Mark Watches ‘Firefly’: Episode 12 – The Message

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. 🙁

    About Mark Oshiro

    Perpetually unprepared since '09.
    This entry was posted in Firefly and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

    262 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Firefly’: Episode 12 – The Message

    1. paulineparadise says:

      I might actually go and watch Firefly, as you seem to be so enthusiastic about it.

    2. Meg says:

      What makes me really sad is that the funeral scene was the last thing they ever shot for Firefly, so Tracey's funeral was kind of like the funeral for all of Firefly. 🙁

    3. AngryAsian says:

      i think tracey mentioned that once he delivers the home grown organs, he gets his back again. it was totally glossed over.

      and honestly, i just watched this episode over the weekend and i am drawing a blank on the specifics.

    4. Nomie says:

      Do you want a Jayne hat? I knit them. I'm not even kidding.

    5. Hanah says:

      WHY ARE THERE ONLY TWO EPISODES LEFT?! It hurts my heart. :'(

      That's a very cute dress sweetie
      Omg I love them SO MUCH <3
      Dude. YOU FAIL SO HARD
      This space market reminds me of the one on Doctor Who 🙂 Except with more cow fetuses and food on fishing rods
      Kaylee and Inara <3
      SHIT something bad is in there isn't it??
      Is that…a coffin? OH GOD YES. EW
      I must get this song. I replay it at least twice every episode and would love to own it. Also to learn how to play it
      Ooh nice bodhisattva
      Is that the dead guy? Is this when he…got dead?
      OH FUCK NASTY. Is that Zoe? OH so they knew him, is he the message?
      Ah so his name is Tracey, good to know
      Aww is that the scared guy who died in the first episode? 🙁
      The American pronunication of 'lieutenant' will never not throw me
      Kaylee isn't speaking to you anymore Simon
      Lol mp3 player
      Aww :'(
      Uh oh. Poor postman 🙁
      *hugs forever*
      Hee I love that hat
      River. You are quite odd
      Ho shit
      Hee shadow puppets! XD
      Maybe it's the tape recorder?
      His heart isn't beating or that wound would be bleeding a hell of a lot more
      What? What is this? I am confused
      That's gross
      And that's fucked up
      Oh no Kaylee, don't fancy him. Fancy Simon, it's not his fault he's crap at talking
      UH OH
      LOL subtle Kaylee
      'Sweeties' – that's the cutest term for a couple ever!
      Hee CGI snow! XD
      OH SHIT
      Yes, hide, good
      What's going on? I'm so confused :S
      Okay I don't trust Tracey anymore…
      Don't do it Wash! FUCK YES ZOE
      Save her Mal. Please.
      Oh yeah, antagonise him. That'll help
      Oh god poor Mal 🙁
      Well played Shepherd, well played
      Tracey you fail so hard. I should be sorry for you but I just can't. YOU CROSSED THE LINE WHEN YOU THREATENED KAYLEE
      Aww Kaylee/Simon <33333333
      I don't seem to have said much today…THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I TRY AND DO STUFF WHEN I AM HUNGOVER XD Getting drunk is bad kids

    6. affableevil says:

      I love love love the recorded message Tracey has, specifically the running/crawling bit. GETS ME EVERY TIME.

      The spectacular music in the funeral scene is apparently the composer's farewell to Firefly in his own way, and a beautiful farewell it is.

      Also, I just found this Jaynestown relevant video and thought I'd share 😀

    7. NB2000 says:

      <img src=>

    8. Cass says:

      You can watch this now! I wanted to post it after Jaynestown, but the hat was a spoiler. 😉 It's an Easter Egg, but this is easier than sending you searching for it.

    9. cait0716 says:

      I love Wash flying in this episode. They got the news that the show had been canceled while they were filming. Alan Tudyk and always differed with Joss Whedon and Tim Minear when it came to Wash's demeanor while flying. Whedon and Minear wanted him to enter a serious mood that you see in all the previous episodes. But Alan Tudyk always wanted to just go wild and have fun with it. When they learned the show had been canceled, they let him play Wash the way he had always wanted to. I think it's kind of awesome that the audience gets to see two different interpretations of this character. And while I still prefer Whedon's Wash, and it could never make up for the tragically short run of this show, I think it's a silver lining of sorts.

      Also, watch the blooper reel. I'm don't want to spoil it, just watch it. You'll laugh. So hard.

    10. Sara says:

      You can have a Jayne Hat of your very own! There are lots of patterns and kits and even completed hats out there. My kit even came with a letter from Ma Cobb, because Browncoats are just that awesome.

