Oh, fancy meeting you here. Thought I heard you were back planetside. How ’bouts we go have ourselves a sit down and some tea? I made it myself; the secret is wood alcohol, ya know. Oh, look-a-that, you thought I was giving you a choice? Come on then, but if you need a refresher, past episode commentaries are over at the gorram index. Now get that stick out of your pigu and let’s get down to business.
Mal and Jayne are in a seedy tavern, playing pool with a fellow smuggler while Inara watches from the bar, obviously out of place in her fine dress. As they play, the other smuggler reveals that he is a slaver. Mal takes exception and tells Inara to leave, but she protests, saying she is enjoying herself. Mal insists, saying there is a thief about as he holds up a wad of cash he lifted off the slaver. The slaver realizes he’s been pick-pocketed, and a good old fashion bar-fight ensues. After Jayne has taken care of most of the drunks, the three leave.
Aboard Serenity, Wash and Zoe comment how it seems they always clear out of port in a hurry, but look forward to the expected long visit on Persephone, despite the risk of Wash going “land-crazy.” Mal appears on the bridge and somewhat dashes their dreams, and Zoe gets rather touchy over it, although Wash smoothes her feathers. Alas, Wash’s inattention starts them going into the atmosphere a bit fast.
ZOE: Planet’s coming up a little mite fast.
WASH: That’s ‘cause I’m going down too quick. Likely crash and kill us all.
MAL: Ah, well, when that happens, let me know.
WASH: OK, Whoa, No! No, we’re good. We’re good. It’s OK.
Back in her shuttle, Inara is selecting her prospective clients and starts talking to the suave, charming, handsome, and witty Atherton Wing. Atherton says there is a proposal he has already talked with Inara about that he is eager to hear a reply to, but Inara avoids answering it as Mal, for a surprise, knocks before he enters her shuttle. Mal sees the still picture of Atherton on Inara’s screen and makes some snarky remarks, yet Inara is seemingly unaffected and her simple statements—in particular the one about how Atherton does indeed have some stamina to have engaged her for days—actually seem to faze Mal. During the conversation, Mal makes a very vague attempt at finding out if Inara will have any free time, and Inara says that Atherton has invited her to a ball. He makes a few more snipes, and she continues to make the more potent returns, and then shoos him out.
The ship lands on Persephone, and the crew starts to enjoy themselves in the streets. Kaylee starts “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over some dresses in the windows, and Zoe comments on the pink, ruffly one she zeroed in on.
ZOE: Too much foofaraw. If I’m going to wear a dress, I want something with some slink.
WASH: You want a slinky dress, I can buy you a slinky dress. Captain, can I have money for a slinky dress?
JAYNE: I’ll chip in.
ZOE: I could hurt you.
Mal tries to get them to move on, especially since he is totting a rather heavy bag, but the others keep discussing the dress. So, he makes a rather sharp barb at Kaylee, saying that she has no use for the dress and would look silly in it besides. This earns him the ire of the crew, sans Jayne, who is clueless. They watch the others leave, and Badger sneaks up behind them and tells them, at gunpoint, that he wants to talk to them.
In Badger’s den, Mal shows some confusion at the comparatively good treatment Badger is giving them, including tea that Jayne likes which happens to be dosed with some wood alcohol. Badger tells Mal about a local who wants to smuggle some goods off planet, but won’t deal directly with Badger. But, Badger reasons, this respectable gentleman would be willing to deal with Mal. Mal is still not convinced and brings up the last attempt at a deal they had and how Badger backed out and asks him if he remembers why?
BADGER: I had a problem with your attitude. You were, what’s the word?
JAYNE (with a mouth full of food and tea): Pretentious?
Mal gives Jayne a confused look, and Badger continues talking, saying that it is the stick shoved up Mal’s nethers that would give him a chance with the client. Mal is interested, but still doubtful and asks how they are supposed to meet. Badger happens to know a high-scale party the man will be at and has gotten his hands on two invites. Finally, Mal accepts.
At the party, which is an interesting mix of Victorian Aristocracy and modern gala, Atherton and Inara arrive and begin their socializing. Atherton makes a crude complement, and Inara shows her discomfort, although Atherton does smarm himself back into her good graces, or else Inara just recomposes herself and keeps doing her job.
On Serenity, Kaylee is working in the engine room when Mal shows up. She is still upset with him, telling him that she is not speaking to him, and Mal says that’s fine, but that she needs to come along because he has a job for her.
Back at the party, Atherton reveals that he is trying to get Inara to stay with him permanently, and she continues to evade on an answer. Atherton persists, saying that she does not belong on that flying piece of gos se, and she calls him down for using bad language. Just then, Miss Kaywinnet Lee Frye and escort are announced, and Inara swears herself as Kaylee, wearing the pink dress, and Mal walk in.
