Tanzi here. It’s my turn to be psyched about leading off this week’s discussion. Jayne is usually my favorite part of any episode and here he’s finally recognized as the hero he is. As usual, spoilers may slip out in our discussion but we’ll do our best to avoid revealing any surprise plot points.
I’m starting to feel a lot better about this series. After two lackluster episodes (“Shindig” and “Safe”) and one pretty good one (“Our Mrs. Reynolds”) I thought “Jaynestown” kept the ball rolling. This might be the first episode I have no complaints about.
For once the show doesn’t open with the crew in the middle of a job. This time they’re on their way to a job, something about moving some illicit cargo off a settlement. Simon and Kaylee discover Jayne in the sick bay, taping a gun to his torso. Apparently guns are off limits in Canton but Jayne didn’t leave on very good terms the last time he was here. Mal lays down the law and makes it clear that there’s no room for argument. Given Jayne’s discomfort and the need for discretion I’m not sure why Mal didn’t just leave Jayne on the ship and take Zoe, or for that matter why he took Wash. I got the impression they were shooting around actor’s schedules but it worked out well, Wash’s sense of humor was well suited to the situation in Canton.
ScottP: The pained little squeak Jayne lets out as he rips the tape off his belly is a great bit — I know I go on and on about how good Adam Baldwin is but this episode really lets him shine, not only as blustering-oaf-Jayne but with a lot of subtle moments, to boot.
Tanzi: It’s clear from the first moment that Canton is a dump. It stinks and the main industry appears to be mud farming; indentured servants are paid a pittance to wade out in the slop and dig out the mud for use in high tech ceramics. It’s the kind of place you can imagine a guy like Jayne hanging around in before he hooked up with the Serenity gang.
ScottD: He does seem mightily familiar with Mudder’s Milk — though you would expect Jayne to be familiar with anything coming out of a bottle. I think Canton may have been the kind of place that Jayne turned to crime to get away from.
Tanzi: It soon becomes apparent that Jayne is a hero to the local mud farmers. It turns out that he was involved in a heist that went bad and had to jettison the proceeds. Fortuitously, the money fell on the mud farmers and their boss allowed them to keep it. He also allowed them to keep the statue they erected in Jayne’s honor, likely figuring Jayne would never return and it gave the mudders some hope so they wouldn’t all kill themselves.
ScottD: I noticed something for the first time, this go-through — there are actually candle stubs around the name plaque on Jayne’s statue, as you would find near the statue of a saint. Jayne — Patron Saint of Thugs, Strongarms, and Snipers.
Tanzi: There are two subplots in this episode; Inara’s job liberating the mudder bossman’s son’s virginity while River attempts to “fix” Book’s bible.
Both tie into the Jayne plot: Inara teaches the young man to stand up to his father and Book explains the concept of faith to River, mirroring the mudder’s faith in a hero, even if he’s a summbitch, as Mal explains at the end.
ScottD: Jayne first gets the round-eyed hero worship from a young boy, then later from the teenager who gets involved in the fray. It makes you wonder what summbitch Jayne would have looked up to, at those ages.
ScottP: This episode is sort of like the Firefly equivalent of Star Trek‘s “The Trouble with Tribbles” — more lighthearted than most and focused almost entirely on letting the characters riff without having to deal with much in the way of high stakes (as opposed to, say, “Out of Gas”). One thing that’s become apparent after “Jaynestown” and “Our Mrs. Reynolds”: Jayne is a goofy, sentimental drunk, everybody’s best friend and ready to cry at the drop of a hat.
ScottD: I think the only respect that Jayne has ever gotten is the sort you give a mean dog, and the only parties he has ever had were ones he bought in brothels. When he gets some open adulation and respect, it goes to his head.
ScottP: There’s also another nice moment between Zoe and Wash, as he and the others are leaving Serenity and Zoe’s staying behind: she tells him to “have fun” and they exchange a smooch. Again, nothing forced or phony about it, the moment feels completely natural.
I also feel like this is the episode where Simon and River start to feel a little more real and less like plot devices. River’s antics with Shepherd Book — while still driven by River’s mental instability — give Summer Glau more to do than just ramble incoherently or rip labels off cans of food. As for Simon, his awkward relationship with Kaylee is turned up a notch, especially when they get drunk together (and a sure sign of a good actor is not over-playing drunk; both Jewel Staite and Sean Maher, I’m pleased to report, play drunk very well).
ScottD: We also get to see that Simon is being drawn more into not only the crew but also the capers — Mal is starting to consider the possibilities of having a “presentable” person involved, sort of like with Inara.
I like the bits with Kaylee getting Simon liquored up in the mudder’s bar — she is so sweetly innocently honestly horny for him that you want to shake some sense into him. Or knock him aside and show her a good time.
Then of course he has another bout of foot-in-mouthitis the next morning — “I would never… not with Kaylee!” Dork.
Tanzi: Normally I don’t like these kind of scenes, it’s a bit of a cliche but both actors do a nice job here. It actually felt like one of those moments when two people like each other and let their guard down after a few (or more than a few) drinks.
ScottD: Speaking of Kaylee (always a pleasant task) this episode presents a mystery involving her. When she comes down the ramp at the beginning she is in crisp fresh overalls, and her hands are clean. By the time the crew gets to the mud works, however, her overalls are rumpled and grimy and there is a big greasy handprint on her ass. Judging by that evidence, between Points A and B Kaylee must have had An Adventure. Puzzling out what that adventure might have been is going to involve me mightily as I slip off to sleep tonight.
ScottP: Obviously, though, this is Jayne’s episode all the way and it’s great to see the different sides of his character — worried about his own skin when they first arrive on Canton, then lighting up as he realizes the mudders consider him a hero — to the point of not being very happy about Mal’s plan to use the celebration in his honor as a distraction while they sneak their cargo aboard Serenity.
Tanzi: Unlike our previous looks at frontier life, Canton seems authentically shitty. No society balls and anachronistic dueling rituals. We just have slavery in all but name, a jerk of a local boss running things and some prison conditions that would surely run afoul of Amnesty International.
ScottP: This is just an oddball aside, but Kevin Gage as Stitch Hessian reminds me so much of Sam Rockwell as Bronco in Gentleman Broncos that I had a hard time not laughing at everything he says. That’s nothing against Gage’s performance — and of course his role pre-dates Gentleman Broncos by a number of years, but man oh man is it weird.
I for one was pleased to have an episode free of fruity dancing.
ScottD: Jayne’s character is so simply self-centered that you can almost hear his spirit creaking as he considers the idea that other people might be involved in his world. Despite being direct and rough, he is almost innocent and has lots of room for growth. This episode gives him plenty to think about, something he’s not used to doing — he’s not stupid, he just usually lives in the moment and for himself.
The scene at the end between Jayne and Mal is actually rather tender as the two set aside their usual growling at one another and talk like friends, with Mal in the big-brother role.
BTW, Adam Baldwin took the head from the Jayne statue home as a souvenir, but they needed it back for pickup shots — if you look closely in some scenes, you can see where it was glued back on. It was later sold at a charity fundraiser.
Check out our Cool Actor of the Week post on Adam Baldwin and watch the video of him singing “The Hero of Canton!”