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Concept of asteroid mining in space for rare raw materials
Concept of asteroid mining in space for rare raw materials

Firefly Episode 2: When Captain Mal Gets a Pang of Conscience…

In the 2002 series, he decides to return stolen goods when he learns of the plight of those from whom they are stolen — with fearsome consequences

Last time, we discussed the first episode of the 2002 Firefly series because Disney is thinking about ruining it with another season. In case you were wondering, this review contains spoilers.

River Tam (Summer Glau)

In Episode 2, we find Captain Malcolm getting to know his passengers. The doctor’s sister River is suffering flashbacks from her time in the “labs.” Despite being a doctor, her brother Simon has no idea what’s wrong her. She keeps repeating the phrase, “Hands are blue, two by two.”

After a bar brawl, the crew lands a job. It’s an old-fashioned train heist. Malcolm and Zoe, his partner in crime, land on the train and steal the goods by latching them to their ship and lifting them into the sky.

However, some guards notice the commotion, and while they’re able to get the goods on their ship, Malcolm and Zoe are detained with the rest of the passengers. The local sheriff of the moon’s mining town interviews them and is not convinced by their story. But that ends up not mattering much because Inara, the ambassador, uses her credentials and convinces the sheriff that Malcolm and Zoe are working for her.

Everything seems to be going according to plan, but Malcolm decides to return the goods. During his detention, he has learned that the town is suffering from what they call Boden’s Malady, a disease which deteriorates the bones and muscles of its victims. Interestingly, the inhabitants attribute this disease to the unique quality of the moon and the way the air forced to the surface during the terraforming process mixes with the moon’s soil. Not sure how that works but it was an interesting concept I wish they’d explored in more detail.

Malcolm’s decision, of course, creates a conflict with the crew’s employer who is your standard psychopath in a suit. He sends henchmen after them, a fight breaks out, and the main henchman is killed by being kicked into the ship’s engine. His gory demise persuades to rest of the henchmen to accept the employer’s returned money, and the medicine is given back to the town, causing the sheriff to nod with approval.

The episode ends with River repeating her ominous chant as two henchmen — more bad guys in suits — discuss the theft of the girl with another guard. It turns out that the “blue hands” she’s referring to happen to be the latex gloves the bad guys are wearing for no obvious reason.

This is a standard episode. Not much is accomplished in advancing the plot beyond building the tension and deepening River’s mystery. We know she suffered some form of mind manipulation like the CIA’s notorious MK-Ultra project, but we haven’t learned much else. The notion of terraforming causing diseases was an interesting concept, but it wasn’t explored much, perhaps because the exact cause of the disease isn’t the point of the story. The point rather is Malcolm’s moral conundrum. The show makes a point of stressing Malcolm’s dual nature, even going so far as to mention that his nickname, Mal, means “bad” in Latin. And while he’s sympathetic to the townspeople, he’s still willing to kill bad guys without remorse, like a typical buccaneer — which is by no means a bad thing. Next time, we will look at Episode 3.


Here’s my review of Episode 1: Firefly: Can science fiction reimagined as the Wild West work? I strongly recommend the original 2002–2003 series for its careful development of the culture that grows up around world-building (terraforming). Firefly is an impressive blend of the future and the past and, if Disney+ carries through with its threat of a remake, be sure to see the original.


Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Firefly Episode 2: When Captain Mal Gets a Pang of Conscience…