Firefly Rewatch Episode 10: Meet Mal

“Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.” — Shan Yu as quoted by Shepherd Book

If I were forced to pick the best episode, or my favorite episode of Firefly I’d have a tough time.  Briefly.  But only because there would be three or four others (Ariel, Jaynestown, Out of Gas, maybe Trash) that I’d be comparing to War Stories.  That pretty much settles it, doesn’t it?   To me War Stories typifies everything great about Firefly and shows Whedon’s real talent for taking his charactrers and their situation seriously, but managing to pull fun and comedy out of some very dark and dramatic material.

We’ve met the crew, several times now.  But as Shan Yu says, it’s never too late to really meat the man.  We meet more than the real Mal this episode.  Book, Kaylee, Inara, Simon… Heck pretty much everyone other than Jayne shows a new side of themselves when Mal, and by extension the whole family/crew is brought to the volcano’s edge.  After the jump.

Mal: “Ah, the pitter-patter of tiny feet in huge combat boots… SHUT UP!”

Life seems pretty good on Serenity.  The last heist left them flush.  Jayne is making amends (without anyone knowing what for).  River, with the help of a well stocked infirmary and her brother’s new diagnostics, is almost like a normal teenage girl, running and playing with Kaylee.  But as usual a bit o’ tension lies just beneath the surface.

Inara needs to bring a client on board for a little added discretion.  Mal of course insists on meeting said client.  Sans sword fight this time.  Very protective of Mal.  In the meantime Sweet-cakes and Lamby-toes have a little tension going on in the marriage.  Seems they both like to wear the pants, and Wash isn’t crazy about how in synch Zoe and Captain tight-pants are all the time.  So with a bit of conflict on the horizon for our happy little family lets get started.

Inara is the first to show another side of herself.  Seems as a companion, she goes both ways.  Well, that’s interesting.  The crew is a bit  – shall we say – nonplussed.  Except for Jayne, he’ll be in his bunk.  Of course it may be all for the sake of her client (or more likely an attempt to boost ratings) but Inara explains to said client she’s more comfortable with the fairer sex after all.  As Mal says, Huh.

Now it’s time for another side of Wash.  Wash apparently has had enough of coming in second.  Zoe always seems to take the Captain’s side and the Captain Zoe’s.  And then there are the war stories.  The heroics, the bonding, the adventure.  Wash is a bit fed up.  So actions speak louder than words, Wash decides it’s time to man up and replace Zoe on the latest “milk run”.  Be careful what you wish for.  Wash is about to get his war story.

It seems our old friend Niska still carries a torch for Mal.  Despite the return of all the money he’s perhaps holding a grudge about the man put through the engine.  More likely he doesn’t like the damage to his reputation.  In any case it’s Mal and Wash’s misfortune to find out just how angry Niska is about being crossed.

Wash: So, I’m Zoë. Now, what do I do?

Mal: Probably not talk quite so much.

Wash: Right. Less talking. She’s terse – I can be terse. Once, in flight school, I was laconic.

Zoe is a woman of action, and when she realizes what has happened she hatches a plan.  Simple.  Buy them back.  Niska is a business man, so make a deal.  Pretty much all the leftover profits of the hospital heist go into the kitty to get Mal and Wash back.  But Niska is a businessman, and he knows when he can jack up the price.  He decides the offer is good for one.  Plus a little more.  Zoe picks Wash, and Mal gets to spend some more quality time with Niska.  And his pet.

Niska: You died, Mr. Reynolds.

Mal: Seemed like the thing to do.

Zoe and the rest of the crew of course hatch another plan to rescue Mal.  All the firepower they can amass and every member of the crew takes up arms (except Inara who tries to use some personal connections).  Wash manages to make the ship invisible by powering down beyond the range of scanners so a dead ship is on a collision course with, hopefully, the docking bay of Niska’s station.  Mal, in the mean time has been saved from death by Niska.  He wants to make it last.

