Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Firefly: Shindig Review

"Well, I'm alright."
                   - Mal after stabbing an unarmed and wounded man on the ground.

That you are Nathan, that you are.

Young love.
Shindig is the perhaps the tightest episode thus far, focusing almost solely on the events at a fancy-dress ball on Persephone. It is also the first episode to dabble in themes beyond the purely emotional. Though previous episodes have broad moral arcs, they are mostly black and white by their resolution. Give the medicine to the sick people, survive the Reavers, etc. Shindig, focusing as it does on Inara's world of 'companions' and female status in this sci-fi future, actually provides the viewer with a meaty issue to chew on.

The episode starts, as have most, in a bar. The crew gets into a brawl with local slavers (the ham-fisted morality at play again) before we're whisked off to Persephone. It's on this planet that the show starts getting into class / gender issues and rises above previous entries in terms of pure thought-provoking content.

Bitches be gossiping.
Inara makes an appointment (date? rendezvous? tryst?) with a client who is clearly on the upper crust of Persephone's uber-rich, to be his escort to a fancy ball. The high-class culture is ripped almost straight from England's Victorian era as depicted in Sense and Sensibility. The dancing is reminiscent, the clothes might as well be period, and the seething subtext of catty gossip is pervasive. Mal is contracted by the cockney Badger to attend the same party with Kaylee on his arm for the sake of (unintentionally) hilarious appearances.

As would be expected from a show starring a blue-collar superhero, it's not long into the party before a dandyish rich kid (Inara's date) gets socked in the jaw (by Mal) for noble reasons (questioning the sanctity of the lady's pantaloons). This is taken as a challenge to a duel which Mal wins, sparing the man's life but not before poking him a few extra times for good measure. Just to remind us that he's not a "great" man, not even a "good" man, but relateably, sexily, "alright." There are a few scenes on Serenity of the rest of the crew planning to rescue Mal but, overall, nothing much really happens in this episode.

Which is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. The focused nature of this episode allows the romance between Mal and Inara to bubble up and, more importantly, Inara's character to take center stage. For all the glorification of Mal's everyman morality, the real hero of this episode is Inara. By episode's end, we see the manly fight for her honor as the pathetic chest-beating that it is. Inara doesn't need any protection. She is more than capable of navigating the world she has chosen for her profession. It is her that saves Mal twice. First by teaching him the basics of a sword on the eve of the duel, second by distracting the villain long enough for Mal to recover at the climax.

Would have been hosed without Inara.
It is also refreshing to have an episode where Mal is wrong. It humanizes him without making him unsympathetic. Inara's affection for him feels real for the first time, instead of a tongue-in-cheek send up of classist romance. In her world, Mal is the vulnerable one and, having established this mutual reliance, their unspoken affection is far more powerful. Morena Baccarin's performance is strong enough to carry the day and her explosion at the defeated villain at the end of the episode is cathartic.

Overall, Shindig is a fine episode. It's tight, funny, and nuanced which is an adjective that can't be applied to any of the previous. It also doesn't share the same campy feeling as some of the previous entries despite taking place almost entirely on a planet. Perhaps the show is learning some new tricks as it goes on. Or perhaps it's because Persephone is a more developed planet, requiring less wide-angel outdoor shots. Whatever the case, it's another strong entry in a show whose cancellation becomes more distressing with each new episode watched. I hope the Mal/Inara relationship reaches some kind of resolution before it's all said and done.


  1. Why do I even bother to watch the show? I can just read your reviews.

  2. I just re-watched this episode, there is something very interesting that I've missed in many many watchings. It's amazing that it has escaped view.