Firefly Month: Why Heart of Gold is the Worst Episode of Firefly

Monique’s intro: There are some episodes from the Whedonverse that I don’t think I want to watch again for a long time like “Seeing Red” from Buffy or “Belonging” from Dollhouse or any episode from Angel Season 4. “Heart of Gold” is my least favorite episode of Firefly. I hate it. So much so that I don’t want to watch it again, even for the purposes of analyzing it for this blog.

Not convinced? Here’s a scene from the episode that shows the usually composed Inara crying her eyes out.

Firefly_1x13_HoG_455

I don’t just hate this episode because it blows holes in my Mal/Inara ship. But thankfully, Joseph Susanka is here to review this episode so that I don’t have to!

Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?
Mal: You’re on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?
Mal: You’re on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?

As a long-time (and unapologetic) fan of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly,” I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the end of “Ariel.” In fact, it’s pretty near my favorite moment in any TV show I’ve ever seen. Why so? Because it is the most perfect distillation of why I love Malcolm Reynolds so much (and why the show works): This ragtag group of folks he works with aren’t just his crew. They’re his family. And when Jayne reveals that he feels the same way about them (despite his momentary — or should that be congenital — weakness for money), that shared affection and loyalty enables Mal to bring him back on board. Quite literally.

In other words, the end of “Ariel” underscores the one ethical constant in the Whedon Verse: Mal’s stubborn – almost impossibly stubborn – loyalty to the members of his crew. With his dogged fidelity as our anchor point, we can endure any amount of downright unsettlin’ behavior without losing our central confidence in the show and its semi-anti-hero; without it, we are but leaves on the wind.

All of which doubtless helps to explain why “Heart of Gold” is my least favorite episode in the entire show; an episode, in fact, that I might actually dislike. Because it’s an episode that drastically undercuts the very Mal I’ve grown to know and respect. The Mal who’s a great leader and a good man and (above all else) a loyal and faithful friend.

It contains some of the series’ most obvious Western tropes – defending a small and dilapidated fortress against almost impossible odds; gunfights and scenery-chewing, over the top villains on horseback; the hooker(s) with the titular heart(s) of gold – and Whedon is clearly playing with the genre in a number of interesting ways. So there’s much here that I could enjoy in a different context. But when Mal decides to spend the night with Inara’s former companion, Nandi, it feels like a real betrayal. A betrayal of the weird and complicated relationship he has Inara, surely; but even more devastatingly, a betrayal of his own character.

Unlike the hilarious (and ultimately, unconsummated) dalliance with Saffron in “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” where Mal seems genuinely conflicted and not entirely willing, his decision to embrace Nandi is a far more intentional one, which makes it all the more out of character. And I’m not the only one who thinks that; Inara herself, despite her best attempts to present a bold and progressive face when she learns of the previous night’s “festivities,” is devastated when she learns of Mal’s actions.

In fairness to Mr. Whedon, having one’s show cut off in the bloom of its youth can wreak a good bit of havoc with future story lines. It is entirely possible that this conflict between Mal and Inara would have served some larger purpose – a larger story arc that would once again confirm Mal’s loyalty to Inara and to his own principles of Faithfulness At Any Cost. But without that larger context, I feel that it does a real disservice to my favorite part of the show. It’s not that I object to Mal being revealed as a less-than- perfect man – the show gives ample evidence of his failings – it’s that I object to losing the one thing I’ve been able to hold onto all along; the one thing I could rely on. Having the rug pulled out from under one’s feet at the opening is fine, and often a very effective bit of storytelling. But to have it pulled out now, so close to the end? That, I do not care for. Not at all.

I’d just stop at “The Message,” if it’s all the same to you.
“When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that…You find someone to carry you.”

Author addendum: Thankfully there is one amazing episode that follows after that. In my honest opinion, skip this episode after watching “The Message” and follow me to “Objects in Space.”

Attribution: All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only. P.S. Joss Whedon, you’re a bastard.

