Monday, 30 July 2012

TV Review: Firefly Season 1 Episode 2 'The Train Job'

This episode of 'Firefly' is where the show first finds its niche in television; it's also where FOX began to condemn it. When the series was commissioned and produced FOX decided not to air the pilot first for unknown reasons, so this episode was instead the audience's first introduction to the universe of the show. The script was astonishingly written in just 2 days by Joss Whedon and Tim Minear, its quality proves that despite the networks attempts to weaken the show it would always impress.

Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and his crew accept a smuggling job from a very dangerous crime lord named Adelei Niska. The crew are to infiltrate a train and steal two crates of unnamed Alliance cargo, once they have the cargo they are deliver it to the rendezvous point where Niska's men will collect it. Whilst on the job Mal and Zoe run into some unexpected trouble which sends their plan into disarray, the captain has to save his crew from detection and attack as he begins to wonder just what exactly they are smuggling.

Plot-wise this episode is a little weaker than some others in the series but not by much, its story does build a good amount of momentum as it goes on but fails to deliver towards the end of the episode where events seem to simply wind down. The usual witty quips and distinct humour of Whedon's writing are a saving grace to this episode which without its smart scripting (and phenomenal acting) would have easily ended up as dull. Nathan Fillion impresses again as Mal, he's often said that he did his best work on 'Firefly' and upon watching it's impossible to disagree with him, he plays the role with such casual intensity and affable humour that Mal becomes endeared to the audience more with each passing minute, in the hands of a lesser actor the character could easily have become a pre-packaged stereotype of the genre, not on Fillion's watch.

The Serenity swoops in receive the cargo.

This episode builds well on the characters introduced in the pilot, the situations they face in this episode display their motivations in a clearer way than the pilot simply because the script doesn't have to contend with introductions and so can focus on total character development. This episode gives greater emphasis to the morality and principles of the characters, Mal who seems at first to be an unsympathetic captain performing a heist is shown to be compassionate and fair when it is revealed to him the nature of the cargo, Shepherd book even notes that he gives refuge to his passengers out of a code of honour rather than selfish greed. The motivations of Book himself seem sketchy at this point in the show, he is a holy man but his knowledge of illicit activities and his mysterious past cast a shadow on his saintly devotion.

No matter how good this episode is however there was no way it was going to best the pilot in its introduction of the characters and the universe. Much more can be accomplished in the 90 minute runtime given to the pilot in terms of giving the show a fitting beginning akin to a feature film, in a 42 minute episode such as this one it is completely unfair to expect a writer to deliver an introduction to the show as well as a story that will thrill the audience. Nevertheless Whedon delivers.

If revisited it is clear there is quite a bit of foreshadowing contained in this episode. A casual reference from Kaylee becomes a major plot point in a future episode of the series, Whedon crafts his scripts so they interconnect so well and form not only great episodes but fantastic overall seasons. The events of the episode are proved to cascade as Mal and his crew face the repercussions for their actions involving the cargo later in the series. Towards the end of the episode a final piece of foreshadowing deals with the men searching for River who are set to cause trouble for the crew sometime in the near future.

A drugged Jayne Cobb attempts to stop the crew from defying him.

One of the greatest aspects of this episode is its depiction of the wider universe of 'Firefly' it shows the problems people face within this universe which gives an authentic feel to the show. The fact that life goes on around the crew as they go on their adventures is key to the vibrant and expansive universe this show lives in, people such as the sheriff are trying their hardest to fight against the stacked odds prevalent in their city for their own survival and that of their fellow citizens. The diversity of worlds such as the poor mining town Paradiso from metropolis' such as Skyplex also gives the viewer a feel for the difference in equality based on wealth in this universe, the rich living in Skyplex such as Niska have every luxury available to them whilst people are dying from "Bowden's Malady" in Paradiso.

This episode may not display the greatest action this show is capable of nor does it display its best humour. It does however demonstrate the extremely solid and great entertainment this show can deliver, especially with a script written in just 2 days.

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