There was a time, in the wild west, when men were men and the women were, too. Where a person had to cut out what little bit of land there was to be had, no matter the spoilers, and hold onto it with the fierce determination that only a long memory would provide.
At a tin-foil covered house in the middle of a desert, a man and woman are hanging laundry out when they see an approaching hovercraft and horses. They call for Nandi, and she comes out calmly and tells them to go inside. The man in the hovercraft, Rance Burgess, ignores her declaration that he isn’t welcome at her brothel and sends his men in to fetch a pregnant prostitute, Petaline. He forcefully extracts a sample of the fetus’ DNA right there, and promises her that if it matches his own he’ll be back for his baby, even if it means cutting it out of her. The prostitutes wonder how they could stand up to Rance and Nandi looks off in the distance, thinking.
Mal cleans and checks his guns in the galley when Inara spooks him by simply saying “hi” as she walks in. Mal tries to cover his dignity, and Inara only calls him out for cleaning his weapons on the dining table. He complains it is the only place big enough, and she makes a jab about the proper place-setting of guns. Wash pops his head in then, saying there is a distress call coming in, and Mal muses over how he’ll get to be noble. Wash pops that bubble when he reveals the call is for Inara. Mal gets one final jibe.
MAL: This “distress” wouldn’t happen to be taking place in someone’s pants, would it?
Inara takes the call in her shuttle, where she talks with her old friend Nandi. Nandi begs Inara to offer the job of protecting the brothel to the crew, and while Inara indicates some joking reservation in the competence of the crew, she says it sounds like something they can handle. Nandi promises there will be payment enough, and remarks how the companion’s guild would tell Inara to not come. Inara assures that the order to shun Nandi means little to her.
She then turns around and asks Mal if he heard most of it. He pops his head into the shuttle tells her yes, but only because he was eavesdropping, then walks inside. He comments about how it is a whole house full of Companions, then asks how they plan on paying. Inara says they aren’t Companions, but whores, as they are not part of the Guild. Inara then assures Mal he will be paid, but Mal tells her to keep her money, he’ll take the job for free. Inara thanks him, but insists that he takes payment as they need to keep their relationship strictly professional.
In the hanger, Zoe does the talking, saying the job is strictly speculative, meaning they don’t even know if they will get paid. As such, any crew member that would rather stay on the ship is free to. Jayne is reluctant to help strangers out, but when Mal drops that they are whores, Jayne is full in.
They land on the moon and the entire crew walks to the brothel. Inara introduces Mal and Zoe to Nandi, and Jayne jumps into flirting and pawing the merchandise. Mal, Zoe, Inara and Nandi go off to talk business, and the rest are left in the lobby. Simon asks where the pregnant woman is so he can examine her and Kaylee notices several men, exclaiming that it is thoughtful that they have “boy-whores” and wonders if they service women. Wash is aghast at the casual way Kaylee talks about paying for sex.
KAYLEE: Well, it’s not like anyone else is lining up to, you know, examine me.
One of the girls leads Petaline out and introduces her to Simon, who jumps at the chance to do his job and ignore where he is. Two girls walk up to Book, who is busily making himself a meal and ignoring where he is. They ask him if they could have a prayer meeting, seeing as they don’t get one often with a real shepherd, and the last one half-assed it then took payment in trade. That makes Book stop in his tracks and look stricken. Nearby, Kaylee is mopey.
KAYLEE: Everyone’s got somebody. Wash, tell me I’m pretty.
WASH: Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.
KAYLEE: ‘Cause I’m pretty?
WASH: ‘Cause you’re pretty.
Meanwhile in Nandi’s office, Mal is getting a feel for what he has to deal with. Nandi reveals that Rance is after the kid because his own wife is barren, but that he is cruel and vile and not deserving to be a father. Therefore, as far as Nandi is concerned, the child is Petaline’s alone, even if Rance is the biological father. She further reveals that Rance has the money to actually develop the moon into a decent place to live instead of the rustic hell-hole it is, but he keeps it that way to play cowboy. Mal seems somewhat skeptic about Nandi’s very biased story, so he says he wants to meet Rance, if only to size him up.
At the theater, a man seems to be performing a shadow-puppet-play of the exodus from Earth, and Rance is being rowdy and chauvinistic. Mal jumps into the conversation rudely, introduces himself, and complements “her” on being a beauty. Rance thinks he is talking about the laser pistol at his side and he shows it off, even handing it to Mal. Mal wonders that a weapon is legal, and Rance’s wife jumps to his defense, saying there is a different between legality and morality. A sentiment Mal agrees to earnestly. He hands the gun back, then reveals that he was talking about Rance’s wife, not the gun. They then leave, and as they do, Rance gets a call telling him the baby is his.
