Here’s an interesting fact about episode two, “The Train Job,” for all intents and purposes it was the pilot for the show. Fox didn’t like the original pilot, “Serenity,” so they had Joss Whedon write a new one and thus “The Train Job” was born. The actual pilot was the last episode shown after the show was canceled. If you watch the series in the order it was meant to be seen, this episode is a little weird because it repeats a lot of information from the real pilot.
Anyway, we open with a big ole’ barroom brawl. Mal, Zoe and Jayne get into a fight with some Alliance supporters in an Old West style bar. Whedon likes to combine images to illustrate his space cowboy vision. In this scene he does this by having Mal thrown out of the bar’s hologram of a plate-glass window. The three get rescued by Wash as he flies the ship up in a truly grand entrance.
Once back on the ship we are treated to a healthy dose of exposition, re-introducing all the characters and explaining a bit about how they all got here. There are three main points of interest in this bit. River has a nightmare flashback of doctors, needles and probes, which is super creepy; Mal and Book have a conversation about what the preacher is doing on the ship were Ron Glass gets to say “I got heathens a-plenty right here;” and we get one of Mal and Inara’s antagonistic/tender scenes. I’ll admit it, I am a sucker for their romantic tension. While we are getting the whos, whys and wherefores, we also find out that they have a job.
The job is for Adelai Niska, a crime boss with a “reputation.” During their meeting about the train job, Niska makes a big deal about reputations. They are nothing but words, so Niska has his henchmen show the Captain and Zoe a tortured dead guy (at least we assume he’s dead) hanging by his heels in the next room. Now his reputation is more than just words for them. Any scene with Niska, and he does show up again later in the series, is particularly creepy for me. Niska bears a striking resemblance to my grandfather. Seriously, if my grandpa had grown up to be an evil Russian crime lord instead of a sweet gentle Polish guy, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
As Mal and Zoe prepare for their part in the heist, they discover that the train has a crapload of Alliance soldiers on board. Mal thinks it’s the coolest thing ever that they get to pull the job off right under their noses and make them look bad, Zoe – not so much. But she agrees, because he’s her captain. One of the soldiers almost catches them, so they end up stuck on the train instead of leaving with the cargo. They blend in for a while and get off at the next stop, a small mining town. The townspeople set up a hue and cry about the stolen goods and Mal and Zoe find out that they have just stolen all the medicine these people were expecting to help their sick men, women and children.
We flip to a scene on an Alliance ship where they receive a report about the theft and a request for aid. The man in charge is disinclined to help, even when his communications officer points out that there are already soldiers in the area. He sends the soldiers on and tells the town to handle it themselves.
Back to the ship! Jayne has been wounded, but once Simon patches him up he is all for letting Mal and Zoe take care of themselves while the rest of the crew delivers the merchandise. There is much yelling about going back for them, until Jayne goes loopy and passes out. My favorite line of the whole episode is Wash looking down at him and asking “Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?” Simon shows up in the doorway and says “I told him to sit down.” Seems like the good doctor didn’t like the idea of Jayne being in charge so he took matters into his own hands. The rest of the crew decides that they need someone respectable to extract Mal and Zoe, so they send Inara.
The next bit is so awesome, I can’t do it justice. You’ll just have to watch it yourselves. Suffice it to say, Zoe and Inara are priceless and Mal spends a lot of time gaping like a fish.
When the three of them return to the ship, Mal and Zoe inform everyone else that they will not be delivering the goods to Niska’s men. It’s tempting to say it is a Robin Hood moment but, since they stole from the poor in the first place, it doesn’t quite work as an analogy. Before they can return the medicine, the evil henchmen show up. Fisticuffs ensue and the bad guys are subdued.
Mal and Zoe drive the cargo back, but before they can sneak the stuff back into town the sheriff and his posse show up with guns. Luckily the sheriff (who is played by the ubiquitous Gregg Henry – I always get him confused with Corbin Bernsen) had heard them talking about how to return the medicine. Each episode has its own defining moment, and the exchange between Sheriff Bourne and Captain Mal defines this one.
“Bourne: You were truthful back in town. These are tough times. A man can get a job. He might not look too close at what that job is. But a man learns all the details of a situation like ours… well… then he has a choice.
Mal: I don’t believe he does.”
For the wrap-up Mal sends the henchmen back to Niska with all the money they were paid up front and an apology that the job didn’t work out and River gives us a little bit of “Smoking Man” type mystery with “Two by two, hands of blue,” and we’re out. See you next week, same bat time, same bat channel. Have a happy New Year’s!