This post is the first in my Firefly Newbie Recap series. In case it isn’t entirely self-explanatory, I’m watching Joss Whedon’s Firefly for the first time and recapping each episode. Spoilers, obviously.
So it starts out with Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres and some other people fighting a battle. It’s clearly the future, or, y’know, present day in other space places that somehow have humans, or the way distant past, but it seems like the future. Despite it being the future, though, the battle scene has this gloriously old-timey war movie feel to it. I read once that Whedon was inspired by Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, which is about the Battle of Gettysburg. So that makes sense, although the scene feels much more like the trenches of WWII than the Civil War.
Anyway, the good guys (we’re assuming they’re the good guys, because they’re a scrappy bunch and they just seem good and are also our protagonists), anyway, the good guys lose by the very terrestrial-war reason of air support not showing up. Bullets zip by Fillion as he stands there heartbroken.
Six years later.
We find our intrepid heroes in space. We meet back up with Fillion and Torres and a guy named Jayne and Alan Tudyk (who is the pilot, apparently, and is playing with dinosaurs and gives us the delightful, now-classic “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal” line). Fillion, in astronaut garb, uses something that looks like a sonic-screwdriver-glue-gun to burn through a lock to get into this abandoned ship so they can salvage stuff. Tudyk’s name is Wash, and there’s a woman named Kaylee on the ship with him who I recognize but hasn’t been in anything I’ve seen other than Space Cases (SPACE CASES, YOU GUYS). An Alliance (government, presumably) ship with the Germanic name “Dortmund” (all of which we’re told by on-screen text) shows up and there’s chatter between some younger dudes and a guy who looks like Grand Moff Tarkin in training; they’ve spotted our ragtag band.
We learn that the Firefly class of ship doesn’t get made anymore and that they’re all (or at least are generally) illegal salvage ships. So that gives us a nice clear sense of what our heroes are up to, in case we were a little slow on the uptake. Tarkin Junior and his boys make moves to send gunships to bring the Firefly in, but then Wash deploys the Crybaby out into space – a barrel that sends out a distress signal and somehow shows up on sensors as a stranded personnel carrier – which distracts the bad guys. (It also shows us that maybe they’re not necessarily bad guys, as they prioritize helping civilians over nabbing outlaws.) The good guys load up their stolen goods and escape. Jayne calls it a win, and Nathan Fillion is sad. Oh, and the alliance puts out a BOLO for the Firefly.
[Cue theme song and opening credits!]
The theme song is this delightful Celtic/Western thing and there are horses, a bunch of horses. Anyway.
The cargo is bars of what looks like either copper or bronze. Fillion says to report back to someone named Badger but not to say anything about the Alliance cruiser, and then says that they’re going to be taking on passengers at their next stop (a planet called Persephone). Kaylee is really cheerful and kisses Fillion on the cheek, and Wash and Gina Torres go off and have some lovey-dovey-sexytime dialogue in Whedonesque fashion, and we learn that Fillion’s name is Mal (so I’ll start calling him that). Oh, and we find out that Gina Torres and Wash are married and that they need a vacation. Whedon-banter ensues.
Cut to somewhere else. Jessica Brody (I don’t know her name in this yet and can never remember her name in real life, but she’s Jessica Brody on Homeland) is having sex with some guy in this red-curtained place and then they’re chatting it up in comfy-looking chairs. She has an hourglass that seems to be running pretty quickly and she talks about her homeworld (cut with a quick shot of her silently looking introspective and sad) and we learn that she’s a “companion” and they’re chatting and he’s naked, and then he implies that he wants her to come away with him on his father’s dime, but then it cuts to him in Alliance military garb and they spar a bit about her rigging the clock and him being quick in his own way. So, there’s that. He leaves.
She pulls a curtain and there’s a cockpit, so she’s on a (docked) ship, which I didn’t expect. She comms through to Wash and we learn (I say learn, though it’s no surprise) that the Firefly is called “Serenity.” (Also, it was mentioned earlier that the big battle Mal and Gina Torres lost was at Serenity Valley.) I just looked it up so that I can stop calling her Gina Torres — her character’s name is Zoe, which I heard earlier but didn’t consciously notice, I guess. Jessica Brody’s name is Inara (actress is Morena Baccarin, by the way).
