Firefly Rewatch

Firefly Re-watch: “Bushwhacked”

And here we are with the next Firefly re-watch, in which we have space barbarians, a ghost ship, and a thrilling examination of bureaucracy verse inanity. Not that bureaucracies aren’t inane as a rule to begin with, but, well . . . I guess it was kind of like what happens when matter and anti-matter mix cold. They are both matter, just in ways that just don’t mix. Like me and the DMV. As always, you can find past re-watches on our index.  Now then, to core of the matter.

Episode Summary:

The crew is playing a rousing game similar to basketball three-on-three in the cargo hold while Simon, Inara, and River watch. Simon and Inara talk about River, and how Simon feels that he can’t help her, but Inara says he is. She replies to his counter of how he made them all fugitives by saying “We’re all running from something, I suppose.” A proximity alarm goes off, Wash leaves the game to see what it is, and Kaylee invites Simon down to play, who oddly accepts, despite his somewhat earlier disinterest in the game.

On the bridge and before Simon can even go down and play, Wash sees a derelict ship spinning in space, and then a body slams into bridge, causing the ship to shake. Mal rushes to the bridge to see what is happening, and upon seeing the spinning ship, Mal asks Wash to get them closer. Simon wonders aloud what it is, and River, who is back in the passage with a creepy smile, mutters “It’s a ghost.”

They quickly decide that the ship is likely a retrofitted short-range vessel that was carrying settlers to an outer planet. The ship is damaged, thus why it is spinning, and no one is answering a hail, nor is there a distress signal. Book presses that they should check for survivors, while Jayne suggests they just leave it. Mal decides to go over, look for survivors, and if there are none—which he obviously believes will be the case—they can look around for anything of value. This idea quickly gets Jayne onboard.

Mal and Zoe suit up in the cargo hold, and Simon shows up carrying a medical case, intent on helping. He clams up at the thought of wearing a spacesuit, though, and Jayne antagonizes him a bit.

Onboard the derelict, they find random children’s toys and tools strewn about, and the emergency power is up. They also find the mess-deck with half eaten meals, implying that whatever happened was quick. Everything indicates that the people just vanished.

Back on Serenity, River suddenly spazzes out, claiming that she can’t sleep cause there is too much screaming. Simon assures her that no one is screaming, but before he can say more, Jayne informs him that Mal wants himself and Simon over on the derelict. He makes a point of moving quickly, and parts by telling Simon that he needs to suit up.

Simon goes to the derelict, obviously worried and breathing hard in his suit. He turns a corner and finds everyone out of suits and wondering what he is doing. Kaylee helps him out, and Jayne’s deception becomes apparent as he breaks up laughing. Simon asks after the passengers, and Mal says the logs indicate the lifeboat launched a week ago, and they are going to assume everyone go out alright and they are just there to pick the bones. Simon goes with Kaylee to check the engine room while Jayne goes to the galley. Zoe and Mal head to the cargo hold. As they walk out, Kaylee let’s Simon know he had the spacesuit on wrong.

Zoe comments to Mal that there were sixteen families on the ship and that the lifeboat wouldn’t have held near that many, and Mal says he knows but insists on going after the valuables.

Simon and Kaylee wonder about why the ship was abandoned, and Kaylee reveals that it was not for mechanical reasons, as she pulls out parts from the engine for her own use.

Zoe and Mal get to the cargo area, which is locked, and Mal torches it open. Inside, they find the settlers’ seed supplies, which will fetch a pretty penny. River, who snuck off Serenity and onto the derelict, shows up and looks up to find the dangling corpses of the settlers. Mal is suddenly frightened, and orders everyone off the boat. While he is speaking to Jayne, Jayne is attacked by someone from behind.

Gunfire reports through the ship, and Mal, Zoe, and River go in search of it. They find Simon and Kaylee on the way, and soon make their way to the galley. Jayne is high-strung and says someone big and strong came at him from behind. Simon sees a blood trail, and they follow it to a vent, where they find a rather small, gangly man cowering, whom Mal punches out. They drag him out, and Simon takes a good return snipe at Jayne. They then take the man over to Serenity, where Simon starts to patch him up.

The rest of the crew discusses the man, with Kaylee thinking the man was brave to survive alone and Jayne suspects the man killed his fellow settlers. The man mutters about “no mercy” and how the rest were “too weak” and “cattle for the slaughter.” Mal insists that Simon dope the man.

The crew is at first relieved when Simon says the man will live, but Mal says the true charity would be to kill him, which instantly upsets Book and Inara. He then reveals that the ship was hit by Reavers, and everyone is instantly worried. Jayne enters denial over the concept of this being a Reaver hit.

JAYNE: Wasn’t Reavers. Reavers don’t leave no survivors.
MAL: Strictly speaking, I wouldn’t say they did.

Book tries to say that the man is not a lost cause, and goes on to say that whatever the man saw, it was only the acts of men he saw. Jayne protests that Reavers aren’t men, but Book persists, getting rather preachy. Mal sides with Jayne, though, but also refuses to instantly leave, seeing as there is substantial money value over on the boat still. Jayne protests, but Zoe puts him down quickly.

