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Firefly – Ranking The Episodes
Firefly’s cancellation is one of television’s greatest crimes. More so, Fox’s treatment of the Firefly. From that point forward, Fox was nothing to me but the “Alliance”. Fox might’ve won the battle, putting us on the losing side, but that in no way puts us on the wrong side. It’s actually a bit ironic. Fox’s apparent goal to destroy Joss Whedon’s prized creation is most likely in direct correlation with Firefly‘s huge, dedicated fan base, A.K.A. Browncoats. Fans have kept the series alive over the past ten years since it’s cancellation. Shows like that stay strong for good reason.
Firefly’s 14 episodes have enough great moments and quotes to fill a series of 100 episodes. Each tells a great story and gives insight into the lives of a wonderful arrangement of characters. Ranking the episodes is no easy feat, and even episodes that don’t rank in my top 10 still give us 45 minutes of pure entertainment. That said, this list will most likely feel like me gushing over each episode while arranging them in random order.
14. The Message
Although Tracy ended being a bit of a tool, the ending of this episode was still enough to pack an emotional punch. The ending mixed with the inclusion of Jayne’s infamous hat give this episode some major points, so it pains me to put it at the bottom of my list. What docks a couple points off of “The Message” is some of the writing, the type of writing you don’t commonly see on Firefly. I am referring to the twist where Tracy thinks that the crew is turning him in to the Alliance, but they really weren’t. Things could’ve gone smoother if they simply informed Tracy of their plan. That aside, the rest of the episode is full of classic Whedon wit.
- The Battle of Du-Khang (especially Mal’s entrance)
- The ending
- Wash: Man walks down the street in that hat, people know he’s not afraid of anything. Jayne: Damn straight.
- River: My food is problematic.
- Zoe: You find someone to carry you.
13. Heart of Gold
“Heart of Gold” is a decent enough episode in Firefly‘s repertoire. I don’t think it pops quite as well as most of the others, but there are plenty of memorable moments throughout. There’s some good development between Mal and Inara (sort of). Mal sleeping with Nandi leads to Inara decided to leave Serenity, but it shows us the depth of Inara’s feelings for Mal. Fredric Lehne makes a good villain with his portrayal of Rance Burgess. My judgement on that could be swayed from being a Supernatural fan, though.
- Mal meeting Burgess at the theater.
- Inara’s reaction to Mal sleeping with Nandi.
- Book uncomfortably trying to make a sandwich while the prostitutes seek guidance from him.
- Mal: Bwaa!
- Zoe: No one’s gonna force you to go, Jayne. As has been stated, this job is strictly speculative. Jayne: Good. Don’t know these folks, don’t much care to. Mal: They’re whores. Jayne: I’m in.
- Wash: Three-point, four-hour, should do it.
- Nandi: You okay with this? Mal: I’m just waiting to see if I pass out…long story.
“Safe” is a great episode for the Tams. Not so much for them, since they get kidnapped and almost burned at the stake. The audience gets some great insight into their lives, though. I felt even more sorry for River after seeing her as a sound-minded child. It also gives us the best showcasing of Simon’s character. I always felt that Simon is under appreciated. Sure, he’s a bit whiny, but when you look at all the poor guy has thrown away for his sister, it’s hard not to have a little respect for him. Not only does Simon worry more for River than their parents during River’s time at The Academy, Simon puts himself up to burned at the stake so that River wouldn’t die alone. Plus, we get to see some of Book’s influence within the Alliance.
- Both scenes at the Tam estate.
- River dancing at the Jiangyin Festival mixed with the firefight at the corral.
- Simon and River’s conversation while eating the hodgeberries.
- Mal: Soon as we unload, she can holler until her ears bleed. Although, I’d take it as a kindness if she didn’t. River: The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds given adequate vacuuming systems. Mal: See, morbid and creepifying, I got no problem with, long as she does it quiet-like.
- Jayne: I like smackin’ em.
- Jayne: Dear Diary, today I was pompous and my sister was crazy. Today, we were kidnapped by hill folk never to be seen again. It was the best day ever.
- Mal: Well, look at this. Appears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us? Zoe: Big damn heroes, sir.
