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Every Episode Of Firefly Ranked

Tim Minear and Joss Whedon's dark, sharp-witted, and short-lived futuristic drama "Firefly" is a unique gem of a show. Twenty years after its initial run, it enjoys a remarkable cult status, retaining a legion of dedicated fans who call themselves Browncoats. Sadly, despite being beloved, the series only ever got half of a first season and one feature-length movie, "Serenity." As a result, fans often lament that this pirate-like, character-driven space Western, with its fascinating blend of American West and East Asian cultures, never got the chance it deserved from its original network.

Unfortunately, it almost seems like the Fox execs of the time not only failed but actively sabotaged the series by slotting it for a Friday night "death slot." Beyond that, the show was mismarketed as a goofy space comedy in the show's original promo (with Smash Mouth's "Walkin' on the Sun" as the background track!), and, worst of all, airing episodes of the heavily serialized show out of order. Add to that the fact that Fox pushed for more gunplay (but less darkness), and you start to understand why the history of "Firefly" is one frustrating, complicated mess (via Business Insider). The result was a lot of confused fans and a show with real, untapped potential that never got its fair shake.

To celebrate the legacy of "Firefly," we've used IMDb as a guide to compile this ranked list of every episode, from worst to best. Notably, even IMDb doesn't have these episodes listed in their proper order – but we've got that covered!

14. Safe (Episode 5)

"Safe," which originally aired as the seventh episode but is intended as the fifth, sees the crew bringing a shipment of cattle to the colony of Jiangyin on the Rim. Before they can finish their business with their buyers — the Grange brothers — the town sheriff arrives to arrest the two men for murder. With Shepard Book severely injured in the ensuing shootout, along with Simon and River abducted by what Wash refers to as "hill people," Mal must make a difficult choice regarding who to save first. 

Meanwhile, Simon discovers the remote townsfolk who took him are in desperate need of a doctor. When he witnesses Serenity flying off-planet, he begins thinking about how he might carve out a potential sanctuary for himself and River in this new place. That is, of course, until River's unnerving clairvoyance puts them in even more danger.

Despite its solid IMDb rating, this episode lands dead last on the site's sorted list. According to The A.V. Club's Noel Murray, the storyline "really pushes the Chinese-studded slanguage of this time and place, to the point where ... it's distracting," and "the plot takes some jarring turns." However, it still has some highlights. The narrative cements all three passengers — Simon, River, and Book — as part of the crew; we get more insight into our Shepherd; and we enjoy flashbacks of the Tam siblings' past, with a young, baby-faced Zac Efron playing a young Simon Tam!

13. Bushwhacked (Episode 3)

In "Bushwhacked," which originally aired as the second episode but is meant to be the third, the crew of Serenity begins to loot an abandoned ship — only to stumble upon the traumatized survivor of a heinous Reaver attack. It doesn't take long for an Alliance cruiser to hail them after the brutal discovery. Unfortunately, Alliance Commander Harken (played by Doug Savant!) doesn't believe in the existence of malicious space cannibals, and recognizing Mal's Browncoat status, questions everyone onboard before accusing them of the carnage. Meanwhile, River and Simon hide from the feds by floating in space.

According to The A.V. Club, this entry "follows the rollicking action of 'The Train Job' with something much more spare and dark — almost like a deliberate undoing of all the, 'No, really, this show is going to be fun!' overtures that Fox demanded of 'Firefly's' second pilot." Whereas "The Train Job" is rowdy fun, "Bushwhacked" presents itself as a bleak and horrific commentary on what happens when people lost in deep space are so far removed from civilization that they're driven to madness and forget their humanity. It's worth noting, however, that "Serenity" disrupts our characters' long-accepted theory by revealing the Reavers' true origins.

Despite solid ratings on IMDb, Redditors like u/Grimdotdotdot aren't sold here, taking to the discussion boards to declare it's "down near the bottom of my list. It's not a bad episode — there are no bad episodes, but it's not a great one like most of the others."

12. Heart of Gold (Episode 13)

While IMDb lists "Heart of Gold" as the twelfth episode, it's actually the thirteenth. Guest-starring Melinda Clarke as Inara's good friend, Nandi, who runs a brothel on an outer planet — with sex workers who are not Guild-certified — this entry leans more on its Western tropes than science fiction elements. Full of heartbreak, guns, and desert, it's also pretty heavy on its themes of love and complicated relationships.

Nandi reaches out for help after the territory's tyrannical cowboy overlord, Rance Burgess (Fredric Lehne), impregnates one of her girls and lays claim to the unborn baby. When Mal looks Burgess in the eyes, though, he realizes it's a losing battle and tries to convince everyone to board the Serenity and flee. But Nandi refuses, determined to stay and defend the life she's built. That resolve helps spark the crew into action as they prepare for a violent confrontation. During all this, Zoë and Wash argue over having children, Simon, River, and Inara help Petaline deliver her boy, Jayne hooks up with a sex worker, and Inara announces her intention to leave Serenity.

