Firefly Rewatch

Firefly Re-watch: “Ariel”

Ladies and gentlemen, I have summoned you here for a very specific purpose. I have a job for you. As you will tell from past work, this is unlike anything else we have done thus far. It is on a core planet. It only really involves half the crew. It is a good plan, provided everyone can actually stick to it. If you will open the dossiers I’ve placed under your chairs, you will be warned of potential spoilers for the whole series, and the presence of a traitor amongst us.

Episode Summary:
In the galley, Jayne is cleaning a gun, Inara and Kaylee are playing a card game, and Simon and River are making some not-so-molded protein mush. Wash and Zoe walk in, with Wash demanding they go somewhere while on Ariel, the core planet they are about to visit, but Zoe is having none of it. Inara and Simon try to convince Zoe that it will be alright. Mal then barges in and lets everyone know in no uncertain terms that no one is getting off the ship except Inara, who has to go get her annual physical, thus the reason for the visit. Jayne complains, and Mal says he could have gotten off with Book at the Bathgate Abbey, which kind of shuts him up except for some disgusting noises that Simon takes offense to. The crew starts talking about Inara’s imminent hospital visit, and River calmly takes a butcher’s knife and slices Jayne across the chest. Jayne backhands River, and everyone jumps to action: Zoe, Kaylee, and Mal to Jayne; Wash, Simon, and Inara to River.

In the infirmary, Simon stitches Jayne up. Jayne argues to Mal that both Simon and River need to be off the boat, and that they should drop them off in Ariel. They might even get a reward. Mal staunchly says that no one is going to be left and even stares Jayne down when he starts to make a threat. Jayne quickly changes to speaking on how River might go psycho on anyone next, be it Mal, Kaylee, or Inara. Mal doesn’t back down, and Jayne leaves. Mal then has a Captain-talk with Simon, saying that River is to be confined to her room, and that Simon better get her under control or the Tams’ stay on Serenity will need to be re-examined. Simon lowers his eyes in shame, and then Mal changes his mood.


MAL: She’s getting worse. Isn’t she?
SIMON: (reluctantly) Yes.

The ship lands on Ariel and Inara leaves to her appointment while the crew lazes around the cargo hold and complains about a lack of work. Simon then marches in and declares that they have a client: him. Mal shows some skepticism, but Simon presses, saying the job will pay for itself. He then shows them several small immunization vials he has and tells them the street values. The crew thinks a hospital med-vault is the job, but he reveals that it is the payment, not the job. The job is to get River to the diagnostic ward in the hospital, where he can use a fancy imaging device on her. Kaylee protests the morality of robbing a hospital, but Zoe and Simon assure her that it won’t be missed, as the government run hospital would be restocked in a matter of hours. Mal seems on board with the idea, saying the people in the Rim could use it, but Wash stays worried about breaking into a high security alliance facility.

Simon then starts giving them the dirty on getting in, starting with how the security works, which is mainly in the perimeter. Mal wonders how they are going to get Simon and River passed the ident scanners, but Simon is more worried about everyone else. He gives them a list of things they need: an ambulance salvaged from a dump yard, stolen uniforms and fake IDs for hospital staff, and training in medical jargon. The crew works with an odd fervor to learn their lines and refurbish the ambulance, and before much time has passed, they are ready to go in. Mal says that all they need is a couple of patients to take to the hospital, but Simon corrects him.

SIMON: Corpses, actually. For this to work, River and I will have to be dead.
JAYNE: Huh, I’m starting to like this plan.

Simon gives River and himself an injection that puts them in a deep coma that simulates death. River is reluctant to go to the hospital, but Simon compassionately pep-talks her into accepting the drug.

On the ride to the hospital, Mal goes over the plan up to getting to the morgue again, and then he asks Jayne if there will be any problems. Jayne, who is still studying his lines, says he’s fine, and Mal clarifies that he means between Jayne and Simon, given the knife incident. To prove his commitment to the plan, Jayne actually compliments Simon on it because “nothing buys bygones faster than cash.” Mal reasserts the no-nonsense of the job anyway.

