Praise the Lord, they brought us an episode! I have found in my days that such things were meant to be when they were meant to be. And this, this was meant to be. See, we are all going on a journey, but in case you forgot where we’ve already been, perhaps you should check out the index over yonder. And now then, let us be about our good works.
At the Tam estate, eleven years ago, Simon works on his homework while River wants to play soldiers. She gets Simon’s attention by pointing out that his homework is wrong—not his work, mind, but that the entire lesson is “fallacious.” Simon plays along with River and ends up swearing at the mention of dinosaurs just as his dad comes in. Simon pesters his dad about getting his own computer (“source box”), and Mr. Tam firmly says no. Alas, Mr. Tam reveals that Mrs. Tam has already ordered one, and that Simon is to repay his father by becoming a brilliant doctor. Then it cuts to the future as River freaks out.
River is actually fairly understandable, despite the screaming, as she does not want to go into the sickbay and let Simon run tests on her, although from the sound of it she is blending her past torment and the present in her mind. Simon relents but reaches for his med kit, which River throws and nearly hits Mal. Mal takes it rather well, but informs Simon that she needs to quiet down less she spook the cattle (immediate continuity!), but they are only two miles above the ground and once they offload the cattle, she can scream all she wants. On the ground, some ragged trappers see Serenity land, and decide that if there is anything on the ship they need, they will simply take it.
The crew sets up a corral on the ground and get the cattle out into it. River sits down next to a cow and communes with it, a whole spiel about the world being big and full of souls. Mal comments about how she ignored the cows while they were onboard, and she retorts that they were not cows, just waiting to be, and now they have remembered. Oddly, Mal understands exactly what she is getting at it. He then shooes her and Simon away so that he can deal with the ruffians he is selling the cows too. Mal ominously says that they won’t leave without them.
In town, Inara and Kaylee rummage around a store that sells trinkets and the like, and Kaylee gets to wondering if a plate would make a good gift, commenting on how nice it looks. Inara instantly picks up that Kaylee is thinking of Simon, but before they can girl chat too much, Simon and River show up. River is darting around and looking at things and Simon is following after her like a cat-herder (or over-protective parent). He then sees the plate Kaylee was admiring and calls it crap. Kaylee smiles and agrees with him, then sets him off by saying it is good to see him having a chance for some fun. He goes on a tirade about being on the ass-end of the universe flying around on a junker and being bullied by Mal. Kaylee, of course, takes exception about Simon insulting Serenity. Simon tries to back-pedal, but Kaylee calls him out for being mean then storms off. Inara gives him a meaningful look then leaves too. Before Simon can contemplate, he realizes River is missing. He tracks River to a celebration dance of some sort, where she only has to watch a moment before joining in. As the dance wraps up, Simon gets snatched, bag-over-the-head style.
Back at the ship, Mal complains about the cows—or at least their leavings—then heads down to deal with the buyers. Bargaining ensues, and while Mal is not concerned, Book thinks they are a mite jumpy. Before long, the negotiations end the way Mal predicted with them meeting in the middle, but before they can pay, a posse shows up looking for the buyers, who are wanted for a murder on the planet. The arrest proceeds smoothly at first, but when the sheriff asks to see papers on the cattle from the buyers (whom Mal threw under the, um, ship?), the buyers make a frantic attempt at shooting free by stealing a deputy’s gun.
JAYNE: Here we go.
MAL: It never goes smooth. How come it never goes smooth?
He managed, at least, to filch the buyer’s purse. As the shooting ends and the buyers are either dead or in cuffs, Mal finds that Book has been shot.
The posse leaves, ignoring the crew, and Mal worries over Book, even to the point of glaring at Jayne when he asks if Mal has the cash. Mal and Zoe attempt to triage Book, but it isn’t looking good. Mal sends Wash off to town to find Simon, who is busy being dragged roughly through the woods by his captors. There is a small interlude of flashback of Simon trying unsuccessfully to convince his parents that River is in trouble, then we go back to see that River has followed them.
On the ship, Wash returns without Simon or River and assures everyone that neither is in town. He also explains that, if they had checked the posted alerts before touching down, they would have known that there were hill-people kidnappers about, and it seems like Simon was taken by them. Mal makes the hard call to leave, seeing Book as a bigger priority. On the ground, Simon and River see Serenity take off, and the hill-people gloat.
