Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal

Screenshot from Joss Whedon's Firefly episode "Ariel."
The best kind of traitor lives in a world of grey. They are not just evil for evil’s sake, but they have motive, they have passion, they are doing what makes sense to them.

Even when I want to throw the TV remote at Jayne’s head when he betrays Simon and River during their heist on Ariel in Firefly, I can’t help but understand his desire to leave the cruddy life of space piracy to find a tropical planet to live the rest of his days with the reward money (or, more likely, spend it on his own ship, Vera upgrades, and “other” services).

The conflict in him is obvious throughout the show. He’d grown attached to the Serenity’s crew. This was a hard decision. It was possibly made easier because Simon and River were relatively new and they weren’t a part of Mal’s crew. Not to mention he didn’t really like either of them. I don’t think even Jayne could have turned Kaylee in to the Alliance if she was a wanted convict.

It is only when Mal shoves Jayne out of the airlock doors that we begin to see the true measure of Jayne’s character.

Mal: “I should’ve shot you the second I found out what you did.”
Jayne: “That would’ve been the right thing.”

Could our scruffy-looking, loot-loving, gun-toting criminal actually be sorry for what he did? When Jayne realizes he’s going to die, he doesn’t plead for his life. He doesn’t try to explain his actions. He says to Mal, “Do me a favour… Make something up. Don’t tell them [the crew] what I did.”

This.

“I could either move forward or stay in the past. But the only way to move forward was to forgive myself.”

This is why Jayne is my favourite Firefly character (his hat is a close second). He’s accepted the consequences and is now concerned about his legacy, about how he is perceived. He’s accepted that he’s going to die, but he doesn’t want to die a traitor; he wants to be remembered as a hero.

This is a continuation of the story from two episodes before where Jayne IS a hero in Jaynestown, but doesn’t fully understand what that means. I bet in the moment of accepting his death and wanting to be remembered differently he was thinking of that final scene in Canton.

Similarly, the cylons from Battlestar Galactica make such good villains, in my opinion, because they are driven by their beliefs. They think humans are sinful and therefore do not deserve to survive.

And yet, there are cylons among the humans that don’t agree with the mission to destroy them. Take Athena who spends most of the show trying to prove that she is not a traitor.

Athena: “I sat in here for weeks just consumed with rage at all the things that had happened to me. Then at some point I realized that it was all just guilt. I was angry at myself for the choices I had made. Betraying my people… losing the baby… So I had a choice. I could either move forward or stay in the past. But the only way to move forward was to forgive myself.”

The Final Five are considered traitors among the humans, even though they don’t know themselves that they are cylons; just like Athena, just like Jayne, they have to learn to forgive themselves.

Annie Leonhart from Attack on Titan is a traitor I don’t fully understand at this point, because I don’t know what her motives are. Annie intrigues me, because every so often you see through her unemotional facade into the eyes of a girl who has experienced unimaginable pain and suffering.

The best kind of traitor lives in a world of grey.

We see flashbacks of her being trained by her father, which suggests maybe he is part of her motives. And yet Annie can’t bring herself to kill Armin when she has the opportunity to do so in her Titan form. She doesn’t seem to understand her own motives when she is asked about it later I would postulate that it was because she had considered Armin a friend while they were training together. Whether or not she can turn into a bone-crunching Titan at will, Annie is human.

Annie seems to be so devoted to the cause of whatever organization she is working for—either that or she is afraid of failure or maybe of disappointing someone. You see her shed tears when she fails to capture Eren, which leads to Eren to hold back a lethal strike.

This was such a powerful scene to me—a Titan showing a human reaction, and Eren showing mercy in response. The mystery of who the female Titan is might have been revealed at the end of the season, but the question of “why” still remains, which I think is far more interesting.

It’s a world of grey we have to wade through, and traitors are sometimes the best examples of this. Well-written, well-thought-out, and even sometimes the well-meaning traitors are complex characters and therefore the most interesting. Whether I’m assessing Caprica Six or analyzing Judas, I can look down at them all I want with high morals, but when push comes to shove, sometimes I wonder if I would do what they did if I was wearing their shoes (or mighty fine hat).

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron

Latest posts by Allison Barron (see all)