December 6, 2002
War Stories is the tenth episode of the Firefly TV series and was first aired on Fox, on December 6, 2002.
Wash, angered by Zoë's close relationship with Mal, convinces the Captain to take him along on the next away mission. Unfortunately for Wash, the mission does not go as smoothly as he had hoped when Adelai Niska decides to take this opportunity to avenge himself of the crew's past grievances.
On Serenity, as Simon reviews the data he collected on River from the 3-D neuro-scanner in "Ariel", Shepherd Book looks over his shoulder, musing about a "warrior-poet" Shan Yu (who Simon refers to as a "psychotic dictator"). Book cites a Shan Yu quote that suggests that the way to truly learn about someone is to torture them, and wonders if this was the purpose behind the brain surgery done on River. Simon disagrees, believing there was a specific goal the unknown surgeons were hoping to achieve. Elsewhere, crime lord Adelai Niska (last seen in "The Train Job") is having another traitor tortured, also alluding to Shan Yu. His assistant, Viktor, interrupts him to announce a nearby Firefly-class ship that might belong to Malcolm Reynolds, the man who abrogated a business arrangement with Niska, and whose reputation is "not so solid" anymore. A delighted Niska orders his man to fetch the culprit, then goes back to his learning experience.
Back on Serenity, Kaylee playfully chases River around the cargo bay, after the girl "took my apple", despite Jayne having contributed a crate's worth to the ship's stores. Amid the noise, Inara urges Mal to respect the privacy of her imminently arriving client, a councilor of some political importance. Mal reassures her that he won't cause a scene like the earlier one ("Shindig") that nearly got him killed. Inara is also concerned about the other crew "ogling" her client.
Later, Zoë and Wash puzzle over Jayne's generosity as they munch on the apples. Kaylee asks why Zoë and Mal always cut up their apples, and Zoë (and Mal, who joins them) tell a war story about "Griswald grenades", tiny pressure-sensitive grenades that were embedded explosives in apples by Alliance troops. Wash sardonically embellishes on the story, annoyed at the frequent references to his wife's long history with the captain. Mal vetoes Wash's idea to improve their profit from the medicine sales by bypassing the local middlemen. Wash is surprised by this, because Zoë had told him that she hadn't run it by the captain.
On the bridge later, Zoë admits to Wash that she had mentioned it, he disagreed, she accepted it without arguing, and then she lied to Wash so as not to upset him. This makes Wash all the more upset because of her casual deference to Mal and dishonesty with him.
In the Tams' quarters, River fondly reminisces about her fun with Kaylee, but her chaotic thoughts intrude on her, despite Simon's treatments. Elsewhere, Book chides Kaylee and Jayne for trying to steal a peek at Inara's arriving client (while peeking himself), who turns out to be a woman, against the crew's expectations. While Kaylee babbles her admiration of Inara's female client, Jayne quickly departs, announcing, "I'll be in my bunk".
Preparing the unused shuttle for their business rendezvous, Zoë and Mal discover that it's been sabotaged by Wash, who demands that he go with Mal to the meeting. He explains that he wants to take Zoë's place at Mal's side, so they don't bring back yet another tale of adventure-laden bonding. An annoyed Zoë leaves them to their mission, and Mal reluctantly agrees, more concerned about getting underway than participating in a domestic dispute.
In her quarters, Inara massages the councilor, while remarking that when she chooses her rare female clients, she does so because they are extraordinary in some way, and hints that the councilor's gift is allowing Inara herself to relax and serve her own needs as well as the councilor's.
Meanwhile, Wash defends his assumption of Zoë's role to Mal, and winds up hauling the merchandise to the meeting. As the "milk run" deal goes down, however, the middlemen are killed by men who suddenly arise from the sand and capture Mal and Wash.
Later, as Inara bids goodbye to her client, Zoë becomes concerned about what happened to their missing crew mates. Book volunteers to accompany them, and at the deserted meeting site determines the weaponry used to take their people. Zoë notices the abandoned supplies and a burn trail left on the ground by a short-range craft "not commonly part of a spaceship," but of a space station. Adding up the evidence, she determines that Niska is behind the kidnapping.
On Niska's skyplex, the kidnappees bicker, with Wash becoming increasingly incensed about both the danger that Mal regularly exposes Zoë to, and that she obeys Mal. Wash questions Mal's assertion that his first mate doesn't blindly obey him, but Mal backs it up by claiming he told her not to marry Wash. Niska appears and soon his torturer begins with the Shan Yu-inspired torture, but Wash and Mal spend the entire time continuing their bickering, all the while refusing to acknowledge the torture. Mal notices that Wash's anger keeps him from collapsing, so he hints about a sexual history with Zoë. Wash, however, is sure this never happened, and claims that Mal should sleep with her, just so his wife could get past what Wash feels is a fixation on her captain. Mal accepts to keep Wash from breaking.
