Hathor Watch-Along – Firefly, S1 Ep2: “The Train Job”

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It’s Sunday – time to chat about another episode of Firefly! This week, we were watching “The Train Job,” the first episode that was actually aired. This episode starts off with a scene in a bar that establishes a couple of things:

  1. Mal has a tip on a new job, handed off to him by a bellydancer who’s wearing 1990’s style flashing raver jewelry (seriously, I owned those bracelets).
  2. It’s “Unification Day,” when the Alliance won the war that Mal and Zoe were on the losing side of (and in which Jayne did not fight. I wonder what he was up to? Probably no good…).
  3. Mal, Zoe, and Jayne know their way around a bar fight.

Wash rescues them from a potentially bad end to said fight, and some establishing scenes take place showing who all the characters are, their relationships to each other, and what their positions are on the ship. Then they head to a meeting with the episode’s employer/villain, Niska, who wants to hire them to steal some Alliance cargo from a train. Mal accepts the job, though he is unsettled by Niska’s reputation (and the body Niska shows him to cement that reputation).

The crew works up a plan, begins the heist, and things go predictably wrong, leaving Mal and Zoe stuck on the train, and Jayne with a bullet wound on Serenity. On the ship, the crew argue about whether they should make the rendezvous with Niska’s men and hand over the cargo, or wait for Mal and Zoe, culminating in Simon drugging Jayne to remove him from command. Meanwhile, Mal and Zoe learn that the cargo they’ve stolen is medicine that’s desperately needed by the downtrodden locals.

Inara springs Mal and Zoe, they get back to the ship, and Niska’s men arrive just as they’re discussing returning the medicine. Oh noes! Our heroes win the resulting fight, and take the cargo back to town, where the sheriff and Mal exchange some very noble sentiments. Then they try to return Niska’s money, with somewhat mixed success, and the episode ends with some creeeepy foreshadowing about the shadowy people who want to recapture River. Cue end credits!

Discussion tiems!

A lot of the ideas we talked about last week come up in this episode, too. For example, the whole thing with whether or not Inara’s job is a respectable one, and Mal walking into her shuttle uninvited, etc.

Something a little more specific to this episode that I think is interesting is the very Western – by which I mean the genre of cowboys and the frontier and whatnot – flavor of the heist. There’s a train robbery, a plain-dealing sheriff, a mining town with ramshackle buildings, a really kind of amazing quantity of dust… The Western genre influence on Firefly is never clearer than in “The Train Job.”

An image from "The Train Job"Also pretty clear in this episode are the parallels between the war Mal and Zoe fought in and the American Civil War. Which is, y’know, not unproblematic. As Jenn said to me in an email, “this makes me uncomfortable because we’re supposed to assume the browncoats fight for O Noble Freedom, but I feel more like somebody’s been watching Gone With The Wind too much lately.”

On the squee side, OMG, how cool is Zoe? So cool. I love her dry sense of humor, and her fight scenes are awesome. Jenn pointed out to me that part of what she finds appealing about Zoe as a fighter is not just that she’s competent, but also that the portrayal of her skillz isn’t gendered – there’s nothing cutesy or, like, femme-fatale-y about it.

And for my ridiculously shallow comment this week – I want Inara’s red dress with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. I don’t even actually like the color red that much, you guys, but apparently this show makes it work for me.

What are your thoughts on “The Train Job”?

Next week’s episode is “Bushwhacked” – I hope I’ll see you all again then for more discussion.

Comments

  1. Tristan J says

    This is my second favourite episode in the series. Partly it’s because I love watching capers, no matter how cliched, generic, or silly, and partly because it has one of the best lines in the show: “You entered into an arrangement with Mr Niska. There is no mind-changing.”

    I think this episode established why Zoe is Mal’s number 2 a bit better, at least from a character perspective. Zoe’s awesome and all, but she doesn’t really plan or instigate things. Mal is a loose cannon, but he adapts and thinks on his feet better than she does – see the bit where Mal says, “Whatever happens, just remember that I love you,” and during the interview with the sheriff, Zoe stumbles over a few of her words while Mal never misses a beat or breaks away from his lies. (“So… would his job be open?”)

