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August 05 2005

Tonight on SciFi: 'The Train Job'. The pilot that wasn't really the pilot. An episode that was written over two days cause Fox didn't like the original 2 hour pilot. And the episode where the action scenes may have come from one of Tim Minear's Angel scripts. A behind the scenes look at Serenity will be shown during tonight's airing.

More Whedon and Minear commentary on the first ever Firefly episode to be aired (from Cinefantastique).


“The Train Job” is a funny little piece and generally tends to be discounted, though I like it a lot. The network said, “We don’t like the pilot, write another one.” It was Friday afternoon around 5:00 and they said, “You know how we wanted you to pitch us a story to give us an idea of what the show would be like? Actually, we want you to write a new pilot that’s one-hour long and it has to be on our desks before we get into work on Monday.” So Tim Minear and I looked at each other and said, “Okay.”

Well, in two days we wrote “The Train Job,” which had the extraordinarily difficult and ultimately self-defeating task of trying to introduce nine people who have already met to an audience without making it sound really, really hokey. As a result, a lot got lost on people and the resonance of the relationships disappeared. In the pilot, we really let things sit and take their own time a little bit. That was sort of a mission statement for the show, because it wasn’t originally going to be as action-oriented as it ended up being. I told Fox I didn’t really think we could afford that. That’s why we were doing a drama in space and why we have so many people, with some action and, obviously, humor. And they were, like, “Okay, so when you say drama, do action.” So “The Train Job” just didn’t have the time necessary to make you care about all of these people. You just sort of saw them go by in a flash and hoped you picked up who they were and what they did. But I still think the episode was extremely fun and funny and has a really cool floating train in it.

I would say that the most compromised episode of any of them was “Train Job,” and it’s not like we’re ashamed of that. If that came in as the second or third episode after the pilot and was kind of a light-hearted heist episode, people would have loved it. A lot of people liked it fine and a lot of people like it more now that they’ve seen the rest of the series, but coming into the series with that episode was awkward and it confused people. By the way, if it was the second or third episode after the pilot, you wouldn’t have a first act where everyone was going, “Hello, my name is...” You wouldn’t need that.

I actually like the episode. It will never be my favorite episode, but I like it plenty. Actually, I probably like it more than a lot of people, because now that the pain of that weekend is over and the fond memory of being punch drunk with exhaustion and going up to Joss and saying, “I don’t want to write the action scenes. Can’t I take some action scenes from one of my Angel scripts and change the names?” And he was all for that, because we both hate writing action scenes.

why does Mal vamp in this scene?

Heh :p.

The thought of two world class writers staring at each other trying to script an episode over two days. Unbelievable. You could actually make a one-off drama about it. Dunno who would play Joss and Tim though.
My favorite moment in this episode is when Simon dopes Jayne and he starts hallucinating about angels. "Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?" That cracks me up every time!

[ edited by electricspacegirl on 2005-08-05 23:28 ]
Good stuff...I like-not-love this episode, it a lot.

Just looked at the Sci-fi synopsis of it...seems to me it gives away pretty much the entire story, rather than just hinting...How about:

"When Mal and Zoe learn the actual contents of what Serenity's crew has agreed to steal for a ruthless crime lord, they are forced to reconsider...with potentially disastrous results for the entire crew."

Not perfect, but why give the whole story (minus some choice moments and dialogue, of course) away?
Two days! Good lord. I'm writing my TV specs now. The idea of being able to write a coherent episode in two days just blows me away.
In what AtS episode, exactly, was Spike supposed to jump on a train from a spaceship floating over it? :P

Anyway, that makes me think about the parallels (or not) between FF (FireFly, not Fantastic four... urk...) characters and AtS characters (I wrote Spike above, because to me it is the nearest to Jayne).
Wasn't thrilled with the Train Job on it's first airing, but now love it because I know the characters. It makes a huge difference knowing who the people are. I do blame this entirely on Fox because they had a perfectly great pilot already. But now when I watch the Train Job I find a lot that I love about it - especially the Jayne scenes - "I was aiming for his head" and the end when the guy gets kicked into the engine and Mal, without missing a beat, starts to talk to the next guy.
i'm so glad they are airing these again, but sci-fi channel comes in really fuzzy at my house. it's very annoying, you pay for cable, and it looks like you have rabbit ears on your TV. and i live in San Francisco, which should be a big market for the show. CBS comes in fuzzy too, so no CSI either. weird.

