“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