In Ariel, the crew plan a heist of a core planet hospital, Simon peeks into River's brain, and Jayne and Mal find out what happens when the money for betrayal is simply too good to turn down.
Today I was pompous and my sister was crazy
Ariel is Simon's shining moment. After many episodes as the guy who is comedically out of his depth, Simon got the chance to show us what his snarky upperclass self is really capable of. He is a genius doctor, and he is dedicated to saving others, even if it puts himself at risk. He's an excellent planner, and can put together a well-coordinated, worthwhile job along with the best of them. He's brave and determined in the face of danger, and analyze the situation and face down those threatening him in order to get what he wants. Oh, and he is absolutely dedicated to helping his sister. If I didn't already love Simon, this episode would cinch it for me.
River is still a different story. This is another River-centric episode where River doesn't really do much, except be scared and make cryptic statements that only make sense in retrospect, and I'm left wondering why she was my favorite character when I was a teenager. Was I taking her own shining moment of triumph, in the final episode of the series, and projecting back onto her other episodes? Was I intrigued by the genius waif with the potential to be so much more? But River is still more of an enigma than a character. She is something to be puzzled out, something to fight over and protect, but she doesn't yet have a perspective in her own right. We always see her from somebody else's perspective. So far, she has never been alone on screen. Even when she wandered off by herself in Safe, we didn't see what she was doing until Simon found her again. In Ariel, we see her from two contrasting perspectives -- the concerned, caring Simon and the more mercenary, out-for-himself Jayne.
Of course, there are storytelling reasons why we can't see things from River's perspective. She knows too much. She's psychic, for one thing. And she knows all about Blue Sun, for another. On rewatch (and with a bit of writer explanation), we know that River doesn't slash Jayne because he's Jayne (although an attack based on the future betrayal would make sense), but because of the Blue Sun logo across his shirt. There's no build-up, and no pay off, if we see all this from River's perspective from the beginning. But this has the unfortunate side effect of turning River into something of a cliche. She's the mysterious, damaged science fiction waif who mumbles cryptic messages and who others will fight and die to protect. She might be able to regain her power and protect herself one day, but not yet. For now, she's a plot point, not a person. And although this will eventually pay off, I can't imagine a similar plotline existing for a male character. I can't imagine a male main character being seen only through the lens of others.
But Simon and River aren't the most memorable part of this episode. In the end, it's all about Jayne. How he reacts when the money is good. How he faces down Mal after the fact. How he is, in the end, a pretty darn complex character. He'll hate Simon and betray him and his sister, but he'll respect him and fight for them as well. And the great thing is that Jayne has a point. River slashed him across the chest with a knife without any warning of provocation. It is possible, as he said, that she could do it again, and attack other members of the crew. And it's this confused morality, I think, that makes him one of the most interesting characters in the show, as well as what saves him in the end. He's willing to betray Simon and River for his own gain, but he can still acknowledge the strength of Simon's plan and ultimately help them to escape. He will sell them out, but he's also ashamed of what he's done, and is ultimately more concerned about the others finding out than about Mal killing him. All that adds together to make a fascinatingly tense final scene.
All in all, Ariel is a good episode with some truly great character moments. I just really can't wait for some of those moments to be River's.