Ni Hao, my fellow browncoats. Sad that I don’t think they ever actually say that in the show, but maybe they would have gotten around to it. Anyway, it is time once more for a rousing recap and commentary on Firefly. Again, this is a fully spoiler-ific blog, seeing as I think nearly eight years is past the statute of limitations on spoilers. Past re-watches can be found in our shiny archive. Now, in the words of a giant army, let’s get on with it.
In a bar, Mal, Zoe and Jayne are enjoying a drink and a game of Chinese checkers while a belly-dancer passes a note to Mal. Soon, a random drunk starts to propose a toast to Unification Day, which marked the loss of the browncoats in the war. Mal goes and picks a fight with the drunk and ends up picking a fight with the entire bar. Zoe joins in, although Jayne says he’s going to stay out of it ‘cause “Hey, I didn’t fight in no war. Best o’ luck, though.”
Jayne does join in outside, but the three are soon cornered against a cliff and guns are drawn. Before the drunks can do anything, Wash brings Serenity up from behind the cliff. The drunks are cowed as Wash bluffs (he has no weapons on the ship), and Mal and crew make good on their getaway. On the bridge, Wash wonders if Mal was out looking for trouble, and Zoe comments how he always goes to an Alliance friendly bar on U-day. On the bright side, they at least did get a new job.
In the infirmary, River spazs out as she has a flashback to the medical procedures the Alliance did to her. Simon tries to talk to her about it, but she resists. Mal shows up to nurse his hurt fist, but declines Simon’s services. After he leaves, River notes that Mal is “bad” in Latin.
Outside, Book defends Simon as a brave man to Mal and then starts to drill Mal over his motives to keep Simon on-board. Mal never says it is anything more than for the fare, regardless of all the good reasons Book lists for why Mal wouldn’t want Simon around. Mal then turns the tables.
MAL: Wall, what about you, Shepherd? Why are you flying about with us brigands? I mean, shouldn’t you be off bringing religiosity to the fuzzy-wuzzies or some such?
BOOK: Oh, I have heathens aplenty here.
Mal tells Book to not try and convert him, then goes off in search of Kaylee, seeing as the engine room is half torn apart and she isn’t in it.
In the Companion Shuttle, Kaylee is being pampered by Inara while they girl-chat about Simon, and we find out that Companions pick their clients. Mal barges in and chews Kaylee out over the engine room and sends her packing. Mal stays behind, though, and warns Inara to stay away from the guy they are going to meet, Niska, as he has a very bad reputation.
On the skyplex, Niska acts like a very eccentric Russian mobster, complete with an oversized head thug, Crow. He is impressed with Mal’s professionalism, and comments on the concept of reputation. He then shows a man he has tortured to death to prove his own reputation. He tells Mal that if they do the train job, then Mal’s reputation will be solid too.
The job is to get on the train at Hancock, and steal the goods in the fifth car before they get to Paradiso. They are given half their money up front, and will get the rest when they deliver the goods to Crow at the rendezvous. Additionally, the goods are Alliance property, which Mal has no issue with at all.
Mal and Zoe are the ones on the train, and Zoe complains about Niska, but Mal quiets her down. They start moving back to the goods and right into a car full of Alliance soldiers.
Back on the ship, Inara and Book discuss Mal. Inara defends Mal, saying he is just doing what he has to survive, and Book expresses a wish to help, just not with the actual thieving. Inara suggests he pray for them, and when he says he doubts Mal would like that, she says, “Don’t tell him, I never do.”
Back on the train, the soldiers show no interest in Mal or Zoe, and they pass right through the car to one with poorer people. Mal is unconcerned about the Feds, seeing as they aren’t guarding the goods. In fact, Mal is excited about it, as he gets to make them look dumb for doing the job under their noses.
On the ship, Kaylee explains to Simon how they are doing their “crime!” Mal and Zoe get the car ready, then Serenity gets over the train and Jayne jumps down. They get the goods, and all get pulled back up. Simon asks if there is anything he could be doing, and Jayne butts in that he can just stay out of the way. He goes on to explain that Simon is not part of the crew. After Simon leaves, Jayne tells Kaylee that he thinks Mal is only keeping Simon and River around so that he can turn them in and make some money. River overhears all of this on a catwalk above.
On the Train, Mal and Zoe prep the car with the goods. Jayne makes his daring jump and gets in the train. Unfortunately, his jump is heard by an Alliance soldier walking around. Jayne and the goods get pulled out, although he is shot in the leg. Mal and Zoe subdue the soldier, who was blinded by a smoke bomb, and go back to their seats, intent on just riding it out to Paradiso.
In Paradiso, the local sheriff keeps all the passengers corralled, and Mal overhears that what they stole was medicine that the town desperately needed. As Mal looks out over the weeping and sick, he swears, obviously unhappy about it.
