This is my favorite episode so far. It’s a classic heist with all the traditional beats! The crew is sitting around the table talking and eating while Jayne cleans his gun. He keeps spitting on the various parts for some reason, and Simon asks him to stop. He doesn’t. Jayne keeps spitting on the parts, glaring at Simon all the while
River, Simon’s sister, gets up, grabs a butcher knife, and slashes Jayne across the chest. Jayne hits her, but she looks up, stares at the big man, and says, “He looks better in red.”
With the stakes suddenly raised, the mystery of what happened to River surges to the forefront again. It’s time to get some answers. It so happens that the Serenity is currently docked on a central planet called Ariel. Simon, knowing that the central planets have plenty of medical equipment and supplies, hatches a plan to steal certain medications so they can be sold on the outer planets.
He does this for two reasons. First: After what happened between River and Jayne, Simon knows he needs to do something to show his usefulness to the crew. Second: He knows that there will be brain scanning equipment which will help him understand what the “men with blue hands” did to his sister.
So far, Simon has suffered at the hands of the writers, more often than not acting as the punching bag or the damsel in distress. As I’ve said before before, sometimes the writers have gone to ridiculous lengths to make sure he’s in trouble.
But this time, we get to see just how clever Simon is. He puts together a wonderful plan which can only be properly appreciated in the form of a montage. Simon uses every character and we see different scenes where each member of the crew is doing what they excel at. For the first time, we really come to understand why the crew is so formidable as a group.
But alas, Jayne is the not the forgiving type. He can’t let go of what River did to him in the first scene. So, once they enter the hospital on Ariel, he calls the authorities and tells them that he has the elusive brother and sister and is willing to hand them over for a hefty fee.
Jayne doesn’t betray them right away. He lets Simon break into the neuroimaging room where he gets a chance to study her brain. He then realizes the men with blue hands have, as he says, “stripped her amygdala.” This means that whenever she feels an emotion, it is unfiltered. River has lost the ability to suppress her feelings.
Now, I am not a doctor, but I think the writers were playing off the old idea that humans use only a tiny portion of their brains. Because her amygdala, her ability to suppress, has been “stripped,” she now has a variety of unintentional powers alongside her lack of control because she is using 100% of her brain instead of the widely believed 10%.
As it happens, the century-old pop science belief that we use only 10% of our brains is not supported by realtime brain imaging. There is massive complexity at every level of the brain, so it is full of surprises. But simple answers are not likely to be one of them.
However, I don’t feel a strong need to condemn the writers for pulling in a common myth which has floated around for decades. I will also say that this makes me feel somewhat better about Episode 5, in which River displays the ability to read minds, an ability that seemed at the time to come from nowhere.
I’m not convinced we’re going to see this ability again, but now that I understand what they’re going for, I can say that telepathic and telekinetic abilities have long been attributed to unmapped regions of the brain. I still hate Episode 5 though. I refuse to get over the revolvers shooting out lasers thing; I twitch a little every time I think about it.
This might also serve as another reason why River’s abilities have remained somewhat mysterious. The writers may be going for an untapped human potential theme; however, once we discuss Serenity, (2005) the movie which serves as Firefly’s conclusion — unless Disney has their way — then I think we’re going to see this revelation regarding River’s past turn into a plot hole. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Just as Simon has learned how to help his sister, Jayne decides that now is the time to stab them both in the back. He leads them through a shadowy hall to a dark doorway, rather than to the rooftop where Captain Mal and Zoë are waiting for them. Federation agents are waiting there too, it turns out, but rather than paying Jayne for his services, they arrest him. This causes Jayne switch back to Simon and River’s side again, and together, they all escape.
Then two things happen at once: Mal and Zoe realize that something has gone wrong and attempt to rescue their crew members from the Federation agents. The men “with blue hands” arrive on the scene, intending to kill all the witnesses. It’s a race, a close one. But Mal and Zoë find their missing crew members before the men with blue hands can retrieve their patient.
After they get back to the ship, Simon tries to cover for Jayne but Mal sees right through it. I won’t say exactly what happens here because it’s best if you see it. This last scene is amazing.
Here are my reviews of Episodes 1 through 8:
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?