Episode V, titled Safe



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!



Lora’s got the pleasure of traveling to Washington D.C. this weekend for the Reason Rally! We’re pretty jealous, but it’s okay because she’ll tell us all about it when she returns. She does like Safe though, so we’ll hear her thoughts on it next week.


Safe is an episode entrenched in both mystery and the demystified.  The origins of the obviously strong bond between Simon and River are explored through numerous flashbacks interspersed within the main episode plot.  We see the siblings as bright and privileged children at first, followed by Simon’s descent into what his parents believe to be conspiracy and paranoia.  Not only did Simon forsake his societal comfort in order to rescue his sister from the Alliance, he also sacrificed his relationship with his parents.  To Simon, there was only one option; save River no matter what is required of him.

In contrast to this expository backstory, Shepherd Book is revealed to be a bit of an enigma.  After being wounded when the cattle deal goes wrong, Book’s need for immediate medical attention leads the crew of Serenity to a formidable Alliance vessel.  The squad of Alliance troops who greet them are initially cold to their appeal for aid until Book produces a cryptic identification card and the personnel immediately leap into action.  My fascination with Book’s character has much to do with the continuously evolving depth that Whedon reveals as the series moves onward.  We already know that, for a shepherd, Book possesses extraordinary knowledge of the criminal underworld and of the universe at large.  While he primarily comes from a theological perspective, Book proves that, in Whedon’s world and in our world, the entirety of a person cannot be summed up with a single adjective.


While I watched Safe this week I was thinking about River and Simon. It’s obvious that they are at least half of this episode as Alex said, but I do want to focus on them for just a second. Their relationship as brother and sister is particularly noticeable in a show that, in general, does not say much about families. The show seems even to put parents in a deliberately negative light. In Firefly, the idea of children is rarely addressed and the idea of parenthood is missing. Yet in this episode, we see a glimpse into the past lives of the Tam siblings that reveals parents with high expectations and willful blindness. In the flashback to the conversation between Simon and his parents, his mother condescendingly calls River’s code “one of her little games.” and also tells Simon that his entire life is about his career. The Tam parents refuse to see what they don’t want to, making them inevitably like those who live passively under the Alliance. They dislike disruption of their world, but this does not matter to Simon.

Despite protests, Simon seeks after River and gives up everything he has to save her. He’s over-cautious with her and deathly afraid of losing her. Family is the most important thing to him. This contrasts heavily with the other characters on the show. Where is anyone else’s family? We don’t ever hear about family in Mal’s life, not Inara’s nor Kaylee’s and so on. But River and Simon are there, showing that affection between siblings is in some ways a deeper bond than the parent-child relationship. What exactly is Whedon trying to tell us by sharing his concept of family with the viewer in this way? We can only guess at his motives, and wonder why it is that River and Simon’s unique relationship is so striking.


Character Profile: Shepherd Book

by Rebecca Urban&Rick Urban


Shepherd Book

Book is an enigma, a cryptic character of the highest order.  He comes to the ship as a traveler, not looking for a destination, but rather a journey.  What manner of journey brings a man of religion to take up with a group such as the crew of Serenity?  He will surely have his hands full with this flock of black sheep.

His character is shrouded in mystery, metaphor, and symbolism.  The title Shepherd sets the stage for the religious entity he presents himself as being, a guide and protector.  Even his name, Book, can be seen as a reference to iconic religious literature.  Yet, in the first episode we find him in personal conflict as his feelings of indignation over Dobson’s betrayal of the crew are overriding his belief that he should mourn the loss of any human life.  At the end of that scene, he sits before Inara and appears to be seeking absolution, which she gives by placing her hand on his head.

More symbolism appears in Safe when after Book gets shot, Jayne asks Mal, “Did you get the money?” appearing to care more for the loot than the Shepherd’s well being.  When they get him aboard Serenity, we see Mal throw the blood soaked bag of money on the surgical table.  Both situations can be seen as references to “blood money,” that is, ill-gotten gain at the sacrifice of the innocent. Yet innocence is in short supply when it comes to Shepherd Book.  With his knowledge of criminal activity and the Alliance ident card that gets him the much-needed emergency care, it certainly points to a dark history, one he seems unwilling to share.

However, through it all he remains the only religious person on the ship, but not the only reverent person.  He brings a quiet calm to the raging storms of violence that seem to surround their lives.  His staunch belief in religion, and mankind, offers them all hope, and brings a faithful view to their otherwise Godless world, whether they would have it or not.