Heart of Firefly

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Loyalty and Betrayal

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First aired: The Signal: Season 6, Episode 4
A discussion of Ariel
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Nick Edwards
Edited by Nick Edwards
But he did try to make a deal with you, right? How come you didn't turn on me, Jayne?
Money wasn't good enough.
What happens when it is?
Well, that'll be an interesting day.
I imagine it will.

This exchange of Mal and Jayne’s at the end of Serenity the pilot episode is something of a prophetic one. The tale of the “interesting day” that Jayne foresees is told in the episode Ariel, when Jayne betrays Simon and River to the feds in the hope of a reward.

Although I think Ariel is a fantastic story, I don’t think it has ever found its way to the top of my constantly changing list of favourite episodes. For me this is because it is just too painful to see Jayne – a character I have grown to love by this point in the series – acting in, well, such an unlovable manner. But of course this is part of what makes Jayne such a fascinating and believable character. As Nathan Fillion says in the official companion to Firefly, “They could have let [Jayne] be lovable and loyal all the time, like a big Chewbacca, but Jayne’s not Chewbacca. Jayne is a flawed character.”

It is the concept of loyalty that for me forms the thematic backbone of the episode. We learn a lot about where the loyalties of different characters lie. Mal and Jayne in particular can be contrasted in this respect. Mal’s loyalty is to his crew and to such an extent that he considers an attack on any of his crew as an attack on himself, as becomes very clear in his speech to Jayne at the end of the episode. And once Mal considers someone part of his crew, that person slashing another crew member with a knife – as River does to Jayne – doesn’t change that status.

This is my boat, they're part of my crew. No one's getting left. Best you get used to that.

It’s not hard to have some sympathy with Jayne at this point. He has after all just got a “little stabbed”. However, despite being part of Mal’s crew for a while by this time, Jayne does not appear to have grasped the strength of Mal’s loyalty to his crew. From what we know of Jayne’s past, he is something of a fickle character with respect to his loyalties, and as such pretty much Mal’s opposite. We know that Jayne has turned on the people he was with at least twice in the past. In Jaynestown we learn that he turned on his partner Stitch and pushed him out of a hovercraft as they attempted to make their getaway with Magistrate Higgins’ money. Then in Out of Gas we see Jayne turning on Marco and joining Mal for the promise of his own bunk and more money. In both cases, Jayne switches his loyalties for the sake of money. In fact, it’s fair to say that his loyalty is to money itself, rather than the people he is with. Money is definitely something Jayne values highly, as comes out in the comments he makes in the ambulance on the way to the heist on Ariel:

Nothing buys bygones quicker'n cash. Maybe I'll give him a tattoo while he's out.
You let him do his thing, and then you get him out. No messing with him for laughs.
Don't worry about me. Long as I get paid, I'm happy

Before we get to see how Jayne’s betrayal of Simon and River plays out, we see something of where Simon’s loyalties lie as events unfold in the hospital. Mal’s loyalties are to his crew, Jayne’s are to money, but Simon’s are to River. Simon has already risked everything and given up on his career and his parents in order to save his sister. Now on Ariel he risks everything again by setting foot in an Alliance hospital, even though he and River are “tagged fugitives”. The reluctance to leave the safety of Serenity, which he expressed on Jiangyin in the episode Safe, is no longer in evidence. Now that he has a chance to help River, he is prepared to risk capture by the Alliance.

As Simon, Jayne and River make their way to the neuro-imaging suite in the hospital, we also get to see something of Simon’s loyalty as a doctor to patients, even to ones he does not know and does not officially have any responsibility for. River points out to Simon a patient who is in danger of dying due to the incompetence of another doctor. Simon then risks discovery and uses precious time to intervene and save the patient’s life. He even takes the time to chew out the young intern whose mistake nearly cost the patient his life.

Simon’s selflessness in this incident is a clear contrast with Jayne’s selfishness in betraying Simon and River. Simon risks drawing attention to himself by saving a patient he doesn’t even know, whereas Jayne has already betrayed two people with whom he has lived on the same ship for the past several months.

Jayne is not the only one doing some betraying in the episode though. Agent McGinnis arrives on the scene to apprehend Simon and River and promptly betrays Jayne by arresting him too and going back on his promise of a reward. But with a little luck, a lot of brute force and some help from the rest of the crew, Jayne, Simon and River make their escape.

Safely back on Serenity, an oblivious Simon expresses his appreciation to Jayne for his part in the escape:

He was amazing. I can't even begin to tell you... we wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for him. Thank you.
Well, hey. You're part of my crew.

Jayne’s facial expressions during this exchange are worth paying close attention to. He certainly seems to be a little uncomfortable as Simon compliments him. Is it because he thinks he’s about to be found out or because he is starting to feel guilty about his betrayal?

The conversation that then takes place between Mal and Jayne – with the latter on the more precarious side of the airlock doors – reveals just how far apart the two men are in understanding what it means to be loyal to one’s crew.

Money was too good. I got stupid. I’m sorry, okay? Be reasonable. What are you taking this so personal for? It ain’t like I ratted you out to the Feds.
But you did. You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me. But since that’s a concept you can’t seem to wrap your head around then you got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne, and that’s a fact.

Jayne doesn’t seem to think that he was betraying Mal or his crew, but just a couple of passengers that happened to be with them for a while. Mal sees things differently. We’ve already seen him tell a surprised Simon at the end of the episode Safe that he considers him part of his crew. And later, as Shepherd Book lies dying at Haven in the BDM, we will hear Mal tell him that he too is part of his crew.

Jayne himself is of course also part of Mal’s crew and this, together with the glimpse of remorse which he shows at the end, is what saves him.

What are you gonna tell the others?
About what?
'Bout why I'm dead.
I hadn't thought about it.
Make something up. Don't tell them what I did.

Jayne’s plaintive “Can I come in?” is a fitting end to the scene. Mal walks away with the barrier of the airlock doors still separating Jayne from the rest of the ship. Jayne’s moment of remorse may have spared his life, but Mal is not yet ready to let him back into the heart of the ship with the rest of his crew.

There is of course a lot more going on in the episode Ariel than just an exploration of loyalty and betrayal. There are interesting contrasts drawn between the core and the frontier, some great moments of humour in the preparation for the heist, the reappearance of the blue hand men and some insight into what happened to River at the academy. But for me the heart of the episode is the contrast between Mal’s loyalty and Jayne’s betrayal, and the small step in understanding that Jayne makes in understanding what it means to be loyal to your crew.

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