Ah, what a delightful stretch of episodes we have here! The series is still finding its legs and putting its characters on the paths they’ll need to take throughout the series, but these three volumes really get to the core dynamics that the show would be founded on. We get our first thorough examinations of the tangly romantic relationship between Inara and Captain Mal, as well as sowing the seeds for Kaylee and Simon’s growing flirtation, as well as many of the series’ most iconic moments. Let’s (shin)dig in!
Firefly 1×04, “Shindig”: Captain Reynolds and crew follow up a lead on some work back on Persephone , a planet you’ll remember from the pilot, as it’s where shady hookup Badger makes his den. It’s Inara this time who finds herself gainfully employed serving as arm-candy for stuffed-shirt jerk, Atherton Wing, at a fancy-dress hootenanny. Of course, Mal finds himself at the party in the course of his specific hunt for paying crime, complete with a befrocked Kaylee who becomes belle of the ball, wowing all the boys with her affable manner and encyclopedic knowledge of spaceship engines. Both plots converge when Mal’s contact backs him in a duel he joins against jerk-face Atherton, who by episode’s end learns just how great a man Mal can be. Hint: He’s alright.
It’s a charming episode, despite the fact the finale sees our hero bloodied and stabbed by the end, the whole thing is handled with a light touch. I always felt Jewel Saite and Joss Whedon had such a deft touch with Kaylee, because she’s a character that if written just a bit too folksy or played just a smidge too naive comes across as a colossal rube, which would really demean her character and call her role into question. For one, a captain wouldn’t want a rube responsible for his ship’s engines, and a sophisticated cosmopolitan like Simon likely wouldn’t be attracted to someone so coarse. Saite always manages to find the sweetness in Kaylee’s sheltered and rusticated demeanor, and this episode does a fantastic job of not just showcasing this ability, but using it as a plot counterpoint when wide-eyed Kaylee attends the cotillion in her gaudy ruffled dress and is beset by the Persephone Mean Girls Brigade, only to see her candor and guilelessness favored by the suitors at the dance over those haughty slatterns. And her dress is just dynamite — it’s like a candy shop and anime had a baby and that baby was actually a fireworks display that was high on acid.
Inara, in a moment of rarely-seen emotion at episode’s end, chooses to tend to the injured Mal, forsaking a luxurious life without want on Atherton’s arm. While up to this point in the series her relationship with Mal had been hinted at, Inara had been somewhat shorted on development, though here’s we get to see the rather complex symbiosis they share. Inara works for Mal, but Mal needs Inara’s credentials; likewise, Inara is hurt by Mal’s continued disparaging of her career choice, but appreciates Mal’s bluntness and belief in the freedom for everyone to choose their own way through life. This episode’s theme is largely the Yin and Yang that Malcolm and Inara represent to each other. Mal is poor, Inara is wealthy; Mal values honesty, Inara values pretense; Mal’s continued survival depends on rejecting the constraints of civilization, Inara’s survival depends on embracing them.
Firefly 1×05, “Safe”: This isn’t one of my favorite episodes, but I have to admit that it has a lot of good moments. I’ve come to realize that, despite my like both Simon and River individually as characters, when the episode becomes dependent on them I just kind of zone out and stay bored until Mal or Zoe or Jayne shoots somebody. This episode isn’t really much different, as Simon and River focus of the episode, and the series of flashbacks contain some of the worst things I think the series has to offer; namely, implacable stupidity.
In these flashes of Simon’s earlier days back home with his parents, we’re shown how he puts the pieces together to ascertain that River is being held captive by the so-called school she went to, and when he makes his case to his folks we’re shown time and again that they’re basically brain-dead jerkwads. We go from seeing a caring and involved elder Mr. Tam doing whatever it takes to foster his kids’ success to a distracted and annoyed grump when later his son repeatedly keeps telling him, “Hey, your daughter has been kidnapped and tortured and it’s all RIGHT HERE IN HER NOTES WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO ME OH MY JESUS!” I like Joss Whedon, I really do, quite a lot actually, but he’s got just a handful of writing ticks that bug me to no end, and he’s savvy enough to make me think that he’s better than something so rote and lacking in creativity. Whedon needed a reason for Simon to be both savvy and without means, and this clunky handling was the easiest way to make that happening. It’s not the idea that’s bad, it’s the execution.
Something Whedon continued to do well with in the series was creating plausible scenarios for our heroes to fall into, and having your doctor kidnapped by hillbillies would conceivably be a real threat in a universe that is basically playing a magnified game of Manifest Destiny. Having your quasi-psychic sister mistaken for a witch by those same hillbillies is basically Q.E.D. But hey, she’s our witch.
Firefly 1×06, “Our Mrs. Reynolds”: Okay, who doesn’t love this episode? Get out. Now. What else do you need? This episode is basically a Billy Wilder sex-comedy, filtered through shoot-em-ups and pretty floral bonnets. After a successful job finishes, Mal finds himself unwittingly “married” to Saffron, a naïve young woman from a religious homestead. She’s his “payment” after the local preacher is a bit shorthanded with Mal’s remuneration, and our good captain is having none of it. Well, that’s not true. He’s having some of it. Can you blame him? Saffron is a hell of a cook, eager to help, and seeks to . . . um . . . consummate her vows with haste; did I mention she looks like Christina Hendricks? Because she is actually Christina Hendricks. That’s who plays Saffron. Hendricks.
The plot around Saffron (who is actually an ex-companion that seduces space captains so she can sell their ships for scrap) is chock-full of funny bits, from Wash’s near-seduction to Book’s depiction of the “special” ring of Hell to a gorked-out Inara. That last part is always one of my favorites, as it hearkens back to the thread two episodes prior where we see that Inara actually works with some considerable effort to present herself as aloof as she comes off, and here where she’s under the influence of opiates (which she got from kissing a poisoned Mal oh my gosh y’all!) we see that Inara can be quite goofy and just as full of embarrassment as anyone else. It’s another layer of depth on a character who, up to that point, the audience may have thought they knew pretty well.
In testament to Whedon really being somewhat lost and separated on the whole Simon/River subplot, River doesn’t even appear in this episode. Saffron, however, will return later down the line.
Who’s ready for more Firefly? Anyone got their pre-orders in yet for the new Serenity graphic novels? Let me hear about it in the comments!