On an Alliance cruiser, the commanding officer is informed of the theft, but refuses to divert his troops from their destination further down the track to help track down the goods.
On Serenity, Jayne, who is under the impression that he’s in command when Mal and Zoe are gone, demands they go and make the drop with Niska’s people, while Wash and the rest want to hang back and wait for Mal and Zoe. As they discuss it, River has a moment, saying the Alliance will never stop, but Jayne yells at her to shut up. Book interjects with surprising information that Niska would be more upset if Mal isn’t at the drop than if they are late.
In Paradiso, Mal and Zoe try and play it cool and work out their cover story of being newlyweds that moved to town for work. They claim to the sheriff to be looking for work in the mines, and they drop a name of a guy who recently died. Also, it is revealed the terraforming here failed somewhat, and the air underground gives a bad disease, Bowdens, the medicine for which was stolen off the train. The sheriff finds it odd that they are came looking for work in these mines, and that they were looking for a dead man.
Jayne tries to push is authority, but passes out finally as the sedative Simon gave him kicks in. No one is annoyed by the doctor’s initiative in the slightest. The others come up with a plan to have Inara rescue Mal and Zoe by using her credentials as a Companion.
She does just that, walking in and claiming that Mal was her indentured man and had ran off with Zoe and some of her money. The sheriff is awestruck by Inara and still a little suspicious, but let’s it slide since her files were in order.
At the ship, Mal indicates his intent to return the medicine, but Niska’s brutes show up before they can leave. Mal tries to explain that the deal is off to Crow, but he won’t have it. A fight ensues, and the crew comes out on top, even managing to spare a few of Niska’s men.
They return the medicine on the mule, planning to dump it then call the sheriff once they are gone. Instead, the sheriff ambushes them. He had gotten word of a ship not far out, and went looking for it. When all the medicine turns out to be there, the sheriff sees that Mal had not entirely understood his position when he first took the job, so he lets him go.
Back at the ship, Mal tries to have Crow take Niska’s money back and explain that the deal is off and no harm done. Crow instead postures that he’s going hunt Mal down to the ends of space, so Mal kicks him into the intake of one of Serenity’s side engines. The next thug Mal talks to is much more amicable.
Simon patches up Mal, and Mal respects how Simon took care of Jayne and says he doubts Simon made a friend. Simon says not to worry, and Mal agrees that Simon will be able to handle himself. He then inquires after River, and Simon says that he is still unsure what is wrong with her and does not know how he will even find out. In her cabin, River is curled up and muttering “Two by two, hands of blue.”
Aboard the Alliance cruiser, two strange men in suits and with blue gloves inform the commanding officer that they are looking for River Tam.
Well, since I started with “this as a pilot” last time, guess I’ll do it here too. Yeah, this sucks as a pilot. Now, I can forgive it, in retrospect, because they only had two days over the weekend to write this thing, and they were trying to cram as much of the exposition that was in a two hour pilot into a one hour pilot while also making it a punchy caper. What they got was a decent episode, but a bad pilot. Again, not playing the speculative historian and wondering if Firefly would have done better with this or “Serenity” as the pilot, but personally, I’m very happy that I got to see this in DVD order. It made the exposition in this episode work a little better, I think, even if most of it felt like filler and repeat. Anyway, that is that on the “pilot” thing. Leastwise from me.
So, what else? Well, we get some more world-building here, and it starts off in what was meant to be the quintessential shot of the show. A saloon fight, and the window is a hologram. Serenity’s entrance to the series was, I admit, far more dramatic in this episode than its namesake episode. It is, of all the characters, probably the only better introduction in this episode than in “Serenity”. Yes, I called the ship a character. I dare you to deny it.
There is a big thing to notice, though, in this episode in terms of characterization. And that is: Mal from “Serenity” would not have asked Kaylee if there were space monkeys that wrecked the engine room. We are seeing a much softer, more humorous Mal, which was quite intentional, and again a demanded change from the Network Execs. They did not really care for the super dark, bitter angry Mal, and I have to agree with them. This Mal just seems more, well, right. It’s been six years, he’s buried his hatchet (for the most part), and some of who he was is still there. Maybe not super optimistic, “We’re too pretty to die” Mal, but a Mal that has a dry wit, which is something Whedon does very well. This also continues to play well when Mal, yet again, unceremoniously kills a villain. When I first saw that, I laughed so hard I had to go back and watch it again a few times just so I could finally hear what was said for the rest of the episode. But yes, Mal is still a noble thief, save this time he irked off the Russian Mob (in a Chinese-American ’verse. Dang, those guys are everywhere! Whatever happened to a good old fashion Italian mafia?)
We also get a little better interaction with Zoe, I think. Now, I said she was “flat” in the last episode, and I meant that to mean she was one-dimensional. She was the brave, stalwart first mate. Here, we get to see her question Mal a little more, and be a little more on the uncertain side of things, especially with interchange:
MAL: Whatever happens, remember: I love you.
