“He’s not the first psycho to hire us, nor the last. You think that’s a commentary on us?”
“The Train Job” opens up with Mal and Zoe at a bar on Unification Day, the day that celebrates the Alliance’s victory over the rebellious Independents. Mal doesn’t take kindly to some of the choice words one of patrons had to say about him, and a brawl ensues. After they’re picked up, they head to a skyplex after someone at the bar gives them a tip for a job opening. The client in question is Aldelai Niska (Michael Fairman), who wants them to rob a train. Some of the crew members are a little iffy about accepting a job from him since Niska has a reputation for cruelty, but after seeing his torture chamber, they see that they have no choice but to comply. And Mal himself has second thoughts when he finds out their loot is actually much needed medicine for the sickly citizens of a poor mining town.
As most browncoats will tell you, “The Train Job” is not the real pilot to Firefly. That honor goes to “Serenity,” which I just covered a few days ago. Apparently Fox didn’t want a two hour pilot, and they wanted something with a little more action. (Because as we all know, an episode including a war battle where a man shoots down a fighter jet with a gun turret, two Mexican standoffs, more guns being pulled out than a NRA convention at Ted Nugent’s house, and being chased by space cannibals just isn’t action packed enough.) So Joss Whedon had to cobble together a new pilot in a couple of weeks, and thus “The Train Job” was born. Although I consider “Serenity” to be the superior episode for introducing newcomers, “The Train Job” is still a damn good one on its own.
Most of this episode’s short comings have to do with the fact that it’s preceded by an episode that did almost everything it did but better, but even then that’s probably only because “Serenity” had more time to lay everything out. “Serenity” also got to flesh out the cast’s personalities more where here they’re just introduced as “this is the pilot, he’s funny,” or “this is the engineer, she’s always happy,” but once again, this is mostly due to time constrictions, and giving us all the information at once is not as good as making viewers come back for more by sprinkling it little by little over the course of the season. Here, introducing our main leads with a bar fight doesn’t do as good a job as showing us the war they fought in and the dirty work they’ve been reduced to doing to get by, but does a much better job of establishing that this is a sci-fi/western hybrid. The juxtaposition of a dusty old tavern in the middle of the desert full of greasy, dust covered travelers wielding old fashioned pistols followed by a large spaceship rising over a cliff face is enough to let the viewer know that this is not your average sci-fi.
What I love most about this show is that it plays with both the sci-fi and western aspects in creative ways and creating scenarios that are seemingly familiar, but make things a little more interesting. That said, every episode has a set-up that’s pretty unique to one genre or the other. In this case, our heroes are dropped right in the middle of a classic western scenario: the train heist. While this is obviously not as action packed as “Serenity”, the whole train heist scene is still really cool. The added bonus of the Serenity flying overhead and having the goods reeled in from above is pretty clever. If this was the inspiration for the train heist in Sucker Punch, I wouldn’t be surprised. Only this time, there’s a moral twist.
We already know that although Mal’s field of works involves breaking the law, he’s a man of principle and there are certain ethical thresholds that even he won’t cross. That is made evident to call the mission off when he realizes that following through with it would mean leaving hundreds to die from disease. Quite the moral conundrum. Given what Mal has gone through and what his chosen profession calls for him to do, it should come to no surprise that he has a few barriers that he only lets down for a few. That’s why he’s so trustful of Zoe, Kaylee and Wash, but is suspicious of Jayne, has tension with Inara, and doesn’t quite see eye to eye with Book. But even he’s not a heartless bastard and at least has enough common decency to not let a paycheck get in the way of the good of the common folk. His refusal of the job midway does wonders in complicating an already complex character, and makes you want to untangle the ball of twine that is his psyche even more.
Overall I give this a 3.5/5. While I still stand by my statement that “Serenity” is the better episode, this one turned out pretty good considering the circumstances it was made under. While it does fall short on the reintroduction factor, it’s still a fun thrill ride that gives us a taste of what’s to come.
Next episode: Bushwhacked.
– My favorite part of the barroom brawl was when Mal was thrown out through a hologram window.
– Remember how Kaylee had to rewire the engine room because she couldn’t find a replacement compression coil? Keep that in mind, that’s going to be very important later.
– “You know what the chain of command is? It’s the chain I go get and beat you with until you understand who’s in ruttin’ command here.” This is why Jayne is Jayne, and everyone else is everyone else.
– Mal kicking Niska’s henchman into the ship’s turbine while he’s in the middle of a monologue is one of the most badass scenes ever. There was a similar scene in Black Lagoon. I don’t know if TVTropes has a name for that, but I want to find out.