Firefly Fridays Part Four

Episode IV, titled Shindig

We’ll be covering every episode of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series over the next 14 weeks every Friday. One new episode per week. If you have Netflix, the entire show is available for Instant Queue. Our three authors are Alex, found at @alexwhale on Twitter, Lora found at @theinsomniakid and Corissa found at @corissapoley. Enjoy!

 

Lora

Shindig is one of my favourite Firefly episodes; in my opinion it contains some of the best lines of dialogue in the entireFirefly Franchise, and I’m a sucker for a witty riposte. As I watched it again however I was struck by how this episode emphasizes the mix of old western influences with futuristic concepts, and in turn broadens that view. The first three episodes show us more of the seedy underbelly of the ‘verse, as Mal and his crew live in the dirtier, grittier areas where better deals for smuggling and trade can occur. Shindig widens the scope for the viewer, gives us a look at what high society in the Firefly ‘verse looks like, and further points out to us the blend of an historical old western setting and the high-technology future.

The episode centers around a party, and the vast majority of this party is a callback to the grand society balls of civil-war era America. Everyone is ‘high-fallutin’, as Mal might say, there are organized couples dances, even references to legal slaves and slave trading. As well as this, the episode culminates in a duel using swords, something uncharacteristic of a show set several hundred years in the future. The modern aspects are still incorporated however, in everything from a hovering chandelier to a scanner that checks for weaponry when guests enter the ballroom for the party.

What this emphasizes the most to me, besides of course that the setting is more than just old western pioneering and space battles, is the presence of classism in Firefly. Mal is very aware of the difference between ‘his’ world – the realm of smuggling and backdoor deals – and Inara’s world of parties and companions and swordfighting. Other science fiction series, most notably all the incarnations of Star Trek, are set in a futuristic world where the major problems of the 20th and 21st centuries – war, poverty, slavery etc. – have been eradicated. Moral questions still arise, but the primary focus is less on problems between humans and more problems between humans and aliens. Firefly, being absent of aliens, deals only in humans, and therefore tends to focus more on moral grey areas while using less subtlety.

Ultimately, Shindig as an episode provides us with a closer and broader look at the setting that blends both the historical old west and the future. That future, however, is nowhere near perfect, displaying as many if not more flaws than socio-political ideals we see in the 21st century.

Alex

Malcolm Reynolds is a classy gentleman.  Well, maybe not in the traditional sense.  But in “Shindig”, Mal’s actions begin to belie the true affection that he has for Inara.   After a job leads Mal to the very same aristocratic soiree that Inara is attending with a frequent client, tension builds between the trio.  Inara appears suspicious that a jealous Mal has crashed the event for less-than scrupulous reasons, and those concerns are soon partly confirmed by Mal’s derisive, if not outwardly hostile, behavior toward her customer.

After stealing Inara away to the dance floor, her client’s interruption and subsequent attack on her character earns the socialite Mal’s fist in his face.  In this erudite culture, such an act is interpreted as a challenge to a duel, and Mal finds himself bound to fence with a master swordsman the following morning.  Here, Whedon takes a clichéd method of defending a woman’s honor and adds an element of the accidental, which fits perfectly well with Mal’s personality.  The next morning, the outcome of the contest sees Mal as the victor thanks to a timely distraction by Inara.  At this point in the series, Whedon is deliberately building their relationship and establishing the fact that they both seem to care for each other, regardless of their frequent verbal entanglements.

Corissa

In this episode, the different aspects of womanhood portrayed are particularly striking. During the episode, separate and unique parts of what it means to be a woman emerges in each female crew member.

Kaylee goes through the struggle of femininity. It’s something she greatly desires, but because she does not typically exude it she is perceived by the male members of the crew to be ridiculous when she does choose to express it. We find that she longs for the kind of society Inara is used to; Kaylee wants to dress up and express her femininity in a fancier way that she’s used to.

For Zoe, we find that she looks forward initially to wandering the planet but discovers her place is beside Wash on the ship. She finds pleasure in the essence of sexual engagement with her husband. She chooses to stay at home in this episode and her character expresses a very key part of womanhood: sexuality. Zoe is amusingly the first one to fall asleep, and she and Wash engage in a fun dialogue. Her decision is to enjoy intimacy.

Inara expresses her womanliness differently. She is caught in this world of companion society and rules, but she is uncertain that it’s truly what is right. She succumbs to Atherton’s rudeness with humility but desires Mal. There is a very real struggle for Inara: is she a piece of property or will she stand up for herself? She may chide Mal about his intentions, but she genuinely appreciates them at the same time. We discover in the end that she knows how to stand up for herself in her own way: Atherton is blacklisted. Inara’s struggle is something we’ll continue to see in future episodes.

River is the last female character on the crew. We see her stand up for herself in this episode. Towards the end of the episode, she displays her crazy a little but in a way that positively benefits the crew. Is she conscious of how she is helping? Is she on a rant? Is she just spouting craziness because his accent triggered hers? How did she acquire knowledge of Badger’s home planet, or know that he has an awkward past? We’ll never really know. River’s struggle in this episode seems to be less obvious than in the other episodes.

Womanhood is not easy. It is full of struggle, sex, femininity, craziness, and it is never the same for any woman. In Shindig, Whedon addresses all of these aspects with accuracy and poignancy, creating scenes that every viewer can identify with. Real people are complicated and real women struggle with various aspects of their lives; Whedon’s characters hold true to this. He does an excellent job of portraying each individual struggle and giving us a very interesting picture of what it is to be a woman in the space of just 45 minutes.

Character Profile: Kaylee

by Rebecca Urban&Rick Urban

 
Kaywinnit Lee ‘Kaylee’ Frye
Ship’s mechanic
“Yes sir, Captain Tightpants!”

Kaylee, as a character, is the “All American Girl,” sweet, pretty, and honest.  You can’t help but like her.  She exudes a perpetually childlike and happy nature, making her a favorite among the crew.  Of course having a vast knowledge of the propulsion system and being tough as nails doesn’t hurt either.  Kaylee’s dedication to her ship and crew is exemplified in the scene from Serenity I when she throws herself into repairing the engines while still suffering from injuries received at the hands of the spy, Dobson.  (What a crud he was.)

Her “grease monkey” image belies the depth of her character.  Whether in teddy bear coveralls encrusted with rhinestones of pure grime, or a gown reminiscent of Southern Belles, Kaylee captivates and surprises one and all with her charm and quick wit.  Never one to abandon another in need, she immerses herself in the task at hand; be it ridding her ship of a dangerous booby trap or helping a crew mate through a difficult personal time, she is a dedicated friend that sees things through to the end.  We should all be so lucky as to have a person like Kaylee in our lives.