MAL: Because you’re my wife.
ZOE: Right. Sir. Honey.
Yeah, we saw her fear with the reavers in “Serenity”, but it wasn’t the same awkwardness, nor did we get to see the non-verbal cues like she had here as she saw the Bowden’s infested town. The camera may have been focusing on Mal, but we got to see some of Zoe’s feelings too. Her instant and quick embrace of Wash after they get back was good too.
Jayne, alas, did not develop too much, although he did get some good lines (chain of command). He is still the self-serving, dangerous redneck, although in this episode he is a bit more antagonistic, to the point of trying to usurp command of the ship and trying to ditch Mal and Zoe. Good thing Simon took him out.
Which brings us to Simon. I think people don’t give Simon as much credit as he is due. Yes, he’s a snobby rich kid who at best is a push over, but at the same time, there is a steely core under him, and River isn’t all that brings it out. We will see the dangerous glint in his eyes here and there throughout the season, but here, it was not in the doping of Jayne (which I have to wonder if he did to save his own skin—cause Jayne would hand him over to the Alliance right-quick without Mal there to stop him—or out of a genuine concern for Mal.) No, it was actually in the discussion he has at the end with Mal, where he expressed no worry at all about having made an enemy of the gun totting hothead, and Mal genuinely thinks that Simon will have no problem. Simon is like a transformer, eh? More than meets the eye. Just, you know, not so much on the robot part.
River is featured even less in this episode than in “Serenity”, so nothing on her for now, except that the introduction of the blue-hands was nicely done, I think, with the rhyme mid-way through the show out of nowhere and then the end like that. I’m going to lump Book into this paragraph too. I enjoyed the “more than a preacher” they did here. Instead of it being the kung fu (that I’ll admit, I kind of missed on my first watch through), it was “knowledge of the crime world” and his being called out on it. Little more heavy handed, but also all the more mysterious.
Wash did not really shine too much in this episode. He had a great opening line (the new crater in this little moon dealy), but otherwise, he was just a voice of reason during the arguing. He did have a nice moment of awesome when he ran over a thug with the mule, though. I am very sad to say that Kaylee, too, was kind of left to the side of this episode. And not just because I’m such an unabashed fan, but because I feel her role as the communal good-will of the ship is pretty important, and it was sort of side-lined here.
I really liked Inara here. She honestly doesn’t have all that much screen time, but what she does have was very well used, both in her initial interactions with Mal (where we get to see that Mal does, indeed, still have a heart), to her talk with Book, where we find out that she cares for Mal in some capacity too, to her Crowning Moment of Awesome (not linking to it cause I love ya’ll and don’t want your brains drained. That and I’m being a bit of a copy-cat of another blog too much right now stylistically without meaning to, so I have to draw the line somewhere). Anyway, Awesome Moment in how she just marches into the town, flashes her papers, is glamorous, and gets away with the hokiest, most obviously big-fat-lie stories ever, and the sheriff just shrugs and moves along. I feel like we got a much better feeling of what the Companion is here. Oh, and I am remiss in my last post of having called her geisha-like. I noticed the Indian influence in her clothing and décor, but I had not clue of the proper term. So, Foxessa, thank you. Inara is more of a Tawaif.
So, a few other things this episode did. For one, it gave us bigger bad guys. Badger was just mildly antagonistic, and Patience was small potatoes. But Niska just screams out “Gunna getcha!” while the blue-hands scream out “We already gotcha, you just don’t know it.” I am really sad that both only have another episode each, although less so for Niska. His singular call-back worked and was, I’d hope, decently ended (more when we get there). The blue-hands, of course, are more super-arc central of the plot, and I’m sure we’d have seen much more of them had the big C word not happened. Regardless, I like “The Train Job” as a pilot over “Serenity” for the bigger, badder villains.
Oh crap, I went and talked about pilots again. Then again, Joss was of the opinion that his first six episodes were all pilot, so it works, I guess. Oh, and notice the glaring absence of even a mention of reavers in this episode. That, I feel, was a mistake. Even to have had it as a mention in passing, someone complaining about reavers off-handedly without further explanation, would have made me happy. Eh bien. We get plenty of them next episode.
Originally aired: 20 September, 2002
Original position: Episode 01
Richard’s Favorite Line: We’re not thieves, but we are thieves. Point is we’re not taking what’s his.
Fun Goof: I only noticed this one cause I work with sailors, but in the last scene of Serenity leaving the planet, the red/green running lights on the ship are backwards. Not nearly as funny as last episode. Oh, and not really a goof, but the Alliance troops are wearing Starship Trooper armor. Like, literally. Yay reused props.
So that’s it for this run. See all y’all next week for “Bushwhacked”.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and a fan of the Chain of Command. More of his rambling about storytelling and some of his short stories can be found at RichardFife.com.