‘Firefly’: The Show’s 12th Episode Should Have Been Its Last

Although Firefly would go on to spawn a broad media franchise — including a set of novels, a six-issue comic series, a video game, and the feature film Serenity — the TV show was doomed to failure from the start.

Initially airing on Fox in the fall of 2002, the network shut down the sci-fi drama before its finale even aired. And getting prematurely canceled wasn’t the only oddity.

Fox also aired all of Firefly‘s episodes out of order, and even initially skipped director Joss Whedon‘s pilot until the very end. Meanwhile, Firefly‘s 12th episode should have been its last.

‘Firefly’ was canceled after its 11th episode aired

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Whedon’s space Western premiered on September 20, 2002. A short 10 months later, Firefly was canceled after only 11 of its 14 episodes had aired. 

“The concept was to set an ensemble of characters familiar from Westerns (the noble outlaw, the hard-scrabble preacher, the practical prostitute) in outer space 500 years in the future,” explains Variety. “Interrupted by baseball and dropped for November sweeps (much to Whedon’s chagrin), the show never caught on with a big enough audience.”

The sudden cancellation left the director frustrated. “I’ve never seen [Whedon] so mad,” actor Adam Baldwin (who plays mercenary Jayne Cobb in the series) says in a report by Business Insider. “He looked at me and said ‘I don’t have good news. They pulled the plug and this is the last episode. And I want you all to know immediately.'”

This meant that Fox didn’t give audiences a chance to see the final three episodes. “Episodes 11, 12, and 13 were not aired until the Sci-fi Channel brought the series to the United Kingdom,” reports IMDB.

Fox aired ‘Firefly’ out of order

Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk Tim Minear. Sean Maher, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau and Joss Whedon
Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk Tim Minear. Sean Maher, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau and Joss Whedon | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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IMDB points out that Fox didn’t just prevent Firefly‘s last three episodes from airing, but the network also aired all of the episodes out of order. According to the outlet, it aired episode two first.

Business Insider explains that Fox thought the original pilot was too complicated to start with, and that it introduced too many characters. Whedon and his team thus created episode two as a replacement pilot, which Business Insider says was “snappier but left out important exposition.”

The “new” pilot was followed by episodes 3, 6, 7, 8, 4, 5, 9, 10, 14, 1, in that order. Some critics believe that Fox’s rearrangement, including airing the two-hour pilot at the very end, contributed to the show’s demise by making it hard for viewers to follow the series’ storylines.

“Fox bears much of the blame for its failure,” argues the AV Club. “By airing the episodes out of order, withholding the pilot until months after the series launched…and canceling the show partway through its initial run, Fox publicly declared that Firefly was a risk not worth taking.”

Reruns of the show have fixed Fox’s error and air Firefly in the order that Whedon intended, reports Entertainment Weekly. DVDs and streaming services also reflect the correct order. 

The 12th episode of ‘Firefly’ should have been its finale

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According to Mental Floss, episode 12 (entitled “The Message) was the last episode filmed during the series’ short production run. In it, the Serenity ship gets attacked and private Tracey Smith (Jonathan Woodward) is mortally wounded.

“Although it is not the last episode aired, this was the last episode ever shot,” explains IMDB. “By the time this episode was shot the cast and crew knew that the show would be canceled. When Greg Edmonson wrote the music for the funeral scene at the end, he told Joss Whedon that he wasn’t saying goodbye to the character Tracey, he was saying goodbye to the show.”