Firefly: Heart of Gold Ep. 13 December 12, 2007Posted by Chris in Firefly.
Tags: Firefly, Serenity
Don’t Argue: Horse Beats Hover Craft Every Time!
Uggghhhh….this one kinda hurts. I cringe as I watch…I cringe as I write. This is probably my least-favorite of the Firefly episodes. The obvious reference in its title is to the archetypal “hooker with a heart of gold”. The plot revolves around a house of prostitution that’s not companion guild-certified. Their lack of status is their undoing, as the local rich guy thinks he’s the father of a pregnant prostitute in the house and means to claim his child while proving to the world that they’re whores and he’s in a position of power over them. The prostitute is of a mind to tell him to buzz off, and her madam — Nandi, a friend of Inara — calls in Serenity to help fight the jerk-off off.
So, despite the cringe-factor in this episode (more on this later), there are some interesting themes running though it (hey, it’s Firefly afterall). One is the further development of Inara’s 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 episode, Inara’s hypocrisy towards her profession is presented for our examination. Her initial discussion with Mal about the plight of her friend shows that she considers Nandi and her house to be lowly “whores” and not noble companions. As she says this, it’s clear that she’s not totally comfortable labeling her friend in this way, but she doesn’t talk about her doubts; doesn’t discuss her misgivings about a society that elevates prostitutes who are part of a union and persecutes those who are independent of society’s direct control. Here we see Whedon et al.’s progressive vision of feminism expressed. The episode’s plot serves as a palate for exploring how women’s sexuality is controlled and comodified. These women have taken control of their own sexuality and seek to use it for their own gain, but in doing so, they become vulnerable to the whims of psychopaths like Burgess — society punishes them for controlling their bodies even as it encourages them to sell themselves to survive.
Mal’s vision for himself and his work is open for discussion too, as he initially thinks that Nandi’s call for help to Serenity is directed to him, calling him to fulfill his secret (even to himself?) ambitions to be a hero and protector of the innocent rather than just a petty thief. The fact that Nandi is really asking Inara for help highlights Inara’s ambivalence towards Nandi’s whoring ways — while she seems to agree with society’s assessment of Nandi’s status, she feels compelled to protect Nandi, even at risk of suffering the wrath of the Companion’s guild if they should find out. It’s not clear if Mal perceives the full weight of her ambivalence towards Nandi’s situation, but he seems to relish the opportunity to play hero.
If it wasn’t clear from previous episodes, Jayne shows his true, self-interested colors by refusing to help fight Burgess until he finds out he’ll be protecting prostitutes, at which time he quickly realizes he can get some free trim and signs on.
At the end of this episode, a tectonic shift in the series arc takes place when Inara tells Mal she’ll be leaving him and Serenity. This is an interesting development on many levels, not the least of which is that she tells Mal just as he seems ready to reveal his love for her. Ouch! But more importantly, her decision reflects on her internal conflicts about how to rectify her feelings for Mal and the crew and the nature of her work. Put simply, as a prostitute you can never grow attached to the people you work with. If you do, work stops being work and starts to become family — at which point, you no longer have the income and identity that work provides. So while Mal and the rest of the crew have reveled in their successes at making Serenity a home and their crew-mates family, Inara has felt her work identity threatened by her love for the ship, it’s crew and for Mal in particular.
Things that “bug” about this episode include: The fact that Mal is able to catch Burgess in the climactic chase scene on horseback while Burgess is in a hovercraft….uhhh, wouldn’t a hovercraft be able to go a little faster than a horse? The fact that Burgess has a laser pistol that conveniently runs out of battery power just as he’s about to shoot Mal. After if fails to fire, the camera shows us the pistol’s read-out saying “Check Battery”…uhhh, cheesy as fu*#! As mentioned earlier, the whole “hooker with a heart of gold”, thing is straight-up Cheese-Whiz. Finally, Burgess’s character is so one-dimensional it hurts. If they had given him a little more complexity — a little less playing the “heavy” — it would have given some added depth to the story.
Hmmm…is that it? Is that all the criticisms/cringe-making things I can come up with? Doesn’t seem like much once I’ve written it. Well, maybe this episode isn’t so bad after all…