Review: Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale, the Brothers Whedon

Okay, nobody really calls them the Brothers Whedon. But perhaps they should.

The Shepherd’s Tale is the story of Shepherd Book from Firefly. If you are not a fan of Firefly, what the hell, dude? Why are you reading this review instead of watching Firefly from start to finish? I’m only going to spoil it anyway so you might as well trot along and watch it. I promise it will be worth your time. If you are a fan of Firefly, you are probably aware that Shepherd Derrial Book is a man with a mysterious past. From his keen knowledge of what the bad guys are thinking, to the fancy-pants medical treatment the Alliance gives him for free, to the time that one scary guy was all “That’s no Shepherd,” you know the man has a story to tell (“That’s my whole problem with picking up tourists; they ain’t never what they claim to be”).

The Shepherd’s Tale tells that story. It begins at the end, when the Operative has ordered an attack on Book’s home planet, and skips back and back and back in Book’s life. Before he was fighting for his life on a planet called Haven, he was shipping out on a ship called Serenity, and giving strawberries to a bright-faced girl with a parasol; and before that…you’ll have to read it to find out.

But I warn you that it left me unsatisfied. It was clunky. The transitions between time periods were TV show transitions, where Scene A ends, and Scene B starts with a line of dialogue that could have been a response to the last thing that happened in Scene A, but in fact is the beginning of Scene B. It doesn’t work quite as well in comics.

A bigger problem, as far as clunkiness goes, is that the revelation of the backstory of a character in an ensemble cast isn’t interesting when it involves zero interaction with said ensemble cast. As I was reading the comic, I kept being ZOMG, Mal’s going to be upset when he finds out about this! and then feeling sad that I would never, ever get to see Mal’s reaction to it. Book’s story is interesting on its own, I suppose, but I kept comparing it to how amazing it would have been if it had been revealed in dribs and drabs over many happy (well, this is Joss Whedon; over many bleak but enjoyable) seasons of Firefly.

Firefly comics just make my heart hurt from missing Firefly. I hate it that the show was canceled, and the movie was insufficiently successful to cause future movies to get made. I wanted so much more. I wanted Saffron to come back (and maybe in my head, she comes back and happens to mention to Mal that she didn’t kiss Inara NOT THAT I HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS TOO MUCH OR ANYTHING). I wanted Inara’s and Shepherd Book’s backstories revealed, slowly, with reaction shots and snide comments from the rest of the crew. I hoped possibly there would be an episode where the Alliance tried to use Simon’s worthless parents to get at him and River. I may or may not have invented a whole scenario where Zoe got pregnant and Jayne was adorably overprotective of her.

Basically I just want Firefly back. I want it back. Please come back.

  • Yes, yes….If I had three wishes bringing Firefly back would be one of them:)

    • Really? Wow, that’s impressive. I’m not sure I’d use a wish on that. I’d wish for my own rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment in mid-town Manhattan. Among other things.

  • Awww, Firefly, I miss it too! 🙁

    • Why is it gone???

  • In Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon posits a theory that canceled television shows offer a richer soil for imagination than successful (in the sense that they complete their story at their own pace) programs; people are free to posit whatever they would like about the characters and the universe without pesky canon getting in the way. I definitely think this is the case with Firefly and its fandom.

    From Manhood for Amateurs:

    But it had—crucially, to my theory of what makes great mass art—the powerful quality of being open-ended, vague at its borders. Onto its simple template of horses and apes and humans, of quest and pursuit across a simplified landscape, a kid could easily project himself and the world he lived in. In its very incompleteness, born of lack of budget, the loose picaresque structure, and even of cancellation itself, it hinted at things beyond its own borders. There was room for you and your imagination in the narrative map of the show. (80)

    • I remember that, and I appreciate his valiant and eloquent attempt to make us all feel better about losing shows we adored. But I would rather have Firefly back. I can use my imagination for other things.

      • bookgazing

        Agree. Even when Buffy was over we could all still use our imagination on it, but it also had a completness and (important) many actual episodes we could watch over and over and over…Just one dvd boxset is not enough Zoe and Mal for me.

  • Great post! And now I’m torn between various Sunday options: re-reading or re-viewing. I was only thinking about books until now…

    • Re-viewing. Choose re-viewing. Out of Gas is always worth it, if only for the scenes where we meet Jayne and Kaylee. Hearts.

  • justbookreading

    I loved Firefly too. I came across the comics when shopping for xmass gifts and became so excited then extremely dejected. For as much as I wanted to buy and read, I had to pass. I didn’t want it to ruin my memories of the series. Sometimes you just can’t go back.

    • I don’t think they’ll ruin your memories of the series. They didn’t mine. Those Left Behind was sort of sad, and takes place between the series and the film, but Better Days was as much like an episode of Firefly as anything could be, and I was glad I read it.

      (Though a new episode depictingn the same events would have been better.)

  • I want Firefly to come back, too! In the meantime, I didn’t read your review because I haven’t read this one yet, but soon!

    • Right as I was publishing this post I saw the article that said “Firefly returns to cable” and I practically hyperventilated before reading the article and realizing it wasn’t really returning. I shouldn’t have believed it.

  • Loved reading your review, Jenny! Though I don’t know much about ‘Firefly’, I will try to find out more about it. Your review was so enthusiastic, loving and affectionate!

