“Take my love, take my land,
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care, I'm still free,
You can't take the sky from me. “
Sorry, it just doesn’t feel right to start off something related to Firefly without including those lyrics, especially when we're talking about Firefly fan theories. Like its theme song, every aspect of the beloved, but short-lived, television show has burrowed its way into the hearts of its fans, and the fandom is still strong more than a decade after Firefly left the air.
As in any serious fandom, supporters of Firefly have filled the Internet with wild speculation and theorization about the lives of their favorite characters. In fact, Firefly – and its follow-up movie Serenity – lend themselves particularly well to theory-crafting, due to the level of world-building and mystery Joss Whedon puts into his shows.
Whether it's speculation about the personal history of River Tam, or the far-flung past of the war that sent Captain Mal Reynolds on his path to skullduggery, fans of Firefly are bursting with ideas about what’s really going down on board the Serenity. In fact, some of the most intense fan speculation surrounds real-life Firefly conspiracy theories, about how and why the great show was cancelled in the first place. Let's see if we can get to the bottom of these Firefly mysteries.
One of the most peculiar aspects of the Firefly ‘verse is the characters’ proclivity for swearing at each other in Mandarin. Almost every character does it, but none of the people in the main cast are of Asian descent. How can this be explained?
Reddit user brinz1 thinks they’ve solved it with a little speculative history. The majority of the action in Firefly takes place far away from the “core” worlds, which seem to be occupied by the elite of human civilization. It could be this privileged group is descended from modern China, due to some sort of major event in the past, and that’s the reason why their language is influential enough to end up in Captain Mal’s vocabulary.
There’s a famous saying, “the camel is a horse designed by committee.” When human beings work together, sometimes great things can happen, but often bureaucracy gets in the way. The Alliance appears to have designed a deadly psychic ninja through their experimentation on River Tam, and most fans believed they were trying to turn her into some sort of warrior.
However, it is possible that River’s abilities are the result of an accident, at least according to Reddit user ThereisnoTruth. River displays a wide range of abilities unlike any of the other individuals produced by the Alliance, but she is unable to control them. This could mean she is the result of several Alliance researchers trying to take her development in several different directions.
This isn's a fan theory, exactly, but it's been a long-standing issue for Firefly fans. At one point in the show, the crew of Serenity are about to be boarded by Reavers, and Inara is shown looking ponderously at a syringe. When the crew gets out of the jam, the needle is never brought up again, and most fans believed it had something to do with her alleged mysterious terminal illness, but they were really off the mark this time.
The show’s creator, Joss Whedon, revealed the syringe was actually meant to serve a much darker, more uncomfortable purpose. After the show’s cancellation, Whedon said the mysterious medical device contained a drug to make Inara’s vagina lethal, as a way to prepare her for the ritual gang-raping of the Reavers. Whedon’s idea was to have a scene where Inara was brutalized by a group of Reavers, only to have them all fall down dead around her after completing their assault. For the sake of our fond memories of Firefly, we can all agree it’s a good thing this particular scene never made it on the air.
The big twist in Serenity (spoilers for a movie over a decade old) is that the psychotically violent Reavers were accidentally created by the Alliance through their experiments with the Pax virus. The Pax killed the majority of the planet it was tested on, but a small percentage of the population became savage, mindless killing machines instead. At least, that’s the official story.
Reddit user ThereisnoTruth begs to differ, however. In their mind, the Reavers make more sense as the result of a last ditch attempt to stop the widespread death caused by the Pax. The attempted cure might have resulted in the Reavers, which would mean a drug exists that could effectively turn normal people into Reavers. This would explain why the Reaver population hasn’t dwindled completely in their extremely violent 12 years of existence.