Mal worries over his tight pants, and Kaylee tells him they show off his backside then goes on to gawk at the people and the room. Mal tells her to be careful, as they cheated Badger out of good money to get her the dress, and she says “Aye aye, Captain Tightpants.” She then says she’ll go look for the man or Inara by the buffet line. He relents and lets her go enjoy herself.
On Serenity, Book, Jayne, and Simon play cards using chores as chips, and River walks about the kitchen. There, she freaks out and takes the labels off the canned goods while the men ponder at what lavish things Mal and Kaylee are doing. Coincidentally, Book seems to be cleaning house with Simon and Jayne. While Book and Simon tend to River, Jayne steals from their piles.
Back at the party, Kaylee is once more enjoying strawberries, but having a hard time socializing, even being verbally attacked by the preppy cheerleader squad from the future. Luckily, a charming older man comes to her rescue and manages to send the fluff-for-brains packing with a few well placed words.
Mal finds his contact, Sir Warrick Harrow, whose sash indicates nobility, not that Mal realized this. Mal gets off on a bad foot, but Warrick doesn’t completely dismiss him, and seems to gain some points when they see eye-to-eye on the social standing of Badger. Before the deal can proceed, Atherton interrupts, talking to Warrick until Inara introduces him to Mal. Atherton seems to get Mal’s general interest in Inara and puts a death-grip on her arm, which she ignores but Mal does not. Mal starts to antagonize Atherton by asking for a dance with Inara. With Warrick watching, Atherton is forced to be a gentleman and graciously complies.
On the floor, Mal actually knows the courtly dance, and the two talk, with Inara accusing Mal of following her. Mal denies it, saying he is here simply for business. As they dance, he calls her out on her work, and she says that at least what she does is legal. Mal makes a strong case that legality and honesty are two different things and elaborates with some disgust about how the entire ball is a lie. Inara protests that the people like her and she them, but it isn’t all that heartfelt. In an attempt to dig at Mal, she tells him about Atherton’s offer, and Mal agrees that she could accept it and he has no place to stop her.
Meanwhile, Kaylee is surrounded by men as she talks mechanic-ese. One man attempts to ask her to dance, but the others insist that she be allowed to stay and talk. Back with Warrick, Atherton is glaring the entire time Inara and Mal dance, and as soon as the dance ends, he swoops in to aggressively reclaim Inara. When Atherton says that she is his, Mal insists that she is not a slave. Atherton says that she is his because he paid for her, and goes on to almost insult her. Almost, because Mal punches him down to the ground before he can finish. The music stops, and Atherton stands up and says that he accepts Mal’s challenge. Mal is confused as he finds out that he has just gotten himself into a swordfight scheduled for the next morning. He is to be put up in lodging for the night to ensure he doesn’t run, but at least Warrick agrees to be his second, which might potentially be good for their business, although Warrick is more concerned that Atherton is an expert swordsman and likely to kill Mal.
Back on Serenity, Badger shows up and Jayne lets him in. Badger informs the crew about Mal’s duel, and the crew is of the general opinion that Mal is in deep trouble. They start to concoct a plan to rescue him, but Badger cuts them off. See, he is there not to help them rescue Mal, but to make sure they don’t so to not endanger Badger. Jayne pulls a gun, but Zoe tells him to stand down as Badger’s posse just showed up with Kaylee as their hostage.
Inara shows up later that night at Mal’s lodging, where Mal is attempting to figure out how to use a sword, not that he is even swinging the right type of sword around. They share a few snipes, but then Inara tells Mal she’s there to sneak him out. Mal refuses, though.
MAL: Whoa, I’m not runnin’ off. And I don’t know what you got in your head, but I didn’t do this to prove some kind of point to you. I actually thought I was defending your honor. And I never back down from a fight.
INARA: Yes you do. You do all the time.
MAL: Well, yeah. But I’m not backing down from this one.
Inara tries to convince him again, but Mal insists that she give him a sword lesson instead. Inara agrees and readily schools Mal, giving him both a sword lesson and a veiled lesson on how to be subtle and delicate. Mal makes a jibe at her, asking her if she learned this in Whore Academy, and Inara gets indignant, questioning why Mal got into a fight over Atherton calling her a whore but then doing so himself. They argue over the validity of social rules, and Mal, out of the blue, begs her to not take Atherton’s offer. Inara, off balance from Mal’s sudden tenderness, takes her leave.
On Serenity, the crew plays cards and contemplates what to do. They decide all they need is a diversion to jump Badger’s mooks and then go save Mal. Just then, River walks in. Simon tries to sneak her away, but Badger sees her and starts asking questions. Simon tries to cover for her, but River interrupts, talking in a cockney accent and completely befuddling Badger with very, shall we say, intuitive words. She wonders back off, asking Simon to call her if “anyone interesting shows up.” After she has left, the crew realize that was exactly the diversion they needed, but get back to making plans.