  2. Clay Mechanic says

    I adore a moment in this episode around 17 minutes in:
    Inara: “You could always pray that they make it back safely.”
    Book: “I don’t think the Captain would much like me praying for him.”
    Inara: “Don’t tell him. I never do.”

    It provides some unexpected common ground between Book and Inara. Later on we’re similarly surprised to see Book and Jayne working out together. Sadly, Inara’s beliefs are never expanded upon until the brief visit to the temple in “Serenity”. Still, does the moment count against this issue from episode 1?

    The overwrought imagery of Inara resting her hand on Book’s bent head in silhouette after tending his wounds. Yes, yes, whore, man of God, we get it. Blech. I just think it’d work better if our cultural expectations had actually been in any way subverted, y’know?

  3. Robin says

    The parallels between the Unification War and the American Civil War are absolutely on purpose. A lot of ideas that became the foundation of the series were inspired by Joss Whedon reading Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels, about the battle at Gettysburg. (Though the show, of course, only used the States-vs-Federal-government part as Browncoats-vs-the-Alliance, and left out the much morally stickier slavery bit.)

    While ‘The Train Job’ isn’t my favorite episode of the series, I do have to respect it for what it is. After the network execs saw the full pilot, they asked Whedon and Tim Minear to write a complete episode script that could be used as a single-hour pilot in two days. That is why some of the exposition in this episode is a bit heavy-handed — they just didn’t have the time to refine it the way they did with other scripts.

    One the things I do love about it, though, is the way it cements what the Jayne-Simon relationship will be over the course of the series. Both men are of the attitude that trust must be earned, and this early on neither of them trusts the other. Watching them cautiously circle each other and slowly reach a mutual respect by the end of the movie is delightful for me as a viewer.

  4. Keith says

    I also like how they used the “Always remember that I love you” and Zoe’s absolutely baffled reaction to establish that there will be no sexual tension in this relationship thankyouverymuch. A point hilariously reinforced in War Stories.

  5. says

    On a side note, reading Robin’s remarks about how this episode came to be, and knowing it aired ahead of the real pilot, etc… it is absolutely, totally and in all other ways Fox’s fault this show didn’t make it. I suspect we all agree on that already, but it just needs to be said repeatedly: Fox gets some of the best series on TV, and promptly begins working on destroying them. I’ve been told it’s all down to interdepartmental rivalries conducted on a Cold War scale.

    If I had seen this episode first, one thing that would’ve bothered me slightly was, “Oh, right, of course Mr. Sheriff has to be a white man. Because all the Mr. Sheriff’s in all the westerns were, and we wouldn’t want to trouble our brainz any!” Having seen the pilot first, this was actually mitigated somewhat by Patience running a planet. I say somewhat because one could certainly infer woman ruler=evil & ruthless while man ruler = strong & merciful.

    I get the urge to write Civil War parallels. If you ignore the slavery aspect and focus on states’ v. federal rights, it’s a really interesting struggle. The problem is, only race privilege would enable someone to ignore that. The reality of the Civil War was that the South was maintaining an economic advantage by not paying wages for work performed, and the North didn’t like that, and oh, yeah, something about whether black people were human beings or chattel. This was the reality of it because both sides fought from a white perspective, and these were their priorities. In human history, slavery has RARELY been combined with actually legally denying someone personhood. To ignore this aspect of it, even to create a lovely bit of fiction… it just isn’t comfortable to me. Especially knowing that many Southerners still believe it was a completely noble struggle and they were royally screwed and black people really aren’t people, or at least aren’t worthwhile people, as evidenced (in their minds) by every little thing any black person does wrong ever anywhere and a complete failure to notice white people routinely doing the same and worse.

    Give it 500 years, and we might be safe in using it as fiction fodder. Or not. Depends how many people still think some races shouldn’t be treated as human. Or that when women contribute free labor to a household for a few decades and their husbands find someone sexier, those women should be thrown out on the street to earn their own living in an economy which doesn’t recognize or financially reward their experience as unpaid “managers.” Or that putting your factory in a country where wages are really low isn’t destabilizing to both the company’s home country and the one where the factory is.

    We have a lot of sick ideas about paying for labor in US culture. Except when white men do stuff!

