Firefly Rewatch Episode 13: Heart of Gold

Firefly meets The Magnificent Seven.  Or Nine.

In classic space western style (?) we finally get around to our Magnificent Seven episode.  The stand is part of the genre and part of our own American mythology of the frontier.  The rich and powerful or the marauding bandits seek to rule over the good simple folk trying to scrape out a living on the frontier.  Outside the edges of civilization there is nobody the good simple folk can turn to, except our plucky band.  But it isn’t a tale only of might overcoming might makes right.  In the process the good and simple folk learn to stand up for themselves, and the lawless frontier gets a little less lawless.  Join us for Joss Whedon’s take on a classic of the western genre, after the jump.

Every well-bred petty crook knows that the small, concealable weapons always go to the far left of the place setting.Inara Serra

This time it’s an old friend of Inara’s, but the effect is the same, a new week, a new good deed to be done by our Big Damn Heroes.

Jayne: Don’t much see the benefit in gettin’ involved in stranger’s troubles without a up-front price negotiated.
Shepherd Book: These people need assistance. The benefit wouldn’t necessarily be for you.
Jayne: That’s what I’m sayin’.
Zoë: No one’s gonna force you to go, Jayne. As has been stated, this job is strickly speculative.
Jayne: Good. Don’t know these folks, don’t much care to.
Mal: They’re whores.
Jayne: I’m in.

Well good deed is a relative term.  For Jayne it’s downright altruistic.

I feel a little silly at this point.  To go through the plot seems nearly insulting.  We know it.  We know it by heart.  There’s shooting,the plucky good guys overcome the odds, the betrayer isn’t successful.. You get the point.  Ok, there are a few minor points that bear mention.  Ok, they aren’t minor.  They’re well established, not minor.  Then there’s the whole whore thing.  Yeah, sorry to say, no way around that in this episode.

Nandi, Inara’s friend got fed up with being an oh so civilized “companion”.  She lit out to the edges of civilization, learned to say ain’t, and carved out something where the girls were, according to Inara, whores, but were looked after and protected.  By Nandi.

By Nandi’s own admission she’d carved out her little corner of paradise with murder and crime.  Now she’s the pimp.  So what’s Inara?  She apparently didn’t want to become the pimp, didn’t appreciate being under the pimp, so she decided to go independent.  Yet Nandi’s girls are whores, and Inara isn’t.  Sorry, but who is a whore and who isn’t, and what makes a whore is a pretty important part of the mythology.

Funny thing.  Nandi can give herself to Mal, with no reservations.  Inara never could. It’s a puzzle.  Ok, not really.  It is the same theme we’ve seen all along.  Inara is tied to the guild and rules, and an illusion of legitimacy.  Nandi is a whore, and is capable of giving Mal more honesty and more humanity than Inara ever will be, because Nandi owns her life, the way Mal has chosen to do.  Inara still has a pimp, the guild.  So Nandi got a night with Mal.  There were no lies.  Inara suffers, and wants to run.  She thinks she’s running to escape someone else controlling her.  To a point she’s right.  Mal and Inara, given their situation have a problematic relationship.

Avoiding complications, that’s the way Nandi puts it.  Yeah, that works.  Funny thing, Nandi and Mal avoid complications.  They talk, why? because they can.  Inara, much as she denies it, Mal is right , she’s a whore.  The guild runs her life.  The guild is her pimp.  Mal has known it all along, Inara is waking up.

Should Inara stay and let Mal control where she goes, who she sees, well, Mal becomes a pimp, replacing the guild, but … Well, you get it.  Inara breaking down was the first sane thing she’s done.

There is no happy ending for Mal and Inara the way things are.  Can’t blame Inara, can’t blame Mal.  Sometimes, life just sucks.

But hey, the plucky settlers learned to defend themselves, and the marauding bandit/wealthy bad guy who owns the law was defeated, so all’s well…

Well, that’s the story.


