that there was hardly any shippiness.

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