I'd love to pretend that I was a devotee of Joss Whedon's Firefly from the first moment I saw it. But I can't. I'd watched and enjoyed Buffy and Angel, but I was not sure what to make of this "space Western" show. As I watched, I scratched my head and maybe snarked a bit. Until this one moment happened.
It seems like sacrilege now, but at first Firefly just didn't "click" for me. The first aired episode was "The Train Job," an hour which rushes to try and establish a whole host of characters and situations. I got a vague sense that these guys were rebels, who had fought on the wrong side of, basically, the Civil War, and now they were living on the edge. But it was sketchy. The plot hinged on a cool heist, but also on a thinly sketched out notion that in this world, sex workers were treated like aristocracy. It had lots of ideas, but didn't gel.
And the stylistic quirks... they were not exactly clicking, either. The constant twanging guitar and drawling frontier-speak, alongside the mispronounced Chinese curse-words. It felt like an unholy mish-mash, that was copying the surface style of a Western and then grafting it onto a space setting, rather than doing its own thing. Worst of all, I couldn't get a feel for any of the characters.
And then this happened:
The final scene, in which Mal tries to return the money to Niska, only to run into snarling defiance from the tattooed leader of Niska's men, is just perfect. It's comedy gold, because of the casual way Mal kicks the thug into the engine and then starts the exact same spiel with the next guy. But it also shows that Mal really isn't a standard TV "good guy," and even though we just saw him do the "right thing" with the stolen medicines in the main plot, he's not a softy.
This moment completely sells Mal as a flawed, edgy protagonist — and in the process, makes us want to know more about him. And by extension, his world. Instantly, all the stuff that had me scratching my head about the preceding hour turned into stuff I wanted to know more about.
And here are some more screencaps of that beautiful moment, via Leave Me The White.