so glad they are airing them in the PROPER ORDER! i love this episode, (especially the drugging of jayne mentioned above.) but it is not a very good pilot episode. it is amazing how fast they turned it out though!
The "extra" bit from Serenity turned out to be about a minute from the movie.
So THAT was the "behind the scenes" bit? Not that I'm complaining... well, not REALLY anyways. But I mean c'mon.
Yeah, I feel gipped. I mean, it's funny, especially the looks between Zoe and River, but honestly, come on. If you're going to show a trailer, show one that gets people more excited. The trailers are starting to show more and more...
Yeah, I was primed for some behind-the-scenes goodies, as they advertized last week. Wonder what happened?
The Trainjob is the first episode I saw when it aired on Fox(duh). I didn't like the episode. It confused me and I felt like I was watching the 2nd episode(hmmmm?) of the show. Now I find it ok but its still not one of the best. My favorite parts in the episode are when Mal kicks the guy in the engine and when Jayne gets passed out. Adam's line reading of "I was aiming for his head" is hillarious. For some reason I really like Inara brushing Kaylee's hair. I like when the girls bond.(i.e. Kaylee and River in OiS)

And I was dissapointed there was no behind the scenes stuff. Maybe they changed their minds and decided to put it on MSN instead. I before had thought the score music from that comic con cd would go great with the movie. Now that I've seen it with a scene I'm positive. Can't wait for September.

Anusien, that wasn't a trailer really. It was a whole scene from the movie. I imagine spoiler phobes quickly turned the channel.

[ edited by eddy on 2005-08-06 02:35 ]
So I caved today and bought BG Season One with the Firefly/Serenity extra stuff (including extras from Serenity with actors' and Joss' blips and blurbs of commentary but not loads of new Serenity stuff and no real spoilers). I'm guessing that's where Universal wants us to first look for behind-the-scenes stuff, because I don't buy DVDs very often but I wanted to catch up on BG anyway. If you consider yourself a "die hard rabid fan" or the like, Joss' few minute commentary on THE FANS, and clips about the 5,000 in attendance at Dragon Con 2004, and the actor/fan reaction at this summer's first two Serenity screenings, you'll pretty much be ok with the asking retail price. Why not? Lots of BG fans are getting sucked in as we speak. Joss sneaks up on the uninitiated potentials like that. I'm so pleased with SciFi I'm happy to shell out a few for these little nuggets. They're like Scooby Snacks.

I also liked The Train Job after I watched it a couple times. For some reason, I find Mal's line after the sherrif informs him of Bloggs' death to be the funniest. It's something like, "Would his job be open then?" And "I was weak" from Zoe to Inara. Nathan is hilarious and yeah right, a weak Zoe.

And oh yeah, I totally knew I'd seen those punches before. :)
The first Firefly episode I ever watched.
Got to be sincere, I didn't fell in love with it, head start. It was confusing at the begininng, it took time to get along with the story, while trying to know the characters.

Loved the "Don Ma" scene with Jayne during the heist, and all the eastern and western culture mix up thing. But it was a lot to take as a first jump into the Verse.

However, I learned to love "Train Job" after multiple viewings, I just love Niska so much as Villain. I'm not even sure I'm using the right words to describe him, but he owns a bluntness and a something very classy in his actions, that makes him very compelling. Even after "War Stories", I always felt, Niska should be one of those villains, that should make an appearance once in a while, sort of like a Fireflyverse's "Ethan Rayne".

I was just reminded again about "Train Job" again, a few hours ago, because I went to see Michael Bay's "The Island", and they got hovering trains in the movie. From the moment I saw it, I started remembering about the Alliances troops, heists, and seeing Serenity hovering over the train from this episode of Firefly.

It was too long ago that I watched the episode in Full Screen, so I can't really remember how to describe the difference between watching it in Full Screen and afterwards in widescreen through the DVD.
I've loved both sci-fi and westerns since I was a little kid. I was in love with Firefly before the first commercial break in The Train Job. I think it was the moment Mal went flying through a holographic bar window. I love how the series plays with the Western tropes, like the "hooker with a heart of gold". Miss Kitty and Inara would've got along just fine, I think.

(Miss Kitty was the redheaded poker-playing madam in Gunsmoke, for those who don't know.)
(Miss Kitty was the redheaded poker-playing madam in Gunsmoke, for those who don't know.)

Oh, god, now I really feel old.

Interesting comparison of Inara and Miss Kitty, though. I hadn't thought about it before, but in both Gunsmoke and Firefly there is the sustained suggestion of a relationship that is more than what is presented to the audience. (I can't remember -- wasn't there finally, toward the end of its long run, or perhaps in one of the reunion specials, an on-air acknowledgement of Matt Dillon's and Miss Kitty's more intimate relationship?) But there is, of course, a major difference, in that we see all the evidence of Inara's profession, whereas, with Miss Kitty, we have to understand what her profession is by signifiers (especially the red hair). I grew up thinking she was just a tough woman (yes, with a heart of gold) who owned the saloon and who had a crush on Dillon. All else was lost on me (until I was older and more worldly).
Went to a friend's house for an impromptu watching party (I don't have cable, so I'd been watching the previous eps on DVD at home to "keep up" with her). A friend of my friend who I'd never met before, and who had no previous exposure to the Jossverse, showed up shortly before airtime, curious and intrigued. In stereo, we both tried to fill her in on the 'verse backstory as best we could in ten minutes. It's possible she was a little overwhelmed ;) She seemed to enjoy what she saw and laughed at most of the amusing parts (which I'd like to think wasn't entirely due to the wine we were drinking), but we all agreed it would have been better if we'd had time to prime her with the two-parter beforehand. After it was over, the friend left, promising to watch next week's ep with her sons; the two of us settled in and watched four more episodes, just to keep the momentum going. It's like eating potato chips -- you can't stop at just one!