The A.V. Club's Donna Bowman "Loved the setup" but "Hated the interminable gun battle." Despite its high ratings on IMDb – not to mention its 2004 Hugo Award nomination for "Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form" — this one still makes the list as one of the lower-tier "Firefly" episodes in the show's too short run.

11. Shindig (Episode 4)

While it still scores well on IMDb, IGN's Matt Fowler notes that "Shindig" was the show's "most landlocked tale to date, and the first one to play mostly as a comedy." The emphasis on comedy could explain why the storyline isn't as well-regarded as others. In our opinion, "Firefly" is at its best when it offers character-focused narratives that balance the action with grim horror and sharp wit. 

Originally airing as the sixth episode but meant as the fourth, "Shindig" sets the gunplay aside for swordplay. Here, when Badger (Mark Sheppard) shows up with a job for the crew, Inara, Mal, and Kaylee find themselves attending the same formal affair — for different reasons, of course. Once there, our gruff and oblivious captain mistakenly challenges Inara's entitled and disrespectful client to a duel. The problem? As a gunman, Mal knows nothing about handling a sword, and there's only so much he can learn in a night. 

One Reddit user believes "this episode has a bit of a special place in every fan's heart. The whole ballroom scene with Mal and Kaylee and Inara dressed up is one of 'Firefly's' most recognizable moments." They're right — Kaylee's pink layer cake dress, with its bubble-gum hue, puffed sleeves, infinite ruffles, and large hoop skirt, is a sight to behold! Though we prefer when the show's a little darker, it does warm our hearts to see Kaylee engaging with friendly, mechanically-minded men — impressing them with her own knowledge — after being so viciously judged by the other women.

10. The Message (Episode 12)

While filming "The Message," which is meant to be the twelfth episode, even though sites like IMDb still list it as the fourteenth, the cast and crew got word Fox was pulling the plug. Producer Tim Minear recalls the decision to halt production when that news came: "everybody went out to get rip-roaring drunk. When we finally came back to work, I had to direct Nathan, Gina, and Jewel in a scene where they were sitting around a table laughing uproariously ... It was like an Irish wake." (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Despite that, "The Message" still earns strong marks on IMDb, as it follows the crew as they pick up a large crate only to find, to their surprise, a dead body inside. It turns out the cadaver is a comrade who fought with Mal and Zoe in the civil war — and he has left a message requesting they deliver his body to his parents on his home planet. 

As usual, nothing is as it seems, and soon enough, the Alliance is stepping in to demand the return of valuable cargo that they think the crew has stolen. Beyond that, a very much not-dead Tracey (Jonathan M. Woodward) reveals a complicated plot involving human organ trafficking. Meanwhile, Jayne gets a trapper hat, and Simon fumbles, again, with Kaylee.

9. The Train Job (Episode 2)

As all Browncoats know, "The Train Job" isn't the show's true pilot and shouldn't be watched first. Rather, this episode is the producers' response to Fox demanding a shorter, faster-paced premiere (via Business Insider). As such, it should be watched second. While we don't get a full sense of the characters the way we do with the original pilot, the episode's great fun for what it is. We open with a bar brawl. After that, our crew, led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), meets with a notorious crime lord to accept a train heist job. Everything changes, though, when they discover the truth about the cargo.

Earning praise from fans on IMDb, this one offers engaging and witty dialogue. Unfortunately, the necessary conversational recaps meant to account for its status as the "Fox-approved" premiere bog down the storyline, and we just don't get a solid chance to understand or settle into this futurist world.

Redditor u/Mother-Letterhead223, who's re-watched this installment "for the millionth time," can't help but think of "how confused I would've been if I'd watched it when it first came out, as the first episode that aired. The introduction to all the characters and their backstories is so important to the show and this episode of course has none of that." Notably, despite the egregious scheduling errors and the viewer confusion of its past, "Firefly" has achieved a remarkable (and well-deserved) cult status, and that is worth some significant acknowledgment.

8. Jaynestown (Episode 7)

In "Jaynestown," which originally aired as the fourth episode but is meant to be the seventh, the crew prepares for a job in Canton, a place a reluctant Jayne (Adam Baldwin) would prefer to avoid. He's certain he's a wanted man there. Imagine his — and everyone else's — utter shock when they find a large statue of Jayne himself, made from the mudder town's industrial clay. Lauded as a hero, the town has come to view our self-serving mercenary as a local, Robin Hood-esque legend who stole from the rich (the magistrate) and gave to the poor (the mudders).

