Yes, it’s not a game I’m talking about! And yes, the title is a play on femme fatale! And as a last introductory note, I have watched the show only once (but not the last time!) and apologize if I can’t remember exact details. [Spoiler Warning - Firefly plot arcs mentioned]
N7_Commander, who writes Mass Effect slash fiction on Twitter, told me she would be interested in my thoughts about Firefly. So, as the short-lived series has ample interesting angles on gender portrayals, I thought she had a point, and here goes…
First point of note is that Firefly’s main characters make up a decent RPG party (maybe all at the same time would be a little too much):
Mal: Warrior/Thief dual class
Zoe: Paladin or Warrior
Kaylee: Rogue – the repairing/lockpicking, not the throat-cutting type!
Wash: I’m not sure of the official translation, but in The Dark Eye RPG ‘verse – and in my opinion – he’d be a gleeman (Gaukler) who takes the edge off tense moments and displays pragmatism as well as humor in various situations. He shies away from conflict, unless his friends are in danger. Maybe a Bard would also come close… hmm.
These are (with Wash being an annoying exception, lol) all pretty clear classes for the RPG enthusiast. What’s interesting, is that the females were harder to put a tag onto, than the male characters. I had a vague feeling about this while watching the show, and while writing this, seeing it black on white, it’s even more true. All of the Firefly women would work great as main characters in games. [Note: I'm neither saying the men wouldn't or that they are bland characters - but it's much less unusual to have interesting male characters than the other way round.] They are all more than meets the eye, and quite multi-dimensional in character. I hope that this achievement of TV series will soon spill into the gaming world.
Zoe is a kick-ass warrior woman who is deeply loyal to her former superior Mal. It seems nothing can stop her once she’s made up her mind. She has a strong will and commands respect. It is primarily her relationship with Wash that shows us her soft spots and feminine side. That Zoe and Mal are very close without having had a romantic past is still a rare occurrence in stories like Firefly’s – I liked that, nice change (Mal & Inara’s sexual tension thing was entertaining but definitely “nothing new or unexpected”). Oh, and by the way, Zoe was my personal favorite in the show.
Kaylee is a gifted mechanic and a sweet, happy girl. We’ve seen gifted female starship engineers before – but try to picture B’Elanna Torres of Voyager in the pink ruffled dress Kaylee wears for a ball!!! o_O While we see Kaylee being insecure around Simon, she got her job being MUCH less insecure with the previous mechanic in (I think it was) the engine room. Although Kaylee is sometimes way too girly for my personal taste, I do appreciate her as a fellow girly geek.
River is (at least until the series progresses) the token female mystery character (Shepherd being the male mystery character). A disturbed, traumatized killing machine. After being the subject of various experiments, she is saved by her brother Simon. For the most part of the short series, we see her suffering from her memories. She creeps out most members of Serenity’s crew. When I started watching the show, I thought I had her figured out – I thought she had been changed into a psi-killer. Stereotype dictates that women are psi/mental/magic, not melee berzerks. The girl had me fooled. To even out that brutal side, River is a very talented and graceful dancer.
Inara, the beautiful and educated companion with all her refined behavior, who turns the head of just about any man, actually has a thing for the somewhat crude Mal. In spite of her looks, she isn’t portrayed as a shallow prettyface, but a thoughtful, caring person who has high moral standards albeit her profession may stereotypically imply otherwise. In the movie Serenity, we see she is quite capable with weapons. Not much was revealed on her motivation to be aboard Serenity, and various hints indicate she was dying of a terminal illness, so she could have become the show’s later mystery woman. In any case, it was refreshing to see her resolve to leave and be independent, cutting short Mal’s resolve to confess his love for her. Again, I was expecting a cheesy happy ending thing – and was surprised. (But who knows what would have happened later…)
To wrap this up – I would have loved to learn more about the characters of Firefly, especially about the ladies, who are great examples of non-stereotypical gender portrayals. I can only repeat that I would love to PLAY such interesting, multi-faceted heroines in RPG games. That’d be awesomesauce.