I am going to do my very best not to let my fangirl squee get in the way of analyzing this episode. I squeed about it enough in the intro to my Firefly Month.
The episode starts out at your typical bar (except for the virtual pool). Mal pickpockets a man at the pool table who bragged about coming into money by selling slaves. It’s a small indicator of Mal’s strange sense of morality given that he makes his living by smuggling and stealing from people he deems to be bad (like slave traders and the Alliance) and never from innocent people (as seen in The Train Job). The planet that the crew visits, Persephone, was where they started in the pilot.
A conversation at the dress shop eventually leads to Kaylee talking about Inara, which irks Mal into mouthing off at her. Zoe, Wash, and Kaylee return to the ship, but Mal and Jayne run into Badger. (Played by Mark Sheppard whom Supernatural fans recognize as Crowley and Doctor Who fans will recognize as Canton Delaware Everett.) Badger informs Mal and Jayne about a man in need of a smuggler, but won’t work with Badger beneath him. Coincidentally, this man is going to be a guest at the party Inara is attending and Badger just so happens to have a couple of invitations.
It’s clear at this party that the society knows Inara because she announced by her name and not as her client’s escort. As I said before, the life of a Companion is very similar to that of a geisha, who often relies on the support of a danna or patron. (I had a Memoirs of a Geisha phase.) Inara’s client, Atherton, is making such an offer to Inara when Kaylee and Mal walk in.
Meanwhile, on the ship, Book, Simon, and Jayne are playing a card game while River has a minor breakdown, removing the labels from the food in the kitchen. I think it’s because the food came from the Blue Sun corporation, which turns out to be a major antagonist in the film Serenity.
During Mal and Inara’s dance, the subject of what is legal verses what is morally right gets brought up again. Mal considers his work to be honest, even though it’s illegal and says that the society Inara is a part of is all taking part of a giant lie even though they’re considered to be Mal’s superiors. He doesn’t want to stop Inara from taking Atherton’s offer, but he later says he hope that she doesn’t because he cares about her. Captain Mal Reynolds: master of the mixed messages.
The duel in this episode is a duel of swords instead of fists or pistols (both of which are Mal’s specialty). It’s up to Inara to teach Mal how to fence and fight with a sword. Later on, when the actual duel takes place, Inara provides the distraction that gives Mal the advantage to defeat Atherton. Mal cheats, punching Atherton in the face again, and beats him down with the handle. However, instead of killing Atherton as stated by Sir Warrick Harrow as the rules of the duel, Mal decides to show mercy and just stabs Atherton a couple of times.
The icing on the cake, however, is what Inara declares when Atherton shows his true feelings for her. When Atherton threatens to her that she’ll never find work again, she throws the rules of her guild at him. His actions have blacklisted him from any other Companions. Mal’s duel leads to him successfully making a deal with Sir Warrick Harrow and the two of them return to the ship and share some homemade wine while they overlook the cargo that they’re smuggling: cows.
One underlying theme in this episode is chivalry and feminism. Most feminists do not like the idea of chivalry. However, I don’t think the two ideas are mutually exclusive. After all, the idea of chivalry and feminism are both grounded in the idea that women ought to be valued as people and not as property. Besides that, Emma Watson created a nonprofit organization called He For She, which asks for men to help support women’s rights and promotes gender equality. I think it’s a great example of how men and women can start working together to support each other.
The most obvious example of how chivalry and feminism work is the main plot involving Mal, Inara, and Atherton. Mal is motivated by his desire to defend Inara’s honor, a very chivalrous idea. However, he also calls Inara a whore to her face. As I stated before, he wasn’t calling her a whore because he’s slut shaming her. He just does not like what she does for a living. And the reason he wants to defend Inara’s honor is because he thinks Atherton is treating Inara like an object. We can see examples of that with Atherton holding onto Inara possessively and glaring with jealousy as Inara and Mal have a dance and later grabs Inara once the dance was done.
Another example of chivalry and feminism is seen in the minor subplots. A distinguished gentleman rescues Kaylee from a group of mean girls by means of slut shaming. While I will subtract points to the cool old guy for using slut shaming, he apologizes for his rudeness and says “I cannot abide useless people.” I was so wishing that the cool old guy was Sir Warrick Harrow. Later on, Kaylee is seeing talking mechanics with a large group of men, showing that a woman can have a good time with men just by being herself. She didn’t have to go out onto the dance floor to have a good time.
I’m not exactly what modern, secular society would consider a feminist. I prefer to use the term “gender equalist” because I believe that men have their own discrimination issues just as often as women do. I also believe that men and women have to support each other instead of women blaming the patriarchy and men acting entitled to whatever they want just because they’re nice guys. I’m not gonna say that Shindig is the perfect example of what I wish gender equality could be like, but it’s a start at least.