15

Throughout Firefly the Alliance obviously acts as the opposition to Mal and his crew.

But...

  • They follow due process (in Bushwhacked) and generally it appears that their officers are bound by Rule of Law.

  • They also seem to practice representative democracy across the "core" planets.

  • The group that was conducting tests on River appear to be a "secret" branch of the government and thus not necessarily supported by the Parliament as a whole.

So, did the writers / producers intend to characterize the Alliance as generically evil (similar to the Empire in Star Wars) or was there a greater level of nuance involved?

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    And it kinda does have an answer: from Serenity (the BDM, not the Pilot - emphasize by me): The Operative: [to Mal] You are fooling yourself, Captain. Nothing here is what it seems. You are not the plucky hero, the Alliance is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena. And AFAIR in the audio commantaries Joss stated that the Alliance is supposedly a realistic government: not intentionally evil, just flawed, after all, humans are running it. Like the Operative says, what he does is evil, but he does it for the greater good. – BMWurm Apr 6 '15 at 12:43
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    This should be re-opened, as it has an official answer. "Evil" is not necessarily opinion-based in fictional works (e.g. Sauron and the Joker are objectively "evil"), and Joss Whedon has given several interviews where he specifically said that the Alliance was only as corrupt or malevolent as any other government, and that they're unflattering portrayal is a result of the perspective of the main characters. This question is objectively answerable, and the answer is "No." – Nerrolken Apr 6 '15 at 19:53
  • Relevant essay; books.google.co.uk/… – Valorum Apr 11 '15 at 13:45
  • Probably worth remembering that in the context of the story, the Alliance are seeking to bring together the planets under one government and are being defied by the Browncoats in the Unification War. The American Civil War parallels are obvious, but it means that our heroes our effectively supports of the Confederacy. I've read a pretty convincing arguement online that some of the most objectively evil characters we see in the series are, in fact, the crew of the Serenity. – Dr R Dizzle Jul 14 '15 at 14:12
20

Joss Whedon spoke to this specific question in a series of interviews in 2011. To cut a long story short, not only is the Alliance emphatically not evil, they're actually best characterised as benign and culturally enlightened (offering free healthcare, universal suffrage, free high quality education and excellent policing):

Whedon: ...And people are always like, "They're fighting an evil empire!" And I'm like, "Well, it's not really an evil empire." The trick was always to create something that was complex enough that you could bring some debate to it—that it wasn't black-and-white. It wasn't, "If we hit this porthole in the Death Star, everything will be fine!" It was messier than that, and the messiest thing is that the government is basically benign. It's the most advanced culturally. . . .

One of the show's enduring charms is that from a certain perspective the most morally questionable of the Alliance's actions (the Unification War, the Pacification of Miranda and the deployment of the Operative) are arguably in the best interests of the population. In the real world, there are invariably shades of grey:

JW: Evil doesn't come in saying, [breathes heavily, Darth Vader-style], "It's your faaather." Generally speaking, it's a lot more nebulous. In fact, it usually isn't evil so much as it is a lot of people overthinking things until they find themselves caught in an untenable situation.


Notably, even the Alliance's own man can see the obvious connection (but rejects it);

THE OPERATIVE : He's not the plucky hero. The Alliance isn't some evil empire. This isn't the grand arena.

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    ... the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them... nor to meddle with them. – Chris B. Behrens Apr 21 '15 at 21:07
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    @ChrisB.Behrens - "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" – Valorum Apr 21 '15 at 21:22
  • Quite a lot of slavery abounds for such a "culturally enlightened" society. – whatsisname Jun 26 '15 at 19:36
  • Word of God is BS in light of actual screen events. Any government that practices the drugging of populations as a method of staying in control, is objectively evil. – user16696 Jul 14 '15 at 0:09
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    @cde - There's no such thing as 'objectively ' evil and you can't judge someone else's standards by your own. The Spartans used to "expose" sickly children. They would consider our society evil for not doing that – Valorum Jul 14 '15 at 5:29
4

TL;DR: From the perspective of the main characters, the Alliance is indeed evil.

Firefly takes place on the fringe systems, and is told from the perspective of a fringe crew. From THAT perspective, the actions of the Alliance would indeed seem evil:

  • The Alliance annexed the outlying systems, then invaded in force when those systems objected to the annexation.
  • The Alliance experimented with unethical & illegal methods of population pacification, drugging (and ultimately killing) the entire population of Miranda.
  • The Alliance lured children from their families under false pretenses, then proceeded to commit unethical experiments on them, all in the goal of creating the perfect assassin.
  • The Alliance created the Reavers, then left them to prey on the fringe planets.
  • Rather than admit its mistakes, The Alliance sought to cover up its atrocities by sending assassins and/or mercenaries to kill anyone involved.

Now, from the perspective of a Core Worlds citizen - one who never gets exposed to the dirtier secrets of The Alliance, this might seem like the ideal government. From the perspective of the Serenity crew, however, this just isn't the case.

  • I agree, much in the same way that citizens of Panem living in Districts other then 1 would also see more "evil" in the government. I'm not saying all of the citizens of District 1 are crazy happy about the government, but they sure are a lot happier then the others and thus may feel like they aren't living under the control of an evil regime. – Mykewlname Jul 14 '15 at 17:17

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