In space, Zoe comforts Book.
ZOE: I’ve seen men live with a dozen holes in them this size.
BOOK: Is that right?
ZOE: Surely is. I knew one man who had a hole clean through his shoulder, once. Used to keep a spare hanky in there.
On the bridge, Mal and Wash debate where to go for medical assistance, and Inara puts forth the crazy idea of going to the nearby Alliance Cruiser and begging for help. Down in sickbay, Kaylee keeps a vigil over an unconscious Book and asks Zoe for comfort, who is more straightforward than she was with Book.
ZOE: Captain will come up with a plan.
KAYLEE: That’s good, right?
ZOE: Possible you are not recalling some of his previous plans.
In the hill-people town, Simon finds out why he was kidnapped (for his medical prowess). He is taken to the sick-house, where his Hippocratic Oath kicks in and he starts plying his trade. He talks with the woman who had been acting as the nurse (actually the town’s teacher) as he treats the sick, and gets into an argument about where his home really is, to which he has no good reply.
Serenity gets to the Magellan and docks, but the reception is hardly warm. The officer nearly turns them away, but Book comes to and demands they look at his ident card. Whatever they see changes the tune they are dancing too, and the officer has Book sent to the infirmary at once.
On the planet, River and a mute girl she was sitting with disappear, but River reappears quickly with some berries. It triggers a nostalgic memory from Simon, and River apologizes for more or less ruining his life. Simon insists that isn’t how he sees it, and she says she knows that’s what he thinks, but that it isn’t the truth.
RIVER: I get confused. I remember everything. I remember too much, and some of it’s made up, and some of it can’t be quantified, and there’s secrets, and....
SIMON: I-it’s OK.
RIVER: But I understand. You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It’s hard for you. You gave up everything you have,
SIMON: Mei-mei, everything I have is right here.
They have a little more sibling conversation, and the teacher returns with the mute girl. They all start getting ready to tuck in when River looks at the mute and talks about her bloody past of a crazy mother and a dead sister. The nurse first thinks it is a miracle, but when River says the girl never spoke, the story changes to “Burn the witch!”
In a flashback, Simon and his father have an argument over trying to help River. Mr. Tam gives Simon an ultimatum to either come home and let it drop or be cast out of the family. Back in the village, Simon tries to defend River and does a bad job of it. The village leader, the Patron, starts with a level attitude, saying that she isn’t a witch, but she reads his mind and talks about how he killed the old Patron to get the job. This, of course, turns him against her, and he orders her death.
Serenity leaves the alliance cruiser easy as anything, and Mal tries to get answers out of Book, but the Shepherd isn’t talking.
MAL: What kind of identcard gets us that kind of reception and send off?
BOOK: I am a shepherd. Folks like a man of God.
MAL: No they don’t. Men of God make everyone feel guilty and judged. That’s not what I saw. You like to tell me what really happened?
BOOK: I surely would. Maybe someday I will. It’s good to be home.
Out in the lounge, Zoe and Jayne comment on how life would be simpler without River and Simon onboard, and Mal wistfully yet sarcastically considers it.
On the planet, the hill-folk prepare to burn River, and Simon tries to save her, putting himself up on the spit with her. The town, though, seems far more worried about the witch than losing the doctor, especially after he calls them a bunch of backwater yokels. Luckily, just before they can light the fire, Serenity appears overhead and saves the day.
MAL: Well, look at this. Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
ZOE: Big damn heroes, sir.
MAL: Ain’t we just.
The Patron flusters and says they must kill the witch, and Mal says that River may be a witch, but she is their witch. Back on the ship, Simon questions why Mal came back, and Mal says it was because Simon is on the crew. Simon presses, and Mal repeats himself, then says dinner is soon. River and Simon show up for dinner and are welcomed back into the fold warmly.
So, I’m going to be up front and say that of all the Firefly episodes, I think this is my least favorite. It isn’t for anything to do with the main characters, per se, or even the over-arching plot, but the Deliverance callback was rather annoying.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a big fan of religion. Heck, my high school American Lit teacher assigned me Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis to read for my book report cause he was sure I’d get a hoot out of it. Thing is, as with Elmer Gantry, “Safe” took it over the top. It is a stereotype played out for the sake of the stereotype, which is unimaginative and boring. Yes, there are probably, even in today’s world, plenty enough communities like the hill-people in “Safe,” but that is like saying just because there are gangbangers, it isn’t portraying a stereotype to have them.
