Season 1 Episode 15

The Message

Aired Friday 8:00 PM Unknown on FOX
out of 10
User Rating
777 votes

By Users

Episode Summary


An old war comrade of Mal's and Zoe's, Tracey, mails his corpse to them. He also leaves a message asking them to deliver his body to his family. Some men claiming to be with the Alliance are on the trail of the body and catch up to them demanding the body.


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  • The Message

    The good;

    Love the ice planets, someone should make those for real. We see more of Mal and Zoe during the war pre-Battle of Serenity and nobody pines as well as Kaylee does (except Willow?)

    The bad;

    Kinda a weak story with not that great a denoument.

    Best line;

    Zoe (to Tracey); "The first rule of war is never to let them know where you are"

    Mal (exposing himself to the enemy and firing wildly) "Here I am! Here I am!"

    Zoe; "Of course there are other schools of thought"

    also like;

    Jayne (non-plussed by Tracey's unexpected ressurection but observes) "Spry for a dead fellow!"


    Tracey; "Do you think I'm stupid?"

    Mal; "In every possible way"

    not to mention

    Mal; "There's always someone out there keeping a bullet with your name on it. The secret is to die of old age before they get a chance to use it"

    which leads to;

    Tracey; "You killed me"

    Mal; "You killed yourself, I just carried the bullet for a while"

    Packing heat;

    Mal's still trying to offload the Lassiter from Trash but he may have to wait a while until the heat cools off. Jayne takes the opportunity to load up with ammo at the spaceport, considering all the different types of guns they use bullet resupply must be a nightmare. We see Zoe take a H&K G36 from the Alliance soldier she kills, the type of weapon we later see her and Mal use in the battle of Serenity. The Browncoats seem to use M16s and Mal has a H&K UMP submachinegun. Tracey takes a H&K P9 pistol from the crew.

    Kinky dinky;

    Jayne infers that seeing corpses puts him in the mood for sex but is quick to deny necrophilia. Naked Tracey.

    Capt subtext;

    Womack threatens the postman with homosexual rape in prison. Mal straddling naked Tracey.

    How'd they get away with that?

    Simon cutting Tracey, yeesh!

    Bondage; I've been reminded that I didn't include Mal and Wash tied up by Niska in War Stories so...

    Mal; 2

    River; 1

    Simon; 1

    River; 1

    Jayne; 1

    Wash; 1

    Kills; Zoe kills 2 Alliance soldiers during the war. Mal kills Tracey who seems very resilent, perhaps due to his organ smuggling surgery?

    Mal; 12-

    Zoe; 12-

    Jayne; 11-

    Wash; 2

    River; 3

    Whedon alumni- Joss likes to reuse the same actors in his series, let's count up their appearances (let me know if I miss any)

    Nathan Fillon-3; Firefly, Caleb in S7 of Buffy and Dr Horrible

    Gina Torres-2; Firefly and Jasmine in S4 of Angel

    Alan Tudyk-2; Firefly and the villainous/heroic(?) Alpha in Dollhouse (haven't seen season 2 so don't spoil it for me)

    Adam Baldwin-2; Firefly and Marcus Hamilton in S5 of Angel

    Summer Glau-3; Firefly, Dollhouse and the prima ballerina in the LEGENDARY S4 Angel ep 'Waiting in the wings'.

    Carlos Jacott-3; The Fed in Firefly, Ken in the 'Anne' ep of Buffy and Richard Straley in 'The Bachelor Party' ep of Angel.

    Andy Umberger;3-the captain of the Dortmunder in Firefly, D'Hoffryn in Buffy, the psychic surgeon in the Angel ep 'I fall to pieces'.

    Mark Shepherd;2-Badger in Firefly and later turns up as one of Ballard's FBI colleagues in Dollhouse. Also a BSG alumni.

    Jeff Rickets;3- one of the blue handed men in Firefly and Weatherby on Buffy/Angel plus the spiderdemon at the end of Angel season 4

    Gregg Henry; 2- he's one of those faces that occur time and again in TV/movies, the Sherrif in The Train Job and he later recurrs in the Dollhouse ep 'Ghost', one of my favourite eps of season 1.

