So now it is time for part two of my Firefly rewatch, with the second episode chronologically, and the first one aired: “The Train Job.” This episode functions as a second pilot for the series, reintroducing most of the main characters in a more action-packed manner than the real pilot. This episode also includes the introductions of several recurring antagonists, and sees the crew of “Serenity” plan a train heist. Read my thoughts on the first episode here.
Following a bar brawl in which Mal, Zoe, and Jayne engage in fisticuffs with former Alliance soldiers, the crew meets with Adelai Niska, a crime lord with a vicious reputation. The job involves going to a small planet on the outskirts, and stealing several crates of alliance goods off of a moving train. Mal and Zoe’s infiltration on the train leads to a successful theft, but complications prevent their clean getaway. The revelation that the items stolen contained the medicine needed to treat a degenerative disease most of the citizenry of the population have causes a moral dilemma for Mal, while the other crew-members of the Serenity ponder what to do in regards to the missing Captain, and the brutal crime-lord expecting them to return.
This episode was reportedly written in two days by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear because Fox wanted something more exciting and suspenseful than “Serenity” as a premiere episode. The episode does a proper job introducing the main cast members, if in a less substantial way than the previous episode, but much of it feels redundant considering what had been seen prior, if watched in the proper order, that is. Many of the conversations feel like retreads of character interactions in the previous episode: Mal and Inara’s contentious manner of caring for each other, Kaylee and Inara’s sisterly bond, etc. The script is solid, but the rushed nature of it shines through, with an overly simple moral dilemma and significant overlap with the previous episode.
The sequences on the train are suspenseful and possess good action-sequences without overwhelming the episode with them. The special effects remain excellent for a television show, but lack the cinematic feel of those found in “Serenity.” The town definitely plays up the western element of the space-western: a dusty frontier settlement needing medicine must fend off a train heist. This episode also continues the efficient manner in which Mal will take out his adversaries, he’ll just shoot, he won’t wax poetic on why he’s doing it.
“The Train Job” introduced Adelai Niska, who would return in a later episode, and the “hands of blue” who are searching for River and Simon for the Alliance. This episode reveals more about River Tam, providing the first demonstrations of her prodigious intelligence, and sees her beginning to reveal minute bits of information regarding her time detained by the Alliance (“two by two, hands of blue”). Niska, as played by Michael Fairman, is a stereotypical crime boss, but a rather intimidating one. Fairman is hammy and serviceable in the role. The “hands of blue” are only seen briefly near the end, after being ominously mentioned by River throughout the episode. They are suitably creepy, but their presence doesn’t add anything to this episode, aside from indicating their malicious intent and their future presence in the series.
This episode does provide more insight into several of the characters, notably Simon, River, and Shepherd Book. Simon’s quick thinking and surprisingly decisive manner of keeping Jayne from taking off without Mal and Zoe reveals much about the character. River is shown to be the genius, she was stated to be in “Serenity”, and hints into just how fractured her psyche is, and how it happened are present throughout the episode. Shepherd Book, revealed to be a surprisingly competent hand-to-hand combatant in the last episode, is shown to be knowledgeable of underworld dealings, which once again hints at a less than savory past for the man. In addition, Mal’s frustration with the Alliance and the Independents’ loss during the war is reiterated when he picks a fight in a bar on U(nification)-Day in a bar known to be friendly to the Alliance.
I enjoyed this episode, though I feel it was one of the weakest during the show’s brief run. The action is exciting, and the special effects are good, if not quite up to the standard set by the first episode, and there are plenty of character moments. But the screenplay felt, and was, rushed, and there is too much overlap in terms of exposition between “The Train Job” and “Serenity.” Though one must remember, lesser Firefly is still excellent television.