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Firefly: The Train Job



Warning: This article contains some spoilers for the unaired two-hour pilot that may be shown later in the season in some form. However, for the most part, the season premiere also contains those same spoilers for the unaired pilot, since the premiere was meant to air after the pilot. Pilots tend to be first and all. So how much can this article spoil you, really?

So, we have a new Joss Whedon show to watch. A couple of years ago, I would have expected all the Mutant Enemy fans to be absolutely ecstatic. Finally another quality-written show on television! One more night to see trademark Jossian wit! But now? I've heard tried and true Whedon fans say they aren't even interested in watching. Instead of countdowns and frantic VCR-setting, I've heard some in the Buffy and Angel crowd say that they'll catch it if it happens to be on, but they aren't going out of their way to see it. What happened?

Well, there was Angel season three. And there was Buffy season six. And possibly, there was the uneven release of the Fray comic book, of which we are still awaiting the conclusion. And the closing of the message boards where the fans gathered. Twice. After Joss himself promised to make sure they stayed open. The fans feel a little let down. I was at a Joss Q&A at Wizard World two years ago and heard him talk about Fray. It was about to launch! He was writing it all himself! He had a story to tell and would publish it regularly so we wouldn't have to wait infinite amounts of time between issues. Well, two years later, we're only on issue six and he's gotten a co-writer to take over. Fans feel he dropped the ball on Buffy. That he turned things over to Marti Noxon and didn't really pay attention to the story. And that's what the fans tune in for. The unique Joss story.

I mean, Marti turned Willow into a crack whore! And don't get me started on Angel. Cordy became a floaty higher being? And rose up into another dimension? This was a storyline that they broke to all the writers and everyone said, ooh, excellent!

You have a problem with your brain being missing.

The fans were quite understandably unsure about any new Whedon adventures. But, I had hope. I figured Joss's other projects were suffering for the very reason that he was hard at work on Firefly. I remembered Angel season one. Joss threw himself into that and the season kicked ass. Then, he spread himself too thin, got away from it a little bit, and well, we got Cordy floating up into the heavens.

And then we heard rumors about the pilot. The network didn't like it. They were all set to bring back Dark Angel until Joss and Tim spent a frantic weekend creating an episode the network actually did like. And doubt crept in. Joss neglected his other shows to spend all his time working on a pilot that no one even liked? Things did not bode well.

And then I saw the pilot.

And I thought, eh. I mean, there were some moments of Jossian brilliance, times I saw the writing that pulled me into Buffy in the first place, but then there were the moments of lackluster averageness. There were so many characters, and I couldn't get a feel for any of them. Well, other than Kaylee, who annoyed the hell out of me. And Book, who was like cardboard. No chemistry with any of them. I felt nothing for these characters. And I heard very little of that trademark dialogue.

Maybe I'm not a fancy gentleman like you with your… very fine hat.

I was concerned. Mostly I was concerned because I'd like there to be another excellent show on television. I want a show to pull me in like Buffy did. And I'm really tired of my coworkers mocking me for running a Buffy site. I want people outside of the fandom to realize that Mutant Enemy shows are legitimate stuff.

So, it was with trepidation that I settled in for The Train Job. I didn't know what to expect. But wonder upon wonders, I liked it! Now, why Joss came up with eh in all those months of planning and fantastic (OK, maybe not fantastic, but pretty good anyway) in a weekend I have no idea. Perhaps Tim had a little something to do with it. In fact, I'm wondering if some of those Jossian lines I liked so much are really Minnearian lines.

But the characters had depth and chemistry and Kaylee wasn't half as annoying. No one is a crack whore! There's only just a regular whore! Or a companion who Mal calls a whore during the original pilot, but I'm getting way ahead.

The episode starts by giving us a little backstory. I assume that if the pilot actually had been shown first, we wouldn't have needed all the establishing scenes. We would already know who was part of the crew and who was tagging along as passengers. And we'd sort of know why. At least, as much as we find out during this episode.