They land at the hospital and Mal, Jayne, and Zoe wheel the hard-shell body bags in. The intake nurse nonchalantly accepts the bodies as soon as Mal says they have “a couple of DoAs”. Jayne, apparently flustered, spurts out his line about cortical electrodes, which earns him a strange look from the intake nurse but nothing more.

In the morgue, they get Simon and River out of the body bags and inject the wake-up drug. Jayne is left behind to babysit the two while Mal and Zoe go after the med-vault. As they leave, Jayne acts suspicious, then leaves and makes a phone call, telling a fed that he has the fugitives as long as the fed as the reward, just like they had talked about. The fed confirms that he does.

Back in the morgue, Jayne nervously waits for the Tams to wake and gets spooked when River sits up, saying “caught before a kiss.” She then gets really quiet as she looks at him, but before anything else can be said, Simon wakes up coughing. Simon assures Jayne that he is fine, that it is just the after affects of the drug, and as soon as Jayne makes a snide remark about River being fine, she starts to vomit.

Mal and Zoe continue down to the med-vault, but are stopped by a doctor who wonders where they are going with “those two bodies.” Zoe resorts to an old stand-by and knocks the doctor out and stashes him in one of the body-bags.

Meanwhile, Jayne escorts Simon, dressed as a doctor, pushing River, dressed as a patient, through a recovery ward, which is oddly open and curtain-less. They pass a patient, and River predicts his death. Simon tries to assuage her that no one is going to die, but then the man she pointed to sends his machines into a tizzy as he starts to die. Simon, being Simon, fights with his morals for only a second before he goes back, saves the man, and chews the man’s attending doctor out for carelessness. He then goes back and wheels River out of the area.

Mal and Zoe have some fortune in having knocked out the doctor as his identcard is what gets them into the vault. There, they quickly consult lists written on their forearms and rob the vault for all it’s worth, stash the knocked out doctor in it, then leave, waltzing out to the ambulance without a second glance.

Simon, River, and Jayne reach the neuro-imager, and Simon uses a spiffy holographic overlay that floats above River to look into the damage that the academy did to her mind. In particular, he sees that they did hideously unneeded brain surgery to her. He notices that one particularly crazy thing they did was to strip the part of her brain that regulates her prime emotions, such as fear and worry, meaning that River feels everything without any filter. Jayne gets impatient and insists they need to leave, even though Simon is sure they still have twenty minutes. Soon as Jayne gets impatient, River’s brain activity goes crazy in the hologram and she starts screaming. Simon quickly grabs the image data and starts calming River down. Jayne presses them to leave, and Simon caves.

Jayne takes them an alternate way, and River starts saying that she “can’t go back, I don’t want to go back.” Simon soothes her, but soon as they walk out, federal marshals jump them and arrest them. Unfortunately for Jayne, he is arrested too for aiding fugitives and the marshal who arrested them intends on collecting the reward on three fugitives, not two. Jayne tries to rush him, but is stunned by a fancy weapon before he takes two steps.

Back at the ambulance, Wash is excited to see Zoe and Mal back.

WASH: How much did we get?
MAL: Enough to keep us flying.
ZOE: Can we fly somewhere with a beach?
WASH: Maybe a naked beach.
(Zoe and Wash embrace and kiss.)
MAL: Cut it out. The job’s not done until we’re back on Serenity.
ZOE: Sorry, sir. Didn’t mean to enjoy the moment.
MAL: (pauses) Where are the others?

Jayne, River, and Simon are in processing, and Simon, unaware that Jayne ratted him out, whispers some thanks to Jayne for at least trying to save them. Jayne, nervous over being revealed as a rat and for being in custody, tells Simon to be quiet, and then River starts to talk in her own special way.

