I’ve been watching the TV series Firefly, which was on for one season in 2002-2003. It is science fiction. Although it was only on for one season (plus a movie was made to wrap up the story), it gained a cult following. I thought that the pilot was boring, but I have been enjoying the episodes after that. It is light and funny. I particularly like Shepherd Book, the preacher with a mysterious past, who is kind to everyone he meets.
Last night, I watched the episode “Jaynestown.” That episode has a lot of good things: Shepherd Book and River talks about biblical contradictions and inaccuracies, and what faith really means; the companion Inara teaches a 26-year-old virgin what it means to be a man.
The episode revolves, however, around a town that is honoring Jayne. Jayne is played by Adam Baldwin, and he is crass, blunt, and rather self-centered. I think of what Leia said about Han Solo in Star Wars: “Your friend is quite a mercenary. I wonder if he cares about anything. Or anybody.” Jayne and some people of the Firefly crew are going to a planet, and Jayne insists on disguising himself because he caused trouble there years earlier. They arrive on the planet, and they see a statue of…Jayne!
They go to a bar, and people are singing a song about Jayne. The song says that Jayne stood up to the magistrate and robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Jayne dropped money on the peasant mud-makers from his aircraft.
Jayne then remembers what it is they are talking about. When he was last on the planet, Jayne stole money from the magistrate. When he was in his aircraft, he had to drop cargo in order to lighten the plane. He accidentally let out the money.
The mud-makers recognize Jayne, and they treat him like a hero. Jayne learns that his presence inspired the mud-makers to unite and stand up against the magistrate. “You had a riot on account of me?”, he says. Jayne delights in his celebrity status.
The magistrate learns that Jayne has returned, and the magistrate releases someone from a box, which is jail on that planet. The prisoner is Stitch, who was Jayne’s partner in crime years earlier. Jayne not only let cargo out of the aircraft to lighten the plane. Jayne also let out Stitch!
When Jayne gives a speech to the mud-makers in front of his statue, Stitch shows up to confront him. Stitch tells everyone the type of man that Jayne really is. Stitch says that Jayne dropped him from the aircraft, and that the money only fell out of the aircraft by accident. When Jayne replies that Stitch would have done the same thing to him, Stitch vehemently denies that. Stitch says that partners are supposed to have each other’s back.
Stitch shoots Jayne, and a boy from the mud-makers jumps in front of Jayne and takes the bullet for him. Jayne is mortified that someone would die for him. “What’s wrong with you?,” he shouts. “Didn’t you hear a word that he said? All of you people, do you think someone would drop money on you, money that they could use? Well, there ain’t people like that. There’s just people like me.” Jayne goes to the statue and knocks it down.
On the Firefly, Jayne is by himself, feeling sad. The captain, Mal, comes to talk to him. Jayne laments that the mud-makers on the planet probably raised the statue back up after they (the Firefly crew) left. Mal replies that there are a lot of people who have statues made of them, and many of them were probably SOBs. What is important is not whether Jayne deserved that statue. Rather, it’s what the people needed.
I do not know if this event will change Jayne in any way. On some level, Jayne is resigned to being the sort of person he is. On the other hand, can one be given that sort of undeserved admiration—-which includes someone dying for him—-and be unchanged by that, at least a little bit?
I thought of a few things after watching that episode. In the movie Saving Private Ryan, a group of Allied soldiers save Private Ryan so he can return alive to his mother, but they all get killed in the process. The Captain, played by Tom Hanks, tells Private Ryan right before he dies to “Earn this.”
There was a story on ABC News last night about a department store Santa reaching out to a kid with autism. The Santa listened to the boy telling him about autism and told him that he was a good boy. This story has been liked and shared on Facebook thousands of times. This department store Santa was probably a regular human being, with flaws like the rest of us. He wasn’t even really Santa Claus! But he got to be part of a sacred occasion.
From a Christian perspective, I think about Christ sacrificing himself for us and giving us honor that we do not deserve. Does that impact or change me in any way? It should, but it is often an abstract doctrine for me. That is why it is good to see examples of that kind of theme in stories, and in real life.