Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis
laser-cannon-incapacitates-enemy-satellite-in-space-stockpack-adobe-stock
Laser Cannon Incapacitates Enemy Satellite In Space
Laser Cannon Incapacitates Enemy Satellite In Space

Firefly Episode 3: Should Some People Be Left To Die?

After the space crew rescues the survivor of a pirate attack, Captain Mal faces off against The Shepherd on whether God can save even that man.

Episode 3 begins with a friendly game of basketball… or something like it. Simon, a doctor who has joined the Firefly crew, notes that there appear to be no rules to the game as he watches from the balcony. The game is interrupted by a “proximity alert” and the crew discovers a wrecked ship floating in space. The captain decides to check it out and they quickly discover that the ship has been attacked by the infamous Reavers.

We’d seen their ship once in episode one, and we’d heard some ominous descriptions of what they do to their prisoners: “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And, if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” – Zoë”

Now, we get a glimpse of their destructiveness first-hand. It turns out there is a survivor. As they are tending to the man’s wounds and planning on how best to salvage the ruined vessel, an interesting debate arises. Captain Mal insists that the man cannot be saved, while Shepherd declares that God can save anyone. We don’t hear much about Mal’s reasons for believing it’s best to let the man die until later in the episode when the Alliance appears out of nowhere and decides to detain the crew and search the ship for Simon and his sister, River. (Spoilers follow.)

The Shepherd/Ron Glass

During the interrogation, Mal explains his position. Thanks to the immense trauma the man has suffered at the hand of the Reavers, the man will, as Mal says, “do the only thing can do,” which is become like them. He’s proven right. The man later mutilates himself and is somehow able to fake that he is dying, accelerating his heart to an alarming rate. While the doctors and nurses try to save him, he grabs a scalpel and slaughters the Alliance medical staff, then returns to the ship because it is, again as Mal says, “familiar ground.” He’s hunting.

This was interesting to me. It’s common to hear of people who are mentally ill harming themselves. But could there really be a case where the madman not only loses his sanity, but devolves to the point that he becomes nothing but a primitive beast, hunting, not to eat, but because he lusts for blood? Furthermore, this episode raises a moral question: Is it better to let such a man die? And could such a madness be caused by trauma, rather than the deterioration of the brain? Also, how could a madman implement enough self-control to elevate his own heart rate, and not only do so, but do so in an attempt to deceive a medical team?

Many people have endured such traumas, and their reactions vary. But this episode asks us to believe that a Reaver attack will inevitably cause such madness. I’m no medical expert, so I couldn’t say with any degree of authority what happens in cases of trauma-induced madness. But it seemed to me that a number of logical leaps are required in order to make this scenario plausible in the story — and my questions took me out of the episode.

Captain Malcolm (“Mal”) Reynolds/
Nathan Fillion

And here’s another interesting quandary. Whenever this man wakes up or shows any sort of duress, River wakes from her sleep and screams. It is as if she can hear the man. Why? Is because she’s mad too. I’m sorry to say, it was dramatic but it made absolutely no sense.

Beyond these puzzling issues — which perhaps only plague a man who thinks too hard about them — the episode was strong. It was fast-paced, with the tension making it fly by swiftly.

The chemistry between the main Alliance interrogator and Mal was very good; although, they shared little screen time. In terms of the story’s structure, the only clunky part was at the end.

The show ran out of minutes and couldn’t show the interrogator changing his mind about Mal when he saved his life and proved that Reaver madness was actually a thing. We see the ship take off and are left with some quick exposition to us tell what happened, which is not a great way to end the story. Next time, we’ll review Episode 4.


Here are my reflections on Episodes 1 through 14 of the Firefly TV series, thoughts as to why the series was canceled, and my review — and defense — of the spinoff film Serenity:

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.

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. The mystery deepens around the mind manipulation that new crew member River has suffered but we get at least one clue.

Firefly Episode 3: Should some people be left to die? After the space crew rescues the survivor of a pirate attack, Captain Mal faces off against The Shepherd on whether God can save even that man. Mal knows something of what happens to victims of Reaver attacks and he is soon grimly proven right about the ways they change.

Firefly Episode 4: Mal ends up in a swordfight amid outer planets. It all starts when ship’s engineer Kaylee decides she wants to dress like a Southern belle… The blend of space adventure and Western shows signs of strain in this episode but it advances the relationship between Mal and the Ambassador.

spaceships battle

Firefly Episode 5, Part 1: Brawls that don’t make sense, Part 1. In this episode, after the cattle are unloaded, characters act in an uncharacteristic way in order to create a plot crisis. The problem with characters acting out of role in order to drive the story is that the story begins to feel incoherent; the crisis doesn’t quite feel real.

