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Firefly: The Message Ep. 12 December 2, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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 Lesson Learned:  Don’t Play Your Friends for Chumps — They May Have to Shoot You

Well, I’ll start off by saying I’ve had trouble writing this post. I’m not exaclty sure why, but I don’t seem to see a clear point of entry into this story like I have with others.  Overall, I like this episode — it’s fine.  Not great, just fine for this series (which puts it well ahead of most TV right there).  What’s clear to me is that once again, trust and community are central themes of this episode, but here we explore these concept in terms of the way we present ourselves to the world.  How we carry ourselves through life and present ourselves to friends and foes is explored.  For Mal, there is no variation.  He presents himself consistently to everyone.  He has a strong sense of identity and with it, a strong sense of morality, however compromised and imperfect it may be.  Most of the crew share this honesty…this sense of being true to themselves and to each other.  While Simon does not play a critical role in the plot of this episode, on reflection, the episode seems to point its criticism at him.  Basically, it seems to accuse him of being disingenuous in his dealing with Kaylee and the rest of the crew. 

The episode begins by showing us several examples of people lying for personal gain.  Mal and the crew encounter a series of packages and people who are not what they first appear to be.  Simon and Kaylee visit a carnival sideshow (sort of like Ripley’s Believe it or Not in space), complete with a “barker” who tempts the passers by to pay, enter and witness “…proof of alien life.”  Inside they find a mutated cow fetus displayed in a large glass jar.  It’s a hoax, intended to bilk people for their money.  At first, they’re not disappointed since they both relish the opportunity to have some time alone together.  Simon tells Kaylee with admiration, “You manage to find the bright side of every single thing.”

Kaylee:  “Tell me more good stuff about me.”

Simon:  “Well, you’re kind of a genius when it comes to machines, you always say what you mean, and you’re eyes are…”

Kaylee:  “Yeah, eyes, yeah…”

Simon stutters and then lamely attempts a half-truth joke:  “…and um, I don’t know how to, um….and plus, every other girl I know is either married, professional, or closely related to me so…you’re more or less, pretty much the only girl in the world.”

Kaylee insulted and angry at him now, stomps off and leave Simon to ponder where he went wrong.  To me, it seems that Simon is out of his element in more ways than one.  He’s certainly not skilled at playing the romance game, but beyond this, his joke reveals an essential dishonesty of his character.  While he has given up everything to save River, he’s also put the crew at risk by taking refuge on Serenity.  While they have knowingly helped him at their own peril, Kaylee suddenly realizes an essential truth of Simon’s character by deciphering the code of his joke:  while he has chosen his life on Serenity, he’s there for self-preservation and not out of love for the crew.  As time has progressed, he has obviously become attached to them, and he seems to be falling for Kaylee, but these are all attachments of convenience and necessity.  If he had complete freedom of choice, he would go back to being a rising-star surgeon and would probably find love within the social stratum of that life — he would not choose her.

Back with Mal and Zoe, they find that a package they pick up contains the body of one of their war buddies known as Tracy.  A flashback follows where Mal, Zoe and Tracy are fighting a battle among the ruins of a city.  Ostensibly, this scene gives us the back-story of Mal and Zoe’s relationships with Tracy during the war, but there are a few interesting, additional observations to be made from this scene.  The first is how Tracy carried himself through the battle, and probably, through the whole war.  To put it simply, he’s selfish, and we’re asked to compare his selfishness to Simon’s.  In this scene, he settles in to get a bite in the middle of a battle — a time when he should be helping his comrades.  Just as he’s about to be taken out by an enemy soldier that sneaks up while he’s chowin’ down, Zoe saves him with a rather gruesome knife-to-the-throat action.  Tracy remarks at how he never heard the guy coming.  Zoe responds that the first rule of battle is to never let them know where you are.  This cues Mal’s entrance, him screaming and firing wildly as he runs — definitely not in stealth mode.  So, Tracy seeks his pleasures and in the process, puts others at risk by doing so, and then needs to be bailed out by the people who call him friend.  This turns out to be exactly what Tracy does in this case as well.  Tracy isn’t really dead, of course, and it turns out he’s conned Zoe and Mal into transporting him to sell some artificial organs he is carrying in his body for sale on the black market. 

But before the crew finds out Tracy is still alive, Kaylee takes an interest in him.  The message he’s left for Mal and Zoe tells that he had fallen in with a bad crowd and was expecting to be killed.  He asks that Mal and Zoe take his body home to his parents for burial.  Something about his story takes hold of Kaylee’s imagination.  Her admiration for Tracy only grows when they all find out he’s faked his own death.  Once he’s fully revived, he tells the story of how he’s double-crossed the criminals who gave him the artificial organs to transport  and is trying to deliver the goods to a higher bidder.  Using this money, he claims he can get his parents out of poverty.  So, at first glance to Kaylee, Tracy seems motivated by similar goals to Simon.  Both have put themselves at severe risk to help those they love.  This story speaks to Kaylee and she’s attracted to him for similar reasons to her attraction to Simon. 

But as it turns out, Tracy has betrayed Mal and Zoe in an effort to pull-off his heist, and whatever his intentions were for using the money for himself or the benefit of his family, we’ll never know.  Fearing that Mal is about to turn him over to the Feds, Tracy takes Kaylee hostage and tries to run for safety.  Zoe, Mal and Jayne take him down.  Before Tracy dies, he asks Mal and Zoe to do what he had asked them to do before — to take him home to his parents for burial.  In the end, this redeems Tracy’s character, and we as the audience are able to accept that the crew authentically mourns his passing even though they were duped by him.



1. Kym - December 2, 2007

Note how the whole arc of the show has the Kaylee bookmark. In the pilot, Kaylee (home love family) is held hostage by Simon. “I won’t fix her unless you help me run.”

In the Message, Tracy does the same thing. There is no difference…

Except River, and that is the difference. What the show (the whole multi episode show) seems to say is You do what you have to to protect the ones you love–that is okay, even admirable. But do the same thing for just yourself and you a selfish bastard.

2. Kym - December 2, 2007

Chris, something is up with the comments box. its about 1/2″ x 1″ Very difficult to write in.

3. Kym - December 2, 2007

Hey, now its okay!

4. Chris - December 2, 2007

Yes…I think you’ve summed it up very nicely….pointed out the final link between Tracy and Simon. Excellent. I may revise the post to include this point…thanks!

5. Mekana - June 19, 2008

This was a fascinating post. I’ll have to rewatch this episode now. And interesting note, especially after reading your post on Objects in Space. The cast was actually told of the show’s cancellation while filming this episode. The somber mood of everyone at Tracy’s funeral seems reflective of that sadness and frustration of the crew as well. As another interesting point, the music playing at the funeral was written as a farewell to Firefly after the musician heard of the cancellation. Kinda makes the whole episode really sad.

6. Chris - June 19, 2008

Mekana: Thanks for the encouraging comment. The timing of just when the episodes were done and when the cast and crew knew they were going to be cut is a little confusing to me, but I think you’re right. I remember hearing (DVD commentaries?) that this episode was done just as the announcement was made they were being canceled. I talk about this some more in my Objects in Space post, and Kym (see her comments throughout this blog) made me question the sequence of what they knew when. She has a much better understanding of the sequence of the show’s production, having ready several of the “Making of…” books for Firefly.

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