    Christina Hendricks; 2-Saffron in Firefly and a bar maid in the Angel ep 'The Prodigal'. She'll later star in Mad Men with Whedonverse alumni Vincent Kartheiser.

    Ira Steck; 2-The intern here and the vamp Buffy fights in 'Lies my parents told me'.

    Michael Nagy; 3-one of the hospital staff here, the Rat Pack vamp Jay-Don in the Angel ep 'The Shroud of Rahmon' and Alfonse (one of vampWillow's lackeys) in the Buffy ep Dopplegangland.

    Cathy Cohen; 2-the admitting nurse here and the estate agent who hits on cool Xander in the Buffy ep The Replacement.

    Jonathon Woodward; 3-as observed in the commentary, a hatrick (but not the only one), the vamp Holden Webster whom Buffy slays in 'Lies my parents told me', the traitorous Knox in season 5 of Angel and now Tracey in Firefly, each character seeming good but betraying everyone at the end.

    Alliance good or bad?;

    Inara seems to be suggesting she return the Lassiter for a reward but Mal won't hear of it, maybe to avoid her getting in trouble or maybe he just couldn't stand dealing with the Alliance?

    Womack is operating by himself as obviously the Alliance consider organ smuggling illegal although it doesn't seem to bother Mal and co.

    Missing scenes;

    One rumoured storyline for later in the season is that Mal is approached to join a group of ex-Browncoats who want to restart the war and destroy the Alliance. He is then faced with the choice represented by Zoe on one side who wants to go back to the war and Inara on the other who says that would be madness.

    Firefly speak;


    Weak tea=not good

    Back birth=idiot

    Companion=high class courtesan



    Rutting=bloody (or perhaps 'fraking'?)


    Purple belly=officious bureaucrat

    Ta-gow=Oh god!

    Won-gwa-pee= to urinate or defecate





    Wah=what the hell?

    Mah song=quickly


    Nu-shu-quong=nice going


    Sheinou-niou=no good

    Mei, mei=little sister



    Moon brain=inbred?


    Swa-shi=petty, small time


    Roller=tank or armoured vehicle


    Wetware=smuggled organs

    Shot; -Wash shot in the face

    Mal; 2-





    Reminds me off;

    The spaceport very reminiscent of Blade Runner whilst the post office scenes are reminiscent of season 4 of Babylon 5 (goverments rise and fall but the postal system is forever). The police craft if reminiscent of the former US Navy F14 Tomcat fighter.

    Questions and observations;

    No aliens in the Fireflyverse, much like BSG. Simon just seems to live with his foot in his mouth (even River thinks he's a 'boob'). I guess being such a goodlooking guy and a successful surgeon he never really had to try to get girls before. His observation that every other woman in his extremely limited social circle is married (Zoe), a professional who refuses to 'service the crew' (Inara) and his sister leaving Kaylee as a last resort is about as sensitive as bombing Hiroshima.

    Jayne has a mother (and possibly a sister?) whom he sends money to. Jayne wears a hat which is unusual, in Firefly it's mostly the bad guys who wear hats. A very different version of pre-Serenity Mal here, funloving and seeming to think of the war as a great big game. Kaylee has rigged a hammock in the engine room, perhaps because of the events of Out of Gas? Or because that way Simon can just walk casually in on her which he couldn't in her room cabin?

    The mule has survived it's use as a kamikaze in War Stories and is lodged in the Serenity's hold. Interestingly Jayne who we think of as a tactically shaven gorilla shows suprising sensitivity, removing his hat at the sight of the corpse and telling Book that seeing the dead makes him value life all the more. Nice mention of Saffron, Mal&co thinking that the Feds are after the Lassiter because she sold them out.

    Shepherd once again shows an interesting depth of knowledge of the Alliance police.

    Marks out of 10; 6/10 A little disappointing after the quality of the preceding eps, largely rescued by a few good lines.

  • Not aired last but last made. A solemn end to great piece of work.

