Firefly: War Stories
May 28, 2015 5:00 AM - Season 1, Episode 10 - Subscribe

Angered at Zoe's unshakable war connection to Mal, Wash demands a shot at a field assignment. Unfortunately, crime lord Niska chooses this moment to exact a brutal vengeance for Mal's failure to complete an earlier job. (wiki)

"There is something interesting going on in this episode though, in regard to gender roles. I can’t say that I’ve ever been that wild about the Inara subplot in this episode, which sees her entertaining a politician who turns out to be—gasp!—a woman. I don’t have a problem with the titillation factor there; I just find the scenes between Inara and The Councillor boring. That said, it does tie in with the rest of “War Stories,” given that the fluid sexuality of the 2500s—and the acceptance thereof—may go hand-in-hand with the willingness of men and women to take on different responsibilities than they generally do in our society. (“One cannot always be oneself in the company of men,” Inara admits to The Councillor.)"

"I could go further and say there’s a bit of thematic meaning to the Kaylee/River scenes you mention. At the start of the episode, Kaylee and River are running around like little girls, with Kaylee snatching an apple back that River stole from her, saying, “No power in the ’verse can stop me.” At the end of the episode, the ladies have gone to war alongside Zoe, Wash, Jayne, Book, and Simon, storming Niska’s skyplex to free Mal, and during the melee, River grabs Kaylee’s gun and shoots three guards dead with three shots—without even really looking. (“No power in the ’verse can stop me,” she smiles.) She’s taken on a new role: from skittish, silly kid to warrior-woman." (Noel Murray at avclub)

. . .

"There’s at least one more Mal: The terrifying and violent force of nature who growls “You wanna meet the real me now?” before taking his revenge on Niska. I agree with you that the torture is lengthy and difficult to watch, but I’d argue that it’s necessary to give sufficient weight and consequence to the marital and quasi-marital spats. Niska admits that Mal is a remarkable person, but doesn’t have any clue how remarkable, because he’s never met (and would never have imagined the existence of) a person who prioritizes principle over self-preservation. Usually we see that kind of person in heroic or self-sacrificial settings, and we’ve been there with Mal in previous episodes. But here we witness it in extremis: What happens to that person when their slimy, oily opposite is at their mercy, and when the anger of being misjudged and taken advantage of has had a chance to boil over?"

"We had a discussion in the comments last week about this same phenomenon, asking whether Mal really intended to blow Jayne out the airlock. I confess that I never thought he did, that he was hoping to hear something that could trigger mercy. But here we are looking at the “real Mal,” unrelenting in his murderous anger, and the cause seems similar (if far, far slimier), making me rethink that assessment. I hadn’t thought it was particularly praiseworthy of Mal to be fed up with Jayne, no matter what the aggravating factors of personal and community betrayal. The question at this extreme, though, may not be what’s principled—it’s what one is pushed to."

"That said, this bloodthirsty “real Mal” almost immediately ceases to conform to heroic-outlaw stereotypes when he welcomes Zoe’s intervention in his fight to the death with Niska’s torture master. A scene later, he’s admitting that he has “regrets” about not killing Niska, and we don’t know if they’re practical (Niska escaped) or principled (they didn’t pursue him). Fascinating character, this “real man.” Shan Yu’s dictum implies that underneath our layers of civilization, routine, history, and cognition, there is something simple: an animal fighting to survive. Niska says that he’s met the extraordinary man out of time that is Malcolm Reynolds, but expects to find something far more basic and real with one more layer of suffering. All the evidence we see, though, is that the real Mal has many facets, not just one; that he’s complex, not simple." (Donna Bowman at avclub)

[Book quotes warrior-poet and dictator Xiang Yu to Simon.]
Book: He said, "Live with a man forty years. Share his house, his meals… speak on every subject… then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man."
Simon: What if you don't live near a volcano?
Book: I expect he was being poetical.
Simon: Sadistic crap legitimized by florid prose. Tell me you're not a fan.
Book: I'm just wondering if they were. The people who did this to your sister.
Simon: The government did this to her.
Book: A government is a body of people; usually, notably ungoverned.
Simon: Now you're quoting the Captain.

[River and Kaylee are running recklessly through the cargo bay. Inara and Mal are conversing on the stairs.]
Mal: Ah, the pitter-patter of tiny feet in huge combat boots... [to River and Kaylee] SHUT UP!
Mal: [to Kaylee and River] One of you is gonna fall and die, and I'm not cleaning it up!

Mal: Look, Zoe and I have a history— she trusts me.
Wash: [Annoyed] What's that supposed to mean?
Mal: Don't mean a thing, but you're making out like she blindly follows my every word; that ain't true.
Wash: Sure it is.
Mal: Not so. There's plenty orders of mine that she didn't obey.
Wash: Name one!
Mal: She married you!