The next morning, Atherton and Mal have their duel next to a lake. Atherton makes a show of saluting his second and Mal, while Mal just walks up and awkwardly holds his sword. Atherton toys with Mal, leading him to think he is doing well, but quickly starts making small hits. Atherton feints an unprepared pose, and Mal rushes him only to skewer himself on Atherton’s rapier. Atherton then presses his attack, slicing Mal a few more times and finally snapping Mal’s sword off at the hilt while it is on the ground. He is about to kill Mal when Inara begs for Mal’s life, even agreeing to take Atherton’s offer to live with him exclusively. Mal takes the chance of the diversion to bean Atherton with his broken sword, manages to fling the broken-off blade into Atherton’s shoulder, punches him again, then picked up Atherton’s rapier.
As Mal hesitates, Warrick tells him that he has to finish it, because if he doesn’t, then Atherton would be seen as a coward, and Inara pipes in that it would be humiliating. Mal agrees.
MAL: Mercy is the mark of a great man.
(stabs Atherton shallowly in the gut)
MAL: Guess I’m just a good man.
(stabs Atherton again)
MAL: Well, I’m all right.
Mal discards the sword, and Atherton calls after Inara. Warrick tells Atherton that he’s lost her, but Atherton won’t have it. He accuses her of setting it up and threatens her with blackballing, saying she’ll never find work again. Inara is hardly worried and explains to Atherton that Companions work the other way around, and that she is going to flag is account so that he’ll never be able to hire any Companion ever again. As Mal and Inara leave the field, Warrick catches up to them and offers Mal the job. Back on Serenity, the crew is just about ready to make their good on their big plan as Mal and Inara return. Mal informs Badger that the deal is good, and Badger high-tails it.
Later, after they have taken off, Kaylee is humming to herself as she goes down into her rather decorated room and just contently looks at her dress, which is now hanging on the wall. In the hold, Inara and Mal drink some wine Kaylee made in the engine, and Mal tries to garner Inara’s sympathy with his stab wound. She is hardly impressed, but she does thank him sincerely if somewhat backhandedly for what he did at the party. Mal admits he shouldn’t have done it. Inara admits that she wouldn’t have stayed, and when Mal asks her why, she says that she has no reason to leave Serenity. The camera cuts to a wide angle, and we see that the cargo that is so precious turns out to be a herd of cows.
Alright, first thing that I have to say here is ZOE! Yes, of all the people that didn’t play that big a role in this episode, Zoe is who I really keyed in while I was watching this, and I think it is mostly cause of how I’ve been annoyed with her lack of character depth. Here, though, we see that Zoe has her own will and is protective of the crew in her own way. When Mal is too harsh, she can step in to, well, not smooth him off—the file that could do that would have to be forged in the Cracks of Doom and would, well, doom the world. Ahem, no. But she does let him know when he as gone too far. From the line:
MAL: We sniff the air, we don’t kiss the dirt.
ZOE: Wasn’t planning on the dirt kissing, sir.
…to how she gave him the look after he insulted Kaylee. We also get to see more of her relaxed side with Wash in the post-coital scene I did not include in the recap (but happened right after the card-game and River going crazy in the kitchen). The interesting flip of the woman wanting to sleep afterwards and the man being awake was non-traditional, and Wash’s little poem was cute, but her nonchalant and warm, if sleepy, response and giggles were deep too. Zoe is finally a person. Now, for her to grow (which, if memory serves, the beginning of what would have been the Zoe-Wash growth arc doesn’t really start to kick off until “Heart of Gold,” little good it does us.)
OK, next: Book continues to have his mysterious moments, both from being able to wipe the deck with Simon and Jayne at Tall Card as well as knowing about “lodgings for duels” and seeming instantly ready to make a break-out plan for Mal. Otherwise, not much with him, except for the start of my River talk-about, which is that it seems his “I’ll take two” is what set River off.
So, in the kitchen, River’s ballistic incident seems to continue to hint at the two blue-hands, from being triggered by the “I’ll take two” to her other mutterings: “They’re the ones that’ll take you” and “Hands everywhere.” Her sudden desire to rip all the labels off the food could also be a call to the facelessness of the blue-hands. They are generic suits, cogs in a greater machine. Or, you know, it could have just been a convenient way to freak out, as she also went after the little cracker-pack looking things too.
Of course, one cannot even begin to talk about this episode, much less River, without her Moment of Awesome, being the Badger interaction. This is the first time we get more than a sentence or two out of her on camera (and I think it is implied from her period) that are cognate. And here not only does she have a cognate discussion, she just completely jumps into Badger’s head, uses his own accent, and reads him like an open book. I particularly liked:
RIVER (with cockney accent): And you’re, what, a petty thief with delusions of standing? A sad little king of a sad little hill.