    11. Randomcheeses says:

      Tracey. . . really, really annoyed me. If he'd just trusted Mal (his old war buddy who had SAVED HIS LIFE) instead of being an unreasonable paranoid douchebag (and don't tell me he had good reason to be paranoid, the man shot WASH, what possible harm could Wash do? AND he threatened Kaylee) then he'd have been fine. I hate to say it, but when he died all I could think was 'serves the douchebag right'

    12. Suzie says:

      "When you can't run anymore you crawl, and when you can't do that…"
      "You find someone to carry you"
      Is it okay that that line chokes me up a little? (which I then probably completely misquoted)

    13. pica_scribit says:

      Not a favourite episode of mine. Not that it doesn't have a lot of great stuff in it, I just…don't like Tracey. I just want to scream at him, "grow a spine and stop dropping your problems on other people!" I do, however, like the actor. He had a recurring role on Angel, and was also in an episode of Buffy being UTTERLY HILARIOUS.

    14. Meltha says:

      When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't do that, you find someone to carry you.

      This series deserves all the things ever.

    15. lisra says:

      That was very entertaining indeed..

      Though the alliance grunts were a bit too dumfoundingly evil to me.. I mean.. daaaamn…

    16. Hotaru-hime says:

      I love Jayne's hat. I have a friend making one for me.
      I wanted to point this out in an earlier episode, but didn't want to risk an outcry. The man who plays Private Tracey has also appeared in the seventh season of Buffy and the fifth season of Angel. I don't know if he's appeared in Dollhouse, but it's a Whedon thing to recycle actors.
      I wish this series didn't have to end. My heart breaks every time I think of it.

    17. crazyravenclaw says:

      I knitted a Jayne hat this summer. I had to promise my family that I wouldn't wear it with my Ravenclaw scarf. Each separately is fine, but together…even I have to admit it's a little much.

    18. Narcissaa says:

      The scene in the market on the space station is one of my favourite things ever in the whole entire world of visual media. Pretty sure the only thing I've seen to rival it is Diagon Alley. I just want to BE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL. The whole world Joss created is opened up to me more in that scene than any of the other planetside locations we've seen. LOVE IT. Plus the dialogue and little snippets of all the characters is just AMAZING.

      <img src=""&gt;

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    19. Mauve_Avenger says:

      River has (correct me if I'm wrong) exactly three lines and they're all perfect. I like how Jayne thinks she's something of an idiot for not knowing how to eat an ice-planet; it is a baffling (though actually pretty ingenious) way of eating ice cream.

      Other thoughts:
      I laughed when Simon flirts with Kaylee by using the ufologist line "WE ARE NOT ALONE," ostensibly a way for the writers to make fun of the alien trend in sci-fi shows.

      I liked that Amnon is identified as Jewish but it doesn't play into the plot. It's part of who he is, but it's not something that's dwelt upon to make it seem like that's all he is.

      I didn't think anything of it when I watched the episode, but when I found the script for this episode, it describes Tracey's recording device as "ZOE produces a FUTURISTIC DEVICE! That is a tape recorder—of the FUTURE! (Someone design this please.)" And then I remembered when this show was written.

      In the cockpit scene where they're dodging the Womack's ship in the mountains, I got distracted by Wash's dinosaurs. They don't seem to respond to the turbulence nearly as much as the actors do.

      This is the second time Kaylee has been attracted to someone who's threatened her life. Though in her defense, this time she fell for the guy before he managed to almost kill her.

    20. Elfy says:

      Joss used the actor who played Tracy in Buffy, Angel and Firefly, he was always the bad guy. My wife and I know him best as ‘evil Knox’ in Angel.

    21. rosaxx50 says:

      And even though she is flirty and joyous with Tracey, you do really wish she’d end up with Simon.

      The thing is, when I was watching that scene, the only thing I really saw was ethe element of Simon/Kaylee. Because the moment that she smiles most widely at him, is most concerned? It’s when he announces how much his family means to him. And since at least 2 of the episodes so far are about just how much Simon would risk for his family even if his parents don’t seem to deserve it the parallel is clear.

      OMG Jayne’s hat & his utter lack of self-consciousness wearing it. *Melts*

      I actually believed that Womack was going to have the postmaster burned alive. Seriously.

      Considering how many times the crew have been injured, I was thinking the exact same thing when I watched the episode.

      And the montage music at the end was gorgeous, probably one of my favourite scenes in the entire show.