Firefly Month: The Importance of Communication in Trash

Once again, I am going to do my best to keep my fangirl squee for this episode to a minimum. In fact, I’ll save it for a few particular moments in this episode.

The episode starts with Captain Malcolm Reynolds naked as a baby in the middle of a desert. The episode then goes back to some time ago when our beloved captain meets up with an old friend of his named Monty for a smuggling job. Monty tells Mal that he has recently married a lovely woman named Bridget. Enter the lady formerly known as Saffron. Mal and “Saffron” point guns at each other and in the midst of their scuffle, the devious redhead inadvertently reveals that she knows Mal all too well and Monty ditches them. Unfortunately, Saffron doesn’t have anywhere to go. She begs him for a ride and even offers a deal on a heist with a seriously huge payoff.

The Captain returns to Serenity and gets invited into Inara’s shuttle, a very rare occasion. And by rare, I mean never. Inara laments to Mal that she hasn’t gotten any work in three weeks and thinks that Mal is keeping her from doing her usual job. They fight like a married couple, with Inara pointing out that their last batch of cargo was little geisha bobbleheads. And the audience and I go “OH JUST KISS AND MAKE UP ALREADY!”

It cuts to Mal taking Saffron out of the crate. Saffron explains the heist to the crew: a guy named Durren Haymer who collects a lot of Earth-that-was artifacts, including the MacGuffin of this episode, the Lassiter. The Lassiter is essentially the oldest laser gun in existence. Haymer, a member of the Alliance, currently lives on an estate on a central planet named Bellerophon and Saffron knows how to get inside. Of course, the gun is gonna be hard to get because taking the gun out of the house, it’ll alert security and the feds immediately.

Inara totally sees right through the scheme, smart lady that she is, and decides to stay out of it. Zoe decides to join in after punching Saffron in the face.

Simon and River are staying out of sight. River says “She’s a liar and no good will come of her.” Jayne, of course, doesn’t care so long as there’s payoff. River then points out “Jayne is a girl’s name” and Jayne reminds her that he’s got man parts. Of course, River tells Simon, after Jayne leaves, that Jayne is afraid that the Tam siblings will find out about his betrayal on Ariel. (And now you realize that River was actually talking about Jayne when she said “She’s a liar.”)

Zoe and Inara make small talk on a bridge. Inara is going to do her regular work and reminds Zoe that Saffron will more than likely stab Mal in the back.

As we move into Bellerophon, we realize that the estates are essentially floating islands. Mal and Saffron pose as members of a party prep crew. Kaylee points out that once they get the Lassiter, they’ll have to chuck it out the garbage chute since all the doors of the estate are tagged with security alarms. Kaylee will program the garbage bin to be flown to go to Isis Canyon, where Mal and the crew will get the loot.

While reprogramming the trash bin’s coordinate system, Jayne gets shocked  and knocked out. Saffron hears someone coming. It’s Durren, who recognizes Saffron as his wife on the spot and calls her Yolanda. Durren says that she’s been missing for six years. He thought that she ran off with the security programmer named Heinrich, but his body was found by police a short time after Yolanda disappeared.

Mal points out that Saffron actually cared for Durren and was possibly the first man she married and conned. Saffron has a gun ready to go. Durren comes back in while Mal takes advantage of the moment to put the Lassiter in the trash. It’s at this point that Mal gets a gun out of the flowers he brought in and I start calling the little redhead “YoSaffBridge.” Durren points out that he activated an emergency button on his ring and the police comes right away. Saffron and Mal get out of the estate and YoSaffBridge quickly locks the feds inside as the two escape to the shuttle.

Mal and YoSaffBridge exchange small talk on the shuttle. She admitted that she did love Durren and wanted to run off with Heinrich, but didn’t kill Heinrich. In fact, she forgot the guy’s name. She actually starts crying at this point and Mal lets his guard drop long enough to sit next to her, which opens up the opportunity for her to get Mal’s gun out of his holster. She holds him at gunpoint and tells him to get naked.

