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Making Sense

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First aired: The Signal: Season 6, Episode 2
A discussion of Jaynestown
Credits
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton
Edited by Andy King

Jaynestown. What an episode. “Just pure romp”, as Joss Whedon says in the official companion to Firefly. Jaynestown is quite simply a fun episode. There is great humour to be had at the expense of both Jayne and Simon, who find themselves in some awkward situations in Canton. There are also some wonderful moments to enjoy with Book and River back on Serenity, who clash over their differing views of Book’s Bible, and his hair. Kaylee and Simon have some amusing exchanges too and Inara’s subplot with Fess Higgins gets tied into the main story of the episode with satisfying neatness. And, of course, there’s The Hero of Canton, a song which I’m sure has a special place in every Browncoat heart.

But is Jaynestown simply a fun episode or are the plot threads running through it linked in some way? I think a link can be found and it is one which concerns the theme of making sense. There are three main relationships developed in the episode: Jayne and the mudders; River and Book; and Kaylee and Simon. All three relationships involve a variation on the theme of making sense, with one character in each pair struggling to make sense of the other. Jayne cannot make sense of the mudders’ continued adoration of him, even when they discover the truth about what he did with the money he stole. River cannot grasp why Book is so attached to his Bible, since it makes no sense to her. And Kaylee cannot understand how Simon’s obsession with “proper” behaviour towards her is intended to show how he likes and respects her.

It is the relationship between Jayne and the mudders which is central to the episode. Ben Edlund, the writer of the episode, describes it in the official companion to the series as “a way of reversing the Robin Hood myth”. The story derives much of its humour from choosing the member of Serenity’s crew least likely to give money away to the poor to be the Robin Hood figure.

Once he has recovered from the shock of learning he is a folk hero to the mudders, Jayne begins to enjoy his status as a “living legend”. He even starts to take seriously the responsibility that comes with it and questions Mal’s plan to use a “Jayne Day” celebration as a cover for moving the stolen goods:

JAYNE
I dunno.You think we should be usin' my fame to hoodwink folks?

And then Jayne makes the most of his opportunity to address the mudders by speaking to them with genuine feeling:

JAYNE
I'm no good with words. Don't use 'em much, myself... But I want to thank y'all, for bein' here, and thinking so much of me.

However, the arrival of Stitch – Jayne’s former partner – brings everyone back to reality. After dispatching Stitch and realising that a young mudder has given his life to save him, Jayne addresses the crowd again:

JAYNE: All of you! You think there’s someone's just gonna drop money on ya, money they could use? Well, there ain't people like that! There's just people like me. Jayne tries to get the mudders to see sense, but their belief in the Hero of Canton isn’t dependent on it making sense. They perceive Jayne in a way that meets their needs, even if it conflicts with reality. This is mirrored back on Serenity in Book and River’s conversation about the Bible:

BOOK
River, you don't fix the Bible.
RIVER
It's broken. It doesn't make sense.
BOOK
It's not about making sense. It's about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about 'faith'. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you.

The Bible meets Book’s needs because he believes in it and lets that belief shape his life. In the same way, the myth of the Hero of Canton meets the mudders’ needs because they believe in it. Holding on to the belief that someone once stood up to “The Man” on their behalf helps them to get through the day.

Meanwhile, Kaylee is struggling to make sense of Simon’s obsession with being proper:

KAYLEE
What's so damn important about bein' proper? It on't mean nothin' out here in the black.
SIMON
It means more out here. It's all I have. My way of being, polite or however - it's the only way I have of showing you that I like you. Of showing respect.

Again, we have one character acting in a way which makes no sense to another character. However, it does seem that for Simon and Kaylee there is some progress in understanding each other. Contrast this with Book and River, who seem to have reached a truce, but with neither having convinced the other of the need or otherwise for the Bible to make sense. But it is Jayne who seems to be the furthest from having reached any new understanding in his relationship with the mudders. As the episode ends, and the Hero of Canton plays in the background, Jayne can only repeat to Mal how it all just doesn’t make any sense:

JAYNE
Don't make no sense. Why the hell'd that mudder go an do that, Mal? Jumpin' in front a' that shotgun blast. Hell, there weren't a one of them understood what happened out there - hell, they're probably stickin' that statue right back up.
MAL
Most like.
JAYNE
Don't know why that eats at me so...
MAL
It's my estimation that every man ever got a'statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another. Ain't about you, Jayne. It’s ‘bout what they need.
JAYNE
Don't make no sense.

It also doesn’t make sense that we the viewers end up liking Jayne as a character. In contrast to the words of the song, our love for him really is quite hard to explain. There are many reasons why he wins us over as the series progresses, but I think one is exemplified in that exchange with Mal at the end of Jaynestown, when Jayne comments that the mudders’ lack of understanding about the truth of the situation “eats at him”. Moments like this give us a glimpse into a Jayne with something approaching a conscience. Like the time when Jayne watches Simon tending to Kaylee in the infirmary in the pilot episode, or when we get to hear the letter from Jayne’s mother in The Message, we find a reason to justify our love for the man they call Jayne.

Of course, there is a danger that in looking at an episode like Jaynestown for threads that tie the subplots together, we lose sight of what is at heart Robin Hood, set on a mud farm, with Jayne in the title role. It doesn’t make sense and it never will, but that doesn’t stop it being a whole lot of fun.

MAL
Umm... Jayne?
JAYNE
Yeah, Mal.
MAL
You got any light you’d like to shed on this development?
JAYNE
No, Mal.
SIMON
No... This must be what going mad feels like...

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