Firefly is one of the greatest shows in the history of television, and anyone who disagrees with me can rutting fight me.
Though we only got 14 glorious episodes, each one brings a little something special to the series, and they come together to create an interesting story with fascinating characters. If you haven’t devoted some time to the crew of Serenity yet, you better make that a priority before you delve into this list, because I won’t hold back on the spoilers.
Before I start, let me just say this is completely my opinion, and though it is a best-to-worst style list, I don’t think any of these episodes are bad — just not as good as some of the others. OK, you fine bunch of rubens — let’s dig into this fantastic space western.
1) “Serenity: Part 1” and “Serenity: Part 2”
This was an easy choice. This is possibly the best first episode of a television show in recent history; too bad it didn’t actually air until halfway through the season. (Fox really dropped the ball with this show, but I’ll save that rant for another time.) This hour and a half of visual delights is also loaded with clever dialogue and great actions scenes. From the exciting beginning to the delicate exploration of the characters throughout, this episode sets the series up perfectly.
As a longtime Whedon fangirl, I could go on and on listing all the little things that embody the smack of Joss in the episode, but I will resist the urge. Just kidding! There are enough classic Whedon-style jokes in this episode to fuel an entire Avengers movie, and you are given a pretty clear idea of who these characters are without removing their allure. The final scene with the feds is another example of classic Whedon. I couldn’t even narrow down my favourite scene. Wash’s dinosaur puppet show and the tense scene following Kaylee getting shot are contenders, though, but let’s be real, Shepard Book knocking that fed out was one of the coolest things to happen on screen ever.
2) “Out of Gas”
This episode is so well done, it nearly took the top spot. The unique way the story is told through flashbacks and a disjointed timeline is fantastic. Getting to see Mal and Zoe’s first interactions with the crew is easily my favourite part. From Jayne’s amusing but not entirely shocking flashback to Kaylee’s saucey and totally badass flashback, we got all the bases covered — literally for Kaylee. Ay-oh! So much happens in this episode, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. We learn a lot about the crew, and we even see Mal and Wash butting heads. It is easy to tell that this beauty of an episode was written by the brilliant Tim Minear and the man himself, Joss “The Boss” Whedon. This is television at its finest — snappy dialogue, emotional but not over-the-top performances and Alan Tudyk’s fake mustache.
3) “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
I’d like to take a moment to thank whomever cast Christina Hendricks in her role on Firefly. Saffron, or Yo-Saff-Bridge as Mal will later call her, is a fantastic recurring character, and had the show gotten a real chance to shine, I think we would have gotten much more of her in future episodes. This is possibly the most quotable episodes of Firefly, with gems like, “Someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill them right back”; “Well, my days of not takin’ you seriously are certainly coming to a middle”; and, of course, “If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theatre.”
Honestly, I could leave it there, but I’ll go a little deeper. You get a nice glimpse of the crew having fun in the beginning of the episode, and then we get to experience the crew interacting with an outsider — an outsider that isn’t what she seems. There are moments that stand out, but truly every second of this episode is fantastic and tells the story superbly.
Jayne! The man they call Jaaaaayne! I double dog dare you not to get that dang song stuck in your head after watching this episode. Jayne used to be my favourite character — Zoe has taken that title as I have aged — but this episode remains one of my absolute favourites. We get to see a side of Jayne that is unexpected and gives him some sorely needed depth. The concept of the episode is hilarious, and the writers certainly didn’t miss the opportunities afforded by the storyline. Jayne is hailed as a hero in a small town after a failed robbery years before caused our favourite bandit to drop heaps of cash on the indentured population. Jayne’s return to the town is entertaining, but not nearly as entertaining as the crew’s reactions to Jayne’s hero status. This episode perfectly walks the line between delightful humor and the dark reality of the life of an outlaw.
Who doesn’t love a good heist? I certainly do. When a number of characters with very different skillsets come together to pull of exciting crime, I am putty in the writers’ hands. Simon proposes a heist at an Alliance hospital — the stealing of medical supplies being the secondary purpose for Simon. The good doctor intends on using the equipment at the hospital to scan River’s brain. However, things go awry because Jayne is a money-hungry asshole and betrays the team by trying to retrieve the bounty on Simon and River. Once he realizes he isn’t safe from the feds either, Jayne aids River and Simon in their escape. It is a well-written and entertaining episode. My favourite scene comes at the end with Mal’s very real threat to Jayne because, of course, Mal figured it out. Jayne not wanting the crew to know about his betrayal breaks my heart a little. He doesn’t want to lose the respect of the crew, but can’t control his selfish behavior.
6) “War Stories”
Wash is a fan favourite for a reason. He is sassy and can hold his own against his stoic and intimidating wife Zoe, all while flying Serenity like a gosh darn pro. This episode gives us even more reason to love the goofy pilot, as he displays bravery on par with Zoe herself. The bond between Mal and Zoe is called into question seriously for the first time in this episode, and the dynamic between the ships oldest couple (of friends) and the only married folk on board is thrown off. Wash insists on joining Mal for some criminal activity, and the two get snatched up by an old friend, Niska, a crime lord who can hold a grudge. While the torture scenes are hard to watch, it is all worth it for the firefight at the end. The crew goes to great lengths to get their captain back, and we get a chilling look at what River is capable of. Plus, we get the line, “I’ll be in my bunk,” out of this episode, and that’s one of the best in the series.
