July 15, 2003
The Message is the twelfth episode of the Firefly TV series and wasn't aired during the original series run. It is the second of three episodes that were not broadcast in the original 2002 Fox run.
The show opens on a space station, inside of which there are people wandering about in a kind of carnival. A barker extols an exhibit featuring "proof of alien life". Inside the exhibit, Simon and Kaylee stare at a tall, illuminated cylinder that holds a strange and apparently dead creature. The doctor declares that it is a mutated cow fetus, not an alien. Simon uses this moment alone with the engineer to attempt to get closer to her, but once again puts his foot in his mouth when he mentions that the only other women he knows are either married (Zoë), professional (Inara), or related to him (River), and Kaylee leaves in a huff. As Kaylee departs, Zoë and Wash enter, the latter declaring that "it's grotesque" before noticing "something in a jar". Wash mockingly tries to communicate with the "alien", Zoë manages to both console and insult Simon. Back in the concourse, Inara tries to convince Mal to let her help fence the Lassiter they stole in "Trash", but Mal insists on keeping her out of that side of the business. Mal checks in with the station postmaster, who passes along two packages along with Serenity's mail.
Jayne arrives to find that his mother has sent him a home-knitted cap, and he proudly dons it. The others observe the hideous headgear with a mixture of amusement and sarcasm. ("A man walks down the street in that hat, people know he's not afraid of anything.") The other shipped item is a huge crate addressed to Mal and Zoë. They open it to discover a dead body.
Flashback to seven years earlier at the Battle of Du-Khang. As a young Independence soldier, Private Tracey Smith, calmly prepares a meal behind cover, an Alliance soldier sneaks up on him. Just as the latter is about to shoot, Zoë appears behind him and cuts his throat. While she lectures the boy about stealth, Sergeant Reynolds comes screaming (literally) over some obstacles and crashes into their position. Tracey is injured when the Alliance zeroes in on them. Mal and Zoë grab Tracey and their shell-shocked lieutenant and bug out.
Back in the present, the two ex-soldiers puzzle over the "decently preserved" corpse of their former comrade. Hauling the box aboard Serenity, they find a recorded message from Tracey. He apparently anticipated trouble from some unsavory associates, and has asked them to ship his body home to St. Albans.
Back on the station, an ominous Alliance law officer, Lieutenant Womack, enters with two goons (Skunk and Fendris). He threatens first to imprison, then to incinerate the postmaster Amnon, who quickly tells the man and his aides who left with the "coffin size package."
On Serenity, Jayne waxes surprisingly philosophical about death to Shepherd Book, who contemplates a modest ceremony for the dead man; Jayne notes that he always gets the urge to 'do stuff' when he sees a corpse he didn't kill, prompting Book to speculate that Jayne likes to prove to himself that he's alive after witnessing death. River arrives to make herself comfortable by lying on the casket. Meanwhile, Mal and Zoë entertain Inara with a hilarious tale about Tracey's antics during the war, such as when he 'stole' an officer's moustache and stuck it on his face. Suddenly, the ship is shaken by a near miss from an Alliance craft. Lt. Womack hails them and demands to board Serenity. The crew mistakenly think that Womack is after the Lassiter. When Womack mentions "that crate", however, Mal realizes he's after Tracey's coffin, and stalls for time while they take apart the crate to discover what secrets it might contain. Finding nothing, they decide to have Simon Tam autopsy the hapless soldier, but the doctors' first incision causes the "dead" man to leap up and struggle with the gathered crew.
After he calms down, Tracey confesses that he is smuggling illegal internal organs. He was supposed to deliver the implanted organs on Ariel, but he got a higher bid. Unfortunately for him, the original buyers killed the new customer and are now after their stolen "merchandise". Two more shots from Womack reminds them of their immediate peril. Wash takes Serenity down to St. Albans, where they try unsuccessfully to elude their pursuer in a narrow snowbound valley. They finally come to rest inside a hidden cave, but the Alliance ship drops explosive charges into the valley to flush them out.
Kaylee gets to know and even flirt with the young soldier whose words mesmerized her earlier. Book does some checking on their Alliance pursuers and discovers some anomalous behavior. He ultimately recommends to Mal that they allow the Feds to board the ship. Tracey overhears some of this conversation and pulls a gun on the crew. Mal expresses disgust at his former subordinate's attempt to force them to get him out of his own mess, and orders Wash to call the Feds. As Tracey fires at Wash, wounding him, Zoë shoots the ungrateful man in the chest. Wounded but not slowed down, Tracey grabs Kaylee for cover and heads for the cargo bay. When Mal confronts him about his treacherous behavior, Tracey lays into his former superiors about being "saps". Jayne comes up behind him, and as Tracey turns to shoot him, Mal fires instead, knocking the young man to the ground.
Lt. Womack enters the cargo bay with Skunk and Fendris. He tries to cow the smugglers with his Alliance authority, but the unarmed Book arrives to explain why he won't be using that authority, given the pains he's taken to keep his extracurricular organ-dealing activity from the local federal agents about eight sectors from his jurisdiction. Faced with a surprisingly direct threat of death from the preacher, Womack decides to depart, dismissing the "damaged goods" in Tracey's gravely-wounded chest. Before walking down the boarding ramp, he looks to Jayne and tells him that wearing his mother's hat makes him look like an idiot.
Tracey belatedly realizes that Book's confrontation was part of a plan, one that he screwed up by threatening the crew and getting himself shot for his efforts. He asks Malcolm Reynolds and Zoë to deliver him home once more, and dies, speaking a phrase they shared in the war. Accompanied by a gloomy music and voiced-over excerpts from Tracey's message, the crew of Serenity solemnly returns the fallen soldier to his grieving family.
Behind the scenes
- Joss Whedon makes an uncredited cameo in this episode, playing a family member at Tracey's funeral.
- Composer Greg Edmonson stated that he felt the music he wrote for Tracey's funeral may be 'too pretty', as he wrote it not about Tracey's death, but as his personal farewell to the series. (The cast and crew were aware that Firefly had been canceled at this point in the show's run)
(Special Thanks to BrownCoats.com.)
- "Well, I'm glad I rated higher than dead Bessie here. Ni gaosu na niu ta you shuang meimu? [Why don't you tell the cow about its beautiful eyes?]" - Kaylee to Simon.
- "Tell anyone we were here, warn Malcolm Reynolds that we're coming, and you'll wish we'd burned you. Dong ma? [Understand?]" - Womack threatens Amnon.
- "Tracey, you want to explain what in the tian xiaode [Heaven knows what] you're talking about?" - Mal as he hears of Tracey's plan.
- "Wo de ma, [My mother,] they're comin' close." - Wash pilots Serenity, evading police vehicles.