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Recap / Firefly E10 "War Stories"

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"Now we get to meet the real you."
Mr. Niska

Original air date: 12/6/2002

Wash is a little irked by the bond Mal and Zoe share. She has known Mal for longer than she's known Wash; she trusts him implicitly, she follows his orders almost without question, and they are often recounting war stories from their time spent working together. This twinge of jealousy comes to a head just as the crew is almost finished fencing the medical supplies from the Ariel job. Mal and Zoe intend to make the rendezvous together, but Wash intervenes and forces Mal to take him along instead.

On the other side of the planet in an orbiting space station, Adelai Niska finds out from a source that Malcolm Reynolds is nearby. He dispatches a team, who kill Mal's buyers and take him and Wash hostage. When the pair don't return to Serenity on time, Zoe, Jayne, and Book check the scene and are able to discern exactly who took them. Zoe decides to pool together everyone's extra money in an attempt to buy back their men from Niska, and flies to the station to conduct the deal personally.

Meanwhile, Wash and Mal argue in Niska's torture room, with particular emphasis on Zoe's unconditional support of Mal's decisions. Mal objects, saying that she married Wash against his direct order. Niska arrives to begin the torture session, and Mal realizes that if he can keep Wash angry at him and engaged in the argument, he will have a better chance withstanding the pain.

Zoe arrives and offers Niska the deal. He says that the sum is too small to release both men, but his Sadistic Choice is cut short when Zoe picks Wash in half a second flat. Out of spite, Niska sends her back with Mal's left ear. Wash praises Mal's resolve and tireless anti-torture argument therapy, and Zoe plots her next move.