7) “Objects in Space”
Though it originally aired before “Serenity” parts one and two, this episode is the perfect one to end the series on. I won’t mince words here: previous to this episode, I didn’t really like Simon all that much. I still don’t ship him and Kaylee; I will be a Jaylee shipper until the day I die, but let’s not get into my fanfiction history here. Simon shines in this episode. Some argue that Ariel is where Simon earns his keep, but I see that episode as more of an Ocean’s Eleven situation. I digress. The point is, Simon takes charge in this episode, and I like to think it is due in large part to Mal’s influence on the polished doctor.
Jubal Early, an eccentric bounty hunter, boards Serenity while the crew sleeps, and what follows is an intense game of back and forth between him and Simon. It is made all the more entertaining by River claiming over the ship’s comm that she and Serenity have become one. The episode is bittersweet as it seems, like the very beginning of something big for our beloved crew, but is actually the end of the show as we know it. The good news is, once you have finished this episode, you can read the graphic novels, and then watch “Serenity” before starting the series all over again. Or is it just me who does that?
8) “The Train Job”
This was the first episode to actually air, and while it is delightful, it doesn’t really compare to “Serenity.” You do get a very clear idea of Mal’s morals, which is wonderful and a decent way to kick off the series. However, while we get to see those morals in action, we also get the scene where Mal kicks Crow into Serenity’s engine, proving that Mal isn’t to be fucked with. Inara and Wash also shine in this episode in small ways; Inara with her brilliant plan to get Mal and Zoe back, and Wash with his sneaky mule maneuver in the fight scene with Niska’s men. (As we get closer to the end of the list, I want to remind everyone that I don’t consider any episode of Firefly to be the worst.)
9) “The Message”
“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl you find someone to carry you.” The body of an old war buddy is shipped to Mal and Zoe with the instructions to return the body to his home planet. Tracey (Jonathan M. Woodward) was a bit of a rapscallion by all accounts, so it’s not super surprising when it turns out he isn’t actually dead at all, just smuggling illegal organs in his body. In his short time on the ship, Tracey manages to cause heaps of havoc that ends in the crew having to really deliver Tracey’s body to his family. Try to hold back the tears as Kaylee, who had been flirting with Tracey earlier, hands the voice recording of Tracey’s unintended final words to his mother. This episode makes my heart hurt a little and gives us a look at the soft underbelly of the tough crew. At least we have Jayne’s cunning hat to keep us smiling.
Some folks really don’t like this episode, but I think it is a charming episode with a little slice of romance. Mal and Inara are the Sam and Diane of space westerns, and the will-they-won’t-they vibe is very strong in this episode. I can see how that might annoy the people that come to Firefly for snappy dialogue and firefights, but this episode has plenty of great jokes thanks to an appearance by Badger — AND there is a sword fight. Mal is in fine form throughout the episode, and Kaylee is downright adorable. Her floofy dress makes my heart happy every time I see her in it.
If nothing else, this episode gets snaps for being the origin of the line, “Big damn heroes, sir.” I haven’t been shy about my general dislike of Simon, but I will say he is a good brother — he saved his sister from a torturous life, and that is admirable, but he is still stuck up. Both of those aspects of Simon’s personality are on display in this episode. While waiting for Mal and the crew to finish their deal with some disreputable men, Simon and River explore a small town, only to get kidnapped by some villagers looking for a doctor. A firefight with some lawmen leads to Shepard Book getting shot, and since Simon is nowhere to be found, Mal decides they must find help elsewhere. This leads to the most interesting thing that happens during this episode: Book’s ID grants him all the medical attention he needs aboard an Alliance ship, much to Mal’s shock. After Book is stable, Mal returns to the planet to rescue Simon and River just as they about to burned at the stake due to what they deem River’s witch-like behavior. Also, tiny Zac Efron appears as young Simon, and that is pretty hilarious.
The title of this episode could refer to the method with which the crew retrieves their payload for this particular caper, but I like to think it is truly named for Mal’s opinion of his darling wife, Saffron. While meeting with an old army buddy, Mal is shocked to meet his pal Monty’s new wife, Bridget, who is in fact Mal’s wife Saffron. After Monty ditches Yo-Saff-Bridge, she pitches a heist to Mal that he and the crew can’t resist.
This one is snappy and fun, but doesn’t really do to much to further the overall plot. Christina Hendricks charming as Saffron and she delivers all her lines with ease, like she was meant to play this character. The ladies really take the cake in this episode. Kaylee is clever as a fox and Zoe proves herself to be a boss-ass bitch with her “acceptance” of Saffron’s plan, but Inara is truly the linchpin and she pulls it off with grace.
13) “Heart of Gold”
Get ready to feel all the feelings, my friends — from the joy you feel when Petaline has her baby safely to the sorrow of watching Inara cradling a dying friend in her arms. This episode did not air, and some claim that to be a good thing, but I personally very much enjoy it. Inara brings the crew to a good ol’ fashioned whorehouse to help the residents with a problem with the locals. Jayne is in heaven and Shepard Book is surprised to find his services in demand. That alone delights me, but add to that a side story the reveals Inara’s true feelings for Mal and the impressive fight put up by the whores and crew when threatened, and you have a damn entertaining episode of Firefly.
I don’t know what it is about this episode, but I just don’t get, to borrow a phrase from Jayne, “all lubed up” over it like I do with the others. It isn’t bad at all, though — it has many fine moments and it gives some insight into the reavers. Reavers are an important part of the Firefly universe, especially in the movie Serenity, so I concede that this episode is important; I just don’t enjoy watching it nearly as much as the rest of the episodes. It is certainly one of the darker episodes in the short series, and we get our first look at the blue-handed men. Two by two, hands of blue.
Now go watch Serenity! Tweet at me (@Andraste) to let me know what you thought of my Firefly rankings and tell me how you would rank the episodes.