The episode opens with the crew playing a wild basketball(-ish) game in the cargo bay while Simon, River, and Inara watch from the railing. Suddenly, the ship's proximity alarm goes off, indicating that A. Serenity is nearing another ship and B. Wash isn't doing his job. As Serenity approaches the stationary transport ship, the body of a passenger strikes the cockpit, indicating that whatever happened, it wasn't exactly nice.The crew decide to board the derelict transport. Since the ship is empty, the crew goes on to plunder its contents. As it turns out, everything in the ship is fine, with one small exception: the passengers and crewmembers are dead and their bodies are hung from the ceiling. This understandably unnerves the crew, especially when they recognize it as the handiwork of Reavers.Elsewhere in the ship, Jayne is searching every corner for loot—you know, business as usual—when some douche suddenly comes out of the darkness and attacks him. Fortunately, Mal knocks him out and the crew puts him in Serenity's medical bay. The man is the sole survivor of the Reaver attack. Though physically unhurt, his psychological condition is rather worrying. Finally, the crew prepare to leave, but the Reavers have booby-trapped the derelict ship with a trap rigged to blow up any docking ship. Damn. Fortunately, Kaylee manages to disarm the trap.Soon enough, an Alliance warship decides to crash in, bring the crew into their custody under suspicion of hiding dangerous fugitives Simon and River Tam (whom the crew have given spacesuits and told to cling to a window), and once they find the sole survivor cutting his face up, accuse them of torturing him. The survivor is then brought to the medical bay for treatment, but the medics fail to notice that he's hidden a knife...The news gets through, and Mal offers to help the Alliance troops search Serenity for the survivor. After a while, the guy comes out of hiding and attacks them, but fortunately Mal manages to snap his neck. The Alliance troops, being grateful, decide to leave the crew without any charges. However, being proper bureaucratic individuals, they also confiscate Serenity's cargo.
Tropes in this episode:
- Berserk Button: Being arrested doesn't upset Kaylee. Serenity getting insulted does, however. Her interview consists of her ranting at the Alliance man about his ship's design, presumably as repayment for his comment.
- Calvinball: The "hoop-ball" game they play at the start, which even Simon says is not being played according to any rules that he can discern. It may be called "Spaceball," based on a soundtrack title.
- Death Glare:
- Jayne during the interrogation scene. Played for Laughs.
- Zoe's got her own, aimed at the Alliance officer through the whole interview.
- Does Not Like Shoes: River is barefoot the entire episode.
- Dramatic Space Drifting: When Serenity encounters a derelict ship and then a dead body smacks into the cockpit windshield, startling Wash (and the audience).
- Ghost Ship: "Bushwhacked" is, essentially, Firefly's version of the Marie Celeste. Right down to there still being dinner on the table, even though the ship has been attacked by Reavers.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: When the Alliance boards Serenity after finding them engaged in illegal salvaging, the officer in charge mentions having received an alert about a fugitive "brother and sister" escaping on a ship matching their description. Mal inverts the trope by pretending to assume he means a pair of children. The officer seems annoyed to have to correct him that they are interested in a pair of adult siblings but quickly lets the subject drop.
- Neck Snap: Mal to the Reaver victim.
- Nothing Is Scarier:
- The abandoned ship. It's several long minutes before the crew works out what's happened. Before that they're just examining a dark ship where everyone apparently vanished in the middle of what they were doing.
- And invoked by Jayne on the Reaver victim—when he attacks from stealth, Jayne calls for back up about how he's being attacked. When the others come and find who it really was, they point out how scrawny the guy actually is. Jayne responds, "He was bigger when I couldn't see 'im."
- Psychic Radar: River wanders aboard the abandoned vessel, partly drawn by the residual horror and partly by the presence of the mind of the survivor.
- Salvage Pirates: The crew of Serenity is accused of trying to pull this on other ships, but the crew never actually abandons anyone and does try to save the only survivor they find.
- Ship Tease: The Alliance officer interrogating Inara says "Do you love him?" Then the shot cuts away to reveal he was actually talking to Zoe and referring to Wash.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: The interrogation montage alternates between the serious (Mal, Book, Zoe, Inara) and the hilarious (Jayne, Kaylee, Wash).