10. Wash Plays With His Dinos (“Serenity”)
Nothing else set the tone for Joss Whedon’s affection for unexpected reversals than the opening shot of Wash at the ship’s controls, commenting seriously, “Yes, yes, this looks good.” It’s only when the camera pans around do we see that he’s playing with plastic toy dinos, doing dialogue for both sides. The toy dinos are so integral to Wash’s carefree attitude that they even make a re-appearance in the movie.
9. Kaylee Gets Her Dress (“Shindig”)
One of the things that so endeared us to Kaylee is that even though she’s a lower class engine jockey, she’s still a girly-girl at heart. As part of a job, Mal buys Kaylee a dress that would make any young girl squeal with happiness: fluffy, frilly, extravagant, princess-worthy. It’s all “the job” from Mal’s angle, but it’s touching to see how much this dress means to Kaylee. At the end of the episode, she’s just sitting on her bed, looking with longing at the dress hanging opposite of her.
8. The Crew Is Interviewed By The Alliance (“Bushwhacked”)
Due to Fox’s reshuffling of the episode airdates, the second and third Firefly episodes suddenly became the first and second shown. This forced the writers to work in a lot of character backstories and explanations into these episodes, which resulted in scenes such as the interrogation montage of “Bushwhacked”. For my money, there’s been no better way to quickly get a feel for each character than this scene, where they’re individually put on the hotseat and asked to talk about themselves and their jobs. Kaylee technobabbles, Wash waxes poetic about his wife’s body, Mal holds back grim retorts about the war, and Jayne just glares. Perfect.
7. Mal Confronts Jayne (“Ariel”)
Mal might come across as heartless and immoral, but in the absence of his faith, there is one thing he clings onto tightly: the sense that his crew is his family. After discovering that Jayne betrayed and tried to collect Simon and River’s bounty, Mal tricks him into an airlock and prepares to blow him into space. What happens then is an honest heart-to-heart confrontation between the father figure and the betrayer. Mal’s line of “You turn on ANY of my crew, you turn on me!” reveals the depth of his commitment to his “family”, and it’s only when Jayne shows a slice of remorse that Mal grants a reprieve.
6. Zoe and Wash’s Marriage (“War Stories”, “Ariel” and others)
Most ensemble shows begin with a group of single characters, to allow for the possibility of future romance and the Very Special Wedding Episode. Firefly gets major cool points by beginning with an already-married couple, who couldn’t be more different than the other, but who also love each other quite a bit. Loving, married couples are a rarity in dramas, and the little slices of their relationship are fresh revelations in this TV wasteland. Wash is jealous of his wife and Mal’s close friendship, and Zoe loses her hard-ass edge around the whimsical pilot. They bicker, they share private jokes, they make sweet, geeky love. All good stuff.
5. Tracey’s Funeral (“The Message”)
Joss might not know how to do happy very often, but he does sad and reflective quite well. Although it was only a character that we got to know over the space of a single episode, Lt. Tracey’s death was dealt with as graceful of a funeral scene that’s been seen in any show. It means more than just the death of the character – it’s the revelation to Mal that, in some ways, the war (and casualties) are still ongoing.
4. Early’s Intimidating Little Talks (“Objects in Space”)
Early the bounty hunter was an interesting cat. While quite skilled at his profession, he doesn’t fall into either the bombastic evil Darth Vader nor the silent-yet-deadly Boba Fett categories (to go the Star Wars route). Instead, here’s a guy who’s clearly gone a bit loopy over the years, and his unnerving chatter (“Am I a lion?”) throws off the crew in knowing how to deal with him. It’s when he oh-so-casually threatens Kaylee with rape that his nonsensical babbling throws some cold water down your spine, and you begin to see how disconnected he is with his morality and world.
3. Inara Breaks Down (“Heart of Gold”)
While defending a hooker house from a gang of bullies, Mal finds mutual attraction with the head hooker, Nandi. After a night together, Mal leaves the room to bump into Inara, who – being in the sex trade herself – seemingly finds nothing wrong with his actions and even compliments him for comforting her. However, as soon as she gets to be alone, Inara bursts into tears, feeling the pain of having her love sleep with another woman (which is sorta ironic, dontcha think?). Sex isn’t without meaning, consequences or connections, after all.
2. Mal First Sees Serenity (“Out of Gas”)
From perhaps the best-written episode in the series, here we see the crew as they originally assembled and how Mal first found his ship. Working backwards through the timeline, the last shot of the episode is of a salesman trying to broker a large spaceship with Mal – however, Mal catches sight of a solid little Firefly-class ship a ways off, and you can see the love light up in his eyes. “A ship like this, she’ll be with you for the rest of your life.”
1. “The Hero Of Canton” (“Jaynestown”)
Jayne was an instant fan-favorite of the show, and it’s not hard to see why. His big, dumb, gruff demeanor was often offset by his goofy hat. His bad boy actions were forgiven when he’d give his classic quotes. And we just needed someone on the crew who was even less goody-two-shoes than Mal. Jayne’s defining moment came when, after discovering a town that worshiped him for a botched robbery that they mistook for charity, he entered a pub to hear the immortal ballad of “The Hero of Canton”. Not only is it hysterical, particularly if you know Jayne, but the tune’s gone down as perhaps even more popular with Browncoats than the theme song.