The crew stages an attack on the space station, led by Zoe and Jayne and held up in the rear by Book, who shoots out soldiers' kneecaps to disable them non-fatally. Wash plays a role by flying Serenity into the station airlock with the engines off, avoiding sensor detection. Simon and Kaylee also attempt to help in the firefight but are rather useless with firearms. Kaylee is pinned down by three soldiers, only to be saved by River, who glances briefly at them, closes her eyes, and fires three times, killing them all. The attack is sufficient to draw out Niska's assistants, giving Mal the opportunity to escape. Niska gets away, but so does the crew, and Simon is able to reattach Mal's ear without lasting harm.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Actually, That's My Assistant: Big man steps onto the ship. Inara's client? Nope, that's the bodyguard. She steps on a moment later.
  • All Amazons Want Hercules: Averted. This is a big contention point between Wash and Zoe (and Mal) at first though.
  • Almost Kiss: Played for Laughs between Mal and Zoe at the end of the episode. Wash, however, is not amused.
    • Jayne walks in with no context and declares the sight "downright disturbing."
  • Amusingly Awful Aim: Simon is given a gun when the crew boards Niska's Space Station to rescue Mal, prompting this exchange during the denouement:
    Mal: So. I hear you all took up arms in that little piece of action back there. How you faring with that, Doctor?
    Simon: I don't know. I, uh... I never... never shot anyone before.
    Shepherd Book: I was there, son. I'm fair sure you haven't shot anyone yet. (Mal chuckles, wincing at his injuries)
  • Apology Gift: The crew of Serenity are surprised when Jayne buys them an expensive bushel of apples. Only Mal is aware it's a belated apology for betraying them in the previous episode.
  • Badass Boast:
    • River: "No power in the 'verse can stop me." Also an Ironic Echo.
    • Wash's "Bastard's not gonna get days!" in response to Zoe telling him that Niska plans on torturing Mal for at least a couple of days before killing him. Not bad for a Non-Action Guy.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Upon seeing Mal's severed ear, Shepherd Book throws down some Chinese swearing that can be translated as "those filthy cattle fuckers!"
  • Boom, Headshot!: A comedic twist on the trope, Book shoots a man in the knee, causing him to fall facefirst into the wreckage of the Mule, knocking himself out.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: They even resuscitate Mal just to keep the torture going.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mal weaponizes this to try to keep Wash from breaking under torture.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Played for Laughs when Wash cocks a tiny pistol rather dramatically.
  • Dramatic Irony: Near the start of the episode, Kaylee and River are chasing playfully through the ship, River enjoying being a normal girl for once thanks to Simon's treatments. Near the end, River is being decidedly not a normal girl and Kaylee is terrified of her because of it.
  • Electric Torture: Attempted. Mal and Wash are too busy arguing though, and Nishka is too amused to shut them up.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The complete lack of chemistry between Mal and Zoe causes Jayne to be disturbed.
    Jayne: Now somethin' about that is downright unsettlin'.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The crew seemingly fail to notice they're doing business on the same planet that Niska's station orbits even though they're wary of him after the refused his last job and killed his henchman.
  • Feed It a Bomb: Zoe cuts up all her apples after seeing an example of this during the war.
  • Filching Food for Fun: Kaylee chases River through the cargo bay, trying to take back her apple that River stole from her. They're laughing, wrestling and having fun like children. Others watch them and look amused, though it's pointed out that Jayne bought a full crate of apples, so they don't have to fight over them.
  • Finger in the Mail: Wash and Zoe watch Mal's ear get cut off, but when the rest of the crew opens the napkin up they understandably freak the hell out.
  • Friend Versus Lover: Mal and Wash's subplot in a nutshell. While present-day Mal thinks Wash is being ridiculous, he admits the idea of his old war buddy getting married took some getting used to.
    Mal: There's plenty orders of mine she didn't obey.
    Wash: Name One!
    Mal: She married you!
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Jayne gets horny watching Inara and her female client.
  • Guns Akimbo: Zoe pulls this on one of Niska's goons during the big rescue mission.
  • Happy Fun Ball: Zoe explains why she always cuts her apples up with a knife before eating by telling a story from the war. They were in trench warfare, the fighting was on hold since both sides were out of useable ammo, and they were running low on food. Their lack of food came up while talking with the enemies in the other trenches, and shortly afterwards apples started falling into their trenches. Apples with micro-grenades in them.
  • I'll Be in My Bunk: The Trope Namer. Jayne's reaction to Inara bringing a female client aboard Serenity.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: River unexpectedly takes a peek at the positions four Mooks, jumps out of cover with a weapon, then kills all four with her eyes closed. It's so improbable that it comes up in a later episode as something no one could have done without superpowers, including the resident badasses.
    • Book, upon hearing a mook coming around a corner, pivots, fires a rifle from the hip, and hits the kneecap of a moving man behind partial cover.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: Discussed Trope. Mal would rather his crew don't get involved with each other, but it's not a hard and fast rule, and he'd be hard-pressed to enforce it even if it was.
    Mal: Shipboard romances complicate things.
    Wash: For who? For you?
    Mal: For everyone.
    Wash: Well what about love?
    Mal: I ain't against it as a rule. But in situations such as ours, tends to cause problems. It splits loyalties.
    Wash: Know what I think? [...] This policy you got against shipboard relationships, that's just you projecting your own intimacy issues onto everyone else.
  • Insulted Awake: Mal keeps Wash awake during a torture session by escalating their argument.
  • Knee-capping: Book's preferred method of engagement, given his refusal to kill.
    Zoe: Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin'?
    Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
  • Limb-Sensation Fascination: A downplayed example, when Mal keeps fiddling with his newly reattached ear and Simon has to tell him to leave it alone.
  • Mood Dissonance: You ever laugh through a Cold-Blooded Torture scene before? There's an undercurrent of seriousness, sure, but it's also dang hilarious.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Mal's torturer got way more lead than he needed.
  • Non-Action Guy: Played with for everyone that's not Mal, Zoe, or Jayne.
