“He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor, Stood up to the man and gave him what for, Our love for him now ain’t hard to explain, The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne.”
Years before joining the Serenity crew, Jayne Cobb and his ally Stitch robbed a magistrate on the backwater moon of Canton. With his men in hot pursuit, they had to throw everything out of their aircraft to get away. Once they’ve dumped everything they could, Jayne threw out the only things left: Stitch, and the money. Stitch was caught by the feds, but the money landed in the middle of a town populated by impoverished mud farmers, who have since turned Jayne into a Robin Hood-esque folk hero. When the Serenity crew lands on Canton four years later, the people celebrate the return of their legendary champion, and the magistrate plans on getting Jayne back for his misgivings.
While the Serenity crew is more or less one big family of misfits, Jayne is a misfit among the misfits. His loyalties lie only with whoever pays him the most, and he would throw you under the bus without a second though if someone charged him. That’s why he joined them in the first place, and that’s why he almost sold Simon and River out to the Alliance. Which is why it’s all the more jarring when he finds a whole town that worships him. At this point he wasn’t the most developed character. Don’t get me wrong, though, he’s still one of my favorites. Adam Baldwin does a fantastic job playing him and half of the show’s best one liners came from his mouth, but in terms of depth or complexity, he seemed kind of shallow when compared to Mal, Inara or River. “Jaynestown” changes that completely.
The idea of Jayne having an entire town that worships him by building statues, writing songs and throwing riots on his behalf is pretty surreal, and even the crew has a hard time comprehending it. (“This must be what going mad feels like” Simon declares when he sees the statue and hears the song.) With every revelation it’s hard not to make a double take at just how beloved the meat-headed rogue has become. At first you’re warmed by the fact that what first seems like one of the show’s more underwritten characters is getting some development and has found a group of people that wholeheartedly embrace him, but you know that at some point it’s all going to come crashing down.
There are two subplots that tie in nicely with the main one, one more directly, the other thematically. The first follows Inara, who has been hired by the town magistrate to help his son, Fess, lose his virginity. Before the consummation they have tea together under candlelight, and Fess opens up to her, lamenting how he can never live up to his father’s expectations. Inara tells him that a man is defined by his actions, not by how many women he’s slept with. This pep talk gives Fess the courage to stand up to his father, which ultimately helps out our heroes. The second plot involves Shepherd talking to River about faith when she tries to “fix” the logical fallacies in his Bible, and River becoming terrified when she sees Shepherd with his hair undone. Both plots bring home the episode’s overarching theme of the importance of symbols. Like the mudders’ need to see Jayne as a paragon of justice, the tea and candles represent a spiritual bond, which is why Fess’s father isn’t allowed. Shepherd’s Bible brings him comfort for the same reasons, knowing that while the stories may not be literal, the messages they convey help him in his life. (“It’s not about making sense,” he tells River, “it’s about believing in something and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. You don’t fix faith, it fixes you.”)
The ending is kind of ambiguous. When the magistrate learns that Jayne is back, he releases Stitch from prison to get his revenge. While Jayne is in the middle of a speech to the mudders, Stitch barges in and tells them what really happened. After a boy shields him from gunfire, Jayne kills Stitch, tearfully admits that the money was only there by accident, and to drive the point home, tears down the statue they made of him. As they hightail it out of there, Jayne ponders why that villager would give his life for him and concludes that the mudders probably tried to put the statue back up as soon as they left. We never learn what exactly the mudders do. Do they pick back up and carry on their belief, or did Jayne leave them shattered by the reveal that their hero was no more than a common thug? It’s a testament to how those symbols are both indestructible and corruptible.
Overall I give “Jaynestown” a 5/5. It’s easy to see why this has become a fan favorite. What looked on the surface to be Firefly‘s funniest episode turned out to have some hidden depth and some much welcome development for one of the show’s more underwritten characters.
Next episode: “Out of Gas”
– Mal: “There ain’t one of us here looks the part more than the good Doctor. I mean, the pretty fits, soft hands, definitely a moneyed individual. All rich and lily-white, pasty all over…”
Simon: “All right, fine, I’ll go. Just stop describing me.”
– Wash: “I think they captured him though- you know… captured his essence.”
Kaylee: “Looks sort of angry, don’t he?”
Wash: “That’s kinda what I meant.”
– Shepherd: “River, why don’t you come out?”
River: “Can’t. Too much hair.”
Zoe: “River, honey? He’s putting the hair away now.”
River: “Doesn’t matter. It’ll still be there. Waiting.”
– When Inara hears from Fess that the hero of Canton has returned, she immediately assumes it’s Mal. Her disbelief and embarrassment when she learns that it was actually Jayne are priceless.
– True story: my friend Gareth tried to talk me into playing “The Hero of Canton” at his wedding. I ended up playing “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” instead. He had no complaints.