Mark Watches ‘Firefly’: Episode 2 – The Train Job

In the second episode of Firefly, which was actually the pilot for most people, the show settles in to what will be the main storytelling device for the rest of the season. (I think.) As the crew takes on another illegal job, they quickly learn that their line of work can have devastating consequences. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.

Aside from weird intro and an awkwardly choreographed fight, this episode is pretty much perfect in my book. And now, here’s comes my case to prove why I feel this way.

I was told by friends that FOX royally fucked up the viewing order of the episodes when they originally aired; it’s probably what contributed to the show’s decline and eventual end. So I watched this show with that in mind, that this was actually the first episode the public saw, and it actually made me angry. There was a neat little intro voiced over by Ron Glass, which helped explain the previously-unexplained war scene that opened the real pilot. It felt crammed into the beginning on purpose, to help explain what was going on to the new viewers of the show, but it least it cleared up some moments from the pilot.

What irked me was that if this was the first introduction to the show for anyone, they completely missed out on the fantastic characterization and intriguing plot set-ups that were supposed to be seen beforehand. This episode assumes that you’ve seen things in order, meaning there are little to no introductions to any of the characters present. That had to be utterly confusing for everyone watching!

But there’s no sense whining about the past, because at least the show exists. The Western themes are much more pervasive and blunt in this second episode. (I haven’t said how much I love the music yet, so: the music is fantastic. There.)  Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are in a bar when Mal confronts a man celebrating Unification Day. (FINALLY, I KNOW WHY EVERYONE KEEPS USING THE WORD “BROWNCOATS.”) It helps to explain why Mal has such an aversion towards the Alliance and also sets up the main conflict in this episode.

Much like Western movies, the scene operates with a distinct sense of good and bad. You cheer for Mal, Zoe, and Jayne. It’s clear that the drunken bar men are supposed to be gross, evil oppressors. And how does it all end? With a fantastic punch from Zoe, a chaotic battle, and a hilarious rescue by Wash that utilizes an absurd bluff that no one calls him on.

(For the record, I grew up on Westerns. My dad was obsessed with them, so I’ve grown to love them as well. Which is also why I was super embarrassed a week ago when I admitted I had never seen Duck, You Sucker! Worst fan of Westerns EVER.)

This episode establishes what I think will link most of these episodes together: in order to survive, Mal and his crew will take on whatever job they can find, legal or not, while simultaneously trying to avoid the Alliance at all costs. Having Dr. Simon and River on board proves to be a conflict for the latter, but the bulk of the story deals with the former.

In “The Train Job,” we watch as the crew accepts a job from Adelei Niska to smuggle a set of crates off of a train. Niska is largely forgettable until he has his assistant, Crow, opens a door to show the bloodied and very dead body of the last man who failed to do this job. Again, this show is fantastical, but repeatedly has moments like this to ground the characters in reality. Death is real. And after a pilot where multiple characters were shot, I believe that anything can happen to them here.

I avoided reading the episode description and was completely shocked when both Jayne was shot in the leg and Zoe and Mal learn the shipment was actually a supply of medicine for an impoverished mining town suffering from a painful degenerative disease. What happens here is an interesting moment for me. We’ve seen Mal’s own internal moral system, which fiercely defends his crew and somehow legitimizes taking on Dr. Simon and his sister, but it lax enough for him to shoot a federal agent in the head and, surprisingly, send Crow into the exhaust of his ship. (CAN WE TALK ABOUT HOW FUCKING WILD THAT MOMENT IS??? COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED.) I haven’t quite figured out what sort of rules Mal operates under, but it seems to me that he believes the privileged and the well-off are fair game for him to do as he pleases as an amoral atheist. But he gravitates towards people who don’t have it so well, and he treats them with a tough-loving sense of respect.

Part of me also loved how outspoken he was about his atheism and how this clashes with Shepherd Book’s good intentions. It’s rare for a show on a mainstream network to even address the issue, let alone have a character espouse those ideas so openly. LOVE IT SO MUCH.

This episode was well-acted, well paced, and contained a suspenseful story that was largely wrapped up by the end of the episode, but still contributed to the larger narrative of the show. Unless everything after this is awful, I already know I’m going to like Firefly a great deal. This show is addictive already!


  • Mal’s arrogance might possibly be destructive. River’s weird predictions about him aren’t helping, either, but I’m hoping they’ll deal with Mal actually being wrong and it affecting his crew.
  • “Can I have your share?” “No.” “If you die, can I have your share?” “Yes.” BEST DIALOGUE EVER.
  • Kaylee is quickly becoming my favorite character. Her interactions with Inara are redeeming towards portraying sex workers on television. She doesn’t judge, she doesn’t condescend, and she treats Inara as her best friend. She’s interested in an entirely genuine way about being a companion and never bothers to assert herself as a superior woman because of her profession. On top of that, as a character, her bubbly energy never feels naive or stupid, as if she’s not aware of the situation she’s in. All the high fives on the astral plane, Kaylee.
  • Did not expect Jayne to get shot. This show is quick to hand out injuries.
  • Did not expect Mal to get a knife throw to the shoulder! Whoa, that was so quick. But the fight that happens immediately after that is so odd. I feel like it was choreographed. It didn’t feel natural.
  • I’m not one to smile or clap at characters being drugged against their will, but if it ends up with Jayne slurring a line about trying to shoot a man in the head, maybe I’m ok with it.
  • Whedon’s dialogue is sharp and witty, but never too clever for its own good. It feels authentic to the characters. I dig it.

One last thing:


About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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