Simon volunteers, as he is not worried about bodies, being a doctor and all, and Book volunteers too as he wants to put the settlers to rest. Mal protests, but Book persists and wins. Mal assigns Jayne to help cut down the bodies, and when Jayne protests, Mal says that he doesn’t want those people looking over his shoulder when they are gone, and while he isn’t going to admit there is “peace to be had,” he thinks that if there is, the dead settlers deserve it. This at least earns him a warm smile and thanks from Inara, who is surprised by his actions.

After Simon, Book, and Jayne are gone to the derelict and Inara has taken River to her shuttle, Mal reveals he just wanted to keep the others busy while the rest of the crew deals with a booby trap the Reavers left on the derelict. Upon seeing it, Kaylee mutters about how it was probably put together, and when Mal asks if she thinks she can disarm it, she says probably, then has a rare pessimistic moment.

KAYLEE: Sides, if I mess up, it’s not like you’ll be able to yell at me.

Simon, Jayne, and Book lower the bodies and lay them out for the ceremony then tend to the goods, and Kaylee crawls into the bowels of the ship to disarm the trap. Inara watches over River, and the survivor starts to come to and mutter crazily. The moment he fully gains consciousness and finds a weapon, River goes ballistic.

Kaylee succeeds in disarming the trap, and Jayne gets the goods back on the ship. They button the ship up to leave and pull away, but they hear another proximity alarm. They think it is the Reavers, but Mal orders Jayne to stash the goods. It turns out to be the next worse thing: an Alliance cruiser. They are forced to relinquish control of their helm and prepare to be boarded.

The commander of the cruiser is considering all the violations they need to hammer Serenity with as it is being docked, and a junior officer tells him about the derelict, which was supposed to be on it’s new planet three weeks ago. Another junior officer remembers there is a flag for firefly, and they look it up, telling them to look for the Tams. The commander, unable to pull up the classified warrant, orders “shoot first” in the event of a surprise on a routine check.

Mal comes back down and orders Jayne to pull the goods back out since the Alliance is going to be crawling all over the boat shortly. Simon hears this and gets worried and begs Mal to run. Mal informs him they can’t as they are being pulled in. Mal has Simon go fetch River, and Simon instantly thinks Mal is going to just turn him in. Book defends Mal, though, and soon Serenity is boarded.

As the troops file in, Simon and River are nowhere to be found, and Mal is ten sorts of cooperative with the commander. Mal informs him of the survivor in the infirmary, and some soldiers go to check and find the place soaked in blood and the man laughing. Meanwhile, the officer threatens Mal with losing his boat over an illegal salvage operation, but then ups the threat by accusing him of harboring fugitives. Mal dissembles and assures the officer they are not on Serenity. The troops get back from the infirmary and whisper something to the commander. The crew is arrested and taken over to the cruiser, and the commander orders a full sweep of the ship.

Doctors pull the survivor out of the infirmary, and the troops search the entire ship. Meanwhile, the commander interviews the crew in turn, questioning the unlikelihood of their stories but never finding a solid crack. As the scenes progress, the commander is continually perplexed and putout, especially as Kaylee starts to complain to him about how hard it is to keep Serenity running. The search scenes conclude with us seeing River and Simon outside the ship in suits, hiding. Simon is freaking out, but River seems to be enjoying herself.

The commander finally interviews Mal, acting all tough by reading a file. Mal instead starts talking, verifying that the Alliance had been over to the derelict and then suggesting they destroy it. The commander declines, saying the ship is evidence, and Mal goes on to guess the commander is on his first tour in the border worlds. The commander declines to answer and espouses his theory that Mal is still a loyal browncoat who mercilessly killed loyal alliance citizens in an act of piracy, including torturing and disfiguring the survivor. The commander starts to bind Mal by law, but Mal starts to panic and warns the commander about the threat of Reavers, in particular the survivor. In the cruiser’s infirmary, the survivor kills the medical crew working on him.

The commander is skeptical, but Mal is persistent, saying the man had no option but to become a Reaver after having been tormented by them himself. The commander is not convinced until he receives word of what has happened in the infirmary. The Reaver has gone missing, but Mal knows where it is: Serenity.

Back on Serenity, Simon and River come back inside, and as they are heading to the spare shuttle to lay low, River freaks out (she does that a lot) and refuses to enter the galley, where the Reaver is hiding. Soon, they see the Alliance coming back aboard looking for the Reaver, and hide in the passageway.

The alliance finds a dead trooper in the airlock to Serenity, and the officer finally really starts to believe Mal, even allowing Mal to help, but only so he can stand point and be the first to likely be killed. They keep him handcuffed, though, and give him no weapon.

The Alliance almost stumbled across River and Simon’s hiding place, but the Reaver attacks the commander before they get there. Mal manages to kill the Reaver and save the commander’s life. In return, the commander lets them go, but not with the cargo from the derelict. The cruiser then destroys the derelict.


