The final page of Float Out is the big surprise, the one thing about the piece that makes it connect to the larger canon in a huge way. The rest of the story, the three friends, their stories about Wash, remembering his death, are about the past: that last image, of a pregnant Zoe proclaiming that her unborn daughter will love the sky as much as Wash did, is for the future of the franchise.
Firefly, obviously, hinted at this. The underlying theme of the Wash/Zoe relationship was one of struggling to be a married couple in the circumstances they were in. Sometimes it was as simple as having an interpersonal interaction that kept being skewed by Zoe’s respect for Mal’s authority and Wash’s exasperation of the same. Sometimes it was as primal as finding the right time and place to have conjugal relations. And sometimes it was about what kind of future they were trying to make for themselves, on this ship, in the line of work they were in.
The penultimate episode of Firefly, “Heart Of Gold”, sees the two spell out the elephant in the room clearly: Zoe wants to have children, and Wash is worried about what that would mean in practical terms. Bringing a child into their world is not some trifling matter: in every episode of Firefly, to some extent or another, the crews lives are in danger, whether it is the direct and violent threat of being eaten alive by crazy people or something as innocuous as a faulty engine part that almost results in the crew freezing to death. To a larger extent, I sympathised with Wash’s viewpoint expressed in that episode, that pointing out the reality of the crew’s daily lives was not an excuse, and more a statement of fact.
But also endearing was Zoe’s response, which was simply that things are the way they are, and using that as a shield to prevent the creation of a child is essentially pointless. She eloquently puts it thusly: “I ain’t so afraid of losing something that I’m ain’t gonna try and have it”. That’s a beautiful optimistic sentiment, though it foreshadows the grief to come later, maybe unintentionally on the part of the writer: Zoe married Wash knowing full well the dangerous kind of life that the two led, which eventually resulted in tragedy. But I doubt someone like Zoe regretted marrying Wash. She was tore up plenty, but she’ll fly true.
Which brings us to Serenity. It was only on a fifth, sixth and maybe even seventh re-watch that I actually noticed that key line of spluttered dialogue, lost amid the shock of seeing Wash pinned to his chair by that Reaver spear. As Zoe temporarily breaks apart seeing her husband dead, you can just about hear her saying “We’re going to have a baby”. You have to actually be listening out for it. You wouldn’t notice because almost in the same breath Zoe refers to Wash as “Baby”, and the rest of her words are half formed and half hysterics. But that’s what she says.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Whedon intended for Zoe to be pregnant when he wrote and shot this scene. You could interpret it as just the desperate wailing of a suddenly bereaved spouse, referring more to their attempts to conceive a child than announcing that she is pregnant. Indeed, if Zoe is pregnant at the time and knows it, it would make her subsequent, almost suicidal, actions have a much more negative vibe to them.
But, if we consider the comics to be canon – and I suppose there is a debate to be had on that, especially those comics that take place post-Serenity – then Zoe has to be pregnant at this point, whether she knows it or not (or Wash isn’t the father, which might work for some fan-fiction writers but doesn’t fit into the actual thing). By the time Float Out comes along, Zoe is fairly well along, and even knowns the sex of the child that she will soon be giving birth to. When we get to Leaves On The Wind, the presence of Wash and Zoe’s child on the ship will be a key plot point.
I briefly spoke before on what Zoe having a child on-board Serenity might actually mean in practical terms for storytelling and the like. There’s so much possibility there for really interesting dynamics. Looking just as Firefly and Serenity, you have the potential for Zoe to be burning for revenge on the Alliance for her husband’s death, and how she squares that away with the responsibilities of being a parent. Or you could have the opposite path, of Zoe trying to deal with both her grief over her husband with the role of a mother, and how that intermingling of grief and joy can mess a person up.
And there is obvious drama potential in it all as well, the additional tension of the crew both looking for and undertaking shady work while they have a child to also look after, that “helpless human” problem that Wash warned against all the way back in “Heart Of Gold”. You think Whedon might not have been able to pull that off? Well, he actually did, around the same time as Firefly was having its all too brief run, in the third season of Angel, where the titular vampire and his crew of do gooders suddenly have to take care of Connor, the prophesied child of two vampires. Of course, Angel didn’t quite stick with that premise the way that Firefly would have been required to – I don’t think they would have been able to get away with Zoe jr being taken into a different dimension where time moves faster and coming back as an adult a short while later – but it was able to get some effective drama out of the idea.
But of course, barring that realm of comics, we will never really know. In time, I will get to Leaves On The Wind, and there might even be more post-Serenity adventures by then to talk about. For now, it suffices to say that the introduction of a baby to the ships’ dynamic is a gutsy, game changing call, that I only wish we had the chance to see play out in a live-action format.