After overcoming his astonishment, Jayne gets drunk on fame while the others struggle to accept this new reality of Jayne Cobb as a renowned folk hero while also doing the job they came here to do. When the powerful but corrupt Magistrate Higgins releases Stitch Hessian, Jayne's screwed-over partner-in-crime from four years ago, Jayne is forced to reveal the truth regarding his failed robbery to the townsfolk. In addition, Simon takes a beating, River rips pages from Shepherd Book's bible in frustration, and Inara helps make the magistrate's son a respectable man — but not necessarily in the way his father expected.

Even with an impressive IMDb rating and a catchy, Jayne-inspired folk song called "The Hero of Canton," this doesn't rank as one of the show's best. However, it's still a thoughtful and engaging character study of our favorite (if often despicable) man-for-hire.

7. Serenity (Episode 1)

Even though "Serenity" originally aired as the eleventh episode (and the final installment of Fox's abbreviated run), the two-hour episode is the true series premiere of "Firefly." The opening scene drops us right into the end of the Unification War, with Browncoats Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and Zoe Alleyne (married name, of course, Washburne) entrenched in a large-scale battle against Alliance forces. Death and destruction surround them, and when they're ordered to lay their arms down, we see the devastation on Mal's face as he realizes they've lost. 

Some six years later, Mal captains a Firefly-class transport ship dubbed Serenity, with Zoe as his first mate, her husband, Hoban "Wash" Washburne, as the spacecraft's pilot, Kaylee Frye as the mechanic, and mercenary Jayne Cobb as their hired hand. The crew survives on the fringes of society, taking any job they can — legit or criminal. And so, strapped for cash, they decide to take on some extra passengers, but no one's prepared for the trouble that follows.

This two-part pilot, which earns strong ratings from fans on IMDb, contains some fantastic character development, promising dark, character-driven narratives with the same witty dialogue other Joss Whedon works are famous for. A lot happens here. The episode manages to establish the world and crew while introducing Dr. Simon Tam, his supergenius River, and Shepherd Book. Ultimately, it's a real shame Fox demanded a different first episode for "Firefly," because beginning the series with this storyline would have solidified any potential fan's faith in this show.

6. Trash (Episode 11)

The formidable Christina Hendricks returns as a guest star in "Trash," which sites like IMDb list as the thirteenth episode but is actually the eleventh installment. Here, Mal encounters his wife/not-wife (who sabotaged their spaceship and tried to leave them all for dead in the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds") when he briefly reunites with his old war buddy, Monty (Franc Ross). Mal is appalled to find that Monty has shaved his beloved beard and even more appalled to find out why – the Browncoat veteran did it for his new wife, Bridget (aka Saffron). 

Needless to say, Monty doesn't take too kindly to these new revelations, and Saffron/Bridget finds herself left behind. Resilient as ever, she starts to work Mal over again, claiming to have a lucrative job she's willing to let him in on that involves robbing a wealthy man of his antique weapon. In addition, Simon lets a wounded Jayne know he's aware of the other man's betrayal on Ariel before making it clear they're crew, and Simon will never harm him — though River assures Jayne that she can kill him with her mind.

As its strong IMDb rating indicates, "Trash" presents us with a playfully chaotic storyline full of sharp humor, dark undertones, layers of double-crossing schemes, and compelling character moments and development. Notably, even bona fide Companion Inara, who generally steers clear of the ship's operations, assists with this heist, proving herself an integral part of the crew.

5. War Stories (Episode 10)

In "War Stories," Wash (Alan Tudyk), uncomfortable with the bond between his wife Zoe (Gina Torres) and their captain, Browncoat veterans who fought alongside each other, insists on taking Zoe's place on what's meant to be a standard field mission. As one might expect, nothing goes according to plan. Worse, Wash and Mal find themselves at the mercy of the merciless crime lord, Adelai Niska (Michael Fairman), who seeks torturous revenge on the crew after they double-crossed him back in "The Train Job." 

Thematically, this episode focuses on communication and the problems and complications that arise with middlemen. That dynamic is explored both in terms of the jobs the crew takes and in terms of Zoe often using her captain as a middleman in her marriage to prevent disagreements between her and the usually very easy-going Wash. Meanwhile, Jayne spends a lot of time in his bunk after seeing who Inara's latest client is.

Notably, we're not just privy to a disturbing war story about why Mal and Zoe cut their apples before eating them — which basically involves the exploding heads of starving comrades — we're also privy to some uncomfortable torture scenes. This episode leans into the darker tones the series promised its viewers from the very beginning. With a character-driven narrative chock full of sharp wit, body horror, and consequential action, we'd say "War Stories" is one of the entries Fox felt was too dark — although IMDb rates it as a top-tier "Firefly" episode.

