The man they call Jayne…”
On paper, Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) is a difficult man to love. And that’s because, at first glance, Firefly’s intimidating mercenary-for-hire and gun-toting maniac (not to mention the wearer of the “sweetest hat” in the whole goddamn ‘verse) was seemingly written into the show to serve as a foil to the rest of Serenity’s crew. To act as the immoral flipside to their moral compasses. To… well, to add some friction and jeopardy to proceedings.
In my opinion, though, this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Jayne Cobb is Flawed, But is He Hopeless?
Now, we all know that Joss Whedon has a penchant for Badder Than Bad Guys With A Sweeping Redemption Arc – just look at James Marsters’ Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you don’t believe me. But Jayne, unlike his vampiric parallel, doesn’t have to redeem himself from a past of murder and violence. Well, fine – he does. But he ALSO has to break down all of his ever-present character flaws, too.
Character flaws like, say, being a total money hog. Or making wildly inappropriate comments whenever he feels awkward. Or being incredibly spiteful towards his friends when he’s wrongfooted. Or always always ALWAYS thinking with what’s in his trousers rather than, y’know, the brain in his head.
The Relatable Rogue
Jayne isn’t a glamorous bleached blonde vampire with a soul to earn, essentially. His flaws are lower, meaner… and far more relatable than any of Whedon’s other antiheroes. This is saying a lot, considering this is, essentially, a futuristic Western set in the depths of space.
Now, a lot of this is down to Baldwin’s imagination, because he dreamed up a pretty “oh my god, I feel so seen” backstory for his beloved Firefly character.
“I see Jayne as sort of a black sheep of a middle-class family, who just got bored with his middle-class life and was looking for adventure on the frontier,” he told one Firefly fansite.
“He escaped from whatever they may have been, with no [feelings of] animosity towards his family… [he just saw this as a] way of escaping, seeing what’s out there. It’s just his sorta way of going to college; the school of hard knocks.”
We’ve all at some point dreamed of escaping the drudgery of our 9-to-5 existence; Jayne is what happens when you try and escape via a homemade shortcut. You fall into bad ways, bad habits. You fall in with a bad crowd. And that’s you done, destined for a life of misery and (most likely) misbehaving…
Except, in this instance, our good kid gone wrong gets lucky. Because he learns how to misbehave in the RIGHT way.
Jayne’s Shot at Redemption
As seen in the Firefly episode ‘Out of Gas’ (S1, Ep5), Jayne is involved in a trigger-happy heist aboard an old Firefly-class ship when, just like that, he gets a bigger and better offer from the intended target – one Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). It is at this point that history is made. Because this fateful meeting proves a turning point for Jayne – albeit not right away, obviously.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, though, we see the man who would shoot his partner for a big beautiful bag of cash – who would toss his oldest friend out of a fast-moving vehicle for an even bigger, more beautiful bag of cash – turn into someone who…
Well, fine. Someone who would try and turn Simon (Sean Maher) and River Tam (Summer Glau) – the newest members of Team Serenity, and therefore his colleagues – over to The Alliance for a big beautiful bag of cash. We saw him do as much in the show’s eighth (ninth, in Whedon’s preferred run order) episode, ‘Ariel’ (S1, Ep8)…
Or did we?