This week we’re up to the fourth and fifth episodes. Sit back, put your starship on autopilot, and enjoy.
Shindig (Episode 4)
This one begins with a familiar sight: Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are in a cantina, this time playing pool with some traders while Inara watches. It turns out these friendly traders deal in transporting slaves, so Mal lifts their money clip and, naturally, starts a bar brawl.
Next, Serenity stops at the planet of Persephone, which we last saw in the pilot episode. They’re here to find work. Inara is in her shuttle looking for clients. She chats with Atherton Wing, a blueblood who invites her to a fancy party.
Mal comes in and they banter about her work, and his brawling. This scene sets up the rest of the episode, which mainly focuses on their budding relationship.
When they land, the crew goes out to fetch supplies and such. They stop by a store window where Kaylee admires a frilly dress. Mal insults her in one of the few instances where he acts like a genuine horse’s ass, but he feels bad about it.
Mal and Jayne sit in Badger’s little hideout, drinking grain alcohol while Badger tells them he wants to work with them. He knows a person who wants to smuggle some goods, but the person won’t deal with him directly (not fancy enough), so he wants Mal to contract the job.
Inara and her client attend the party, which reminds me of something out of a Tolstoy novel. Atherton is a bore, but he wants her to stay on Persephone as his personal companion. She doesn’t give him an answer. Then he insults Serenity, which pisses her off. And rightly so! Who does this guy think he is, anyway?
Then Mal and Kaylee enter the party, Mal wearing a suit that looks like it came from the American Confederacy, and Kaylee in the frilly dress she admired in the store window. While they look around for Mal’s contact, Kaylee calls him Capt. Tightpants, which still makes me laugh every time I hear it.
Back on the ship, Wash and Zoe enjoy some much-deserved R&R in their quarters. I really liked seeing this side of their relationship explored a little more. It would be difficult maintaining a marriage on the close confines of a ship, so this time must be extra special for them.
At the party, Mal meets his contact, but the man is not keen on dealing with one of Badger’s associates. And Mal completely agrees. They are talking when Inara and Ath come over. Mal asks for a dance with Inara, and they banter as they waltz (or whatever it is). By the end, they are laughing and having fun, which makes Atherton angry.
He tries to pull Inara away and Mal objects. By punching him. Apparently, on this planet that is a challenge to duel. Atheron accepts and we learn that the dandy is a lethal swordsman who enjoys killing. In a strange twist, the contact agrees to be Mal’s second.
While all this was going on, there’s a nice shot of Kaylee, surrounded by admiring men as she talks about ship engines. It reminds me of Scarlett O’Hara at the picnic.
Badger shows up at Serenity to inform the crew of Mal’s problem. He’s here to make sure they don’t try to intervene.
Mal is put up in lodgings (to make sure he doesn’t flee). Inara comes to get him out, but he refuses to run. He wants her to teach him how to sword fight instead. After some insults at her profession, Mal breaks down and asks Inara not to take Atherton’s offer. Finally, the ice between them is thawing.
The crew on Serenity is planning to jump Badger’s men, when River shows up. Badger questions her and she adopts an accent just like his (is that Cockney?). She enthralls him and then leaves. Unfortunately, that was just the distraction the crew needed to make a break for it, but they were too caught up in River’s act to try. That deserves a golf clap for the humor.
Mal and Atherton meet the next morning in a grassy meadow for their duel. Inara and the smuggling client watch as Atherton toys with Mal, cutting him bit by bit. Atherton gets ready to make the kill when Inara interrupts. She says she’ll take his offer if he lets Mal live. Before Atherton can answer, Mal takes the opportunity to turn the tables. Ath is on the ground, and Mal wins. Mal, however, doesn’t kill him. (He just pokes a couple holes in him.) Impressed, the client gives Mal the smuggling job.
Back on Serenity, the crew is finally ready to pounce on Badger’s men when Mal and Inara arrive. Mal tells Badger to get off his ship, and all is well. There’s a nice shot where Kaylee puts on classical music in her room and gazes at her frilly dress hanging on the wall. Then we go to Mal and Inara, sitting on the stairs in the ship’s hold, drinking together. She’s grateful for his attempt to defend her honor, says she wasn’t going to accept Atherton’s offer anyway. Why would anyone want to leave Serenity? Mal says he can’t think of a reason while they sit above a hold full of cattle.
