Once again, we're spending Tuesdays this summer revisiting Joss Whedon's outer space Western "Firefly." A review of "Ariel" coming up just as soon as I meditate on the wonders of my rock garden...

"Just once, I want things to go according to the gorram plan." -Mal

Though the plan goes awry as always, "Ariel" is actually a fairly simple episode of "Firefly"(*) - just a wonderfully-executed one. It's a straight-up caper episode, with a bit of "The A-Team"(**), disguises and rehearsal, and the gorram plan going awry when a member of the team (Jayne, of course) decides he wants more than his cut of the job.

(*) Which makes it fortuitous timing that we're covering it in a week when I'm too slammed by press tour to go more in-depth.

(**) Seriously, if you were the right age in the early '80s, there was no greater highlight to your TV week than the regular "A-Team" sequence where Hannibal would come up with a plan that required BA to go to a junkyard and weld, say, a bathtub and a Gatling gun together for some reason. I am therefore, to this day, a sucker for a sequence like Kaylee and Wash's trip to the junkyard and ensuing construction of a fake ambulance.

It's nice to see the show display the kind of versatility that would allow it to do "Out of Gas" and "Ariel" back-to-back, as well as shifting characters into different roles. Until the crew returns to Serenity at the end of the job, Simon essentially usurps Mal as both leaders of the crew and central character on the show. (Mal then reclaims both roles with authority with the way he deals with Jayne's obvious betrayal.) It's a good showcase for Sean Maher, a nice shakeup of the by-now familiar crew relationships, and also a reminder that Jayne isn't entirely to be trusted and therefore has the potential to throw a monkeywrench into any story at any time.

Simon gets to play hero for his sister, not only diagnosing what the Alliance did to her brain, but saving the random patient even at the risk of blowing his cover. Jayne becomes the villain, and then a hero himself with how he takes on two Alliance soldiers with both hands literally cuffed behind his back. (It helps, of course, that he has Simon and his knowledge of human anatomy to help out, but it's still a pretty bad-ass display by The Hero of Canton, The Man They Call Jayne.)


Though it's largely a Simon-centric episode, Adam Baldwin gets some of the choicest moments, including the long montage of Jayne rehearsing his one line of paramedic dialogue, beautifully paid off when the hospital nurse doesn't need to hear anything and Jayne blurts out his line reflexively. And of course there's arguably the episode's most memorable scene, in which Mal puts Jayne in his place. It's another sign of what we saw last week: that Mal Reynolds is a hard man who will take no half-measures to protect his crew, even if that means murdering one crewmember who threatened two others. And I truly believe Mal would have let Jayne get sucked out into the vacuum of space if Jayne hadn't said what he did about wanting Mal to make up a story for the crew. Yes, Jayne's low-down and ruthless enough to sell out Simon and River - and dumb enough to not predict an Alliance double-cross - but the events of "Jaynestown" have clearly had an effect on him. He's starting to care about how other people see him - in part because he's starting to care about other people, period. He doesn't consider River and Simon to be true members of the crew, but we know he has affection for Kaylee, and he respects Zoe and Mal (and, yes, fears Mal, too), and he feels shamed when Simon praises him for saving the day in the security substation. If Jayne's concern switches from survival to how the crew remembers him, then perhaps there's hope for him yet; hence Mal letting him off with a warning in the end.

The men with the blue gloves return, and we find out the lengths that the Alliance is willing to go to not only get River back, but to erase any human contact she had during her time on the run. Clearly, they're afraid of something in her head, and now that Simon has started to figure out how to make that head think more clearly, she's about to become even more of a threat to the Alliance, and vice versa.

A few other thoughts on "Ariel":

  • Ron Glass does not appear, as Shepherd Book is off meditating. I don't know if "Firefly" was an early show in the recent trend of not contracting every actor for every episode, or if Glass simply had a scheduling conflict and production realized they didn't need him for a week.
  • As Simon goes to save the crashing patient, it's nice to see that some hospital show cliches will survive 500 years into the future.
  • Simon moving the holographic scans around with his hands was very reminiscent of "Minority Report," which came out the summer before "Firefly" debuted.
  • Jewel Staite has several very Kaylee moments in the episode, but my favorite is when Inara returns from her physical and Kaylee quickly runs down all that's happened while she was gone like it's no big deal.

Up next: "War Stories," in which Wash starts to get a wee-bit jealous of his wife's close bond with the captain. I'll be recuperating from press tour in the early part of next week, so if I can't carve out time to get this done before I fly home, it may be late.

What did everybody else think?