RIVER: They took Christmas away.
JAYNE: What the hell now?
RIVER: I came downstairs for the shiny presents. They took the tree and the stockings. Nothing left but coal.
JAYNE (to Simon) Would you shut her up?
RIVER: Don’t look in the closet, either. It’s greedy. It’s not in the spirit of the holiday.

Back at the ambulance, Mal, Zoe, and Wash realize something is wrong as the others are ten minutes late. They call Kaylee and she checks on the Cortex and finds some coded official transmissions about ducks. Mal seems to instantly realize that this means the feds have the others. They instantly start to arm up and plan on how to sneak in the back and mount a rescue.

In processing, the agent in charge is ten sorts of hostile with Simon, indicating he would prefer that Simon was just dead, but that they are instead being taken to a holding area. The grunts manhandle them into the holding area, and as they round a corner, Jayne makes his move, and he and Simon manage to overpower their guards, killing one and knocking the other out. River watches horrified the entire time.

Mal and Zoe walk through the hospital, and Mal kibitzes about how, as always, things never go to plan. Wash tells them that they might want to hurry, and when Mal sarcastically asks if there is a problem, Wash tells him that another group of feds (in a fancy ship, nonetheless) have just shown up.

Jayne, Simon, and River take one of the stun-guns and start to make their escape. Jayne wants to do it with lasers flaring through the front (perhaps in revenge?), but Simon prefers to run the other way. As they argue, River gets distant and says, “It doesn’t matter. They’re here.”

In the processing center, the blue-hands arrive and, upon hearing that the agent and his men talked to the prisoners, pull out some sort of sonic device and kill them all with a rather painful looking bleed-through-every-orifice technique.

Jayne, River, and Simon hear the feds screaming and quickly decide to try the back way. The blue-hands find the holding room and kill the surviving fed there as well. Jayne continues to protest to running through the maze-like underground, but upon hearing the second scream of bloody-everything, shuts up and follows.

They come to a locked door and try to barge through but can’t. The fancy stun-gun is worthless for both firepower and as a bludgeon, but fortunately Mal and Zoe shoot their way through just before the blue-hands show up. The crew escapes.

Back on the ship, Inara just returns and gets the confusing breakdown from Kaylee:

KAYLEE: Well, let’s see. We killed Simon and River, stole a bunch of medicine, and now the Captain and Zoe are off springing the others that got snatched by the feds. Oh, and here they are now.

Everyone gets out of the ambulance, safe and sound, and Wash gets them going up soon. Jayne, out of breath, complains about the action, and Mal comforts him, saying that if he hadn’t come, he wouldn’t be getting his big payday. Kaylee wonders what happened to Jayne’s face—he has a rather large bruise—and Simon starts to talk Jayne up greatly as a hero who did all he could to save them from the feds. Jayne tries to play it off, and Mal tells him to help with the cargo as he sends everyone else off to do their jobs. Soon as everyone is out of sight, Mal knocks Jayne out cold with a sizable wrench.

Jayne comes to in the airlock with a walkie-talkie nearby. Mal talks to him over it as he opens the airlock’s outer door a bit and says they need to have a chat. Mal gives Jayne a chance to confess, asking why he was going out the wrong exit, but Jayne holds to his story, saying he just had to improvise because he couldn’t go out the front. Mal accuses him of calling the feds, and when Jayne points out he was arrested too, Mal says that is what happens when you call the feds. Jayne finally starts to admit to what he did as they get closer to breaking atmo, but Mal has no sympathy to Jayne’s pleas and apologies.

JAYNE: What are you taking it so personal for? It ain’t like I ratted you out to the feds!
MAL: But you did! You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! And since that’s a concept you can’t seem to wrap your head around then you got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne. And that’s a fact.

Mal starts to leave, and as he’s on stairs, Jayne asks him what he’s going to tell the others about why he’s dead. Mal responds that he doesn’t know yet, and Jayne begs him to not tell them the truth. Mal stares out at Jayne for a moment then closes the airlock. He then tells Jayne “The next time you decide to stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face.” He then leaves Jayne alone in the airlock.