We’re on Persephone. There’s a bazaar and Serenity lands and everyone unloads, and all the dialogue seems to be peppered with Chinese. There’s a cool old guy who we saw in the opening credits; he might be a priest or something. Mal and Zoe and Jayne meet up with this dude in a bowler hat, the blind lawyer from BSG who seems to be in every SF/F show ever, and he’s got a thick cockney accent and saw the BOLO and won’t be paying them for the stolen goods because they’ve got government imprints (even though he sent them to get the stuff in the first place). Jayne calls him a puddle of piss and puts his hand on his gun, but all of Bowler Hat’s cronies pull their guns so yeah. Bowler Hat brings up the war, calls Mal a “man of honor in a den of thieves” and calls himself a business man, above Mal, etc. He’s not paying; also, we learn that this is Badger.
Kaylee is sitting at the ship’s entry ramp and has a nifty parasol and chit-chats with the cool older gentleman, observing that he cares more about ships than destinations. She asks why and he says, “’cause how you get there’s the worthier part” and I think that’s pretty cool and reinforces me thinking he’s a priest (also, his outfit is pretty priest-looking). Also, Kaylee is adorable. The older dude says he’s a shepherd, so I was right, and his name is Book and he’s “been out of the world for awhile,” whatever that means. Kaylee asks if he can pay and he says he has a little cash and shows her something in a little wooden box, which she’s thoroughly impressed by. He has this catchphrase of “I’ve never been married” whenever anyone calls him “grandpa.”
Mal and Zoe and Jayne are walking down the street; Jayne is muttering about not getting paid, not getting his cut, doing some elaborate math about what ten percent of nothing is (nothing, divided by nothing, carry the nothing…). Jayne, it seems, is really pretty funny. Mal thinks Badger might have sold them out to the feds. Zoe suggests they drop the cargo, but we learn from Jayne and Mal that the crew has had a dry spell lately and are running on fumes (financially speaking). Mal suggests they take Badger’s suggestion of trying to sell the goods on the Border Planets, and says he might talk to someone named Patience. Patience apparently shot Mal a while ago, but it was (he says) “due to a perfectly legitimate conflict of interests.” There’s an aside about “reavers,” and Jayne says “them people ain’t human,” so maybe we’ll learn more about them or maybe we won’t. Mal runs through the list of everyone who they can’t possibly unload the cargo on, so Patience it is (it seems). She apparently owns half a moon; whether that’s literal or hyperbole, Patience can afford the cargo and seems to have some need or use for it. The passengers are getting loaded up, and there’s Book and a guy named Dobson and a weirdo named Simon with weird precious cargo and weird red glasses. And Mal thinks he’s weird too, so it’s not just me.
Zoe’s worried that the passengers might find the cargo, but Mal isn’t too worried. Mal: “If anyone get’s nosey, y’know, just… Shoot ‘em.” Zoe: “Shoot ‘em?” Mal: “Politely.”
Inara docks her shuttle onto Serenity. They refer to her as the ambassador. All aboard, the ship locks up and we get some suspenseful music during a shot of weirdo Simon. Mal walks the passengers through the routine and says they’re pretty much restricted to the dining area and passenger dorm while they’re in the air. Simon doesn’t seem to like the fact that he won’t have access to the cargo bay. Mal says they need to make a brief detour to drop off some medical supplies on a border moon, which everyone (especially Simon) seems a little suspicious of, but Mal says they were ordered by the Alliance.
Everyone’s in the cargo bay so the passengers can get their belongings; Book gives Kaylee a bag and the little wooden box from earlier and Dobson trips and oofs and we get a sense of some characteristic clumsiness. Inara comes down and Mal introduces her as the Ambassador, and Book thinks she’s an actual ambassador but Mal laughs and is a jerk and tells him she’s a whore and everyone gets awkward for a second. “The term is companion,” Kaylee says. Also, Inara and Kaylee seem kind of flirty with each other when she first gets there. Book gets extra awkward and there’s some tension between him and Mal. (Worth noting that Mal wore a cross in the battle scene and kissed it. Easy (maybe lazy?) to speculate that he lost his faith after their defeat.) Inara and Kaylee leave.