Meanwhile, the crew of Serenity realizes that there’s a maneuvering issue. Kaylee quickly checks the engine room and realizes that YoSaffBridge sabotaged the ship again. They can’t make the rendezvous and land.

It cuts to YoSaffBridge in the dumpster looking for the laser gun, only for Inara to show up holding the exact laser gun. Too bad it doesn’t work. Thankfully, she has a backup that works just fine. To the little redhead’s surprise, Inara and the rest of the crew were all putting up an act, going along with the scheme, but creating a backup plan in case YoSaffBridge double-crossed Mal. Inara would act all huffy and storm off only to show up at the dumpster and get the laser gun herself. Inara points out that some of the crew’s performances weren’t as nuanced as she had hoped and was surprised that YoSaffBridge didn’t realize that everyone was acting. (But hey, they don’t have Companion training.) She closes up YoSaffBridge in the dumpster as the little redhead screams my second favorite line in this entire episode: “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! I HAVE A CONDITION!” Of course, Inara points out that she is not gonna die, but just be there long enough for the authorities to find her.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Jayne wakes up paralyzed on Simon’s operating table, drugged with some medicine Simon gave him so that he wouldn’t break his spine when he regained consciousness. Simon takes advantage of Jayne’s paralyzed state to talk about Jayne betraying them on Ariel. River takes this opportunity to show herself. Simon tells Jayne that they are working together and that he will never harm Jayne as long as he’s on the operating table and says that they should trust each other. River, of course, says my actual favorite line in this entire episode: “Also, I can kill you with my brain.” The Tam siblings leave Jayne to rest and wallow in his guilt.

Speaking of wallowing in guilt, we find a very naked Mal out in the desert. The crew of Serenity arrives to pick him up and all is well.

This episode is one that is worth repeat viewings. And not just because it’s the opportunity of a life time to see a naked Nathan Fillion. As stated in a previous blog, the last encounter with YoSaffBridge involved the lady tossing in the apple of discord and taking advantage of the crew’s preconceptions in order to deceive them. This time, she gets the tables turned on her. The crew creates a plan to make sure they get the loot whether or not YoSaffBridge stabbed them in the back. Repeat viewings show the instances where Wash and Kaylee are breaking character, a slight giggle here, an over-the-top line said there.

Inara and Mal continue to have communication issues. It’s implied that Mal was probably keeping them out on the backwater parts of the verse to keep Inara from getting into situations like what happened in Shindig, but Inara was right in the fact that their most profitable ventures happened on central planets. Mal was wrong to call Inara a whore just as much as it was wrong for Inara to call Mal a petty thief. But in the end, they finally decided to compromise. Inara gets to join in on Mal’s latest crime while Mal lets Inara do her work on a central planet. And Inara gets to see Mal naked.

Speaking of that, I’m going to end this post with my fangirl squee.

OMIGOSH HE’S NAKED! And Inara finds him and she’s looking at him naked. How is she not fazed by this?! Heck, how is the rest of the crew unfazed by Mal’s very naked state?! Stop smiling like that, Mal! I’m thinking dirty thoughts!

I’ll be in my bunk. And then I’ll be going to Confession.

Firefly Month: Solid Ground and Synchronicity in Out of Gas

Out of Gas is unique in the sense that it’s told in anachronistic order. I’ll start with what I call “present day”:

The episode starts out with shots of an empty Serenity, which already tells the audience that something is wrong. Just as we start to wonder where everyone was, we see Captain Mal Reynolds collapsing onto the floor of the cargo hold.

The episode then flashes back to the crew of Serenity sharing funny stories around the dinner table and celebrating Simon’s birthday, when all of a sudden there’s an explosion from the engine room. The explosion knocks Zoe out and disables the life support and auxiliary power. To make things worse, they’re flying under the radar which meant that finding help is next to impossible. Kaylee explains that the ship can’t be fixed without a certain part, meaning that they are proverbially “dead in the water.” Mal tells everyone to evacuate the ship while he waits for help.

