It’s impossible to talk about any show canceled before its time without mentioning Firefly. For good reason too, as it remains one of the all-time great ensemble pieces, full of Joss Whedon‘s heart, spirit of adventure and sense of humor.
The series consists of 14 full episodes and one film. Sadly, when it premiered in 2002, Firefly was never given a chance. Only 11 of the episodes actually aired – and in a terrible time slot. FOX also started with the second episode and aired the pilot at the end, right before the show was canceled.
The legend of Firefly lives on, perhaps even more because of its short run. It’s a show that anyone can easily binge. More than that, all the episodes are as funny as they are action-packed and beautifully shot. There really isn’t a terrible one – which makes ranking them from worst to best an enjoyable challenge. It’s one we’re probably sure you’re not going to agree with.
We based this ranking on two factors: the Whedon Touch – does it combine the feeling of action, humor and humanity that Joss Whedon does so well – and the Fan Appeal – is this an episode people love, still talk about, and share with their friends.
The point of this isn’t to mock anyone’s favorite episode, just create a list worthy of Firefly itself. With all that being said, let’s begin. Here is Every Episode Of Firefly Ranked From Worst To Best.
15. “Trash” (Episode 11)
It’s just too easy when given a title like this. Although none of the episodes are actually trash, some are better than others. “Trash” is the worst of the best.
“Trash” begins with a naked Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) in the dessert, and that’s pretty much the high point.
You would think bringing back Christina Hendricks’ Saffron would be a good thing – what show isn’t enhanced by more Christina Hendricks? Sadly, not this one. All mystery and intrigue she had in “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is lost as they push hasty back story and weak character development.
However, we do love River (Summer Glau) straight-up telling Jayne (Adam Baldwin): “I can kill you with my brain.”
14. “Bushwhacked” (Episode 3)
Ah, those pesky Reavers.
It seemed that Mal and crew are always stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side of the galaxy: the calm, silent, crushing force of The Alliance. On the other, the mirror opposite: the cannibalistic space chaos of the Reavers.
Sadly, the introduction to Reavers in “Bushwhacked” is done in such haphazard way you’re more confused than concerned. You want to feel it, but the victim-turned-crazed maniac never really feels that dangerous.
The Reavers are important, no question, and only become more so as you make your way into the movie. They would have made a great villain down the line – like feral mad Klingons with killer engineering skills. We never get the chance to appreciate them, though, and this weak introduction to the second Big Bad of the series may be part of the reason why.
13. “Heart of Gold” (Episode 13)
There’s something to be said for a good old-fashioned western shoot-out to make a claim for what’s yours. We just wish “Heart of Gold” wasn’t sort of dull.
This episode takes place inside the brothel of an old companion friend of Inara (Morena Baccarin), jokes about prostitution are made, and in the end the episode culminates in a ten-minute long shoot-out that goes on far, far too long.
This is also about the time that the audience realizes why the ship is always broke – they keep taking jobs that offer no payment but, instead, help people and save lives. We begin to think that Mal may be less of a grumpy space cowboy and more a poor man’s Batman.
12. “The Message” (Episode 12)
The message of this episode is that you can’t go home again, not really.
And that’s about that.
Sadly, any parts in Firefly about Mal and Zoe (Gina Torres)’s time in the war are the bits that create the most yawns. Private Tracey (Jonathan M. Woodward) is a frustratingly childish addition to an episode that’s supposed to be about camaraderie and the brotherhood of war. The fact that is constantly tricks and abuses the crew’s trust while trying to get them to help him doesn’t make him any more likable.
“The Message” does get a serious ranking boost from the inclusion of Jayne’s hat, which along with the ship itself, has to be the best prop from the show. Who hasn’t wanted a Jayne’s hat for themself?
11. “War Stories” (Episode 10)
Even after only a few short episodes, Firefly fans knew this episode was coming. The (non-romantic) relationship triangle between Zoe, Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Mal had issues that needed to be addressed. However, we wouldn’t have gone with a machismo flexing contest.
This story nicely ties up an earlier thread where Mal disobeyed fan-favorite and vague Eastern European stereotype Adelai Niska (Michael Fairman), a gangster who’d rather stab you than, well, do anything else.
Up until this point, we hadn’t really seen any consequences of the crew’s actions, but they do suffer them through this episode, brutally.
Again, though, even through torture, the arguments make us roll our eyes. We get it, Zoe works too hard, but Wash, let her do her job. And Mal, give her a little more break time to spend with her husband. Everyone happy now and not being tortured? Great, let’s move on.
10. “Safe” (Episode 5)
How strange is River Tam? Stranger than you could possibly know – and it all starts in the town of Jiangyin.
While the first hal of “Safe” was a little bland – can you remember what happens before River is kidnapped? We had to look it up. However, the second half takes everything up a notch. Here, we learn that two valuable lessons: people on the rim are hard to trust and easy to anger, and Mal will always put himself in harm’s way to do the right thing.
There are some great scenes here where River is at her most River-like and we begin to suspect that not is all it seems with her. Plus, Mal and Zoe’s exchange when they come to the rescue remain one of the most quotable of the entire series, endearing them to us even more.
9. “The Train Job” (Episode 2)
Firefly is at its absolute best when this bunch of lovable criminals get to be bad… but in a delightful Robin Hood kind of way. That’s what “The Train Job” does so beautifully. It’s the first time we really get to see the whole crew in action doing more than just a little B&E in space.
Firefly is first and foremost a Western, so there had to be a train robbery. However, this one is, of course, even better, since there are spaceships involved.
The crew gets hired by the psychotic Niska. We get some fantastic action sequences and a few excellent moments, like Inara slapping Mal in the police station. The episode finishes with, once again, the captain doing the right thing. Maybe he’s scowling so much through the show because his conscious is constantly gnawing at him from the inside?
