November 15, 2002
Ariel is the ninth episode of the Firefly TV series and was first aired on Fox, on November 15, 2002.
Hard up for cash, Serenity takes on a job from Simon: break into an Alliance hospital on central world Ariel so that he can get a thorough diagnostic of River and the crew can loot the valuable stores of medicine. But River's pursuers are hot on their trail, and they receive some unexpected inside help.
The episode opens as Serenity heads to Ariel, a central world of the Union of Allied Planets. Inara is due for her annual Companion physical exam and license renewal. The crew chats in the common room about what they might do while there, but Mal enters to announce that no one is leaving the ship, in order to minimize their visibility in this highly monitored bastion of the Alliance. When Jayne makes some less-than-polite remarks about Simon, River suddenly slashes Jayne in the chest with a kitchen carving knife, and Jayne responds by backhanding her. She casually defends her attack, saying Jayne looks "better in red."
As Simon stitches Jayne in the infirmary and attempts to apologize for River's actions, the mercenary refuses to listen and demands the attending Mal that she and the doctor be left on Ariel, suggesting that they might receive a reward for turning in the fugitive siblings. Mal quashes any talk of leaving people behind, but after Jayne leaves, Mal tells Simon to keep River confined to her room at all times, only allowed out with Mal's personal permission, and warns him that he'll have to revisit their arrangement if she isn't kept under control. He then sympathetically notes that she is getting worse; Simon quietly acknowledges it.
While the crew kills time playing horseshoes in the cargo hold, Wash and Jayne bemoan the lack of work they've had in recent stops. Simon approaches them with a job, one that would pay out ten times over. He illustrates by showing them three bottles of medicine originally from his medkit, and how much these small amounts actually cost, from 20 Credits to 200 Credits. His proposal: if they help him break into Ariel City's hospital so he can use the 3-D neuroimager in the diagnostic ward to analyze River's condition, then he will show them how to raid the medical stores of the hospital for supplies that will net Serenity considerable wealth on the black market. Kaylee expresses unease at the idea of stealing medicine from patients that will need them, but Zoë states that Alliance resources will allow the government-run hospital to rapidly replace whatever they take within hours, which Simon affirms; Mal adds that people in the Rim could really use the medicine. Wash asks how Simon plans to break into a highly secure Alliance facility and get around security. Around the mess hall table, Simon explains that his plan has two phases:
- Breach the perimeter using an "official" medical shuttle and fake EMT IDs, smuggling in the Tams as deceased patients for the hospital morgue, and
- Split up, with Jayne guarding while Simon diagnoses River, and Mal and Zoë stuffing the Tams' then-empty "coffins" with the most valuable drugs they can lay their hands on in the medical vault.
As Simon presents the plan details in voiceover, Jayne is shown securing the identification, keycards and uniforms, Kaylee and Wash raid a local junkyard contracted by the hospital and find an ambulance shuttle in repairable condition, and Mal, Zoë, and Jayne struggling ineptly to recite prepared medical assessments for their rushed entrance into the emergency ward. By the time the faux medical technicians have their lines down, Wash and Kaylee have finished their work on the medical shuttle.
Although River is terrified of another comatose trip, her brother calms her with the promise of a diagnosis that will help him dispel her nightmares, and then injects her and then himself with a drug designed to send the user into a deathlike state.
As Wash transports the team via the shuttle on the way to the hospital, Mal voices concern about how Jayne may handle himself with Simon after what occurred with River. Jayne begrudgingly admits that Simon's plan is good (though he makes it clear that he still dislikes him) and shrugs off revenge with a joke about giving the comatose Simon a tattoo. Once landed, Wash waits with the shuttle while the other "EMTs" rush into Emergency with their "victims", but as they start their prepared spiel, the admitting nurse absently directs them to the morgue. Mal and Zoë recover quickly from the surprising ease of this hurdle, but Jayne, unable to adapt as quickly, nearly ruins their smooth entry by spouting his now-irrelevant line anyway.
In the morgue, Mal starts the revival process for Simon and River, then departs with Zoë for the medical vault. Unsupervised, Jayne wanders off to make a surreptitious call to an Alliance officer, who agrees to pay a previously arranged reward for the fugitives. When Jayne returns to the unconscious Tams with a doctors' uniform and patients' gown, River startles him by rising silently and cheerily announcing, "Copper for a kiss!" Simon revives in a violent coughing fit, which Jayne finds puzzling until River is heard vomiting off-screen.
Dressed in the uniform, Simon pushes River in a wheelchair toward the diagnostic ward with "EMT" Jayne accompanying them. As they pass through the post-op ward, River insists her brother help a man who she believes is being "killed" by his doctor. When a Code Blue sounds, Simon dashes over to the patient, quickly assesses the problem, revives the man with a defibrillator, and stabilizes him. Simon berates the doctor for the improper treatment before returning to the task at hand; River beams at her brother, and Jayne looks quite impressed himself.
Meanwhile, Mal and Zoë, on their way to the supplies room, are intercepted by a doctor who questions Mal. Although Mal remains polite, when the doctor starts into a tirade over what he feels is Mal's "insubordination", Zoë slips behind the man to a wall mounted defibrillator and incapacitates him with a jolt. One of the transport coffins is used to conceal the unconscious doctor en route to the medical vault. His presence proves to be a blessing, as they use his keycard to enter the vault when they discover that theirs are demagnetized. Laying him out on the floor inside the vault, Mal and Zoë rapidly collect everything they can find from Simon's prepared list, storing it in the coffins.