4. Ariel (Episode 9)

As Serenity approaches core planet Ariel, Simon (Sean Maher) announces his intent to smuggle River (Summer Glau) into an Alliance-run hospital for tests to investigate what the Academy did to her before she gets any worse. Knowing the crew's between jobs and can't currently find work, he asks for their help. In exchange, he provides his crewmates with a list of valuable medical supplies they can loot from the facility and how to access them. While Mal and Zoe load up a couple of caskets with medications, Simon makes a horrifying discovery during his scan of his sister's brain, and Jayne attempts to betray the crew by turning the Tams over to Alliance authorities for a substantial

With an exceptional IMDb rating, "Ariel" introduces the "Two by Two, Hands of Blue" antagonists. These cold, heartless men have performed countless brain surgeries on River and clearly won't hesitate to commit mass murder just to keep their secrets contained. IGN's Matt Fowler considers this one a well-done, cinematic drama that centers on the relationship between the Tam siblings and "expertly sets[s] us up for the superb final few minutes" in which Mal makes his feelings about traitors very, very clear to Jayne.

3. Our Mrs. Reynolds (Episode 6)

While "Our Mrs. Reynolds" was the third episode to air during the show's original run, chronologically, it's the sixth entry. The story opens with a celebration after the crew finishes a job. During the festivities, Mal gets sloppy drunk. When he wakes the next morning, he's stunned to find himself married to the meek and submissive Saffron (Christina Hendricks) — a "gift" for dealing with the bandits who'd been harassing the Triumph settlement. 

Mal's not the only one who's taken aback by this latest development. As he struggles to accept his new reality as a married man, the Shepherd (Ron Glass) warns him there's a special place in Hell for those who take sexual advantage of vulnerable people. Meanwhile, Jayne tries to make a ridiculous trade by offering his favorite gun for Saffron, who insists on subservience, obedience, and what she considers to be her wifely duties. Inara seems to recognize something the others don't in the other women, and soon enough, they all get a rather nasty surprise when they learn Mrs. Reynolds is not who she appears to be.

With an impressive rating on IMDb and lots of twists and turns, "Our Mrs. Reynolds" really plays up the dramatic irony between what each character knows and what we, as viewers, know. It's a fun (and in some regard dark) ride with lots of that snappy, character-focused, "Buffy"-esque dialogue that ultimately earns its place as one of the very best episodes of "Firefly."

2. Objects in Space (Episode 14)

IMDb may list "Objects in Space" as the tenth episode, but it's actually the fourteenth, essentially making it the series finale. It also just happens to be top-tier "Firefly." With an exceptional IMDb rating, Tor's Richard Fife calls this final television endeavor a "wonderful and powerful episode to end on," and Redditor user u/I_have_a_beard considers it "a perfect piece of television" that embraces and emphasizes the show's central theme: family.

In this dramatic, character-driven conclusion, it's finally River Tam's time to shine — as well as her time to prove that she's strong in her own way, capable, and most importantly, belongs with her makeshift family of Serenity crewmates. The story opens with a glimpse into River's head, and we follow her throughout the ship as she uses her uncanny telepathy to check in on the people around her, from Simon and Kaylee to Shepherd Book to Zoe and Wash.

We begin to understand how differently she sees the world compared to everyone else. However, her unique perspective soon becomes dangerous when we see her pick up a loaded gun (which she views as a harmless tree branch) while wandering around, essentially terrifying the now super-spooked crew. This prompts a heated conversation regarding whether she's too dangerous — or too much of a threat to others — to have onboard. But when psychotic bounty hunter, Jubal Early (Richard Brooks), infiltrates the spacecraft, River's telepathy becomes an integral weapon against this latest threat.

1. Out of Gas (Episode 8)

In "Out of Gas," the show's eighth episode (which aired as the fifth), we're treated to a braided narrative. One traces the most recent past, in which the spacecraft's life support systems begin to fail the crew as they're celebrating Simon's birthday. Another focuses on the present, in which Mal is alone on the ship, severely wounded and gasping for depleted oxygen. Finally, one touches on how this core band of misfits came together to form Serenity's crew, including how sunny Kaylee (Jewel Staite) stumbled upon her job as the mechanic.

We eventually learn that Mal has sent the rest of the crew away in shuttles, staying behind to hail down help and await a much-needed mechanical part so he can fix his spacecraft. Unfortunately, he's soon reminded that very few people can be trusted when you're stranded in space.

With the highest rating of any episode on IMDb, this one's the crème de la crème of "Firefly," with Reddit user u/sjsharksfan12 claiming it "might be the best disaster type episode of the genre I've seen." Uproxx's Alan Sepinwall wrote that it is "an hour that captures everything that's great about the series." Likewise, The A.V. Club's Donna Bowman marvels over how it "manages to reinvent the whole 'how the gang got together' episode by weaving it into an ode to the ship itself." Essentially, this one earns its place as the series' best because of how character-focused it is — even in the midst of impending doom.