I'll admit, in the five or six times I've watched the series, I usually gloss over Firefly Season 1 Episode 5.
However, this time, I decided to try to watch it with fresh eyes. My goodness, I'm so glad I did.
This was the first time I really saw the density of the narrative. Simon's story and character are deftly painted and the contrast is sharply drawn between his former life and his life on Serenity. The parallels between Simon's father and Mal are unmistakable, and they really explored the theme of "home."
All that and we haven't even gotten to Shepherd Book!
The first scene we see is a flashback of young Simon and River, playing semi-quietly with each other. Young River is dressed plainly and neatly, hair well combed and she's erudite and eloquent - as is Simon. They clearly have an affluent, stable home life.
Young Simon uses some mildly foul language and is admonished by his father Gabriel, who nevertheless concedes to giving Simon a gift he needs as a young scholar, while making a joke about having to give the gift in spite of this being his house. Simon's dad then asks for some quiet.
The contrast between this scene and the next scene is positively startling. Back in the present, River is wearing ill-fitted clothes with garishly contrasting colors, her hair is unkempt and she's swearing up a storm at poor Simon who is trying his best to placate her.
In walks Mal, who also asks for some quiet, but basically tells Simon to gag River if he can't figure out another way to shut her up.
The parallels drawn between Mal and Gabriel begin from this opening scene and continue throughout the episode. Mal is painted in this episode as an unlikely father figure to the two.
When Simon and River are kidnapped, River tells Simon not to worry because "Daddy will come and take us home." We then cut to a flashback where Gabriel bails Simon out of a jam and tells him that he won't come back for him if he gets in trouble again. Gabriel asks Simon if he's coming home and the scene fades; we can assume that Simon did not go home.
Given what we've learned about River's mind-reading abilities and how much we already know about her unstable mental state, it's debatable whether this comment is her delusional mind talking about her real father... or if she was referring to Mal and calling Serenity home.
After all, Mal did come back for them. He is constantly keeping them out of trouble, avoiding the Alliance as much as possible to keep them safe. Mal recognized the trouble that the Tam siblings were in as captives, a direct contrast to Gabriel's denial about River's situation. Despite the trouble they are to him, Mal, unlike Gabriel, was willing to come to their rescue yet again. Big Damn Hero.
SIMON'S NEW HOME
A running theme in the series thus far has been Simon's struggle to fit in on Serenity and in their life. He's constantly being asked to stay out of the way, he knows he's disliked and he knows he's unwelcome.
Making things even more complicated is the need to constantly watch his crazy, unpredictable, incoherent sister and the fact that life on Serenity is far removed from any life he's ever known.
This episode shows us Simon's strength, without him having to say a word about himself. Through the flashbacks and the present, we see his selflessness through the life he gave up. We see his integrity as he treats a village full of sick people without hesitation, even though he was kidnapped to do so. We see his devotion to River, even climbing onto a wooden stake to burn alive with her so she wouldn't be as scared.
River: You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It's hard for you. You gave up everything you had.
Simon's only uncertainty is where to call home. He sees himself as being forced to live on the outskirts of society, without a home. The villagers ask him where his home is and he has no answer. It isn't till the end, when he realizes that Mal came back for him just because he was part of the crew, that he realizes that Serenity can be home - and that the crew can be a family.
The episode opens with a scene in Simon's old home with his old family and closes with a shot of Serenity flying and Simon having dinner with his new family. Beautiful.
THE MYSTERY OF SHEPHERD BOOK
It's been alluded to time and time again that Shepherd Book has a little too much esoteric knowledge to be just a Shepherd. In the pilot Serenity, he knocked out the Alliance mole with ease. In The Train Job, he inexplicably knew who Adelai Niska was.
This episode made it clear that there's more to Book than he's let on. When he gets shot during a transaction gone bad, Mal is forced to hail an Alliance cruiser to treat him. The Alliance is about to turn around and walk away, until Book makes them check his ID. Which makes them sit up, take notice and get to work.
What could possibly be on Book's card that makes the Alliance react to him with that kind of reverence? Book says one day, he just might tell Mal.
The themes of the episode aren't absent in the Shepherd Book side-plot. When he wakes up back on Serenity, he says, "It's good to be home." All the people who boarded Serenity as passengers now call her home.
I'm glad I watched with fresh eyes. This episode is fantastic.
- When River spews out Ruby's life story, then says Ruby never spoke, she immediately follows it with, "I hear crickets." Which I can only assume is the mental reaction of Simon and Doralee, as well as a nod to all of us viewers going "wait...what?!" in our minds.
- Oh Simon and Kaylee. How I love your awkward lovestruck interactions.
- Jayne and money. Good grief. He was asking about the pay when Book lay on the ground shot, and Serenity was barely off the ground before he raided Simon's bunk!
- River's dancing was surely a way to show off Summer Glau's skills as a classically trained dancer.
- Visit our Firefly quotes section to relive the best one-liners.
- Watch Firefly online via TV Fanatic at any time.
MEET THE CAST:
- Simon Tam is played by Sean Maher, who is most well known for this role. He was also on the short-lived series "The Playboy Club", and recently played Shrapnel on Arrow.
- You may have noticed a young Zac Efron in the role of young Simon Tam.
- Doralee, the village teacher, was played by Erica Tazel, currently seen as Rachel Brooks on Justified.