This is one of my favorite episodes, icky torture notwithstanding, simply because Mal and Wash have such great timing. This is a very funny episode all things considered – I apologize for not being able to represent it better here.
In the infirmary, Shepherd Book is waxing poetical about the works of Shan-yu, a “warrior poet” who claimed that to truly know the measure of a man you have to see him under extreme duress. Simon is skeptical: “Sadistic crap legitimized by florid prose … tell me you’re not a fan.” Book is not, but wonders if the people who sliced into River’s brain might be. Simon believes that his sister’s brutalization had more of a point, however, and is working on managing River’s symptoms. She’s sleeping better but the progress is slow and sporadic.
Ooh – we haven’t been here for a while: Niska’s space station! He is torturing someone and is annoyed to be interrupted – until the lackey tells him it is Mal Reynolds’s ship. “Go, bring him to me!” He turns back to the bloody man in front of him. “Tell me, are you a fan of Shan-yu?” See how they did that? Circular!
Inara is trying to talk Mal into allowing her to entertain the Councilor, a very highly placed and private personage, on board Serenity. Mal says that’s fine, but he meets everyone who sets foot on his boat. He promises not to start any more sword fights, if that’ll make her feel better.
Kaylee chases River (who has stolen a fresh apple from her) to the galley and retrieves her apple: “No power in the ‘verse can stop me!” Everyone else is enjoying the apples – Jayne bought a crate, evidently as a guilt offering after Ariel – until Zoë tells a war story about booby-trapped apples that blew soldiers’ heads off. Later, Zoë and Wash have an argument because she didn’t support Wash’s suggestion to cut out the middlemen in distributing the drugs they stole on their last job. Wash is rather testy about Zoë and Mal’s relationship and feels like he’s being pushed aside. “I am a large, semi-muscular man – I can take it! … [w]hat this marriage needs is one less husband. It’s kind of crowded.”
Inara’s rendezvous with her client is imminent; Kaylee, Jayne and Book surreptitiously watch from another room. After a mislead whereby Mal thinks a bodyguard is the client, the Councilor, a lovely blonde woman, comes on board. Without a word, Inara leads her off. Mal just stares; Book murmurs, “Oh, my.” Kaylee remarks on how glamorous they look together while Jayne, staring, monotones: “I’ll be in my bunk,” and heads off. Heh.
A short while later, Zoë and Mal load the cargo for their own rendezvous with the drug-buyers. Wash has reconfigured the shuttle’s starting sequences, however, and lets them know that he will be accompanying Mal on this run instead. Mal does not like this at all, preferring to have his old war buddy at his back instead of her husband: “I’m lost, I’m angry and … I’m armed.” Wash is insistent and Zoë, disgusted, says fine, she’s happy to sit this one out – should be a milk run anyway.
Inara and the Councilor are barely dressed as Inara gives her client a back-rub, telling her that she rarely chooses to be with women, but sometimes it is a relief to be away from men. It’s quite lovely, all warmth and jewel-tones.
As Wash flies the shuttle, Mal sternly tells him that next time, and all the times after that, he’s taking Zoë, no matter what. “Hey!” protests the pilot, “I’ve been in a firefight! Well, I’ve been in a fire … actually, I was fired from a fry-cook opportunity.” Still annoyed, Mal makes Wash carrying the crate of drugs to the meet. Just as they get paid, shots ring out and their contacts are killed. Mal lunges at Wash, knocking him to the ground, as heavily armed and camouflaged men erupt from the landscape around them. Not so much a milk run, then.
A bit later on Serenity, Zoë tells Jayne to grab his weapon (heh): the boys are over an hour late. Book decides to go with them, saying three sets of eyes are better than two. They find the goods spilled on the sand and scorch-marks showing the path of the getaway vehicle. Zoë puts it all together: “I know who’s got them.”
Niska’s space station: Wash and Mal are put, tied and blindfolded into a room. “Are you okay? I think I’ve been kidnapped!” Wash is panicking a little, babbling while Mal cautiously feels his way around the room, trying to suss out the lay of the land. “What would Zoë do?” Wash wants to know. “Probably not talk so much,” grunts Mal.