The episode opens in a saloon. In case we didn't read the ten thousand articles on the net where Joss explains to everyone that Firefly is a western. It's like the old west! But in space! Not like Kirk and Spock! Like John Wayne! Dammit! But in space! With guns! Not phasors! We see the obligatory gun fight to make sure we understand this fully.

We also find out that today is Unification Day. The anniversary of the day the alliance joined all the worlds together under one big happy communist-type roof. Mal accidentally gets into a fight with a pro-unification bar thug. Only it's not so accidental since every year on this day he just so happens to find himself in a pro-Alliance bar and just so happens to let it slip that he's more of an independent. In case we weren't clear on where Mal's political leanings happened to be. I wonder if the Alliance is going to be a problem for Mal and his shipmates. You think?

In the original pilot, Mal did nothing for me. But he really started to grow on me during this episode. I think it's because he seems more three-dimensional. More on that later.

Anyway, after a brisk fight, with lots of smashing chairs over people's heads and things, Mal and his shipmates Zoe and Jayne get backed up to a cliff. As they're about to get shot with non-phasor, old west style guns, Mal calls the ship and it comes rising up over the cliffs and takes them away.  The networks said the show needed more action, so I can just see Joss saying, they want more action? Fine! We'll give 'em a fucking bar fight right in the first scene! And then, we'll have the ship come straight up from the cliffs to remind them that this western takes place in space!

Then, we get the obligatory positioning scene, when Mal walks around and oh so subtlely introduces the audience to the characters.





Mal is the captain and is all in charge and stuff. We find out they got slipped a job at the saloon - a train robbery. So, our band of heroes is, well, a band of thieves. According to the original pilot, Mal led a group of soldiers during the big civil war that broke out when the Alliance was trying erect that big happy roof. Most of the group died during the battle of Serenity (hence the name of the ship). Blah, blah, all the soldiers were left out there while the truces were drawn up, blah, blah, thousands died. Blah, blah, Mal's crew is very loyal because of all they went through.


Zoe served with Mal during the big battle. And now she's his first in command. She's been through a lot with him. They seem pretty close. But Zoe is married to Wash.


Wash is Serenity's pilot. We don't see much of him in this episode. Although we do find out quite often that he's not in charge. We see Wash a bit more in the original pilot, but a lot of what we see has to do with him not being in charge. But he's a kick-ass pilot.

Oh, and you know how Xander was Joss in high school? Well, Wash is Joss in his twenties, back when he knew he was brilliant and Donald Sutherland was scribbling out his lines as Merrick and making up his own.



Jayne is hard to figure out. On the one hand, he's basically mean and doesn't care about anyone but himself. Jayne doesn't seem to be nice even at the deep down level. Jayne strikes me as like Faith, but without the sweet and fragile center. On the other hand, Mal, who despite being a thief and all, seems to have a heart, has him aboard and hangs out with him a lot. So, maybe he knows something we don't. Or maybe Mal doesn't have that much of a heart after all and thinks the muscle Jayne brings is worth the rest of what he brings. And he does have Jayne, rather than Wash, in charge while he's away.

Score one for the bad guys.






Kaylee is the ship's mechanic. She's toned down for this episode from the pilot, but basically, she's Willow. Really smart, really hyper, really dorky. But cute. I think Aly pulls it off quite a bit better. Although I didn't mind the character anywhere near as much during this episode. Everyone likes Kaylee because she's all cute and sweet and can repair the ship with chewing gun and thread. Except me. I think she's annoying.






Book is a shepherd, a missionary. He seems a little out of place on the ship. We don't see much of him, although he seems to like his shipmates even if he doesn't agree with their actions. In the pilot, we saw that Book seemed a little lost himself, and came on board as a fare, but then stuck around. We didn't really find out why he decided to stay on board. Possibly he feels that those in the ship may need a guidance from above. I'm expecting to find out that while stuffy, Book has a secret past of calling up demons for orgies with his friend Ethan, if you know what I mean.