Kaylee’s in the kitchen; she opens the little wooden box and it’s a strawberry and she smells it and eats it and is super-happy. We’re given to understand that real food is scarce. Cut to the dinner table, where there’s lots of real food. That, it seems, is what was in the bag that Book gave to Kaylee; that’s what he seems to be paying his way with. Book asks Mal if he minds if he (Book) says grace, to which Mal responds “only if you say it out loud,” because Mal is clearly kind of a dick about religion. Simon asks if it happens a lot, the ordered medical deliveries, and Dobson starts talking about what he hears of the border planets. We learn that a lot of the galaxy is terraformed, and Zoe says the terraformed worlds are “as close to Earth-that-was as we can make ‘em,” so now we know that it is indeed the future. Then Mal’s a Debbie Downer about life on the terraformed planets, though understandably so, talking about how people basically get dumped on these planets with minimal supplies and are left to their own devices. Odds of survival are bleak. Simon, knowingly and passive-aggressively, says “then I guess it’s good we’re helping.” Kaylee says “you’re a doctor, right?” and they get into a conversation about that and she talks about how being a mechanic (she’s apparently a mechanic) comes easy for her, that machines just speak to her, and Book says that’s a gift and she says it’s nothing like being a doctor. Then Jayne says Kaylee just wishes she was a gynecologist, and Kaylee looks really uncomfortable and everyone gets awkward, and Jayne makes some more jokes about Kaylee being a lesbian, and Mal gets really pissed and sends Jayne to his room. “Walk away from this table. Right now,” Mal says, which sounds like a boring line but it’s really intense. Simon asks what Jayne’s job is (Jayne had said something like “you don’t pay me to talk pretty”) and Mal says PR, which is a pretty lazy job of avoiding suspicion if you ask me. Also, Simon ditched the red glasses at some point. He’s still being weird, but is less visually weird now.
[A brief note on language. Chinese, as I mentioned, is thrown into the dialogue here and there. It’s “New Chinese,” which evolved from Mandarin. Firefly dictionary here; also learned there that the show takes place in the 26th century.]
So, there was a reason for that language note. We cut to Inara in her room, bathing, and there’s a knock at the door. She says ching jin,which means come in. It’s Book; he asks if she’s surprised to see him but she says she was expecting him. She asks if he’s there to lecture her, and he says he brought her supper but that he does have some catchy lectures about hellfire and brimstone and lepers, if she’s interested. The two of them share a good chuckle. Book is a nice dude. They chat about how Mal is really protective of his crew and she asks why Book is so interested in Mal and Book says “because he’s something of a mystery.” Book asks her the same question and she says “because so few men are.” It’s a nice little moment. Good scene. I liked it.
Mal’s in his bathroom, which is also his bedroom. The bathroom-stuff just folds into the wall. There’s a very military vibe to his room, very bunker-like. Wash calls him up on the radio and says someone’s put a call out for the nearest Alliance cruiser. He says there’s a mole on board. I think it’s Dobson, because he’s clumsy and bland and it’s always the boring, bumbling ones; too easy and obvious to suspect the mysterious stranger. Cut to weird, suspicious Dr. Weirdo Simon in the cargo bay looking at his huge, metal, glowy crate. Mal shows up and basically sucker-punches him, because Mal seems to have made the dumb assumption that I just warned against. Mal pulls a gun on him and accuses him of being a fed, but then Book shows up and says Mal’s got the wrong man, and for a second it’s like “OH SHIT, NO WAY,” but then they look up and see Dobson standing there pointing a gun at Mal because I’m right about everything always.”This is not my best day ever,” Mal says. Yeah. Wait, but apparently Dobson was after Simon? Simon’s a fugitive? So Mal eases up a bit seeing as Dobson doesn’t know about the stolen cargo. There’s a big standoff anyway; Dobson thinks that the medical transport story was a front for transporting Simon and his cargo, so that’s a good accidental deflection I guess. Dobson says the cruiser will intercept them in about twenty minutes. The rest of the crew shows up and Dobson is startled and NO HE SHOT KAYLEE and Book does some sweet karate and drops Dobson with one of those hand-jab-to-throat-moves. Jayne wants to kill Dobson but Book won’t let him through; Jayne points his gun at Book but, then, there’s Zoe with a shotgun and she tells Jayne to just tie Dobson up. Inara says something like “stay with me, baby” to Kaylee and they’re getting ready to take Kaylee to the infirmary, but then the cruiser shows up. Simon says to run and has a little showdown with Mal, and basically hold’s Kaylee’s life hostage because he’s a doctor and they really have no choice. So Zoe radios up to Wash and they turn the ship around.