I remember hearing about Firefly months before it premiered and being incredibly excited at the prospect of three JW shows on TV at the same time. Such an embarrassment of riches! For about a month or so, it was heaven -- Buffy on Tuesday, Angel on Wednesday and then Firefly on Friday. Like most everyone I've run into, I wasn't bowled over by The Train Job in its initial run; I warmed to the characters immediately and really enjoyed the zestful note Niska brought to the mix (he was a terrific villain with some distinctly Angelus-like overtones), but it just didn't have the fully rounded tone and complex interplay I'd anticipated from a Joss/Tim collaboration.

When I found out some weeks later that the ep had been a weekend rewrite, I was astonished the fellows were able to come up with something that good under extreme duress. It was definitely weak compared to everything that followed, but in retrospect it still managed to equal -- and in certain scenes, exceed -- the quality of most other drama/action shows on at the time (and it was certainly worlds better than the half-baked John Doe, which FOX promoted ad nauseum). Mostly, TTJ was an early barometer reading of things to come. I knew if this was the worst episode in the entire run, we'd be in for one hell of an adventure. I wasn't wrong!
To be contrarian, must admit to feeling a lot of sympathy for Niska in this episode, he hires a professional thief to do a job for him, he goes to great some would say extreme lengths to make sure that said thief understands the importance of the mission.
The 'professional thief' doesn't bother to find out what he is going to steal before he takes the job, makes no effort to find out whether there are any guards on the train and when he succeeds with the theft and finds out what he is stealing not only reneges on the deal but also kills one of Niskas trusted employees.

No wonder he was PO'd.

But, if Niska had known more about Mal's good heart he might have told him about his own mining operation and how important it was that his people got the medicine on time, specifically since the Alliance didn't allow him to buy it since he was an independent like Mal.

What would Cap'n Mal have done then ?
What would Cap'n Mal have done then ?

Maybe he would've wised up enough to (a) find out if Niska actually had a mining operation with lots of ailing people (unlikely but ya never know!), and then, (b) thought to pick Simon's brain about Alliance hospitals and pharmaceutical operations.

Don't forget, poor Mr. Niska was expecting an earful from the Mrs. at dinnertime for torturing the nephew, tsk tsk. After giving the dopey kid a job in the first place, poor put upon Niska! It sure ain't easy being an evil overlord, is it? Maybe Tim & Joss should've done a Sopranos-like riff on Niska -- imagine pitching that to the evil overlords at Fox, "it's the Sopranos meets Star Wars!"

All joking aside, in hindsight, TTJ while structurally weak, is filled with plenty of wonderful character notes: Mal asking Inara if she's got time to do his hair too; Zoe telling Mal his brain is missing and then asking for his share if he gets killed; Kaylee's cheerful admission of crime-doing to Simon; and everything Jayne says and does! Plus Greg Henry as the sheriff does a wonderful job. His last exchange with Mal in the desert effectively introduces us to Mal's moral universe in a simple, straightforward way, without making the episode too neat. Nothing is simple in Mal's 'verse, but it's clear that he's no Niska and is more than willing to risk his life to stay that way.
Niska's "own mining operation" eh? Oh come on. You know he was just planning to black-market the medicine back to the unfortunate miners at twice the price. ;-)
Who else loves that the airings have the heres how it was intro at the beginning? or the Firefly insignia at the end?
I just had a thought. (An amazing event in itself that deserves an announcement.) Wouldn't it have been cool if Joss had managed to do a "Prevously on Firefly" teaser for The Train Job when it aired on Fox as the first episode? It could have had scenes from Serenity I & II to help explain what was going on. Talk about making people crazy, while at the same time making it less confusing. ;-)
Who else loves that the airings have the heres how it was intro at the beginning? or the Firefly insignia at the end?

Me! I was in the next room doing some 'splainin' to my friend's friend when when I heard, "Here's how it was --" and took off running. What a marvelous feeling, sitting down and knowing thousands of others, in various states of gleeful anticipation, were doing the same thing at the same moment. I've missed that sensation of communion and bonding with my invisible brethren every week more than I realized.
Well, it was during 'The Train Job' that I fell in love with 'Firefly' and Jayne in particular, so I say they did a good job :-)

'Management is not responsible for ball failure' [gg]

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