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Human internal organs on metal plate ready for organ transplant.

Firefly 12: The Amazing Mail Order Human Body

The episode, while still interesting, returned to a pattern of puzzling plot developments

I was disappointed with Episode 12. After a run of three great episodes in a row, we experience yet another drop in quality. This drop is marked by the classic telltale sign of a bad episode: Simon says something stupid, and Kaylee storms off in a huff. The context of this conversation is not important; the bottom line is, Kaylee is mad, so all the other women are mad because nobody loves poor Simon.

While Kaylee is being consoled, Captain Mal and Zoë are actually doing something important, retrieving the crew’s mail.

Now, this plot development was not irksome at first, because Jayne gets a letter from his mother and a funny hat. This made sense. If the crew is contact with relatives, they would know to which station to send packages.

But then the crew gets another unexpected delivery, a body.

Here is where the plot begins to fall apart. The dead man is apparently an old buddy from the War whom the crew hasn’t seen in years. So how the heck did he know where to tell someone to send his corpse?

It may come as shock to some people, but space is big and UPS has trouble even with Missouri. So how is a package supposed to get delivered when there is no address and half the planets in the galaxy are terraformed? If there was an explanation for this, I did not hear it.

At any rate, the guy leaves a recording in which he asks for his body to be taken to his home planet to be buried. Apparently, he didn’t trust the galactic postal service to get him home, but he trusted it enough to find his former friends without offering an address.

The crew honors his request, or tries to anyway. But sure enough, it turns out some thugs posing as Alliance officers want the body. Not sure how to stall the thugs who are firing warning shots at Serenity Mal and the others open the coffin, and finding nothing, decide to have Simon perform an autopsy. Poor Simon cuts into the corpse, and the “body” wakes up, screaming.

Here is where another time-honored Firefly tradition is upheld. Kaylee has stormed off, so Simon must be attacked. The dead man springs from the operating table and jumps at Simon. Fortunately, Simon is not horribly mangled by the dead comrade because Mal is there to pull him off.

Together, they subdue the breathing corpse, and Simon continues to check the man’s vitals, where he makes another startling discovery. The man’s heart is beating rapidly. In fact, all his organs are acting in an erratic fashion — although, we are given no details regarding this fact — yet the man feels no pain. He smiles and explains.

It turns out Mal and Zoë’s wartime pal has gotten into the shady business of organ harvesting. Only now, the organs are synthetic and must be grown inside a living person. So, a willing subject’s organs are removed, and then, replaced by the new, still growing, organs, which will be returned to him once this fresh set has reached maturity. So . . . I have questions.

What does he mean when he says, “still growing?” Are we talking about baby organs that have to go through a whole life cycle, or are we talking about half-formed organs that must . . . solidify or something? In any case, how is this guy still alive? If he can function while the organs are still in development, then for all intent and purposes, the organs work! Why not just put them in the person they were made for and leave them? What’s with the middleman?

To make the situation even more ridiculous, the guy tells them that, while he was waiting for these organs to finish forming, he had received a better offer from a different client. So, he decided to betray the first buyers — presumably the thugs shooting warning shots at the Firefly (about whom the writers have completely forgotten about for ten minutes of air time) — but these first buyers discovered his betrayal, and he can’t figure out how. Could it have been when the shipping address for his original organs changed!

And on top of all that, Kaylee just randomly falls in love with this guy! And what’s even more hilarious, is that the writers expect me to care! I mean, given how often she flees in outrage at every stupid remark from an awkward doctor and how she swoons at the first corpse sitting on top of an operating table, I’d say Simon’s dodged a bullet.

Then the ship shakes around a little bit because the writers remembered that there are still bad guys shooting at the heroes, and more stupidity follows, which will be covered in the second part of this review.

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 12: The Amazing Mail Order Human Body