Firefly Rewatch Episode 5: Burn the Witch

“Dear diary: Today I was pompous and my sister was crazy.”  – Jayne

Meet the Tams.  We think we’ve met them, the pompous Simon and the crazy River, but now we get a glimpse into who they were and how they came to be part of Mal’s crew.  Simon and River are both geniuses, both living a civilized life with limitless potential and a lifetime of achievement ahead of them.  They have a doting father and an indulgent mother, and each other.

Wait, back to the present.  Apparently River is crazy, Simon a pompous ass, and all they have is each other.  We’re about to get to know some of our crew a little better, and one is about to get a bit more mysterious.  After the jump.

“Is it bad that what she said made perfect sense to me?” -Mal

River is having a good day, more or less.  At least she’s aware she’s crazy and why.  But Mal has other concerns.  There’s disreputable people coming to buy a cleverly hidden herd of cattle, and when River is around things don’t go smoothly.  The good doctor and River are dispatched to soak in some local color while Mal, Jayne, and Zoe do some crime.  Shepherd (purely a figurative title) Book hangs around, apparently more interested in the criminal dealings and negotiations that the local color.  I’m not sayin’ there was a good choice to be made here, but both the good Shepherd and the good Doctor might wish they’d made another.

In town Inara and Kaylee are sort of enjoying the local color, and a bit of girl talk.  The topic of course is Kaylee’s not so secret schoolgirlish crush on Simon.  Simon may have some good qualities, but unfortunately he is a pompous ass on occasion.  A bit of venting on the doctor’s part and he manages to insult Serenity and Kaylee both.  And when you insult Serenity you double insult Kaylee.  Smooth doc.  You pompous ass.  Nobody insults Kaylee!  (Sorry)

“It never goes smooth.  How come it never goes smooth?” -Mal

It’s a typical day for the crew of Serenity, so of course that means their business dealings will end in a firefight.  It just never goes smooth.  But River is having a good day.  This has to be one of my favorite sequences in Firefly.  You start to get a feeling for who River was, and why she was so special.  A few moments of watching a local folk dance and River has the steps mastered, and joins in with great gusto.  A few more minutes and she is taking a folk dance new places much to the delight of the locals.  As the music and River’s dance, and the gunfight all build to a crescendo we See River react, knowing somehow that something has gone very wrong.  Simon is kidnapped and Book is a victim of the crossfire.

“Today we were kidnapped by hill folk, never to be seen again. It was the best day ever.” – Jayne

Well, it may be Jayne’s best day ever.  Wash finds the doctor and River are likely guests of some hill folk.  Book needs a doctor.  Mal makes the decision, get Book help.  But good help is hard to find in these parts.  There are certain advantages to having your own doctor, as the hill folk find.  And now we see another side of both Mal and the Doctor.

Simon may be a pompous ass, but as he is with his sister, willing to give everything to help, he can be with strangers.  Regardless of how he came to be there, the town needs a doctor, so without hesitation Simon goes to work.

Mal may hate the alliance, but he loves his crew more.  Mal is willing to swallow his pride and risk his ship to save Book.  He just maybe didn’t expect such a warm reception for Book.

Oh, Jayne is busy looting the Tam’s quarters in the meantime.  Best day ever for Jayne.  Well he might miss the Shepherd, but he hasn’t really grown attached to him or nothin’.  Just another tourist to cause trouble.

“You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this?” -Mal

The hillfolk needed a doctor.  What they didn’t need apparently was someone like River, who can read minds.  It seems where the bodies are buried and who did the burying isn’t much of a secret when River is around.  I think we can start to see why the Alliance might take a special interest in someone like River.  The hillfolk on the other hand, well their interest is different, even if the consequences are similar, though perhaps more merciful.  The witch needs to be burned.  At this point I’ll defer to Alan Sepinwall, who said it best.

“Safe” is a fine example of the value of showing over telling.

…as frustrated and miserable as Simon is on Serenity, or during his kidnapping misadventure, you also see that he has no regrets – that his love for River, even this version of River, is so strong that he would do it all over again.

Yet at the same time, that love for his sister is all he has left, so when it becomes clear that she’s going to be burned at the stake as a witch (and for knowing a little too much about how the community’s current leader came to be in charge), he gets up on the platform with her. At first it’s an attempt to save her, but when it becomes clear that he can’t, he stays. He’s her big brother, and he can’t let her die alone like that, and he also has nothing worth living for if she’s gone. It’s a really powerful moment, and well-played by Sean Maher.

Mal cares for his crew above all else, and of course arrives, with Book, just in time to be a big damn hero.  And all is well on Serenity again.  Simon and River have found their home.

To his everlasting credit Jayne apparently feels guilty for raiding the Tam’s quarters.  Or at least embarrassed.  That’s something.

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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8 Responses to Firefly Rewatch Episode 5: Burn the Witch

  1. atcdave says:

    My main stray thought one this episode; Simon’s major faux pas, as you put it Ernie; insulting Serenity and Kaylee, which means insulting Kaylee twice; i swear I’ve done things that stupid. I wanted to crawl under a rock on his behalf. Very painful scene.

  2. jason says:

    thx ernie, for some reason, simon’s portrayal works for me, except when he is mean to kaylee, which is Shaw sarah ‘cringeable’ – I don’t like jayne very much, remarkable how a few tweaks and in chuck a near identical casey character works.

    Are we ever told why shepard is famous with the alliance, I can’t remember and have not rewatched (yet, I will). All the conflict within Mal’s character, loyality to crew vs surviving, etc seems to work for me too, in chuck, the conflict within the chuck and sarah characters (to each other and within themselves) usually seems sort of stupid to me,

    the cancellation of the show was too bad for several reasons, none more compelling than I just wonder what River would have been like as she became more and more normal, she may have emerged as the co-star of the show by season 2’s end (part star trek’s data part crazy fiona from burn notice) – you agree or am I over estimating her appeal????

    My favorite episode on first pass thru is coming up soon, Mrs Mal (I forget Mal’s last name???) – looking forward to rewatching the movie at the end, as I recall that was really good too. Would be nice if chuck end prematurely, somehow a movie could be made to at least tie things up a little bit?

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    From Mo Ryan on Twitter:

    Oh @nathanfillion, you are a cruel, cruel man for not telling us what this Whedon reunion is about!! Grr-argh!

    I agree. For those unfamiliar left to right, Joss Whedon, Wash, Mal and Jayne.

  4. OldDarth says:

    “Big damn heroes”

    “Ain’t we just”

    Great episode to show how easy it is to misinterpret people’s actions based on appearances only without knowing their backstory.

    Something Lost took to greater heights.

  5. the cancellation of the show was too bad for several reasons, none more compelling than I just wonder what River would have been like as she became more and more normal, she may have emerged as the co-star of the show by season 2′s end (part star trek’s data part crazy fiona from burn notice) – you agree or am I over estimating her appeal????

  6. joe says:

    There’s going to be Firefly reunion of sorts this evening on Warehouse 13 at 9/8C on the SyFy network.

    It’s a mini-Firefly reunion on Warehouse 13 tonight when Jewel Staite (Kaylee) and Sean Maher (Simon) guest star. Sean plays a masked vigilante who, with the help of an artifact, is fighting crime in Detroit. Jewel is Loretta, the girl of his dreams. When the artifact threatens to destroy him and the entire city, Pete and Myka suit up to help save the day.

    Many thanks to OldDarth for highlighting the news.

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