    This is sad and solemn episode. The ending of Firefly episodes but not the last shown in dvd box set never aired. Vetran of the war under Mal and Zoe's command comes back into their lives. A coffin of a young man is delivered to Mal and Zoe. A friend of theirs from the war. With a voice mail attached the crew of serenity make for St Albans an ice planet where he is to buried at home. Although trouble finds the crew because Tracy the vet is not actually dead but in a coma smuggling internal organs called wet wear. Desperate and immature Tracy has doublecrossed crooked marshalls who will kill anyone in their way to get their goods back. To triple his payment to get his family off of that cold planet he has put our heroes in grave trouble. Mal not willing to risk his crew getting hurt deals with Tracy. Shepherds plan to save Tracy fail do to Tracy's short sightedness. A fine episode to end a brillant series. A final sad ending to an entertaining show.moreless
  • Was Joss aware of the status of the series when he wrote the episode?

    Though chronologically not the final episode in the “Firefly” story, “The Message” was the final episode produced, and so there is an inevitable air of loss throughout. Was Joss aware of the status of the series when he wrote the episode? Perhaps not fully, but the series was already on its last legs by the time the network approved the script, and Joss is not a stupid man. The theme of this episode is typically complex, slipping in and out of thought on loyalty, honor, and death.

    Since this was not meant to be the final episode, there are some plot and character elements that build on what was established earlier, in keeping with the “complication” phase of the first season’s original structure. The complicated history between Mal and Zoe gets a slightly different take than what was presented in “War Stories”, but one entirely consistent with that portrayal. The difference here is that Wash doesn’t begrudge the history between Mal and Zoe; he has learned to respect it and Mal on a level he didn’t understand at the beginning of the season. Joss always said that the “Firefly” universe would not deal with aliens (since humans themselves were complex and diverse enough for plenty of stories), and the teaser is a bit of a play on that mandate. It’s easy enough to guess that FOX asked for aliens, and well, this is what Joss would do in that situation, isn’t it? It’s also a nice play on the 1800s-era sideshow phenomenon, which fits nicely with the faux-Western conceit of the series. Continuing the travails of Simon and Kaylee, sweetness turns to annoyance and worse when Simon puts his foot in his mouth yet again. Simon is absolutely correct in his assessment of Kaylee’s personality; she truly finds it best to approach the world openly and simply. She’s not naïve, per se, but she’s definitely not one for artifice. Knowing that, however, Simon tries too hard. He doesn’t seem to realize that Kaylee doesn’t want clever games; she wants someone who accepts her as she is. Simon, brought up in a world and culture where image is highly important, finds that mystifying. Simon and Kaylee are not, of course, the only ones with relationship issues. As “Trash” made very clear, there’s still a lot being left unsaid between Mal and Inara. For all that Mal was proud of his acquisition of the Lassiter, and that it could solve a lot of problems for him and the crew, he avoids the most obvious option on the table: Inara and her list of contacts. He claims that he doesn’t want to pull Inara into his world and jeopardize her career, but as Inara points out, that doesn’t quite make sense. If anything, he’s more honest when he says he wants her out of the line of fire; it’s in keeping with his apparent mental picture of her as a “pure” source of potential redemption. The crew’s reaction to receiving mail is revealing. Inara, in keeping with so much about her life, makes damn sure that her package is kept out of view. Jayne, on the other hand, doesn’t even bother hiding his glee at getting a package from his mother, regardless of how ridiculous it is. It reveals that Jayne does, contrary to evidence, hold someone in absolute regard! Kaylee is saddened to discover that she has nothing this time around; one gets the feeling that this is all too common, and that it bothers her to be “forgotten”. Mal and Zoe, of course, get the package they really never wanted to see: the apparently preserved remains of an old war comrade, Tracey. The flashbacks to the war (which are damn good, given the budget limitations) show different sides to Mal and Zoe, familiar and yet less wounded. Mal is still intensely loyal to his ideals and his comrades, but he hasn’t lost his faith in the Battle of Serenity Valley yet. Zoe is efficient and strong, almost too much so; her time after the way, especially her relationship with Wash, seems to have restored what Mal still lacks. Tracey almost seems like a mascot. He’s not really cut out for the war, and he doesn’t seem to be fighting for the same reasons as Mal. Earlier in the season, the rest of the crew might have resented how quickly Mal and Zoe toss up the fences between themselves and those not in the war, but too much has passed between them now. Wash doesn’t even bother asking Mal what he wants to do; he just assumes the choice and prepares to set course, much to Mal’s appreciation. Kaylee might find issue with Simon’s suggestion, but he’s only trying to help in the way he knows how. After the previous episode and all the talk about Inara’s schedule, her quick acceptance of the detour speaks volumes. It wouldn’t be an episode of “Firefly” without some brush with Alliance authority, but the twist this time is the nature of that confrontation. Previous encounters with the Alliance have been either highly bureaucratic (the typical uniformed nitwits) or incredibly sinister (the apparent black ops “hands of blue” squad). This episode continues to demonstrate how corrupt the Alliance can be on a day-to-day basis, down in the trenches, and where