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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

It’s been a wild ride as we’ve reviewed the first and only season of Firefly. During the last half of the season, we had three incredible episodes back to back, then two that were awful. But thankfully, the last episode is said to be one of the greatest. In fact, whenever the series comes up in discussion, this episode seems to be the one people point to as a favorite.

It opens from River’s perspective. We see that she can indeed read people’s minds. The way this is done is very interesting. As she is watching the crew talk about various issues, their words and thoughts are spoken side by side as if they are all a part of one continuous conversation.

But as the scene draws on, we watch her reality gradually become more and more distorted until she picks up what she believes to be a stick — but it turns out to be a gun. We are pulled into her perspective and see the crew all begging her to put the gun down. She looks at the “stick”, confused, until Mal manages to grab the gun from her.

Later on, the crew has a meeting concerning River’s deteriorating mental state. Kaylee tells the crew of the time River killed several men with ease when Mal and Wash were taken captive. She’d been hesitant to discuss the incident because, although it had frightened her, she thought highly of River and didn’t want the crew to worry about the doctor’s sister without reason.

However, this recent close call with the “stick” forces Mal to the point where he must decide whether to allow River to continue to stay on the ship. He concludes that he should take some time to think about the problem and leaves the kitchen.

In the midst of all this, a bounty hunter sneaks aboard Serenity, unbeknownst to the crew.

I have to say this guy is actually quite the interesting character:

He ties Kaylee up after some harsh intimidation. Then he knocks out Mal and the Shepherd. Finally, he reaches Simon and the two have an exchange.

He tells Simon he’s going to help him find River and leads him throughout the ship at gunpoint. But just as the bounty hunter is running out of patience, we hear River’s voice over Serenity’s intercom. She tells the bounty hunter that, because the crew didn’t want her to stay, she has become one with the ship.

This confuses everybody onboard, of course. But before anybody can ask too many questions, she begins to tell the bounty hunter about his life. During this interaction, she randomly goes quiet. While the bounty hunter is trying to figure out what is going on, she begins to talk with Mal, Kaylee, Zoë, and Wash. She tells Zoë and Wash to stay hidden, but forms a plan with Mal and Kaylee.

By the time all this is arranged, the bounty hunter realizes that River has not become “one with the ship,” but has in fact boarded his vessel. She has been using the pictures and decorations in his cockpit to infer his life story. River agrees to go with the bounty hunter so the rest of the crew can have a normal life. The bounty hunter takes the bait, and after a brief scuffle with Simon — who again, is horribly mangled but survives — he leaves Serenity to board his ship again. However, Mal is there waiting for him and pushes him off. The bounty hunter goes careening into space, never to be seen or heard from again.

After this, River is accepted again by the crew and Serenity flies off into the void of space for the last time in the series.

This was a strong episode to end on. I’m glad the series ended on a high note though I wish it had wrapped up a few plot points. But a few of them do get resolved in the 2005 movie Serenity.

Before reviewing the film, which is one of my personal favorite sci-fi movies, I’d like to offer some final thoughts on the TV series as a whole, as well as discuss some of the rumors and speculation as to why the series was cancelled after one season. Then, if all goes well, we’ll wrap up this series with a review of the movie.

Next: Firefly: What worked, what didn’t… and why was it cancelled?

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 14: Ending on a High Note