November 8, 2002
Safe is the fifth episode of the Firefly TV series and was first aired by Fox on November 8, 2002.
Mal must choose which crew members to save when one is gravely wounded and two others are kidnapped. Simon finds an uneasy haven in a remote village, but River's uncanny perceptions jeopardize the Tams' temporary safety.
The episode opens on the Tam estate, 11 years before the present day, where young Simon addresses his homework. River, however, is more engaged in an imaginary battle against the Independents. Simon tries to steer River back to her dance practice, but she's not only completed this work, but also points out a flaw in Simon's own textbook . Their father, Gabriel, enters, and the children assail him about obtaining a dedicated "sourcebox." Tam Senior expects his son to become a "brilliant doctor" in return for this. The scene then cuts to the present-day doctor as he tries to perform tests on his adult sister, who is loudly and violently refusing. Mal enters to complain about River's outbursts disturbing the cattle taken on board in the previous episode, making it clear that they are to stay out of the way of the impending deal.
On arrival at the backwater colony of Jiangyin, Shepherd Book aids Mal and Jayne in unloading and penning the cattle, while Zoë and Wash contemplate the practical advantages of smaller live cargo, like "black-market beagles". When River communes with the animals, Mal decides to send her and Simon off to town to stay out of the way of their "clandestine dealings", at which Simon wryly apologizes for tipping anyone off about Mal's 'cunningly concealed herd of cows'. They join Inara and Kaylee as the women are shopping. Although Kaylee contemplates buying something nice for Simon, the doctor manages to insult her and her beloved Serenity with his complaints about his predicament, and the Tams are left to their own devices. Simon quickly discovers River has wandered off.
Back at the impromptu cattle pen, Mal meets with his disreputable clients. Just as they come to an agreement on price, the local law enforcement arrives to arrest the clients, and in the ensuing gunfight, Book is grievously wounded. Meanwhile, River wanders into a country dance, where she quickly picks up the movements, and Simon watches his sister enjoy herself for a change. River's ecstatic dancing suddenly falters when Book is shot, but before Simon can react to his sister's distress, he is kidnapped by a group of men. While he is dragged off, a flashback shows an adult Simon arguing with his parents that River is in trouble at the institute. Her letters, he insists, talk about events that never occurred as a code to ask for help, but being more concerned for the effect Simon's paranoia may have on his rising career, his parents shrug his worries off as being overprotective of his little sister. Back in the present time, River follows Simon and his kidnappers, she is quickly seized as well.
Mal and Zoë manage to get Book back to Serenity to perform some field surgery to stabilize him. When Wash is unable to find the doctor to help Book, Mal realizes that Simon and River have probably been taken by hill folk who kidnap unwary people, especially skilled workers. He makes the unpopular decision to abandon the Tams in order to get Book off-planet and to proper medical treatment. Even as Simon consoles River about their imminent rescue, they see Serenity take off without them.
The doctor-less mountain people welcome Simon and his sister, although he is less pleased with the situation. But when he sees the many ill villagers, he uneasily settles into his vocation. As he works, he tries to argue the inconsistency of this devoutly religious community kidnapping strangers to meet its needs, but Doralee, a village teacher, merely suggests that Simon may well be in the place he is fated to be.
On Serenity, Inara interrupts Mal and Wash's attempts to locate medical help to suggest an unpleasant alternative — asking an Alliance cruiser. When Alliance personnel board their ship, Mal explains their urgent need, but the captain of the I.A.V. Magellan callously dismisses Book's situation. When Book weakly asks the captain to check his identification card, however, the officer suddenly reverses himself and orders urgent care. Mal and the crew wonder what kind of connection with the Alliance Book must have, and upon departure, a recovering Book dodges Mal's questions but acknowledges that "It's good to be home."
Back in the village on Jiangyin, Simon and River share a memory of their childhood.River soon despairs of how her plight has taken everything Simon had away from him.
She says sadly "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 quickly reassures her by saying "Méi-mei, everything I have is right here."
River tells him that they won't be with the border people forever saying "We won't be here long. Daddy will come and take us home and I'll get better I'll get better."
Simon finds hardly any comfort in his sister's strange statement.
River then tells Doralee about the cause of a young mute girl's silence, Doralee realizes that she has an unusual power, but for this superstitious woman there is only one explanation — that River is a witch.
Another flashback shows an embarrassed and furious Gabriel Tam retrieving his son from Alliance custody after an attempt to help River by meeting with someone in a "blackout zone." The elder Gabriel tells Simon that he will not protect his son from any further improprieties.
Back in the present time, River's current impropriety has Doralee summoning the townspeople about the witch among them. The patron, or village elder, arrives to investigate. Unfortunately, River only seals her fate by reading him, revealing how he attained his position through the murder of his ailing predecessor. The patron quickly cuts her off with a slap, adding his own voice to the call for a witch-burning.
Simon appeals to the patron, fighting the torchbearers and chiding the villagers for their ignorance. When these efforts fail, he finally takes his place next to his sister, prepared to be burned with her. River announces that it's "time to go," and at that moment Serenity swoops over the village. As Jayne holds the villagers at gunpoint from Serenity's cargo bay. Mal and Zoë secure the Tams' release, commenting that their last-second rescue made them "big damn heroes."