Simon’s getting some bullets / fragments out of Kaylee. We get a shot of a teddy-bear patch on the knee of her pants. It’s Simon, Mal, and Inara in the infirmary; Jayne looks in through the window, nervous, crouching awkwardly.
Simon says he can’t do any more until she stabilizes (which he then says he doesn’t know if she will), and Inara says she wants to know what’s going on. So Mal says, basically,”let’s find out,” and walks to the cargo hold and Simon gets all upset and chases him, but Jayne puts Simon in a headlock. Mal gets to Simon’s cargo and opens it and kicks the lid off and there’s a lot of steam coming out aaaaaand the cargo is a naked woman curled up in the fetal position, seemingly on some kind of life support or in cryogenic suspension or something or whatever. “Huh,” Mal says.
Simon says he needs to check her vitals before she wakes up, and Mal is all sarcastic and accusatory, presuming that Simon is basically either selling her into slavery or keeping her as a slave. Then she wakes up. She jumps out of the crate and falls all over the place and she’s shivering and crying and shaking; Simon runs over and tells her he’s there, tells her “they’re gone” (whoever they are), and that she’s safe, that the two of them are safe. They hug, in that way of people running away from something terrible and embracing some notion of safety. Her name is River.
Mal asks what the hell is going on, Simon tells him she’s his sister.
Cut to a room where all of them are meeting up. Simon’s telling them his story; brief cut to a shot of him bringing River to the infirmary, where she really does not seem to want to be. He talks about how he’s very smart, was considered gifted, but wants them to fully understand him when he says River makes him look like “an idiot child.” We see him giving River a shot and her eyes flicker manically all over the place; back to the meeting room, Simon’s eyes light up while he talks about her. Says that everything came naturally to her “like breathing does to us.” He’s talking about her in the past tense, in this way that has the feel of a eulogy.
River had gone to a special government school when she was fourteen; she wrote letters at first, but they dwindled. Then Simon got a letter in code: “They’re hurting us. Get me out.”
Simon’s nearly crying for most of the time he’s talking. The scene cuts to a quick shot of him holding River’s hand while she sleeps. So we find out that it took him a while to figure out what to do, how to proceed, but finally Simon got some underground-types to get her out of the school in cryo and get her to Persephone. Which gets us to now. The underground guys said the government had been experimenting on her brain.
SO ANYWAY. Mal breaks back into the situation at hand. Kidnapped federal agent, fugitive, stolen government goods, the fact that they know the Alliance has some info on them, but they don’t know what or how muc. “What about us?” Simon asks, “us” as in himself and River rather than the collective “us.” Mal tells him it’s contingent on whether Kaylee lives or not, basically saying that if she does he’ll let them off at Whitefall (wherever/whatever that is), and, if she doesn’t (he implies), out the airlock they go. Jayne wants to know why they haven’t killed Dobson. They all start bickering about stuff. Wash (Tudyk) has another great line with ”can we maybe vote on the whole murdering people issue?” Everyone keeps talking over each other and bickering, but then Mal says something in Chinese and they all shut up. Mal basically says it is what it is, but Inara says that Simon and River couldn’t make it in Whitefall and that she’s leaving if Mal throws them out. Mal goes quiet for a long few seconds and says “Maybe it’s best you do. You ain’t a part of this business.” Mal walks away and Simon follows him, asking what their business is, and basically calls Mal a sellout Alliance errand-boy, says he’d do anything for a pat on the head, so then Mal (again) punches him in the face. It’s a good, loud punch.
