In the seventh episode of Firefly, the crew visits the Canton territory for a job, returning to a place Jayne once had trouble with. When Jayne learns that his actions turned him into a local hero, he revels in the opportunity to be liked for once. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.
Oh goodness, this episode is seriously incredible. I don’t even think my notes for it include a single complaint at all. It’s dense, hilarious, revealing, and has possibly my favorite ending to an episode yet. I am so entirely happy that you guys told me I should watch this show.
There are four plot lines twisting throughout the narrative and I’ll do my best to address them all, since they all play so heavily into the end of the story.
This episode deals with a citizenship that is openly oppressed; I found it interesting that Whedon/Ben Edlund called them “Mudders.” It seems like a direct reference to some of the more brutal slurs directed at people who live in the Middle East or in Africa, and the life lived by these people, who harvest mud for nearly no pay and with no real rights, is possibly the most direct form of oppression in Firefly. It’s not even a metaphor at this point; it’s pretty much spelled out by the foreman.
What unfolds was so shocking to me that, just like the characters on the show, I simply sat there, jaw open. In the center of the work field stands a life-sized statue of Jayne composed out of mud.
I couldn’t believe it. And there’s no better character on this show to have this episode center around: Jayne, while hilarious and usually well-meaning, isn’t exactly the most likable person in the world. So having an entire time worship him? Brilliance.
As this is unfolding, we get to see a bit more into Inara’s world. I have to give a lot of credit to Ben Edlund, the writer for this episode, for taking her scenes so seriously. We’ve only sort of had references to what Inara does as a companion, but here we see everything aside from the sex act itself. There’s no jokes at her expense and the episode makes no attempt to demonize her profession, treating it with just as must respect as she treats it.
Sex work, when displayed on television or in movies, is rarely this sensitive or positive. I’m not saying it’s absolutely perfect, but I appreciate the steps the writers on this show have taken to assure that we’re not falling into the same familiar and damaging tropes we’re all accustomed to seeing.
Simultaneous to this (there’s seriously a lot going on in “Jaynestown”), Book offers to look after River as Simon goes in to town to help out Mal and the crew with their job. I don’t claim to be much of an oppressed minority for my (lack of) religious belief, but being atheist means that I’m either underrepresented or misrepresented by virtually every medium in pop culture. (The last episode of Glee that I ever watched dealt with atheism and made it into such a hilarious stereotype that I finally gave up on the show.)
Now, I’m not saying River is an atheist or that her scenes with Book are necessarily some grand atheist statement at all, but I kind of couldn’t believe the scene where she corrects the Bible was ever allowed on FOX at all. There’s a definite humor the the event, at least initially, before Book becomes upset at the very concept of it all. Despite being so brief, his explanation of “faith” was heavier than I expected. Maybe it’s just a short scene, but I liked that the show dealt with a person like River, whose intellectual mind attempts to make sense out of the Bible, and her interactions with Book, who falls on the opposite end of the spectrum.
It’s not that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. I know plenty of intellectual theists and plenty of atheists who trust their instincts over their brains. I suppose that I fall somewhere in the middle. My issues with religious institutions and with the greater idea of theism is explained by intellectual rigor and logic, but at base, it’s all emotional. I could probably find a way to logically justify some sort of religious belief and I don’t doubt that it exists. My problem, then, comes down to feeling: As long as I have tried, I simply don’t have that feeling inside of me that there’s anything greater than what’s on this earth. I’ve heard so many people describe it, from my mother to some of my best friends, to my godfather and his family when I tried my best to be a faithful Catholic, to many of you who have spoken up when we’ve breached the subject of religion in past reviews of Harry Potter and Twilight.
It all comes down to that: I’ve always felt vacant and alone in the universe. I tried for years to find a reason for that vacancy, but stopped around my freshman year of college becauseâ€¦well, it all felt so dishonest to me. No matter how many sincere attempts I made to believe, I knew deep down that I was lying to myself.
Wow, what did I just type? Anyway, I have a feeling that River and Book are going to have more run-ins this season, beyond their interaction in “Jaynestown.” CALLING IT NOW.
Back in Canton, a visit to a local bar reveals just how revered Jayne is in the community. The crew listens to a folk song written about why Jayne is so loved, looks of horror plastered on their faces. It suddenly occurs to Jayne that he and his partner had dropped a load of cash from their ship in order to escape; however, the local community viewed it as some sort of “Robin Hood” act of charity and used his likeness and behavior to empower themselves against the Magistrate and the upper-class citizens of Canton. Mal uses the opportunity to act as a cover so that the local officials will be distracted and they can remove the illegal cargo without trouble.
Jayne, on the other hand, quickly warms up to the idea of being a hero, accepting as much free alcohol and sex as he can, playing up the part of the hero. It’s a fun character development for him, since he has very little experience in being liked so ferociously.
But, like most things in this series, appearances are rarely what them seem. We learn that Jayne’s “heroic” actions are even less heroic than we thought: turns out he actually threw out his partner at the same time he dumped the cash, leaving the man to fend for himself and ultimately get arrested by the Magistrate. Oh, and losing an eye in the process. There’s that too. Oh, and he’s been let out of his imprisonment specifically so he can murder Jayne. That as well.
The confrontation between the two is a transformative moment for Jayne and I have to applaud how the episode-long joke is suddenly turned into something deeply seriously and undeniably disturbing. When Stitch, Jayne’s old partner, reveals what he actually did four years earlier, I was shocked that the crowd didn’t immediately turn on Jayne. Instead, when Stitch tries to shoot him, a teenage Mudder dives in front of the shot, sacrificing his life for Jayne.
Jayne is horrified that someone would give their life for his, especially after learning the real truth of his actions. His own sense of self-worth clashes with what these people believe about him and he’s at a loss to learn that they don’t even care. He tells them that there are no heroes like the Jayne Cobb they have imagined; no one will ever just give them help. Watching him knock over the statue was heartbreaking because it represents the “good” side he doesn’t believe he has, that this community so steadfastly believes is real.
The final conversation in the cargo bay exemplifies the sort of thoughtless hope that many oppressed people might cling to in order to derive meaning from their struggle. “Ain’t about you, Jayne,” Mal tells him, “it’s about what they need.”
This doesn’t make sense to Jayne, but he’s never been at the bottom of the social and political food chain. He can’t understand the need to have a figure to look for for freedom.
I find that a lot of Firefly relies on well-written jokes at the expense of various characters. (Mal’s “marriage,” Jayne’s heroism, Simon’s cluelessness, for example.) Yet the show also seems to take those exact jokes to make incredibly serious points; by the time I reached the end of the episode, I felt bad that I’d laughed at Canton, just like I felt bad at laughing at Mal’s marriage once Inara pointed out how fucked up it was.
Damn, I love this show.
- Finally, Kaylee and the doctor get together! Even if it was very drunkenly, I enjoyed it, until, of course, Simon had to say something stupid again. Man, they are going to make an awkward pair, but I like it.
- “Have good sex!” Kaylee’s genuine enthusiasm is the best thing ever.
- “Wow, Simon, that was soâ€¦historical.” Exact point I suspected this would be the episode that Kaylee and Simon finally confessed their feelings for each other.
- Book’s hair. Justâ€¦wow.
- The entire conversation between Inara and Fess about masculinity is SERIOUSLY GODDAMN FANTASTIC. And take note, readers: masculinity is not dependent on sex. A++++ Edlund forever.
- Drunken Wash should show up more. He really should.