I didn’t catch Firefly in those brief moments while it was on the air, so I saw “Serenity pt.1 & 2” as the DVD pilot. I’m glad, because while “Serenity” got a slow start it was definitely a better pilot. Still, the pilot-like elements of this episode are great for introducing us to the two teams—good guys (our guys) & the big bads.
Niska tells Mal that this job will be a chance for him to prove whether his reputation is solid or only gossip. And this job teaches us about the crew—that they (except Jayne) would rather risk pissing off Niska than steal medicine from terminally ill people. They’re thieves, but they’re not amoral. They might be a lot more successful if they were. And they’re not above killing lethal risks, like the lawman in the pilot & Crow (which I found funnier than I should have).
I agree with one of the commentators on Tor, this episode has a funnier Mal. Serious about some things, but definitely with a sense of humor. In “Serenity,” there’s too much worry over the passengers, the Reavers, the spy, Kaylee being shot, etc. Mal’s humor is there too, but it’s darker…like joking about Kaylee being dead. Here we get him asking Kaylee about “terrible space monkeys.”
While the crew as a whole got development, this episode was more about them as a team. We learned more about Mal as the leader, but we haven’t learned too much about the individual characters yet.
As for bad guys, we got Niska and the Gentlemen. Both show up in later episodes and the writers left the door open so that they could become recurring villains if the series had continued.
Also, the Alliance has a comparatively big presence in the first three episodes: “Serenity,” “Train Job, “Bushwacked.” We see their giant ship/station in all three. It’s not that they’re dropped after this, but it’s mostly local stuff or things the crew knowingly walks into (“Ariel”). These episodes served to establish that the Alliance has a widespread presence and a fleet.
Funniest Moment: Jayne Sees Pretty Lights
This was the point in my first watch when I decided that I really liked Simon. And that Jayne was going to be good for laughs. He’d already gotten some good lines in the episode like the “chain of command” bit, but when he started trying to pick the lights out of the air I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.
Also, a fun reference (or if it wasn’t a reference…well, then that’s awkward) to Jayne in this episode in the Castle season 2 finale was when Nathan Fillion as Castle shoots the gun out of someone’s hand, gets complimented on his shooting, & replies “I was aiming at his head.”
Creepiest Foreshadowing: Two by Two, Hands of Blue
I call them the “Gentlemen” because seriously they’re going to cut your heart out. They do a creeptastic job in “Ariel” and I wish we’d gotten to see more of them. The juxtaposition in this episode between them on the Alliance ship & River curled up in a corner is chilling.