So now we’re in a holding cell or something with Mal and Jayne, where they’ve got Dobson tied up. Mal presses Dobson for info, but then leaves Jayne to get information from him. Jayne’s theoretically the brute-type-dude; he’s the big guy with the big knife. Dobson tells him that the Alliance is never going to stop coming after them, coming after River, that she’s an invaluable commodity. Dobson says they know everything about the ship and the crew and Jayne can tell that he’s lying. Dobson offers Jayne a bribe, enough to buy a ship, and Jayne asks if that means betraying the captain. Dobson says it does, and Jayne makes this inscrutable face and then it cuts to the next scene.
Mal goes up to see Wash. There’s a ship tracking them, following them, but it’s not Alliance. It’s an out-of-operation model of ship. Wash scans it and says some technical stuff about the ship, stuff that’s all wrong. “Reavers,” Mal says. This is not good news.
Mal makes an announcement, says they’re passing the Reaver ship. Hoping they can pass unnoticed. Shots of everyone looking solemn or scared or their own variations on this; Book is praying over Kaylee, Jayne is getting out his gun stash. The Reavers are bad news. “Men gone savage on the edge of space,” says Simon when Zoe asks what he knows about Reavers, like they’re kids’ scary campfire stories. Zoe’s description of what the Reavers would do if they boarded can pretty much be interchanged with whatever the most horrible thing you can think of is. I’d rather not get into the specifics. Bad news bears indeed.
I’m not complaining, but this is a very, very long episode of television.
Inara has a syringe of something, but she’s keeping it in a case. Jayne is loading a gun; you can tell he’s worried, though he puts up his best attempt at a tough front. Wash and Zoe and Mal just watch as the Reaver ship approaches.
The ship passes them by.
Mal’s in the infirmary now, looking over River, and Kaylee wakes up. She says she’s doing well, a-okay, she says, but she can’t feel the lower half of her body. She says that Simon’s a nice man, and that Mal’s a nice man, which Mal quietly denies. “I’m a mean old man,” he says, and Kaylee says that Simon wasn’t going to let her die. She tells him he has to remember that it’s nobody’s fault and that he has to have faith in people. The two of them are holding hands, but she slips back into unconsciousness and her hand slips from his.
Cut to Inara’s room, or her shuttle, or whatever it is. She’s with Simon, giving him medical supplies. Vaccines. He says that anything helps, that the infirmary’s supplies are rudimentary. They talk about how they’re all just lost in the woods, and Mal comes in and says how the woods are the only place he can see a clear path. Mal and Inara exchange some weird, sexual-innuendo-filled landlord-tenant banter, which is a phrase I never thought I’d see put together but now it’s there, so there it is.
Simon left at some point during the aforementioned banter, and Mal comes out after him and they talk in the hallway/corridor thing. Mal says how Simon doesn’t seem to understand that the lives of every person on the ship hang in the balance of what happens with Dobson, and that it’s Simon’s responsibility to deal with that. Mal says that Simon doesn’t have much time. Mal is stonefaced. Kaylee’s dead.
Simon backs away and runs down the stairs like a kid in guilty shock who just killed someone in a hit-and-run. Slow-motion, we see Book walking for a moment, and Simon running, running to the infirmary, and there’s Book, standing over Kaylee. And Kaylee smiles and waves to Simon through the window. “The man’s psychotic,” Simon says – cut to Mal and Zoe and Wash and Jayne laughing in the cockpit. “You are psychotic,” Wash says to Mal. “You should’ve seen his face; I’m a bad man,” Mal says, laughing, but Kaylee’s okay and Mal admits that Simon’s a good doctor. Kaylee is okay. Those thirty seconds played my heart like a goddamn fiddle.
