The Train Job

Episode Report Card
Shack: C | 30 USERS: A-
Confederacy Of Dunces

Cut to a space station. Creepy, foreboding music plays as Mal, Jayne, and Sydney's Nemesis are led down a hall to a room. They're greeted by a large, shirtless man with the requisite facial tattoo of bad-assity. They are invited in by an elderly man in a suit with a ridiculously exaggerated Russian/Eastern European accent. The guy makes Dennis Hopper sound like Meryl Streep. Or something like that. Everybody is introduced. We finally learn that Sydney's Nemesis is actually Mal's first mate, Zoe. The guy with the facial tattoo of bad-assity is named Crow. The elderly man is, of course, Niska. Clearly, the concept behind Niska is "seemingly innocent, grandfatherly man who is really an evil, murderous psychopath." Unfortunately, Niska is such a broad stereotype of a Russian mob boss with comically broken English that I can't even begin to take him seriously as a villain.

Down to business. Niska has a job for our intrepid anti-heroes. It's a train heist. Niska asks them if they want to know what it is they'll be stealing before they accept. Mal declines the details, because he's just a mercenary who does whatever pays. Remember that for later. Niska is pleased, and blathers on about reputations and gossip and blah blah blah. Niska knows that he's a Very Bad Man. He knows that everybody else knows that he's a Very Bad Man. He wants them to know. Why else would he be a Very Bad Man? By way of proof, he orders Crow to slide open a door in the office, revealing a slightly bloody corpse of a man hanging upside-down. So now our anti-heroes know that the gossip is true. Niska explains that this guy was his nephew and failed to complete a "job" for him. Niska blathers on some more about reputation and gossip and blah evil blah. Our anti-heroes look slightly uncomfortable at this turn of events, because they are cynical thieves with hearts of gold, not stone-cold killers. Niska heads back to his desk to explain the details about the train. He's got what appears to be a monitor stuck flat on the surface of the desk where the rest of us have calendars. He explains (as the monitor illustrates) that he wants the crew to steal two boxes of Alliance goods for him. The theft will take place while this train is between Hancock and Paradiso, and then they will rendezvous with Crow for the delivery. They get half the money up front, the other half once they drop the goods. Seems like a simple job, so everybody who has ever watched television before knows that it's going to go terribly awry.

Cut to the shot of the train in question, a high-speed, anti-gravity vehicle that zooms across some random desert over a single track. Despite the high-tech exterior of the train, the inside is as dusty and dismal as a cattle car. This is starting to get a little ridiculous. The inside of the train is lit with cheesy little lanterns that you see in Chinese restaurants. You know, I get the idea that Joss didn't want create a totally Anglicized vision of the future like so many sci-fi shows do, but these Asian touches are actually more like an Anglicized vision of Eastern cultures, not a realistic blending of the two worlds. A barmaid dressed like a geisha girl here, a fringed lantern there -- it doesn't really add up to much. Mal and Zoe sit in a couple of seats, synchronizing their space watches and what have you. As they make their way through the train to the storage car, Zoe reiterates for us that Niska is a Very Bad Man. We know. We were there, too. We actually don't need this exposition, but thanks anyway. The two of them leave their train car and enter the next one. They're stopped short to discover that the next train is full of Alliance guards in body armor. Oops. You know, if these guys were actually any good at this, they would have, oh, I don't know -- paid attention when passengers were boarding the train so they'd know what to expect. But where would the drama be in that?

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