Firefly Fridays Part Three

Episode III, titled Bushwhacked


We’ll be covering every episode of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series over the next 14 weeks every Friday. One new episode per week. If you have Netflix, the entire show is available for Instant Queue. Our three authors are Alex, found at @alexwhale on Twitter, Lora found at @theinsomniakid and Corissa found at @corissapoley. Enjoy!



This is the first episode where the viewer gets a real idea of the previously mentioned threat of Reavers in the Firefly universe. Reavers, men supposedly driven mad who turn to sadistic cannibalism, torture and murder, are one of the biggest threats the crew faces. Every show needs villains, and in this ‘verse, all the villains (the Reavers, the Alliance, the men with hands of blue) are human. This is a new area for a show created by Whedon; his previous shows, Buffy and Angel, take the idea of the monster quite literally. There are demons, creatures, and beasts of myth and lore, but even though in many episodes they appear as metaphors for the dark things people face in real life, they are still literal monsters.

This is where Firefly presents a less metaphorical but still equally meaningful view of the monstrous natures that can be found in humans. The Reavers aren’t exactly men, but they once were, and this episode shows us that. The sole survivor of an attack goes insane and becomes the creatures that attacked him, turns into the monster as the only way of coping with surviving the torments of the monsters.

Other villains presented in Firefly are very human of course – the crew is at odds with everyone from other criminals, like Badger, to the government and their efforts to capture Simon and River. The Reavers, however, are a call back of sorts to Whedon’s use of metaphor for the human condition in his other shows. This is what always made this episode one of the more disturbing ones for me. Buffy and Angel are easier to watch and experience because the monsters aren’t real (even if they present human characteristics), but Reavers are real enough, are human enough, to give the viewer a moral discomfort, to wonder what it really takes to drive a person over the edge and into cruel insanity. In this case, Reavers are simply the next logical step forward in exploration of the nature of people and what people are capable of. While they feature in other episodes (and in the movie) this is our first real look at them, and our first real taste of that idea.

River and Simon’s involvement in Bushwhacked is particularly interesting. River is revealed to be suffering openly for the first time; she has nightmares. She understands the nature of the Reavers more than the others; she feels the presence of their ghost. She’s also aware of the reincarnation of the boy that becomes a Reaver. Yet she finds some kind of peace in Space while she holds herself against the outside of the Firefly-class ship and her brother is holding her. She looks out at the stars, dazzled like a young child at the wild beauty before her. Simon, on the other hand, cannot look for very long. Something about himself makes him almost sick at the idea of peeking out into infinite space. He mentions this earlier in the episode, saying how strange it must be, to have “nothing but glass and mylar between you and Space.”
Simon is awkward in Bushwhacked. He prepares at first to go aboard the ship with everyone else and assist with any wounded individuals. Jayne rejects him, but then later is forced to order him on board after Mal and Zoe. Simon feels rushed and confused, and so as he prepares to go to the other ship he seems intimidated. This is only heightened by the humiliation of the rest of the crew teasing him when he arrives on board the abandoned ship. He responds with a vague look, seeming distant. He’s confused by his sister’s ailments and feels guilty for not being able to heal her. At the same time, he tries to save others as well – such as when he volunteers to check out the abandoned ship. River in her conflict and Simon in his are truly matched as brother and sister. Neither can establish their emotions – they are both unstable at various points in the episode. Somehow though, they seem to survive and continue on under the protection of the Serenity crew.
The third episode further delves into the libertarian ethos of the series.  After the Feds bring the crew aboard to charge them with illegal salvaging, we see glimpses of the organization’s statist philosophy exemplified by Commander Harken’s interrogation, particularly when discussing Mal’s past as a sergeant fighting for the Independents.  At this point, we know a few things about the Alliance.  They represent a massive, unified government that fought to gain control over the disparate settlements spread across the solar system that were developed after Earth was destroyed.  What exactly was so sinister about the proposed terms of their rule isn’t quite clear.  We currently know that some part of the Alliance is responsible for the psychic terror inflicted on River and likely others.  But perhaps the Independent movement was born simply out of a desire for control over one’s own destiny, and a disinterest in a compulsion to obey rules handed down by an erudite Alliance government out of touch with the lives of the people living in conditions markedly different from those of the central planets.  These are the same timeless tenets that have fueled revolutions in the past, and with any luck, will do so again in the future.  Mal made a conscious decision to continue to live this philosophy after the war, often necessitating relative isolation in the cosmic wilderness.  He wanted to no part in the society the Alliance had curated.
In the interrogation room, Harken pries into the lives of the crew in order to bring them to justice as he sees it.  Zoe handles this inquisition by responding to the questions directed at her curtly, and ends by stating that her marriage is personal, and that they’re “very private people.”  This, of course, is brilliantly juxtaposed with Wash explicitly describing his favorite segments of Zoe’s anatomy.  Finally, we see Mal at the table.  His sizable Alliance file is read before him, excavating the war and attempting to use his past to put him on the defensive. When Harken quips that it seems odd that Mal would name his ship Serenity after a battle he was on the wrong side of, Mal responds, “Maybe on the losing side.  Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”
Thanks for reading our third week of Firefly Fridays! Look forward to next week – we have a Firefly character expert guest writing alongside us!