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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

"The Message"
TV episode

Written by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear
Directed by Tim Minear


Mal and Zoe receive a large package that they find contains the body of an old war buddy.


Read the full episode summary at the Firefly and Serenity Database


Didja Notice?


At 0:29 on the DVD, the carny barker is seen to have a small replica human skull on the back of his top hat, with a fake snake posed as if slithering through it.


Simon is again wearing the "Logan's Run" sweatshirt he wore in the previous episode "Trash".


Mal comments to Inara that he's having trouble fencing the Lassiter, obtained in "Trash", because it's so well-known and valuable.


When Inara compares the Lassiter to the Mona Lisa, Mal doesn't know "who" that is. Of course, the Mona Lisa is the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, painted in the 16th Century.


At 3:47 on the DVD, one of the entranceways in the space station mall says St. Lucy's Medical Center. In "Ariel", the crew were involved in a heist at St. Lucy's Hospital on the planet Ariel. St. Lucy's must be a chain of medical care facilities.


According to the Firefly board game, the space bazaar seen here is called Li Shen's Bazaar. A man named Li Shen is seen in a video feed in "A Better World", but is not identified as the owner of the bazaar, so it's not clear if it's the same man.


The food item being consumed by Shepherd Book and River are called ice planets (a frozen sphere suspended on a string from a stick). Ironically, the crew will find themselves on what could be called an "ice planet" in the last act of the episode.


Amnon, the attendant at the post office, appears to be wearing a yarmulke on his head, indicating he is Orthodox Jewish. Of course, this would be our own current time interpretation. In the Verse, we've seen that religions have changed somewhat from what they we were on Earth-That-Was.


At 5:06 on the DVD, on the right edge of the screen, we get a glimpse of Jayne's new hat even though he hasn't pulled it out of the box yet!


Jayne receives a package from his mother in which he finds a knitted cap in the style of a chullo. Perhaps the style is popular on the Cobb family's homeworld because we see that Jayne's childhood friend Dick wears an essentially identical one in "Fun with Dick and Jayne". Also enclosed in the package is a letter from her in which she tells him that Mattie is still sick with the damplung. Presumably Mattie is a sibling of Jayne's. Damplung appears to be a fictional disease name, but may be a slang term for pneumonia, which involves fluid filling the alveoli of the lungs.


The flashback scenes of the Battle of Du-Khang are stated to take place 7 years earlier. Since this episode takes place 6+ months after "Serenity" (according to Mal's statement in "Trash"), which takes place 6 years after the Battle of Serenity Valley, the Battle of Du-Khang must occur 6+ months before the Battle of Serenity Valley.


At 7:30 on the DVD, Tracey sits down beside what appears to be a statue of Buddha. Buddha was the Indian spiritual teacher Siddhārtha Gautama whose teaching began the Buddhist religion. Buddhism is prevalent in the Asian countries which would suggest a strong presence in the worlds of the Verse.


As Tracey opens his can of beans, he's muttering something over and over that sounds like "beans and rice". Possibly he is singing the main jingle of the old public service ad about the nutritional value of said meal that used to run on Saturday mornings on the ABC TV network in the U.S. during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The commercial was similar to (but not part of) the Schoolhouse Rock educational advertising series which also ran at that time. Watch the Beans and Rice public service message on YouTube.


During the Battle of Du-Khang, Mal warns Tracey, "Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now and doesn't even know it." Ironically, Mal is the one who, seven years later, shoots and mortally wounds Tracey aboard Serenity.


At 12:02 on the DVD, notice that River is now holding Book's ice planet as well as her own as he tries to assist in carrying the crate containing Tracey's coffin.


Video ad displays for Blue Sun are visible outside the space station at 12:29 on the DVD. 


Womack tells Amnon that transporting human cargo via the postal system is against the law and punishable by 5-10 years on the penal moon. This would seem to imply that there is a prison (or system of prisons) on one of the moons that serves as the sole prison of the Verse.


At 17:37 on the DVD, there appears to be a mini Han Solo in carbonite sitting next to the moping Kaylee in the engine room! Possibly it is the 12" plastic carbonite block reproduction sold by Kenner toys in the 1990s. The reference is, of course, to the original trilogy of Star Wars films. The "easter egg" is also identifiable in different locations in the later episodes "Heart of Gold" and "Objects in Space".
From "The Message" Han Solo in carbonite from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi


At 19:50-20:00 on the DVD, Mal's hand changes position along the body/neck of the wine bottle in different shots as he is shown pouring it for Inara, Zoe, and himself.


At 22:03 on the DVD, notice that a pair of boots is sitting in the middle of the cargo bay as Mal, Zoe, and Jayne search the crate and coffin for any hidden paraphernalia. Apparently they removed Tracey's boots while they were searching his body.


At 22:04 on the DVD, Jayne suddenly has straw all over his hat again. It was gone shortly after he pulled it out of the straw-filled box in which his mother sent it. Possibly, he somehow got more straw on it while he's been searching the crate, also straw-filled, which held Tracey's coffin. At 22:35 the straw is gone again, but Jayne may have taken a moment to pick it out of the hat by then.


