Zoe (Gina Torres) finds an old friend on "Firefly."


'Firefly' Rewind - Episode 12: 'The Message'

Zoe and Mal get an unexpected delivery from an old war buddy

Posted Aug 24, 2010 7:47 AM By

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:

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 sepinwall@hitfix.com