Jayne the Hero of Canton
So, after the show’s strong rebound in episode 6, we get a rather interesting episode which focuses on a character who has, so far, served as little more than the comic relief. Janye Cobb has been nothing more than the dumb muscle for the majority of the series, but when Mal and his crew stop by a planet to retrieve some smuggled cargo, under the pretense of ordering a shipment of mud used to make ceramic parts, we learn a little more about the big man’s past.
As the crew leave Serenity, they come across a giant mud statue of Janye. He has no idea why the statue is there, but he’s been acting nervous for the entirety of the mission. We learn that years ago, he was working on a job and things went south. His ship was damaged as he tried to escape, and in a desperate attempt to evade his pursuers, Jayne dropped his cargo. It turns out that cargo was filled with a large sum of money he’d stolen, and all that cash rained down on the workers who are called mudders, and since that time, they’d built a dirt statue of him and consider him a local hero.
There are several subplots strewn throughout the episode, but they are given little screen time, and only one of these plots has any relevance to the episode’s conclusion. The majority of the focus is given to Jayne and his conflict with being considered a hero when he knows he’s nothing more than a brutal thug. Despite his reservations, Mal concocts a plan to throw a grand celebration for Jayne’s return while he and the rest of the crew retrieve the smuggled cargo which has been hidden in the town. After a time, Jayne embraces his persona, but like all lair-revealed plots, the truth is bound to come out.
Jayne pushed his partner out of the ship during the robbery, and this man has spent the last four years being held captive by the local nobles. Upon hearing about the Hero of Canton’s return, they release this man and give him a shotgun.
While this is going on, Kaylee and Simon find themselves rather inebriated, during the party which proceeds the celebration meant to take place the following morning. They pass out on a bench, and when they wake up, Mal is standing over them, bemused. Simon stands up and begins telling Mal he would never do anything with Kaylee who takes offense at this and stomps off in a huff, a bit of foreshadowing on the show’s part because anytime Kaylee leaves angry, Simon is about to get horribly mangled. Mal thinks this is hilarious and leaves as well, and surprise, surprise, Jayne’s spurned partner makes an appearance and beats the snot out the good doctor. It turns out Jayne’s partner learned that Simon was a part of the crew.
During the celebration some time later, Jayne is pulled to the front of the crowd and asked to give a speech. Jayne does, and it’s simple but effective. But then his partner shows up with the bloody and battered Simon. He threatens to kill the doctor, but quickly forgets about him when Jayne begins talking trash. The partner raises the shotgun, but just as he fires the shot, one of the mudders leaps in front of Jayne, taking the blast.
This young man dies, and Jayne pushes over the mud statue of himself, leaving the workers horribly confused. On the ship, he and Mal discuss how great men seldom live up to their own legends and the episode ends.
I won’t say I was happy with the episode’s conclusion, but it was solid from a story-telling standpoint. There is only one moment of convenience which was the fact that the partner came across Simon before any of the rest of the crew, but it’s a minor thing, and had it been Kaylee or one of the less experienced crew members, the conclusion wouldn’t have changed. So, unlike episode five, I won’t criticize the writers for going out of their way to isolate Simon. Beyond this minor point, it’s a solid episode and well-acted. Adam Baldwin gives an excellent performance. The last scene is very touching, and Baldwin gives the otherwise shallow and cliché thug known as Jayne Cobb a great deal of depth.