Firefly Season 1 Episode 3: Bushwacked – TV Review

I review Bushwacked, the third episode in the science fiction/western tv show Firefly.

“Another strong episode of Joss Whedon’s Firefly that although may be the weakest so far, is still more than watchable.” 

The episode opens with a cheerful, free-for-all basketball game on Serenity with participants from all the crew bar Inara, and Simon and River Tam. It’s a cheerful way to kick the episode off and is just about as entertaining as last episode’s brawl in an Alliance friendly bar on Unification Day. The basketball game overshadowed by a conversation between the non participants also highlights just what exactly Firefly is meant to be, a show that can be funny – but at the same time, deadly serious.

Bushwacked is, I think – a very important episode so far. Whilst Serenity and The Train Job both introduced the lead protagonists and the world that they inhabit, Bushwacked is the first episode that sets its sights on establishing the threats. We not only get an Alliance-heavy episode, but Bushwacked also manages to properly introduce the Reavers for the first time. Having learnt their origins in the film Serenity, which I watched in-between The Train Job and this episode as it was on record on the TV, I was interested to see how they were handled in the TV series. The new writer, Tim Minaer, not only has the challenging task of following on from the superb two openers, but also introducing the Reavers in a new way that doesn’t feel like a re-hash of Zoe’s quote in Serenity, for viewers who were watching this series when it was first aired.

And he does it perfectly, and all it takes to show just how scary they really are – is to show that Jayne is afraid of them. After all, Jayne – the mercenary, is hardly afraid of anything, right? So if even Jayne is afraid of Reavers, then they’ve got to be bad news. This episode really plays on the whole “Ghost Ship” element, and manages to add an original twist that means the western element fits in with the show flawlessly  despite the fact that this episode is set entirely in space.

For one, how many Westerns have you seen where a group stumbles in the aftermath of a massacre? I for one, haven’t seen any – but from reading a few reviews of this episode I have come to understand that this is somewhat cliched in the terms of the Western genre and it was really a nice move by Minaer to continue to ram home the Western element that played a key role in Serenity and The Train Job. At no times in the series so far has it felt that the episode is more sci-fi than western or more western than sci-fi, and it’s an accomplishment  for anyone just to combine the two genres together. Let alone make them work as well as they have in not just Bushwacked but Firefly as a whole.

This episode is also interesting because it gives us a look at River, who whilst played a key role in the film Serenity, hasn’t had much to do in the TV series so far. Whilst she doesn’t really have a huge bearing on the plot of this episode, there are a few shows in particular where she really steals the scene, particularly when she’s clinging to the edge of the Serenity with Simon to hide from the Alliance members who are investigating Serenity.

Yeah. The Alliance have Serenity captured. Whilst most of you who are reading episode 3 in the series will have probably seen the series and know what the plot is already, here’s a quick rundown for those who haven’t or those looking to refresh their memories. Whilst the episode does start off with a basketball game, it’s interrupted when the ship comes across an abandoned colony ship designed to host families as they look for new life. This allows for one of the most comical moments in the episode to take place, which caused me to laugh:

Zoë: Proximity alert. Must be coming up on something.
Wash: [alarmed] Oh, my God. What can it be? We’re all doomed!
[shouts]
Wash: Who’s flying this thing!?
Zoë: [straight faced]
Wash: Oh right, that would be me. Uh, back to work.
Kaylee: So I guess that makes us one man short.
Jayne: Little Kaylee’s always one man short.
[laughs; Kaylee punches his arm lightly]
Jayne: Ow! Hey!

Then, whilst investigating the abandoned ship, the crew discover that the fate of the survivors and deduce that Reavers are the only things in this universe – or the ‘verse, as it’s called here – could have done that to them, and decide to get off the ship quickly. But there’s a survivor. So naturally, they decide to bring the survivor – as well as all the goods that are actually worth something, back to Serenity in order to prepare for departure. But then, an Alliance ship appears, and orders the crew of Serenity detained for questioning. Because the crew are believed to be responsible for the murders committed to the inhabitants of the ship, and the Alliance are still looking for a brother and sister, two fugitives of the Tam family. And, to pose another interesting question – did the survivor survive because he hid from the Reavers? Or did the Reavers let him survive?

The episode needless to say, is very interesting. And whilst it doesn’t quite match the wow-factor of Serenity and The Train Job, it’s certainly an entertaining one and is far from the worst TV episode that I’ve seen. It’s another strong installment in a series that possibly remains the best cancelled TV show ever.

VERDICT: 4/5

Whilst not as good as Serenity and The Train Job, Bushwaked proves that Firefly is still damn good TV.

Firefly: The Complete SeriesSerenity, The Train JobBushwacked, Shindig, Safe, Our Mrs. Reynolds, Jaynestown, Out of Gas, Ariel, War Stories, Trash, The Message, Heart of Gold, Objects in Space.

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