Saturday, September 22, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "The Train Job"

As mentioned in my last post, Joss Whedon's short-lived series Firefly premiered ten years ago this week. After seeing pictures from the cast reunion at San Diego Comic-Con, and reacquainting myself with my inner Joss Whedon fangirl at Montreal Comic-Con, I've decided to rewatch it. The same way it aired - one episode a week, in the (completely illogical) order that they aired.

Okay, who are we kidding. My inner Joss Whedon fangirl was not hiding anywhere. Whedon's writing changed both television and its viewers, including me. I didn't actually watch Firefly when it first aired - somehow, a print journalist saying that a new series is a space western didn't convince me to watch it. Buffy was still on the air at the time, so I had my fix of Whedonesque writing, and there was so much on TV that I didn't even give it a try. Maybe, if I'd had a nerdy enough friend at the time to explain to me what exactly made it a space western and just how damn cool that is, I would have been convinced.

So, let me be that friend and tell you in just a few words what makes Firefly great, if you've never watched it: All of the adventure and the planet-hopping of Star Wars. (Space!) An ensemble cast of good-guy rebels played by actors that I immediately became attached to. (Western!) Lovable characters and the kind of writing that you could only get when a choice screenwriter brings his A-game and assembles a crack team of writers. There are no other shows quite like it, and you just need to watch it to understand why.

If you're watching the series for the first time, I highly recommend that you watch it in the order that Joss Whedon (and God) intended. Since the fans are rewatching them in the order that they aired (and so I could see what all of the anger is about) I'm doing that, too.

First up: "The Train Job," which was the first episode to air but was intended as a second episode after the two-part pilot. In this episode, the crew of Serenity are hired by a creepy-looking man with a ridiculous accent (and a propensity for threats) to steal cargo from a train, only to realize that some paydays just aren't worth the money.

The first two minutes or so of the episode (or rather, of the series as it aired on Fox) look like basically any sci-fi series ever, in terms of production value. Luckily, as soon as three of our main characters are onscreen, the actors and the dialogue demonstrate that isn't isn't just any sci-fi series ever. We get a pretty good sense of who these characters are: Mal is charming, witty, and stubborn, Jayne is bristlier and more badass than most action heroes, and Zoe is tough as nails. If I was watching this show for the first time, I probably wouldn't have had such a good grasp on any of the other characters. The viewer gets a base for who these characters are in the big picture of things - but they don't get a really clear view of that picture. Most of the pilot's audience probably scratched their heads, trying to figure out who some of these characters were and how they came together. In particular, all we see of River is that she's unstable but we don't really know why, or who she is, and that's pretty unfair considering that she gets a hell of an introduction in the original pilot.

This episode, like most of the series, gives us a really interesting picture of good and bad in the universe that Whedon has created here. Thieves for hire are supposed to be the bad guys, but once they realize that they are (because that the medical supplies they've been hired to steal are desperately needed by the people they stole it from), they immediately change their minds about what they've done. Except for Jayne, who thinks that a job is a job, and might be a little bit intimidated by a scary crime lord and his face-tattooed minion. Inara has more social power and respect than Shepherd Book, and Book knows it. These characters are in a really interesting place on the moral spectrum, and I think that will continue to figure as the series goes on.

Overall, "The Train Job" tempers what could have been a really heavy episode with so much humour and excitement that it hardly feels serious at all. Now, almost every bit of dialogue is delicious, but this episode has one of everyone's favourite lines:

It also has one of my favourite lines:

(Okay, actually, that entire scene is brilliant. I think this may be Adam Baldwin's best role, even though I've stated before that I love all his work.)

This is an extremely watchable episode, but it's an extremely watchable second episode. It doesn't necessarily function well as a pilot, no matter how hard it tries, because it wasn't written as one.

But who ever trusts the networks to make good decisions, anyway?

Look for Firefly Rewatch every weekend from now until I run out of episodes. If I'm on this continent, I will be watching Firefly. (I say this because I might be out of the continent for two weeks.)

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