certain lines are drawn. This is an interesting perspective, especially since the Alliance has been depicted from the beginning as an organization with little or no redeeming value. That being the case, it’s very easy to assume that Womack is operating with the full consent of his command structure, and that his methods are sanctioned. The twist is that Womack is operating outside of the bounds of his jurisdiction, which is key to the plot; this give the Alliance at least some level of humanity and morality, thus blurring the lines and making the Alliance less monolithic. The crew reacts to the change in plans and their thoughts on mortality in a few different ways. Kaylee seems to focus on Tracey as the romantic hero that Simon clearly hasn’t been for her lately; also, Tracey’s desire to go home resonates with her apparent feelings of homesick isolation in the teaser. Book responds as a man of God would, and River responds the way an odd, psychic nutcase would. Jayne, on the other hand, shows an amazing capacity for deep feeling, openly discussing how thoughts on death bring out a desire to live life to the fullest. It’s that much easier to understand his point of view, and why he’s so close to losing sight of his own humanity: he’s let the desire to live life to the fullest overwhelm any concern for others. Mal and Zoe, of course, get drunk and tell their war stories. Interestingly enough, Inara is there, which suggests a desire to help Mal find comfort in a time of mourning. It’s not as if Inara is making any kind of overt move, but part of her training must be psychiatric in nature. The festivities are quickly brought to an end when Womack comes along, demanding that “stolen goods” be returned. Mal and the others are thinking about the previous episode and Saffron, but it turns out to be a bit more complicated. Mal clues in on the connection to Tracey’s body, and once the adventure turns a bit more towards more familiar territory, thoughts on death and dying are tossed aside. Mal lets Simon do an autopsy after all, and Jayne is back to wondering what could be smuggled in Tracey’s body (gold!). Again, it’s not so simple, because Tracey’s not dead, just in a drug-induced state. He’s also a living incubator, and Womack wants the stolen organs back. (The obligatory exposition scene is kept interesting by some fun interplay between Simon and Jayne, never mind the Kaylee fascination.) Mal and Zoe are placed in the familiar position of saving Tracey from his own foolish decisions, and this time around, it’s just as likely to get them in a world of trouble. The first instinct, of course, is running and hiding, which brings on one of the better CGI sequences of the entire series. The effectiveness of the sequence is increased by the personal tension added to the mix: Kaylee and Tracey seem to make a connection (and given her past activities, that’s not something she’d necessarily wait to act upon), and Book notes something critical about Womack and his methods, which leads him to suggest (when things go badly with the running and hiding) that Tracey be turned over. Tracey, of course, hears this part of the plan, and this leads to the inevitable tragic conclusion. What’s odd is how preventable the situation could be. There’s no reason why Mal and the others can’t explain the plan to Tracey; it’s not like a genuine reaction on his part would be all that better than false resignation. It seems designed to place Mal and Zoe in direct conflict with the man they were mourning only moments earlier, but that could have happened in a less contrived manner. That flaw is offset largely by the very strong scene where Book confronts Womack, and shows a bit of steel in the process. Book seems to take a great deal of exception to Womack and his methods, and it seems rather personal. This lends credence to the idea that Book was once part of some secret military intelligence division, perhaps focused on internal affairs. That would make someone like Womack particularly disgusting to Book. But taking that thought a little further, one has to wonder if Book himself went bad for a while, taking liberties with his own restrictions to get the job done. If that were the case, then it would go a long way towards explaining his need for redemption and his decision to turn towards God. The very final scene was, as mentioned nearly everywhere in the fandom, the final scene to be filmed. Joss himself is in the scene, since it became to everyone involved an impromptu funeral for the series itself. In a way, the use of Tracey’s message became something of a metaphor for the end of the series itself; the fans were the ones who carried the series to the end and beyond. Joss was always incredibly honest about his respect for the fans, and in many ways, their equal measure of passion for the series and its characters made “Serenity” a reality. (Which, of course, only makes the hue and cry of some “fans” over the plot of “Serenity” incredibly ironic…respect the artist for his choices, even if those choices are not what you would prefer!) Of the three unaired episodes, this is probably the strongest. There’s a mournful quality to the entire production, an air of loss that overcomes the weakness of the circumstances of Tracey’s death. Kaylee’s little diversion with Tracey is also a bit forced; if her feelings of isolation are really the reason for it, then it’s not as clear as it could be. But this also a good continuation of the events of “War Stories”, even if it’s not nearly as intense in the long run. It should be remembered that these episodes were meant to take the relationships and assumptions of the characters and shake them up; the problem is that the “resolution” phase of the season, which would have started after “Objects in Space”, never happened, and the original purpose of these “complication” episodes is therefore unclearmoreless
  • An episode that has it all: drama, adventure, flashbacks, romance, gunslinging, all-out bad guys, dead bodies and a suspenseful chase through the mountains - brilliant stuff!

