Saturday, August 11, 2007

Firefly Episode 7: "Jaynestown"

"Serenity" and "Bushwhacked" proved that the Firefly writers could do some great storytelling, but "Jaynestown" showed that they can make those stories meaningful, as well. The episode provides a well-designed commentary on faith, one not every series could do given that many flawed characters, such as Battlestar Galactica's Baltar and Babylon 5's Londo already delude themselves into thinking they are heroes. As we learn, Jayne's arrogance doesn't extend into the moral realm, which adds nice character development for him, as well.

The episode starts off with one of the episode's many secondary themes, with Simon and Kaylee arguing over whether he ever swears. The fact he doesn't when he sees what Jayne has done in the infirmary only emphasizes the moment when he does after seeing the statue of Jayne in Canton. This also fits with their discussion on propriety later in the episode, a discussion which suggests that as much as Kaylee sees his reserve as a form of arrogance toward her, in her own way she's failing to accept him, as well.

Canton is probably the worst place we've seen so far on the series, inhabited by indentured workers whose life consists of messing around in mudpits, with the profits going to the magistrate, whom Jayne once robbed. I loved the way the crew didn't find out the reasons for his fame until partway through the song. The dropping of a box of money from the robbery was also perfectly believable, as was people's reaction to it.

Jayne, who initially had contempt for the mudders, is overwhelmed by the idolization, to the point of having scruples over using it to further the crew's job. He cites the difference he made in their lives. His decidedly unheroic side, however, comes out with the appearance of Stitch, whom he pushed out of their escape vehicle before giving up on any of the money. Stitch appears as Jayne is speaking on "Jayne Day," and tries to burst people's bubble by telling them the real story. The gathered crowd takes this in, but when Stitch moves to shoot Jayne, one of them jumps in front of the bullet, sacrificing himself despite everything. Even after that, a boy returns Jayne's knife to him, while Jayne, overcome with guilt over the part he is playing, pushes down the statue of himself before the crew returns to the ship.

Emphasizing one point of this story is the B-plot involving Book and River, with River trying to fix mistakes in the Bible and Book explaining that: "You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you." Mal makes a similar point to Jayne, later: "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." In both cases, the flawed object of reverence isn't the point. People's need to "be fixed" is, and they look to heroic symbols to show them the way. There's also a bit of meaning in the idea of taking pages out of the Bible and making them just paper as opposed to the symbol that is the whole, but I don't know quite how to express it, so I'll just leave it at that.

The episode didn't address the point directly, but I suspect Jayne's fame rested more on his having stood up to the magistrate than his accidental largesse afterward. It certainly inspired them to stand up for themselves in keeping the money, and then rioting over the statue. There's also some suggestion of this in Fess's story, a forgettable sub-plot made even more forgettable by Zachary Kranzler's totally flat performance. This is not to deny the importance of the "Robin Hood" element, but given how hated the magistrate is, I suspect Jayne would still be a hero without it. This also points toward why Stitch's tale doesn't dent his stature among the mudders. He's still a proud, independent man, exactly what they dream of being.

After everything I've said above, this probably goes without say, but I rate this as 10/10.
Folk Singer: "Jayne / the man they call Jayne / He robbed from the rich, and he gave to the poor / Stood up to The Man and he gave him what for / Our love for him now ain't hard to explain / The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne / Our Jayne saw the Mudders' backs breakin' / he saw the Mudders lament / and he saw the Magistrate takin' every dollar, and leavin' five cents / so he said, "You can't do that to my people" / he said, "can't crush them under your heels" / Jayne strapped on his hat / and in five secons flat / stole everything Boss Higgins had to steal / He robbed from the rich, and he gave to the poor / Stood up to The Man and he gave him what for / Our love for him now ain't hard to explain / the hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne / Now here is what seperates heroes / from common folk like you and I / The man they call Jayne he turned 'round his plane / and let that money hit sky / He dropped it onto our houses / he dropped it into our yards / the man they call Jayne he stole away our pain / and headed out for the stars / He robbed from the rich, and he gave to the poor / Stood up to The Man and he gave him what for / Our love for him now ain't hard to explain / The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne! "



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