Hathor Watch-Along – Firefly, S1 Ep7: “Jaynestown”

It’s Firefly time again! And this week we’re watching another of my favorites, “Jaynestown.” This episode starts out with Kaylee getting her flirt on with Simon before heading into the set-up for the story: Serenity is going to Canton, and Jayne has been there before – in circumstances such that he feels it’s worth it to tape a gun to his belly (Mal disagrees, and we get one of the best wibbly Jayne-faces evar when the tape comes off).

Most of the crew heads off for the mud-mines, where we learn that Jayne has accidentally become a folk hero to the downtrodden locals (…and does anyone else think the wardrobe design for this episode is unfortunately reminiscent of Waterworld?), which the crew eventually determines can be used to their advantage during the job – after they get over some of the weirdness. There follows much hilarity, and then some surprisingly serious, soul-searching stuff that manages to emerge seamlessly from the humorous set-up, when Jayne’s feet of clay (see what I did there?) become evident. His heroic deed was an accident, and a young man who believed in him dies to protect him from his old partner, whose desire for vengeance is actually just. Jayne’s resulting self-examination – and the opportunity for the viewers to see the depth in Jayne – is what makes this episode one of my favorites. Wow.

Meanwhile, Inara has an appointment with a client who doesn’t totally suck – though his father is a jackass. Jennifer had a lot of smart stuff to say about the b-plot in her email this week, so I’m gonna leave it to her:

Higgins’ obsession with his son Fess’ sexuality is super creepy. I like Inara’s guidance that helps him realize it’s standing up to his father that will make him feel like a man. It’s an interesting look at men, dominance and women: Higgins wants to dominate Fess so he can use him as an ego-extension. But Fess needs to crave dominance for this to work. Higgins has probably always experienced sex as a situation in which he dominated a weaker person (woman), and he thinks once his son experiences that dominance, he’ll get a taste for it. But Fess’ experience with Inara is of her respecting, supporting and encouraging his lack of desire to dominate others. So he follows that path, and ironically, the father’s gotten what he wanted, just not in the form he was hoping.

Inara’s assertiveness with Higgins is great. This is the sort of thing I expected from her in Shindig and didn’t get. She has the power to cast a powerful man out of the room where she’s working, and she uses it.

On a larger scale, this culture pressures men to view sex as an act of dominating, and Fess represents all those men who neither care for dominating, nor find it necessary. I personally think they’re the silent and underrepresented majority, just going by my own experience. But the larger point, perhaps, is that in this scenario, women are merely tools for male initiation rites into a male-dominated culture. Dominate this woman, and we’ll let you have the keys to the kingdom. In that scenario, it’s necessary for women to be kept weaker than men, to be kept from uniting and discovering strength in numbers, etc. Essentially – rape culture. And what this episode explains is why rape culture isn’t necessary to make anyone a “man”, and Fess proving [Inara's] point.

Word.

In other meanwhiles, River’s mental illness is played for lulz, but there’s an interesting and rather touching bit embedded there about the nature of faith, as Book tries to explain to her that his Bible isn’t “broken.” Jennifer thinks that the whole episode is about faith, ultimately, and I can see where she’s coming from on that.

I can’t think of much else I want to say about this one, so I’m hoping y’all will have some further thoughts to share! I just have two final ehnnn notes:

1. I hate hate hate that Mal’s casual cussing at the end – and Simon’s in the first third, for that matter – is “son of a bitch.” This is not unique to Firefly in any way, and I’m certainly not pinning it on the show, but it makes my teeth grind. Can’t we avoid pejoratives that are about women being dirty/bad/inhuman, pls? Especially in a show where there’s made-up future slang!

2. The dialogue (and the actors’ performances) around the thing with Book’s hair is funny, but I’m kind of uncomfortable with the premise of the gag, since it plays on the “otherness” of a Black man’s natural hair. Hmm.

Okay, how about you guys? Tell me your thoughts! And feel free to sing “The Ballad of Jayne Cobb” to yourself while you’re typing ‘em up.

Comments

  1. Finbarr Ryan says

    I haven’t seen this episode in about a year, so my recollection and interpretation of this episode is probably a little fuzzy, but I recall not being too fond of where the B-plot ended up. It played into the nice guy narrative a little too much for my liking. I always thought it would have been better if Fess had declined sex with Inara at the end. Though my issue may have more to do with how it fits into Firefly‘s overall treatment of male and female sexuality.

    (I have got to get my Firefly DVDs back from my friend, so I can get a fresher perspective on the series, and join in these watch-alongs.)