Outside, Inara wonders what Mal’s estimation is, and Mal says they are high-tailing it. At the brothel, he tells the rest of the plan to the crew and the girls. He doesn’t like the vibe he got from Rance and he thinks they will be heavily outgunned. Nandi thinks Mal is saying he’s turning tail solo, but he clarifies his offer: Nandi’s entire work force needs to leave with him. Nandi declines, saying that she would rather die in her house, that she built up from nothing, than run.
Mal smiles and says Nandi is his kind of stupid, and they burst into discussion about what to do. Book offers to help construct some barricades, and Kaylee is tasked with improving the water-works in case of a fire. Of course, just at that moment, and predicted by River a few moments earlier, Petaline goes into labor. Simon takes Petaline away and everyone starts their preparations, from boarding up windows and mending fences, to setting traps, to laying out guns across beds for rapid change-outs. Jayne additionally pep-talks his girl and readies her to switch out his guns for him.
Outside, Wash preps a trap and talks babies with Zoe. Wash is against the idea of having one, seeing as they are hardly in a position to have and raise a child, and Zoe is stubborn that she wants one, and we discover that this is apparently an old argument between them. She relents on it for the time, but assures him they will have a child one day.
Mal and Nandi prep in her room and she shows off her prized gun collection while commenting that she honestly expected more of the crew to be taking payment in trade. Mal talks about how the crew sans Jayne are disinclined, then focuses on the guns, which are impressive and apparently still functional, even regarding for their antique appearance. She then asks him point blank when he plans to “avail yourself of some of our trade?” He demurs, saying he is just distracted, but she notes that he hasn’t looked at a single one of the girls as long as he has looked at the old pistols. She asks if he’s “sly”, ‘cause she has boys, but he adamantly denies that. He just takes things one at a time and doesn’t like complications.
She smirks then starts talking about Inara; how unique she is and what a shock it was when she left the house on Sihnon. Apparently, she had her eyes on being House Priestess, and could have had it in a few years time. Nandi then observes that Mal and Inara are alike in their dislike of complications.
Meanwhile, Simon and Inara tend to Petaline, who is all set for a long labor. Inara asks how many babies he’s delivered and he reveals this is his first as the primary, to which she responds it’s her first, too. River, who has been watching with unabashed fascination, says it is her first as well. Simon predicts it will be a long night.
Meanwhile, Nandi and Mal sit on a loveseat and she tells her story over drinks. She grew tired of the constricting life of a Companion, so she smashed her dulcimer, left Sihnon, learned to say “ain’t” and found the brothel, which she had to forcibly take. Mal finally puts some moves on her and she cuddles up to him while he tries to get cold feet. She keeps him nearby, though, and he melts. Nandi then breaks away for a moment and says “I ain’t her.” Mal replies with, “The only people in this room are you and me.” They make their way to Nandi’s bed.
Back in town, one of Nandi’s girls betrays the brothel and delivers Rance the news that the brothel plans to fight Rance off tomorrow morning. He chuckles down to his rather large posse about them, then makes the turn-coat whore go down on him right there, as a statement to “what a woman is to a man.”
The next morning, the sun wakes Mal and Nandi and Mal bumps into Inara outside Nandi’s door as he is putting his shirt on. He tries to make excuses but Inara tells him she is glad he was with Nandi as she probably needed the comfort. He is shaken by her non-puritanical view of sex and shocked that she is completely okay with what happened. Inara replies that she isn’t entirely okay because she is appalled at Nandi’s taste. Inara then goes to a private room in the house and cries.
Outside, Wash and Kaylee make their way to the ship, which they plan to use to confuse Rance and his men during the fight. Kaylee comments that Mal was “a little funny” at breakfast, but Wash disregards it. Back at the brothel, Mal walks along the line of armed whores and makes sure they are ready for the fight, then calls Jayne to attention when Jayne’s mike starts transmitting dirty-talk.
Meanwhile, Inara, River, and Simon tend to Petaline, who is having one heck of a labor. Nandi walks in to check up on Petaline, but then sees the look Inara gives her. Nandi instantly starts to apologize, saying she thought Mal loved Inara but that it wasn’t returned. Inara blows her off and Nandi leaves.
Nandi comes in and accuses Mal of not giving the whole truth about things between him and Inara, but he is clueless and doesn’t get a chance to inquire further as Jayne informs him that Rance and his goons are incoming. Mal and Nandi give a final pep talk, then Mal radios Wash, telling him to step on it.
On the boat, Wash gets the transmission but before he can answer some of Rance’s men start shooting at him and Kaylee, pinning them down. Wash lays down some cover fire for Kaylee and they hurry along deeper into the ship and away from Rance’s men.
