Hey, remember all of that stuff from last week about how the episode order got screwed? Yeah, this aired the week after “Shindig,” so all that stuff applies. They did at least have the sense to air this before “Ariel” which kind of depends on events from this episode, but by airing “Bushwhacked” and “Safe” after “Jaynestown,” you kind of cut-off most of the interactions that make it so devastating, and therefore hilarious, for Simon to find out that Jayne is a folk hero. Well, whatever, children conceived during this episode will be driving soon, it’s time to get over it.
Kidding, never forget. Hold networks accountable.
So, this episode has some flashbacks in it, this time to the history of the Tam siblings. Notably, Zac Efron plays Young Simon in his first appearance on TV. In the first flashback, we see Simon (~15 yoa) studying. At the same time, a very young River (~6 yoa, Skyler Roberge) is playing around the room, and Simon tries to direct her back to her dance practice. River naturally answers that she already learned the routine, before correcting Simon’s textbook, calling the whole conclusion “fallacious.” We then see Simon begging his father (William Converse-Roberts) for a dedicated Source Box, which is basically an interplanetary internet hook-up. His father makes it clear that, in exchange for one, Simon has to become a brilliant doctor, though he does it in a jovial way. Also, he mentions that Simon would have access to stuff from the “cortex,” which I assume is some sort of “ultraporn.” Although, given how uptight Simon is, it could very well just be women wearing hoopskirts and bloomers. Boy needs to get laid (though we know he won’t for LITERALLY YEARS).
In the present, Simon is trying to drug River, which is proving hard without her consent. Her rampage causes Mal to ask Simon to keep her a little calmer, due to the cows being on board from the last episode. Mal is surprisingly understanding when it comes to River’s behavior, including the great line “See, morbid and creepifying, I got no problem with, long as she does it quiet-like.” However, ultimately, he tells Simon to get her under control, with an implied “or else.”
The crew unloads the cattle, and River starts to talk with them. Mal comments that, on the ship, River refused to go near the cows. River responds with:
“They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are.”
To which Mal replies: “Is it bad that what she said made perfect sense to me?”
Mal sends the Tams away while he conducts the transfer of funds for the cattle. The pair join Inara and Kaylee at a local general store, where Kaylee’s attraction for Simon is hurt a bit by Simon’s stupid mouth-brain interactions, particularly when he calls Serenity “垃圾,” (lè sè) which basically equates to “crap” or “garbage.” She leaves, offended, while Simon loses track of River, finding her at a dance festival. At the same time, the authorities arrest the buyers of the cattle for a murder, resulting in a shoot-out that ends with Book taking a stray bullet. When I say “at the same time,” I mean that River’s dancing is intercut with the shootout, until River collapses when Book is hit.
Simon gets abducted by some locals and, when he tries to resist, knocked out, leading to the next flashback, where an adult Simon is talking with his mother (Isabella Hofmann) and father about letters he’s received from River which have a code hidden in them. His parents tell him not to worry about it, because it could jeopardize his future.
Back in the present, the Tams are being forced by locals to head through the woods, while Mal, realizing that Simon has been grabbed and he doesn’t have time to find him, takes off to find a doctor for Book, ultimately agreeing to take him to an Alliance facility. Unfortunately, the Tams see the ship leave and believe they’ve been abandoned. It turns out that Simon was kidnapped so that he could be the doctor to the locals.
While Book is revealed to have some hidden higher status to the Alliance, River and Simon are getting by, until River reveals the inner thoughts of a mute girl, leading the nurse to declare her a “witch.” Yeah, I’m not kidding, and I still think this is really f*cking stupid. THERE ARE SPACESHIPS WITH APPARENTLY NEAR-INFINITE ENERGY DENSITY IN THEIR CORES, PEOPLE. YOU SHOULD ALREADY BE AT THE POINT WHERE YOU ASSUME MAGIC IS JUST “SCIENCE.” This isn’t a planet that is unfamiliar with the fact that there are unbelievable technologies on other planets: They just watched Serenity take off. I get that this girl is kind of uber-religious and that psychic powers aren’t commonplace, but it still comes off to me as ridiculous that she doesn’t at least consider that maybe it’s just something people from other planets can do, rather than jumping to “witch.” Then again, we have flat-Earthers, so maybe people just will always be dumb.
There’s a brief flashback of Simon’s dad bailing him out of trouble and saying that, if Simon doesn’t drop his search for River, then he is dead to the family. This is just to hammer home that Simon’s family sucked more as time went on.
