Joss Whedon Couldn't Resist Giving Firefly Its Own Version Of Buffy

Although Joss Whedon has created several shows that have endured long past their time on television, for better or worse, he will always be most intrinsically linked to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The series, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular slayer, one of the most iconic female characters in the history of TV. While "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has always been indicative of Whedon's particular brand of feminism, the series was incredibly groundbreaking for its time, and remains my favorite show to this day. That said, Buffy Summers became an archetype that Whedon would go on to write into pretty much every subsequent series he has worked on, including "Firefly."

The beloved space western aired only 11 of its 14 episodes in 2002 before Fox axed the series for good, at least until high DVD sales helped enable Whedon to wrap things up with his feature film continuation, "Serenity." The series "Firefly" centered on the ragtag crew aboard the spaceship Serenity as they traversed the 'verse with trouble never far behind. "Firefly" was definitely an ensemble piece, but that didn't stop Whedon from giving the series its own iteration of Buffy. Loyal Browncoats can already guess the answer, but for the uninitiated, which character filled this role for the series?

"Also, I can kill you with my brain"

There is so much to love about the cast of "Firefly." Although not everyone's auditions went smoothly, each actor is absolutely perfect in their role. With only 14 episodes and one movie, some characters got far more fleshed out than others, particularly in the film. One was given quite a lot of development in the movie since the series was never given the opportunity to flesh out, and that's fan favorite River Tam, brilliantly brought to life by Summer Glau. 

Before her mind was irrevocably altered by government experiments, River was a child prodigy. Her lucid moments can be few and far between, but she is much more aware of what's going on than the rest of the crew might think. While eventually beloved by everyone aboard the ship, River's psychic abilities and impressive fighting skills do cause some of them to fear her as well.

Amy Pascale's "Joss Whedon: The Biography" (via Gizmodo) had Whedon explain that "Firefly" was meant to stand apart from his previous work. It was "about Joe Schmo, everyday life. And then of course I introduce River, the young female superhero. Let's face it, I'm just addicted."

Much of River's abilities are merely hinted at in "Firefly," because the series so quickly ran out of time. While it's not until "Serenity" that she really goes into full Buffy mode, it's easy to see that the young woman learning to cope with tremendous power and its many pitfalls is something of a Buffy stand-in. However, River Tam is no carbon copy of Buffy Summers. Beyond the fact that they are young women with superpowers, the two really don't share much in common at all. Their motivations are completely different, as are their personalities and abilities — though both have incredible prowess in battle. Glau imbues the character with such grace and childlike wonder that she cannot help but feel completely distinct.

It does indeed seem like Whedon was "addicted" to creating this type of character, but what felt innovative in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and original in "Firefly" felt somewhat stale once "Dollhouse" rolled around (I say this as someone who enjoyed the show) and downright tired by the time "The Nevers" released. We'll have to see how the second part of season 1 progresses without him.

Exploring other perspectives

Whedon may not have been able to help himself when it comes to adding a young female superhero to the mix, but River was one of an entire crew of unforgettable characters. While several of those aboard Serenity may have been familiar Whedon archetypes, these characters still managed to feel fresh. "Joss Whedon: The Biography" has Whedon reflecting:

"It was nice to have a show that was about different perspectives and to really get to explore all of them. I was excited that I was going to have a happily married couple that was not boring. Because that's just so rare in fiction and it's such an important thing in life. And yet apart from [the] Thin Man [film] series, I think it's never really been adequately represented. And I had a preacher on board, to explore the concept of faith, people who don't have it and people who do."

Considering the rule of thumb in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" seemed to be that if two people were joyously in love, one of them was about to die or turn evil, It's a good thing Whedon found a way to make himself less bored by a happy marriage. Though the relationship between Zoë (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) is one of the delights of "Firefly," only one of them survives "Serenity," so Whedon did indeed rob them of that happy ending. Sadly, Shepherd Book (the late Ron Glass) was also shortchanged in the 2005 film. There just wasn't enough time to give everyone their due.

One of the main reasons "Firefly" has continued to be beloved is because of the fully-realized characters populating this world and the amazing actors who portrayed them. It's likely we'll never see a reboot, but this is probably for the best, since Fox never knew what to do with the series anyway. Plus, what we got is already pretty great.