Inara is the ship's "companion". In the days of Firefly, companions are highly respected. There are strict laws governing companions. Inara is the character we see in every western: the hooker with the heart of gold. Mal seems to really dislike her and what she does, but (we find out in the original pilot anyway) he allows her on the ship because a ship with a companion is more readily welcomed at strange planets and is seen as more legit. And Mal can use all the help he can get seeming legit. However, in this episode, we see that maybe all that supposed dislike of Inara is to cover up how much he actually has a big 'ole crush on her. She doesn't know what to think of him. We have no idea why she chose to set up shop on this ship rather than an actual legitimate one. I'm sure one day we will. In any case, Mal and Inara have got a bit of the chemistry.





Simon (we find out in the pilot) came on as a paying passenger at the same time as Book. He's a doctor from a wealthy family, and just wanted a ride to the next planet. He had some cargo he was concerned about. Well, soon enough, we learn that his precious cargo is a crazy girl in a box. Simon is Wesley. Well, Wesley of Angel season one probably. He has had a very formal upbringing. But, now with that crazy sister in a box, he's not exactly legit either. Which brings us to…


River, aforementioned crazy girl in a box, aka Fred with Cordy's psychic powers. She actually gets out of the box at some point during the original pilot. Turns out River is seriously super smart (and also psychic, only I'm not sure if we're supposed to catch on to that yet) and so her family sent her to "the academy", which is run by the Alliance. Apparently, they were doing some kinds of bizarre experiments with her, and no one quite knows why (hint: she's psychic, dumbasses!) and so Simon kidnapped her and is running far, far from the Alliance. In the original pilot, Mal got really bent because the Alliance is seriously after River and Mal tries to stay as far away from the Alliance as possible. During this episode, she mostly babbles incoherently and skitters. I don't mean to give anything away or anything, but the official Firefly web site says that she can read minds and tends to say what's on her mind, as well as everyone else's. So, what? They're wrapping Buffy season one Cordy in with Fred from her cave days?

Were there monkeys? Terrifying space monkeys?

So, Simon has stuck around because being on a ship that's staying far away from the Alliance helps him stay far away from the Alliance. Mal theoretically lets them stay because the ship needs a doctor. Although, one might suspect Mal has a soft spot in his heart for a guy who wants to keep his poor crazy sister in a box safe.

The plot centers around a train heist, and it has action and adventure and gun fights and more western towns, but what's really important in the Jossverse are two things, and neither are plot. And thank goodness we have more than plot for his shows. I mean, a teacher who turns into a preying mantis and eats virgin boys? A demon let loose on the Internet? Cowboys in space? When we say Joss is brilliant, we surely don't mean his plots.

The two things that make Joss's shows shine are the dialogue and the characters. He could even set his show in space and call it a western, and we'd still watch if they were his characters speaking his dialogue. Oh, wait…

And although I wasn't sure after seeing the original pilot, I am reassured after watching this first episode. Firefly has both the dialogue and the characters we've come to know and love.

Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?

By the end of this episode, there are several scary groups after the Serenity gang. The Alliance is after them in general, because they're thieves and all. The Alliance is also specifically after River, and have their scary men in black after her. Also, Mal has pissed off a seriously scary mobster guy, and he's vowed to track them all down and kill them. Beyond that are the Reavers, who we see in the pilot, but not in this first episode. Although Firefly consists solely of human characters, the Reavers are the vampires of the Firefly world. Or maybe more like Fray's lurkers. They're "men gone savage on the edge on space". Zoe tells Simon "If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very lucky, they'll do it in that order."

So, we've got some bad guys after the er, bad guys. Only they're also sort of good guys. In a way. We've got chemistry between the characters, we have characters worth caring about, and Tim's already chucked a guy out an engine exhaust. He just keeps tallying that kill total.

All in all, I think Firefly is worth a shot.

Do you think Firefly is Joss's best show yet? Think it sucked and you'll never watch again? Tell us all about it in the discussion forums.