11. The Train Job
Many shows I’ve seen bear “meh” second episodes. I suppose it’s done to space out the big guns. Reasonably, the goal is to attract enough attention with a strong pilot so the audience won’t mind sitting through the following throwaways. This, of course, is not the case for Firefly. “The Train Job” isn’t Firefly at its best, but it’s still gorram entertaining. Incidentally, it aired as the shows pilot and fortunately, it’s an episode good enough to be seen first and maintain a fan base. Of course, there are no bad episodes of Firefly. At least Fox aired it before “War Stories.” Otherwise, the Niska story line would’ve been a tad confusing for those who watched on television.
- Crow, engine…you know what I’m talking about.
- Simon drugging Jayne.
- The train heist.
- Lund: You didn’t toast. You know, I’m thinkin’ you one of them independence. Mal: And I’m thinkin’ you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling.
- Inara: What did I say to you about barging into my shuttle? Mal: That it was manly and impulsive? Inara: Yes, precisely. Only the exact phrase I used was “don’t”.
- Kaylee: There’s no call to be snappy, Jayne. Jayne: You about to jump on a movin’ train?
“Bushwacked” is the closest Firefly gets to showing us Reavers. You see the aftermath of one of their raids and what people can become after dealing with them. This episode may not have a lot of action, but there’s a certain level of eeriness that most episodes don’t have. Their search of the “abandoned” ship, them locating the defiled passengers and Jayne getting attacked are creepy elements that don’t often appear on Firefly.
- The interrogation scene: all parts.
- Mal, Zoe and River discovering the bodies chained to the ceiling, then Jayne getting jumped.
- Simon: Oh yes, he’s a real beast. It’s a wonder you’re still alive. Jayne: Looked bigger when I couldn’t see him.
- Zoe: We’re very private people. Wash: The legs. Oh yeah, definitely have to say it was her legs. You can put that down.
- Mal: May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.
“Shindig,” as the title would imply, is a fun episode. Although all episodes of Firefly have there moments of lighthearted humor, I’d say “Shindig” is the first to be mostly lighthearted. Mal and Atherton’s duel, the ball and the scenes with Badger make this into a mighty fine episode. It’s also the first real romantic tension you see between Mal and Inara, which just makes my heart swell to three times its size.
- The ball: from Kaylee and Mal entering to Mal punching Atherton.
- The duel.
- Badger pitching the job to Mal and Jayne.
- Mal: Tell me, do all the men there pay for their dates, or just the young rich ones with stamina?
- Badger: Course you couldn’t buy an invite with a diamond the size of a testicle, but I got my hands on a couple. [Mal and Jayne begin to snicker] Badger: Of invites! You want this meeting or not?
- Murphy: Why Banning Miller. What a vision you are in your fine dress. It must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days to get you into that getup. Course your daddy tells me it takes the space of a schoolboy’s wink to get you out of it again.
- Mal: Mercy is the mark of a great man. [jabs Atherton in the stomach with the sword] Guess I’m just a good man. [jabs him again] Well, I’m all right.
From the start of “Trash,” you know you’re in for something special. Seeing naked Mal sitting on a rock in the middle of nowhere saying “that went well” indicates that you’re in for a fair share of entertainment. There are plenty of things going for this episode; the return of the lovely Christina Hendricks, the plot is well constructed and there’s plenty of dialogue that’ll make you smile. This is courtesy of writer Ben Edlund (another connection with Supernatural).
- The opening scene.
- Inara locking Saffron in the dumpster.
- Inara: There were little geisha dolls with big heads that wobble. Mal: Hey! People loved those!
- Jayne: Well, as a rule, I say girlfolk ain’t to be trusted. River: Jayne is a girl’s name. Jayne: Well, Jayne ain’t a girl. She starts in on the girl’s name thing, I show her good an’ all I got man parts.
- Durran: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot, but…
- Durran: How long have you been with him? Mal: Oh, we are not together. Saffron: He’s my husband. Mal: Well, who in the damn galaxy ain’t?
- River: Also, I can kill you with my brain.
Another great episode written by Ben Edlund, “Jaynestown” has probably the most interesting planet/moon that the Firefly crew visits, and one of the shows most popular songs. “The Ballad of Jayne Cobb/The Hero of Canton” is one of my favorite tracks from a sci-fi…or really any television show. A great aspect of this episode is the surprising development you see in Jayne, a character who’s generally used for comic relief or conflict. The only thing that ever bothered me about this episode is the acting from Jayne’s old partner, Stitch Hessian. But, his death is pretty hardcore, which is gratifying.