The village patron unthwarted by Jayne's show of force says "The girl is a witch."
Mal quickly raises his own gun to the village patron and says threatenly "Yeah but she's our witch. So cut her the hell down."
As Serenity leaves Jiangyin, Jayne hastily returns the valuables he had stolen from Simon during his brief absence. Simon asks Mal why he came back for them, and Mal explains off-handedly that it was because Simon was part of his crew. The Tams join the rest of the crew for a cheerful dinner, having found a home.
Connections to other episodes
- The cattle shown as the cargo in the previous episode, "Shindig," are sold on Jiangyin, the destination world in this episode. As Serenity leaves the Alliance cruiser, Zoë also mentions Badger's involvement in this deal from that episode.
- Kaylee watches over the unconscious Book in the sickbay, saying "he did this for me once," alluding to Book watching over her after she was shot in the stomach by an undercover Federal agent, in the pilot episode, "Serenity." The original audience would not have realized this allusion, since "Serenity" wasn't aired until much later.
- Simon's difficulty in getting River to cooperate with his tests continues to build, to the point where he hatches a daring scheme in "Ariel."
- Book's ability to get priority medical treatment from an otherwise uninterested Alliance officer, based solely on his IdentCard, hints at some unstated connection with the Alliance. Although this was not fully explained, several other hints were made during the series' run, including Book's knowledge of illegal activities (the spaceship net), shady personages (Niska), military tactics (profiling the Operative), and his proficiency with weapons and martial arts; these hints may point to a past as a spy, but the scene that River witnesses in Objects in Space make it also likely that he was an interrogator (although he could have been both).
- River's apparent awareness of Book's wounding while she is dancing far away from the cattle pen, as well as her apparent mind-reading of mute Ruby and the village elder, are yet more indications that she is paranormally gifted.
- Guest Starring:
- Producer: Ben Edlund
- Produced by: Gareth Davies
- Written by: Drew Z. Greenburg
- Directed by: Michael Grossman
Behind the scenes
- Inara asks whether a carved wooden statuette in a trading post is supposed to be a duck, and Kaylee replies that it's a swan. There is a Chinese proverb that says, "A badly painted tiger looks like a dog; a badly carved swan looks like a duck." (The meaning of the proverb is that it's better not to do certain things than to do them badly.)
- During the rescue scene near the end of the episode, the DVD subtitles list one of Mal's lines as "Gotta say, Doctor, [Inaudible] it's near miraculous." The line itself is actually "Gotta say, Doctor, your talent for alienatin' folks is near miraculous."
- The DVD subtitles have the line "Maybe everything I have is right here." The line is actually "Méi-mei, everything I have is right here." ("Méi-mei" means "sister".)
(Special Thanks to BrownCoats.com.)
- "So how'd the Independents cut us off?" "They were using dinosaurs." "Jian ta de gui! [Like hell!]" - Young Simon responds incredulously to his sister's make believe.
- "Na mei guanxi. [In that case, no problem.] Because there were dinosaurs involved, I think we'll let it slide." - Gabriel Tam chuckles at his children's play.
- "Yes, and you'd have access to any tian xiaode [heaven knows what] that filtered in from the cortex. I absolutely forbid it!" - Gabriel Tam's response to Simon's request for a dedicated source box.
- "Dad, this is so da bianhua! [big change!]" - Young Simon finds out his dad has gotten him his source box.
- "Liu koushi de biaozi he houzi de ben erzi! [Stupid son of a drooling whore and a monkey!]" - River curses her brother.
- "Niufen. [Cow manure.]" - Simon, as he steps in cow poop.
- "He's just so shuai [handsome]." - Kaylee describes Simon.
- "It's fun, being forced to the ass-end of the galaxy. To get to live on a piece of lese [Taiwan: garbage] wreck. And to eat molded protein. And to be bullied around by our pianzhi de jiuchayuan [stubborn disciplinarian/callous inspector] of a captain." - Simon.
- "Lese? [Taiwan: Garbage?] Serenity ain't lese [garbage]." - Kaylee's response to Simon's words.
- "Feihua. [Nonsense.] Milk and hay, three times a day. Fed to 'em by beautiful women." - Mal responds to allegations that the cattle are underfed.
- "Wash, get down to the infirmary, mashang! [now!]" - Mal, while Book lays bleeding.
- "Laotian bu! [God (Heavens), no!]" - Wash sees the Shepherd's condition.
- "Wash, I want you to go to town. See if you can't find that jingchang meiyong de [consistently useless] of a doctor." - Mal.
- "Meimei [Little sister], everything I have is right here." - Simon to River.
- "You were in a blackout zone!" "Talking! To someone who might be able to help River. And I'm going right back there." "Chufei wo si le. [Only if I am dead.]" - Mandarin spoken by Gabriel Tam.
- "You're not a witch, are you, nianqing de [youngster]?" - The patron, to River.