    • Oh, you should find out about it yesterday. It is one of the best shows that has ever been on television. Joss Whedon is a fantastic writer anyway and he’s at his best in Firefly.

  • One of the reasons I’ve never started any Firefly comics is that I believe it would be too bittersweet since I really wish the show had continued. Ah, Fox. Idiots.

    • Well, as I said, I do feel that way a little bit. But I feel like it’s better than nothing. It’s a teeny bit of salve for my Firefly-missing soul. :p

  • great review! the first time I read Shepherd’s Tale I too was frustrated that none of the other characters were really it in (and when they were, they were all watercolor-y and near impossible to recognize). But the 2nd time I read it I didn’t mind so much, because the story isn’t really about them at all, it’s Shepherd’s tale.

    and you wish is granted, sort of. Firefly will be running on The Science Channel in March!

    • I am so pleased that Firefly’s back airing again, in the format that its creator intended for it. But oh, how I wish it could have been renewed for many, many seasons.

  • I miss Firefly too! I wanted the slooow revealing of the carefully planned story, and it never happened!

    Of course, I have foolishly let this keep me from watching the DVDs; I’ve never even seen the unaired episodes. It’s too sad knowing it will never be completed.

    I did, however, watch Serenity. I even saw it in the theater, in an effort to persuade the PTB that this was a Worthwhile Show they should continue.

    • NO. What? NO! Watch the unaired episodes. Saffron comes back! Get the DVDs and watch the unaired episodes. You are missing out.

  • I also wish there was more of Firefly – there was so much left unexplored in the characters’ backstories and relationships. And I love your invented scenario about Zoe being pregnant. What that would have done to the ensemble dynamic would have been amazing. I was rewatching the Shindig episode recently, and just the whole exchange while they’re looking at the dresses in the shop window is brilliant.

    • Oh, I love that part. And at the end, when Kaylee’s in her pink dress chattering to all the guys about mechanical things.

  • *coughing* I haven’t watched an episode of Serenity yet. I know, I know, I should have done long time ago but I keep forgetting to do it. I’ll add the first season to my Netfliix queue. Have a good week.

    • You will love it. I am pretty sure. Most everyone who watches it loves it. Just, if you don’t care for the pilot episode, press on. It gets better.

  • I loved Firefly as well, and was so sad when it was canceled. The movie was good, but not enough for me, and I had no idea that there were books out there! I am glad to hear that I may be able to continue the Firefly love, but am sad that it’s not at all like the series. I had such a crush on Mal and Jayne, for different reasons, obviously.

    • I thought the movie was wonderful, but I would have liked it better if it had been followed by four more seasons of the show. :p I liked it that we got to see River, er, acting differently with Simon. At the end. You know.

  • anna

    Aww, man, your fantasizing both fills me with glee at the thought of how awesome those scenarios would be, and makes me sad that they can never come to pass.

    especially the one with Jayne and Zoe: THAT WOULD BE GREAT. I want to hear more of your idea of what could happen……

    Also: apparently there is now a fan movement to pledge money so that Fillion can bring back firefly. It’s true.

    • I thought I had talked with you extensively about my baby scenario in the past before. I can’t remember all the stuff I invented now. I made up plots for at least three episodes but they are gone from my brain now.

      That is a really sweet movement but it will never work. And I say that with love and affection for Nathan Fillion and for those behind the fan movement.

  • I liked Firefly, but I loved Buffy and Angel more. I get why people liked it so much, and I enjoyed it, but didn’t have the burning need for more more more that some other shows give me.

    • Well, I took a long time to come to an appreciation of Buffy and Angel. But in general I think I bonded more with the Firefly cast, and also, it was the first TV show ever that I started watching compulsively, like back to back episodes, I couldn’t stop. It holds a special place in my heart. Also it is just damn good television.

  • I was crushed that they canceled this series. Crushed.

    • Me too! Why did that happen? Damn Fox!

  • Have I mentioned that my bookbag for adjunct teaching says “May have been the losing side, still not convinced it was the wrong one”?

    On Saturday my hairdresser alerted me to this Firefly news/wishful thinking:
    http://www.tgdaily.com/games-and-entertainment-features/54221-science-channel-revisits-joss-whedons-firefly

    • I love your bookbag for adjunct teaching. :p And the fact that you have a hairdresser who cares about Firefly.

  • She

    Okay, two things :

    1.) Firefly should make a triumphant return… now.

    2.) The Brothers Whedon? I dig it.

    • WHY HAS IT NOT MADE A TRIUMPHANT RETURN?

      (I guess it has. With Serenity. But I wanted the return to be triumphanter than that.)

  • My menfolk loved Firefly, and funnily enough, my son was saying only a couple of days ago that they ARE trying to bring it back. Everyone has agreed to do more – actors, writer, director, etc – they are just looking for funding. So hang on in there – there is definitely hope.

  • There’s a lot of excitement about Firefly right now. If you’re on FB, you should join the group “Help Nathan buy Firefly” so you’ll get updates. And take a look at this:
    http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/web/02/23/bring.back.firefly/index.html?eref=rss_tech&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_tech+%28RSS%3A+Technology%29&utm_content=Twitter

  • I was JUST going to post about the same thing as Jeanne, but she beat me to it because I am Really Late Comments Girl right now.

    But, yes. I shan’t hold my breath, but if it happens, I’ll engage in some frantic and joyful jumping around.