Firefly is now 16 years old, so it’s about time we ranked the episodes from the ones that don’t work quite as well to the ones that are truly unforgettable.
Much like Buffy, Firefly is the brainchild of Joss Whedon and a show that has captured many fans’ hearts. Most people know the tragic story about how its time on Fox was cut short, which is why we only have 14 episodes (I’m counting the extended premiere as a single entity).
Since its premiere, Firefly has gained cult status, which inspired Whedon and the cast to film a follow-up movie called Serenity. Since it’s hard to compare apples and oranges, Serenity won’t be ranked alongside the show’s individual episodes, but just know it would have been near the top of my list.
And that’s the other caveat — these are my rankings alone. I haven’t consulted with any other Hypable writers and my only criteria was how each episode made me feel after each rewatch. I’m sure some of these line up with the general consensus (it won’t be hard to peg my number one episode), but there may be a few surprises along the way.
So without further ado, here are…
‘Firefly’s’ best episodes, ranked from least to most shiny
‘Our Mrs. Reynolds’
I hate this episode with a fiery passion. It’s not a bad episode, per se, and the actress who portrays Saffron is incredible in the role, but I don’t like the character or how she shakes things up with the rest of the crew. Maybe I’m bitter because I was caught as off guard as the rest of them, but either way, this isn’t an episode I enjoy rewatching at all. I thought the concept was put to better use in “The Message.”
One of the few highlights of “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is Inara, who is typically a highlight at any given moment anyway. I love how she sees through Saffron, and I even enjoy the tension that’s constantly between her and Mal but which shows up in spades during this episode.
‘The Train Job’
I don’t hate “The Train Job” like I hate “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” but it doesn’t stand out as much as many of the other episodes. This one shows Mal being a good guy, wanting to return the medicine to the people who need it, and the ending does leave me with some warm fuzzies. It even shows Simon with some backbone, which is nice to see every once in a while.
However, River hardly features in this episode, and considering it’s the second in the series, right after her discovery in “Serenity,” it’s such a let down to have us wait to learn more.
I’m not a big fan of Jayne, who’s a pretty gross character all in all. His attitude toward women makes me uncomfortable on his best days, and he’s not exactly a trustworthy guy. That said, when he does occasionally get involved in some heroics, it lands well. The only problem is, you never believe he’ll continue along that path.
“Jaynestown” is a pretty funny episode, but even better, we see Jayne’s good side emerge with some gusto. He ends up thinking the townspeople are pretty dumb, but he’s still greatly impacted by their reverence and sacrifice. I’d like to think he grows a little in this episode, if only temporarily.
‘Heart of Gold’
I like moments in “Heart of Gold,” but overall, it’s another fairly forgettable episode. We’re mostly focusing on Inara and Mal’s relationship here, and even though I appreciate that, it doesn’t go the way you want it to. On top of that, it doesn’t further the show’s overall plot, and considering it’s near the end of the series’ run, it feels like a waste of time.
I do love Nandi, though, and it’s nice to see everyone working together to help out the women in her care. Mal finds comfort in the former companion, and while there isn’t love, there’s a mutual respect and admiration. It’s something that could’ve turned into a deep and trusting friendship had things played out better. Inara’s emotional reaction to Mal sleeping with her friend is heartbreaking but necessary to see.
‘Objects in Space’
I mostly like this episode because River is brilliant and terrifying in equal measure. For the first time in the series we feel very much in her head and we realize that although she’s not always with it, she is aware of what everyone thinks of her. How heartbreaking. But we also see her taking charge of her own destiny and saving the entire crew at the same time. The fact that everyone welcomes her back with open arms is the icing on the cake.
What brings this episode down is Jubal Early, the bounty hunter after River. He’s a mysterious and terrifying character, but it always makes me uncomfortable to watch him on screen. He’s clearly a psychopath and a sadist, one who doesn’t necessarily take pleasure in every act of violence but certainly takes pleasure in threatening it. His interaction with Kaylee in particular makes my skin crawl. Maybe that’s the mark of a good character or maybe that’s the mark of a character who goes too far to be appreciated.
This is another episode that doesn’t further the plot of the show too much, but its saving grace is how tense and action-packed it is. We’re introduced to the Reavers, which will play a large part in the movie, while also having to deal with Simon and River’s very near capture. Those two plot lines coming together and intersecting is what truly makes this episode enjoyable.
The vibe of this episode is also much darker than we’ve seen so far, even though it’s only the third one of the series. It sets a precedent that Firefly might not always be a fun romp, which helps keep the show interesting and balanced. I’m honestly reminded of the Doctor Who episode “Midnight,” which is also self-contained and shows that everything might not be what it seems.
The pilot episode of Firefly is a reasonably good one, which is why it comes in at the middle of the pack here. You’re always going to be bogged down by exposition in a series premiere, and while that does happen in this case, it comes with an action-filled opening that immediately grabs your attention.