In the diagnostic ward, Simon puts River under the 3-D neuroimager and isolates the brain. During the scan to his utter horror he discovers that her brain has been surgically operated on several times. According to Simon, her amygdala had been "stripped", disabling her ability to suppress her emotions. "She feels everything. She can't not." He paraphases still shell shocked by the new information.
Jayne claiming a sudden change of plans, leads them away from the diagnostic ward to a rear entrance. While he and Simon argue, River shrieks and starts to babble in fear.
The three are then stopped by Federal marshals, who arrest and handcuff Jayne. Jayne first thinks it's for show, but quickly learns that the Alliance officer plans to reward him not with cash but with an arrest for aiding and abetting the fugitive siblings, keeping the reward money for himself.
Mal and Zoë return to the shuttle with the pharmacological loot, but soon realize that Jayne and the Tams are late. Kaylee discovers unusual Alliance radio chatter which Zoë recognizes as code, suggesting the second team has been captured. The two war veterans head back into the hospital to rescue their people, directed by Kaylee's analysis of the hospital floor plan, but then Wash announces arriving reinforcements.
As they are held in a security substation, Simon thanks Jayne for his struggle with the Feds, unaware that he was sold out by his shipmate. River's babbling piques the Feds, who soon move the captives to a holding area awaiting transfer to an unknown party. Handcuffed, Jayne and Simon attack their escorts, managing respectively to kill one and knock the other unconscious. As they argue which way to go, River announces that "It doesn't matter. They're here." Back in the substation, the two blue-gloved men arrive to take custody of the Tams. When the Alliance officer reveals that he and his men spoke with the fugitives, the agents take out a mysterious sonic device. Within seconds, the Feds are bleeding from every orifice and quickly collapse, dead. Unaffected by the device, the agents go to retrieve River themselves.
Several rooms away, Jayne and the Tams hear screaming, and a terrified River runs in the direction opposite the security station. Not far behind them, the Blue Gloves encounter the two marshals Jayne and Simon took down, using the sonic device on the living one. With the sounds of screaming still approaching them, Jayne and Simon follow River's flight until they reach a locked door. As Jayne fruitlessly tries to open it, the lock is blasted from the other side by Mal and Zoë. By the time the Blue Gloves arrive, the group has already left.
Inara returns to Serenity to find everyone but Kaylee absent. The engineer gives her a whimsically shocking summary of events just as the shuttle returns with all hands aboard. Simon raves about Jayne's heroism during the escape. Mal tells Wash to leave the planet as soon as possible, and has Jayne stay to help him unload the new cargo, but once everyone else has left the cargo hold, Mal suddenly bashes Jayne unconscious with a wrench.
Jayne awakens to find himself in the hold airlock with a radio on the floor, and Mal holding another on the other side of the inner door. Saying that they need to have a little chat, Mal cracks the outer door open to the quickly thinning atmosphere as the ship leaves Ariel. Mal states that Simon's plan was sound, and there was no reason for them to have ran into the trouble they did... unless, having no good reason to be around the back exit that Mal and Zoë had found them at, it was Jayne himself that had called the Feds. Jayne fails to convince Mal of his innocence, and with the auto warning that space is two minutes away, confesses that he betrayed Simon and River. He tries to justify that it was not Mal himself he wronged, but Mal considers betrayal against any of his crew to be the same as betraying Mal, and as such Jayne has no place with them. Seeing that Jayne cannot seem to comprehend that, Mal turns to leave. When Jayne plaintively asks Mal not to tell his shipmates the truth about his betrayal, showing that he does at least care about the memory he'd leave behind with the others and having accepted his impending death, Mal finally relents and remotely closes the outer door. He warns Jayne that if he does decide to betray Mal again to at least have the guts to do it to his face, and leaves Jayne stuck in the airlock.
In closing, Simon visits River's room with a syringe, where she is coloring in an illustration she made of a set of matryoshka dolls. She asks sadly "Is it time to go to sleep again?" As he prepares the injection, Simon takes her hand gently and responds hopefully "No méi-mei... it's time to wake up."
Behind the scenes
The meds Mal has scribbled on his arm are: Romadyl, Bipamomarinol, (something deleted), Cepleyan, Amirymadel, Cimitriptilayn, (something deleted), Hydrozapam, Isoprovalyn and Fillioxalyn.
- When Wash & Kaylee are rummaging through the junkyard Wash picks up a Catalyzer, looks at it without interest before tossing it away. This is the key engine part that that was the focus of the previous episode Out of Gas.
- The "caskets" used to transport the characters and medical supplies to and from the Emergency Transport craft were 687XT Atlantis 1800 cargo boxes made by Thule. They have since been discontinued.
- The Emergency Transport craft was a re-purposed, scaled down prop of a Mil Mi-24 Soviet Gunship.
- In Star Trek, one of the 'miracle drugs' that is used as a panacea for almost every malady is named inaprovaline. This is very similar to the Isoprovalyn drug named in this episode. Those familiar with chemistry might conclude that Isoprovalyn/ Isoprovaline is an isomer of Innaprovaline. Regardless, it's a nice tie-in with the magical medicines of Star Trek.
(Special Thanks to BrownCoats.com.)
- "Qingwa cao de liumang... [Frog-humping son of a bitch...]" - Mal, cursing himself when he fails to remember his line.
- "Ni hao? [Hello?]" - Agent McGinnis greets Jayne.
- Méi-mei (little sister)