Simon visits River, where she is drawing a Matryoshka doll. He compliments her drawing, but she looks at the syringes he is holding and asks what he is doing. Simon says he has some new medicine that he thinks will help her, and she balks.

RIVER: Time to go asleep again.
SIMON: No, mei-mei. It’s time to wake up.

She lets him inject her, but with a heartbroken look.

So, as I look over my summary, I realize something about this episode. The first five minutes and the last five minutes are packed full of little details that seem to scream out “include me”, while the middle, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great caper-went-wrong story. In fact, “Ariel” is probably in my top-three episodes (not that I’ve ever sat down long and hard to enumerate those three). But, yeah, this episode is leading up to the last two scenes.

Now, that is kind of unfair of me. Any story is leading up to the climax and dénouement, but “Ariel” feels like it is really doing that with a bit lost to the caper-y action. Granted, we see that Simon is, as always, a super smart goody-two-shoes. We barely get to see Inara, no Book at all, and Wash, Zoe and Kaylee are extremely auxiliary. So River, Mal, Jayne, and Simon are the big players here.

Oddly, I was really focused on Mal this episode, even though I think it is more of a Simon and Jayne episode by intent. The reason, I think, is that Mal is yet again not quite the Mal I thought I knew, and I don’t know how I feel about this. We see a lot more of the “good leader” in Mal here, responding to different people in ways that work with them. Which means aggression to Jayne, snark to Zoe, and compassion to Simon. And there, that last bit, is what kind of gets me.

Up to this point, Mal’s compassion has been tempered with a gruffness about it. But just the one line in the infirmary where he asks if River is getting worse is strange to me. I don’t want to say it breaks character, after all, characters grow and maybe Simon’s goodliness is rubbing off on Mal as the captain gets used to the doctor, but at the same time, Mal and Simon’s relationship has been, well, poorly defined, I think. There has not been an episode where Mal’s odd desire to be the hero and help out the Tams has been explained, and definitely not in a way where Mal would actually be that open with Simon. I was just expecting some more gruff, I guess. I think what is doing it the most for me, though, is that Mal’s character was not entirely cemented in the writers’ and directors’ minds from the get-go, so it kind of waffles in this gray space that makes seeing the growth a little harder. That and the fact that said growth was probably supposed to happen across seasons . . . well yeah.

Anyway, on to Simon. Aside from him being a “the good Ash” sans gun in the recovery ward, we also see some more of “the lengths a man will go to help his sister.” Simon, timid, awkward, normally law-abiding Simon, is really a criminal mastermind at heart. He just needs to grow a goatee. I guess this is not completely out of left field, seeing as we know that Simon broke River out of a highly secured government facility, so he has at least some experience with crazy subterfuge-laden plans. On the other hand, I like to think that he just was able to bend his good brain to evil.

I was a little let down by the token morality of the plan, though. “Oh, we aren’t going to hurt anyone. We are totally Robin Hood here, with a profit.” Yeah, the hospital would be restocked in a matter of hours, but the doctor they knocked out his one less man saving lives on the floor, and the med-vault is one more stop a doctor needs to make trying to find some medicine fast to save someone, thus possibly wasting crucial moments. Oh, and while that doctor was being a pain when started to harass Mal and Zoe, I’ll note that he had reason to be suspicious of them: he turned around as they were kibitzing about the Alliance and core planets. No offense, but that seems rather suspect and deserving of some douchery. For all we know, he was a pediatrician about to go save a child’s life, and now the child is dead cause his doctor didn’t get there in time, and five other kids died when a doctor went to that med-vault looking for meds he needed fast and couldn’t find them. Way to go, Robin Hood.

