Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Firefly--"The Train Job"

“The Train Job” was the first episode of Firefly to air. As such, it had to introduce the characters and themes in half the time of the original pilot. I have to put myself in the mindset of someone who has not just viewed the pilot and therefore knows nothing about Firefly. In that sense, the episode hit’s the ground running as far as character backgrounds are concerned, but establishes the western in space theme handily. We have an old fashioned train robbery here. The results of the caper reveal much about the characters’ motivations, but not enough about who the heck they are in the first place.

The teaser introduces Mal, Zoe, and Jayne as their drinking and Chinese Checkers match is interrupted by a bar fight. The three were at the bar in order to make contacts for a new job. A crime boss named Niska, whose existence accent and organization imply the Russian mafia has expandedd into deep space by the 26th century, wants them to steal cargo from a train on a remote desert planet. They are warned not to fail by the appearance of the corpse of the last mercenary Niska hired who failed.

The daring operation goes off without a hitch. Mal and zoe pose as passengers to deal with the alliance security while Serenity hovers over the train and lifts the cargo out. When Mal and Zoe arrive at the train’s destination, they discover what they have stolen is the town’s desperately needed medical supplies. Mal determines to get the medicine back, but he and Zoe are detained by the local sheriff along with the other passengers until how the theft was executed can be sorted out.

While “The Train Job” does not cover how the crew came together, it does establish their skewed sense of morality, particularly Mal’s. they are thieves for hire, but they are not going to cause harm to the innocent with their theft. There is a point as well well Shepherd questions why Mal continues to harbor the fugitives simon and river when there is no profit in it. Or why Shepherd is allowed to stay himself, for that matter. Mal responds that he respects Simon for sacrificing everything to save his sister, which is probably true, but one also suspects Mal wants to tweak the alliance for their treatment of the helpless like River. It also is not said aloud, but Mal wants shepherd there as a moral compass. Mal forbids any Tebowing, however.

The crew rescues Mal and Zoe with a ruse against the sheriff. When the two return to Serenity, Mal reveals they are giving the medicine back to the townspeople. Unfortunately, Niska’s men have already arrived and heard mal’s plan. They refuse to take Niska’s money back and call it even, so there is a violent confrontation in which they lose. Mal returns the medicine and, in a famous sequence, tosses the head goon into space when he refuses to accept the money back and moves down the chain of command until he finds an agreeable chap. The final scene introduces the Blue Hands members of the Alliance who are looking for River.

“The Train Robbery” makes for a good episode, but not a good first episode. The characters are thrown at us far too quickly. For instance it is stated simon and River are fugitives and River has had some torturous medical experiments done on her which have caused her to nearly lose her mind. That is fine, but the pilot elaborated on that far better. For another, Jayne warns Kaylee to not get too attached to Simon because he thinks Mal is going to turn them into the alliance for the big reward. This does not establish Jayne’s mercenary mindset nearly as well as his assurances to Mal that if bribed handsomely enough, he would kill him. The bottom line is “The Train Job” would be great if it did not have to act as a pseudo-pilot and could have dealt with the plot alone. It is still very entertaining.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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