Firefly, Season 1, Episode 7, “Jaynestown”
Directed by Marita Grabiak
Written by Ben Edlund
Directed by Aired October 18th, 2002 on FOX
Welcome to Sound on Sight’s summer look back at Firefly, the beloved yet short-lived series that aired on FOX during the 2002-2003 TV season. Every Thursday, we will revisit an episode at a time of the show’s one and only season, in the order that they were meant to be seen. The correct sequence is accurately reflected on most, if not all, streaming services that currently have the show, but for those watching via other methods, the accurate order can be found here. Now, without further ado, time to spend some time with the most entertaining group of grifters in The ‘Verse.
By far the most important thing about “Jaynestown”, the episode that finally gives Jayne the spotlight and a sheds light on at least one piece of his past, is that it doesn’t betray who Jayne is as a character. At this point, each crew member aboard Serenity, with the possible exception of Shepherd Book, has been thoroughly fleshed out enough that they are fully realized people with histories, emotions, and opinions. Thus far Jayne was without a solid backstory, but he was still the gruff and sometimes violent enforcer on board who cared nothing for other people’s feelings or safety. To suddenly reverse this characterization for the satisfaction of having him be a secret hero to the people of a far away moon would be a betrayal of the character that is not worth the effort. Finding a way for the crew to stumble upon something entirely unlike Jayne yet still have it be true to what the audience already knows about him takes tact and a lot of thought. Firefly had already proven that it is a smart show and that the audience should trust its handling of storylines, yet this may be one of the smartest decisions of the series thus far. It successfully mines both humor and real emotional payoffs from what amounts to a complete misunderstanding, not a decision to flip character traits on their head.
The scene where the crew actually finds out that Jayne is a hero, and the ensuing time at the bar where the reasons why are revealed, are a master class in reactions from the entire cast. The fact that Jayne does not want to go to Higgins’ Moon without a gun and his head on a swivel ably sets audience expectations for a showdown as soon as he is off the ship. His “disguise” and Mal’s ribbing about said outfit then adds a little bit of humor to the proceedings, all of which builds to the reveal of the town statue labeled “Jayne Cobb”. This slow burn leading up to the “Hero of Canton” identification is important not only because it delays the disclosure of Jayne’s past long enough to make it land harder, but because so much of the rest of the episode revolves around the shock and awe that Jayne once did something that is perceived as heroic or good. It is the little touches like these that give the show the leeway necessary to then have the crew laughing at Jayne for a good chunk of the running time. The bar scene itself is full of gems, from the ever-quotable Kaylee to the look on Simon’s face as he fails to process what he has learned. The song itself, with complete verses and a catchy chorus, is entertaining at the highest level and shows the attention to detail Whedon and the other writers put into each scene. The song could have been a throwaway gag within a scene filled with other jokes. Instead it drags on and on, increasing the level of awkwardness with every additional lyric.
The other bar scenes, moving the flirtations between Simon and Kaylee firmly into romance territory, are interwoven well with the rest of the action and segue seamlessly into the denouement of the episode. Mal is once again made the “cool dad” figure who finds his daughter making out on a couch and chooses to look the other way, a nice gesture on the captain’s part and one that proves he is not completely oblivious all the time. Inara’s side plot is also nicely tied into the main story so as not to be completely isolating. Even if it allows her to be certifiably awesome at times, Inara’s role is still that of “companion who has secret feelings for Mal” so the least the show can do for her is to make sure her “good sex” (as Kaylee so aptly puts it) continues to somehow tie into the crew’s larger adventures. Fees Higgins’ decision to disable his father’s grounding device and allow Serenity to take off safely was surely not his idea alone. Inara may have left him with a greater sense of self and some rewarding discussions on what it means to be a man, but she also probably manipulated him into turning against his father rather than assuming he would make that decision on his own. Inara may be kindly and loving, but she is also not above using her skills to steer a client in a direction of her choosing (as previously seen in “Shindig”).
Even with all of the laughs and jokes that overwhelm the episode, “Jaynestown” still finishes things in a place of real emotional honesty. Once face to face with Stitch, a human reminder of his past misdeeds and current white lies, Jayne’s inability to lie to the townspeople any longer about his faux-heroism surfaces. It is a cruel twist that as soon as Jayne becomes accustomed to his treatment as a hero he is immediately faced with the downside of being a savior. The death of the young mud worker is a stark and tragic reminder that although Jayne is a hero in the eyes of the lower class on this particular moon, he is still a thief first and foremost, and his actions still have very real consequences despite the brief impression that he was a good man. Even if he wanted to change his lifestyle, which he pretty clearly does not, his past would always find him and endanger innocent people once again. That Jayne cannot understand why the townspeople would still consider him a hero after they know the truth, and after one of their own was killed trying to protect him, says a lot about his inability to understand how blind optimism can sometimes be necessary to survive in an environment like theirs. Jayne will go back to being a calloused, harsh, and cynical man, but his guilt over the goings on at Higgins’ Moon at least allowed a small glimpse of empathy where before there was only an impenetrable exterior. Even if that empathy eventually wears off, the hoopla surrounding the “Hero of Canton” still helped get the smuggling deal done successfully. Heroism comes in a variety of packages, this time it just happened to benefit the Serenity crew more than those that actually created the hero.
- Each reaction to the statue is more priceless than the last: “You wanna tell me how come there’s a statue of you here lookin’ at me like I owe him somethin’?” “This must be what going mad feels like.” “It captures his essence.” “Everywhere I go, his eyes keep following me.”
- “We gotta go to the crappy town where I’m a hero!”
- River’s piece of the episode is small but mighty. Her conversation with Book about religion and faith sheds light on both of their outlooks on life.
- “River, honey, he’s putting the hair away now.” “Doesn’t matter. It’ll still be there… waiting.”
- “The living legend needs eggs!” One of the greatest requests for hangover food, and one everyone should adopt for various mundane situations.