We all know what 'Firefly' is about, right? Mal was one of the Browncoats, who fought a failed war against the Alliance and, after it was over and his cause of freedom was lost, he went out to the frontier to live free like a person oughta. The Alliance and "civilization" are slowly encroaching on his wild frontier, but he's determined to defy them any way he can.
It's a great story, one that feels authentic because it is authentic. Joss Whedon took his inspiration for his "space Western" by transplanting a lot of the causes of the original "Wild West" to a different setting. The original American frontier got its reputation for lawlessness due to an influx of Confederate veterans who felt frustrated and bitter living in the Reconstruction South. They migrated westwards, where they used their military skills to carve out a living however they could. Until, of course, the federal government moved west as well, taming the new frontier.
So the Browncoats are basically the Greybacks. Which is what haunts me...because Joss Whedon never really says why the war started. What was the cause the Browncoats fought for? Mal and others say that the Alliance "meddled", but that was the basic attitude of most slaveowners as well. Mal certainly doesn't seem to show any socially unpopular attitudes--he's friendly to Book, to River, to pretty much everyone as far as a misanthropic cynic like him is capable of being friendly--but what did he stand for? What made the Alliance say, "No. This cannot be tolerated, not in a civilized culture"?
I wonder. And I wonder if maybe Joss Whedon didn't intend me to wonder, just a little.