    What an episode - action, drama, dead bodies, a little romance and a funeral. This is an episode with a lot of emotional events happening around a very simple plot line. I understand that this was the last episode aired, and I agree that it has real finale feel to it... a very nicely paced episode.

    As usual, Firefly starts us off with a smile, with a great scene in the market. I was actually quite excited to see Kaylee and Simon together; the more I get used to the idea of them as a potential ship, the more I like it. Unfortunately, being Firefly, we don't get into the romance side of things, but it is a nice opening. Poor Simon is quite social inept, despite (or perhaps, because of) his highly intelligent exterior. It is quite sweet to see him struggling to woo Kaylee - who I imagine is a fairly simple girl when it comes to romance!

    Then we get the dead body. A neat flashback to the war explains who the corpse is nicely, and (being the flashback fan that I am) I enjoyed the brief foray into the past. Tracey is not an endearing character, so I didn't really care who he was, or why he was dead. This is a problem because, at least for some time during the episode, you need to care a little about his character. I found him to be a very unlikable character throughout, and unfortunately this meant that the funeral scene at the end meant very little to me emotionally. I can see where they were trying to head with it all, but if failed to move me, and I cry at everything. The episode loses marks for me for that reason.

    However, the plot is good, and it is not overcomplicated by adding too many dimensions. The feds who turn out not to be quite the genuine article are necessary to give the episode some suspense and they are effective.

    What I really enjoyed about the episode was seeing our crew in action. When Tracey has Kaylee hostage, watching Mal, Zoe and Jayne acting to get her free is really impressive - they are a formidable team. Book also plays a fascinating role in many episodes, as he does here. His general knowledge is outstanding and he is clearly a major contributor to plots and decision making. I really enjoy the fact that there is more than meets the eye, when it comes to Book.

    The replaying of the speech at the funeral was effective, and in fact the funeral scene was very nice. If I had cared at all that Tracey was dead, I would have been very moved. I loved the earlier line: "When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't do crawl, you find someone to carry you" and thought it was used to very effectively to achieve the utmost impact.

    Overall, this is another very solid episode. The series took a couple of episodes to find its stride, but once it hit a high note, it has never faltered. I really have to wonder how this outstanding series lived such a brief life... it really boggles the mind to think that such an original show was unable to find an audience... very sad stuff. I think I'm just about in tears now...moreless
  • A episode what has a stunning ending.

    Mm.. I did not think this serie can bring out tears as it is one of the mostly funny, positive and sometimes even silly series.. but this episode really in the end made me cry.

    I most say the war flashbacks managed to tell a great story and the shock when the body woke up - that was something I did not expected.

    Also some great visual effects - that ice planet, canion, where they did that master flying.. it was very beautiful place.

