Astute blog watcher Hayes Brown points out that in my rush to describe the Alliance’s path to success, I omitted Mal and Zoe’s experience in the trenches of New Kashmir. What little we know of the battle is this: it takes place before the Battle of Du-Khang, it was part of a longer siege, and it was a long enough battle for soldiers on both sides to run out of ammunition. Or at least, we assume that’s the case; the incident discussed involved the alliance generously supplying their foes with a shipment of apples that contained pressure-sensitive explosives. The battle was early enough for the Alliance to be stuck in stalemate, but the Alliance’s habit of using technological cantrips to harass, demoralize, and otherwise break a defending force was well established. Also, this brings the total engagements where Mal and Zoe were present up to 4, and of those only that Battle of Sturges can be construed as an offensive. The Independence had a similar strategic predicament to the Confederacy, where they only had to hold territory rather than take it, but they lacked the possibility of an outside power intervening or even supplying them.
Firefly is a uniquely unipolar world, where before unification there existed one powerful government and a loosely organized coalition of opposition that was brought into existence only to resist the hegemon’s encroaching power. After the Unification war, there remain more and less governed areas, but there are no outside governments. The Alliance was fixated on reducing the chance of unrest, rather than using force to quell such uprisings. This can be seen in the devotion to the Miranda project, which occurred two years before both sides found themselves staring across trenches without ammunition. The Alliance’s primary security concerns have more to do with stopping threats from emerging within the population than they do with containing any actors beyond their reach. While this left the Alliance somewhat under-prepared at the outbreak of hostilities, it also denied the Independence of that resource most critical in almost every civil war: outside allies, willing to support the rebels against their longstanding foe, with material and/or manpower support.
The fall of the Independence meant that the ‘verse no longer had the potential for external threats. It is notable that the only leaders seen in the show are Alliance, Alliance-sanctioned, or explicitly criminal. While the show deals heavily in armed individuals, they are either private citizens, outlaws, private security forces, or uniformed Alliance soldiers. While this is true for most nations today, it’s striking that in a show featuring characters skirting the edge of civilization, there is only one in existence. There were others once, certainly, but “government” in Firefly means “Alliance.” Governments range from comprehensive and invasive on the core to ultra-minimalist on the rim, but aside from moving within the Alliance is no alternative to some form of Alliance rule. Superficially, this means the formerly independent planets on the Rim are science fiction’s equivalent of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. For all the show’s cheer and wit, “Space-Pakistan” as the only government is about as dystopic as you can get.