In the thirteenth episode of Firefly, Mal and Inara’s relationship reaches a stunning conclusion when they attempt to help a friend of Inara’s fight a man who wants to steal a baby. Literally. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Firefly.
This is a strange episode. A good one, certainly, but really goddamn bizarre. I’ve been sitting on pieces of this review since Monday, figuring out how to properly assemble them into a coherent piece of words and sentences and thoughts, and I still find myself unable to properly figure out exactly how I feel about what happens in “Heart of Gold.” I’m hoping we can discuss this more and perhaps I’ll figure this out!
I knew from the opening of “Heart of Gold” that Inara would play a large part in the story, relating to her sex worker friends on another planet. What this episode does is set up the main villain, Rance Burgess, to be indicative of exactly how damaging male privilege can be. I will say that I loved how he encapsulated evil in a way that could easily be read as complete misogyny: Burgess literally hates women, believes that they should be subservient to all men, and that their bodies belong to their male counterparts. I imagine it’s not hard to assume that Burgess is also a raging transphobe who conflates genitals to gender, either, and even his phallic obsession with guns can be read that way.
“Heart of Gold” also largely strays from demonizing sex work, which is something Firefly has done really well the entire season. Mal’s prejudice towards Inara’s line of work is always openly criticized in smart, intelligent ways, but I was bothered by something else relating to sex work: Inara’s comment about how the women at this brothel are actually whores.
I understand the function of how that works. I realize that “companions” are trained and have to get licenses, so it’s a matter of actually calling these women by the correct terms for their trade. I understand the show is written in a vacuum and that it’s entirely possible in 500 years that the word “whore” doesn’t mean what it does now. I can accept all of this. I was more irked at the classist subtext to it, that people without access to training or without the money/education of real companions are lesser workers. Here’s the real kicker, though: Mal is actually the one who notes that these women are independent of the larger companion system and there’s a subtext that they’re probably more free than Inara is. Bravo, Mal, for picking that up.
That being said, Inara does treat all of the women at the brothel with the utmost respect and it’s really only that small detail that rubbed me the wrong way. Again, every character here is seen reacting differently to the girls working at the ranch. Book reacts with awkward horror, which makes me then wonder how genuine he is. We keep getting hints that he’s something more than a preacher, so is he really that uncomfortable with these women? Jayne, predictably, thinks with only one organ and I’m going to avoid talking about it because we all know what it is.
The coded message at the heart of this episode is that women’s bodies belong to them. I wish Burgess was a slight bit more dimensional as a character, but his one-note misogyny works well on the creep factor, especially during the scene where he preaches to the local men about the rightful place where women belong. (And the oral sex demand is just awful, right???)
While the crew is preparing to fight Burgess for the right of Petaline to keep her child, Mal begins a strange relationship with the head madam, Nandi. It’s clear that the subconscious desire Mal acts out on Nandi really should be directed towards Inara, as he is definitely allowing his feelings for her to start to bubble to the surface. I expected Nandi to seduce Mal and Mal to ultimately turn her down in some form of grand epiphany, but, surprisingly, he does the exact opposite. I knew Inara would find out and the scene where she does is beautifully written and acted. Her words are those of professionalism, which is her refuge from what happens immediately after this. When she collapses in the next seen, crying harder than we’ve ever seen her cry, I could seriously feel my heart break. I’ve come to respect and care for Inara so much over these thirteen episodes and I…well, I want her to finally be happy.
It’s strange how this personal romance, which I’m generally averse to in literature and film, has had such a profound on me, so much so that I actually didn’t even really care about the big battle that follows this. It was nice to see the crew working together toward a common goal; I commented before that they’re becoming this sort of dysfunctional sort of family, and it’s not been as clear as it is in “Heart of Gold.”
It makes Nandi’s death all the more tragic, too. For Inara, she’ll always have to remember that her friend’s last moments were spent with the man she actually loves. LIKE HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT. Mal will remember that he failed her and he failed Inara even more. But I must give credit to Brett Matthews, who wrote this episode, for giving the moment of retribution to Petaline, lest we forget that she was the actual victim in this case. It might have seemed more poetic to have Mal murder Burgess, but Petaline was the one who had her body and her life violated. Bravo, Matthews.
And then we get the bomb dropped on us: Inara is leaving Serenity.
- My first note for this episode says, “EVERYONE IS ON THE X-FILES.” Frederic Lane (Burgess) is also the man who created the X-Files and first appeared in an amazing season 5 episode called “Travelers.”
- “This distress wouldn’t happen to be taking place in someone’s pants, would it?”
- Jayne is more crude than usual in this episodee.
- “Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.”
- “NOBODY PANIC!!!!”
- “I’m just waiting to see if I pass out.” Oh god, YOU ARE LEARNING, MAL.
- “No, this is your blood.”
- And the best line in the episode, which is also a Writer High Five moment, is, “Say goodbye to your daddy, Jonah.” BOOYAH.