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About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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17 Responses to Firefly Rewatch Episode 13: Heart of Gold

  1. atcdave says:

    I really loved this episode. You’re exactly right Ernie about it being a very traditional episode for the space western genre (strange that actually makes sense to me). And true to Firefly it is fun from beginning to end (OK, maybe a little dark in the end, but still…)
    The dialog you include involving Jayne make’s me laugh so hard it hurts. I love Jayne “agreeing” with Book while totally missing his point. And of course, the best way to bring Jayne on board….. well lets just say Mal knows him well.

  2. Faith says:

    I did not care for this epi. AT ALL.

    It’s like Mask but they actually showed them having sex. Yuck. I felt so bad for Inara but at the same time I felt like yelling at her. Ugh.

    The millionaire dude? Just creepy. And the traitor woman? A little too vulgar for my taste.

    But on a plus side really enjoyed the set. Time warp settings in a sci-fi flick is ever so enjoyable. And of course Jayne found himself a woman. Well sorta. Good for him.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Funny thing is, I was never invested in Mal and Inara. I saw them as the traditional WT/WT dueling for control, so I never got the feeling they needed to resolve that issue (Kaylee and Simon on the other hand, what’s up with that?). But that changed for me in this episode, basically after seeing Inara break down. I think it took seeing Inara lose something she wanted to make me realize how hopeless she found her situation. It wasn’t that she didn’t WANT mal or was ambivilent, it was that she was tied into this life and the illusion of control and legitimacy that would not allow her to be with Mal, much as she wanted to.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Oh, I meant to add, that I get your disappointment. It’s one of the worse Hollywood cliche’s that they feel they need to make the conflicted couple sleep with other people before they can be together (ahem…). In this case, for me, it worked because you never really saw the depth of Inara’s feelings till it happened, but I take your point, there could have been another way.

    • atcdave says:

      You know its funny, as strong a ‘shipper as I am for Chuck and Sarah, I just never cared that much about Mal and Inara. Different shows seem to generate different levels of investment, as good as Firefly was, I never cared much about any of the couples; except maybe Wash and Zoe.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Dave, I know exactly what you mean, and I think I know why. I’ve talked about this before, but Chuck and Sarah weren’t a traditional WT/WT couple. Mal and Inara are. With Mal and Inara they are focused on themselves and what they want. They duel and fight trying to establish some measure of control or dominence over the other. They won’t admit their feelings because that would weaken their position and give the other a measure of control.

        It was never that way with Chuck and Sarah. Both had their focus outside themselves, on the other. They constantly denied themselves what they wanted because they felt they needed to to protect the other. The problem was of course they couldn’t help themselves and they couldn’t help but see that in each other. With Chuck and Sarah there were real reasons why they were stuck in limbo. Chuck had the intersect, and had a duty no matter how little he liked it. Sarah had to protect Chuck from both the world and the CIA. With most WT/WT couples the only thing keeping them atpart is pride, so you get the notion they get what they deserve. With Chuck and Sarah what kept them apart for two years was an impossible situation, so when that situation was apparently resolved there was no joy in seeing them torn apart by something as contrived as the whole not talking thing. It should have been resolved. Season three tried to shove that, and the pride thing, between Chuck and Sarah, and it didn’t fit with the characters we’d rooted for for so long. So it sucked.

      • atcdave says:

        Ernie, that’s a really great way of looking at what’s different about Chuck and Sarah. I think how easy they both are to like and respect is big, but you put a much finer point on the respect part.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Yeah, despite my attempts to seem otherwise I’m just a big ‘ol softie shipper at heart.

    • Faith says:

      Dave, Ernie, there are levels of investment on a ‘ship and I’d rank this about as high as I’m rooting for Booth and Brennan. It’s just there and yes some part of me care but nowhere near my investment into Chuck and Sarah.

      Interesting perspective Ernie. I saw their roadblocks less about themselves so much as fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of rejection and fear of risk. Inara is safe with her passing relationships and Mal lives by the code: “you’re born alone, you’ll die alone.” he’s seen too much, lost too much. Not just the war but as we see in the epi before this one he lost friends as well. And when it comes down to it, he lost faith in humanity. That’s what I believe he holds strongly to River’s humanity. It’s sort of a last ditch effort in his hope for the good amongst so much bad.

