“They made him watch. He probably tried to turn away, and they wouldn’t let him. You call him a survivor? He’s not. A man comes up against that kind of will, the only way to deal with it, I suspect, is to become it.”
The Serenity crosses paths with an abandoned transport ship in the middle of space. As the crew boards to search for supplies and survivors, they discover that the ship was actually attacked by Reavers, people that went insane on the edges of space and turned into savages. Things get problematic when they’re intercepted by an Alliance patrol, and the sole survivor of the attack slowly transforms into a Reaver and seeks to quench his insatiable bloodlust.
Firefly is by and large a fun show, but when it wants to get dark and creepy, it can get dark and creepy, especially when Reavers are involved. I neglected to mention them when I reviewed the pilot, but I did that because I wanted to tackle them in one fell swoop. As Zoe put it, Reavers will “rape you to death, eat your flesh, and wear your skin as clothing. And if you’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” In the Firefly universe, Reavers are thought of as a wives tale meant to scare people, but they are very, very real. What’s worse is that every time they raid a town or a ship, they always leave at least one survivor who they force to watch as they maim, torture, rape and eat everyone else, leaving them to succumb to the madness, slowly transforming into one of them, mutilating their own bodies and leaving a trail of blood in their wake. They’re only seen a handful of times, but when they do show up, they’re a bigger threat than the Alliance army and every crime lord in the ‘verse combined. Think of them like the White Walkers in Game of Thrones: they’re one of the show’s few supernatural aspects, they’re a major threat that for the most part is relegated to the background, they’re rare to the point of becoming myth, and they’re terrifying as hell.
I think this might be Firefly‘s only horror episode. There’s a great sense of doom and peril throughout the majority of it, making you wonder just what’s lurking in the shadows. “Bushwhacked” definitely has a huge Alien vibe going on (which might have to do with Joss Whedon being one of the writers of Alien: Resurrection, but we don’t talk about that), with the setup being like a haunted house movie lightyears away from civilization, its threats waiting in the looming darkness to violently ravage anyone that walks into its web. Eventually they do find a survivor and bring him back to the infirmary for treatment.
Which brings to one thing about this episode that really bothers me. Why would Mal bring the last survivor on his ship if he knew there was a chance of him turning into a Reaver? He even said so himself that it would be more merciful to shoot the poor bastard and dump his carcass out into the vacuum of space just to be certain. Bringing him onboard, especially after the authorities catch up to them, would be like locking a Mogwai in a swimming pool. Of course if Mal didn’t bring him onboard, we wouldn’t have our plot and our main source of suspense, but still.
Things get hairy when the Alliance catches up with them, and Commander Harken (Doug Savant) immediately assumes that Mal and his crew were responsible for the massacre. Their interception does a good job of conjuring the anxiety most of us feel whenever we’re pulled over by the cops or pass by a crime scene. The anxiety is particularly high for Simon, since he knows that if he and River are spotted, they’ll take her back and continue experimenting on her and all of his sacrifice will be for nothing. Even though he and River have been given the Jason Newstead treatment by Jayne, who has made no secret of his disapproval of them being on the ship at all, anything would be better than being turned in. But I like how this episode sheds some light on the Alliance not as the imperialistic enemies of freedom we thought they’re supposed to be, but simple keepers of order. In a world where this show ran longer, I bet that the ambiguity of the animosity between the browncoats and the Alliance would become an overarching theme. In the end, there’s even a hint of a mutual agreement that there is an unspoken common enemy much greater than themselves.
Overall I give this episode a 4/5. While the main plot hole of Mal rescuing the Reaver survivor when he should’ve killed him then and there still kinda gets to me, there’s still a great sense of suspense that gives the episode a good amount of tension, and the themes of what it really means to be “civilized” is reminiscent of something out of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Really makes me wish the show was given to someone who actually gave a damn. Thanks, Fox.
Next episode: Shindig.
– “I suppose it’s just the thought of a little Mylar and glass separating a person from… nothing.”
“It’s impressive what ‘nothing’ can do to a man.”
I was planning on using that last quote as the headliner, but ultimately went with Mal’s explanation instead.
– Between Mal making Simon believe Kaylee was dead in the pilot and Jayne telling him he needed a spacesuit when he didn’t, I’m starting to think the Serenity crew has a pretty sick sense of humor. When Kaylee told him he was wearing his helmet wrong, I wondered if that was just another joke, but realized that Kaylee is too nice for that.
– My favorite part of this episode is when Commander Harken was interviewing each individual member of the crew. Zoe being tight lipped about her relationship with her husband segueing into Wash bragging about how hot she is is brilliant, and Jayne quietly staring at him is the best.