- The discovery of Jayne’s statue.
- “The Ballad of Jayne Cobb”
- River and Book’s hair incident.
- Simon: All right. Fine. I’ll go. Just stop describing me.
- Wash: We gotta go to the crappy town where I’m the hero.
- Zoe: River, honey? He’s putting the hair away now. River: It’ll still be there… waiting.
6. Our Mrs. Reynolds
“Our Mrs. Reynolds” showcases Firefly‘s comedy at its finest. The story, itself, isn’t particularly funny. It’s the chemistry within the cast that drives the dialogue to its comedic heights. The crew is at risk of getting microwaved for a brief period of the episode, yet they still manage to keep their cheeky ways about. This is also a particularly good episode for Book. His conversation with Mal on the “Special Hell” is one of my favorite “Book” moments. I’m torn on Saffron. I hate her as a character, but I certainly don’t mind Christina Hendricks. Her interactions with Mal are all incredible.
- Book and Mal’s special conversation.
- The crew meeting Saffron.
- Jayne trying to trade Vera for Mal’s wife.
- The ending scene between Mal and Inara.
- Kaylee and Wash excitedly finding all the damage that Saffron did to the ship.
- Mal: Now you can luxuriate in a nice jail cell, but if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.
- Kaylee: Hey, sweetie. Don’t feel bad. He makes everybody cry. He’s like a monster.
- Saffron: If you’re done with supper, would you like me to wash your feet? Mal: [blank stare – exits]
- Mal: Well, my days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle.
- Mal: Woah… good bible.
- Book: Well, isn’t that… special.
- Jayne: That’s why I never kiss ’em on the mouth.
“Ariel” is by far the most bone chilling episode Firefly has to offer. It’s all due to the Hands of Blue. Hearing the distant, yet not too distant screams, is enough to even send Jayne running. Watching the blood pour out of Agent McGinnis freaked me out. When I first saw this episode, it didn’t rank as high as I have it now. I was mainly upset by Jayne’s betrayal, but the more I watched it, the more I fell in love with it. Jayne’s betrayal does lead to a great scene between he and Mal, one of my favorite scenes of the series actually.
- The Hands of Blue.
- Mal locking Jayne in the Outer Cargo Bay and getting a confession from him.
- Jayne, Simon and River breaking out of the holding cell, Jayne killing an Alliance Officer in the process.
- Mal: Dilated! Dilated! Ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng (frog-riding bastard)…shiny!
- Jayne: We applied the cortical electrodes, but were unable to get a neural reaction from either patient.
- Mal: You did it to me, Jayne.
4. Objects in Space
There is a certain grace to “Objects in Space.” And I’m not just saying that because it rhymed. I say that because the episode moves slowly, but flows seamlessly, making it feel faster. This episode is almost a little jarring, being so different from other Firefly episodes, not to mention being so odd for a season finale. There isn’t too much action, but there is constant tension brought on by the deadly, philosophical bounty hunter Jubal Early. His trek with Simon through the ship sparks some great dialogue. River bookends the episode quiet well. Seeing things from her point of view in the beginning was brilliant, and her speech near the end of the episode is remarkable. Though she was only playing Early, you could feel the emotion coming from her and the rest of the crew listening. Plus, the ending clip is easily my favorite of any episode.
- River overriding Serenity’s intercom.
- The depiction of Early’s thoughts while River breaks him down.
- Simon meets Early.
- Jayne pulling the sheet off his wall, revealing his large gun collection, then going back to sleep.
- Zoe: Sir, I know she’s unpredictable, but I don’t think she’d harm anyone. Jayne: Butcher’s knife! Zoe: Anyone we can’t spare.
- Jayne: What? She killed ’em with mathematics. What else could it have been?
- Early: Doesn’t anybody care that I have a finely crafted gun pointed at this boy’s head? River: I care. Early: Then you gonna come out and stop me from doing what I don’t want to? You gonna be smart here, River?…River?…Serenity?
- Mal: You know, you ain’t quite right. River: It’s the popular theory.
- Early: Well, here I am.
