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Firefly: Jaynestown Ep. 7 November 6, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode strikes me as fundamentally about how we try to elevate ourselves in life, but in doing so, often get pulled back into the mud.  The crew visits a town where Jayne previously stole the magistrate’s money, but had to throw it out of his ship to get away.  The poor townsfolk were the beneficiaries of this accident, and they thought that Jayne was playing Robin Hood, so they idolized him, made statues of him and sang drinking songs to his glory. 

Jayne tries to elevate himself from want and need through personal enrichment.  But, even as he sought to escape from the dusty town, he ended up losing his fortune and elevating his honor instead.  Since he had no intention of moral elevation, he’s at a loss to know how to navigate his new-found adulation.  His first instinct is to take advantage of the town’s goodwill.  Free drinks, sex, and lots of back-slapping attention — all gladly accepted and encouraged.  But the earnest love of the town gets to him.  He starts to buy into his own (false) image, so just as he’s reaping the rewards of his fame, he gets pulled back down into the collision between the misery of his hosts’ situation and the mercantile interests of his crew.

And here is an important contradiction in Mal’s character as well.  While he fancies himself a space-faring Robin Hood, his motivations in this episode are single-mindedly on personal gain.  Jayne asks Mal, “…do you think we should be using my fame to hoodwink folks?”  Mal has no direct answer, but instead directs him to use the town’s adulation for him to distract the authorities while the crew collects their illegal cargo. 

The doctor’s character is similarly called into question (though not as vigorously) by his botched flirtations with Kaylee.  While he is clearly attracted to her, his high-and-mighty code of proper moral conduct insults Kaylee’s more down-to-earth approach to life.  So, by trying to elevate his life through moral-upright(tight)ness, Simon degrades those who care about him and ends up the victim of others with malicious intents.

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Comments»

1. Kym - November 6, 2007

I never thought that the theme of Jaynestown was elevation and the inevitable fall but I think you have a point. I like that. I disagree though with your characterization of Mal as fancying “himself a space-faring Robin Hood” though.

I think Mal sees himself as a pragmatist who does whatever it takes to keep himself, his crew, and his ship afloat. However, we, like Inara, see Mal more clearly than he sees himself. We see that his essential pragmatism often loses to his romantic ideals–ideals he would not acknowledge he has. So Mal may be a bit of a Robin Hood but he doesn’t see himself that way.

2. Kym - November 6, 2007

Mal can use people in the abstract but he has trouble use/abusing them when they have become vulnerable real people to him. He can kick Crow into the engine and leave a town to Reavers because in those instances no one is a person to him. But let River or Saffron try to kill him then fall at his feet vulnerable and he finds himself in the hero mode riding to save them or at least refusing to behave absolutely pragmatically and destroy them.

One might be tempted to say he is vulnerable like many a western hero to idealizing and protecting even undeserving women but he extends this protection even to Jayne when Jayne shows his vulnerable human side. “Make something up. Don’t tell them what I did.”

3. Chris - November 7, 2007

Kym – What a terrific comments you’ve made here! You made me think about and question the assumptions in what I had written. You’ve hit the nail on the head that Mal sees himself as a pragmatist, but I’d also add that he’s a proud cynic, and cynics are generally idealists that have been gravely disappointed. I think Mal’s disappointment in the outcome of the war and his anger towards his God have driven him away from thinking of himself purely as a Robin Hood — this assertion was too simplistic. Nevertheless, I think he does harbor some semi-conscious ideas that he is one, as shown in particular by his willingness to piss Niska off by returning the medicine he stole and his near-glee at taking jobs that pit him as the protector of the meek. It sounds like you’re saying something similar, in that Mal’s Robin Hood-side lies just below the surface, waiting to be exposed when others show vulnerability and need protection.

4. Kym - November 7, 2007

Mal is very complex character. Sometimes I think that this is because Whedon was forced to change or at least modify aspects of his character to please Fox so that his multfaceted personality is a function of being the creation of many minds. But, When I think of the Pilot episode and Book talking to Inara, I remember Book’s assessment. “…he’s something of a mystery.” And realize that although Mal’s character was modified to accommodate the wishes of others, Whedon intended him to be a rich complicated character–not always presenting the same face.

5. Chris - November 9, 2007

Interesting idea…that Mal’s character is partially the result of Fox’s medeling. I think you’re last point that Mal is mostly the result of Whedon’s intentions is probably closer to the mark. I actually suspect that Fox saw Mal’s complex character as a negative — that they probably put pressure on Whedon to “dumb him down” and make him more of a two-dimensional hero along the lines of so many Hollywood heroes before him — but Whedon resisted and this may be part of the reason why Fox became disenchanted with him and cut the show. That’s all pure speculation, of course.


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