Firefly (Flashback) recap: 'War Stories' And Other Passion Plays

Mal loses an ear and Wash gets to be Zoe for a day in a 'Firefly' classic
Ep. 10 | Aired May 1, 2011

COUPLES COUNSELING, FIREFLY STYLESerenity spouses Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) fight each other, then find catharsis and peace by killing a lot of bad guys in "War Stories."

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Of all the war stories told throughout the ages, The Fall of Man is certainly one of the oldest, and possibly still the most relevant, depending on your religious beliefs. Not a war story, you say? Then what to make of the punishments God gave Adam and Eve for their apple-eating betrayal? God not only booted his peeps out of Eden, but he made it clear that their lives would be full of strife – with Him, with the Earth, with each other, and between husband and wife. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." So began mankind’s war of wills with his “Sky Bully” creator – and man’s tumultuous love/hate push-pull with woman. “War Stories” – the tenth episode in the too-brief Firefly set, and one of the very best – was a slyly coded retort to a tale that has shaped views of God, marriage and ourselves for thousands of years. No, the words “Adam” and “Eve” and “Eden” were ever used. But there was enmity between husband-and-wife helpmates Zoe and Wash, and there was a distancing loss of innocence for friends River and Kaylee. There was even a symbolic snake and many literal apples. The story cited an alleged maxim attributed to of the warrior-poet Shan (or Xiang) Yu that only extreme circumstances can reveal our true nature. “’Live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge. And on that day you will finally meet the man.’” Those who believe in The Fall will tell you we’re all born rotten or distanced from the divine thanks to the disobedience of those first people. But the gospel of Firefly (which may or may not believe in God; hard to say) would seem to teach that our spiritual condition is not inherited but cultivated -– by the management of our desires, by our response to evil, by the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves (truthful and otherwise), and any number of factors. "War Stories" seemed to argue that the only certain insight you can gain into a guy when you dangle him over a volcano is that... he doesn't like being dangled over a volcano. Cause a man to suffer, as Mal suffered in “War Stories” – i.e. beat him and mutilate him and even murder him, and then bring him back to life just to do it all over again -- and what stands revealed is one seriously pissed-off man with a seriously, psychotically strong survival instinct.

You might also see something else: The number of friends willing to die – and kill -- for him.

“War Stories” found the crew of Serenity at a place of apparent peace and prosperity. In the previous episode, Mal and company had stolen meds from an Alliance hospital on Ariel. Since then, they had been selling the stuff on the black market and fetching a pretty penny for them. Jayne – nursing a guilty conscience (and licking his Mal-busted chops) for betraying River and Simon – had used some of his cut to atone for his shame by stocking the galley with a tree’s worth of apples, a heavenly treat in the final frontier of space.

ZOE: These really are the genuine article. I could get used to being rich.

But under the Edenesque surface, sinful desires stirred – and I’m not just talking about the lust that compelled Jayne to make repeated trips to his bunk after ogling Inara’s latest customer and imagining the implications. (More on that later.) Wash had a bug up his butt. He was bothered that Mal had vetoed his suggestion to sell the stolen meds directly to the customer instead of using a fence. Mal had nixed Wash’s proposal because being a principled rogue, the Han Solo wannabe wanted to be above-board in his underworld dealings. “Eliminating the middleman is never as simple as it sounds,” Mal said. “This quadrant, we play nice. Got enemies enough as it is.”

NEXT: Was Niska a parody of the devil or a snarky swipe at God? Both? Debate. 

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