Shivers, literally. Mark Sheppard (Badger) did his role well, too, in the complete disorientation and discomfort of being called out like that by a little girl. The rest of the crew’s shock is also well played. After all, they haven’t heard two solid sentences out of River that weren’t in a panicked shriek ever that we know of. Crazy, crazy.
The other big thing in this episode is the Inara-Mal interactions. Considering this episode opened with them, one might argue they were the true point of the episode, so let’s look at them in order. First, we have the bar-fight, where Inara is hideously out of place in a bright red dress where everything else is in golds or browns, not to mention that she is drinking a pink drink, and she has nothing to contribute to the fight, which was mostly just Jayne taking names and doing that other thing.
Next, you have the shuttle conversation, where Mal is there on a vague pretense, tries to not so subtly find out if Inara will have any free-time on the planet (and is just in general poking his nose in her business), and when she goads him about it, commenting on Atherton’s stamina, Mal is just awkward and out of place. Inara’s dismissal of him to “see about that 10am thing” was almost a pity play as she sees how badly Mal is fending for himself in the exchange.
Then there is the party. What is funny here, I find, is that while Mal was distracted for a moment by Inara’s loud laughy-thing, he went right back to business and did a good show of ignoring her. It was more her that was starting at him, I think, and perhaps more Atherton investigating than Inara. Then, with the whole moral debate of honest/dishonest and illegal/legal work during the dance, well, Inara did not hold her fight very well there. Her “I like these people, and they like me,” was delivered with a healthy dose of self-doubt, as if she was trying to convince herself, not Mal. Then, of course, there was Mal standing up for her honor and punching “Ath.”
Which brings us to the lodging and Mal’s slight of “whore academy.” It reminds me of playground flirting. How do you know a 3rd grader is flirting with another one? They are insulting them and throwing dirt clods at them. Mal is doing just that, which probably explains his weakness to Saffron in two episodes, but we’ll get to that when we get there. Anyway, the sudden and quick jump in the lodging to Mal’s very open side is remarkable in character development terms. Because honestly, I have no problem seeing this. Rough and ready Mal begging and pleading to Inara just works for me. From his asking her how it all got so complicated to his begging her to not take Atherton’s offer.
So, the end of the episode, where they both realize that while neither fits in the other’s world too well, they don’t exactly fit in their own that well either, it works. And where is the common ground? Serenity. The ship’s name continues to be fitting on many, many levels.
And I feel oddly horrible about this, but I’m not really going to comment on Kaylee all that much. I loved her in this episode, but she was really auxiliary to what was going on. Although the little face she made after Mal told her that she didn’t need to talk to him was purely adorable, as was her entire arc of interaction at the shindig. And the aged Clark Gable look-a-like that saved her from the evil cheerleaders was awesome too. In fact, this episode is just packed full of awesome little moments like that.
Oh, and Jayne had a few interesting moments too. Guess I should comment on some of the first depth we’ve seen from Jayne, and that is in his humor-cracking, especially in regards to Zoe and sexual blatancy (offering to chip in to buy her a dress, and also suggesting she get naked for the distraction), but also in his odd moment of intelligence in Badger’s den. The first time I heard him say “pretentious?” I laughed about as hard as when Mal kicked Crow into the engine. And the look Mal gave him was what did it: this “where the heck did that come from?” look. Also, I’d note his actual interest in saving Mal this episode when in both “pilots”, he was ready to backstab him or just ditch him. I might say it was Zoe’s presence, but I’m not sure. There are odd moments of loyalty and depth to Jayne Cobb we are starting to see, as unreliable as they are.
Simon was there playing cards. ‘ats about it.
Originally Aired: 1 November 2002
Original Position: Episode 6
Richard’s Favorite Line: WASH: Here lies my beloved Zoe, my autumn flower. Somewhat less attractive now that she’s all corpsified and gross.
Fun Goofs: None really, a few continuity things, such as the electronic pool balls making normal pool ball sounds when someone gets dropped on the table.
One final thing: the commentary for this episode has the costume designer in it, and it was brought up that she was shooting for a geisha look with Inara, and the writer of this episode also commented about how she wondered what all training Inara had, much like the geisha. Not saying I was right to have called her geisha like back in “Serenity,” just saying I apparently wasn’t 100% wrong either. Perhaps it is somewhat like how Ron Glass brought a bit of his own Buddhist feel to Book, even though he was supposed to be playing a much more Christian feeling religious man.
See you next week for “Safe.” Avoid spoiled dandies who happen to be expert swordsmen.
Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and does not put wood-alcohol in his tea, but would gladly dance with a layered cake. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com.