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Firefly: Jaynestown

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In Jaynestown, the crew of Serenity discover that Jayne is a folk hero a la Robin Hood. It’s about as fun and ridiculous as you might expect.

On a “feminist fiction” level, there’s not much to say about Jaynestown. It’s a fun episode turned tragic, where Simon fails at undercover work, Simon and Kaylee are adorable, and a town sings a catchy song about Jayne. And then someone sacrifices himself to save Jayne, and it all turns a bit dark. It’s not the best episode, or the worst episode. It’s solid and fun to watch, but I had to wrack my brains for ages to remember exactly what episode came after Our Mrs Reynolds last week and Out of Gas next week, because it doesn’t particularly stand out to me.

Still, there’s some interesting stuff going on.

Fixing the Bible

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In a little B-plot side-scene, River attempts to “correct” Book’s bible, because it doesn’t make sense. He replies that it isn’t meant to make concrete sense, that it’s about believing in something, and that comment ties in to the general theme of the episode, that it doesn’t matter who Jayne actually is or what he actually intended — the people of Canton just need someone to believe in. They need a hero, a storyand the facts themselves don’t matter as much as their faith in it.

Obviously, the River scene is supposed to show us, once again, that River is incredibly intelligent, somewhat overly literal, and doesn’t really get some elements of human interaction and the way other people think. It’s played for laughs, and for heavy-handed episode theme commentary, but I’m wondering what it also says about River’s current state of mind. As she said to Simon two episodes ago, she considers herself “broken.” Her memories don’t make sense, her feelings don’t make sense, and in this episode, we see her taking an object, something that has clearly brought guidance to Book, and trying to force sense and logic onto it. “Bible’s broken,” she says, because it’s full of contradictions, because it just doesn’t add up. But if she can’t understand her own confused thoughts, perhaps she can at least fix this, force it to make sense using quantum theory and all the other clever things in her brain, and so feel like she has some kind of control.

The best part of this scene is that Book actually listens to River, and that she (eventually) listens to Book in return. We see too many scenes where people coddle River, or where they dismiss her questions and her protests as her “crazy talk,” and so miss the very important things she’s trying to tell them. Book pays attention to what she’s saying, and actually tries to explain his point of view in a reasoned way (even if his explanation of the Bible is rather simplistic in order to fit the Jaynestown theme). There’s some ridiculous stuff between Book and River this week, but the heart of their relationship is really genuine. I wish we’d had chance to see more.

The Hero of Canton

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Of course, there’s a lot going on behind this humorous episode that the show itself didn’t really explore. In particular, there’s the mudders themselves, a group of indentured servants who are paid very little to do backbreaking work and face incredibly harsh punishments if they ever step out of line. All of the authority figures talk about slaves and about owning people with a casual callousness, but apart from Inara’s silent look of distaste, there’s no real protest to this fact. And nothing changes for the mudders by the end of the episode, except perhaps for a loss of hope. They needed a hero to keep them going in a horrible situation, but their faith in that hero didn’t make anything objectively better once the money he dropped ran out. The mudders comment that the foreman can’t do anything if the mudders are all together on something, but in the end, they used that unity to erect a statue, not to change their circumstances. Is belief in a symbol then harmful rather than helpful? If it weren’t for Jayne and the belief that someone could be good enough to drop money on them instead of keeping it for himself, would the mudders have been able to pull together to improve their living conditions or increase their wages? Or is a situation like that utterly hopeless either way, so they might as well take the fake hope and comfort over the harsh reality of things?

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

2 thoughts on “Firefly: Jaynestown

  1. I actually like the fact that people do not listen to River at first, but they rather grow to learn to listen. Not to say that River’s arc or depiction were perfectly handled, because they were not, but I think that from the first episode on, the viewer is meant to understand that there is something else with River, and throughout the episodes, we watch her uttering ominous words, when only one or few or no characters are present (and the witness changes, so there’s clearly a gap with the knowledge the viewer has, and that of the members of the crew). Since we may guess that there’s a plot hidden there, based on the mere fact that this is a tv show, so there are plots to be expected, we, as viewers, are led to pay closer attention to River’s words from the beginning.
    But I find the crew’s confusion and even dismissal towards River realistic. Dealing with a mental illness is a difficult thing, and none of them is a psychiatrist. Besides, they’re not exactly in the best conditions possible for a real talk. So I believe that their behaviour is meant to be frustrating for the viewer, because of our understanding that River is a person, not a doll, but also because of her link to the plot. I do think that there are still problems with the way she is characterized. I would also have had a problem with the way the crew reacts towards her if it hadn’t changed over the season. But I think it has, even if unperfectly, which the scene with Book illustrates (I liked that scene!), which changes the perspective in my opinion. I would have found it rather unrealistic if they had known how to talk and listen to her from day one. Their confusion is understandable, even if we disagree with them. So I don’t think that their reactions towards River can be analyzed in abastracto, without considering the general evolution and course of the season, especially concerning the first few episodes.

    1. That’s very true. I have a bit of a problem knowing what to think about River, to be honest. She’s an awesome character! No, she’s a helpless waif! She’s a secret badass, and that’s good! No, that’s bad! It’s definitely hard to move from my non-analyzing “River is an awesome character!” brain to something more critical.

      But I agree. It’s realistic that people don’t know how to deal with River, especially people like Mal… I just want more people on her side!

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