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Firefly Episode 3: Should Some People Be Left To Die?
After the space crew rescues the survivor of a pirate attack, Captain Mal faces off against The Shepherd on whether God can save even that man.
Episode 3 begins with a friendly game of basketball… or something like it. Simon, a doctor who has joined the Firefly crew, notes that there appear to be no rules to the game as he watches from the balcony. The game is interrupted by a “proximity alert” and the crew discovers a wrecked ship floating in space. The captain decides to check it out and they quickly discover that the ship has been attacked by the infamous Reavers.
We’d seen their ship once in episode one, and we’d heard some ominous descriptions of what they do to their prisoners: “If they take the ship, they’ll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And, if we’re very, very lucky, they’ll do it in that order.” – Zoë”
Now, we get a glimpse of their destructiveness first-hand. It turns out there is a survivor. As they are tending to the man’s wounds and planning on how best to salvage the ruined vessel, an interesting debate arises. Captain Mal insists that the man cannot be saved, while Shepherd declares that God can save anyone. We don’t hear much about Mal’s reasons for believing it’s best to let the man die until later in the episode when the Alliance appears out of nowhere and decides to detain the crew and search the ship for Simon and his sister, River. (Spoilers follow.)
During the interrogation, Mal explains his position. Thanks to the immense trauma the man has suffered at the hand of the Reavers, the man will, as Mal says, “do the only thing he can do,” which is become like them. He’s proven right. The man later mutilates himself and is somehow able to fake that he is dying, accelerating his heart to an alarming rate. While the doctors and nurses try to save him, he grabs a scalpel and slaughters the Alliance medical staff, then returns to the ship because it is, again as Mal says, “familiar ground.” He’s hunting.
This was interesting to me. It’s common to hear of people who are mentally ill harming themselves. But could there really be a case where the madman not only loses his sanity, but devolves to the point that he becomes nothing but a primitive beast, hunting, not to eat, but because he lusts for blood? Furthermore, this episode raises a moral question: Is it better to let such a man die? And could such a madness be caused by trauma, rather than the deterioration of the brain? Also, how could a madman implement enough self-control to elevate his own heart rate, and not only do so, but do so in an attempt to deceive a medical team?
Many people have endured such traumas, and their reactions vary. But this episode asks us to believe that a Reaver attack will inevitably cause such madness. I’m no medical expert, so I couldn’t say with any degree of authority what happens in cases of trauma-induced madness. But it seemed to me that a number of logical leaps are required in order to make this scenario plausible in the story — and my questions took me out of the episode.
And here’s another interesting quandary. Whenever this man wakes up or shows any sort of duress, River wakes from her sleep and screams. It is as if she can hear the man. Why? Is it because she’s mad too. I’m sorry to say, it was dramatic but it made absolutely no sense.
Beyond these puzzling issues — which perhaps only plague a man who thinks too hard about them — the episode was strong. It was fast-paced, with the tension making it fly by swiftly.
The chemistry between the main Alliance interrogator and Mal was very good; although, they shared little screen time. In terms of the story’s structure, the only clunky part was at the end.
The show ran out of minutes and couldn’t show the interrogator changing his mind about Mal when he saved his life and proved that Reaver madness was actually a thing. We see the ship take off and are left with some quick exposition to us tell what happened, which is not a great way to end the story. Next time, we’ll review Episode 4.