Finally, an episode all about Simon and River.
Well, an episode about Simon. River is more a part of Simon’s story here than a character explored in her own right. But she does, at least, show some personality and some of that genius psychic-ness we’ve heard so much about.
Even if it means she almost dies as a result.
Brothers and Sisters
We learn a lot about Simon and River’s relationship in this episode, and about the lengths that Simon went to save her, even losing all ties to the rest of his family to do so. However, although Simon’s dedication to River is admirable and heartbreaking, there are also several problems here that the episode only partly addresses.
Simon doesn’t take River entirely seriously. He still sees her as the young girl who left for the Academy, or as an even younger figure, entirely innocent and naive and unable to understand what’s going on. He trails her constantly and treats her like a child who will hurt herself if left unattended due to her own naivety and curiosity. And River does have a lot of innocence about her that can get her into trouble, the most serious example being her capture by the hillfolk. Then again, who knows what’s going on inside River’s head? Maybe she sensed that they were looking for a doctor, and weren’t planning to hurt them. River knows a lot that no-one acknowledges.
But in this episode, she also finds edible berries from their childhood. She learns a dance in moments and has her first free, happy moment in the series so far — not because of something that Simon provided for her, but because of something that she sought out herself. And as she tells Simon, she understands what’s going on. She might be confused and unwell, but she remembers things that have happened to her, and she knows what he is doing for her. She shows heartbreaking naivety in her declaration that their father will take them home, but that does not mean she is a delicate victim in constant need of protection. She doesn’t need Simon to “dress her up like a gorram doll” and follow her around. She needs him to listen to her, because she knows a lot, if only they would pay attention.
Burn the Witch
Of course, River’s “perceptiveness” also gets her into trouble in this episode. She’s shown to be a deeply empathetic person who can connect with a traumatized girl and learn the horrors of her past. But she can also see and speak truths that people don’t want to admit. And a girl with too much knowledge, and so with too much power? Why, she must be a witch.
I think it’s interesting that the people who accuse River of being a witch are also some of the first people to actually listen to her. Simon rambles that River is “extremely perceptive,” but the schoolteacher knows that River has read the girl’s mind or memories. The Patron at first dismisses her as a harmless girl, but as soon as he listens to her words, he knows that he has to discredit her and kill her as a witch, because she knows far more about him than he can allow. Because, for all her apparent naivety and confusion, River has the potential to be an incredibly powerful character. She’s a genius. She’s empathetic, and good at readin and dealing with people when at her best. And despite what she’s gone through, she’s a survivor, someone who used the few resources she had to get a message to her brother and escape. She has a lot of strength hidden behind her brokenness. So much strength, in fact, that she is accused of being a witch, for how else could a young and innocent girl have such insight and potential for power?
If only the people closest to her would recognize it.
But the big question from this episode is, of course, who the hell is Shepherd Book? Why did the Alliance help him? What was written on his ident card?
Since the show was cancelled, I guess we’ll never know. Unless you read the comics. The answer (which I just learned while writing this) was definitely not what I was expecting.