In the twelfth episode of Firefly, an old war buddy returns to Zoe and Mal, but inside a coffin. A digital message on the corpse asks the pair to take him back to his family, but when the crew learns exactly what they’re carrying, it leads to devastating results. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.
As it stands, my favorite episode of the series so far is “Out of Gas,” but “The Message” is a close second. Here’s an episode about deception, friendship, the desperation behind difficult choices, and some further background on the war between the Independence and the Alliance. The acting is as believable as ever, but this episode really focuses on the suspense and tension of the frightening reveal midway through the story.
It’s seriously too bad that this show was cancelled so early, as I’m starting to realize exactly how much more I want this world to be explored. The opening scenes in the marketplace are a reminder of how dense, complicated, and detailed Whedon’s world was. It made me want to see more of it, but with only two more episodes (and a movie) left, it’s a wistful emotion that I’m gonna have to eventual face: this is ending. And soon.
The crew picks up mail at the postmaster station and Mal and Zoe find that they are now proud owners of a giant crate. Oh. Right. WITH A DEAD BODY IN IT.
God, I love the plot twists in this show.
Turns out the corpse is of one Private Tracey, who fought alongside Mal and Zoe during the war; the episode has a few brief flashbacks to some of the earlier battles, where we learn that Mal and Zoe have long held their own respective fighting styles which we’ve come to associate with them: Zoe is calm and precise, while Mal is loud, boisterous, and surprisingly effective.
The great thing about “The Message” is that it appears the story is heading in a very, very specific direction: the body of Private Tracey leads the various characters to confront mortality in ways they hadn’t before. The conversation between Jayne and Book is not only some of Jayne’s best dialogue, but a rather stunning bit of development for his character. I suppose I agree with Book, that Jayne’s desire to feel alive is motivated so much by death that he feels the need to prove his existence after witnessing death happen.
Tracey’s presence also causes Mal and Zoe to reminisce in a more positive manner about the war, which is usually a soft spot for Mal. (I really liked the mustache story not only because it was funny, but because it showed how close the crew is now. They’re a family, formed by shared experience and respect, and, like the marketplace, it was yet another moment that made me wish this wouldn’t have to end.
This fantastic scene is interrupted when an Alliance craft attacks Serenity and Lt. Womack, introduced in a chilling scene earlier, demands to board the ship. Thinking that he’s after the Lassiter laser stolen in “Trash,” they’re all surprised when Womack actually means the crate they picked up from the postmaster. What on earth would the Alliance want with a dead body?
When the crew decides to have Simon conduct an autopsy, I expected he’d find some sort of cargo inside of Tracey; I expected the story to deal with a rather disturbing situation (a dead body being a device to carry something else), but, like most things in this series, I was completely wrong.
Because Tracey wakes up and starts fighting Simon.
I didn’t see it coming at all. Jesus, guys, one of the more startling things I’ve seen on television.
The episode completely shifts in tone as Tracey reveals that he is actually smuggling internal organs. Which…was it ever explained where his real ones were if he was carrying other ones? Perhaps I missed that line or two, but I just can’t remember right now. Not the point, though. The irony about my expectation about Simon finding some sort of cargo inside Tracey is only half right. The Alliance ship attacking Serenity belongs to the original buyers that Tracey cheated so he could get a better price. Forced to head down to St. Albans, where they were taking Tracey in the first place, they get caught in a cave of some sort as the Alliance ship rains charges down on top of them.
Stuck in the valley until Tracey either gives himself up or they think of a way out, Kaylee and Tracey spend time getting to know each other. It’s ends up being an unfortunate situation for Kaylee, who keeps trying to pursue Simon and ends up being offended by the things he says. Kaylee’s positive, loving personality pains me to watch because she’s the sort of character you just want to be happy. And even though she is flirty and joyous with Tracey, you do really wish she’d end up with Simon.
The attraction backfires as well when Book recommends that Mal allow the Feds on board to take Tracey. In a twist that proves to be fatally tragic, Tracey pulls a gun on Mal and Wash. I am glad that even in a tense situation like this, Mal calls out Tracey for his bullshit: he forces his problems on an unsuspecting crew and then flips when they attempt to deal with it. Like most stand-offs of this nature, I wasn’t quite worried about the outcome of things…until Tracey shot and wounded Wash. WHAT. WHAT. BUT YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO. IT’S ALWAYS A BLUFF.
Zoe immediately shoots Tracey in the chest and I think, “Well, that was over quick.” I should learn to stop expecting anything at this point because I’m never right. Tracey nabs Kaylee, who has wandered into the cockpit to see what’s going on. He tries to hold her hostage in exchange for…well, I suppose it highlights the absurdity and futility of it all. What can they do? Wash already called the Feds and Tracey is surrounded. What is hurting Kaylee going to do?
Nothing, we learn, as Jayne distracts Tracey for a moment, allowing Mal to fatally wound his old friend. What a rough scene, by the way. It’s draped in despair and hopelessness. No one is going to come out of this unharmed.
“The Message” ends with two moments of damning irony: Book wasn’t trying to turn Tracey in, first of all. He had discovered that the Alliance crew on the ship had been keeping their organ-dealing a secret from the Feds and was going to threaten exposure if they tried to take Tracey. (Tracey’s lack of patience is a sign of the desperation he believed himself to be in.)
As Mal and Zoe watch their friend die, we then watch the scene where they return his body to his family, ironically fulfilling the fake message he recorded to them. It’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever watched on television, especially when we see that Mal never bothers to tell Tracey’s family what happened. Again, Mal’s sense of dignity and respect for others radiates in his actions; the grief he feels at losing his friend over something so unfortunate is palpable here as the snow falls gently around the rest of the crew, as they bid goodbye.
Totally crushing episode. So goddamn good.
- There is nothing better in this series than Jayne’s hat. Hands down. I hope he never takes it off again. Ever.
- “They don’t like it when you shoot at them. I figured that out myself.”
- “I guess we all do have different reactions to death.”
- “That ain’t right.” “Neither is being blowed up.”
- “Next you’ll be telling me she smiles….has emotions.”
- “This may come as a shock, but I’m actually not very good at talking to girls.” “Why, is there someone you are good at talking to?”
- “My food is problematic.”
- Simon, seriously, STOP SAYING STUPID SHIT. I like him a lot and him and Kaylee are a great pairing, but good lord, THINK ABOUT YOUR WORDS.
- I actually believed that Womack was going to have the postmaster burned alive. Seriously.
- OMG only two left.