Meanwhile, Zoë collects all the funds remaining from the Ariel job in order to pay off Niska to release her shipmates, counting on his perverse code to treat this as a business transaction. She turns out to be partly correct, because the sadistic criminal whimsically offers to release only one of the two men for the price she offers. Expecting to be entertained to see Zoë's dilemma, Niska is disappointed when she chooses her husband before he even finishes his taunt. Instead, Niska has his torturer sever Mal's ear and gives it to Zoë as a "refund".
By the time Zoë gets Wash back to the shuttle, he immediately prepares a rescue mission, despite briefly collapsing on the way. The rest of the crew, including an initially reluctant Jayne, choose to assist Wash and Zoë, while Inara tries to gain assistance from the councilor. Wash takes the unpowered Serenity in for a precision stealth breaching, allowing the crew to board the station before the defenders can respond.
After Mal has endured further torture without breaking down, Niska has a device affixed to Mal's chest which forces thin tendrils underneath his skin, causing extreme pain. The next scene in the torture chamber reveals that Mal has died. His tormentors revive him, leaving the weakened captain lying unrestrained on a table as they slice at him with wire cutters.
As Zoë leads Jayne and Wash toward the torture room, Book, Simon, and Kaylee stay behind to prevent the station personnel from taking the shuttle. Simon's aim is poor, but Book expertly shoots the men's legs (the Bible being against killing, but "somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps") and easily dodges return fire. Kaylee is unable to return fire at all, and retreats when pressed by enemy gunfire. River, who has stayed out of the gunfight up until this point, then appears and takes Kaylee's pistol. After a quick glimpse at their attackers, River then emerges and kills all of the enemy troops with single gunshots while her eyes are closed, leaving a visibly shaken Kaylee and says, "No power in the 'verse can stop me."
Deep inside the skyplex, the intrusion alarm distracts Niska. Mal uses the distraction to take out the torturer with the same tendril-producing device used on him earlier. As Mal starts to beat on the retreating Niska, the torturer recovers, giving his boss a chance to escape. The rescuers arrive to find Mal being throttled by the torturer over a huge, automated factory pit at the center of the skyplex. Though Zoë initially suggests Mal must face his torturer alone, he protests, and his crew quickly gun down the torturer.
Later, Mal joins the crew in Serenity's cargo hold, where he fiddles with his reattached ear, courtesy of equipment supplied by the councilor. Simon expresses discomfort at killing people, but Book reassures him that it's unlikely he actually did kill anyone in the gunfight. In the dining room, in a Saffron-like display of marital devotion, Zoë serves her recuperating husband some soup. Mal enters to remind Wash of the agreement they made during the torture. To Wash's objections, he explains to Zoë about their mutual "burning sexual tension". Zoë plays along, and the war veterans awkwardly move as if to embrace each other. Just as Zoë, all-business, says, "Take me sir. Take me hard," Jayne walks in and comments that something about that was "downright unsettling." An irate Wash finally gets up, drags his wife off, and announces that "we'll be in our bunk." The episode ends with Jayne immediately descending upon the abandoned soup.
- It is strange that the crew would return to the planet where Adelai Niska had his Skyplex.
- The desert where Malcolm and Wash were is the same place where Buffy the Vampire Slayer met the First Slayer.
Behind the scenes
(Special Thanks to BrownCoats.com.)
- "Taikong suoyou de xingqiu saijin wo de pigu! [All the planets in space stuffed into my butt!]" - Wash, angered when his wife sides with Mal rather than him.
- "Whoa! Meimei... [Little sister...] How you doing?" - Simon to River.
- "Oh, this is a fine fangzong fengkuang de jie [knot of self-indulgent lunacy] but I don't have time to unwind it." - Mal reacts to Wash and Zoë's argument.
- "I let that niushi [cow dung] trick of yours slide because this is a milk run. But when I go on a mission, I'm taking Zoë and that's the drill." - Mal to Wash.
- "Zaogao! [Damn it!]" - Mal recognizes the laser bead an enemy has drawn on Bolles' head.
- "Tama de hundan! [Mother-humping son of a bitch!]" - Mal sees Niska.
- "He chusheng zajiao de zanghuo! [Filthy fornicators of livestock!]" - Book, upon receiving Mal's ear from Niska.