This week, we enter the firefly class cargo ship to the strange yet familiar spectacle of "Hoop Ball". A large metal hoop is suspended from the ceiling and most of the crew, separated in teams, try to get a ball through the vertical opening of the hoop. Though the rules and scoring system are elusive at best, it appears to be a good stress reliever. River Tam, along with her brother Simon and Inara, watch the game from the catwalk overhead. Appearing a little overwhelmed by the rapid interaction below, at least River isn't screaming about some unnamed threat.
A proximity alert rings out, bringing the crew back to the reality that they're wandering through space. After a brief but well placed tongue in cheek panic by the pilot ("whose flying this thing? We're all going to die!"), the crew heads for the cockpit to find out what's happening outside.
In what turns out, surprisingly, to be one of the least disturbing scenes of this episode, a body flies across the front windshield. Just past the body, an old cargo ship sits cold and ghostlike in the stillness of space.
After a moral debate with everyone maintaining consistent characterization, the crew decides to check out the ship. Already, these moral debates are becoming a standard in the series, and bordering on the heavy-handed, though not yet overwhelming. The captain, using his charm and wits, convinces everyone that his plan to inspect the ship is the right way to go. Mal even finds an angle to appeal to Jayne's greed so he'll go along with it.
They find food still on the tables, valuable cargo still in storage, everything is as it would be for a colony ship, except the people are gone. As they play back the ship's logs, River awakes in pain. There must be a connection, but we still don't know what powers she possesses that allow her this insight. River wanders over to the ghost ship into the cargo hold and looks up to see the passengers of the ghost ship, hanging upside down and quite dead. Immediately, the captain recognizes the work as "Reavers."
They find a sole survivor of the attack. Though the crew wants to take care of him, the captain, having some previous experience with Reavers, recommends they put a bullet in his head instead.
But the nonviolent side wins out and they take him back to the ship to give him medical aid. The survivor says "they were all weak" - "open up. See what's inside." A partial explanation of Reavers details that they are human, but have gone completely insane. It is now apparent that the survivor is likely now insane as well.
The Firefly crew grabs the cargo and gets clear of the colony ship, only to be caught in the act by an Alliance cruiser. Alliance behavior as they police the outer planets is not as sinister as one would expect. Instead of some brutal organization bent on the destruction of the crew, they behave more like benevolent watchdogs seeking to right injustice. Unfortunately in this case, they believe the crew of the Firefly caused the deaths of the passengers on the cargo ship.
The Firefly is searched and the Alliance captain interviews the crew. River and Simon Tam have of course been hidden away so the alliance won't find them. They appear, based on this interchange, to be the only crewmembers actually on the run from The Alliance. In an interesting Zen moment, River looks out at the stars from her space suit and hiding place, and for the first time since we've seen her character, she is actually having fun.
A number of interesting trivia bits come out during the interviews. Zoey is a private person and doesn't want to talk about her relationship with her husband Wash. Conversely, Wash is eager and willing to talk about his lovely wife's thighs and what he likes about her.
During the interview with Inara, she reveals that she has been traveling with the crew for almost a year now. Additionally, the true name of this firefly is revealed to be Serenity. Apparently the captain was on the losing side at the battle of Serenity Valley.
Back on board, the guards continue to search the ship. In typical Joss "campy" fashion, we are treated to a window view of the guards as they double and triple check under each placemat and dining room chair for any possibly overlooked hair or crumb of evidence.
And then the survivor starts killing people.
This episode doesn't really leave us with any lingering
questions. It is almost certain that we'll see how nasty the
actual Reavers really are at some time in the future. But
if this episode succeeded in anything, it is that the Reaves
are unpleasant at best and better off being avoided. In typical
Buffy style there was no mention of the hands-of-blue-psycho-cops.
This lingering story line will probably be an occasional plot
point without dragging it through every episode.
The writing has held up for this show, and that is a good
thing. The moral conflicts between each character are strong
and obvious (some would say a little too obvious), but the
crew appears to operate in a more realistic world of grays
than the black and white mediocrity of so many bland sci-fi
worlds. This episode leaves me still looking forward to the
next week's adventure, so high marks go out to the Firefly
crew for success.