The traps take down some of Rance’s men as they ride in, and then Rance’s gunner opens up with a mounted gun. Jayne picks the man off, Mal and the whores return fire, and a firefight ensues with casualties on both sides. Rance starts using his laser on the building, causing it to catch fire and Book and Zoe use the modified water-pumps to keep the place from completely catching ablaze. In the birthing room, Simon delivers the child. Meanwhile, Mal realizes that he has lost the visual on Burgess, and Jayne has, too. Rance is parked up next to the building and hops out of his hovercraft, where he is let in by the girl who had previously betrayed the brothel. He hurries to the birthing room and takes the newborn boy at laser-point.
Back on Serenity, Rance’s men hunt after Wash and Kaylee, trapping them between engineering and the galley. Of course, this has both of them trapped, too.
Nandi hears Petaline’s screams and runs down to help. Rance levels his laser on Nandi when they meet in the hall, and she tries to tell him that he’s already lost the battle. He responds by saying he got what he came for. While he is distracted by Nandi, Inara comes up behind him and puts a knife to his throat. One of the girls takes the baby from him, but he then elbows Inara, breaks free of her, and shoots Nandi in the gut. He hurries away just as Mal busts through to see Nandi dead with Inara over her. Mal gets a crazy look in his eye and gives chase.
He kills one of Rance’s men, takes the horse, and gives chase to the hovercraft. Rance throws a couple laser blasts out, but his weapon runs out of juice. Mal catches up and pulls Rance out of the hovercraft and levels his pistol at him once they are both on their feet. Instead of killing him, though, Mal pistol whips him and drags him back to the brothel.
Outside, Rance screams for Petaline to bring “his baby” out while he is lined up along with the few of his men that were captured instead of killed. Petaline comes out with the baby and introduces Rance to Jonah. He tells Jonah to say hi to his daddy, then shots Rance and tells Jonah to say good-bye to his daddy. She then sends the surviving men on their way, and sends the traitor with them.
The crew and girls bury Nandi out by a tree and Mal and the crew leave. In the hold, Mal tells Inara that he expects the girls will do alright, even without Nandi. Inara again, and this time more honestly, says she is glad Mal was with her on her last night, but Mal says he isn’t and wishes he hadn't met her. Then, he wouldn’t have failed her. Inara tries to comfort him, but he won’t have it. He then calls her out on not having been glad before when she said she was. He says he isn’t looking for anything from her, but feeling rather “truthsome,” and that life is too short for ifs and maybes.
In response, she talks about Nandi and something she learned from her. Nandi had a strength that bound her girls together, and it is a strength that sucks a person in and binds them with love to where they can’t leave. She alludes that Mal has this strength too, and because of that she is doing something she should have done a long time ago. Inara tells Mal that she is leaving Serenity.
First time I watched this, Inara’s announcement that she was leaving blind-sided me. I didn’t expect any resolution to their star-crossed love, not really, but I didn’t expect such a craven act from Inara. Alas, it fits her character. Now I watch this and sigh in relief at the thought of her leaving. I only wish Mal could see that it was a good thing, too. Because, you know what? I really don’t like the Mal-Inara love thing.
See, they have been out in the black for over a year at this point. They have mostly only themselves for company and they are still where they are. Sadly, I am going to place most of the blame on Inara here, although some deserves to go to Mal for never actually speaking up or making a move that would have popped this bubble sooner. Why do I blame Inara more, though? Because she hides behind her snark and grace, doing everything she can to throw Mal off the obvious trail of her loving him (and in return actually just sending him a jumble of mixed signals), and then going off to a room to cry about it. Oh boo hoo, the man you are too craven to actually let into your life just went and slept with a woman much more emotionally stable than you are.
Okay, I admit I am seeing this through somewhat bitter eyes. But whatever personal trauma I bring to this reading of the Mal-Inara relationship, I’d like to point out the sheer amount of reinforcement against it there is in literature in general. Why? Because a strained romance that takes an entire novel to develop with lots of missed connections and conflicted feelings is good reading and watching. You know what it isn’t, though? A good relationship. And what does it encourage? White Knights looking for significant others.
Yeah, I’m going there a bit. But if it is one thing I hate, it is passive-aggressive people (I’ll be gender neutral, just you watch me) that almost seem to want to get into that “friend zone,” without ever trying for more, so they can worm and weasel their way in deeper. Is that what Mal is doing? Nah, not really, but at the same time, he is. We saw the first time Mal and Inara met, and there wasn’t exactly a sparking chemistry, but I have a feeling that we were supposed to get that the “romantic tension” was there from the start. So, here we have the fairytale of two people that are attracted to each other at the start but are both too passive-aggressive or just cowardly to make a move. And, of course, if they had made a move, whatever tortured past, et cetera yadda yadda, would have left them too broken to accept it. Oh wait, we saw that this episode.
And you know what? I don’t care. Both of them have issues they need to work out separate from being around someone that makes their heads secretly spin. Once they do that, then perhaps they could get around to expanding their lives romantically. But again, this is a story, and those lessons are typically bad ones. Also, sadly, this is a real occurrence, if not usually so romantic and evenly-two-sided. Oh, love-triangles.
