Review – Firefly Episode 10 War Stories
Instead of reviewing all the episodes of Firefly I figure I’ll occasionally pick out some of the exceptional ones and pick them apart, the same way I will for Star Trek, Stargate, or any other long-running series. Even though there were only 14 episodes of Firefly, and a movie eventually, the show is a stand out in Scifi circles.
A western set in space, with spaceships, advanced technology and cattle poop. The blend of old and new finds an exciting mix over the season, but the beauty of Firefly was the notion that no matter the setting - people are still the same. Conflict remains the same and the diverse cast creates a crucible in which to play with conflict in a way that very few stories can do right out of the gate.
The death of Firefly was not ratings, but politics at the studio. Money needed to be moved from some projects into others and Firefly was one of several casualties. It’s hard to know, but the abrupt end may have actually built some of the mystique and intrigue that created the cult following of “Browncoat” fans of the show. While it’s hard to separate that emotional baggage created by the show being cut down in its prime, as I re-watched this episode I still felt the emotion stirring in me through the story and building to that catharsis at the climax. Even after 17 years the show still makes me smile at the comedic beats and jubilant at the climax.
War Stories is my favourite episode of the season. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the movie, Serenity, followed a similar path to this episode. Where other episodes play out as westerns, or something like mystery stories, War Stories is a straight-up action plot. Life and death turns the story beats of the episode.
I’m not going to recount the plot, but the story element that most grabs me in the episode is the notion of Mal’s will. Mal and Wash are captured and tortured. When Zoe is able to recover Wash, but is forced to leave Mal behind Wash says:
“He’s crazy. He wouldn’t break Zoe, he kept me from ---. I wouldn’t have made it.”
Amidst torture, the story shows that Mal is the most powerful in the room. His will alone is what allows the story to move forward. He knows if he breaks he dies, so he holds out until he can find an opportunity that he can take advantage of. This is polished even further by Mal not actually being rescued. As Zoe and crew are attempting to rescue Mal it creates the diversion that allows Mal to escape on his own. But instead of Mal being some superhuman who can be tortured for an entire day then battle off the bad guys, he gets help as he struggles against them. Mal is no monolith, his character is built upon the lovable rogue who cheats and steals but follows his own code – a kind of robin hood in a spaceship. Except that we see Mal isn’t idealistic. He knows that life sometimes beats the crap out of you and he knows that he has a monster inside of him that could take power for himself. But he also knows that letting the monster have free reign will get him exactly the same result as taming it.
While Mal isn’t a father in the story he fills a kind of protective father role. The figure who has the brute force to be on top if “Might makes right” rules society, but instead uses his power to ensure that a code of morals is followed. Admitted the show would be bland as hell if Mal’s morals were truth, justice, and the American way.
Firefly as a whole, but War Stories in particular, is a fantastic piece of Scifi that should be seen as a masterpiece for anyone wanting to write engaging Scifi that grips the audience.