Did Joss Whedon Nearly Have a Bleak Rape Plot on Firefly?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Inara on Firefly had a syringe that was originally going to tie into a very dark rape plot on the series.

Very often, what TV shows have originally planned for their characters does not necessarily end up being what happens on the screen. Sometimes plots go off in different directions on their own and sometimes outside forces step in. Ally McBeal was about to get married until her would-be husband was abruptly written off the show due to Robert Downey Jr. getting arrested again over drugs. The West Wing writers were close to having Arnold Vinick win the Presidency before the death of John Spencer solidified the show’s original plan to have Matt Santos win the job. All My Children had a bomb storyline that had to be cut short due to the Oklahoma City bombing. So there’s all sorts of reasons why planned plots do not actually become reality. Sometimes, though, it is more natural reason, like the show simply deciding to go in a different direction. That was the case on Joss Whedon’s classic TV series, Firefly, which had a very dark storyline planned for Inara (Morena Baccarin) that never came to fruition.

Read on to see what Whedon originally had planned.

Firefly is about a “Firefly-class” spaceship named Serenity and the humans who live on the ship. Led by Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres), two former comrades from a failed attempt at a rebellion against the overpowering government of the era, the Alliance, the ship’s crew lives on the fringes of society, mostly doing smuggling or cargo runs, but occasionally also doing a bit of thieving. Also among the passengers is Inara Serra, a Companion, which is basically a really high end courtesan. She is held in such high regard that she serves to give the ship a certain measure of status when they travel. While they’re doing their thing, she’s off on her own private shuttle where she deals with her clients. Inara and Mal have a strong romantic connection, but they try to keep their relationship just a professional one.

In the first episode of the series, the crew is nearly attacked by Reavers, demented space pirates who, as Zoe explains, “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we’re very very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” Luckily, the Reaver ship passes them by. While everyone on board waits to see if the Reavers will attack them or not, we see Inara in her quarters, and she opens a box with a syringe in it and she contemplates it.

We never learn what the purpose of the syringe was on the series, as Fox canceled the program after eleven episodes had been produced (they then did three more episodes to finish production on the series). Luckily, the show’s cult success led to a sequel film, Serenity. And the characters have lived on in licensed comic books, as well.

But what was in the syringe?

In a 2012 Science Channel special on the show, show writer and executive producer Tim Minnear explained

She had this magic syringe. She would take this drug. And if she were, for instance, raped, the rapist would die a horrible death. The story was that she gets kidnapped by Reavers and when Mal finally got to the ship to save her from the Reavers, he gets on the Reaver ship and all the Reavers are dead. Which would suggest a kind of really bad assault. At the end of the episode, he comes in after she’s been horribly brutalized, and he comes in and he gets down on his knee, and he takes her hand. And he treats her like a lady. And that’s the kind of stuff that we wanted to do. It was very dark. And this was actually the first story that Joss pitched to me when he asked me to come work on the show. He said, ‘These are the kind of stories we’re going to do.’

However, at another point, Inara was also going to be slowly dying (Baccarin confirmed as much at a panel), so I imagine that that is what Whedon was ultimately going to have the syringe actually revealed to be, although that plot also was never resolved.

We’re lucky that that never happened, although it admittedly would at least be a powerful sequence. Waaaay too dark, but powerful nonetheless.

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

6 Replies to “Did Joss Whedon Nearly Have a Bleak Rape Plot on Firefly?”

  1. Brian, I know that you may not want people to talk about this here, but… well, CBR’s redesign. Uh… it’s really hard to find your old stuff, and I’m not sure if you’re producing new stuff for them anymore. Is there somewhere we can find the CSBG blog? Will it be moving? HAS it moved? Is there a way to find it on the new CBR if it hasn’t? Thanks! I’m a devoted reader, and I’d like to remain such, but that gets hard when you can’t find the content you want to read.

  2. I saw that special, and for some reason I thought that the syringe was just a quick and easy death if Inara ever wanted out rather than suffer. (it makes more sense that she would contemplate it during the first ep rather than if it were a “kill my rapist if I ever get raped” drug)

    I am SO glad they never did that “Reaver gang rape” story. And to have Mal “treat her like a lady for the first time” because of it is just insane to me – as though we should be touched by such an insignificant act. If someone’s been gangraped by Reavers, that’s the least of one’s concerns ans it’s a horrific thing to put a character through just to offer Mal an opportunity to be gallant. Boo on that — Horrible idea, Joss — HORRIBLE. (also, the Reavers would kill you first, *then* rape you…)

  3. “Fox canceled the program after eleven episodes had been produced (they then did three more episodes to finish production on the series).”

    This is not accurate. All of the episodes were produced before Fox stopped airing the series, they just really aired things out of order.

  4. All episodes were produced before Fox stopped AIRING the series, yes, but only eleven had been produced before Fox informed them that they were canceled.

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