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Season 1 | Episode 9 | “Ariel” | Aired Nov 15, 2002
“Ariel” encompasses all of the things that make Firefly so Firefly. A pinch of heist hootenanny, a major WTF moment (or two!), a dash of edge-of-your-seat anxiety, and a whole lotta Serenity teamwork.
Serenity is headed to Ariel, a central planet smack dab in the middle of the Union of Allied Planets, so that Inara can get her annual Companion exam. Mal informs the crew that no one aside from Inara is allowed to leave the ship. The planet is too much of a high-risk environment for the outlaws, and they must minimize their presence there in order to stay under the radar, away from the ever-watchful eyes of the Alliance.
But while grumbling about being grounded on the ship, River flies off the handle and slashes Jayne across the chest with a kitchen knife. Startled, Jayne answers her attack with a swift slap to the face, leaving everyone scrambling. Jayne is fine, but after Simon stitches him up and profusely apologizes for his sister’s lack of control, Mal lays down the law. He reminds Simon of the deal they made when Mal first let him and River stay on Serenity: Either Simon keeps River under control and out of trouble, or Mal will be forced to leave them both behind. It’s that simple.
Post-River attack, the crew is still a little shaken up. While the group laments their lack of work lately, Simon suggests something rather bold: If they help him steal pricey, essential (and coveted) medical supplies, he can use the hospital’s neuroimager to examine River to finally see exactly what the Academy did to her brain. But the kicker is that the medical supplies won’t only help treat River, because the Serenity crew can sell them on the black market to reap a profit like they’ve never seen. It’s win-win, and with a little convincing, Mal agrees. (You and I both know Mal can’t refuse a good, old-fashioned heist!)
And just like that, “Ariel” becomes the Dr. Simon Tam Show. In order for the heist to work, the Serenity team has to pass as believable medical professionals.
In order to pull this off, there are a lot of moving parts:
- Zoë, Mal and Jayne have to go through some minor medical jargon training with Simon. Seriously, seeing Jayne and Mal try to memorize medical vocabulary is amazing.
- Wash and Kaylee have to build a fake ambulance transport.
- Jayne has to secure uniforms and hospital credentials.
- And Simon and River have to be “dead.”
Everything falls into place and before we know it, the Serenity crew really does look like they’re legitimate hospital personnel. (Major props to Kaylee and Wash, whose work on the ambulance transport was superb.)
The team’s entry is a smooth one, and they’re in the morgue in no time. There, Simon and River awaken, and Zoë and Mal take off to steal the supplies. Mal expresses unease at leaving Jayne with the Tams, but as he trusts Jayne, he heads out with Zoë to take care of business.
Unfortunately, that trust is misplaced. As soon as Zoë and Mal leave to do the stealin’, Jayne pulls a major backstab: He radios a Fed telling him River and Simon’s location, clearly fulfilling a previously agreed-upon deal between the two of them. Jayne’s treachery stings like a slap in the face.
But before Jayne leads Simon and River into a trap, Simon gets what he came for — he examines River with the 3-D neruoimager. He is horrified by the findings: His sister’s brain was cut open over and over, resulting in the complete destruction of her amygdala. Unable to hide his shock, Simon tells Jayne this explains River’s outbursts and inability to cope with most everyday situations. The amygdala regulates the body’s ability to handle emotions like fear and sadness, and without it, River essentially has no filter in her brain keeping her from experiencing it all out in the open; she literally feels too much. It’s downright heartbreaking to witness Simon come to this realization.
In the middle of their scheduled quiet escape, Simon and Jayne wheel out their “patient,” River. But when a real patient begins to flatline nearby, Simon can’t hold back his urge to save a life; he jumps in and brings the patient back from the brink of death just in the nick of time.
But this minor sidestep and the fact that Jayne’s betrayal is yet undiscovered lead to the three of them walking right into an Alliance trap. River and Simon are captured, and instead of being rewarded by the Feds, Jayne also gets stabbed in the back: He’s going be arrested too, for aiding and abetting the fugitives all this time. Take that, you jerk!
Meanwhile, aside from one minor run-in with a hospital staff member, Zoë and Mal make their haul without interruption. But when Zoë and Mal get back to their “ambulance,” they realize the rest of the crew hasn’t arrived yet. With some assistance from Kaylee and Wash, Mal realizes the place is crawling with Feds and the Tams have been taken, launching him into save-the-day action mode.
Jayne, River and Simon bust a move — literally — and by time Mal and Zoë have arrived with reinforcements, the Feds are down and out and everyone’s free to escape back to Serenity. All the while, Simon sings Jayne’s praises, which, as you can imagine, is SUPER-awkward considering he just sold them out.
Back on Serenity, Jayne is in for a rude awakening. Mal’s no dummy, and he can see right though Jayne’s lies.
Mal knows exactly what Jayne has done, and if there’s one thing Mal doesn’t appreciate, it’s backstabbing. Mal knows it was Jayne who tipped off the Feds, and he ain’t happy about it one bit. Mal shuts Jayne out in the cargo area, opens the doors, and leaves Jayne hanging on for dear life. He doesn’t relegate Jayne to a grisly space death, but begrudgingly keeps him alive.
I’m curious what this means for Jayne’s relationship with the rest of the crew, especially his relationship with Mal. Jayne made a big, big mistake, and it’s going to take a long time for anyone to trust him again.
Oh, and by the way:
- Inara: What’s going on here?
Kaylee: Oh, well, let’s see. We killed Simon and River, stole a bunch of medicine, and now the Captain and Zoë are off springing the others, who got snatched by the Feds.
- Mal: The next time you decide to stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face.
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