The crew arrives in Canton, a moon dedicated to the production of high-strength ceramic mud. An offworld buyer has enlisted Mal to pick up some goods from a local contact, so he assembles a landing party consisting of himself, Jayne, Kaylee, and Wash. Kaylee pressures him into bringing Simon along so that they can spend more time together. While exploring the mud fields, however, the crew encounters a surreal sight: a larger-than-life statue of Jayne.
As it turns out, Jayne did a job in Canton stealing a large sum of money from the magistrate, but was hit by anti-air emplacements and forced to jettison the cash. It landed on the "mudders" (local peasants who harvested the mud and made up most of the population), and since that day he had been a folk legend, "the Hero of Canton." Though Jayne tries to lie low, he is soon recognized, celebrated, and plied with alcohol.
Inara meets her client, the magistrate's son, who is 26 and still a virgin. He is embarrassed, but Inara puts him at ease, explaining that virginity is merely a state of being; despite what his father says, it is not his sexual experience, but his actions that make him a man. In the meantime, River begins to "edit" Book's Bible, citing its inconsistencies with evolution and cosmology. Book attempts to explain the importance of faith in things that cannot be proven empirically.
Mal returns to Serenity with Wash, while Kaylee opts to remain in the bar with Simon, as they are drunk and beginning to bond. Mal decides to use an impromptu "Jayne's Day" celebration to distract the local officials so the crew can track down the cargo. That night, the magistrate releases Stitch, Jayne's former partner in crime, and informs him that Jayne is back in town.
The next morning, Mal returns to find Kaylee on top of Simon. Simon hastily denies that anything happened between them, and she leaves, offended. The celebration begins in front of Jayne's statue, and the Hero of Canton gives a brief speech. Stitch takes Simon hostage and indignantly barges in on the festivities. He explains that Jayne only dropped the money because the ship was damaged, and he kicked out Stitch first. He shoots at Jayne, but a mudder leaps in the line of fire and is killed. Jayne kills Stitch, and is overcome with disbelief that anyone would take a bullet for him after learning that he betrayed his partner and only helped them accidentally. He says they shouldn't expect people to simply drop money on them, because there aren't people like that...there's just people like him. Guilt-ridden and disgusted, he pushes over the statue and leaves.
Wash finds that Serenity has been land-locked by the authorities. The magistrate's son, however, lifts the lock as an act of defiance, showing to his father that he is a man now. Kaylee asks Simon why he acts so "proper" when they are far from the polite societies where such things are expected. He says that his manners are all that he has left, and his politeness is how he shows his respect for her. Before letting him off the hook for his earlier behavior, however, she taunts him by implying they slept together the previous night.
Serenity lifts off, and Jayne and Mal share a pensive moment in the cargo hold. Jayne cannot understand the mudders' loyalty to him, whereas Mal doubts that any hero has ever been as pure and selfless as their legend implied.
Tropes in this episode:
- A Tankard of Moose Urine: "Mudder's Milk." Tastes horrible, but keeps the mudders both fed and docile.Jayne: All the protein, vitamins and carbs of your Grandma's best turkey dinner... plus 15% alcohol!
- Accidental Hero: Jayne is mistaken for a hero because he threw money out his ship. He did so because the money was weighing his damaged ship down (he threw his partner out first).
- Ballad of X: The song the mudders perform in the bar is called "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb".Jayne! The man they call Jayne!
He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor.
Stood up to the man and he gave him what for.
Our love for him now, ain't hard to explain,
The hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne!
- Code of Honor: Simon explains to Kaylee that his is why he does not swear or sleep around, even when he is on the run in the middle of space. Behaving properly is the only possession he really has left.
- Company Town: Magistrate Higgins keeps tight control over the workers in his town to make his ceramic cheaply so he can get rich. Most of the workers are indentured, all of them are paid "next to nothing" (the overseer's words), and the conditions in the town are abominable.
- Dark Reprise: A sombre version of "The Man They Call Jayne" is plucked out on one guitar as he tries to make sense of what happened in the closing scene.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: Take notice of the sound when "Stitch" Hessian points his shotgun at Mal's face. Seeing as Stitch doesn't pump the action (he's holding the shotgun one-handed) and that model doesn't have an exposed hammer, what exactly is creating the cocking sound?
