'Firefly' Rewind - Episode 12: 'The Message'
We're in the home stretch now on our summer run through Joss Whedon's outer space Western "Firefly." (My hope is that my schedule allows me to do a post on the "Serenity" movie when we're done, but we'll have to see where things stand in a few weeks.) A review of "The Message" coming up just as soon as someone steals my mustache...
"When you can't run, you crawl. And when you can't crawl... when you can't do that..." -Tracey
"You find someone to carry you." -Zoe
After the complicated con games of "Trash," Whedon and Tim Minear teamed up to write "The Message," which starts out seeming just as complicated with its not-quite-dead corpses and crooked Alliance cops, but ultimately turns out to be a fairly simple story of comrades-in-arms struggling to build lives for themselves after the war ends.
Mal and Zoe have done okay for themselves. Zoe has a husband, and Mal has created this surrogate family in the Serenity crew, but what helps keep them going forward is that bond that so troubled Wash back in "War Stories." Mal and Zoe have other people, but more importantly, they have each other. They're always with someone who fought with the browncoats, who know about the exploding apples and the lieutenant's arms and all these other things that you can't entirely explain to people who weren't there. And that helps keep them sane.
Tracey doesn't seem to have had that. He drifted through post-war life, bouncing from job to job until he got the crazy idea of becoming part of an artificially-grown organ smuggling ring - and then the crazier idea of double-crossing his partners to make the score bigger. So he winds up seemingly dead aboard Serenity, and then roping Mal and Zoe and the rest into his trouble with Lt. Womack. And because he hasn't been with Mal and Zoe for years, nor with the crew they've surrounded themselves with, he's out of sync with the way they operate and makes the fatal mistake of assuming Mal is going to turn him in, when what we've seen of Malcolm Reynolds over these dozen episodes is that he would rather die than hand over a friend in trouble to the Alliance.
"The Message" was the last episode of the series to be produced, and the sense of melancholy that Whedon, Minear and company must have had making it fits nicely with the funereal tone of the story. Early in the episode, Mal and Zoe think they're taking an old friend home for a burial, and though he turns out to still be alive, that condition is sadly temporary, and the journey concludes as they originally planned it to. It's not an elaborate story, but it's a very effective one, and Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion show you just how much pain these two still carry from the war, and how much it hurts to have to put down a fellow veteran - even if, as Mal so eloquently puts it, "You murdered yourself. I just carried the bullet a while."
Some other thoughts:
- Richard Burgi makes an effectively eeeevil villain as Lt. Womack, and I like how the chase scene between his ship and Serenity takes on the feel of a submarine thriller, with Serenity trying to hide from the depth charges Womack keeps tossing. Westerns were the obvious storytelling model for the series, but at various points it took on the trappings of a caper movie, or various kinds of war films. Joss is versatile, apparently.
- I complained in some of the early reviews about my dislike of the Mal/Inara relationship, but it's thus far gotten less play than I had remembered. (That will, of course, change with next week's Inara-centric episode.) On the other hand, I had forgotten just how repetitive the Simon/Kaylee relationship got. Simon and Kaylee flirt nervously, all is going well, and then Simon says something that inadvertently hurts Kaylee's feelings, lather, rinse, repeat. Here it's used to set up Kaylee's attraction to Tracey - and then to turn her into his hostage when he misunderstands what Mal is up to - but had the series gone on much longer, I would hope that Whedon would have started doing something different with the two of them.
- One of Joss' rules that separated "Firefly" from most other space series that had come before is that there were no aliens. Everyone was a human, descended from the people who emigrated from the Earth that was. Which then allowed for the joke about the carnival barker on the space station showing off an alleged alien fetus that, as Simon helpfully explained, was really just a cow fetus.
- Jayne's acceptance of the crew, and vice versa, that began with the lessons he learned in "Jaynestown," continues apace here with the crew being (mostly) kind about the ugly knit earflap hat his mom sends him (which Lt. Womack later insults to save face after Mal and Book outwit him), then with Jayne bonding with Shepherd Book about his mortality.
- Because the show filmed in and around Los Angeles, and because it fit the Western motif, all of the outer planets and moons we've seen so far have been arid, dusty places, so it's almost shocking to see snow falling on the moon where Tracey's family lives.
Coming up next: The last of the unaired episodes, "Heart of Gold," in which Inara recruits Mal and company to help out an old friend.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
Let Streaming Genie help you.