At 23:10 on the DVD, Tracey is seen to have a spirally sun tattoo on his back.


When Tracey suddenly springs to life on the autopsy table and attacks Simon, notice that Jayne doesn't make any move to stop him!


Simon believes the drug Tracey took to make it appear as though he was dead was bifodan. This appears to be a fictional drug. There is a company in the Netherlands called Bifodan which makes probiotic products.


Tracey explains that he had most of his internal organs removed and replaced with freshly grown ones as a way of smuggling them to Ariel. Simon then goes on to say that smugglers have to transport the organs in a living body because the technology is not yet up to growing and keeping them alive outside a body. He also mentions that the "blastomeres are unapproved." Blastomeres are cells produced in the division of the egg after fertilization; I'm not sure how the term carries over to the growth of individual organs.


As Serenity is being chased by the police cruiser at 30:06 on the DVD, notice that Book is on the bridge, resting is chin on his arms and staring intently at one of the monitor screens. He was already piecing together that Womack and his men were out of their jurisdiction and not authorized to be chasing after Tracey's alleged corpse, as revealed near the end of the episode.


At 31:28 on the DVD, we can see that the police cruiser has red and blue lights on top of the fuselage, like the red and blue light bar on modern-day police cars in many countries, including the U.S.


It's odd that, with all the jostling the ship is getting as Wash pilots it through the frozen canyons of St. Albans in an attempt to shake off Womack's cruiser, that it takes so long for his toy dinosaurs to fall off the console! They finally do at 31:35 on the DVD. But at that time, the toys oddly fall to port while the crewmembers on the bridge all seem to stumble starboard at the same moment! (At 33:38, some of the dinosaurs can be seen lying on the floor in the background.)


I love the shot of Serenity landing in an ice cave at 32:04 on the DVD. It looks like the Millennium Falcon landing at the rebel base on Hoth or something!


At 35:18 on the DVD, look near the top left corner of the screen at the ice chunk laying on the cockpit window. A hand reaches in from the left and rests on the ice (Styrofoam) chunk. When the shot cuts away for a few seconds and then back, the ice chunk is gone.


After Zoe shoots Tracey in the chest, it's not clear why he's able to keep going for so long with seemingly no adverse effects and little pain. Why would the artificially grown organs make him any less susceptible to a gunshot wound than a normal person?


At 38:01 on the DVD, it appears that Kaylee has a tattoo on her lower back.


Notes from the Audio Commentary by Alan Tudyk and Jewel Staite on the DVD


The cow fetus in the tank that the carny barker was passing off as an alien was an actual cow fetus and was supposed to be mounted upside-down just as stated by Simon in the episode. But the prop came back with the fetus right-side up, so it did not look as alien as it should have and they had to limit how much was shown onscreen to hide the fact.


This was the final episode filmed and the cast and crew already knew that the show had not been renewed by Fox. Because of this, when they were supposedly done shooting on the Serenity bridge set, Alan Tudyk took the big, red button (established in "Out of Gas") in order to later give it to creator Joss Whedon (to "call back the cast" should he find a new home for Firefly as a new series or movie). But then they had to do a few more pick-up shots on the bridge for the episode and so the button is missing from a few shots. 


Chinese translations
(Thanks to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary for the translations)
Time on DVD Chinese English
0:00 Various Chinese words appear on the digital billboards on the outside of the space station. Unknown.
0:25 Poster on screen right has the Chinese word "cha". Tea
2:38 Kaylee says, "Ni gao su na niu ta you shuang mei-mu?" "Why don't you tell the cow about its beautiful eyes?"
3:17 Poster on screen right has Chinese characters. Unknown.
3:58 Patch on Amnon's "postal" uniform has Chinese word "yi sui" below the English words AIR COM. Fragile (It's kind of odd that this word should appear on a uniform patch. Seconds later we see the word again on Mal and Zoe's crate, which does make sense)
4:47 Poster behind Jayne has Chinese characters on it: Chou duan Shang dian Silk-and-Satin Shop
5:40 Poster next to Zoe has Chinese characters on it. Unknown.
7:45 Chinese writing on Tracey's can of beans. Unknown.
14:47 Video ads on the outside of the space station have Chinese characters in them. Blue Sun and Unknown.
14:54 Video ads inside the space station have Chinese characters in them. Yours truly. Blue Sun.
17:09 Womack says, "Dong ma?" "Understand?"
19:52 Chinese characters on the wine bottle Unknown.
25:31 Mal says, "tian xiao de" "name of all that's sacred"
28:36 Compass points on the terrain map are marked in Chinese: Dong, Nan, Xi, Bei East, South, West, North
29:49 Kaylee says, "xiong can sha shou" "ass-kicking killer"
33:54 Chinese writing on the wall next to Tracey: lang corridor
34:16 Wash says, "Wo de ma!" Essentially, "Mother of Jesus!"


Notes from Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book


The drug Tracey took to go into stasis is byphodine, the same drug Simon and River took to appear dead in "Ariel".


Womack's vessel is a Justice-class gunship.


Memorable Dialog


is there someone you are good at talking to?.wav


what'd y'all order a dead guy for?.wav

you are such a boob.wav

Zoe got married.wav 


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