3. War Stories
Mal and Wash (my two favorite characters) are what make “War Stories” such an amazing episode. Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk really do an incredible job, especially with their banter during the torture scenes. This whole episode is great, but the last ten minutes are fantastic. I was so glad when Niska got to meet the real Mal. That prune deserved much more, though. Seeing the crew go into war mode was awesome. It’s rare that you get to see almost the whole cast together in arms. From River’s infamous marksmanship to Mal’s quips while being tortured to Jayne needing to go to his bunk, this episode is all around amazing.
- The Serenity Crew’s invasion of Niska’s space station.
- Mal doing his best to keep Wash from giving into the torture.
- River’s mathematical annihilation of Niska’s soldiers.
- Just about every scene between Mal and Niska.
- Jayne: I’ll be in my bunk.
- Mal: Okay, uhm, I’m lost, I’m angry and I’m armed.
- Wash: Hey, I’ve been in a firefight before! Well, I was in a fire. Actually, I was fired from a fry-cook opportunity… I can handle myself.
- Mal: You want to meet the real me now?
- River: No power in the ‘Verse can stop me.
- Zoe: Jayne, this something the Captain has to do for himself. Mal: No! No, it’s not! Zoe: Oh.
2. Out of Gas
What I love about “Out of Gas” is that the writing and directing doesn’t dumb it down for the audience. It would’ve lost its artistic touch and impact if they time stamped the changes in timeline. Tim Minear and David Solomon do a fantastic job of making each scene transition without having to spell it out for you. Along with the writing and directing, the acting in this episode is top notch. It’s easily the most emotional episode for me, and I’m sure many others. Wash’s fear for Zoe’s life, Mal and Inara’s exchange, seeing Mal struggle after being shot; all these add deeply to the drama. Seeing how everyone joins Serenity is brilliant, especially Jayne and Kaylee. What really sells this episode for me, though, is the ending. The wonder and awe on Mal’s face when he see Serenity for the first time always makes me smile.
- Every character’s introduction, especially Jayne and Kaylee.
- Mal getting Wash to send the distress signal after Wash refuses to leave Zoe’s side.
- The ending.
- River: Day is vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It’s not applicable… I didn’t get you anything.
- Inara: Mal, you don’t have to die alone. Mal: Everybody dies alone.
- Jayne: Not as deceiving as a low down, dirty… deceiver. Mal: Well said. Wasn’t that well said, Zoe? Zoe: Had a kind of poetry to it, sir.
- Salesman: I tell you what, you buy this ship, treat her real proper, she’ll be with you the rest of your life. Son? Hey, son?… You hear a word I been sayin’?
It was a very tough call between “Serenity” and “Out of Gas” for being my number one, but my heart told me to go with the former. While “Out of Gas” may be better on an emotional level, “War Stories” may have more action and “Our Mrs. Reynolds” may have a few more laughs, “Serenity” balances everything that makes Firefly what it is. And it does so wonderfully. Of course, it has more time than the rest to get all these elements in there in plenty, and the fact that you get so much more time with episode could very be why it’s my number one. Ultimately, I’d say it’s the fact that it’s the pilot that impresses me most. Generally, I judge pilots pretty hard and think of most as rather weak episodes in a shows lineup.
I feel that Firefly has the perfect pilot. Not only do you get to meet all of the characters, you get to know them quite fast. Within most of the characters’ opening scenes, you get a feel for who they are. The episode stays intriguing the whole time and the plot presents itself smoothly. All in all, I always feel the most satisfied after watching “Serenity.” Plus, how many episodes can call themselves the premiere and the finale? Thanks, Fox!
- The Battle of Serenity Valley.
- The discovery of River.
- Mal shooting Dobson in the face.
- The Crazy Ivan.
- Mal: We’ve done the impossible and that makes us mighty.
- Wash: Ah! Curse you sudden but inevitable betrayal!
- Jayne: Ten percent of nothin’ is… let me do the math here… nothin’ into nothin’… carry the nothin’.
- Simon: I was just wondering what his job is on the ship. Mal: Public relations.
- Simon: Can you move your feet? Kaylee: Are you asking me to dance?
- Jayne: Pain is scary.
- Mal: Now I did a job. I got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention more than a few unkind words as regard to my character. So, let me make this abundantly clear. I do the job and then I get paid. Go run your little world.
- Mal: You don’t know me, son. So let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed.
- Mal: We’re still flying. Simon: That’s not much. Mal: It’s enough.