As an avid fan of Joss Wheedon's Firefly (I'm sure I've mentioned that brilliant series often enough) I'm constantly on the lookout for more information about the characters, the world, etc., since a cancelled show alone isn't satisfying enough.
My most recent informant is the essay collection Finding Serenity, edited by Jane Espenson. The works in there have been eye-openers several times.
When watching the series I've mostly been a fan of Inara, as her grace and geisha-like status seemed very appealing. Now, after reading some of the essays, my focus shifted a bit to Zoe. I'm seeing how Inara is trapped by her own character weaknesses, while Zoe seems so much stronger. From Mercedes Lackey's essay:
"She seems to have come to a Zen-like state of acceptance of whatever enters her world; it is not good, it is not bad, it merely is, and she will deal with it. She plays whatever hand she is dealt, and waits and watches for the single opportunity to make her move."
At that point I felt strongly reminded of Kendo (looking at the microcosm). And it goes on, with the macrocosm:
"I think she sees the really big picture; she lived through the defeat of the Independents, but she knows that this current situation can't last. She might not live to see the Alliance fall, but she knows it will, eventually, and she's hoping that a little push here, and another one there, on her part, might bring that day a little closer. This may be why she maintains an outwardly unruffled composure; she knows what will happen in the end, whether or not she is there to see it. For her, freedom or lack of it is just another situation to deal with. Or not. There are only two constants in her life - her loyalty to Mal and her love for Wash - and as long as she has those, she can work with what's thrown at her. Everything else is subject to change, and change is what she handles best. I believe she knows exactly what the situation is with regard to the Alliance, and she is doing her best to help Mal maintain his illusion of freedom, while she herself is perfectly well aware of how much of an illusion it is."
There are so many interesting and intriguing ideas in that paragraph, you don't know where it is best to begin pondering. Everything seems so applicable to our real world.
1. The concept of religion:
The Firefly-verse is multi-cultural, being set in a time when the East and the West collaborate, or have once collaborated as equals, thus sharing Western and Asian cultural traits. Superficially, Inara seemed to be the one to depict the Asian side (one reason why I was drawn to her): Her status as a Companion goes back to the Japanese geisha and she is described several times as a Buddhist.
Yet it is Zoe who, according to Lackey, incorporates the Zen-ideas most. (I don't remember Zoe's religion, but I'd guess she's an atheist.) Here we have an example of the difference between the faith one claims to have and our behaviour, the actions we take - how we live, or do not live, that faith.
At one point in the series Inara also says she does not want to die at all, a quote that drew speculations about Inaras big, big (still unreveavled) secret. Contrastingly, Zoe repeatedly throws herself into battle, accepting possible death as a consequence and not fearing it.
So by action, Zoe is the Buddhist, living by Zen-principles.
2. The concept of our impact on the future:
As someone who's big on the ecology-movement, organic stuff, saving the planet and preserving nature, etc. etc. etc., the question that constantly rises for me is if my action, small as they are, do really have any positive consequences. So I could identify with Zoe's "little push here, and another one there". It's a nice idea, to not needfully have to see and experience what we live for, but simply to believe that what we do will be a little push in the right direction.
(A shoutout to Be Humble. To not expect too much and that even if our single actions are not visible in the big picture, they contribute to it.)
3. The concept of only two constants in the middle of lifelong change:
Most of us need constants in our life. Some more, others less. I usually suspected these constants need to be material, because for me, they usually are. In the last years I realized I need a place that I can "come home to" every day. Splitting my belongings, my feelings for a "home" between two places (Linz and Salzburg) was not satisfying and gave me a home neither here nor there. So, for me, a place to come home to is a constant that I need (the one I'm most aware of).
For Zoe, these constants are mental, based on feelings for people (granted, the people are material, but the people alone don't make the constants). Having the constants grounded in people and feelings, rather than material belongings, sounds very appealing to me (and invovles again an immaterial thinking that seems based on Zen-philosophy).
In addition, Zoe's two constants are two of the most profound human ideals, going back centuries and centuries. They are two of the three principles of the Claddagh ring (friendship, loyalty, love) - which may just be the three elements people really need in life, and are thus good constants to build your life around.
4. The concept of keeping up others' illusions
Zoe helps Mal in keeping up his illusion of freedom. Me, being someone who doesn't speak much, but when I do it's often uncomfortably direct and sometimes radical for people who are not used to it (especially when I'm in a situation of stress and pressure), I generally follow the train of thought that people need to be pulled out of their holes of illusions and redirected when they are walking down a path that's not real but imagined. Hard, crushing, painful truth (at least when I can be bothered, which is seldom enough).
I still have to come to grips with the fact that this is not necessarily the best for the people in question and that they might dislike me for confronting them with the direct, hard, crushing truth.
(My diplomacy skills are probably at something around -12.)
Now, in Firefly we have a strong, independent woman, who helps a strong, independent man, captain of his crew, who is more than anyone else leader, father and guardian of these people, keep up his illusion; someone, who you wouldn't think needs an illusion.
How sensitive to other people's needs do you need to be to realize not only what is fact, but also which facts other people do and do not need and what illusions to encourage and which do dispell?
Does this show to some extent why Zoe is not only a strong character, but also deeply admirable in her beliefs, personality and actions?
And why I simply adore Firefly. There's no series or film that has come even close to the ideas and ponderings this one gave me. It's like Kendo kata. It seems simple enough when you watch and do them for the first time, once you get the movements and reactions into your mind, but when you leave the surface behind and delve deeper into it, the more complex and intriguing it gets - and the more you get out of it.
A stencil design inspired by one of Jayne's t-shirts. Initial sketch on the left side, altered design on the right.