Firefly (Flashback) recap: The Safety Dance

River is kidnapped and accused of witchery by hill folk, while Shepherd Book has some intriguing secrets
Ep. 05 | Aired Mar 27, 2011

SAVE OUR TAMS In "Safe," Mal has to make some complex decisions to rescue the kidnapped Tam siblings

20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

Under different circumstances, Simon and River could have made a new home for themselves on this out-of-the-way planet, even if the town mercantile offended their hoity-toity sensibilities by selling crap china at inflated prices. (I loved that moment, even if it came at Simon-crushing Kaylee’s expense.) The untamed environment and other segments of it its human population – especially those Jiangyin hippies and their delightful Maypole dances --- were a quieting balm to River’s agitated soul. (The sequence where River got to cut footloose among the high-steppin’ folkies, culminating with Simon’s abduction, intercut with the Shoot-Out At The Temp Cow Corral, in which the preacher Book was badly wounded, was well-executed.)

If only all Men In Charge could be like Captain Tightpants, whose heroic arc – such as it was – saw him modulating his policies and operating outside his safety zone for the sake of inconvenient oddballs living under his roof. After Book was shot, Mal loaded up Serenity and took to the stars to find help. The only option: An Alliance Cruiser. Mal initially balked – ain’t no way this Browncoat/counter-culture rebel was going to beg help from The Man  -- but his better nature asserted itself in response to crisis. At first, it appeared The Alliance wasn’t going to offer assistance to these low priority, low class vagabond urchins. But then Book coughed up one of his big secrets: He was no low priority, low class urchin, but a man of high standing in Alliance society, whose IdentCard granted high priority entitlements. A stunned Mal was both intrigued and irritated by this revelation, but he was ultimately moved when Book returned to the Serenity and made it clear to Mal that there was no place he’d rather be: “It’s good to be home.” The backstory of his Alliance past? A tale for another day.

One question that was left for us to wonder about Mal: Was he always planning to go back and retrieve Simon and River, or did he need Book’s crisis to point his moral compass in the right direction? Regardless, Mal the Just All Right Shepherd chased after his wandering sheep. No shocker there – we knew that was going to happen. But the way it went down surprised me. I thought what we were going to get was a scene in which Mal liberated Simon and River by using the money earned from the cattle job to buy their freedom. I think that would have been a more thematically appropriate way to conclude the story. Instead, we got the superhero fairy tale version of The Crucible. It was effective, even affecting, but cheaply earned.

Simon was grateful, though surprised. After all, he had taken Mal to be a man like his father. The kind of man who doesn’t come for his family when it’s inconvenient for him. Nope.

SIMON: You … you came for us.

MAL: You’re on my crew.

SIMON: You don’t even like me.

MAL: You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this?

Loved that.

And then the Firefly family of man gathered around the table to break bread, the model of ‘can’t we all just get along?’ society getting along famously with one another, none of them seeming to miss for one second their only absent member – the man of faith and powerful privilege, not yet recovered and rehabbed enough to reclaim his seat at the table. Make of that what you will. The message boards are open for commenting, criticizing and speechifying – or feel free to send me a “wave” @EWDocJensen.

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