  2. Tristan J says

    Huh. I actually really disliked the Inara subplot in this episode (in fact, it’s what spawned most of my irritation with how Companions in general were presented). I really didn’t like how Inara was presented more as a monologue-deliverererer on How To Be A Feminist Man than as a character in her own right (compare Book’s subplot, which is less about delivering Big Important Messages and more about a man who is out of his depth in helping someone which happens to have a speech or two on faith in the middle). I didn’t like that the dad was a one-dimensional douchebag – it made it way too easy to reject what he was saying, which made the kid’s ultimate rejection of him less meaningful in my eyes.

    Mosty I was creeped out by the Oedipal undertones in the relationship between Inara and Whatsisface – their conversations came off as the kind of conversations me and my mother have, so throwing sex into it kind of squicked me out. Of course, that’s a personal thing.

    I did like how Jayne had glory and fame for something he didn’t do, while nobody even noticed that Inara saved the day in the end.

  3. says

    Finbarr Ryan,

    After sex, Fess said he thought it would make him feel different – wasn’t it supposed to make him a man? But he doesn’t feel different. I too had mixed feelings at first about him going ahead with sex he didn’t enthusiastically want to have, but as part of the journey, it proves that sex doesn’t have transformative powers. And I do like that message, so my mixed feelings are countered by that.

    Tristan J,

    When Inara’s working is not the time for us to see her as a character in her own right. When she’s working, it’s all about the client. He wants to be a feminist man, if that’s how you want to put it, and she’s supporting him in that. I believe that’s part of what Companions provide – emotional support as well as sexual services. It’s certainly something that sex workers in the real world have to provide as well, if for no other reason than to reduce the chances of clients harming them.

    As for the dad being one-dimensional, that struck me as true to reality, though I can think of ways it might have been written better (but it would’ve taken a minute or so from the rest of the ep, which I don’t think it merits). Anybody who’s enough of a power monger to be orchestrating his son’s sex life is not going to have a lot of boundaries, if any. This type of power monger is indeed BORINGLY, even comically, one-dimensional, and what they say is usually very easy to reject, but standing up to them? Not so easy, because you don’t know just how short of boundaries they are until you trip something and they decide to take you apart. Speaking from personal experience, here.

  4. says

    Re: Book’s hair, I interpreted that not as “natural” but as “different”. Book had, up until that point, always worn his hair slicked back. River was reacting to the change. I don’t think that if River had met a stranger with Book’s hair, she would have reacted the same way. Zoe, a Black woman, also had a “whoa” moment when she saw Book, and presumably she’s seen Black hair in its natural state many times. But, being White, I’m not married to this interpretation. I could easily be wrong.

    Re: “son of a bitch”, that bothers me too! I cringe when I hear gendered insults. And I cringe when I see spec fic lazily copying our world’s profanity instead of considering the cultural forces behind it. Two hundred years ago in the USA, “God damn” was one of the worst things you could say. Nowadays, they hardly bother to bleep it on the radio. Religion (Christianity) has fallen lower in USAians’ priorities. It’s no longer such a central part of our lives, so it’s not as shocking when the lord’s name is taken in vain. Back in March I wrote a two part series about Profanity in Spec Fic discussing how integral it is to your worldbuilding.

  5. says

    Tristan J – Huh. Yeah, I can see that, too.

    Sylvia Sybil – I think that interpretation is perfect for the characters themselves, but I’m not sure that the same joke would have been written by a writer on the show about Book if he had long straight hair. Our cultural constructions of which hairstyles are funny seem to have a lot to do with race and/or class – afros, big hair, and mullets are used as visual jokes on TV, but straight hair with bangs isn’t.

    Thanks for linking to your series! Very thoughtful stuff. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets all twitchy about gendered insults and spec fic being lazy. :D

  6. says

    Revena: I think that interpretation is perfect for the characters themselves, but I’m not sure that the same joke would have been written by a writer on the show about Book if he had long straight hair.

    Ah. One of those things that makes perfect sense for the story, but when viewed through a larger cultural lens takes on a different meaning. Those are tricky. :(

  7. says

    Revena: I think that interpretation is perfect for the characters themselves, but I’m not sure that the same joke would have been written by a writer on the show about Book if he had long straight hair.

    Yes, this. The typical version of this “hair shock” gag involves seeing someone with normally well-groomed hair appear with their hair seriously mussed. The mussiness is associated with them having stuck their finger in a socket, or been running through bramble from Jason, or having been transformed into a beast or something like that. Therefore, this version of the gag is kind of suggesting that keeping Book’s hair back is a matter of good grooming and civility, and letting it loose (natural) is, well, not.

