We open with a glimpse inside River’s head. Kaylee and Simon are actually managing to hang out and flirt without Simon making an ass out of himself when Simon looks at River and says, “I would be there right now,” with a particularly nasty look on his face and then goes back to laughing. River moves on to Book and Jayne discussing the mysteries of celibacy, and they both take a second to say nasty things to her. From there she mentally shares a moment of passion between Wash and Zoe, and then gets caught up in the drama between Mal and Inara as they discuss her leaving.
And then Serenity turns into a woodland scene and River picks up a stick that turns into a loaded gun. From the variety of things she sees, I think we can assume that her psychic “gift” is being influenced by her guilt about making life hard for the crew. She seems to be picking up the dark thoughts just under the surface, without letting herself see the whole picture where she is accepted on the ship and, at least in Simon’s case, worth any trouble he might encounter on her behalf.
Mal takes the gun away from her and admonishes Simon about letting her run crazy since, “We’re alone out here.” Cut to another ship hiding in their blind spot.
After the credits we get a glimpse of Jubal Early in his ship. I love Early. He is a truly fascinating bad guy. I don’t understand the relationship between him and his counterpart (The Operative) in the movie, maybe they went to the same top-secret Alliance training facility to be ruthless, assassin bounty-hunters devoid of all emotion. What ever it is, I find them strangely likable because they take no joy in hurting people and they have a weird innocent quality mixed in to their killing machine mentality. Anyway, back to Serenity.
On the bridge, Mal, Wash, Zoe, and Jayne are discussing River and whether or not they still feel safe with her on board. In her defense, Zoe says, “As far as we know, the girl’s never even picked up a gun before,” when Kaylee pops in to tell everyone about River’s performance at Niska’s space station.
Then we see Early perform the craziest feat of space-jacking I’ve ever seen. He free-falls from his ship on to Serenity and apparently finds the secret back door onto the ship.
I hate Kaylee’s recitation of the incident at Niska’s. It turns into a ghost story almost. It is interesting in an academic way. As the group talks, we can imagine the same conversation happening at the start of the Salem Witch Trials, or some other such event where a larger group convinces themselves that a smaller group is different. So different that killing them can’t be called “wrong.” Whedon, who wrote this episode, acknowledges this by having Jayne ask if she’s a witch. Inara saves the day by bringing everyone back down to earth. Simon tries to defend her by saying she’s intuitive, but Mal calls him out and actually says the word “reader” (meaning psychic). They leave things up in the air. Mal also subtly reminds the whole crew that it’s his decision, since he’s the captain and all. Through all this, Early has been listening from above (I was mistaken, he hasn’t found the back door yet) and River has been listening from below in the cargo hold.
Kaylee tries to apologize to Simon after they leave the dining area, and it’s somewhat gratifying to see her on the wrong side of the argument this time. Simon isn’t mad, exactly, but he feels betrayed that she called his sister “not a person” and she, Kaylee, may be instrumental in getting River kicked out of the only home she’s ever truly loved, Serenity. He then confesses, possibly to himself for the first time, that he misses his old life. They almost kiss. THEY ALMOST KISS! But Shepherd Book walks by and kills the moment. They frustrate me almost as much as Mal and Inara.
OK, now Early finds the super secret back door and boards the ship. Within seconds, he encounters Mal and beats the crap out of him and locks him in his bunk, while Zoe and Wash sleep comfortably nearby. He makes his way to the engine room, where Kaylee is working out her frustrations with a little tinkering. Their encounter is creepy, but in the end he doesn’t hurt her any more than scaring her and tying her up. He threatens to rape her if she causes a ruckus, and then later threatens to rape her if Simon causes a ruckus. He alternates between threats, philosophizing, and general creepiness. I take it back, he really is a psychotic cold-blooded killer, but his voice has that soothing Morgan Freeman quality to it that makes his musings somewhat hypnotic and soothing. I expect they would be less soothing if his gun were pointed at me.
Simon and Early search the ship, with a lot more, “Does that seem right to you?” comments from Early. When Early loses his patience, River’s voice comes out of nowhere to tell him that she isn’t in the ship anymore, she has become the ship.
River: … River’s not on the ship. They didn’t want her here. But she couldn’t make herself leave. So she melted. Melted away. They didn’t know she could do that. But she did.
Early: Not sure I take your meaning there.
River: I’m not on the ship. I’m in the ship. I am the ship.
River: River’s gone.
Early: Then who exactly are we talking to?
River: Talking to Serenity. And Early? Serenity is very unhappy.
River/Serenity takes a moment to comfort Kaylee and ask her to help her save the day. When she starts talking to Early again, Simon looks so proud of her. River/Serenity dissects Early’s brain for a while and then has a private chat with Mal. I don’t know about you, but at this point I’m starting to wonder if River really has melded with the ship somehow.
She mobilizes the crew and spends a little more time messing with Early’s head, revealing to everyone that he is a textbook psychotic who tortured animals when he was young and grew up to take a job that gave him an excuse to hurt people when he didn’t get his way. He really is a bastard, it must be the voice that makes him so charming.
He finally figures out that she is on his ship. Turns out he really loves his ship (just like a man with his car), and he gets very nervous about the prospect of her touching the buttons in his baby. River finally tells him to relax, she’s going with him. “I’ll be your bounty, Jubal Early, and I’ll just fade away.” Before he can leave, Simon attacks him and gets himself shot. Early finally gets away, but as soon as he gets outside the ship Mal ambushes him and sends him flying out into empty space. He goes one way, they send his ship another and Mal and River have a sweet moment when he lets her back onto Serenity.
River: Permission to come aboard?
Mal: You know, you ain’t quite right.
River: [smiles] That’s the popular theory.
Mal: Go on, get in there. Give your brother a thrashin’ for messin’ up your plan.
River: [tiredly] He takes so much looking after.
Simon directs Zoe in removing the bullet and life on-board returns back to normal, down to Kaylee and River playing jacks in the cargo bay. We end the show with Early, adrift in space saying, “Well, here I am.”
And here I am. It’s been fun all, but this is my last Firefly re-cap. Because of the great love of the fans and creators the story continues in comic books and fanfic and, of course, the movie Serenity, but if you want to know about all that you’ll have to find it on your own. I do highly recommend the graphic novel “The Shepherd’s Tale.” It is short, I would love to read a whole book or three about Book, but it manages to answer all the questions about his mysterious past.