What sticks out to me most in “Serenity” is that we immediately get an inkling of River’s powers, which makes me want to keep watching. She’s by far the most mysterious part of the show, and I always want to keep learning more — which is why “The Train Job” is so disappointing (and yes, I know about Fox’s issue with the pilot). I’m also always hesitant toward Mal, who appears to live in the grey area in this episode a lot more than he does in other episodes where he’s being a Big Damn Hero.
For as much as I hate Saffron, I do enjoy her presence in this episode. I chalk that up to the fact that I already know I shouldn’t trust her, so I’m always on the lookout for some shady business. The actress is still wonderful, and even though she was trying to con Mal and the crew, it’s fascinating to see her switching roles at the drop of a hat.
But the real reason why I love this episode is because Mal gets one over on her. Inara was supposed to be their backup plan, but she ended up being the saving grace in the end. It’s satisfying to see Mal win this one, but perhaps even more satisfying that Inara was the one to win it for him. Plus, you know, we got to see his butt.
Whenever I rewatch this episode, I always think I’m going to like it less than I do. Having seen it before, I obviously know Tracey isn’t really dead and that he’s trying to use Mal and Zoe to get out of trouble. It doesn’t much make you want to like the guy, but the actor is so personable that you start to fall for his tricks every time.
I think what makes this episode work better than “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is that you feel sorry for Tracey in the end. He’s a dumb kid who made some big mistakes and got what he deserved, but you also know he didn’t mean to be malicious. He didn’t have the same intent as Saffron did when she was trying to con the crew. Tracey’s death scene always gets me to cry, and that emotional resonance is what makes this episode nearly break my top 5.
I don’t know why I love “Shindig” so much. Even upon rewatching the episode, I can see everything that’s wrong with it. Mal is crude to Kaylee and dismissive of her feelings, and Inara rightfully calls out Mal’s hypocrisy in punching Atherton for calling her a whore and turning around and doing the same. I really don’t like Mal in this episode, but he does learn some lessons along the way and gets one over on Atherton.
Kaylee gets to be front and center in “Shindig,” and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much. She’s longing for that pink ruffled dress and she’s feeling down and out after Mal is rude to her. Luckily, Mal does have a heart and gets her the dress, and while he uses her as part of his cover story to get into the party, he also could’ve used anyone. I like to think he chose her to make up for what he said, and Kaylee ends up having a swell time talk to all the men about their ships.
One of the best parts about “Safe” is that we learn more about River and Simon. Not only do we get to see some flashbacks of them before everything went to hell, we see River truly happy for the first time. She’s dancing around and in those moments we get a better sense of her personality. Of course, that all ends up going to hell, too, but at least there was a calm before the storm.
This episode adds to the mystery by revealing more about River’s powers and adds to the tension by putting Shepherd Book’s life on the line. Mal swooping in and saving Simon and River always makes me happy because it shows he starting to care for these two strangers like they’re a part of his crew.
Wash is so, so stupid in this episode. And I love every second of it. He’s jealous of Mal and Zoe’s relationship, and although I don’t think he believes there’s actually any unresolved tension between them, his insecurities get the better of his judgment. He decides to take Zoe’s place on a mission, and everything goes downhill from there.
Mal and Wash’s banter is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, especially when Mal has to start hitting below the belt just to keep Wash angry enough to stay alive. We see Zoe in full Warrior Woman regalia as she and Wash lead Mal’s rescue mission. I love that Wash realizes he’s been stupid and steps up to the plate, and Zoe never blames him though she and Mal do enjoy poking fun at how ridiculous he was. This episode is equal parts action, heart, and laughs, and it deserves its place in my top 3.
It’s so difficult to choose between “Ariel” and “Out of Gas,” although I think the latter hits just a little bit harder than this one. That being said, “Ariel” is a fantastic episode for so many reasons. I love Simon in this episode because he takes charge, not only of the mission, but of the way the rest of the crew sees him. He’s clearly no longer afraid of Jayne (though maybe he should be) and he’s using that big brain of his to take care of his sister and help out the crew at the same time.
It’s difficult to see Jayne betray Mal and the others, but it’s not at all surprising. Mal knows he can’t trust Jayne, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow the bitter pill of what his crewmember did. Our beloved Captain is more than ready to do what needs to be done to take care of this thorn in his side, but it’s a surprisingly emotional, raw, and honest plea from Jayne (“Don’t tell ’em what I did”) that convinces him to give him one last chance.
‘Out of Gas’
I don’t think anyone will be surprised that “Out of Gas” tops this list, as it’s objectively one of the best episodes of this entire series. It starts with Mal bleeding out on the floor of his ship, holding an engine part in his hand. The episode then runs through three timelines — when Mal and Zoe bought Serenity and started putting together their crew, what happened on the ship that caused life support to go out, and Mal’s struggle to get the ship up and running again.
The interwoven stories offer parallels that put this show’s best writing on display, balancing the action, the mystery, the humor, and the heart in such a way that keeps you attentive for every second of the episode. I love seeing each character’s origin stories, especially Zoe’s first impression of Wash, as well as how easily the crew can laugh together now. But what gets me every time is how the crew gets to save Mal for once. He inspires a special kind of loyalty, and I love how grateful he is for all of them.