      He disdains Inara’s job so much because of that. It’s just another example of how people have strayed from what is moral. He may lie and cheat but deep down Mal holds the values of morality and right close to his heart.

      Spoilers! Avert your eyes!

      What kept him from asking her to stay is the fear that he might not measure up to what essentially she would be giving up. And the fear that she holds her whoring code more dear than him.

      For Inara the fear is the unknown. She runs but look at what she ran to. Something she’s familiar with. With little risk. If we’re led to believe that she taught at that school instead of traveling for jobs it’s actually a sublimating way to have Mal. She stopped whoring but that was only as brave as she could be.

      In the end the WT/WT came down to fear. Two of the bravest, daredevils and they’re brought down by love 🙂

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Actually Faith that works well too. When I was talking about pride I was thinking of the traditional WT/WT couple and applying it to Mal and Inara, but you’re right, fear plays into it heavily. Of course fear of rejection is a part of the traditional WT/WT and a part of the pride, but in the case of Mal and Inara there is a lot more at stake than feeling silly because they said no. There’s also the fear they could say yes, then what do you do?

      • Faith says:

        Exactly. In a lot of ways it’s more complicated than it was with Chuck and Sarah because at their core they’re essentially the same person…caring, good, heroic. But where Chuck and Sarah has the edge is like you said, it’s less about them so much as the other.

        So if Mal and Inara admit their feelings…notice that even in the movie…”I don’t know.” Answers the “then what do you do” right there lol.

  3. jason says:

    faith – I am with you – earlier in the season, the kaylee scene with the mechanic was a WTF moment for me, now the scene with the ruthless guy and the women who betrayed her friends, plus the jayne getting it free for about 3 days straight, sort of – yea – I get it. Those as well as all season long tje lead wt/wt lady being a prostitute and that being a good thing, sort of,

    just way too sleezy for tv in my opinion, and really drops the validity of this project to me.

    if I were a network exec – I may indeed tell the writer, here is what is wrong, now go write another ‘epic’ show – it is too bad you ruined this one, because it is awesome – or at least I can see why the show got axed, in spite of how great it is.

    but as far as drama goes, wow, firefly delivers, every week. Irina really nailed the losing end of the wt/wt here – at least it touched me.

    • atcdave says:

      You know Jason, you hit on something important to me. I always found Inara VERY unpleasent. Her career is revolting, and the culture that considers her “respectable” is messed up. I’m probably a lot like Shepherd Book in regards to my attitude about these things. I still enjoyed the episode as a “little people stand up and fight the big bad nasty” sort of thing. But the sex/romance/morality of the whole “‘verse” is so screwed up to me I never invested in it at all.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      It’s something about Joss Whedon, he likes to play with the ideas of morality. A vampire with a conscience, strong women who happen to be whores. Sometimes it works better than others. I think part of it in the case of Firefly was to show the central culture of the elites as somehow debased and detached from a sense of morality. Why Inara would then choose to leave that behind and venture out to where she was more often then not looked at as a whore is something they never got the chance to explain, though they hinted at it with Nandi.

    • Faith says:

      Agreed. You know I have no problem with Inara’s job. In fact I think it’s an interesting twist to the conventional but it’s one of those things that are best done with class.

      It’s demeaning and unsavory when done crass and that it was.

      P.S. For the Whedon fans did you know he’s doing another season of Buffy? Albeit a graphic cartoon one but still on film.

  4. Xenaclone says:

    I was struck, both with the first viewing and subsequent ones with Jayne’s behaviour with Helen the whore.

    1. He grins lustily [fair enough, he’s about to get laid]
    2. He tenderly brushes her hair
    3. He trusts her to hand him his guns in order
    4. He stays the night and SNUGGLES!

    This man is more than just a hard-hearted merc looking to get some.

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