In the tenth episode of Firefly, the events of the episode, “The Train Job” come back to haunt Mal and Wash in the most brutal way imaginable. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.
It’s about time we had an episode about Wash.
He exists for a lot of comic relief in the show, but that isn’t to say he’s not a full character. Whedon and the talented cast of writers have managed to make each of the crew members a well-rounded individual. “War Stories” manages to fill out Wash’s character, while simultaneously adding to nearly every other character as well. (That’s a feat, by the way; for such a character-centric episode, I was impressed by how much growth we saw in Kaylee, Simon, Book, Zoe, AND Mal at the same time.)
The foreshadowing that opens the episode deals with a “warrior-poet” named Shin Yu, who believed you could only truly know a person by torturing them. This idea, suggested by Book, is meant as his way to help Simon figure out why surgeons removed River’s amygdala.
But that’s not Cheryl Cain’s (the writer for this episode) intentions with this detail. It represents the clash between Mal and Wash; Wash is becoming increasingly annoyed by Zoe’s dedication and inherent trust in Mal, despite that it has never once materialized in any sort of sexual manner. His jealousy is adorable for the most part, if slightly frustrating as he insists it’s time for him to accompany Mal on the next mission. It’s funny because, in hindsight, Wash was SERIOUSLY NOT PREPARED.
I made a misguided statement in “The Train Job” that Niska wasn’t very creepy and I would like to take all of it back immediately. I’m not sure that Niska showed his full potential in that episode, but he certainly does here. Upon notice that Mal’s ship is in the vicinity, he orchestrates the kidnapping of Wash and Mal, playing right into Wash’s complete lack of preparedness.
What happens upon their capture follows a pretty standard pattern for the show, but one that I’ve grown to love: A stressful situation is full of tons of humor and then, very suddenly, the scene becomes disturbingly serious.
It’s rare to find tv and film that rests so heavily on dialogue to hold tension; The Wire comes to mind, in terms of television, but Cheryl Cain’s writing during the Mal/Wash torture scene might be my favorite scene of the entire scene, especially every time it cuts to Niska’s face and he looks bewildered. Their frantic bickering in between being shocked is funny because of the contrast with what’s actually going on. But then Wash claims that Zoe blindly obeys the captain and Mal offers up evidence she doesn’t, and the tone of the scene immediately shifts:
He ordered Zoe not to marry Wash.
Now, maybe I heard it wrong, but when Wash then says that maybe Mal should just sleep with Zoe to get rid of the sexual tension, does Mal say something to the effect of, “I’ll dick your wife”? Because if so, what the fuck how did that ever air.
It was at that point that I stopped laughing and the whole scene made me feel dirty, like that time my mom insisted we watch Mulholland Drive together and I wanted to shrivel into a ball of lint and disappear into the couch.
Zoe manages to come up with a plan to rescue the two of them and collects all of the money on the ship that they’d earned from the job in “Ariel,” hoping to appeal to Niska’s bizarre business principles. She ends being correct, but he thinks he has the upper hand by telling her that the money is only good to save one of them.
The entertainment he hopes to derive from the situation is squashed before he can even finish a sentence. She chooses Wash without hesitation. I imagine Wash felt pretty damn stupid at that moment.
But, of course, Niska isn’t satisfied, so he changes his mind about the cost for Wash and gives her a slight refund: HE CUTS OFF MAL’S EAR.
NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE GODDAMN SHIT FUCK. Like…look, I am now expecting shit to get real all of the time, but CUTTING OFF HIS EAR? Oh, Cain, you are still keeping me guessing.
Remember me saying that this episode also showed growth in other characters? It happens when the episode shifts to a tense, action-packed rescue mission, as we watch Book and Simon suddenly become willing to shoot people. Book’s mysterious past is most intriguing to me, especially because he proves to be pretty damn talented with a shotgun. BOOK BACKSTORY NOW, PLEASE.
After saving Mal (well…he sort of saves himself, doesn’t he?) and returning to the ship, Mal makes good on his promise to have sex with Zoe’s wife, which proves to be not only unanimously unsettling, but frustrates Wash enough that he gets the point: they have a good relationship because they trust each other, not because they want to have sex.
Shit is so real and I love it. I have many, many thoughts about this episode:
- WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT TENDRIL THING NISKA HAD. Oh god, that is the stuff of nightmares?
- How fucked up was the scene where Zoe announces they are going to go get the captain and then it cuts to Niska and Niska’s guard announces that Mal is dead? HEAD ASPLODE.
- Are apples like a main food source or something? Because if I knew griswalds were real, I would simply never eat an apple ever.
- I didn’t comment on Inara’s storyline at all because I wanted to focus on Wash/Mal/Zoe, but I was surprised to see a female customer walk on board. I don’t know if it will be addressed again, but I’m wondering if that scene was a reference to Inara’s sexuality or was just a different companion job to her. It doesn’t really matter either way, but it was nice to see her so comfortable.
- “I’ll be in my bunk.” Oh, Jayne, never change.
- OH MAN, I WANT RIVER TO BE ON MY SIDE IN A GUN FIGHT. Like…what the shit???? That was amazing.
- Why does this show have to end