    On a side note, I actually thought his hair looked gorgeous out of the pony tail, and interpreted Zoe’s reaction not so much Zoe herself being startled as Zoe realizing how upsetting the sudden change might be to River. But if the writers thought Zoe would be startled, that makes it a bit more troubling. Note that she always keeps her hair back, too. Hmm.

  8. Maria says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I actually thought that would’ve been a great moment for the two African Diasporic characters to bond over the weirdness of their white chosen family… I mean, surely Wash has seen Zoe’s hair unbound and poufed up.

    :insert hair anecdote related to interracial relationships and showers:

  9. Casey says

    Jennifer Kesler: The typical version of this “hair shock” gag involves seeing someone with normally well-groomed hair appear with their hair seriously mussed

    The only time I can think of an inversion of this trope is when Hermione has glossy straight hair at the school ball in Goblet of Fire, but even then it’s not a gag, it’s a “Beautiful All Along/She Cleans Up Nicely” trope. >_<V

  10. says

    Casey – There’s a curly-hair straightening thing in The Princess Diaries movie, too. After the heroine’s hair in its natural state breaks a brush. People are surprised when they see her new style, but again, it’s made clear that the straight hair is “better.” Bleh.

  11. Tristan J says

    Jennifer Kesler: When Inara’s working is not the time for us to see her as a character in her own right. When she’s working, it’s all about the client. He wants to be a feminist man, if that’s how you want to put it, and she’s supporting him in that. I believe that’s part of what Companions provide – emotional support as well as sexual services. It’s certainly something that sex workers in the real world have to provide as well, if for no other reason than to reduce the chances of clients harming them.As for the dad being one-dimensional, that struck me as true to reality, though I can think of ways it might have been written better (but it would’ve taken a minute or so from the rest of the ep, which I don’t think it merits). Anybody who’s enough of a power monger to be orchestrating his son’s sex life is not going to have a lot of boundaries, if any. This type of power monger is indeed BORINGLY, even comically, one-dimensional, and what they say is usually very easy to reject, but standing up to them? Not so easy, because you don’t know just how short of boundaries they are until you trip something and they decide to take you apart. Speaking from personal experience, here.

    Those are fair points. I’ve never worked in the sex industry and I’ve never had to deal with a power monger, so maybe it’s just me. When I was watching it, I interpreted it as trying to explain to Straight White Guys Like Me why one ought to reject the patriarchary and make themselves into the guy they want to be and all that, which I already agreed with so that aspect bored me. And I didn’t find Fess, Higgins or even Inara all that interesting, so there was nothing to grab me there.

    Okay yeah, it’s just me.

  12. Casey says

    Revena,

    That part of the Princess Diaries movie (actually, the entire makeover as a whole, along with her friend giving her a bunch of shit for being a “sell out” without letting her explain what happened until a bit later) upset me so much when I first saw it, in retrospect I felt like I was being triggered. >_>V

    I just identified so much with “frumpy”, frizzy-hair-having and Doc Martens-wearing!Mia that the forced makeover made me want to punch a wall…as a matter of fact, I’ve felt that way towards the makeover trope since I was very young and couldn’t fully articulate why I was so upset.

  13. says

    Tristan J,

    I wouldn’t say it’s “just you.” One of the pitfalls of fiction trying to teach a moral lesson is that people who’ve already learned that lesson are likely to find it boring and focus instead on the quality of writing execution (which often suffers, especially in a medium like TV, which isn’t super-friendly to heavy dialog).

    Casey,

    OMG, in the part of my comment that you quoted, I was basically using “well-groomed” to mean “straight and smooth.” Jesus, this stuff is deeply ingrained. I’m a proud naturally curly, and I’m doing it.

    Maria,

    It certainly would’ve been! :(

  14. Maria says

    Heh, maybe there needs to be a brown Bechdel test… two named POC characters who talk to each other about something NOT related to a white person.

  15. The Other Anne says

    Maria,

    http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/09/01/the-bechdel-test-and-race-in-popular-fiction/

    http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/the-bechdel-test-and-race/

    I thought I’d seen, in the past, a more official version with it’s own name, but I can;t find it now if it ever existed.