Now we meet the crew.  Wash manages to be quite the hero.  Jayne and Zoe are their usual “big damn hero” selves.  Shepherd book once again shows surprising ease in certain situations for a preacher, and even Simon manages to contribute.  In the chaos Niska makes his big mistake.  Never turn your back on a wounded Mal.  He’s a brawler.  He’s a survivor.  But now Niska meets the real man, and we find out Mal is a bit of monster.  The look in his eyes is murder, plain and simple.  He isn’t trying to escape.  He is determined to kill Niska.  Maybe now we understand why Mal needs to surround himself with people who count on him and need him.

Kaylee is one of those people, because when it comes down to it, Kaylee isn’t a fighter.  Left alone with Serenity we see that she can’t bring herself to join the fight.  She runs and hides.  But there is another of the crew who was left behind.  River.  Meet the real River Tam.  Efficient killing machine.  And now we start to see the government’s purpose for her, and why they want her back.

Simon: I never – never shot anyone before.

Book: I was there, son. I’m fair sure you haven’t shot anyone yet.

Ah the aftermath.  Niska escapes to be a villain another day, Mal gets his ear back, River and Kaylee both have a secret they’d rather not share with the crew, and apparently now an unspoken truce as opposed to a friendship.  And Wash.  Wash has his war story and a whole new image in his wife’s adoring eyes.  She even cooks for him.  But of course there’s one last thing to be done.  Mal has to take Zoe, and take her hard to get all that burning sexual tension out in the open.  I’ll leave it to the Sage of Serenity.

Somethin’ about that is downright unsettling.  – Jayne

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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21 Responses to Firefly Rewatch Episode 10: Meet Mal

  1. Faith says:

    I’m horrendously behind in the topic that just will not die aka Joe vs. Pessimism lol so I’ll just comment on here instead ;-)

    I don’t think I ever really understood how inhumane River has really become. Yes sure she out of the blue slashed Jayne’s chest but it wasn’t until she was shooting that it really came to me what they did to her. Or rather it added to the dimension we already learned in the previous episode with the brain scan.

    The torture I thought was a bit much, but I think they still did a good job balancing it with the humor. In between tortures, Mal and Wash talking (especially the part where Mal promises to sleep with Zoe to get her over him lol) like it was no big deal…pretty funny. Esp in light of the situation.

    I liked that Inara tried to do her part in trying to rescue, she does care :D

  2. joe says:

    Wow – again. Of the four episodes you named, Ernie, plus this one, this was the last I’d seen. As I’m reading your list, I’m thinking to myself “Self, this can’t really be better than those episodes…” Uh huh. Right. It was.

    I wasn’t really surprised at the characters actions – Shepard Book had show me steal before, and Tam, courage. Inara – well, I’m not surprised by much that she does in her shuttle (that was, uh, interesting though…) (okay. I’m back from my bunk.) Wash never struck me as “merely” a pilot. I thought he could be tough throughout.

    But River and Kaylee playing – that surprised me. River being a killing machine? Even more so. Where the heck did that come from???

    Don’t care. It was surprising and great to see from start to finish.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Actually Our Mrs. Reynolds should be considered one of the contenders too, but probably for a second place finish rather than first.

  3. atcdave says:

    While I wouldn’t quite call this my favorite episode, it certainly is a very strong one. I often say I don’t like “dark.” But I must admit there are many qualifications to that statement, and this is one dark episode that I love. Zoe’s trip to buy back her men, and how easily she makes her “choice” is a wonderful moment (presumably her heart and her logic were in total agreement; Wash is about done for, Mal can hold on). River in the shoot out is a great scene too, its really our first glimpse of what this girl really is. I guess I didn’t quite see Mal as a monster in the end; but rather a perfect hero. Niska is the monster, and Mal wants to end him. great scene.

    And the Mal/Zoe/Wash “triangle” in the end is comic gold; OK, I guess sometimes a triangle is fine with me!

    • Faith says:

      I always thought that she picked Wash not because he was her husband per say, but rather she knows (because she’s been in battle with him before) that Mal can withstand torture until she can find a way to rescue him. The same probably could not be said for Wash.

      Wash’s internal fortitude is no match for Mal’s and I think Zoe knew that. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, just that I can see Wash break, not so much Mal…as we saw.