Inara: Is he alive?
Zoe: For now. [Zoe hands a bundle to Simon.] Take that to the infirmary— put it on ice.
Kaylee: W-w-what is that?
[Simon unwraps the handkerchief, revealing Mal's ear. Inara and Kaylee gasp and turn away.]
Simon: It's his ear.
[Shepherd mutters in Chinese. Zoe turns back to the crew.]
Zoe: We're getting him back!
Jayne: What are we gonna do, clone him?
Simon: Well it's a clean cut; with the right equipment I should be able to reattach it. [Simon looks up.] That's assuming there's a head.

[Mal has explained Wash's desire to have the captain and Zoe sleep together to resolve "burning sexual tension".]
Mal: I know it's a... [puts Zoe's hands on his hip and shoulder] difficult mission, but you and I... [places his hands likewise on her] have to get it on.
Zoe: I understand. We have no choice. [deadpan] Take me, sir. Take me hard.
Jayne: [walking in] Well, somethin' about that is just downright unsettlin'.
(They lean in awkwardly to kiss, Wash grabs Zoe and pulls her away.)
Wash: We'll be in our bunk. (slaps Zoe's butt as they leave)
Jayne: [sniffing] Oh, hey— [smacks Mal in the chest where he was tortured] free soup.
[Mal groans in pain.] (more at wikiquote)

• The opening scene, where Simon is prodding through River's brain scans and Book speaks of Simon's great heist, refers to the entirety of the previous episode, "Ariel". Before Niska intervenes, the crew is in the process of selling the stolen medicine from "Ariel".

• River's sharpshooting skill becomes a point of contention in the episode "Objects in Space" as well as the feature movie Serenity.

• Jayne's apparent generosity, buying a large amount of fresh fruit for the crew, is alluding to guilty feelings about his betrayal of Simon and River, and also Mal, in the episode "Ariel". (wiki)
posted by valkane (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
After Zoe tells her bomb-in-an-apple story, Mal joins the group, starts a different conversation and casually uses a knife on his apple, and Jayne gives him a glance. I really like how that scene played out.

Fav quote:
Wash: There's obeying going on!
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 10:05 AM on May 28, 2015

My all-time favorite episode of my all-time favorite show. Captures the essence of the show, the characters, their relationships to each other, and is an awesome romp to boot, with both swashing and buckling and chock full of awesome snarky lines.

Favorite quote:
Zoe: This is something the captain has to do for himself.
Mal: NO! NO IT ISN'T!!!!
posted by biscotti at 6:35 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

I was going to quote that quote also.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:51 AM on May 29, 2015

I really like this episode. I think my favourite bit is when Wash and Mal are being tortured and Mal keeps the fight about Zoe going throughout - not as a joke, not as a means of demonstrating how tough he his, but because he knows its the only way to keep Wash hanging on. It's a really wonderful moment.
posted by nubs at 1:02 PM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

This has always been a really difficult episode for me to watch. I abhor seeing people tortured. I respect Whedon for exploring this in a way you don't usually see on TV, but it's sadly an episode I have to skip.

That said, I do like the scene where Zoey comes in to try to ransom Wash and Mal and Niska tries to play games with her by making her choose between them and she's just picks Wash before Niska can even get the words out.
posted by dry white toast at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

"I'm sorry, did you want to finish?" Indeed.

Also, "take me sir, take me hard" IS unsettling.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:28 PM on May 29, 2015

dry white toast, I am right there with you. I've watched the rest of the series maybe 20 times but this one is too much for me.

Thanks to valkane for the thoughtful review notes. I'd never realized how much this ties into the movie and I'd forgotten how Mal got Wash through the ordeal.
posted by mochapickle at 11:31 AM on May 30, 2015

It's curious that when he gets the upper hand on his betrayer and would-be murderer both here and in the first episode, he doesn't kill. In the pilot, he's just "I do the job. I get paid. Go run your little world." But on other occasions he kills out of hand. I think the difference is that he kills when he thinks he must, not because he wants to. Still, it's hard to see how it was more necessary to kill Niska's tied-up henchman in The Train Job than to kill Niska himself in this one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:36 PM on May 30, 2015

The best moment in this episode, maybe in the whole series, is when Mal turns on Niska saying, “You want to meet the ‘real me’ now?” At least in part because Fillion delivers the line perfectly.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:47 PM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is one of the harder episodes for me to watch. Though I almost always always skip the one where they find a ship and there's a Reaver left on board.

But everyone being surprised at Inara and the female council member client really was less enlightened than I'd expected people 500 years ahead of us would be. Jayne, maybe not, but Book being that surprised?
posted by tilde at 8:45 AM on June 3, 2015

The commentary on this episode is excellent because it is Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk. I watch this episode more than the others just for the commentary, to be honest.

One thing Alan Tudyk pointed out in re The Councillor is that Inara always uses the exact same line on everyone she sleeps with. It's always "You're different from everyone else, and that's why I like you." And it works every time!!!
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

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