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'Firefly' recap: Just in the Niska time

Editors’ Note: Firefly fans rejoice! The Joss Whedon show was only with us for a year, but it lives on in The EW Community. Check back each week for Nathan Fillion goodness, and watch with Brandi McCormick as she recaps the series from the very beginning.

Season 1 | Episode 10 | “War Stories” | Aired Dec 6, 2002

“War Stories” begins with the Serenity crew members separately dealing with their own personal issues in what seems like a relatively quiet time for them. That is, until everything hits the fan. But we’ll get to that.

Simon, still reeling from his discovery that River’s brain was operated on by the Academy, tries to make sense of his findings from the neuroscanner he used at the Alliance hospital in “Ariel.”

Zoë and Wash wonder why Jayne is being so nice to the crew by gifting the ship with a large supply of apples. (Let’s not forget that Jayne betrayed Mal and the whole crew by agreeing to deliver River and Simon to the Feds, so he’s overcompensating for his treachery by being uncharacteristically nice to everyone.) This won’t be Zoë and Wash’s only problem this episode, but more on that later.

And Inara has an impending client arrival — the first time she is bringing a client directly onto her shuttle instead of servicing them on their home planet. As such, she is concerned the crew is going to embarrass her by making a scene when the client arrives. To be honest, I don’t blame her for that worry, but it’s only later that we find out exactly why she was so concerned: Her client is actually a woman!

To the surprise of everyone, Inara welcomes her client to Serenity — a lovely blond woman by the name of The Councilor. The crew’s reactions are nothing short of hilarious:

Book: “Oh my.”

Jayne: (gulp) “I’ll be in my bunk.”

Kaylee: “Oh, gosh, I knew she took female clients, I just … They look so glamorous together.”

Inara takes The Councilor back to her bunk and enjoys an uninterrupted evening with her client. It should be noted that it was likely only uninterrupted because half of the crew was being tortured and the other half was preoccupied with trying to save them. So there’s that.

Like I said before, Zoë and Wash had a few other issues to deal with besides wondering why Jayne was bring so weird. This episode finally sees an issue between them come to a head, an issue I had been wondering about all season long. After Zoë and Mal regale the crew with another war story about the Alliance planting grenades in apples, Wash becomes fed up. He calls out Zoë for always taking Mal’s side — not having a real opinion of her own because she’s too concerned with sharing the same opinion as the captain — and for her past connections with Mal. It’s not all fair; Zoë did serve in the trenches with Mal, so there is obviously going to be a strong connection there. But the other qualms Wash shares with her ring true. An all-out screaming match ensues, and both Zoë and Wash leave angrier than ever.

Meanwhile, our old friend Adelai Niska (Michael Fairman) has resurfaced, and he’s got his sights set on Mal and the Serenity crew. Remember Niska? We last saw him back in “The Train Job.” He’s that mean SOB who has it out for Mal, because instead of delivering the medical supplies they stole in the train heist, Mal returned it to the people who needed it the most, as well as returned the money he was fronted by Niska. So even though Mal was on the up-and-up, Niska didn’t approve; thus his grudge for Mal’s whole team. (Also, Niska is just plain evil, so …)

Angry that the deal that’s about to go down is going to include Mal and Zoë, and he’ll be relegated to listening to yet another battle tale involving the two of them, Wash throws a fit and insists Mal take him instead, nearly rendering Mal without a ride by sabotaging the shuttle in protest. Zoë is pissed, but lets Wash go in her stead anyway.

Unluckily for Wash, though, this job definitely does NOT go as planned.

Mal and Wash show up to make the drop of their medical supplies, but in an instant, the middlemen they meet are shot dead by none other than Niska’s men. And just like that, Wash and Mal are captured and taken prisoner on Niska’s skyplex.

In Niska’s hands, it’s a bloody, bloody mess. Mal and Wash are brutally tortured, with Niska subjecting them to some serious electroshock agony. While Mal is well experienced in his ability to withstand long periods of torture, Wash isn’t so lucky. The two bicker back and forth to avoid the situation that is really going on around them, and Mal sees that it’s only Wash’s anger and investment in his argument (that Zoë is obsessed with Mal) that keeps him from completely collapsing under the torture.

Back on Serenity, Zoë realizes that something is amiss after an hour has passed since Wash and Mal should have been back on the ship.  After visiting the meet-up site, Zoë determines Niska is behind the double-cross, and she jumps into action to save her two leading men.

Zoë decides to use the rest of the money made from the Ariel gig to pay off Niska in the hopes of bringing Wash and Mal back. It almost works, except Niska only allows her to bring back one of them. Without hesitation, Zoë picks Wash and heads back to Serenity — much to the disappointment of Niska, who was hoping to torture Zoë as well by making her pick between the two. But Niska gets the last laugh in that moment by severing one of Mal’s ears and giving it to Zoë as a “refund.” Ew.

After returning to Serenity, the whole crew launches into action. They take up arms and storm Niska’s skyplex with gusto.

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 11.43.22 AM

What ensues is all-out warfare, with everyone from Simon to Kaylee to River and Book doing their part to save their captain. But while Kaylee is practically useless with a gun, Book blows everyone out of the water with his kneecap-busting abilities. Guy’s got some secrets. But you know who else has secrets? River, who blows away three guys with her EYES CLOSED. So yeah. She’s got some scary skills too.

Mal and his team successfully make it out of there alive (barely), but not without realizing that Niska, too, has gotten away. Even missing an ear and having temporarily flatlined can’t keep Mal from expressing just how pissed he is at letting that monster go. Until next time, Niska. Until next time.

Oh, and by the way:

  • River: No power in the ‘verse can stop me. (Cue the image of River going “pew, pew, pew!” that will live in my head forever.)
  • Simon: I never shot anyone before.
    Book: I was there, son. I’m fair sure you haven’t shot anyone yet.

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Firefly is available for rental or purchase on NetflixHulu PlusXbox VideoAmazon Instant VideoiTunes and more.

Get more of Brandi’s take on all things entertainment over at ReelSnarky.com!

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