Firefly: The Message
June 11, 2015 5:12 AM - Season 1, Episode 12 - Subscribe

A former Independence soldier, who had served with Mal and Zoe, returns in a dramatic manner, with a vicious Alliance officer chasing after him for some unusual smuggled goods. (wiki)

"So there are no alien races in the ’verse, huh? That’s the shocking and sad fact I’ll carry away from “The Message,” the last episode of Firefly to be filmed. I don’t know why that struck me so hard, and left me so disappointed. Maybe I was supposed to have picked up this bit of information from an earlier episode. But hearing the sideshow barker say it plain made me feel like the sky was a little bit smaller than I was hoping."

"It’s another way that Firefly distances itself from Star Trek in the space western genre. Gene Roddenberry’s starfield was filled to bursting with “new life and new civilizations.” Joss Whedon looks out and sees only empty planets waiting to be colonized with variations on what’s left of Earth’s culture. If I were of a mind to make a historical observation, I might point out that many Europeans in the 15th through 17th centuries considered the New World equally empty and waiting for inhabitants, since the barbarians eking out a subsistence living on their soils counted as little more than a species of the local fauna." (Donna Bowman at avclub)

. . .

"As for “The Message,” I’m nowhere near as down on it as some Firefly fans. For one, you gotta love Woodward, the Whedonverse’s reliably sympathetic creep. The key to his performances in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly is that even though he has nefarious motivations, he’s not entirely insincere. He legitimately cares for Fred on Angel for example, even though he uses her to terrible ends. And here, his Tracey seems genuinely pleased to hear that the steely Zoe has taken a husband (“That’s good… people makin’ a life for each other…”), and seems genuinely sorry when he takes Kaylee hostage to save his own sorry ass (not to mention the other body parts he’s carrying)."

"Also, I like that “The Message” has kind of an old-school episodic genre series premise: The old friend that we’ve never seen before shows up unexpectedly, and reveals that he’s changed. It’s the kind of thing you’d see in one of those TV westerns that Firefly is partly trying to be. (Battlestar Galactica would do it too later on, albeit in a far more serialized context.)"

"And it’s interesting to me what “The Message” has to say about personal responsibility, especially in relation to Mal. Tracey targets Zoe and Mal because he thinks of them as soft-hearted—and maybe even soft-headed—with all their talk of glory and honor, which they’ve been touting since the war. But when Tracey grabs Kaylee, Mal doesn’t hesitate to shoot his old buddy as soon as he has an opening. Tracey tries to claim that Mal forced him into a desperate situation, but Mal counters, “No one’s ‘made’ you do anything,” and as Tracey dies and calls Mal a murderer, Mal says, “You murdered yourself. I just carried the bullet a while.”" (Noel Murray at avclub)

[Jayne proudly wears his mother's colorful home-knit cap.]
Jayne: How's it sit? Pretty cunning, don't you think?
Kaylee: I think it's the sweetest hat ever.
Wash: A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything.
Jayne: Damn straight!
. . .
[Zoe and Mal open a coffin-sized box to find a body. Jayne peers in.]
Jayne: What'd y'all order a dead guy for?

Zoe: First rule of battle, little one… don't ever let them know where you are.
[Cut to Mal, firing behind himself as he runs toward the two.]
[He lands with a grunt behind some nearby rubble.]
Mal: Whoo-hoo!
Zoe: 'Course, there're other schools of thought.

Mal: They don't like it when you shoot at 'em. I worked that out myself. (more at wikiquote)

• "The Message" is the second of three episodes ("Trash", "The Message" and "Heart of Gold") that were not broadcast in the original 2002 Fox run.

• "The Message" was the last Firefly episode filmed, by which time the cast and crew knew the show had been canceled. The final scene, in which Serenity's crew return Tracey's body to his family, marking an end to the former soldier's journeys, therefore had an extra poignancy for them.

• Greg Edmonson, composer for the show, wrote the musical piece that is heard when Tracey is returned to his family not only as a farewell to Tracey, but as a farewell to the series itself.

• Kaylee has expressed romantic interest in two men thus far — Simon and Tracey — who have threatened her life. Simon refused to treat her gunshot wound unless they protected River from the Alliance in "Serenity" (although Kaylee believed he was bluffing), and in this episode Tracey held her at gunpoint. Joss Whedon wryly observes in the DVD commentaries that threatening Kaylee became a formula for drama, one he admitted using in early Buffy episodes, in which he would put Willow in danger to win over the viewers. (wiki)

• Joss Whedon makes an uncredited cameo in this episode, playing a family member at Tracey's funeral. (Firefly wiki)
posted by valkane (5 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
TWOP recap. Whoever wrote it was not a fan.
posted by chaiminda at 5:28 AM on June 11, 2015

Not going to rehash the critical commentary of this episode except to say that the cold open is the best part by far.

However this episode is the source of perhaps the greatest Whedonverse blooper of all time.
posted by the_querulous_night at 7:10 AM on June 11, 2015 [9 favorites]

Funny, I came in here with nothing else to say but to comment about this outtake.
posted by phearlez at 11:31 AM on June 11, 2015

I don't want to spoil it, but that blooper ends just perfect. The man has solid comedy instincts.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:37 AM on June 11, 2015

I don't mind this episode so much. Tracey does a good job portraying the other path Mal could have taken after the war.
posted by dry white toast at 3:44 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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