So yeah, the hypocritical, scripture-abusing oddly-speaking hillbillies annoy me. Aside from that, though, they did their job in creating tension and giving River and Simon the ability to grow as characters, from the teacher/nurse/witch-hunter’s little conversation about it being good to have someplace safe where people take care of you (Serenity at the end, anyone?), to River’s full psychic power coming out and the discussion about how she knows Simon gave up everything.
Which, I might add, is a major thing. Now, I know this is only the fifth episode, so it isn’t, like, ground-breaking to get things out of River, but at the same time, if feels like it should be. And that we got such a mature, if depressing, line of thought out of her, well, it was a shocker, and it paired very well as a bit of the “other story” from Simon’s flashbacks.
I say that because the flashbacks show us a Simon who truly does live to save his sister and has very little remorse for what he is giving up for her. Although, I am actually unsure of what to think of his parents. Yes, they have drunk the Alliance Kool-aid, but all-in-all, they didn’t really strike me as bad parents. His father’s little joke on him when he was a boy was actually heart-warming, and the “brilliant doctor” quote doesn’t have to mean he forced his son down that path. For all we know, Simon was already leaning towards that to begin with, and we have seen, nor will we as I recall, any remorse from Simon to the affect of being “forced” to be a doctor. It really does suit him.
So yeah, his parent’s unconcern over River’s odd letters and Simon’s paranoia don’t strike me as bad parents, and to the contrary, they seem to be to be well grounded ones. Even Mr. Tam’s dick move of telling Simon he was out of the family if he kept going down his path in a life of crime was not out of line. I mean, family bonds are one thing, but taking your entire family down in a semi-police state on a hunch, well, gotta cut the apron strings somewhere.
To the rest of the crew, I am happy to see the sparks starting to fly between Kaylee and Simon, and not the romantic kind. Not because I want to ignore the movie and pretend Kaylee is still available for me, but more that I like how they did show the two cultures colliding. What she thinks is “rich” he calls garbage, what she calls fun, he thinks of as an ordeal. It does a lot to show how these two people will not have a cream and sugar path on the road to a relationship.
Moving on, Book. Aside from the usual “oddly perceptive about the rough world” preacher, I am flustered by the entire ident card subplot. Not because it didn’t do a good job at what it was doing, but more that we never get any resolution on that, not even a “Word Of God” from Joss. Grr, I say. Grr.
Zoe is mostly back to being Zoe, although she does have an odd moment near the end where she agrees with Jayne that life would be simpler without the Tams onboard. Not that I would think she would ever jump to the Tams’ moral defense, but her acting as the shoulder-devil along with Jayne was a switch-up. Of course, the entire ship could have been saying “leave them” and Mal wouldn’t have. After all, as he said, Simon is on his crew, as much as he dislikes him, and that means he doesn’t get left behind. Probably the same reason Jayne is still around, too.
Random jump back to Simon: anyone else notice how awkward he casually swears? I mean, it makes sense, I just love the detail. In the beginning, when he says how he doesn’t have a rutting clue what they did to her, it sounded like a ten year old trying out a swear word for the first time ever. I also enjoyed how he managed to hold his own in a fistfight against three of the hillbillies in front of River’s pyre. Mal knew what he was saying when he defended Simon from Jayne’s coward remark.
Wash drove the mule, which I understand Alan Tudyk loved doing. S'bout all for him.
Originally Aired: 8 November 2002
Original Position: Episode 7
Richard’s Favorite Line: Yet another tie, but both from Mal.
MAL: Morbid and creepifying, I got no problem with, long as she does it quiet-like.
MAL: Gotta say, Doctor, your talent for alienating folks is near miraculous.
Fun Goofs: Grasping at smoke here, but Nathan Fillion did kind of mangle the line about Simon’s ability to alienate people. That’s all I got.
And that is about all I have. Nothing to make a final snide remark over as there was no commentary on this one (nor on the next two, aw shucks), but I guess I could get Johnny to play me off.
See you next week for “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” where Mal almost finds religion in a different way.
Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, and has never squealed like a pig and never plans on going to rural Georgia to try it out. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com.