Heeeey! Hey, you! You like free books, right? And you’re all about Twitter? Then make sure you enter my Summer Book Giveaway! I’ve just d-d-d-doubled the base prize pack!
Last night, J and I took part in a Firefly watch party on Chez Twit—something about celebrating Joss Whedon’s birthday, I don’t know, like we need an excuse to watch that show. I’ve been struggling with characterization lately, and Whedon—in conjunction with some absolutely brilliant books I’ve been reading lately—always knows how to curbstomp my tender writerly heart and laugh at my pitiful attempts at character depth and complexity. So I was overanalyzing the characters, as is my wont, and then … just … JAYNE.
(Oh, no, the fact that J resembles Adam Baldwin in no way entered my mind when he was first wooing me. Reeeally.) (I can hear you snerk from here, Mom.)
At first, Jayne can easily be read as a cross of Han Solo and Jean Tannen: yeah, he’d shoot Greedo first, but he’s a lovable oaf, and he’s got the heavy artillery to back it up. But Han and Jean both possess something that Jayne reaches for, but never quite grasps—loyalty. Han acts like it’s all for the money, but he can’t resist knocking Vader off Luke’s tail. Jean will let Locke act like an unbelievably miserable ass and still crack skulls to save him. Jayne … Jayne has no problem cashing a bounty on his friends, dumping his partner (and a box of money) to escape orbit, and swapping sides as long as they offer him a big room. Sometimes, he has the smarts to pull it off, but often, not.
But even that isn’t enough complexity for the hero of Canton. Jayne is always funny, often lovable, and generally ends up doing what he ought, even when he’d prefer not to. He’s not bright—but he knows just enough to be a threat.
“What alignment do you think Jayne is?” I asked J. (Yes, I’m a huge dork. In fairness, we’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder and Baldur’s Gate recently. Alignment matters sometimes! And I will totally be writing a post about it soon.) “Chaotic Neutral, maybe? Unreliable, no concern for law, can easily go either way.”
“Oh, no. He’s Neutral Evil.”
Evil? One of the main “heroes” of the show is evil? That isn’t an easy pill. Of course, a show about law-breaking smugglers is going to be full of the grayscale, but to have a protagonist so solidly bad …
Neutral Evil is called the “Malefactor” alignment. Characters of this alignment are typically selfish and have no qualms about turning on their allies-of-the-moment. […] A villain of this alignment can be more dangerous than either Lawful or Chaotic Evil characters, since he is neither bound by any sort of honor or tradition nor disorganized and pointlessly violent.
Examples are […] a henchman who plots behind his superior’s back, or a mercenary who switches sides if made a better offer.
But it’s absolutely correct. In the show’s little mayfly life, they face plenty of antagonists, but even when Jayne aids the antagonists, he’s not the primary threat—but he always could be. Jayne is the unfired gun. Mal knows it, the crew knows it, but they just can’t face it with all these other threats closing in. The enemy is embedded, and right from the show’s start, that tension is always there:
Mal: How come you didn’t turn on me, Jayne?
Jayne: Money wasn’t good enough.
Mal: What happens when it is?
Jayne: Well… that’ll be an interesting day.
Mal: Imagine it will.
I wish we could have seen it.