Last time, we reflected on the fact that the crew of the Firefly was given a body in the mail.
It turned out the man in the coffin had faked his own death. When he woke up, Kaylee, who was having another spat with Simon, decided to fall in love with the recently undead man. This was infuriating and confusing but the show doesn’t give us much time to dwell the implications.
While the organ smuggler is telling his tale, the writers suddenly remember that the bad guys have been shooting at the ship this entire time. So, after some superficial shaking on the part of Serenity, the plot trudges on before the viewer can ask any questions.
Meanwhile, Serenity flies down to an ice planet and begins maneuvering through a series of cliffs, to evade its pursuers. The crew eventually takes refuge in a cave and is allowed a brief moment of reprieve before the villains begin dropping bombs through the canyon in the hope of collapsing whatever cave they are hiding in.
During this chase, the Shepherd mentions that, although there is an Alliance station on the planet, the pursuers — who have claimed to be a part of the Alliance — did not radio in. This was a hint that the Shepherd had a plan but again the viewer is scarcely given a chance to realize this because we are suddenly bombarded with another hallmark of bad writing — sudden contrivance driving the plot.
While hiding in the cave, the organ smuggler conveniently decides to stop flirting with Kaylee and visit Mal and the others so he can see if they’ve lost his buyers. He just happens to show up right as Mal and the Shepherd are debating about turning the organ smuggler — who is also an old war buddy of Mal’s — over to their pursuers.
Viewers likely already know that the Shepherd has figured out that the buyers are not from the Alliance; therefore, there’s no danger in confronting them because the Alliance won’t come after them if they do. So, we already know that Mal and the Shepherd have no intention of turning the organ donor in. And that’s what makes the next scene so confusing because the writers have already established that this threat is a red herring. But at the same time, they set the scene up as if we really are supposed to believe that Mal and the Shepherd, (let me repeat the second name for emphasis, the Shepherd, the religious guy, the guy who’s constantly reprimanding people for their skullduggery) are really planning to betray this man. In short, the viewer doesn’t believe this set up so there’s no tension.
So we have an unlikely set up: The organ smuggler just happens to stumble onto to the crew having this debate and the writers have already tipped their hand because the Shepherd realizes that the men chasing the smuggler weren’t connected to the Alliance. Then things become even more aggravating when the smuggler — upon hearing about this betrayal — grabs a gun and threatens the crew. While it’s true that we, the viewers, already know this betrayal is a red herring, the smuggler couldn’t possibly know that, so he does the obvious thing, which is to try and defend himself.
But what is absolutely confounding to me is: Why in the world do Mal and others act shocked and chagrined?
Needless to say, a chase follows. The organ smuggler runs around the ship screaming for everyone to stay away. Mal and the others take off after him, and the whole time, there is this bizarre tone to the scene. Why doesn’t somebody, anybody, just scream “Hey! The guys chasing you aren’t from the Alliance, so we’re going to bait them onto to the ship and shoot them.” If one person had just said this, we could’ve saved ten minutes of airtime. Instead, everybody stomps around the ship, acting offended, because even though he literally heard them say they planned to turn him in, he, Mal and Zoë are war buddies. So he should’ve just trusted them… or something. It’s ridiculous. The whole set up is ridiculous.
Then Kaylee shows up for no reason, at just the wrong time, so the organ smuggler grabs her and holds her gunpoint. That’ll sure show her to not to fall in love with the first corpse that bats its eyelashes at her.
Before he grabbed Kaylee, I’ll admit, I was on the organ smuggler’s side. But once this happened, he’d gone too far. Mal shoots him and leaves him to bleed out on the railing.
A few minutes later, the pursuers arrive and are quickly scared away in, possibly, the most anticlimactic standoff I’ve ever seen in a show. Once they leave, the organ smuggler realizes the true plan — it seems nobody told it to him during the interim when they were standing over his broken body, waiting for the bad guys to arrive — he apologizes, and they give him a heartfelt goodbye before he dies. Then they leave his body on his home planet, and the episode ends.
I was told by a fan of the show, that this was the episode where the cast discovered that Firefly was to be cancelled, and therefore, some of the conflicting tones could be explained by a lack of focus on the part of the cast and crew. This makes sense.
This episode feels bizarrely angry. The show is well-known for its fun-loving tone. Even the abysmal Episode 5 has moments of levity and demonstrates the chemistry of the cast. The actors were always having fun, even when wading through terrible writing. But that joy is gone in this episode, and it was very sad to see. But despite the episode’s problems, there are still some moving moments. The clip below is such a scene.
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.
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.
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.