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Firefly: Shindig Ep. 4 November 3, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This one’s tightly focused on fleshing out the relationship between Mal and Inara.  Several minutes of banter between the two of them at the very beginning of the episode to set up the quick bar fight, followed by time spent to defining the intricacies of the work relationships each character swims in — Badger’s lair for Mal and a high society dance for Inara with her John.


 Inara and Her Business Client — Firefly and the Intricacies of the Work World

All this sets up Mal’s intrusion into Inara’s work world and his flat-footed attempts to run with her pack. Of course, it’s business that brings Mal into her world, but it seems like he’s really enjoying thumbing his nose at her and her society.

While Mal and Inara are actively plying their trades, the rest of the crew is basically on vacation:  Kaylee gets to go to the ball, Wash and Zoe getting quite a bit of post-coital glow-talk going on, and the rest of the crew playing cards and sitting on crazy-River.

Mal finds his contact at the party and tries to convince him of his trustworthiness. The contact rebuffs Mal at first, insulted by Mal’s lack of boot-licking to royalty, but Mal re-engages him and Sir/Lord Whatisname asks Mal who sent him there.

Mal responds, “Fellow called Badger…”, followed by, “I know him, and I think he’s a psychotic lowlife,” to which Mal quickly replies, “…and I think that calling him that is an insult to the psychotic low-life community…”  In the end it’s their mutual disdain for Badger that allows them to see a little more eye-to-eye.  It’s not yet clear that the deal is going to go through, when Inara and her date approach and they’re forced to talk to each other, whereupon Mal virtually drags Inara out on to the dance floor — partially for the purpose of putting his thumb in the eye of her fancy-pants consort — and promptly gets into a fight with this guy. This brings the big “challenge of honor” setup for a sword duel.

Meanwhile, the crew’s vegtime is interrupted by Badger, who’s come to keep them on ice until the duel is over.  The crew is forced to jump back into work mode and try to figure how to organize themselves to escape from Badger and save Mal.  Meanwhile, Mal has essentially been taken prisoner by his challenger and he receives a sword-fighting lesson from Inara.  This gives them the perfect opportunity to tell each other what they really thing about the other’s professions.

Once the duel arrives, we see Inara’s keen sense of being able to read who’s the best at manipulating others, just as she did at the beginning of the episode in the pre-bar fight scene.  There, as in Mal’s sword fight she had the insight to see which of the pool players was “playing with a heavy hand” — toying with his opponent to increase the drama of beating their foe. 

Back at the ship, River — plying her trade of craziness — shows that even this is a useful work-world skill.  Even crazy-river has a place in this rag-tag crew:  craziness is like — her thing, ya know?

As it quickly becomes apparent that Inara is right and Mal is headed for a bloody end, she manages to distract Mr. Fancypants for a second by agreeing to be his love slave.  During this understandable lapse in Mr. F’s attention, Mal manages to disarm the guy and stick his own sword in him several times.  Here again, we see Whedon and Minear’s tendency to show their heroes in a less than favorable light.  Mal does this repeated stabbing almost as punctuation in his gloating about his win over his prostrate duel partner.  But his win rings somewhat hollow since how he got there was by taking advantage of his competitor in a moment of weakness.  Sure, the guy should have realized that the duel was still on, but Mal’s lack of hesitation to seize the opportunity to grasp victory from the arms of defeat shows how he considers himself outside of the world of social norms and conventions and how his morals tend to answer to his needs somewhat more than we’re comfortable with.  Nevertheless, Mal is our “everyman” hero, a role we can all dream about where we make our way through life by living up to our own code no matter what the cost. 

In the end, the crew’s inability to get their game on to spring their “…complicated escape and rescue op…” means that Mal and Inara essentially rescue them when they return to the ship.



1. Kym - November 3, 2007

One aspect of Firefly that I found delightful and troubling was the way Mal could do something ie Kick Crow into the engine or stab “Mr. Fancypants” and the audience was set up to cheer ( and we did) but villains could do a similar action and the audience was supposed to despise them as in Atherton ‘playing’ with Mal in the sword fight scene. I suppose in Real Life we do choose sides and cheer OUR side regardless of some of the behavior involved. Still, even as I was cheering, I felt a little exasperated at myself.

2. Chris - November 3, 2007

I think we’re always aware it’s fiction, too, so we’re more likely to cheer outright for our heroes, even when they’re playing some of the same dirty tricks as the villans.

We’re also invested in Mal and want to see him live according to his code. As long as he doesn’t betray his own sense of honor, we’re willing to look the other way or outright laugh when he does things that we wouldn’t even want to do ourselves. The fact that he violates our own code (for instance, repeatedly stabbing Mr. Fancypants) and gets away with it, titilates us. We secretly want to harass and tourture the bad guy too, even as we are repulsed by this ugly impulse in ourselves.

3. Kym - November 4, 2007

Oh, well said.

4. Firefly: Heart of Gold Ep. 13 « Sci-Fi TV Geek - December 12, 2007

[…] character and her relationship to her work.  As discussed in this blog’s post on Shindig, I think a recurring theme in Firefly is how we carry ourselves in the work-world.  In this […]

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