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View on desert
View on desert

Sci Fi Saturday: 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

The opening scene features Captain Mal sitting naked in a desert. A caption advises us that we must go back to seventy-two hours earlier to understand how that happened. Mal, you see, meets an old buddy and shares hugs and swapS banter until the buddy informs him that he is married. Mal is excited to hear this wonderful news until he sees a familiar face — Saffron, the vixen who’d tricked him into believing she was his bride in a previous episode. She is now hitched to Mal’s pal; so imagine the poor sap’s shock when the Saffron and Mal draw guns on one another.

After a brief squabble, the swindled husband leaves Saffron in Mal’s angry hands. To save her own life, Saffron tells the captain that she has access to a very rare item, which is worth a fortune. Mal doesn’t believe her at first, but takes her aboard the Serenity just in case. He then has a row with the ambassador, Inara, who complains that the crew hasn’t run any big scams in a while. Her comments persuade Mal to risk dealing with the vixen again.

The plan is straightforward. Saffron has married another man who is wealthy and wishes to sneak back into his home to steal one of the first blasters ever invented. She needs help disabling the laser grid surrounding the gun, and Mal is just the man for the job. He discusses the plan with his crew who are all dubious, but everyone agrees — except Inara who storms off in a huff.

Meanwhile, we learn that Simon really believed that Jayne was trying to help them escape during the medical heist on Ariel. However, it turns out I was wrong about his sister River’s psychic powers suddenly reappearing after Episode 5. She informs Simon, that Jayne did in fact attempt to turn them into the feds. This is not brought up again until the end of the episode because it is important. Jayne is not done paying for his sins.

The crew begin the heist. During the mission, Jayne is electrocuted by a control panel, and is wheeled off to the medical bay where Simon is waiting. Mal and Saffron make it to the rich husband’s living room and retrieve the gun, but it turns out her hubby is home and sees Saffron with Mal as they attempt to run off with his prized heirloom. Rather than being angry, the man is heartbroken. He loved his fake wife, and to Mal’s surprise, Saffron actually valued this man’s opinion of her. She didn’t want him to ever discover what she was. Fortunately for him, he’d realized the obvious long ago, and while he may have loved her, he didn’t love her enough to just let her escape.

Mal and Saffron make a break for it and manage to get away. While flying to meet the rest of the crew, Mal and Saffron have a little chat. Saffron feels guilty about betraying a decent man, and Mal tells her, that while she’d disrobed in order to seduce him the first time they’d met, he never thought he would actually see her vulnerable. Saffron burst into tears — then takes Mal’s gun.

Ehe orders Mal to strip and leaves him to die in the desert. But her betrayal was all part of the plan. As Saffron searches for the gun, only to realize it is now missing, Inara appears. She tells Saffron that her storming off in the huff was an act. Mal knew Saffron would turn on them.

The ambassador leaves the vixen for the authorities and retrieves Mal who is feeling rather pleased with himself — despite his uncomfortable nudity.

As for Jayne, he wakes up unable to move, thanks to a drug given to him by the good doctor. Simon looms over the big man and informs him that he knows all about the betrayal. The doctor gives a speech, a rather nice speech, telling Jayne that no matter what happens, he will never hurt him. Jayne is unconvinced because as Simon says this, he holds a needle over the thug’s arm. For good measure, River, who has been standing in the doorway, tells Jayne, “I can kill you with my mind.”

Jayne is left alone, paralyzed in the medical bay, with plenty of time to think on his sins. A fun episode about which I have no complaints — and am ready for the next one!

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.

Sci Fi Saturday: The Vixen! She’s Back! Firefly TV Heats Up