‘Firefly’: "Bushwhacked"

17May09

“Bushwhacked” takes a familiar premise and pairs it with a weak plot, resulting in mediocre storytelling. Like “The Train Job,” this episode attempts to play catch-up after losing “Serenity” as Firefly‘s pilot, and it includes a lot of exposition. The first scene exposits at length about Simon and River’s situation, and the later interrogation scene provides an opportunity to recite information about Inara and Mal’s backgrounds. The Alliance and Reavers also receive an “introduction.”

Even though Reavers don’t come off as intimidating here as they do in “Serenity,” this episode better presents the spectrum of civilization in the ‘verse with The Alliance on one side, Reavers on the other, and the crew of Serenity somewhere in the middle. Or to a Freudian, the three entities would represent the psychic apparatus: Reavers are the unchecked id, The Alliance represents the moralizing superego, and Serenity the pragmatic ego. Joss & Tim missed an opportunity to invoke a Western motif of women acting as a socializing force, i.e. the superego. They should have made one of the female members of the crew, instead of Book, insist they investigate the abandoned ship or cast a female actor as the Alliance officer.

The plot takes too long to get going, especially since anyone who has ever watched a sci-fi show has seen a version of this episode before. When a crew stumbles upon a mysterious abandoned vessel in the middle of nowhere, the audience knows that the ship will be full of dead bodies or some disease that’s fatal to only certain members of the crew or something else equally ominous. Kaylee disarming the booby trap left by the Reavers proves to be pointless filler, and the interrogations create an awkward pause in the middle of the episode. I also don’t believe that the Alliance officer would let Mal lead them in searching Serenity for Mr. Proto-Reaver, nor do I completely buy that the officer would release the crew of Serenity after Mal saves his life.

Not surprisingly, both of my favorite moments involve Simon. Especially on Angel, Joss far too often uses badly written misdirection that’s telegraphed within the first seconds of the scene. But Jayne tricking Simon into putting on a spacesuit and entering the other ship genuinely surprised me. That bit of misdirection also works to establish relationship dynamics amongst the crew. I also really like the scene with River and Simon hiding from the Alliance. River staring wondrously out into space while Simon blanches at the same view reveals a lot about these two characters.

Though they interrupt the narrative flow, the interrogation scenes do provide a couple humorous character moments. I love Kaylee’s rant about a ship that really would be junk, unlike Serenity, and Zoe’s terse conversation with the officer. “You fought with Captain Reynolds in the war?” “Fought with a lot of people in the war.” “And your husband?” “Fight with him sometimes, too.”

Mal continues to assert his patriarchal authority. As the Alliance is boarding the ship, he tells Simon to fetch his sister without telling him why. I know the writers are attempting to create some dramatic tension here. But in the time it takes to make Simon obey the instruction, Mal could have said something like, “I’m not gonna turn you in. Just get your sister,” which still would leave the reveal of Simon and River clinging to the side of the ship a surprise. Instead Mal, with inexplicable support from Book, imposes his authority on Simon because he doesn’t follow orders blindly.

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