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|Written by||Helen Eaton|
|Read by||Helen Eaton|
|Edited by||Helen Eaton|
When I think of The Message, two very different images come to mind. One is of Jayne’s very cunning hat and the other is of a snowy scene of a coffin being brought home, accompanied by beautifully sad music. Over time both images have become very symbolic to me, and, I suspect to many other Browncoats. For me, Jayne’s hat symbolises the warmth and fun of the Browncoat community and the music from the final scene symbolises the sadness of a brilliant television show cruelly cut off after far too few episodes. These are symbols that now extend beyond the episode in which they are introduced, but what of The Message itself? What are the themes that lie at the heart of the episode?
For me, Tracey’s question, “What are we now?”, is the way in to the themes of the episode:
The Message gives us an insight into three characters – Mal, Zoe and Tracey – by contrasting flashback scenes of them during the war with what they have become in the here and now.
In the flashbacks to the war, we see Mal as a charismatic leader full of bravado and Zoe as a chillingly efficient killer. Each seems to be surviving the current battle very effectively, albeit by following different “schools of thought”. In contrast to both Mal and Zoe, Tracey definitely needs some help to stay alive:
Zoe saves Tracey’s life by killing the Alliance soldier who is creeping up behind him and then Mal helps him away after he is injured. It seems likely that this is not the only time Tracey has relied on others to get himself out of a dangerous situation. In the recorded message that accompanies his “corpse”, Tracey admits that Mal and Zoe carried him through the war:
His words also show how he feels that life after the war was harder for him than life during it. He expresses a similar view as he sits dying, propped up against the catwalk railings on Serenity:
Tracey draws a contrast between his life during the war and his life afterwards, but from what we see of him during the war, it doesn’t seem like he really had his life working then either. It was the people that he was with – the people who carried him when he couldn’t walk or crawl, as the old saying goes – that brought him through the war. Once he no longer had such people, like Mal and Zoe, at his side, and instead fell in with “untrustworthy folk”, life got very sticky indeed.
One of the more poignant moments in The Message comes during the flashback to the battle when Mal speaks words that foreshadow the events to happen on board Serenity at the end of the episode:
Tracey dies with two bullets in him – one each from Mal and Zoe – the two people who carried him through the war.
In Tracey’s case, then, the answer to “What are we now?” is in one sense no different to what it was during the war. He himself has not changed, but his life has changed dramatically because of the change in the company he has kept since the war.
Tracey says that he dreamt of his family while he was in the coffin and that all he wanted to do was to get home:
It is easy to sympathise with these desires, if not with the methods Tracey chose to try to fulfill them. He says that he wanted to get his folks “off that rock they been forced to live on, set them up someplace better, someplace warm”. Smuggling “wetware” was the way he tried to do that. It is interesting to compare Tracey with Jayne in this. We know that Jayne is very keen on acquiring money by any means possible and just before he gets the parcel from his mother we see a small example of this as he tries to cheat Mal out of his change. But the letter contained in the parcel reveals that Jayne had forwarded credits to his mother. Jayne’s efforts to help his family have clearly been more effective than Tracey’s.
So what about Mal and Zoe? What are they now? Tracey remembers Mal with his “stories and his homilies of glory and honor”, but this is not the Mal we know now. Zoe has also changed, but in a different way:
This is perhaps a lesson that Simon also needs to learn. His painful and clumsy attempts to woo Kaylee at the start of the episode suggest that he hasn’t managed to move on very well from his old life, although for him this life was not a war, but a different world, Osiris, with its “nurses and debutantes”, as Kaylee puts it.
But for Tracey, his failure to cope with life after the war is clearly far more serious as it eventually leads to his death. In the smugglers, he trusted people who weren’t trustworthy and then in Mal and Zoe, he tried to play the people he should have trusted:
The episode ends on a sad note, with Tracey getting his wish to return home, but doing so in a coffin and literally being carried. There is a moment of hope though, as Simon and Kaylee hold hands as they stand to the side respectfully while the coffin is brought out. The sadness of the occasion seems to have put their earlier conflict into perspective.
Greg Edmonson, who composed the music for the final scene, has commented that he wrote this music not to say goodbye to Tracey, but to say goodbye to Firefly, as the series had just been cancelled. Sadly, a bullet was being carried for Firefly and the series didn’t manage to die of old age before that bullet found its mark. But the metaphor breaks down here because unlike Tracey, Firefly lived again in the glorious BDM and continues to live on in every Browncoat heart.