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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

"War Stories"
TV episode

Written by Cheryl Cain
Directed by James Contner


Tension surfaces with Wash over his wife’s relationship with Mal; Niska seeks revenge on Mal for his earlier refusal to deliver the goods hijacked from the Alliance train.


Read the full episode summary at the Firefly and Serenity Database


Didja Notice?


Shepherd Book mentions the writings of Shan Yu, a psychotic dictator of the past. This appears to be a fictional reference, though it may be inspired by the title "Shan Yu" or "Chanyu" given to the rulers of the nomadic tribes of Central Asia from 1045-256 BC. It may also be a reference to the villainous leader of the Huns in the 1998 Disney film Mulan.


The computerese that quickly flashes by under River's brain scan at 1:06 on the DVD appears to be mostly made up of html/xml phrases such as "document.cookie", "href", "domain", "currenturl", "hostarray", "hostname", "playurl", "http://play.mp3", etc.


Simon tells Shepherd Book that he has plenty of drugs on hand with which to attempt to treat River. This is a reference to the drug heist he masterminded and pulled off with the crew in "Ariel".


It's subtle, but notice at 1:51 on the DVD that the planet orbited by Serenity (and Niska's station) has a ring of asteroids around it.


During the torture of his unnamed prisoner on the space station, Niska says, "Now we get to the real questions about who you truly are." This ties back into Shepherd Book's quoting of Shan Yu of holding a man "...over the volcano's edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man." Niska later even asks the man if he is familiar with the works of Shan Yu. Variations on Shan Yu's quote become one of the running themes of this episode.


When Niska's stooge interrupts his torture session to inform him about the possible detection of Serenity in orbit, notice that the man's eyes keep flicking down to the wicked-looking knife in Niska's hand, as if fearful his boss may decide to turn it upon him.


While insisting he must meet her client if that person is going to set foot on Serenity, Mal tells Inara, "Don't worry, I'm not going to start any sword fights. I'm over that phase." This is a reference to the dual he inadvertently stepped into with Inara's client Atherton Wing in "Shindig".


In this episode we learn that Jayne has spent some of his cut from the drug heist in "Ariel" to buy a full crate of real apples which he is sharing with the crew. This is probably his way of making amends for attempting to sell out River and Simon to the Alliance in that same episode (though it seems none of the crew is aware of his betrayal besides Mal and, probably, River).


Mal tells Wash that he dismissed his idea about eliminating the middleman in selling their stolen drugs because they've "got enemies enough as it is." This is a subtle reference back to Niska, who is looking for them as he speaks.


Notice at 11:37 on the DVD that Book pretends to suddenly be interested in his book as Jayne walks past him, so no one will think he's interested in Inara's latest client.


Right after Jayne observes Inara and the councilor saying their goodbyes and he says, "I'll be in my bunk," Zoe walks down the stairs and tells him, "Jayne, grab your weapon." This is likely an intentional double-entendre by the writer about Jayne being about to go masturbate.


Although the crew feels rich at the beginning of the episode from the profits on the drug heist in "Ariel", it's implied that in this episode they've all given up their cuts to pay off Niska for the return of Wash.


Zoe half-heartedly tries to talk Shepherd Book out of assisting in the raid on Niska's space station on the grounds that the Bible has some pretty specific things to say about killing. But she doesn't comment on Simon's choice to participate, even though the Hippocratic oath he presumably took as a doctor itself states that one should, above all, do no harm.


The gun held by Book at 32:03 on the DVD looks like more like a modified paintball gun than an actual lethal weapon.


At 32:16 on the DVD, notice that Jayne has chosen to take the big gun he calls Vera on the raid to rescue to Mal. Vera was previously seen in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".


The magazine advertizing being read by the guard on Niska's space station at 34:33 on the DVD looks more like a 1950s-era ad than a futuristic one.


The Mule, the small, four-wheeled bike used for ground travel and hauling in several previous episodes (and earlier in this one) is sacrificed here in the raid on Niska's space station.


It's kind of hard to make out, but at 38:49 on the DVD, during their fight, Mal gasps out to Niska's torturer, "Haven't you killed me enough for one day?" This refers back to Mal being technically dead, and then resuscitated, at one point during the torture.


Chinese translations
(Thanks to the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary for the translations)
Time on DVD Chinese English
7:53 Wash says, "Tai-kong suo-yo duh shing-chiou sai-jin wuh duh pee-goo." "All the planets in space flushed into my butt."
9:01 Simon says, "Mei-mei." "Little sister."
12:54 Mal says, "Fahng-tzong fung-kwong duh jeh." "A knot of self-indulgent lunacy."
15:06 Mal says, "niou-se" "cow dung"
16:17 Mal says, "Tzao-gao!" "Damn it!"
21;12 Mal says, "Tah mah duh hwoon dahn." "Mother humping son of a bitch."
27:14 Niska says, "Day yim zato plahteck mahsah." "They have enough for a slice."
29:19 Book says, "Uh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo!" "Filthy fornicators of livestock!"


Notes from Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book


Jayne's blade is coffin-handled.


Memorable Dialog


what if you don't live near a volcano?.wav

I'm a tradionalist.wav

the pitter patter of tiny feet.wav

I'm not going to start any sword fights.wav

I'm not cleaning it up.wav

no power in the verse can stop me (Kaylee).wav

definitely my sister.wav

I'll be in my bunk.wav

beers with the fellas.wav

are we gonna sing army songs?.wav

there's obeying going on right under my nose.wav

she married you.wav

get in line.wav

do you want to finish?.wav

what are we gonna do, clone him?.wav 

the subject of kneecaps.wav

the real me.wav

no power in the verse can stop me (River).wav

I just wish you'd killed that old bastard.wav

you haven't shot anyone yet.wav

take me hard.wav

we'll be in our bunk.wav 


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