So now, back to business.Mal has a call with Patience on the console’s little video-phone, and she says she’ll deal with them because Mal was upfront about the fact that the bars were imprinted. Patience says she isn’t scared of the Alliance. You know it’s Whedon (or Dawson’s Creek or Gilmore Girls) when one of the most prevalent words in a recap is “banter,” so I take no responsibility for my overuse of it, but anyway Mal and Patience banter a bit over the whole Patience-shot-Mal thing. They finish Skyping and Mal says she’s going to shoot him again. He seems like he’s being funny, but then he gets really pissed and knocks over a tray or something. Everyone else pretty much corroborates his thought. Zoe tries to talk Mal through other options for selling the cargo, but none are viable. She starts to say something about trying their luck and he goes into a whole thing about what their luck has gotten them in the last few days. That luck doesn’t get anyone anywhere, that they’re going to deal with shit.
Voiceover of Mal saying that they’ll get through this while, on the screen, Dobson’s cutting through the duct tape around his wrists.
We see Serenity coming up on Whitefall - we’re told it’s Whitefall by the text on the screen that says “Whitefall.” The ship lands, and Whitefall (or at least the part where they are) is this valley-desert type place. It’s a Texas-looking kind of place, or something, it’s Southwest-looking, though I know nothing about Texas or the Southwest. Mal and Zoe and Jayne disembark, and Mal and Zoe look over their settings and it’s a clear Serenity Valley parallel , could easily be the same filming location – “Nice place for an ambush,” Zoe says. Jayne scampers up with a bar of the cargo, says the rest is buried. We get another awesome moment like his nothing-math moment, where he’s testing out his comm and says he can hear Mal loud and clear. “I’m standing right here,” Mal says.
Anyway, Mal’s overlooking this valley and goes through all the strategy he’s anticipating Patience will use, and he figures it out so quickly right down to the sniper locations that we get this snapshot of his mind, simultaneously this brilliant military strategist and someone who could really be an astonishingly powerful criminal. But he’s not. He’s a criminal, but he’s not really a criminal. He’s an outlaw, and this is the first time I’ve ever fully comprehended the difference (though it’s only a tenuous grasp I’ve got on it). Patience – Patience is a criminal; that’s how you get to rule half of a border moon. She rolls up with her posse on horses, and Mal and Patience go back and forth about the exchange; he tells her the cargo is buried and tosses her the bar he brought with him. She unwraps it and bites into it – it’s not a precious metal at all, it’s food, a bar of pure nutrients, protein and vitamins and immunizations – but now she knows the cargo is real, knows that he’s got it, knows where it is, knows that her crew of six has Mal and Zoe outnumbered, and Mal knows what she’s thinking. “I’d appreciate it y’all turn around and ride out first,” Mal says. Of course Patience has no intention of doing that – Patience tells him she has a policy of never losing any money she doesn’t need to, and one of her men sets his rifle on Mal. He’s got a top hat on, and Mal says “I like your hat” and a bullet whizzes through the hat – after all, Jayne did get hold of the sniper rifles and had his comm working loud and clear. There’s a shootout, and Zoe gets hit and Mal gets grazed in the arm and Jayne keeps on shooting and they all keep on shooting until the cronies are all taken out. And then there’s just Patience, hiding behind her horse. Mal shoots the horse, which is upsetting but that’s always upsetting (and inevitable) in shootouts involving horses. He stands over her, gun in her face, and takes his money. “I do the job, and then I get paid,” he says.
Four things really matter in the scene:
- The scenario plays out exactly as Mal anticipated (though he and Zoe both get shot, but are fine).
- The cargo that seemed like bars of precious metal, that all this trouble has been over, is food in metallic wrapping (which tells us a lot about the situation the populace of the 26th century is living in, and makes Book’s trove of food all the more interesting).
- Jayne momentarily sets the rifle’s sights on Mal during the exchange, though he could just be watching things unfold.
- Most importantly, Mal doesn’t kill Patience. He doesn’t take her money and take back the cargo. He takes his pay, he leaves her purchase, he lets her go. Criminals consolidate power, while outlaws are just trying to find their way in the wilderness.
But, meanwhile, crazy things are happening aboard the ship. It all plays out in parallel, but that doesn’t exactly translate too well to a written recap. So we see all this stuff on the ship happening while all the stuff on the ground is happening – you get what I’m saying. Dobson – the fed – has cut himself loose; we know this.
