The episode opens with Book and Simon debating on who the people that experimented on River were in terms of ethics. Book wonders if they wanted to see what kind of person River was by constantly tortuing her while Simon thinks they were being more specific. Meanwhile, on a distant planet, Niska (villain of the week from The Train Job) gets word that Serenity is in the vicinity. He’s torturing someone who neglected a payment. The works of a warrior named Shan Yu get brought up in both scenes.
River and Kaylee chase each other around the ship like two sisters, fighting over an apple. Apparently Jayne bought apples for the rest of the crew. Kaylee notices that Zoe always cuts her apples. And this is where the titular war stories start. Zoe said that the reason she cuts her apples is because of tiny grenades placed inside apples given by Alliance troops. When the Captain comes on deck, Wash brings up the fact that they could’ve made more money by cutting out the middlemen, but Mal brings up the fact that they need to play nice. Wash and Zoe argue about this later because Zoe lied to her husband about not mentioning Wash’s idea. Wash is naturally jealous of how Zoe accepts Mal’s authority without question and is willing to lie to him. Wash feels like Mal is another husband.
When Zoe gets to a shuttle to deliver the last of the medical supplies, Wash decides to volunteer to help Mal to keep Zoe and Mal apart. Unfortunately, what starts out as a “milk run” turns into an ambush.
Back on the ship, Zoe takes Jayne and Book to check on where Mal and Wash are. Shepherd is able to identify the kinds of shots taken and recognizes that the men who attacked were professionals. They also quickly realize that it wasn’t a robbery…it’s a kidnapping. And Zoe knows who the kidnapper is.
Mal and Wash are taken to Niska’s lair and start arguing, with Wash thinking that Zoe always supports the Captain’s orders without question. Of course, Mal points out that Zoe married Wash in spite of him ordering her not to. (Again, would’ve like to have seen that story.) Niska puts the two men into his electrical torture machine and the two of them are still arguing. (Which is kind of funny in a dark comedy kind of way.) It turns out, though, it’s Mal’s way of making sure that Wash is still alive.
Zoe comes onto Niska’s space station to buy back the Captain and her husband and asks her to choose. Zoe chooses Wash without hesitation. Niska cuts off Mal’s ear (I have to wonder did they really do that to Nathan Fillion in real life) and sends both of them back to Serenity. Realizing that he owes the captain his life, Wash and Zoe decide to get the captain back. Jayne tells the two of them that it’s suicide. The rest of the crew surprise Zoe by volunteering to be armed backup, including Shepherd Book who says that while he isn’t intending on killing the Bible “tends to get fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps.” Zoe’s order as they arrive on the space station is “If it moves, shoot it, unless it’s the captain.”
The assault on Niska’s space station plays out like a really good video game with Zoe, Jayne, and Wash leading the full frontal assault and the rest of the crew holding down the main gate and providing cover. Book holds true to his word and shoots at the kneecaps while River surprises Kaylee by shooting three people down with her eyes closed.
Mal struggles to escape Niska and Viktor as Zoe, Jayne, and Wash make their way in. Zoe thinks that the captain needs to take care of Viktor himself. Mal replies: “NO! NO IT’S NOT!” and the three of them proceed to shoot him down.
Back on the ship, Simon reattaches Mal’s ear and Zoe makes her husband a bowl of soup. Then Mal attempts to fulfill his word by ordering Zoe to sleep with him and the two of them flirt in the most uncomfortable way possible. Of course, they have about as much unresolved sexual tension as Captain Hook and Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time. By that, I mean they have none at all. Even Jayne thinks it’s unsettling. Wash, of course, has no choice, but to steal Zoe away and declare to the Captain “We’ll be in our bunk.”
The underlying theme of this is “who you are underneath.” The reason that the warrior Shan Yu comes up is that he believed that you don’t really know a man until you torture him. The concept also applies to the rest of the crew of Serenity when they are put into a combat situation. We see that Zoe is cool under pressure, but loves her husband and her captain, albeit in different ways. We see Wash’s jealousy and vulnerability. We see hints of Book’s past by his knowledge of famous torturers and uncomfortably good marksmanship. We can see that Simon isn’t good with a gun, but his sister is. Most of all, we see why Malcolm Reynolds is the captain. He’s able to endure hours of torture and helps his comrades stay in line. His decisions may not be understandable, but they work out in the long run. The way that the crew works together will play a majorly important role next episode.