“What’d y’all order a dead guy for?”
“The Message” has some wonderfully fun bits in it, but overall it’s kind of forgettable to me. We start with Kaylee and Simon in an old-fashioned carnival sideshow tent, looking at “aliens,” which are really mutated cow fetuses. Simon manages to insult Kaylee again by implying that he’s only interested in her by default, since all the other women he sees are married, “professional” or his sister. I really feel bad for him by now. He obviously likes her, but he can’t manage to say anything without putting his entire foot in his mouth.
Anyway, the crew heads over to the post office for a mail check and there are packages! (I love packages.) Jayne gets his now-infamous hat, “Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything.” Aside from the awesome hat, I love seeing Jayne as a mama’s boy, it’s just so darn cute. Mal and Zoe’s package isn’t nearly as much fun. They got a dead guy.
Flashback to the war: the dead guy is one of their former comrades, Private Tracey. Tracey wasn’t a particularly good private; we get the impression that he only made it through the war because he had Zoe and Mal to look out for him. I love Mal’s battle wisdom: “Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone’s carryin’ a bullet for you right now, doesn’t even know it. The trick is, die of old age before it finds you.”
Since he is a former war buddy, Mal and Zoe take him back to the ship. On further inspection, they find a recording in the coffin.
Uh, okay. Uh, recording. Hi, I guess. This is a message for Zoe and for Malcolm Reynolds. And I really hope you all are the ones listening to it. I’ll spare you the boring details. I’ve fallen in with untrustworthy folk. Makin’ a bunch of bad calls. All that matters is… I expect to be shuffled off. And you two are the only people I trust to get me where I’m going, which is home. I’d like my body to be with my folks on St. Albans. We got the family plot there, and my Mom and Dad, well, they deserve to know I died. You know, it’s funny. We went to the war never lookin’ to come back, but it’s… it’s the real world I couldn’t survive. You two carried me through that war. Now I need you to carry me just a little bit further”¦ if you can. Tell my folks I wanted to do right by them, and that I’m at peace, and all. Uh”¦ When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, well”¦ Yeah, you know the rest. Thanks, b-both of you. Oh, yeah, and, uh… make sure my eyes is closed, will ya?
So it’s off to St. Albans. While they’re on their way, we find out that there are, in fact, nasty men looking for Tracey. Jayne and Book have an interesting little talk about death, and Mal and Zoe tell the others a little about him and his penchant for mustache hijinks. The nasty Lieutenant Womack finds Serenity and demands the return of the body. In an attempt to figure out what all the fuss is about, Simon prepares to do an autopsy. At the first incision, nightmare of coroners’ nightmares, the dead guy wakes up.
Turns out, Tracey isn’t quite as nice as we thought he was. He is smuggling internal organs and trying to double-cross his intended buyer – hence all the nastiness. Kaylee is still smitten with him, he’s young and cute and not dead anymore, and he’s not Simon. Poor Kaylee, her cute non-dead guy ends up taking her hostage when Mal refuses to put his people in danger digging Tracey out of his mess. (I would be looking into self-defense lessons at this point if I were Kaylee. The D.I.D. thing gets old.) Tracey had heard Book recommend that they allow Womack to board the ship, so he flips out, takes Kaylee hostage and calls Mal and Zoe a bunch of saps. When he realizes that Mal has already called Womack, he tries to bluff by saying that Mal just murdered him. So Mal shoots him in the chest and says, “No son. You murdered yourself. I just carried the bullet a while.”
The wounded Tracey watches as Womack comes aboard. The good Shepherd Book faces him down and subtly threatens to expose his illegal organ-dealing and not-so-subtly threatens to kill him if he won’t leave. Since his “package” is now damaged goods, he leaves without a fight.
Tracey realizes that there was a plan all along, and he went and screwed it all up. As he dies, he apologizes and asks that they take him home to his parents for real this time. We end the show with a touching montage of his homecoming, accompanied by excerpts from his original message, which seems more poignant now. No matter what he may have done, I always cry when he and Zoe go through the whole quote they started earlier. “When you can’t run, you walk. When you can’t walk, you crawl. When you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.”