    This is definitely one of the things I look for in movies. It’s even more of a problem than the Bechdel test, assuming you only look at white women, and it’s just too depressing to think about what this means for women who aren’t white. I can’t even remember the last time a movie passed. Well, okay, I can. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family came out a while back at my theater. A total of about 3 people came to see it though. Thor had multiple non-white characters, who all rocked way more than the main white male characters (though Darcy and Natalie Portman were awesome). I want a movie just about the guardian dude. He was my favorite part of the whole movie.

    looking at what’s coming out this summer in terms of blockbusters, there’s not much to look forward to in terms of the racial bechdel test.

  16. says

    Maria:
    Heh, maybe there needs to be a brown Bechdel test… two named POC characters who talk to each other about something NOT related to a white person.

    Yeah, it’s probably happening for the same reasons as why they don’t pass the Bechdel test more often.

    Zoe and Book could have had some really interesting conversations about violence.

  17. Casey says

    Jennifer Kesler: I’m a proud naturally curly, and I’m doing it.

    I’m naturally curly too (well it’s a long story, I was born with hair that was basically straight, albeit with a slight wave to it but in grade school I kept getting head lice and the treatments caused my hair to curl up somehow…), and I’m trying to embrace it and buy hair care products more suited to my texture but my mom is always hassling me about how I need to flat-iron my hair straight if I want to get a job… >_<

  18. Clay Mechanic says

    The Other Anne:
    http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/09/01/the-bechdel-test-and-race-in-popular-fiction/
    http://abagond.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/the-bechdel-test-and-race/

    Wow. I knew this would be bad, but I had to search my entire DVD collection to find how bad. The only movies that come close are:
    Bride and Prejudice (Indian characters, 2004) – a retelling of Pride and Prejudice (1813).
    The Gods Must Be Crazy (African characters, 1980) – an insulting mockumentary in which the African characters barely get to speak for themselves. Even the DVD extras acknowledge this, with a documentary that visits the people who played the Bushmen. It finds them living in poverty, just before N!xau dies of tuberculosis, aged 58.
    The Blues Brothers (African-American characters, 1980) – Caucasian characters help ‘Black’ people by singing Blues music, which the ‘Black’ people are mysteriously incapable of doing on their own. (I thought Aretha Franklin’s performance of “Think” was the best music in that film. Why didn’t The Blues Brothers invite her to join their tour?) Despite the many Persons of Color, I can only think of one scene where they discuss something other than the Blues Brothers – the singers on Maxwell Street.

    As for ‘Firefly’, I confess I’d never noticed the lack of scenes between Zoe and Book; thanks for pointing that out. Given the neat moments in the gym where he finds common ground with Jayne, there was obvious potential there.

  19. says

    Casey,

    Nah. There are a lot of better options, and irons do horrible things to hair over time. You may want to check out this site: http://www.naturallycurly.com/

    It takes some work to determine what your type and texture is, but once you do, you can get loads of tips. The hair care tips everyone is typically given are for people with straight hair, even tho they’re a minority. Once you get the right tips for your hair, you can make it beautiful AND it will look perfectly “nice” for job hunting.

  20. Maria says

    Oyin Handmade is also AWESOME.

    http://oyinhandmade.com/

    White people, don’t be scared of black people selling haircare products. Accept your hair is curly/kinky/coily and buy products made by other people with curly/kinky/coily hair!

  21. says

    Maria,

    I’ll second that recommendation. Their stuff is very good! I’ve also heard good stuff about Carol’s Daughter. And yeah – one of the things you’ll learn at that forum is that curly is curly. It doesn’t differ from one race to the next – it only differs in types of curl and level of coarseness. In addition to product, there are things like how often you shampoo and how you do it that may need to change.

    Sorry for the thread derail, but since a black man’s natural hair is relevant to the original post, maybe a little celebration of curls is in order. ;)

    • Maria says

      @Jenn

      I’m not the hugest fan of Carol’s Daughter. I find it really greasy and I think whatever they’re using for a preservative always smells sour to me. But! Oyin is awesome. And if you check out the LongHairCareForum they have a lot of recipes so you can make your own organic products.

      <3

      Hair is awesome. And this thread is relevant, because Book's natural, healthy hair exploded with joy and weirded out River. Which, BTW, is infantilizing for her: the only time a drastic hair change has frightened someone I know was my 2 yr old neice, who thought I was turning into a tree because I told her I was because I was wearing hair sticks.

