Firefly: Damsel in Distress

Joss Whedon created a show that everyone who watches it connects to somehow. One basic literary necessity is the ‘damsel in distress’.

All stories have some form of damsel in distress.  The story of a ship called Serenity is no exception.  However, Joss Whedon’s brilliance is in how these damsels, this distress, is portrayed.  And though not all of damsels in distress are dames, we’re going to discuss these complex and ultimately realistic female roles.

Joss gave us these women that have the pioneer work ethic and spirit; strong women.

So how are they damsels in distress?

Look at Kaylee.  This damsel got her job by being an AWESOME mechanic, a typical man’s job.  In fact, she took the job from a man.   She is happy and smiling.  She loves herself exactly the way she is.  She keeps everyone together and creates this very homey feel on the ship.  But this poor girl still needs some rescuing; she is still a damsel in distress.

Her distress comes from the lack of male companionship.  Each episode makes us keenly aware of this girl’s distress.  And we connect to her distress.  Male or female, we know what it’s like to have a dry spell.  And we all want to rescue her – male or female, we are figuring out how to get her laid and we are throwing stuff at Simon in our heads.

So what about Inara?  This girl gets it whenever she wants it.  She has clout, poise, and is completely aware of herself.  She doesn’t fall into harm’s way.  What is her distress?  She’s in love with someone she believes isn’t in love with her.  Yep, we connect to that.  We connect the feeling of loving someone that won’t/ can’t love you back.  We try to rescue her; we yell at the TV for Mal to get his head out of his ass.

River seems to be the typical damsel in distress.  We don’t have to look for her distress, it’s in our face.  She’s the broken little sister that everyone loves.  BUT she’s also incredibly smart and a total bad ass.  She can kill you.  With anything.  Including -just her mind.  She may be in distress with the entire crew trying to figure out how to rescue her, but it’s River that saves everyone.  We all feel a little broken.  We can connect to the feeling of being capable despite our brokenness.

My favorite damsel in distress is Wash.  I simply love how this couple has the roles reversed.  But we’re talking about our females right now.

Zoë is a no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall, making-it-so, wonder woman.  She has a man that loves her, she has passion, she is strong, and she knows herself.  Zoë is the definition of confident.  So how is she a damsel in distress?!?  It is not until the movie Serenity that we really see it, but in one split second we discover both her distress and why she is Mal’s go to guy.  In every episode you see Zoë’s hard exterior, her ability to focus on the job.  But when we see that exterior forced out, almost instantly after Wash is killed, we understand and connect with her distress.  How many people has she seen die -and knew the only way to not see more die was to leave them and finish the job?  She mourns and we understand.  I know you cried and tried to hug the TV too.   We hugged someone that day because of our connection to her distress.

We connect to these characters because they embody the troubles of our lives, the distresses we understand.  Well done Mr. Whedon, well done.

Photo by Megan Lara


  1. Robert Lee says:

    Love the read though I couldn’t disagree with you more. Damsel in distress summons up images of a jiggling lab-coat wearing, big haired, lady professor who can’t get away from the mutated, carnivorous snail because the heel of her stiletto got stuck in the airlock doorway. Then, in a nick of time, along comes “the captain!”
    That is NOT the Firefly / Serenity fems. Yeah, they have issues. They wouldn’t be interesting without issues. But they aren’t stuck and WAITING on rescue, and that is the definition of ‘damsel in distress.’

    • meg says:

      I would say yes but it’s really more no, that’s not true.

      It is true that they are not the tied up on the train tracks by an evil villain. However, the “damsel in distress” is actually a girl that can’t get out of the trouble she’s in without the help of a rescuer. Many movies tend to up-play the kind of trouble she would be in, dramatize the danger and over-act the helplessness. But there are also the movies that show a more down to earth type of damsel in distress. Take for example Reese Witherspoon in Just Like Heaven (not a great movie, but a damsel in distress movie non-the-less), or Twilight where Bella is in need of saving from one form of paranormal thing after another. Almost all the Disney princesses are damsels in distress. A large number of action films are guys out to rescue the girl from terrorists, or aliens, or bank robbers, etc. To take only one type of damsel and one type of distress disregards much of literature, film, and theatre. The girl that needs rescuing is a classic storyline.

      I think this article summed up a variety of situations in which girls can feel helpless in today’s world and want to be rescued from. And yeah, I can relate to all of them.

  2. Wiesakedjak says:

    Wish dies?!??? Hello, Spoiler Alert??

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