(Yes, I had to put that picture there. I just loved the commander’s expression too much.)

Well, this was a fun Reaver-centric episode, and while I can understand the desire to have it where it is in the DVD order, I don’t really like it. The ground-laying with River being psychic is well placed, although she is still coming off slightly more on the moon-touched side here. Also, the first airing had not been introduced to Reavers yet, which one could assume were going to be fairly series-centric, if the movie is anything to go by, but for us DVD watchers, this is really close together. Two out of three episodes are Reaver stories then none of the others are. Like, we will never see Reavers again. This alone makes me wonder why they focused on the Reavers for the movie. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back on River: I am really enjoying her depiction here. Even knowing what I know about her, I still find myself watching and wondering if she is just moon-touched or channeling her particular talents when she talks. The addition of her sprite-like appearance, up to and including the fact that she almost never wears shoes, especially when she is out by herself, gives her otherworldliness that really sticks to ya. Like good ribs, or a hearty steak. Mmm, steak.

So, we had some interesting allusions here. The first of which, right up front, is that Inara is running from something. Of course, it really goes along with the “everyone has something to hide” feeling the show is going with. We also got to see the much more spiritual side of Book in this episode, as opposed to the “oh, I only play a preacher on TV” Book. Whatever Book’s past was, he has truly adopted the shepherd way.

Jayne continues to be Jayne. I feel more comfortable with him now to have his immediate “nope, no way, no how” over Reavers affect me a little stronger, which as I said before, it just didn’t hit me as heavily in the pilot. Jayne does really solidify his “I’m the devil on your shoulder” attitude, though. Maybe not so much the “do evil” bad conscience, but the “sluff of work and tend to yourself” bad conscience. This is both in his desire to skip by the ship being won over with greed, and then his instant belief that someone on the ship went stir-crazy and murdered everyone else.

Reversely, Kaylee, Book, and Inara all get to share the good conscience, which in and of itself is both character building of Jayne—he’s just that bad—and of Mal, who needs three angels on his shoulder to counter a single devil. Mal is continuing his slow but steady development as both an uncaring badass and a very deeply loyal captain, though, so that’s all right.

Oh, and I just have to make an aside. When Kaylee made her above quoted pessimistic comment, I seriously had the urge to jump into my TV and give her a comforting hug. She delivered the “chipper has failed” hit so powerfully. Which, I feel, is the depth to Kaylee. We have seen her as the sweet, innocent, Earth Mother thus far, but here we see that she gets down and worried sometimes. The third angel, Inara, sadly plays a very limited role in this episode, so nothing much on her.

Simon is the hidden hero of this story. Sure, he doesn’t get into any fights, none of this external conflict all the others are enjoying, but he faces a nearly petrifying fear of his not once but twice. The first time proved his idealism: he is going to go help people that need help no matter what. The second is his devotion to his sister, and again continues to make me champion Simon as a man of untapped resources. I mean, I wouldn’t want him at my side in a shootout, and I wouldn’t be scared to face him in fisticuffs, but there is a vast amount of will behind that boy. Already he is making an interesting foil to Mal, who is everything Simon is but diminished and subverted.

The final thing is that this is our first really nice, long experience with the Alliance. The strongest, most establishing shot is really right when we first meet them, and the commander is being an over-glorified cop and saying they need to be sure to cite the ship for this or that violation. His harassed attitude also is quickly established in both his demeanor and his decision to shoot-first-ask-later. There is a little something I didn’t understand him, though, which was on the bridge he seemed to think it unlikely they would find the Tams on Serenity. Yet when he was talking to Mal, he spoke like it was a forgone conclusion. Now I guess this is just an interrogation tactic, but combined with his other suspicions of the crew, it just seems odd to me. He quickly turned the “routine check” into something quite a bit more.

On last thought I have: why is it that the ships dock upside-down to each-other, but there is no need to switch into a gravity free mode and flip over when going between hulls. I am guessing it is partly for ease of shooting and production, but it really makes me twitch a little sometimes. I also wonder how they got the third-person view of the trap attached to the ship’s underbelly. Just broke my fourth wall a bit.

Originally aired: 27 September 2002
Original position: Episode 2
Richard’s Favorite Line: It’s a tie:


JAYNE: Oh, I ain’t going over there with them bodies. No rutting way. Not if Reavers messed with them.
ZOE: Jayne, you’ll scare the women.


MAL: It’s a real burden being right so often.

Fun Goofs: I couldn’t find any online in my brief search, nor did I notice any aside from my above complaint about the airlocks and the camera-angle.

So, that’s it for this episode. Join us sometime next week for “Shindig,” in which we get some awesome one-liners and swords!  On a final note, I love feedback in addition to commentary.  I’ve already gotten some, but I am curious, how is the re-watch working for you?  Do you want me to ramble even more in the commentary (I can find more to say, I’m sure)? Do you want the summaries to be more compact? Not that I think anyone would be reserved, but feel free to let me know.

Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and most definitely not a Reaver, although he might be a junior officer on an Alliance ship from time to time. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at


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