Hey there! I’m back this week with part 6 of my examination of the Firefly series. So far, we’ve covered the pilot in Part 1, episodes two and three (“Train Job” and “Bushwhacked”) in Part 2, “Shindig” and “Safe “ in Part 3, “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and “Jaynestown” in Part 4, and “Out of Gas” and “Ariel” in Part 5.
We’re into the second half of the season, where I really feel the show finds its stride.
First up, War Stories!
War Stories (Episode 10)
It starts with Simon and Shepherd Book (who was absent last episode during the hospital heist) discussing River’s condition. Simon thinks he’s closing in on what the Alliance did to her. River is struggling, though, because the treatments aren’t working all the time.
The crew is feeling good after their last job, though Wash gets irritated with Zoe for not backing his plan to cut out the middlemen when selling their loot. Instead, she takes the captain’s side in the discussion, and Wash feels Mal and Zoe are too close. Meanwhile, Inara’s attractive female client arrives on the ship. Jayne sees them and announces that he’ll be in his bunk. Classic Jayne!
Mal and Zoe go to the other shuttle to make the delivery, but Wash has sabotaged the controls and he won’t release them unless he can go with Mal instead. This is the second time Wash has tried to stand up to Mal (the first was when Zoe got shot in Out of Gas.)
This time, he wins. Wash and Mal take off. They get to the meeting site, but they’re jumped by armed men.
When the guys are late in returning, Zoe, Jayne, and Book go to find them. They discover bodies at the meeting site (not Mal or Wash) and deduce that Niska has them.
Remember Niska? He’s the evil old crime boss that we met in episode two, Train Job. Evidently, he didn’t appreciate that Mal didn’t deliver on that job, so he’s been tracking them down. Mal and Wash are his captives at the space station.
While they’re tied up, Wash unloads on Mal about Zoe’s allegiances.This continues even while Niska is torturing them. Mal insinuates that he may have slept with Zoe in order to make Wash angry (so he can resist the pain better).
Zoe collects the crew’s money and sets off to see Niska. Niska accepts the payoff, but he’ll only allow her to take one of the men. She picks Wash. As they leave, Niska cuts off one of Mal’s ears and gives it to her. The man is just evil! And it’s a blast to watch.
When Zoe and Wash get back to the ship, the crew preps their weapons to go back for Mal. (Even Jayne.) Niska kills Mal with his methods and then revives him for more. Serenity docks with the station and the crew invades, guns blazing. Kaylee gets pinned down and can’t bring herself to shoot back, but River takes her gun and shoots three enemies without even looking, shocking poor Kaylee.
The crew finds Mal, but Niska gets away. Back on the ship, Kaylee feels weird around River. And Zoe cooks for Wash! She and Mal tease Wash about their closeness, and everyone learns a lesson.
I really, really enjoyed how the show was able to delve into the bonds between Mal and Zoe, and Zoe and Wash, while giving us a genuinely tense episode with the return of Niska. The attack on the space station was very cool, foreshadowing a little of the combat teamwork we’d see later in the movie.
Niska is such a great villain. He looks old and gentle, but he is one mean rattlesnake. This is his last appearance on the show, but I wonder what deviltry Whedon had planned for this wonderful villain if the show had gone a second season….
This episode begins with Mal naked in the desert. (Just let that image sink in for a moment…)
Okay, seventy-two hours earlier, Mal is meeting an old friend and fellow Browncoat for a smuggling job when the friend introduces Mal to his new wife. It’s Saffron! Oh, Mal, you were just too honorable to shoot her in the head. She and Mal draw pistols. The buddy adroitly surmises they have met before.
When Mal tells his buddy who Saffron is, the pal leaves her and takes off. She tries to seduce Mal all over again, but he’s learned his lesson. Then she tries to convince him that she’s got a line on a big job and she needs his help.
Mal gets back to the ship. Inara wants to talk to him. He’s suspicious because she acts so nice. She accuses him of taking jobs on the frontier to keep her from doing her Companion trade. It devolves into an argument.
Mal opens a crate with Saffron inside. He brought her on board because he wants to hear more about this job. While Simon and River hide in their room, Saffron tells the crew about the Lassiter, a very first and quite rare laser pistol. She knows who owns it and she has a plan to steal it. The crew is against the idea, but Mal talks them into it.
Mal and Saffron get inside the owner’s house with stolen codes. Their plan is to grab the artifact and throw it in the trash. Then they’ll reprogram the trash drone to take the laser gun to a place of their choosing so they can retrieve it. It doesn’t exactly go as planned.
While reprogramming the trash droid, Jayne gets shocked unconscious. Fortunately, Kaylee gets it done just in time. Inside the house, the owner (Turin) shows up while Mal and Saffron are about to snatch the Lassiter. He thanks Mal for finding his wife! (How many husbands does this gal have?)
While Turin goes to fetch a reward for the return of his wife, we find out that Saffron took off with the guy’s security expert and, after getting the house codes, killed him. Well, maybe she killed or maybe she just set him up to be killed by someone else. Either way, she’s a shady lady. (As if we didn’t already know that….)
Turin returns to find Mal holding the Lassiter, and Saffron holding a gun on him. Mal dumps the laser, disarms Saffron, and draws his own weapon. Turin loved her, but he knew she was a con-woman. He’s called the feds. Saffron knocks out Turin, and she and Mal make their escape.
Saffron breaks down in tears on their ride back to Serenity. Naturally, it’s all an act. (Perfidy, thy name is woman!) She gets Mal’s gun, makes him strip, and leaves him in the desert.
Back on Serenity, Saffron sabotaged the controls (again) so they can’t get to the rendezvous point. Saffron reaches the trash bin, but she can’t find the artifact. Because Inara got there first! She locks Saffron inside the bin and leaves her for the feds.
Jayne wakes up from his shock in the ship’s infirmary, but he can’t move. Simon knows that Jayne tried to sell him and his sister out back on Ariel (episode 9). But the doctor doesn’t take advantage. Instead, he says they should trust each other. Then River has the perfect line to Jayne: “Also, I can kill you with my brain.”
Serenity picks up Mal, naked, from the desert. They had it all planned from the beginning, knowing Saffron would double-cross them.
While not as revealing about the characters as other episodes, this one is fun. I think the Saffron character is okay, but I wasn’t so enamored that I thought she needed to be brought back. Then again, I’ve never been a fan of the femme fatale archetype.
My favorite part of this episode is when Simon confronts Jayne about trying to sell them out to the feds. First, because it gives that crucial character interaction that I crave. Second, because it hearkens back to a previous episode in a meaningful way. That strengthens the series cohesion for me.
Read our complete Firefly Retrospective series:
Part 1 – Pilot
Part 2 – “Train Job” and “Bushwhacked”
Part 3 – “Shindig” and “Safe”
Part 4 – “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and “Jaynestown”
Part 5 – “Out of Gas” and “Ariel”
Part 6 – “War Stories” and “Trash”
Part 7 – “The Message,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Objects in Space”
Part 8 – Serenity, the Movie
Jon Sprunk is the author of the fantasy epic Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). He’s also a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. For more on his life and writing, check out www.jonsprunk.com.