“We’re lost… lost in the woods.”
After dropping off the cattle acquired at the end of “Shindig”, the Serenity crew are ambushed and Shepherd is wounded in the crossfire. Simon and River got separated from the group when they went into town and have gone missing, but since they’re in an emergency, Mal leaves without them. Turns out that Simon and River’s captors are from a nearby village in need of a doctor, and Simon, convinced that Mal has abandoned them, stays behind to help them.
During my first run of the show, Simon and River were the least interesting part to me, probably since their story was rarely in the foreground. But after watching it a few times and seeing the movie, I then realized that their plot is the crux of the whole series. Aside from hiding from the law, at this point we’ve mostly seen Simon try to keep is increasingly erratic and unpredictable sister out of trouble, like someone with a family member with special needs that they can’t be more than a few feet away from. We already know that Simon risked everything to rescue his sister from the Alliance, and we know that despite her erratic behavior, River is actually a genius and has untapped abilities that are only hinted at. If the show had been given a chance to last longer, River’s abilities and why the Alliance is after her would be the big endgame reveal of the series, which is why it’s the main focus of the movie.
Going from being one of the top up-and-coming doctors in one of the biggest cities in the inner rim to being a fugitive in the company of crooks and thieves in a rickety junker with nothing to live for but his sister, who he has to constantly keep and eye on, is a huge downgrade for Simon, and one he has obviously not adjusted to. This manifests when he frustratingly laments his predicament, inadvertently insulting the usually sweet natured and patient Kaylee in the process. With his career in shambles and his family cutting him out of their lives, River has become Simon’s only reason to keep on living. She may be a burden sometimes, but it’s a burden Simon carries without a second though, because she’s the only one who loves him unconditionally and the only one who really understands him. Which is why even though he was at first uncomfortable with being forced to hide in Serenity, he doesn’t mind staying in a poor village at the farthest ends of the galaxy as long as his sister is safe. That is until the superstitious villagers think she’s a witch and try to burn her at the stake.
One thing this episode is racked with is mystery. Like I said before, if we knew out of the gate exactly what River’s deal was, the series would fall apart. We know that the Alliance did something bad to her that messed her up really bad, but at the most unexpected moments she can drop some profound wisdom. While staring at the cattle that have been released after being hulled up in the ship for so long she says “They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be but they forgot. Now they see the sky and they remember what they are.” To which Mal replies, “Is it bad that what she said made perfect sense to me?” There are two other scenes that strongly hint at her abilities. The first is when she wanders off and finds a group of people dancing, and is able to jump in and join the dance with perfect rhythm and grace, but suddenly stops when she senses that something has gone wrong right when Shepherd was shot. The second is when River communicates with a mute girl back at the village and is able to figure out why she can’t speak without making her talk, which in turns sparks the witch hunt.
River isn’t the only one with secrets, though. Throughout the series, there have been hints that Shepherd isn’t all that he seems, and one of the biggest hints is dropped in this episode. Without a doctor, Mal has no choice but to board an Alliance cruise ship and request medical attention. They refuse at first, but after getting a look at Shepherd’s ID, they bring him on board immediately. Of course this is not the first or last time that Shepherd’s past is hinted at. He’s shown an astounding knowledge of things you wouldn’t expect a preacher to know about, and he also seems to be surprisingly efficient with guns and combat. Unlike River, though, the show never got to elaborate on Shepherd’s past. Thanks, Fox. (And before you ask, yes, I know about the comics.)
Overall I give “Safe” a 3.5/5. I didn’t like it as much during my first run, but since I’m reviewing this episode with the knowledge of the whole series in mind, I see its part in the big picture.
Next episode: “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
That kid who played a young Simon in the first scene? Zac Efron. Good to know not everything he was in sucks.
-River: “The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds given proper vacuuming systems.”
Mal: “See, morbid and creepifying I can handle, long as she does it quiet-like.”
– The conversation Inara and Kaylee have in the shop where Inara mistakes a swan carving for a duck is based on a Chinese proverb: “A badly painted tiger looks like a dog. A badly carved swan looks like a duck.”
– While fixing up Shepherd, Zoe mentions a man she knew with a hole in his shoulder that he kept a hankie in. I would’ve loved to hear that guy’s story.
– Jayne (while going through Simon’s journal): “Dear Diary, Today I was pompous and my sister was crazy. Today we were kidnapped by hill folk. It was the best day ever.”