8. “Serenity” (Episode 1)
Ah, the pilot, right smack in the middle of the list. Neither fantastic, nor terrible, it does its job by introducing characters and makes you want more, but, like many pilots, it lacks a lot of the things the show does best.
We begin at war, a scene, with a scene that is more explosions than exposition and drags on. From here, we gather the crew, get to know our plucky heroes, and learn the premise of the show: keep River Tam safe from the evil government. There’s even a surprise twist when you learn the evil government already has a man on board. Shock!
There are fantastic moments peppered through, like Wash playing with his dinosaurs, and the heartbreak we felt when Kaylee gets shot (even though we only met her about a minute before). However, in the end, this episode simply lays the groundwork for better ones to come.
7. “Shindig” (Episode 4)
A good shindig should have great music, excellent people and just a little bit of excitement. What do you know, “Shindig” has all of those! This episode’s a party – we get to see the other side of the crew’s work, not the dirty-hands dealing with the criminal underground, but the lighter, more shadowy kind of nefariousness.
Plus, there are adorable cows filling Serenity’s hanger, and that’s pretty fantastic. (In Castle, when Nathan Fillion’s daughter called him out for dressing like a “Space Cowboy,” and said, “there are no cows in space,” we knew different.)
Also, Kaylee! How many great Kaylee moments are in this one? Let’s just face it, we’re all a little in love with Kaylee after this “Shindig.” The fact that Malcolm cheats to win the duel has always left a bad taste in our mouth, but this is indeed a “Shindig” we return to often.
6. “Jaynestown” (Episode 7)
“Jayne! The man they call, Jayne!”
“Jaynestown” is probably the silliest episode of them all, playing out almost like a live-action cartoon. Yet, who cares? It’s so much fun; it doesn’t matter that it’s ridiculous, it’s still great television. We love Jayne Cobb as folk hero. When the town realizes their man has returned it’s a moment where even the grumpiest faces cracks a smile.
Plus, “The Hero of Canton” still remains a fantastic ear-worm of a song, and you’ll find yourself humming it days after you re-watch this ridiculous golden gem.
You don’t learn any lessons here or get any great revelations about the nature of these characters, but you do get an episode that’s just plain fun. Sometimes, with great television, that’s all you need: fun, and lots of it.
5. “Objects in Space” (Episode 14)
Ah, the series finale. It’s almost the perfect beautiful ending to a beautiful show… almost.
We love the cat-and-mouse hunt on the ship, as the cool but psychotic bounty hunter enters unfamiliar and unfriendly space, literally, and takes control. When that the game is flipped on his head by the always surprising and enigmatic River, the real fun begins.
“Objects In Space” is a work of art, and seeing the world through River’s unstable eyes is as terrifying as it is fascinating. While it’s not the most action-packed or amusing of the series, it’s easily the most beautiful.
In a Reddit AMA, Joss Whedon was asked if he could pick one thing that would represent his entire body of work, what would it be? His answer: “Objects in Space.” That’s hard to argue with.
4. Serenity (The Film)
Serenity, the film, is why Firefly, the show, remains legendary.
Yes, it had cult status on DVD, but there are plenty of shows canceled too early that don’t get the same love. The fact is, Firefly finally got its satisfying ending three year after it was canceled.
Here’s the thing about Serenity: it’s good all on its own. It is a great three-act adventure with twists, reveals, and a truly epic space battle. And oh, the deaths, which are pitch-perfect in their heartbreak. We still aren’t over what happened to Wash, and we don’t think we ever will be.
The film can feel a little rushed, but can you blame Whedon? He had to wrap up an entire show in two hours. And he did it wonderfully.
3. “Out Of Gas” (Episode 8)
As previously mentioned, backstory can be a dangerous thing. The right amount and you create a connection with the characters, but too much gives away the show’s mystery.
If any showrunner is looking how to make a great show, they only need to glance at “Out Of Gas.” It’s a beautiful love-letter to these characters and there’s so much to love: Wash has a mustache! Kaylee wasn’t the first mechanic of the ship! Mal and Serenity were love at first sight! It’s all so beautiful.
Of course, these flashbacks are only half the episode, and the other part has its hand around your heart. Serenity is in trouble, the crew abandons ship, and Mal remains to save his vessel or die along with it. You’re really not quite sure what will happen, right up until that last second, whenever everything turns out okay.
2. “Our Mrs. Reynolds” (Episode 6)
When we talk about the pure joy of Firefly, we always start with “Our Mrs. Reynolds.”
Unlike “Trash”, where Christina Hendricks is sadly wasted, here she’s everything you could want and more. Long before she was secretary of Sterling Cooper, slyly running the office from the inside out, Hendricks plaed one of the all-time best femme fatale chameleons. Saffron plays everything to everyone on the ship, until they realize, too late, that they’ve simply been played.
Throughout the episode, we get lost in an off-world celebration, enthralled in a pretty sexy ship adventure, and on the edge-of-your-seat for a serious bout of dire peril.
1. “Ariel” (Episode 9)
“Ariel” is beautifully shot, the special effects don’t feel overly cheesy as they do in other episodes, and we gain a deeper understanding for every character by the time it’s done.
Plus, the story development is incredible. Other episodes are self-contained but this one pushes the plot forward like an engine on full burn. Simon discovers more about River’s brain, Jayne betrays the group, and Mal almost murders him over it. You’re truly not sure Jayne will make it out of the episode alive, and you’re not sure you want him to.
We talked about the fact that Firefly contains incredible heart, humor, and adventure. “Ariel” is the best example of all three, more so than any other in the entire series.
What’s your favorite episode of Firefly? Let us know in the comments!
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