  22. The Other Anne says

    Clay Mechanic,

    What can really help this is watching non-American movies. A good number of the films I have and watch pass because they’re Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, from various African countries, and from various Eastern European countries as well as a few about indigenous peoples in many regions worldwide. My film classes specifically dealing with, for example, Contemporary Asian Cinema certainly helped. What’s great about them is pretty much everything. I highly recommend getting away from American-made English language films and getting into movies like Moolade, Salaam Bombay, Cyclo, among others. Despite having flaws, I have found a great number of foreign (from a US perspective) films to just be more emotionally complex, as well as culturally refreshing. It’s honestly amazing how singular in theme US films seem to be. Tonight at my work I got to screen a WWII movie we will be playing–Winter in Wartime. Compared to movies like Defiance, Valkyrie, Saving Private Ryan, and other english-language WWII films, this is a dream.

    Granted that does not address the SERIOUS issue facing the USA when it comes to race in cinema, but alas, US cinema seems unfixable at the present.

    And I CANNOT WAIT EVEN A LITTLE for the film adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death. OMG that woman is amazing and I hope it’s successful and helps further more diverse films that happen to be about and made by POC. Especially if it’s more post-apocalyptic magical amazingness.

    I fear I am rambling uncontrollably due to way too much caffeine and it being 2 am. :)

  23. says

    River is written like a 3 yo in this whole ep. She’s destroying Book’s possession as if she’s not aware that’s rude even before the hair thing.

    The first time I ever saw that scene, I could tell that the filmmakers expected *me* to be a little shocked at the explosion of hair, but it struck me as so beautiful – not in the “how hair is supposed to look according to media prejudices I’ve internalized” way, but on a purely aesthetic level, looking at it made me happy.

    So for me, it’s Zoe’s reaction that implies a race problem in the writing. Like I said, I had always interpreted it as “Oh, I can see how that would freak out someone who thinks like a 3yo”, but in hindsight, I think the writers think she IS shocked – like they expected me to be.

  24. says

    The hair celebration conversation is totally relevant! What I was vaguely gesturing at in the post is the huge cultural pressure to “fix” hair that doesn’t fit within certain very narrow parameters – that more than one commenter has personally experienced that and wants to share thoughts and resources is 100% on topic, as far as I’m concerned.

    And even if it wasn’t, I think unexpected tangents are part of the fun of a freeform discussion series like the watch-alongs. So.

    Carry on!

  25. Shaun says

    Maria:

    the only time a drastic hair change has frightened someone I know was my 2 yr old neice, who thought I was turning into a tree because I told her I was because I was wearing hair sticks.

    You’re a terrible person.

  26. says

    Book mentions something about his hair being a part of his monk order’s lifestyle, and I always thought the joke was that he secretly has really long hair that explodes when he lets it out. I admit could very well be wrong.

  27. Em says

    The Other Anne,

    I just watched Dor, an Indian movie centered around two women. They have husbands, who are more or less plot devices who never appear after the beginning and serve to get the women together (the men go off to Saudi Arabia to work, one is accused of killing the other, and since according to Saudi law he can avoid execution if the other guy’s wife forgives him, his wife goes off to find her). The overriding mission of saving the surviving husband is always in the background, and there’s a male comedy sidekick, but most of the focus is on the developing friendship between the women from two very different parts of India, and Zeenat teaching Meera how to stand up for herself and take opportunities to enjoy life. Also, Meera’s grandmother-in-law who started off seeming like a mean old woman turned out to be much more complex. It was great!

    I thought Book’s hair looked a bit like Einstein’s the first time I saw the episode. I’m not sure what that would mean if it was intentional.

  28. Sarah says

    I thought Book’s hair looked a bit like Einstein’s the first time I saw the episode. I’m not sure what that would mean if it was intentional.

    I have a LiveJournal icon that states that comparison. It has the image of Book popping his head out around the door and the words, Surprise! Einstein!

  29. says

    Oh. My. Maude.

    I can’t believe I never thought of seeking out hair products intended for Black people’s hair.

    Damn. I mean, my father had an afro. Seriously, tight, nappy, kinky hair. My sister’s is more like his was, while mine tends to be the long spiraly curl type. His dad was from South Africa, we’ve always known there was someone Black in our past (a great great-grandmother, of the !Kung, we think), but I’m a pasty white blue-eyed English girl, whatever the One Drop rules would say.

    I cannot express how much I appreciate that suggestion and discussion. Now I get to go find out how hard it is to find hair products of an appropriate type in this town. Bang-POW! More privilege understood, yay!

    Loving the watch-along – not commenting generally, because hey, months-old convo. But I couldn’t let the wonderfulness this idea has given me pass without comment. Thanks for the eye-opener.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.