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Firefly: Bushwhacked Ep. 3 October 30, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode is the first written and directed by Tim Minear — Whedon’s right-hand man for the series. Appropriate to his reputation as a “dark” creative force, this episode flirts with the horror/sci-fi genre a la Alien. This episode is also the first one to revolve around the dreaded “Reavers” — Whedon’s contemporary and more PC-version of the “wild Indians” of early westerns. These cannibalistic men-gone-mad serve as a useful plot device to highlight River’s emerging character as an Alliance-created telepath.

As usual, the writers deftly use humor to simultaneously relieve and ratchet-up the tension. Jayne’s cruel but hilarious joke on Simon — tricking him into thinking he needed to wear a spacesuit when the salvage ship is fully pressurized — shows both Simon’s innocence and Jayne’s antagonism towards him. Simon, equal to the challenge, manages to regain some of his lost pride when Jayne is attacked from behind by the ship’s lone survivor-turned-Reaver. When the crew finds this somewhat small-sized attacker hiding in an air duct Simon remarks, “Oh yes…he’s a real beast! It’s a wonder you’re still alive,” to which Jayne retorts, “Looked bigger when I couldn’t see him.”

Minutes later, Jayne is the butt of another joke. Discussing the idea of going back into the salvage ship to put the dead there to rest, Jayne shows his self-centered approach to life saying, “I ain’t goin’ over there with them bodies…no ruttin’ way, not if Reavers messed with ’em,” to which Zoe says with more than a hint of sarcasm, “Jayne…you’ll scare the women.” Here, Minear and Whedon show their twist on western themes and feminism. While women in old western movies would have to be protected from the mere mention of frightening people, Zoe puts this idea to rest in one quick, sarcastic remark that shows her to be braver, more practical and equally able to dish out the insults as Jayne.

Here’s another thing that occurs to me when watching this episode: there is a bit of a disconnect between this episode’s implied reasoning of how the Reavers became Reavers and the explanations provided in the Serenity movie. In claiming that the survivor is basically turned into a Reaver just by witnessing their atrocities against his shipmates, they imply that the Reavers themselves went crazy through some horrifying experience. Mal mentions the theory that they reached the edge of space, saw the emptiness and were driven mad. The movie gives us the “real” reason for their madness, telling us how they were the victims of an Alliance experiment with psychoactive drugs meant to supress aggression but actually amped it up. So, if the Reavers were chemically altered to bring out their Reaver-dom, why would this victim of their crazed attacks become like them without chemical interventions? Admittedly, this inconsistency isn’t airtight. We could have two forces at work here — one chemical and one experiential — that cause Reaver-like behaviors, and I’m guessing this is how Minear and Whedon would explain themselves today. Furthermore, if it’s really just the experience of witnessing those atrocities — if it’s only post-traumatic stress syndrome in space — then this guy might be rehabilitated, in which case, Mal’s view that killing him is the only solution is questionable. Though perhaps unintentional on the part of the writers, this seeming inconsistency serves a larger purpose in pointing out Mal’s flawed sense of morality and judgement.



1. Kym - October 30, 2007

I have always found Bushwhacked to be the weakest of the episodes. Character development was shortchanged. Having said that, I still loved it. The scene where Wash is talking to the commander is hysterical (and the outtakes were even funnier!!)

Out of Gas I think was one of the strongest episodes but Bushwacked is the weakest. Yet both are by Minear.

I think Minear intended for Mal to be doing the right thing by killing the poor kid but I agree with you that it shows Mal’s flawed sense of morality.

Don’t you just love a show where the writers are so good that you can totally disagree with the main point of an episode and still enjoy yourself?

2. Chris - November 2, 2007

Just watched Out of Gas again last night…I tend to agree with you. It is right up there as one of the strongest of the series.

I agree Minear intended for Mal to be doing the right thing by killing the kid. It’s interesting to me (and seems to be a theme in these reviews I’m writing) how often times it appears that a mistake or shortcoming of the writers in these shows that I really like will turn out to be an opportunity to reveal something more profound about the characters. I can’t seem to tell when it’s truly a lucky mistake or when it’s by design. Either way, it seems to be the sign of great writing.

3. Kym - November 2, 2007

My opinion is that when a writer does a good job, she doesn’t insist on a point being made. She leaves the story open a little so that the reader can bring her own experiences to the mix and make a story that resonates within.

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