    • Wash at the start of the episode makes it fairly clear that he's not the action type, including whining in fear when he and Mal are captured. By the end of the episode, though, he's Took a Level in Badass and leads the charge to get him back.
    • Simon makes an earnest attempt during the assault to get Mal back, but he's a terrible shot. As he is a doctor and has no experience in fighting, no one is surprised by this (although they jokingly give him grief over it after everything is over).
    • Kaylee also tries, but she's too nervous to try more than a few scattered shots and gets pinned down immediately.
    • Shepherd Book surprises everyone by also taking up arms, practicing Technical Pacifism by shooting out kneecaps proficiently.
    • Zig-Zagged with River. She's usually disregarded as a liability in dangerous situations, but she proves that she can be quite a good shot when she's mentally lucidnote .
  • No Sparks: Mal proposes that he and Zoe sleep together due to the argument that he and Wash had during Niska's torture. Zoe's deadpan response: "Take me, sir. Take me hard." The utter lack of chemistry between them is enough to unnerve Jayne, who is normally the most lecherous of the crew. It doesn't get too far due to Wash intervening and dragging off Zoe to their bunk.
  • Offhand Backhand: Remember Book's comment about kneecaps? He shoots one without looking.
  • Oh, Crap!: Three times in rapid succession from Kaylee - one when she realizes she can't hold out against her attackers, one when she sees firsthand what an efficient killer River is, and one when she repeats what she heard earlier as a very casual Badass Boast with a slight smile: "No power in the 'verse can stop me." Kaylee can't keep the terrified look off her face for the rest of the episode.
  • Pet the Dog: Not all members of the Alliance are utter slime, as evidenced by Inara's client (a councilwoman) helping Mal out by loaning the crew some advanced medical tech that Simon uses to repair his ear.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Mal and Zoe.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Mal offers one to Niska:
    Mal: Looks like business ain't running so much as crawling away. You wanna meet the real me now?
  • Precision F-Strike: Shepherd Book makes one when Simon reveals the ear that Niska cut from Mal's head. It's the only time that Book throws profanity out loud in the entire series. It must have been good since it could only be delivered in Chinese.note 
  • Put on a Bus: Inara is gone for most of the episode while on assignment, so she doesn't take part in the rescue raid to save Mal. She does come back with medical technology that was supplied by her client (an Alliance councilwoman) to reattach Mal's ear, and she grouses that she wasn't able to see Mal finish Niska off.
  • Rasputinian Death: Niska's torturer gets beaten up by Mal, shot several dozen times by Jayne, Wash, and Zoe, knocked off a railing, bounces very painfully off a steel girder, hits another girder, then gets sliced in half by a giant drill-saw, and then gets dumped into a pit of something very glowy and unhealthy-looking. We're fairly certain he's dead.
  • Riddled and Rattled: Wash, Zoe, and Jayne use Niska's Number Two for target practice. He takes a couple of dozen bullets of various calibers to center of mass, jerking and jiggling until he falls backwards over the railing and then gets bisected by a piece of industrial equipment he lands on.
  • Sadistic Choice: Subverted: It seems that Niska wanted to drag this out. Zoe chooses Wash before Niska can even finish the question.
  • Shoot Everything That Moves: Unless it's the captain!
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Zoe deprives Niska of his speech when she chooses to save Wash instead of Mal.
    Zoe: Him. Oh, I'm sorry, you were going to ask me to choose, right? Do you want to finish?
    • He then proceeds to cut off Mal's ear, purely out of spite.
  • Slasher Smile: It's unclear how much of this River actually comprehends, but the look she gives Kaylee when making her Badass Boast, after killing the attackers near the end, certainly gives off this vibe and is enough to unsettle Kaylee.
  • Storming the Castle: The entire crew goes in to save Mal. The non action-y ones aren't quite so helpful though.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Both Shepherd and Niska mention the writings of Shan Yu (even the same context) independently of each other.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Zoe, Wash and Jayne blasting the torturer with a hail of bullets followed by Mal throwing him down a shaft where he’s bisected.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Simon looks disturbed after the firefight. Subverted for laughs.
    Mal: So— I hear you all took up arms in that little piece of action back there. How you farin' with that, Doctor?
    Simon: I don't know. I, uh, I never— never shot anyone before.
    Book: I was there, son. I'm fair sure you haven't shot anyone yet.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Zigzagged. At the end of the episode, Zoe makes Wash a much anticipated pot of soup. They leave for their bunk without him ever touching it, but Jayne is all too happy to swoop in and finish it off.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: "NO! NO IT'S NOT!" "Oh." [cue hilariously overkill hail of bullets]
  • Took a Level in Badass: Wash goes from a Non-Action Guy to a pretty competent fighter in this one. When he's appropriately ticked off, we can see why Zoe fell for him.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: Mal more or less laughs off Niska's torture because he's The Determinator, and also distracts Wash by arguing with him about Zoe to keep him from breaking.
    • Of course, since Niska is just torturing them because he's a sadist, he's quite happy with their resilience.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Wash believes this happens between Mal and Zoe, calling it the "guy she never slept with thing". The whole idea is skewered at the end of the episode.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Niska pulls one of these, slipping past an enraged Mal and the remainder of Serenity's crew while his henchman are busy dying.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Essentially Shan Yu's philosophy: the only way to truly know a man is to torture him and threaten him with a painful death. Simon dismisses it as the justification of a sadist who just wanted to hurt people, but, interestingly enough, both Niska and Book seem to subscribe to the idea to varying degrees. When Niska has finally put Mal through enough, he's terrified to meet the real Mal.
    Mal: Looks like business ain't runnin' so much as crawling away. You wanna meet the real me, now?!
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In the last episode, the crew pulled off a huge heist and made a substantial pile of money. In this one, most of it goes toward paying Niska's ransom.


Video Example(s):


Mal vs. torturer

Zoe stops Jayne from interfering in the fight at first, believing that Mal needs to handle it himself. Mal, it turns out, has zero interest in that.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThisIsSomethingHesGotToDoHimself

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