A while after everyone leaves, another ship arrives, but unfortunately, the people who have that part that Mal wants turn out to be scavengers and not good Samaritans. Mal manages to get them off and get the MacGuffin, but collapses.

And now we’ll move on to the scenes where Mal’s life flashes before his eyes.

Mal bought Serenity with Zoe, back when the ship was in a supposedly dilapidated state. Zoe is wary of it, but clearly she’s never seen home makeover shows. Mal hires Wash to be the pilot and a mechanic named Bester. Zoe does not like Wash, which again makes me wonder how the two got together in the first place. Later on, we find the mechanic Bester in flagrante delicto with Kaylee in the engine room.. Bester said that engines make her hot. Mal points out that the ship needs to get off ground because they’re behind schedule. Kaylee, mechanical genius that she is, points out the problem and gets hired on the spot at Bester’s expense. Some time later, Jayne gets recruited to the team when he and a band of robbers take Serenity at gunpoint and Mal bribes Jayne into turning to their side, offering room and board and more money. Finally, Inara is taken onto the ship, citing that her status as a Companion will create a sense of credibility and status. She asks for 3 things: complete autonomy, that Mal never walks into her shuttle without permission, and that Mal never calls her a whore. Well, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad, right?

Going back to the present day, Mal is able to give himself enough adrenaline to get the MacGuffin into the engine room and get the ship running again, but passes out before he can send a call to the shuttles to return to the ship.

The next thing we see is Mal waking up in the infirmary and I start wondering if we’re watching the end of Inception because Zoe supposedly regained consciousness and ordered both shuttles to return to the ship, thus saving Mal’s life. Too bad we never see that scene and are left guessing whether or not Mal and the rest of the crew died and the rest of everything is just an afterlife thing. I’m not gonna say I hate you, Joss Whedon. Not yet. I’m saving that for later. For now, I’m gonna roll my eyes and roll with the punches.

This was not an easy episode to analyze. This episode runs on backstory, which doesn’t lend much to finding themes or questions about morality. But then this old adage came to me: “God draws straight with crooked lines.” Also known as “everything happens for a reason.”

Synchronicity, as defined by Carl Jung, is “two or more events that are meaningfully related, but not casually related,” a coincidence that actually means something.

 

One can also argue that synchronicity is another way of saying “divine providence.”

 

At the end of the episode, we see that Mal originally looked at a large rocket-type ship before choosing Serenity. We also learn that Wash and Zoe weren’t a case of “love at first sight” and Kaylee only came onto the crew by chance. Jayne joined the crew because there would be more money and better service, Inara joined the crew because they needed her as much as she needs them and the pilot shows that everyone else on the ship started out as passengers.

But eventually, we see what all these moments lead up to: Zoe eventually gains a husband, Jayne gets to act as the crew’s enforcer and muscle, Kaylee gets to do what she loves for a living (working with mechanics, not the other thing; get your mind out of the gutter), Inara has a sense of independence, the Tam siblings find refuge, and Shepherd Book gets a home. What does Mal get out of it? He gets a family.

I think it’s fitting that the first flashback we see in the episode is when everyone’s gathered around the table exchanging stories and celebrating Simon’s birthday. They’ve come a really long way from how things started.

Joseph Susanka of “Summa This, Summa That” says:

He’s “out of gas” at the beginning of the timeline, searching for somewhere to anchor himself. The ship is what he finds. But through the course of the episode, as we see everyone coming together (and eventually, his efforts to protect them all as the ship *seems* like it’s deserving/betraying him), we come to realize that it’s the people on the ship that really anchor him. The real “solid ground.”

So instead of taking the idea that everyone died, I’d like to think that Providence came in to turn things around for Mal. After all, there are bigger things that the crew of the Serenity has to face.

JMJ