To the show’s benefit, they didn’t end up in each other’s arms, at least here. I am going to admit that I cannot remember exactly what the end status in the movie was for Mal and Inara, but I am fairly sure they didn’t end up happily-ever-after, unlike some characters. So kudos to Whedon on that.
Of course, speaking of relationships, there is still the ever rocky Kaylee-Simon relationship. As a counter-point to Mal-Inara, I like this one because at least they admit they have the hots for each other, they are just being young and dumb about it and Simon is a piss-poor master of courtship. Kaylee’s bits in the brothel lobby did make me smile ear-to-ear, though.
River is, as in many episodes, cute and funny, but not really anything beyond “River.” I did enjoy her odd and unabashed fascination with the “below the curtain” part of birth. Summer Glau did a marvelous job of looking utterly fascinated, somewhat disgusted, and completely unaware of her own creepiness.
And a small backtrack to Inara, just to continue to fuel the Inara-is-immortal thing: Nandi commented that Inara looks exactly the same as the day she left.
Moving on, Jayne was a riot in this episode. I loved how he was actually kind of gussied up for his first appearance at the brothel, wearing a button-down shirt and a semi-nice hat. It has also been noted how one of the character-habits Baldwin introduced to Jayne was how Jayne was very sensory. He is always touching or smelling or tasting things. Here, he was definitely about that with the women, and not just in naughty ways. During the “we need to run speech” Mal gave, he was sitting up on the bar behind his favored lady playing with her hair. When I noticed that, I actually had to re-rewatch it because it made me snigger so hard. It also just adds all that much more depth to Jayne without a single word. I would venture to say that of any of the characters, Jayne is probably the deepest and most expanded, and I have a feeling that was never the writers’ intent.
Next on the docket: Zoe and Wash’s kid-speech. Personal background time here. I have two little boys, aged four and two. Both of them came upon me at not exactly opportune times in my life, and yet I still love them with all my heart. I never look back and wish they hadn’t come into my life, despite how much “easier” life might have been. So, I side with Zoe here.
Now, there is something to be said for planning your children. If you have absolutely zero money, bad health, and a thousand other distractions in your life, yeah, maybe not the best idea to bring a child into that. So I can see Wash’s point. Except Zoe and Wash’s lives are relatively stable, truth told. At least, they are as stable as they are probably ever going to get (of course we all know how that ends, but we are ignoring that right now.) The problem with wanting to wait for the stresses in your life to simmer down or the career side to pick up a bit, well, it’s about the same problem that happens whenever you put anything off. You keep putting it off.
Now that doesn’t mean go out and make babies, the circumstances be damned. But, you know, one can plan for a child to enter one’s life before the nine-month window. It isn’t about having nothing else in your life besides the child, it is only about making sure you have some time in your life for the child. Yes, they eat up a bunch of time, but your life doesn’t end with a child (or two). So that is my makin’-babies diatribe.
I have really nothing on Rance. He is a one-sided caricature of the chauvinist male with the power to back up his bigotry. I am not saying that the writers really needed to try and give us anything sympathetic to him (his desire to be a daddy is by no means sympathetic, either), but since they did not, I have nothing to say. Moving on.
I feel Book was underused in this episode, and I really feel like they had planned to use him more but that those plans were left on the cutting room floor. His reaction to Inara in the pilot was rather marked, but now I think we know him well enough to know that a woman who sells herself is hardly the tip of the moral iceberg for whatever Book’s previous life was. I don’t know exactly what the Book-and-the-Whores plot would have been, but I trust it would have been just as frustratingly teasing about his past as any of his others. Dang, I can’t wait for that comic to come out about him. Speaking of comics, I’ll talk on that in a sec.
Originally Aired: 23 June 2003
Original Position: Episode 12
Richard’s Favorite Line:
NANDI: You OK with this?
MAL: I’m just waiting to see if I pass out. Long story.
Fun Goof: Actually, nothing worth noting. IMDB had a few that were small production glitches or the such, but nothing I couldn’t actually just fluff away with a bit of suspension of disbelief between the camera-cuts.
Well, next week is it, my friends. “Objects in Space,” the last of Firefly. But fear not. After that, I am taking a week off for a breather, then we’ll have my break-down of the movie. And after that, I’m going to take us to a new medium: comics! Yes, it was pointed out to me that Serenity: Float Out has just recently been released, so I’ll be snagging that and doing some critical summary and analysis, too. After that, I’ll go backwards in time and do all three issues of Serenity: Better Days and so on. The actual order of comic coverage is not solidified yet, but it will be coming. So strap yourselves in, cause this leaf isn’t even close to off the wind yet.
Richard Fife is a blogger, writer, proud owner of a heart made of coal. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short stories at http://RichardFife.com.