The Message (Firefly)

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"The Message"
Firefly episode
The Message (Firefly episode - screenshot).jpg
The body of Private Tracey
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 12
Directed byTim Minear
Written byJoss Whedon
Tim Minear
Production code1AGE13
Original air dateJuly 15, 2003 (2003-07-15) (Sci-Fi Channel)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Heart of Gold"
List of Firefly episodes

"The Message" is the twelfth episode of the science fiction television series Firefly created by Joss Whedon. It is the second of three episodes (Trash, The Message and Heart of Gold) that were not broadcast in the original 2002 Fox run.

A former Independence soldier, who had served with Mal and Zoe, returns in a dramatic manner, with a vicious Alliance officer chasing after him for some unusual smuggled goods.


The show opens on a space station, and a barker extolling an exhibit featuring "proof of alien life". Inside the exhibit, Simon and Kaylee stare at a tall, illuminated cylinder that holds a strange and apparently dead creature. The doctor declares that it is a mutated cow fetus, not an alien. Simon uses this moment alone with the engineer to attempt to get closer to her, but when he mentions that the other women he knows are either married (Zoe), professional (Inara), or related to him (River), Kaylee leaves in a huff. As Kaylee departs, Zoe and Wash enter. Back in the concourse, Inara tries to convince Mal to let her help fence the Lassiter they stole in "Trash", but Mal insists on keeping her out of that side of the business. Mal checks in with the station postmaster, who passes along two packages along with Serenity's mail.

Jayne arrives to find that his mother has sent him a home-knitted cap, and he proudly dons it. The others observe the headgear with a mixture of amusement and sarcasm. The other shipped item is a huge crate addressed to Mal and Zoe. They open it to discover a dead body, the corpse of Private Tracey (Jonathan M. Woodward).

Flashback to seven years earlier at the Battle of Du-Khang. As a young Independence soldier, Private Tracey, calmly prepares a meal behind cover, an Alliance soldier sneaks up on him. Just as the latter is about to shoot, Zoe appears behind him and cuts his throat. While she lectures the boy about stealth, Sgt. Reynolds comes screaming over some obstacles and crashes into their position. Tracey is injured when the Alliance zeroes in on them. Mal and Zoe grab Tracey and their shell-shocked lieutenant and bug out.

Back in the present, the two ex-soldiers puzzle over the "decently preserved" corpse of their former comrade. Hauling the box aboard Serenity, they find a recorded message from Tracey. He apparently anticipated trouble from some unsavory associates and has asked them to ship his body home to St. Albans, finishing the message with an old saying from the war, "When you can't run anymore, you crawl, and when you can't do that...well, yeah, you know the rest."

Back on the station, an Alliance soldier, Lieutenant Womack (Richard Burgi), threatens first to imprison, then to burn to death the postmaster, who quickly tells the man and his aide who left with the encoffined body.

On Serenity, Mal and Zoe entertain Inara with a hilarious tale about Tracey's antics during the war, such as when he 'stole' an officer's moustache and stuck it on his face. Suddenly, the ship is shaken by a warning shot from an Alliance craft. Lt. Womack hails them and demands to board Serenity. The crew mistakenly think that Womack is after the Lassiter. When Womack mentions "that crate", however, Mal realizes he's after Tracey's box, and stalls for time while they take apart the crate to discover what secrets it might contain. Finding nothing, they decide to have Simon autopsy the hapless soldier, but the doctors' first incision causes the "dead" man to leap up and struggle with the gathered crew.

After he calms down, Tracey confesses that he is smuggling illegal internal organs. He was supposed to deliver the implanted organs on Ariel, but he got a higher bid. Unfortunately for him, the original buyers killed the new customer and are now after their stolen "merchandise". Another shot from Womack reminds them of their immediate peril. After a brief pursuit, the Alliance ship finally catches up with them.

Book does some checking on their Alliance pursuers and discovers some anomalous behavior, and he recommends to Mal that they allow the Feds to board the ship. Tracey overhears some of this conversation and pulls a gun on the crew. Annoyed at Tracey, Mal orders Wash to call the Feds. As Tracey fires at Wash, Zoe shoots him in the chest, injuring him but not killing him.

Lt. Womack and his men enter the cargo bay. He tries to cow the smugglers with his Alliance authority, but an unarmed Book arrives to explain why he won't be using that authority, given the pains he's taken to keep his extracurricular organ-dealing activity from the local Feds. Faced with a surprisingly direct threat of death from the preacher, Womack decides to depart, dismissing the "damaged goods" in Tracey's gravely-wounded chest.

Tracey belatedly realizes that Book's confrontation was part of a plan, one that he ruined by threatening the crew and getting himself shot for his efforts. Mortally wounded, he asks Mal and Zoe to really deliver him home this time; they agree, finishing the earlier saying, "When you can't crawl anymore, you find someone to carry you." Excerpts from Tracey's message can be heard as the crew of Serenity solemnly returns the fallen soldier to his grieving family.

Production notes[edit]

  • "The Message" was the last Firefly episode filmed, by which time the cast and crew knew the show had been canceled. The final scene, in which Serenity's crew return Tracey's body to his family, marking an end to the former soldier's journeys, therefore had an extra poignancy for them.[1]
  • Greg Edmonson, composer for the show, wrote the musical piece that is heard when Tracey is returned to his family not only as a farewell to Tracey, but as a farewell to the series itself.[2]
  • Kaylee has expressed romantic interest in two men thus far — Simon and Tracey — who have threatened her life. Simon refused to treat her gunshot wound unless they protected River from the Alliance in "Serenity" (although Kaylee believed he was bluffing), and in this episode Tracey held her at gunpoint. Joss Whedon wryly observes in the DVD commentaries that threatening Kaylee became a formula for drama, one he admitted using in early Buffy episodes, in which he would put Willow in danger to win over the viewers.
  • In the DVD audio commentary for the episode, a joke is made at how the postmaster is apparently the only Jew in space; calling him a 'Space Jew', or 'Spajew' for short.


"The Message" was nominated for a 2004 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.[3]

Guest cast[edit]


  1. ^ Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  2. ^ Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  3. ^ "Hugo and Retro Hugo Nominations". Archived from the original on 2004-05-14. Retrieved 2008-02-22.


  • Espenson, Jane; Yeffeth, Glenn (eds.). Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's "Firefly". Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books. ISBN 1-932100-43-1.
  • Rhonda V. Wilcox; Tanya Cochran (20 May 2008). Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Joss Whedon's Worlds Beyond: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Investigating Cult TV Series). I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84511-654-5.
  • Joss Whedon (1 Sep 2005). Serenity: The Official Visual Companion. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-082-3.
  • Joss Whedon (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume One. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-314-5.
  • Joss Whedon (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume Two. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-372-5.

External links[edit]