Space western? That sounds like something out from science fiction! Those were my thoughts exactly when I first came across Firefly so many years ago. It hasn’t changed, showing us that this amazing show has stood the test of time. Though, sadly it didn’t survive FOX. Though, what it lost in longevity (lasting just a season with three unaired episodes included only on DVD), it more than made up for in not having a single bad episode for its entire run. Though they followed a loosely held together arching storyline centering on the Tams; every episode could stand on its own. From betrayals and heart string tugs to witty, appreciative comedy and inspiring messages, Firefly had it all.
This list was really hard for me to do because I love every single episode of this series, but here is my attempt to deciding which ones rose higher than the rest. So without further ado, these are my top 5 Firefly episodes.
- Out of Gas
This number 5 spot was probably the easiest choice. Other than the very short flashback at the start the pilot and a few expositional conversations, we never really get any solid background on our cast of characters. In this episode, a near fatal malfunction in Serenity’s engine cause portions of the ship to catch fire and the ensuing explosions create a dire injury for Zoe. Granted this episode has a floppy timeline that switches back from present- to immediate past- to far past; it gets a little tricky to comprehend, though most of it makes the right amount of sense. The immediate past pertains to Malcolm and Zoe, post-unification war, buying Serenity and finding her crew.
Though what makes Firefly such a great show is that most of the time, no matter how high the peril of Serenity’s crew, the show maintains a very light hearted tone early in the season. “Out of Gas” is not the first to express its darker undertones (I’m looking at you Niska) but it is the first to make us truly look at the consequences within the series’ universe. In the opening we see Mal, gravely wounded and barely struggling with life; after all the great and lucky escapes he’s made, at this moment I truly felt something might go terribly wrong. Even with no context. Even with the explosion show shortly after in a recent flashback, we don’t see Malcolm hurt in anyway. Of course we find out later that he was ambushed by another salvage crew and left for dead when they couldn’t take Serenity. Dangers of living in the verse’, a darker tone indeed.
Yet what I love most about this episode is what I stated before. It gives much more substance to characters that we think we already know, midway into the season. With various flashbacks we see events that we wouldn’t dream were true, for example, when Wash first applied to be Serenity’s pilot, Zoe wanted nothing to do with him and disliked him only based on a ‘feeling’. Could have also been that mustache. My favorite though, had to be Jayne. It came as no surprise that money moved him; seeing him hilariously betray his own men added a touch of humor to the episode and even foreshadowed something much darker to come…
- Our Mrs. Reynolds
I’m just going to come clean and say it. This episode is on here for very biased reasons and by biased reasons, I mean that Mal and Inara (or as I like to call them, Malnara) are the dead head center of this strange tale full of sexual and platonic tension. Granted, most viewers could pretty much tell from the get go that there was something buried deep deep down between these characters that would one day lead to hundreds of fat children; it could also be said that Mal was teaching us how to pick up women, hint hint…don’t be a dick. Moving on, this episode open on the crew celebrating a victory against bandits on a border planet called Triumph and everyone is having a blast. Except Simon, always because of Simon. Mal gets a dance with a lovely woman and wined and wreathed while Jayne plays with a rain stick (pun not intended).
On their way off the planet Mal seems to have gained an extra passenger without knowing and having been married without knowing. Yes according to some customs, drinking a strange ladies wine and letting her put a wreath on you is tying the knot…and they say diamonds are forever. Anyway, Mal continues to do what he does best, be a dick, while the rest of the crew calls him out on his terrible ways. Except Jayne, who seems to think the rain stick wasn’t enough. Even Shepard Book gives him some marital advice in the form of a very special level of hell. But as I mentioned before my favorite part of this episode is how much it reveals between Mal and Inara. After Mrs., Reynolds or Saffron, takes over the ship by giving Mal the kiss of death she runs into Inara who eventually sees right through her. She ends up in Mal’s cabin seeing him unconscious…with his clothes on. Obviously she realizes what this meant and gave him a big ol’ kiss…with venom still on his lips.
Another reason I loved this episode is because it put a new woman in a position of power. I mean Inara and Zoe are no pushovers but there’s something about Saffron that speaks a different volume on the matter. In a sense she’s very similar to Mal with her roguish ways and ability to adapt with or not within her fabricated persona. Yet she creeps over the line that turns this from sympathetic character to quite despicable. As she will demonstrate in the future episode, “Trash”. (Pun intended this time)
- The Message
This is the last sad one, I promise, maybe. As I stated in my previous article one of my favorite points of characterization and exposition was the War of Unification. Up to this point in the series, we only got bits and pieces of tid bits and small memories of Mal and Zoe’s time fighting with the Independents; they were hardened but humbled by the experience and so help you if you trashed the Brown-Coats. This episode offered a lot more in memories and what effects the war had on the overall canon and what it left of its survivors.