- Emergency Cargo Dump: Jayne explains that he once pulled a heist on Higgins' Moon, but then had to dump the cargo to stay airborne after he got hit by anti-aircraft fire, and the strongbox inadvertently landed in the indentured workers' Company Town causing Jayne to become a local hero. He neglects to mention he pushed his partner Stitch Hessian out first, and Magistrate Higgins sends the vengeful Stitch after him."Ohhh, I'll be gorrammed. That's where that cash went. I stole that money from Higgins just like the song says, lifted me one of his hovercraft. But I got tagged by anti-aircraft, started losing altitude. Had dump them strongboxes to stay airborne. Oh... 60,000, untraceable. And I drop it right square in the middle of mud-farmer central."
- Facepalm: Mal has one of these when he realizes the causes behind the "accident" in Jayne's Accidental Hero status.
- Fish out of Water: Played for Laughs when Kaylee and Mal leave Simon alone in the Mudder's bar, and Simon asks for a menu. The barman just responds with "a what?"
- Gone Horribly Right: Magistrate Higgins hired Inara to sleep with his son and make him "a man". This ends up backfiring on him, when Inara convinces the young man to stand up to his father.
- Heroic Sacrifice: The mudder who took the bullet for Jayne.
- Hidden Depths: Jayne goes from being embarrassed that the mudders made a statue of him towards familial love for the town making him a hero ("You all had a riot for me? My very own riot?"). Halfway through the scheme to get smuggled goods out of the town, Jayne openly starts musing about how good it feels for him to be a hero to people. By episode's end he's visibly shaken by the senseless sacrifice of a mudder to save him even after the reveal Jayne wasn't anybody's hero.
- Hollywood Dateless: The handsome 26-year-old virgin that can't get any women. (Of course, the only people around are mudders, who are all but slaves of his father, so either he doesn't want to take advantage of them or they're afraid of facing the magistrate's brutal punishments—such as having their hands and feet amputated and thrown into the bog—if they displease his son.)
- Just Like Robin Hood: The people of Canton think Jayne did this for them. See Accidental Hero. By the end, Jayne thoroughly deconstructs this trope.
- Mood Whiplash: Goes from hilarious takes on Jayne being hailed as a town's hero to a dark rumination on how such heroes really aren't.
- Nerves of Steel: Simon doesn't panic as Stitch holds a knife to his throat; he even picks up a bottle and smashes it against his head.
- Not What It Looks Like: Simon awkwardly insists to Mal that he and Kaylee did not sleep together, even though they fell asleep together with the latter lying on top of the former.
- Pet the Dog: At the end, Jayne feels bad for the guy who sacrificed himself for him.
- Please Wake Up: Jayne doesn't want to realize that the mudder who took the bullet for him is dead.
- Precision F-Strike: The banter about how Simon doesn't swear sets up one of these when they find Jayne's statue.Simon:...son of a bitch.
- Professional Sex Ed: The episode dances back and forth between playing this straight and subverting it. Inara is hired by the Magistrate to "make his son a man". The son has much more confidence afterwards, but this may have had as much to do with Inara's pep-talks before and after as with the actual sex.
- Sleep Cute: Simon and Kaylee fall asleep like this on the couch, only to be awoken by the Captain.
- Stealth Pun: In Twelfth Night, "canton" is another word for a song. Taking this into account, Jayne is the Hero of Canton in two regards: He is the hero of the town, and the hero of the song for the town. Well played Joss.
- Sudden Downer Ending: The tragedy at the end comes out of nowhere. Most of the episode is pure comedy.
- Taking the Bullet: A local man takes a shotgun blast meant for Jayne.
- Troll: Kaylee briefly claims she and Simon did the deed while drunk to mess with him.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension:
- Inara hears from her client about "The Hero of Canton" being in town. She immediately blabbers about how Mal can be, only to be told it's Jayne. Just watching her brain reboot from that is priceless.
- Kaylee and Simon discuss theirs.
- Virgin-Shaming: The Magistrate believes in this, but Inara doesn't, and makes this clear to the son.