Dobson has cut himself loose. Book goes to the door of that room or cell or whatever it is where Dobson is being held, to help him out somehow, offer some kind of company or support. We don’t know what, not really; Book opens the door just slightly and Dobson clocks him in the head with a big flashlight (or something). Clocks him repeatedly and drags him off somewhere. Dobson goes into the cargo room where the passengers’ luggage is; he tries to send out a signal on this little gadget, but there’s no cell reception on Whitefall. So he just grabs a couple of guns and keeps looking all angry. Cut to infirmary, where River wakes up and is looking for Simon. She starts to wander off, but apparently Dobson was just waiting at the door like a creep and pops out and takes her hostage (obviously). Kaylee, bedridden, looks understandably freaked out, and Dobson apologizes for shooting her before but also threatens that if she makes a sound, the next one goes through her throat, which kind of really cancels out the apology. Anyway, Dobson’s got his guns out and he’s got River.
Wash and Simon are chatting in the cockpit, and Wash says Simon might want to see if Mal could drop him off somewhere else, somewhere other than Whitefall. Simon says not to worry about him, and Wash says he always worries when Zoe’s out doing her gunslinger thing. Then Kaylee comes over the radio and tells them that Dobson took River, and Simon runs off to try to deal with the situation somehow. Wash is upset about something in the cockpit, something he sees on the console. Simon gets down into the belly of the ship, the hold, whatever, and he sees Dobson and River. Dobson pushes a big-conspicuous-red-button and the doors start to open and Simon jumps over this railing and falls a full story to tackle Dobson; understandably that kind of waylays Simon for a minute, but River gets out of Dobson’s hold. Dobson drops his gun and River backs away from it like it’s a rabid animal staring her down.
Oh, something I forgot to mention, the moment where the two parallel scenes start to mingle back together. Once things are back under control in the gulch situation, Jayne runs down to Mal and Zoe with what’s clearly the news that Wash was so worried about. Reavers. The Reavers are back, because of course they are. For some reason, I’d figured they were more a space-problem and less of a planetary one, but apparently not. By the way, the Reaver ship, running on so little as it does, kind of just hurtles and coasts through space like an oceanbound ship that takes the water as it comes, maneuvering frantically and haphazardly.
Anyway, Simon and Dobson roll around on the floor a bit, scrambling for the guns, and Simon gets one first. He sets it on Dobson when Wash comes over the radio with the Reaver news. Dobson starts working his negotiator thing, being the lawman that he is, going in a moment’s notice from hostage-taker to hostage-negotiator. Wash says they’ll be taking off in a minute. The Reaver ship tumults and thrusts its way planetbound. They’re just waiting on Mal and Zoe and Jayne, who are cowboying back on Patience’s cronies’ horses. Dobson keeps trying to reason with Simon; “There’s nowhere you can go where they won’t find you,” he says (paraphrased, maybe). Dobson says that nobody will hurt River as long as Simon doesn’t hurt him, and Simon gets distracted for a second by the sound of the trio approaching on their horses. Dobson gets the gun from the floor, gets River again, shoots at Simon (misses).
Dobson’s got River at gunpoint. The lawman starts making his threats. Mal walks in, strolls really, drops Dobson with one bullet without breaking his stride. Book stands in a doorway, watching; Inara looks over the railing, watching. Simon keeps his gun trained on Dobson, lowers it, runs over to River and she reacts to the gun in his hand the same as when she saw the one on the floor earlier. Zoe tells Wash they’re good to go, and Mal and Jayne scramble to toss Dobson’s body out through the door into the dust of Whitefall as the ramp pulls up and they run in, just barely, though with a hurried relative calm, sliding through the closing door.
Zoe, Mal, and Jayne scramble to the cockpit. The Reavers are close and they’re all talking at once and Wash asks if he could just get some quiet for a minute, and says he needs Kaylee in the engine room. Jayne runs off, and Mal goes out into the hall and there’s Inara. The two of them have a nice moment, and his hand rests on his shoulder for a second, and there’s this tenderness between them; he tells her to get her shuttle ready and to load up the passengers so that they can all escape. She says she’s not leaving him behind, but he says to go and makes his way back to the cockpit.