The episode opens in a space station where the crew is having a fun time, enjoying strange attractions, Simon ruining things with Kaylee once again and seeing the awesome hat that Jaynes mom knit for him; such a sweet woman. Yet Mal and Zoe receive a package that’s horrifying yet understood a frozen body of their old war buddy, Tracey Smith. With him a note asking that his two only friends bring his body home to his mother. We get to see a flash back of a battle during the war which is a very nice touch and informative of their characters. However things turn ugly when he turns out to be alive and through the course of the episode we find that Tracey is escaped human cargo who sold his body to science; his organs are experimental and their makers want them back.
Tracey reveals to us what true desperation looks like, it’s ugly, tragic, and most importantly, incredibly human. We also see a side of Mal that brings out what the war did to him, ruthlessness. When Tracey tries to hold Kaylee hostage rather than be taken by the Alliance, Mal shows us two sides of him with what ensues: he will always do what needs to be done and his crew means everything to him. Little as he may show it, in the end, “When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, well—Yeah, you know the rest”.
Ahh, “Ariel”. Honestly without how many times I’ve thought it over and reached the series I really thought this would take the number one spot on this list. It’s one of my favorite episodes and marks many important and pivotal moments in the series as it moves into darker territory midway through the season. First off, with the exception of Persephone, the crew tended to steer clear of central Alliance planets. Yet, with Inara needing to renew her Companion status the crew is forced to make port, but with the condition of getting in and out. This isn’t a place they would find their line of work. However, signature Joss Whedon, circumstances occur that add drama to the simplest of plot lines. When River attacks Jayne with a knife Mal brings up that her condition is getting worse and he is more than concerned about the aura she gives the ship.
Surprisingly Simon comes up with a job for the crew. Ariel’s main hospital has a giant supply oh simple medicines that treat simple illnesses and health issues, things that border planets have no access to. With the Hospital being able to restock the stolen items in no time, no one will miss the items and it’ll mean a much needed payout for Serenity. His price; he wants them to smuggle himself and River so that he can better diagnose her condition using a digital brain scanner. Now, what I really love about this episode is that it doesn’t focus on Mal as a main character but rather on Simon, Jayne, and River. The Jayne portion is what stuck out most; his near betrayal of the crew makes us question his true loyalties. We feel the hurt when he sells out the Tams to the Blue Sun and tries to make it seem like a horrible coincidence.
Even more, we find out, sort of, what’s wrong with River. It’s not yet reveled that she’s a psychic (that’s unveiled in the film) but we get a glimpse of what was done to her. Apparently the reason for her damaged mentality is because they removed a portion of her brain that allows her to process and cope with fear; she has no filter to simply put it out of her mind. Not soon after we confronted with the devious men with blue gloves and those horrifying eyebrows that I’m convinced are the true villains of the series. All this plus the informative flashbacks of young River and Simon make for one of the best Tam centered episodes of the series.
- War Stories
This was nearly a no brainer. It has everything you want in an episode: action, drama, comedy, everything. It’s easy to love this episode because it brings back a not so solid villain and as you probably have come to learn, centers on the war unification, sort of. The episode begins very light heartedly as the crew reaps their rewards from the job on Ariel, though they are picked up on by Niska’s men and he’s still sore about the train job. Meanwhile, trouble in paradise causes a rift between Mal, Wash, and Zoe because of his jealousy for the time they spent in the war and how much they tell stories of it. Also the fact that Zoe tends to agree with the captains ideas more than her husbands. So Wash does what any extremely jealous husband would do, try to be his wife. Without trying to recap the entire episode, since its best watched; Wash goes on a simple job with Mal, with a funny attitude. They get captured by Niska’s men and the crew pays obscene amount money and fire bullets to get them back.
Now what I absolutely love about this episode is the torture scene, I promise I’m not a sadist. When Niska finally gets his hands on the duo he immediately starts with the horrible business. Yet, Mal can’t let go of the feud between he and Wash. It’s this moment that we really see what he’s doing. He’s keeping Wash alive by insulting and further instigating. At first it’s funny to watch but then we start to realize that this is probably Mal being as selfless as he can possibly be. Mal is no monster of course, but he’s also no saint. This only furthers the side of him we see in “Ariel” and even more later in “Heart of Gold”, when it comes to him and his own; no price is too high. Not even an ear. Mal is not alone in this. Zoe rounds up all the hard earned money from the previous episode to buy them back. Yet, when Niska tries to play games with her by making her choose only one she choses her husband instantly. Many could see this as ruthlessness on her part but it’s quite the contrary. This woman has a plan.
Secondly, this may seem superficial, but the battle sequence is quite something to behold. Of course they would not leave the captain to suffer until dead. The crew rounds up what guns and equipment they have to make an assault of Niska’s space station. Hell, even after what Jayne pulled off in the last episode, he still joins the fray. Though all of them may not be killers, they go in full of resolve. River of course we all know is a wild card and can’t be controlled; in this battle she shows us a reason to be afraid of her. When Kaylee begins to break her cover, River simply comes in blind, eyes closed, and takes out several men. Granted the film show us way more of her martial prowess, this is a good starting point to show it off.
I could go all day with this episode but as I said before, you should just watch it again or if you never have you should get on it. This concludes this top five. Do you agree with this list, if not tell me what your favorites are in the comments and we can totally argue about. All in good fun, I promise.