Firefly Episode 5:, Part 2 So River is now a witch? Simon and River are captured because a town on the planet lacks a doctor. But things take an occult turn… As I noted when looking at the first part, the characters’ behavior seems to defy their history but it does create plenty of action.

Firefly Episode 6: We Meet a Stagecoach — and a Vixen! Gary Varner: In this enjoyable episode, there is only one plot hole and it isn’t really significant. After foiling a crime, Mal finds himself wed to a local woman due to town custom. Usually, these plotlines are easy to guess… but this episode fooled me!

Firefly Episode 7: Jayne can’t live with himself as a hero Jayne Cobb, otherwise dumb muscle, once helped many people — inadvertently — and is stuck with deadly consequences when the truth emerges. In this well-thought-out episode, the Firefly series examines the burden of being a bogus hero to those who desperately need something to believe in.

Firefly Episode 8: The ship breaks down in space. What next? Mal, expecting to suffocate alone on the ship while the other crew members escape, relives the life that brought him there. While the flashbacks were strong and well-acted, too many plot developments seem implausible. For example, why didn’t the ship have spare parts?

Firefly Episode 9: A medical heist — the best episode so far Simon, with access to medical equipment, diagnoses his erratic sister’s neurological issues — after she has unaccountably stabbed Jayne.
Jayne plots a dire revenge against the crew, leaving Captain Mal with a very difficult decision.

Firefly Episode 10: Jealousy divides the Firefly crew in space. And yet jealousy plays a key role in saving Mal and Wash from a villain’s sadistic torture. Episode 10 is much stronger for building on Episode 9 and introducing danger scenarios that follow logically from earlier plot developments.

Firefly Episode 11: The Vixen! She’s back! Firefly TV heats up So why is Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert? We get to hear the story leading up to that. Saffron is now hitched to Mal’s pal; so imagine the poor sap’s shock when Saffron and Mal draw guns on one another.

Science fiction illustration of a battle cruiser spaceship travelling faster than the speed of light in hyperspace, 3d digitally rendered illustration

Firefly 12: The Amazing Mail Order Human Body The episode, while still interesting, returned to a pattern of puzzling plot developments Kaylee falls in love with an organ harvester? But doesn’t that mean Dr. Simon has just dodged a bullet? More to come.

Firefly Episode 12, Part 2: Kaylee falls for a recently undead man Further thoughts on the strange developments regarding the organ harvester. Before he grabbed Kaylee, I’ll admit, I was on the organ smuggler’s side…

Firefly Episode 13: If you are stuck at home in a rainstorm… Otherwise, you may just want to skip this one. But let me explain why. I can’t say for sure what they were thinking, but I will say this was the closest I’ve been to being outright offended by an episode of really anything.

Firefly Episode 14: Ending on a high note River proves to be a telepath but highly unstable, as she mistakes a gun for a stick and Mal must get it away from her. But in the midst of the uproar, a bounty hunter boards the Serenity, unnoticed…

Firefly: What worked, what didn’t… and WHY was it cancelled? When all is said and done, Firefly is one of those classic series that any sci-fi fan should watch. It was the victim of poor scheduling, out-of-order episodes and a confused marketing plan that sold it as a comedy — it’s an adventure with comic moments.

Serenity: My defense of the film’s initial choices (Part 1 of a three-part review) Some viewers have complained that director Joss Whedon changed the characters’s behavior in the film vs. the TV series. I believe they are mistaken. I fell in love with the film before seeing the preceding Firefly TV series. Possibly, failure to make that backstory clear enough cost the film a sequel.

Serenity Review Part 2: Great scenes dogged by bad plot choices. We meet fresh villains and finally learn River’s secret: She knows the origin of the malevolent Reavers and it is not neat or pretty. I believe that one of creator Joss Whedon’s critical story decisions probably killed the 2005 film’s chances of a sequel, despite continuing interest.

Serenity Review Part 3: Final thoughts on the movie and TV series. Despite some lapses that made me wonder if the same crew was doing the writing, they are on a par with Star Wars and Star Trek. Were the TV series cancelation and no film sequel a mercy in a way? The film ended things on a high note. Not all TV series or films with sequels are so lucky.


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 3: Should Some People Be Left To Die?