“I don’t mean to alarm anybody,” Wash says, voice intense but steady and calm and unwavering, “but I think we’re being followed.” The Reaver ship is just all up on them, flying all around them, and the Serenity is trailing some bad looking grey smoke.
Back with the passengers (and Jayne), Book says he can help Kaylee in the engine room; Simon starts to ask what he can do and Book says to keep River safe. Jayne carries Kaylee to the engine room with Book close behind. She starts giving the two of them some instructions.
In the cockpit, Mal and Wash talk about the Reavers, talk about their flight patterns and what they could possibly do and what the likely outcomes are. Mal says Wash has to give him “an Ivan.” Wash says he’ll see what he can do, and we’re given the impression that this is something fun and awesome and reckless and dangerous and awesome. He asks Kaylee what she’d think of pulling a Crazy Ivan, and she says she’s always wanted to try one. She gives Jayne some instructions and says they’re simple, and he opens this thing up and it’s a beeping tangle of wires and blinking lights.
There are a few suspenseful moments, waiting it out to see whether the engine will be ready in time. Kaylee radios that it is. “Here’s something you can’t do,” Wash says, and it seems like he might almost start giggling. He pulls a lever and the engines – the exterior ones – flip all over the place, and Serenity pivots and revolves and flies under the Reaver ship and Wash yells “now!” and Jayne and Book push some buttons and pull some levers and Serenity kicks into totally serious mode and does the whole blastoff-ignition thing and catapults away and leaves the Reaver ship in its fiery wake. “We’re good, people,” Mal says. “We’re out of the woods.” Everyone looks relieved and Jayne starts jumping and cheering and Kaylee says “that’s my girl” to the ship. Zoe asks Mal to take the wheel, and then she and Wash leave to do sexy stuff. Mal sits in the pilot seat and smiles a little bit and pushes some buttons; the engines flare and the Serenity drifts off into the stars.
Cut to Inara’s room, where she’s washing the cut on Book’s head from when Dobson hit him with that flashlight. He says he doesn’t need the doctor, and she says he’ll be alright, and he says “I didn’t say that.” He launches into a troubled little speech, out of the abbey for two days and he’s fallen into this grey area of morality and lawlessness and already can’t quite distinguish right and wrong like had recently been so clear. He starts to tear up – “I think I’m on the wrong ship,” he says, and Inara says that maybe he’s exactly where he ought to be.
It’s this beautiful scene, this beautiful moment, the stolid cleric choking up, his faith being shaken, the prostitute – the companion – as his confessor and his redeemer. He’s sitting and lowers his head, and she stands and puts her hand on his head in comfort, in blessing.
Simon tells River that the shot he gave her will help her sleep and she says she’s already been sleeping for so long. She touches his face, unclear as to whether its his face that she’s marveling at, his presence, or his cuts and bruises. She says she didn’t think he’d come for her and he says “well then, you’re a dummy,” and they hug.
Jayne and Mal are in the cockpit. Jayne is saying that Simon and River are too big a liability, says they should get rid of them. Mal doesn’t accuse, but speculates on the possibility that Jayne gave Dobson the razor. He asks why Jayne didn’t turn on him, and Jayne says the money wasn’t good enough. Mal asks what happens when it is, and Jayne says that’ll be an interesting day. The two of them are smiling, smiling in this strange, knowing way. I don’t know how we’re supposed to feel about this, but it feels uncomfortably right somehow.
Simon comes in as Jayne is leaving, asks Mal if he wants him to check out the gunshot wound. Mal looks at his arm as if he’s forgotten he’d been shot. “Just a graze,” he says. Simon asks where Mal’s going to dump him and River, and Mal says they’re safest on the move. “And we’re always on the move,” he says. Mal offers Simon a spot as the ship’s medic, and Simon asks how he can know that Mal won’t kill him in his sleep.
“You don’t know me, son. So let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.”
“Are you always this sentimental?” Simon asks, and Mal says it was a good day. Simon goes through the laundry list of things wrong with the day; “We’re still flying,” Mal says. Simon says that that’s not much.