Safe (Episode 5)
This episode begins with Simon and River as children. River is pretending they are soldiers cut off from their unit by dinosaur-wielding Independents. It’s clear their father dotes on them, and he is focused on turning Simon into a first-rate doctor someday. Then we flash forward to River panicking on Serenity when Simon tries to examine her. Mal wants her to stay quiet so she doesn’t spook the cattle in their hold. He tells Simon to handle it.
Serenity lands on a backwater world and unloads their smuggled cargo. Mal sends Simon and River into town to keep them out of trouble. Inara and Kaylee are shopping in town when Simon and River walk in. Simon insults Kaylee without realizing it, and she tells him off. (You go, girl!) But River wanders off.
Prospective buyers show up for the cattle. While they are haggling with Mal, lawmen show up to arrest the buyers. It seems they might be murderers. At the same time, Simon finds River at an outdoor dance. She joins in, and here begins a series of back-and-forth scenes between the dancing and the firefight that erupts between the cattle buyers and the cops. I liked this montage, except for the laser-gun-style sounds of the firing pistols. They should just stay with the standard gunfire sound effects.
The crew rushes Book to the ship’s infirmary and does what they can, but it doesn’t look good. Mal sends Wash to town to find Simon. However, Simon is being dragged through some woods by his captors. River finds them and the men seize her as well. We get another flashback to the time when River was away at the Alliance academy. Simon is worried about her and tries to tell their parents that she’s sending some kind of hidden message in her letters. They tell him to focus on his career.
Wash returns to the ship. Simon and River are gone, probably snatched by hillfolk. Mal orders the ship to take off. They need to find help for Book. Inara suggest they go to the Alliance. Against his better judgment, Mal agrees. They rendezvous with an Alliance cruiser and allow themselves to be boarded. The Alliance isn’t going to help until Book gets them to scan his ID card. Then they rush him to their sickbay.
The hillfolk take Simon and River to their village. Simon takes over their crappy clinic. River tells him she knows that he gave up everything to help her. Then River reveals secrets locked inside a mute child’s memories, and the local nurse/teacher accuses her of being a witch. It turns out these hill people are also religious fanatics. (So much for the future being a better place…)
Then we get a flashback of their father bailing Simon out of jail. He was trying to help River, but his father won’t listen. He says he won’t come for Simon if this happens again.
Book is all patched up and back on Serenity. He declines to explain what happened and how his ID card got him such royal treatment. Mal is suspicious, rightly, but lets it go. Like us, he can sense that Book is a good guy.
Back in the village, the hillfolk are setting to burn River at the stake. Simon tries to fight them off, then tries to reason with them, but neither tactic works. Finally, he climbs up on the stake to die with her. But, before the villagers can light the fire, Serenity swoops in to rescue them. The town patron says River is a witch. To which Mal replies, “Yeah, but she’s our witch.”
Back on Serenity, Mal and Simon have an actual moment. Simons asks why Mal came back for them, and Mal says because they’re on his crew. Period. This is the Malcolm Reynolds we know and love. Fiercely loyal to his friends, and those whom he has adopted.
The last shot is the crew sitting around the dinner table, sharing a meal like a family. River and Simon have, in a sense, found a new, better father figure.
I think these are two very strong episodes. In “Shindig,” we get to see Mal and Inara’s relationship unfold a bit more. We also witness Mal’s chivalry get him into trouble. It was interesting to see the show’s take on the old blueblood-versus-plucky-hero trope. Personally, I think Mal should have wiped the floor (er, grass) with Atherton Wing, but oh well.
“Safe” is interesting because it explores so much backstory (Simon and River) and implies more (Shepherd Book). And it further demonstrates Mal’s unwavering loyalty to his crew. He was willing to risk his ship and his freedom to save Book, and he went back for Simon and River when he had plenty of reasons not to.
This is why I love this series so much. The characters unfold like origami on the screen, revealing new and interesting layers while reinforcing the strengths (and weaknesses) we’ve come to admire.
Swing by next week for more Firefly.
Read our complete Firefly Retrospective series:
Part 1 – Pilot
Part 2 – “Train Job” and “Bushwhacked”
Part 3 – “Shindig” and “Safe”
Part 4 – “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and “Jaynestown”
Part 5 – “Out of Gas” and “Ariel”
Part 6 – “War Stories” and “Trash”
Part 7 – “The Message,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Objects in Space”
Part 8 – Serenity, the Movie
Jon Sprunk is the author of the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master) and a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. His next epic fantasy series begins in March 2014 with Blood and Iron.