Now that I’ve killed the innocence of the episode in a splatter-fest of the other guy’s shoes, the last five minutes and Jayne. The episode starts and goes most of the way with Jayne being Jayne. Just as we saw in the first episode and in “Out of Gas”, Jayne’s loyalty is to the highest bidder, but even our devil-on-the-shoulder has an angel on his own. After all, he is really nervous as Little Miss Psychic starts mind-reading his plans (not that we exactly know that is what she is doing yet), and we had his saving line of begging the others not know he had betrayed them. Perhaps it was Simon’s honest praise of Jayne as an attempted hero, or maybe he did feel guilty about it the entire time but was of the opinion that he was no better than someone who took the greedy, lower path. Maybe it’s both. But this episode marks a major change in Jayne and probably the only completed character arc in the series. Would Jayne have been a shaky variable later? Probably. A heel-face-turn isn’t Whedon’s style, he is much more heel-face-revolving-door, I think. But still, for the fourteen episodes and movie we got, Jayne’s maturation was a nice thing. I also want to comment that I find it funny that when he was talking to Mal about who River might hurt next and listing off the “weak women” onboard (Inara and Kaylee), he did not include Zoe. Guess there is some respect there if he doesn’t instantly think of Zoe as River-fodder.

Oh, and River. The only thing I really want to talk about with her is the Christmas story I quoted. I don’t get it. I normally can understand most of River’s rambling from my third-person, at least in retrospect, but of all her crazy I think this is one I never really got. Maybe it was a lead in to something else further down the line, or maybe it is all supposed to be her doing an allegory for Jayne (who thought Christmas was coming, blinded by greed, and only got coal.) In fact, as I type this out, that is what I’m going to go with, but her first-person telling of it still throws me off, making me think that isn’t it entirely. Thoughts, anyone? I do really like how she was drawing the doll at the end, though. A beautiful allusion to the many layers of Jayne that are being revealed and that she saw.

Now, there was a bit of a new thing introduced to us this episode, something we sadly never get to see on scale again, and that is a core planet. Ariel City, for being as wonderfully 2002-TV-CG-graphic’d as it was, was an interesting place to visit after all the rustic settings or semi-industrial-hellholes. Yeah, I know the Alliance is all rules and sensors and London with CCTVs and that, but remember Inara talking about the core planet she was trained as a Companion on. There is a beauty and wonder there. Yes, it is dystopian in that it is built on the broken backs of a lesser caste, but honestly, isn’t the first world of our day? Perhaps there is some allegory here that was not intended, because honestly, Ariel does not look bad to me long as you are “law-abiding”. Which really is the United States (or pick your developed country). Whether in our borders or out, there is an oppressed caste, an “outer Rim” that is taken advantage of and thus patrolled by militaries out of its control to protect said interests. And my ex-girlfriend with a PhD in Political Science would either be beaming over me talking about Dependancy Theory right now, or shaking her head at the simplicity of my presentation of it.

I am not saying this, per se, to vilify “The First World.” I am saying it to be more of a “every coin as two sides.” This might also have something to do with my recent reading of Cory Doctorow’s For the Win, but I won’t get into that here. What I’ll re-iterate, though, is that the core planet is not so bad, just as Wash, Inara, and Simon are willing to attest to. Zoe, though, is hard-down unwilling to see that, but of course, she sees through the eyes of a defeated rebel. I actually feel a little sad that we never get to see any other core planets, especially in mixed or even positive light. After all, all we’ve gotten, point of view wise, of the Alliance is from said failed rebel’s eyes or people who are at least somewhat fugitive (counting Inara in there).

Originally Aired: 15 November 2002
Original Position: Episode 8
Richard’s Favorite Line:

SIMON: (after seeing the crew in EMT uniforms) Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you all were ready to save some lives.

Fun Goof: The CGI flying ambulance lands at St. Mary’s on flat foot pads, but in the corresponding live-action scenes, the full-scale model is sitting on casters.

And that is all from me, and from the blue-hands, as it happens. See you next week for “War Stories”, where we get some more call backs. Yay Russian mobsters.

Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, and totally wants a little blue double-bladed glow wand that makes his enemies bleed all over and die. Not that, you know, he’d use it. Of course not. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at


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