Once again, we’re spending Tuesdays this summer revisiting Joss Whedon’s space Western “Firefly.” A review of “Jaynestown” coming up just as soon as I stop describing you…
“Well there ain’t people like that. There’s just people like me.” -Jayne
I’m always a sucker for stories that reveal the hidden depth of characters previously used only for comic relief, so “Jaynestown” was right up my alley.
To this point in the series, Jayne has been a clown – a very big, scary clown, but a clown nonetheless. (Or, if you prefer Simon’s description, “a trained ape without the training.”) He’s good with a gun in his hands (or simply with his hands), but no one on the crew can stand him (and vice versa), and to call him stupid would be, as Wanda Gershwitz once said, an insult to stupid people. His function on the show thus far has been to be occasionally useful in the action sequences (like using Vera to save the day last week), but mainly to provide laughs.
And for a long stretch of “Jaynestown,” that’s what he continues to do. He left the factory settlement of Canton believing the people there saw him the way everyone else (rightly) does: as a villain. Instead, his desperate attempt to escape capture has been misinterpreted so that he’s the Robin Hood-esque hero of the mudders, and after some initial confusion (shared by the rest of the crew(*)), Jayne quickly learns to embrace the spoils of hero worship: free booze (and not the horrible “mudders’ milk” everyone else drinks), eager women and adulation everywhere he goes.
(*) This is a very funny episode for Sean Maher as Simon struggles to accept that the trained ape is celebrated and adored, while the best he ever got from his medical work was a hamster named after him.
Adam Baldwin milks Jayne’s delight at the unlikely turn of events for every laugh that it’s worth. But there comes a moment, around the point where he hears about the riot the mudders had to prevent Magistrate Higgins from tearing down the statue, where the joke starts to turn ever so serious – when we realize just how badly Jayne wants to be the hero for once, and also how everyone’s kind sentiments seems to be rekindling feelings and morality that were dormant inside Jayne Cobb for a very, very long time.
And when the Jayne Day celebration is interrupted by the return of Jayne’s ex-partner Stitch, who tells the good people of Canton what really went down during that heist, an unexpected emotion crosses Jayne’s face: shame. He wants this adulation, and it hurts him to have the townsfolk find out who he really is. And it hurts even worse when one of mudders – even after hearing the true story, and hearing Jayne acknowledge that truth – takes a bullet Stitch meant for Jayne, because believing in the hero of Canton had become more important than the facts.
As Mal tells a confused and guilt-ridden Jayne back on Serenity, there came a point where the story ceased to be about him and became about the downtrodden mudders’ need to have something to inspire them through an existence that Jayne aptly describes as “the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a soul in this crap universe.” They say that history is written by the winners, but in this case, the losers get to tell the tale, and in their version of history, there’s a man out there in the stars who showed them a kindness no one else ever had and stood up to their oppressors in a way they can’t.
Jayne can’t understand that, but Mal can, because he’s a loser himself (and, unlike Jayne, self-aware enough to acknowledge this). So is Shepherd Book, who’s clearly running from something bad, and who tells River that faith isn’t about logical consistency; “It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life.” The mudders used their belief in Jayne to make their existence slightly more palatable, and, as a wise man would put it, I guess that’s something.
“Firefly” is in many ways a celebration of losers who try to make the best of horrible circumstances, and in moving that subtext to the forefront, “Jaynestown” becomes one of the series’ most memorable, entertaining and surprisingly moving episodes.
Some other thoughts:
- The non-Jayne subplots in this one are a mixed bag. Kaylee and Simon’s flirting and misunderstanding remains charming, though it’s starting to get repetitive at this point. Inara’s story with the magistrate’s son is a reminder that sex is only one part of the service a companion offers, but it’s mainly a plot device to let the ship escape (and to give the magistrate face time before he hears that Jayne’s back). Book and River’s interaction back on the ship is amusing (particularly her understandable reaction to his wild hair) and an interesting contrast between what society considers insanity (Rivers’ illogical behavior) and what it doesn’t (the inconsistencies of the Bible, which even Book will acknowledge even as he defends his faith in it). And I love Summer Glau’s delivery of “Just keep walking, preacher-man.”
- A few notable guest stars in this one. Gregory Itzin (Magistrate Higgins) is of course best known for playing President Logan on “24,” while Kevin Gage (Stitch) was the unsettling Waingro in “Heat.”
- Among “Firefly” fandom, one of the most enduring parts of the episode is “The Ballad of Jayne” itself, and I like how the score features a subdued instrumental version of it during Mal and Jayne’s talk on the catwalk.
- It seems somewhat random that Zoe would stay with the ship while Wash joined the expedition into town, but it does give Alan Tudyk something to do, including the wonderful line, “We gotta go to the crappy town where I’m a hero!”
Coming up next: “Out of Gas,” probably my favorite episode of the series. Next Tuesday will be the first day of the TV critics’ press tour, and I’m hoping that event (and Comic-Con before it) won’t disrupt regularly-scheduled summer programming like this, but there’s a chance the “Firefly” schedule may become a bit irregular for a few weeks until I’m back home. I’ll do what I can, when I can.
What did everybody else think?