      • atcdave says:

        I think it was both Faith; as I said, heart and mind in agreement. Presumably Zoe’s heart would rather rescue her husband, and her mind knowing Wash is actually more in need of rescuing makes the decision an easy one (well, relatively easy).

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I think given your correct assessment of Mal vs. Wash it made the decision Zoe wanted to make much easier.

      I loved it at the end, “This is something the captain has to do himself.” “NO! No it isn’t!”

      It always amazed me how much humor there was in such a dark episode.

      • joe says:

        It *is* humorous. I’m not one for torture scenes either. But when Niska is having his way with Mal and Wash, their banter makes it riveting.

        Forget to mention earlier, Ernie. As I’m watching, I kept noting the quotes that I would use if I was doing a review. Yup. You got ‘em all.

      • jason says:

        I really struggle to watch torture too, but this episode again really is hitting on all cylinders, mal taunting wash to keep him alive, genius, one thing for all of you jumping on the ‘shaw is a great villain’ bandwagon, shaw got hundreds of minutes, dozens of scenes, niska became every bit the villain, with maybe 1-5% of the overall screen time, shaw was not a great villain, he just harmed the show (and the characters) so much, that fans hate him, the real test of a villain, hated, yet Niska on the other hand brought out the best in zoey, in wash, in jayne and certainly in Mal – all shaw did was make us hate our hero along with shaw and the show and the writers and the showrunners (is there anyone else left?)

  4. OldDarth says:

    Nathan Fillion really shines in this episode.

    Probably one of the biggest disappointments about the series being short lived is how truncated River’s arc is. Here seeds are being planted for, it feels, something really big for her. Alas that was never to be explored in a serialized manner.

    The torture scene was done brilliantly. Niska such a delicious villain.

    • Rick Holy says:

      Agreed. There was so much further exploration that could have been done of not only River Tam, but also Shepherd Book. They tried – as best as a two hour movie would allow – to address some of that in Serenity, but – as you said – to see it have been presented in a serialized manner would have been – sorry to insert a “Chuckism” here, but it fits – AWESOME!!

      I didn’t really get on the Firefly/Serenity train (I mean ship) until about a year ago. Now I watch the episodes/movie again and again. Does anyone know – did Serenity do well at the box office, or did it bomb?

      • atcdave says:

        So Rick, do you have the inside dope on how many men of the cloth are former government assassins? or would you have to kill me?

      • jason says:

        do we know book is an assassin or just assume so from the show?

        rick, I googled the movie, here is the link with the box office info:

        http://digg.com/movies/Serenity_makes_more_money_from_DVD_than_from_box_office

        bottom line, dud at the box office, huge success in dvd sales

        is the next in line for watching here ‘trash’, with a reappearance of mrs mal?

      • Rick Holy says:

        @atcdave. All I can tell you is, “I wasn’t BORN a priest!” More than that and I can’t guarantee your safety!!!

        @jason. Thanks for the link. Even though it bombed, I’m sure glad they made it. It really helped bring some completion to the Firefly story.

      • atcdave says:

        I’ve even heard some mention that it did well enough on disc sales they have considered another. But its been so long now I bet that’s dead in the water.

        Jason and Rick, I was being outrageous about the assassin bit, we never knew for sure what it was Book did.

      • Rick Holy says:

        Whatever it was, he wasn’t eager to reveal it. One thing for sure, he (formerly) has SOME KIND of connection to the Alliance – otherwise they wouldn’t have taken him onto Magellan and fixed that bullet wound from the “Safe” episode.

      • atcdave says:

        Yeah it was interesting. One of those tidbits we’ll never really know. Well, maybe in 20 years when Joss Whedon writes his memoirs!

      • Faith says:

        I’ve always imagined that Shepherd Book was actually the father of the head of Alliance or such thing. In a lot of ways it makes sense because he’s not easily recognized but he’s also untouchable. That is of course until the movie. Then again the Assassin in that one isn’t even really Alliance…and of course the stakes being higher.

      • JC says:

        After watching Serenity I figured he was an Operative like Chiwetel Ejiofor.

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