    And ofcourse some drama.. you cannot go without it - mostly Simon and Kaylee... Simon just manages to ruin everything..moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (6)

    • In the scene in the cow fetus booth where Zoe is talking to Simon, she puts her hand on his right shoulder. When the shot changes to incorporate Wash talking to the cow fetus, her hand is on Simon's left shoulder.

    • In the scene where they've brought the coffin aboard Serenity and everyone is standing around talking about the dead soldier, a closeup on Jayne shows him removing his new hat. Then the shot moves to show Mal and Zoe, and Jayne can be seen in the background still wearing the hat. A few seconds later his hat is off again.

    • When Simon starts cutting Tracey, he makes about an inch cut before Tracey wakes up and jumps him. After he's lying on the floor, the cut goes all the way down his sternum.

    • When Jayne starts digging in the box for the enclosed item the camera cuts to the rest of the crew and Jayne is slightly off camera. However, you can still clearly see him take the hat out and let the box fall on the floor, yet when they switch cameras Jayne is shown doing the same actions as before - taking the hat out and letting the box drop. This leads to a bit of a mismatch when they cut the shots together.

    • Trivia: The dress that Kaylee is wearing on her date with Simon is the same dress is wearing in the flashback on the episode "Out of Gas."

    • Tracey's plan is a bit unclear. He is supposedly smuggling genetically-engineered human organs from one planet to another. He's supposed to go to Ariel, where he said the new organs would be taken out and his original ones put back in. Presumably his organs were taken out on a planet that wasn't Ariel, which means they had to be transported to Ariel. How was this to be accomplished? Isn't trafficking human organs illegal? Is there some sort of legal distinction between real organs and genetically engineered ones? If transporting the originals is easy enough, then why not smuggle the new ones that way? Why bother with a human incubator in a risky and unnessesary plan? Perhaps it could be argued that real organs can survive outside the body in artificial incubators and genetic organs cannot, but if that's the case it means there's something fundamentally wrong with the genetic process of creating the organs, because they should be indistinguishable from real ones. If this is the case, using a genetic organ would probably be very risky and possibly prone to failure. Of course, they could be failure prone and the black market doesn't really care.

  • QUOTES (23)

  • NOTES (8)

    • This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation: Short Form.

    • According to Alan Tudyk (Wash) and Jewel Staite (Kaylee) on this episode's DVD commentary, Simon and Kaylee were supposed to have their first kiss in this episode.

    • Actor Richard Burgi, who plays the villanous Lt. Womack, brought his young son to the set during the filming of this episode because he loves spaceships.

    • Jonathan M. Woodward has appeared as an unsavoury character in three Joss Whedon productions. His first appearance was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing the vampire Holden, an ex-classmate of Buffy who tries to kill her (while counselling her on her issues). In Angel he played Knox, a Wolfram and Hart science assistant who caused Fred to be infected and killed by Illyria. Here he plays Tracey, who turns on the crew of Serenity.

    • This was originally supposed to be episode number 12. It was moved to be the finale when Joss Whedon was told about the show being cancelled. He thought that the funeral scene was a fitting way for all of the cast and crew to see off the series. This also explains his cameo.

    • In the scenes filmed on the bridge, some feature the shuttle call back button which we first see in "Out of Gas," but some don't. This is because Alan Tudyk (Wash) took the button when he thought the filming was complete and sent it to Joss Whedon with the message "When your miracle gets here, call us back". What Alan didn't realise was that pick-up shots still had to be done on the bridge.

    • Joss Whedon appears in this episode as one of Tracey's family members - Joss himself said that this episode was the funeral for the show hence his appearance at one.

    • International Airdates:
      Latin America: June 26, 2003 on Fox Latin America
      UK: July 28, 2003 on Sci-Fi
      Canada: December 1, 2003 on Space
      Netherlands: August 15, 2009 on Sci-Fi


    • Inara: Fencing the Lassiter is like fencing the Mona Lisa.
      The Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo DaVinci in 1503, is possibly the most famous painting in the world. Even though it is insured for 100 million dollars, some feel it is protected by the notion that no one would buy a stolen object that is so well known they can never show anyone.