Wash, panicking a little more, decides to get outraged that Mal puts his wife in such dangerous situations on a regular basis: “She’s my wife! I’m the one she swore to love, honor and obey!” Mal stops cold: “What? She swore to obey?” “Well, no, not … but that’s just my point! It’s you she obeys! There’s obeying going on right under my nose!” Hee. Mal retorts that while he and Zoë have a [military] history together, there are plenty of orders Mal gives her that she doesn’t obey. “Name one!” shouts Wash. Mal retorts, “She married you!”
Back on the ship, Zoë has collected cash from everyone. Her plan is to confront Niska, give him the money and reclaim the two men. Book wants to know why she thinks Niska won’t just grab the cash and kill her too but Zoë feels sure that Niska would not want to risk his reputation. She tells the crew to wait a reasonable amount of time then take off if she doesn’t come back– no sense sacrificing everyone.
Oh dear – torture time. Niska is electroshocking the bejeezus out of a bloodied, sweaty (and bare-chested - yay!) Mal. When the shocks subside, Mal grimaces: “I’m not … going to say it … again: shipboard romances complicate things.” Hee hee: he’s still talking to Wash, who wants to know, “Well, what about lov-…” and then there’s more electricity for both of them. “I’m not against it as a rule,” drools Mal. Niska is finding all this hilarious, zapping them again and again. They are both suffering badly and Wash is starting fade. Mal realizes this and ups the ante: How do you know I never slept with Zoë? We were together a long time before you ever came along. Wash’s eye is weeping blood: “Hell, I wish you had slept with her, Mal. Then she’d get over it.” After the next round of shocks, Mal insists to his pilot, “Listen to me, Wash! Listen to me! First thing I’m going to do when we get back is take your wife into my bed. I’m going to get me a piece of …” More shocks – Wash sags in his bonds. It’s horrible and brutal to watch, and yet funny as hell (I’m so not doing it justice - sorry).
Zoë comes onto the space station, unarmed and demanding an audience with Niska. She is brought to the torture chamber, gazing unflinchingly on Wash and Mal. “This should be enough to buy back my men,” she says. Niska says it is not enough for two but before he can ask her to choose, she points at Wash: “him.” Niska is slightly disappointed not to be able to rub it in her face so he asks her to wait just a bit. “The money is too much – you should have some small refund.” Niska cuts off Mal’s ear, handing it to her in a handkerchief. Um –ick.
Zoë grabs her husband and gently walks him to their shuttle as Mal’s screams echo behind them. “He’s insane,” mumbles Wash. “I know,” Zoë says, checking his injuries. No, Wash half-sobs: “[Mal]’s crazy. He wouldn’t break … he kept me from - I wouldn’t have made it. Niska’s going to kill him.” Zoë says, “He’s going to make it last as long as possible, days if he can.” Wash puts his resolve-face on: “Bastard’s not going to get days!” and fires up the shuttle.
Back on board Serenity, Zoë tells the crew that Niska wouldn’t let Mal go. “We’re going to get him back” she says and hands Simon the handkerchief: Inara and Kaylee reel away when the doctor opens it. “It’s his ear,” says Simon. Jayne pokes at it: “What are we gonna do – clone him?” I love Jayne. “It’s a clean cut,” Simon observes, “I can reattach it … assuming there’s a head.”
Mal does still have a head at this point; Niska is attempting to mess with it as well as wreaking havoc on the body, asking if Mal knows the works of Shan-yu. “Are we starting a book club?” gasps Mal, “What are you [strangled groan] what are you trying to torture me?” Niska brings out a new piece of equipment: it looks like a small, nasty grappling hook attached to a cable or thin hose. “And they say people don’t look like their pets,” Mal manages to grit out. Niska’s henchman plunges the grappling hook into Mal’s chest. It looks horribly painful. There is much screaming.
