Firefly Rewatch Episode 7: Jaynestown

Simon: “What happened in here?”
Jayne: “Needed to find some tape.”
Simon: “So you had to tear my infirmary apart?”
Jayne: “Apparently.”

Every so often Joss Whedon manages to pull the rabbit out of the hat so skillfully you just find yourself looking at a rabbit, not even questioning where it came from, where before, there was a hat.  Maybe he turned the hat into a rabbit?  In any case Jaynestown is one of those episodes where you think nothing of it, then it dawns on you what happened and you ask yourself, how did he just do that?  Jaynestown manages to explore an alternative universe without leaving ours.  In this universe rather than a mercenary with questionable allegiances Jayne is a big damn hero.  After the jump.

“To Jayne! The box dropping, man-ape-gone-wrong-thing.” – Simon

I have to admit that I never really paid much attention to Adam Baldwin before Firefly.  He was one of those faces that undoubtedly would strike me as a familiar character actor, but not usually someone who would stick in my head.  Then I watched Firefly.  And then I started to see him everywhere.  If there was one episode that really made me take notice it was Jaynestown.  It doesn’t hurt that it is funny or that Baldwin again plays the comic relief even while being menacing (a skill developed here that has served him well on Chuck).  But in this episode in what I can only guess is a marvelous collaboration of material and performance Baldwin and Whedon manage to tell Jayne’s story with almost no back story.  Like Mal, Jayne is a survivor, but unlike Mal he hasn’t yet found a reason to survive.

Mal: Jayne?”
Jayne: “Yeah?”
Mal: “You wanna tell me how come there’s a statue of you here lookin’ at me like I owe him somethin’?”
Jayne: “Wishin’ I could, Cap’n.”

Jayne has never been the cuddly type, and yet returning, literally to the scene of the crime, he finds he’s been memorialized in mud.  The hero of Canton.  It seems Jayne has left a legacy in Canton, and that turns out to be both a good and a bad thing.  A robbery gone awry has left him with the reputation as a modern-day Robin Hood, ballad and all, and it has also left behind his old partner, who knows the truth about Jayne.

As the season hits it’s stride it gets tougher and tougher to write a simple synopsis, because there is just so much going on, yet the plots seem simple and straightforward.  On the surface we have Jayne the legend, coming to find that he likes being admired as a good man.  The “mudders” not only idolize him and ply him with drink and women, they actually stood up to their bosses, with Jayne as an inspiration.  Jayne had his very own riot.  A bit of something noble in Jayne starts to emerge.

Jayne: “I don’t know, you think we should be using my fame to hoodwink folks?”
Mal: “You better laugh when you say that.”
Jayne: “No really Mal, I mean maybe there’s something to this. The mudders, I think I really made a difference in their lives. Me, Jayne Cobb.”
Mal: “I know your name, jackass!”

Mal has tasted the admiration and the dedication of followers before.  Mal has lived up to the trust others put in him.  But he’s also failed.  Zoe seems sometimes a follower and sometimes a partner.  But the thing I think we are to get from Zoe is that she understands Mal where others don’t.  It gives both Zoe and Mal a bit of insight into what Jayne is feeling, and the peril in that feeling that lies ahead.

Book: “It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith.”

When the truth of Jayne’s actions become apparent, it doesn’t matter.  All that mattered to the mudders was that they had Jayne, and it made getting the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a human soul in this crap-heel ‘verse a little easier to take.  And that was something.  When Jayne sees a mudder take the bullet meant for him who he really is as opposed to who he wanted to be comes crashing down on him.

Jayne: “I don’t know why that eats at me so.”
Mal: “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.”

This is one of my favorite episodes to watch because we see through the various plots three men contrasted.  We have Shepherd Book, who we suspect was once more like Jayne and Mal, but who has taken it on faith that he can be fixed, redeemed, and he can help others find redemption too.  We see Mal, a once noble and proud man now broken, but finding that he can build something worth fighting for, and worth living for again.  And Jayne, we aren’t sure yet.  Jayne is a survivor, like the mudders, and Mal.  He just doesn’t seem to have found the thing in his life that makes it worth living as opposed to surviving.  But with this episode he seems to realize that maybe he can find something to make life about more than survival.

We are in the sweet spot folks.  From Safe to Objects in Space I find it almost impossible to judge one episode as better than the next.  On my prized Firefly DVD collection, in the special features, there is a part where one of the cast or crew talks about a rather emotional day on the set.  Adam Baldwin, who if you look at his IMDB resume, has been a journeyman actor all his life, was talking to the crew when it became apparent the show would end.  He said that as a young man he was impatient.  He was working with Stanley Kubric on Full Metal Jacket, doing some of the best work he’d ever done, and he wasn’t able to appreciate the experience for what it was.  What he learned he said was that those moments don’t happen often, and when they do learn to appreciate them.  They were really lucky, even though the show was being canceled.  They were doing some of the best work they’d ever do, and they knew it now, while it was happening.  Enjoy that.

And finally, there really is only one way to close a recap of Jaynestown.

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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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3 Responses to Firefly Rewatch Episode 7: Jaynestown

  1. OldDarth says:

    An alternatively hilarious and deeply touching episode.

  2. atcdave says:

    I think this episode hits all the notes right. I remember when I watched for the first time, the musician starting “Hero of Canton” had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breath. I also got a big kick out of Inara assuming her client was talking about Mal, and the look on her face when found it was Jayne; great moment. And what a powerful scene when the mudder takes a bullet for Jayne, even if I don’t quite buy into the cynical philosophy discourse that follows, it was a powerful scene regardless. Great television.

  3. jason says:

    I don’t know if any of you know any famous people, but the TV character and the real one are often very different, I played high schools sports with someone who is in the NFL hall of fame and a super bowl ring – he is nothing at all like he was described on tv – to me, that was the lesson of jayne the hero of canton, I loved how the statue seemed ludicrous to crew (and to jayne), then the song one upped it – rather awesome really – joe – there is that word ‘awesome’ again – awesome – does not have to be romantic – it just has to be better than great

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