We then get the first inquisition. The next guy who claims River’s a witch makes sense, at least, since it’s apparent that he doesn’t actually think she’s a witch, he’s just worried that she’s a psychic and he’s concealed a murder. Simon steps in front of the crowd and claims that they’re just killing an innocent girl out of ignorance. They say they’re going to do it anyway, because mob. River then says “time to go,” resulting in Serenity swooping in and allowing Mal and Zoe to deliver probably my favorite exchange in the series:
MAL: Well, look at this! Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
ZOE: Big damn heroes, sir.
MAL: Ain’t we just.
The crew saves the Tams. Simon asks Mal why he came back, and Mal says that they’re on the crew. It’s not a choice for him. It’s an imperative. The episode ends with River stealing a roll from Jayne.
This episode really has some great moments.
The flashbacks with the Tams really helps the audience understand the nature of Simon and River’s relationship by showing that their parents generally treated them as tools for advancing their own social status, rather than as people. It shows us why they’re so close, why Simon doesn’t talk to his parents, and truly drives home that he threw away everything in order to get her back. At one point, River even makes this explicit, and Simon says “妹妹, (little sister) everything I have is right here.” When he’s willing to die with her at the end of the episode, it’s really a heartwarming moment… aside from being horrifying.
Counterpoint, of course, is that it comes off a little… too much, at times. I get that River is unusual and the school’s prestigious, but the fact that there’s apparently no way to talk to her aside from hand-written letters in a future of instant super-luminal communication should be suspicious to anyone. Especially since, unlike the Outer Rim Planets, the Tams are a wealthy and prestigious family on a firmly Alliance planet. They have connections. The fact that Simon CAN’T get in touch with her directly should not be something immediately dismissed, even by people who don’t feel a strong familial bond with her. Of course, the first scene, where the father seems to genuinely be appreciative and warm towards his children makes the conclusion where he completely writes them both off even more extreme and almost unbelievable. Also, did they find out that Simon eventually abducted her from the facility? Do they know they’re fugitives? Did they realize they were wrong to doubt him, or do they think he’s crazy and are worried he’s kidnapped River? We never got an update since the show got cancelled, so who f*cking knows?
Also, this is an episode that makes River’s abilities much more explicit, including showing her being incredibly well-read and intelligent at what can’t be more than 7 years old. One of my favorite moments is when River is swearing at the beginning of the episode, she’s clearly channeling Jayne, even using his swears and tone. Later, when she is dancing at the festival, she empathically feels Book get shot, then reads a mute girl’s mind and the town chief’s dirty secrets. Even if the characters don’t seem to firmly understand by now, the audience gets that she’s psychic. She drops a line about exactly how long it takes to exsanguinate a person, which also hints that she’s been trained in effective ways to kill someone, although it could also just be a random thing she knows. River’s moment with the cows is a great sequence because it is one of the few moments that really hammers home that she’s not quite as “crazy” as you think, sometimes she just is thinking about things on an entirely different level than the norm. Even when it’s not part of her psychic abilities.
The big damn heroes moment is so perfect that TV Tropes named the trope after it, for that moment when the hero saves the day in a moment of awesome. It’s especially impressive because in the last scene we see of Serenity before it, Jayne suggested that life would be easier without the Tams, Zoe seconded, and Mal seemed to agree. Of course, since it’s a TV Show, we know they were going to show up, but at least it does try to make it a little ambiguous.
Now, for the things that the episode didn’t quite nail: Much of it. This episode definitely has its moments, to be sure, but a lot of the episode is kind of forgettable. The dance/gunfight sequence is neat to watch, and showcases Summer Glau’s incredible dancing ability, but it’s not quite intense enough to make up for the fact that a lot of what happens after is basically re-treading some established character development or serving to build up the separation for the finale. The parts with Simon and River on the planet are not bad, but also, they’re not particularly vivid or memorable. The hill people are unsophisticated and desperate and crazy, but it still seems kind of contrived that they literally go to “burn the doctor’s sister for a witch” in like 10 minutes. Nor that they don’t reconsider killing Simon when they already established how desperately they need him just to survive. I guess it’s so we don’t feel bad when he leaves at the end? Either way, there’s a lot of gray fuzz in my memories of part of this episode, because it just isn’t as interesting. But, when the good parts of this episode are on, they’re as good as anything else in the series.
Score: 3.5 Fireflies (or 1 Black-Market Beagle)
See you next Friday, Browncoats.
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NEXT – 6: Our Mrs. Reynolds
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