    22. thecheapshot says:

      I only have this to add

      img src="<img src='; title="fashion fails – I really, really liked Firefly." alt="I Liked Firefly Too, Lady…But Jesus…" height="700px" width="467px" />see more Poorly Dressed

    23. D.J. says:

      The thing that annoyed me most out of this episode, is why the hell can't Mal take two seconds to say to Tracy "Hey, i've got a plan"? seriously, that's all it would have taken. He did this in an earlier episode too…its like Mal is so assured of his own authority it never crosses his mind that someone else might not believe in it as much as he does.

      An all around very sad episode, but Jayne and his hat, River and her snow planet, and Simon with his big shiat-eating grin after he thinks he scored a romantic point sort of make up for it.

      And the scene at the end is just haunting.

    24. buyn says:

      "What'd ya'll order a dead guy for?"
      Also I have a Jayne hat. It leads to much happiness, and nerdyfriend finding.

    25. bookling says:

      Ugh, Simon is such an idiot sometimes that it really pains me. Yes, obviously the way to endear yourself to a woman is to point out how she's literally the only woman you know who's not married, a prostitute, or your sister. *facepalm* Also, when she asks if there's anything that makes you glad to be on Serenity? YOU SAY HER. ARGH.

    26. grlgoddess says:


    27. Gnyquol says:

      I started reading this blog(s) because my wife kept telling me that Mark reminded her of me. Eventually I broke down and followed her advice. Now I'm left to wonder… what is my internal monologue doing on the internet without my permission?


      seriously… you could have stolen that from my brain, and it makes me love you mark.

    28. ramondestroys says:

      I need to commission a Jayne hat.

      Caught up! This episode hits you right in the heart. I still don't want it to end 🙁

    29. forthejokes says:

      I agree about Simon and Kaylee. Which makes Zoe's line about him not being good at talking to people even better. Oh Simon. Please learn.

      Also I love it when River tells him he's a boob.

    30. FlameRaven says:

      I don't re-watch this episode frequently, but I should probably watch it again, because I do tend to forget it.

      I think I read somewhere that when they filmed this episode the cast was already aware the show was going to be cancelled and this was more or less their "goodbye" to the series. It's pretty painful but I can definitely see that (if true).

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    32. Crystal says:

      You can make River's problematic food. I found this blog about a year ago and THIS IS MY FAVORITE.

    33. nanceoir says:

      Something I just remembered: someone on the internet put together a recipe/tutorial thing on how to make your own ice-planets. I haven't made them, but it seems like a fun thing to do.

    34. Danielle says:

      Your new mission: use "My food is problematic" in an actual conversation.

    35. takashid says:

      "No son. You murdered yourself. i just carried the bullet awhile"


    36. MichelleZB says:


    37. starlady says:

      Truefact: I actually used the "When you can't run, you crawl" line in the acknowledgments to my dissertation.

    38. Mesektet says:

      True story: I went to ACen [Anime Central] a couple years ago. Woke up one morning and went down to get breakfast and there was a small stage in the ‘dining hall’ area and there were a couple of kids goofing off with a banjo-type deal and a violin. The kid with the banjo broke into an AWESOME version of ‘The Hero of Canton’. My friend and I fist pumped and screamed THE MAN THEY CALL JAAAAAAAAAYNE. Best. Day. Ever. [/cool story bro]

      Also: there is not a scene ever in this show that River isn’t completely awesome forever. I WANNA BE RIVER TAM WHEN I GROW UP, ‘cept without the brain pokey, kthx

    39. dumbxblonde07 says:

      Okay, first of all, Simon and Kaylee were on a date! I was thrilled! Then he put his foot in his mouth… again.

      Jayne's hat and Summer trying to eat whatever that thing was – So cute and funny

      Also, when that guy threatened to burn the post master… I was terrified. Like, once I realized it wasn't going to happen, I breathed a sigh of relief and realized I had pushed my chair all the way back as far as my headphones would allow. Burning to death is horrifying.

      Also, Jayne is my favorite character, hands down

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    41. lsq says:

      Simon/Kaylee date. The moment they appeared I said "let's bet how long it takes for him to ruin it" XD

      You know, I saw the "dead guy is alive" twist coming a mile away. XD

      was it ever explained where his real ones were if he was carrying other ones
      They were supposed to re-attach them in Ariel.

      Also, I'm not the only one who started screaming "It's the Sentinel!" when Womack appeared, right?

    42. gunslingerpadme says:

      I"m new at commenting, but when they filmed this episode, they knew they were getting canceled. *sad faces forever*. In the commentary for the episode (I'm pretty positive this is where I heard it) the music was composed as a sort of goodbye… and trust me, I cried like a baby in that scene. :;sads::

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