Episode VII, titled Jaynestown

We’ll be covering every episode of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series over the next 14 weeks every Friday. One new episode per week. If you have Netflix, the entire show is available for Instant Queue. Our three authors today are Alex, found at @alexwhale on Twitter, Nicholas, found at @hotdogcanon, and Corissa found at @corissapoley. Enjoy!

Sorry we’re late tonight, folks! But we’ve got a guest writer this evening – WHALE’s designer, Nicholas Haury.

 

Alex

I should start by saying up front that Jaynestown is absolutely, without a doubt, my favorite episode in the entirety of Whedon’s sci-fi western magnum opus.  It’s got everything one could want in a Firefly episode: highly memorable lines, instances of major character development, and a surprisingly unique story.  The essence of the episode is brilliant; Jayne is an unwitting hero to a town of impoverished mud farmers.  Has there ever before or since been a more unlikely champion for the impoverished in published fiction?  Whedon crafts the story of a heist gone wrong piece by piece.  We first see the crew stumble upon the statue of Jayne, and then find them in the presence of a folk singer describing in convenient detail the liberation of the local magistrate’s money.  After Jayne’s presence is discovered and he begins to accept the role that the townspeople have fashioned for him, reality swiftly returns via the barrel of his betrayed former partner’s shotgun.

The main attraction in this episode is the emotive journey Whedon takes Jayne through from beginning to end.  While Adam Baldwin has quite ably played the character up to this point as a brutish borderline psychopath, a previously unseen depth is revealed here.  Jayne behaves rather typically as he is initially apprehensive to return to the scene of the crime, and later jubilantly accepting of the admiration (and whiskey) of the mudders.  When his true self is revealed before a crowd of locals, and a bullet intended for him takes the life of a self-sacrificing worker, we see an aspect of Jayne that had previously remained concealed or perhaps dormant.  Jayne exhibits a moving display of regret tinged with a hint of genuine sorrow over the loss of this innocent life for the sake of his myth.  Whedon punctuates the scene by defining the relatable truth of the episode; sometimes people just need to believe in something other than themselves.  Jayne was merely a symbol of hope in their despondent world.  And, as Mal said, “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of son of a bitch or another.”

Nicholas

Whedon and company leave little to chance in their universe, especially when it comes to naming planets and cities. There’s Beaumonde, the beautiful world. There’s the references to planets and moons of current knowledge, like Ariel and Bellerophon, which of course have deeper meaning in their literary references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Greek mythology respectively. I’m sure that this doesn’t register to most with everything else that happens in this very exciting episode, but as someone who spent a fair amount of his childhood in Canton, GA – which was named after  Canton, China in hopes of a booming silk trade – I just want to know what mud-farming indentured serfs living in shambles bossed around by Kapos has to do with my former home.

Probably nothing. Ben Edlund wrote this particular episode, and being that he grew up 40 minutes away from Canton, MA on the other side of Brockton, he probably just picked something that sounded familiar. In fact, something that would sound familiar to most of the American audience as there is a Canton – sometimes multiple – in nearly every state. Perhaps he did know exactly what he was doing though. While Canton, GA and Canton, MA both have ties to China (Canton, MA was believed to be on the exact opposite side of the planet) it is just as likely that Edlund was referring to its more European meaning of corner or district since it’s just a crappy moon.

Meh, who cares. Ask Ben Edlund the next time you see him if you remember to, otherwise I’ll probably forget about it next week.

Corissa

Faith seems to be a common theme in this episode. It shows up in two different parallels. The first situation is between River and Shepherd Book. River finds the Shepherd’s Bible and begins to tear pages out, fold others in half and mark much of the book with a red pen. “The Bible is broken.” She states. “I’m fixing it.” In a charming and somewhat amusing way, River likens the story of Noah and the Ark to quantum numbers. She does not understand it as a symbol until the Shepherd stops her. He patiently explains to her that it’s not about whether or not it’s true, it’s about having something to believe in. An interesting concept if only because the Shepherd goes on to discuss the Bible as a symbol as well. He explains that the symbol is the “something to believe in.”

This crosses over to the story of Jayne and the townspeople. Their faith in him as a person is unending, even to the point of an innocent young man’s death. The faith of the boy and the faith of the townspeople is astonishing. Even with proof before their very eyes that Jayne is an ordinary man and not the hero they take him for, they continue to believe in him. They believed that he saved them once and that was enough. The population was enthralled with Jayne, who is ultimately a good example of one of the Shepherd’s symbols.

In this episode, faith is addressed as something almost blind, and less informed. It does not require truth in any sense of the word, but simply relies on the perception of the believer. The townspeople and the Shepherd chose to believe in symbols. For them it is about believing in something. This somehow makes them kinder, and more pure, i.e. the innocent young man who believed in Jayne. On the other hand, River is frustrated with the idea of such blind belief as is Jayne. They represent a need for proof, for accuracy. It’s interesting to note that in this light, Jayne and River are two of the most disturbed members of the crew yet they are the ones who prefer the truth.

So what is Whedon trying to say? Why do the more distracted characters refuse to believe blindly, while the gentler characters accept the symbols? One can only note that in Whedon’s ‘verse, it does not pay to have faith.

Character Profile: Jayne Cobb

by Rebecca Urban&Rick Urban

Jayne Cobb

Public Relations / Complaint Department

“I call her Vera”

 

Firefly wouldn’t be the same without a character like Jayne.  Of course a six hundred pound gorilla with a perpetual migraine could also play that part, but you get the point.  He is the “bad boy” of the bunch, the enforcer, a take-no-prisoners kind of guy every band of thieves and smugglers needs.  But this is not to say that he doesn’t have his softer side; you know, like his loves and needs.  He loves money and needs to shoot people.

Cobb is the kind of character you love to hate.  You have no doubt that he will sell you out if the money is right, or he has to save his own skin.  Case in point is this episode, “Jaynestown.” Yet, as a fighter, you would prefer to have him on your side when the shooting starts.  His skills and physical strength are assets that can’t be denied and are part of his total package.

A deep rooted narcissism makes him a wild card in any deal going down.  Every opportunity for self indulgence or aggrandizement is taken without much, if any, remorse.  However, Jayne surprises us when he seems to feel some regret at the sacrifice the young boy made for him.  Maybe Cobb is growing, developing as a human being; one with feelings of loyalty and gratitude.  HA!  Just kidding.  Anyone with feelings and compassion wouldn’t try to trade a weapon for a man’s “wife.”

Don’t change Jayne.  We love and hate you just the way you are!