  6. M.C. says

    Can I just say how much I love that Kaylee isn’t wearing more make-up than the male actors? She looks just like a real-life mechanic. I dig that kind of realism in fiction.

    • Maria says

      I actually thought she was wearing make up to look fresh faced and innocent. Just because it’s not obvious doesn’t mean it’s not there, and not serving to make her short-hand for a particular character type.

  7. Attackfish says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    There’s also the fact that the Southerners were manifestly not fighting on the side of state’s rights and nullification. In the South Carolina declaration of secession, the only mention of states rights or nullification was in that South Carolina slaveholders didn’t like the way Northern States were neglecting to enforce federal fugitive slave laws within their borders. In other words, they disliked Northern states use of their so-called states’ rights. The declaration, and other state declarations made it clear that the secession was bout slavery, and numerous contemporary Southern letters make it clear that many Southerners thought that when Northern citizens realized that what the war was really about was slavery, not union, they would lose their stomach for it, and not fight for black freedom. The states’ rights ideology was tacked on some twenty odd years later as a retroactive justification, as part of building the heroic picture of the noble lost cause and the glorification of antebellum South.

    Also, slavery was a huge economic boon for the North. Because the South was economically set up for cash crops and the north for subsistence farms and factories, they were not in true economic competition. Slavery made it possible for Northern factory owners to buy the raw materials for their textile factories extremely cheaply, which meant more profit. Some middle class workers and intellectuals were afraid that slavery gave southern plantation owners an unfair advantage in the push westward, and that distorted the meritocratic ideals of the nation, but the South’s use of slavery as a labor system did not hurt the north.

    The reason it’s such a part of western lore is that a lot of former confederate soldiers did go west, and many became famous outlaws. Joss Whedon probably sucked it up without examining it. Um ick. (I have never watched the show)

    Sorry if I’m being pedantic.

  8. says

    I really liked this episode, in general. Specifics:

    1.) The bar fight scene at the beginning is possibly my favorite part of the series…my wife and I both love it because of how they fight so dirty. Mal kicking guys, Zoe throwing dirt in their face, Jayne swinging barstools…it’s just awesome.

    2.) The fact that Mal attacked federal troops and it seemed like they were just kinda “oh, okay, that happened” always bugged me…it seemed like they would be more pissed off, and throw their weight around. Instead, it was mostly about the Sheriff and the theft.

    3.) Niska is an excellent evil asshole. Crow was…not as impressive, to me, as a menacing enforcer. He was too cliche. This did, however, make the way Mal dealt with him at the end pretty sweet.

    4.) Yeah, the whole Civil War thing is a little unsettling…and not at all subtle (what with Mal’s “we will rise again” line at the beginning). And while the anti-authoritarian/anti-federalist in me supports the Browncoats in principle…I can’t help but feel like I’m rooting for the redneck peckerwood side, even though they took out all the “racist slavery” parts. I think Jen’s right…those associations are still a little too fresh, a little too blatant.

  9. says

    Keith:
    I also like how they used the “Always remember that I love you” and Zoe’s absolutely baffled reaction to establish that there will be no sexual tension in this relationship thankyouverymuch. A point hilariously reinforced in War Stories.

    OMG YES! I think War stories is my favorite for many reasons, but this is one of the best.

  10. Patrick McGraw says

    Attackfish,

    Yes to everything you said about the “Lost Cause.”

    Onto the episode, I did watch it when it first aired, and lost interest in about ten minutes. It was only much later when a friend loaned me the DVD that I watched the series.

    “The Train Job” would have make an okay episode, but it was a terrible premiere episode, entirely due to Fox’s executive dumbassery as Robin explained.

    There was more to it as well: you’ll note that Mal is far more cheery than he was in “Serenity” or would be in later episodes. This was due to network requests that he be friendlier.

  11. Robin says

    Spartakos, The fact that Mal attacked federal troops and it seemed like they were just kinda “oh, okay, that happened” always bugged me…it seemed like they would be more pissed off, and throw their weight around.

    That’s a good point, considering how concerned the crew were about avoiding the Feds most of the time. I guess I’ve always just written it off because Zoe makes a point of it being Unification Day. Alliance grunts are probably getting in minor tussles with drunken Browncoats all over the system, but arresting all of them would probably create too much paperwork.

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