Those Left Behind works primarily as a vehicle for Serenity’s soft reboot, as I talked about last time. But it is also a story of transition. Firefly and Serenity share the same universe, but they are separate in many other ways. Those Left Behind gives us our last glimpse at many aspects of Firefly, and our first glimpse of many aspects of Serenity. It goes far beyond Inara finally leaving the ship as she declared she would do at the end of “Heart Of Gold”, and is mostly concerned with antagonist characters.
First, you have the Hands of Blue still looking for Serenity, now seeking Mal by name in their quest to get those blue gloves on River Tam. The Hands of Blue were, as I talked about a while ago, Firefly’s most visually striking villains, the ones that made the biggest impression despite the lack of information on them. But they weren’t suitable for Serenity, a film that needed a more verbose, engaged, villain. The mostly silent Hands of Blue wouldn’t have cut it in the same way that they did for a serialised TV show. So we see them strike once more at Serenity and their crew here, Whedon happy to give them a last hurrah without really answering any of the questions surrounding them. In the end, in a very definite nod to Firefly and the resolution of its pilot episode, the Hands of Blue get destroyed in the wake of Serenity’s engine reactor going full burn, the ship definitively leaving behind some of its former primary antagonists.
Dobson is another issue entirely. I do think it is the story’s key weakness, the way that he is presented as being the King of the Whitefall dirt heap. The Dobson of “Serenity” was a panic prone incompetent, as likely to turn and blindly fire as he was to remain calm, cool and collected. He died holding a gun to a girl’s head with no clear plan of what to do and where to go, and the idea that he could survive and find a way to thrive on Whitefall was always a bit much.
The fan theory that I like, and that helps bridge that gap, is that the residents of Whitefall, bitter over the Reaver attack that Serenity dumped on them (that’s if you decide that the Reavers survived the full born blowback on “Serenity”) rally around Dodgson and his plans to get revenge. That still doesn’t stop the sight of Dodgson, with the cape, the rifle and the mechanical eye, being a little bit ridiculous. His insanity and psychologically strange compulsion to pursue Mal is a bit easier to swallow, since he was never really playing with a full deck of cards.
But Dodgson’s plan to get his revenge on Mal is bizarrely complicated despite its very simple backbone. He needs to make some kind of deal with Badger to get Serenity to visit this old battlefield, he has to get pall with the Hands of Blue, he has to lure Mal and company to a very specific point in zero-g, just so he can…shoot Mal? Seems a bit overkillish, and I suspect that the setting for the story’s finale had spectacle in mind more than common sense. But who’s to really say? Maybe Whedon always intended Dodgson to turn back up in Firefly continued, but I would hope that it would be a tad more satisfying. In the end, Dodgson is taken care off with remarkable ease, somewhat making a mockery of his position on Whitefall and complicated plan. It worked better in “Serenity”, when he was a trigger happy boob that Mal simply didn’t have the time to deal with properly. Like the Hands of Blue, Dodgson is finished off in a manner that calls back to “Serenity”, a goodbye as well as a nod.
And, of course, there is Badger as well. While never outright being an antagonist, he was certainly a negative factor in the crews lives in his two appearances, and that continues in Those Left Behind. Badger attempts to hold the crew at gunpoint just so he can have a discussion with them, but at least we get the satisfaction of seeing the tables turned for once. But Badger is still Badger: obnoxious, treacherous and totally incapable of relating to Mal or his struggles. Our last glimpse of him is seeing him stranded in a Persephone desert, another instance of Serenity leaving something behind as it moves forward to new adventures. Badger even namedrops the characters – Fanty and Mingo – who will be taking on his role in Serenity.
Lastly, in terms of transition, there are the final shots of Those Left Behind. As I said, the Hands of Blue could not fulfil the role of antagonist in a two-hour move, and so something new, someone new, had to be found. Our introduction to the Operative, one of Joss Whedon’s most fascinating villains, is very brief, but tantalising. We knew that he must be someone capable, for the Alliance to turn to him, a person who accepts the task in front of him immediately and without any reservations. We know that he must be more intertwined with the Alliance, if the Hands of Blue were, as described, “independent contractors”. And we know that he now has his sights on River Tam, Malcolm Reynolds and Serenity.
The stage has been set. Those Left Behind is not a classic Firefly/Serenity story by any means really, but it does the job of rebooting the elements that need to be rebooted and transitioning what needs to be transitioned. It is a final goodbye to the world of Firefly, its colourful villains and other aspects, and a look forward to the things that are coming next, more dangerous, more deadly, more affecting. The majority of people who would see, Serenity will never have looked upon Those Left Behind of course, but for the keener fans of the ‘verse and its denizens, it remains a vital part of the canon, linking the two separate strands of Whedon’s masterwork, essentially the only part of the larger EU that does.