Zoë and Wash are gearing up – they look like Rambo. Jayne notes that it’s suicide to attack Niska. Wash turns, telling him that their kind of people have a creed – leave no man behind – and then cocks the tiniest little revolver you’ve ever seen. Heh. As Wash and Zoë head back to the shuttle, they come upon Book, Simon and Kaylee loading weapons, wanting to help rescue the captain. When Zoë asks Book if the Bible isn’t fairly explicit about not killing folk, he agrees but says that it’s less clear on kneecaps. Nice! Even nicer: Jayne is locked and loaded and ready to go too. “What?” he grunts when they all stare at him. “Let’s go get the captain,” says Zoë.
The captain is not looking so good at present; Niska’s henchman has to resuscitate him, in fact. As Mal revives, Niska tells him that he was dead for a bit. “Seemed the thing to do at the time,” mutters Mal. But Niska wants two days of pain out of Mal to use as an example so no one else will try to doublecross him in the future – he’s not about to let him die yet.
Wash sneaks Serenity up to the space station on cold engines. “Okay, people,” says Zoë, “If it moves, shoot it.” “Unless it’s the captain,” Kaylee reminds her. “Unless it’s the captain,” agrees Zoë. They fasten onto the station and then the action starts fast and furious: bullets, grenades and bodies flying. Jayne, Zoë and Wash head off after Mal; Book, Simon and Kaylee cover their retreat, guarding the airlock where Serenity is docked.
In the torture chamber, Niska hears the station’s warning sirens. While he and the henchman are thus distracted, Mal lurches up and slams the grappling hook into the henchman’s back. The henchman goes down, screaming. Fear in his eyes, Niska turns and Mal belts him across the face, knocking him down. The captain staggers towards his tormenter – eyes blazing in a haggard face - “You want to meet the real me now?”
Back at the airlock, Book is kneecapping Niska’s men left and right until Jayne calls him forward to cover their backs. Simon does his best to hold the line but the bad guys manage to advance. Kaylee is terrified, paralyzed. River comes up to where Kaylee is hiding, pistol useless beside her. River takes a quick peek around the bulkhead at the approaching three gunmen, then grabs Kaylee’s gun. “Don’t look, don’t look,” River mutters and, eyes closed, aims and fires the gun three times. She gets all the gunmen and cheerfully remarks to a stunned Kaylee, “No power in the ‘verse can stop me.”
The henchman is not quite dead, unfortunately, and attacks Mal as Niska slithers away. They’re struggling when the rescuers finally find them. Zoë tells Jayne not to shoot, as this is the captain’s fight; Mal hears her and cries no, it isn’t! Oh, she says, and she, Wash and Jayne empty their clips into the henchman. Yay!
Afterwards, Simon has reattached Mal’s ear, admonishing Mal to stop fiddling with it. Inara wishes that Mal had killed Niska; Mal says that he’s got regrets on that himself (presumably Niska would have shown up again in a later episode had this show not been cancelled). The captain then asks Simon if he’s okay with having taken up arms on his behalf. Simon says he’s not sure, seeing how he never shot anyone before. Book pats the young man on the shoulder: “I was there, son. I’m fair sure you haven’t shot anyone yet.” Mal chuckles - which makes his chest hurt. Kaylee is perched on the stairs, watching everyone; when she sees River looking down from the catwalk, she shifts uncomfortably, not able to meet her gaze.
Zoë is in the galley with her husband. Mal comes in: “Did you tell her? Your husband has demanded that we sleep together.” Zoë raises an eyebrow: “Really.” Wash is discomfited: “What? Mal, come on.” Mal: “He seems to think it would get all this burning sexual tension out in the open. You know, make a fair fight for your womanly affections.” Wash: “No, that was the torture talking. You remember, the torture?” Mal puts Zoë’s hands on his hips, pulling her close: “I know it’s a difficult mission, but you and I … have to get it on.” Zoë deadpans: “I understand - we have no choice. Take me, sir, take me hard.” Mal hilariously purses his lips and leans in for a kiss; Wash springs up and grabs Zoë, smacking her on the ass. “We’ll be in our bunk,” he tells Mal.
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