Looking back at Firefly episode 4: Shindig
Episode four of Firefly sees the tone lighten, with some great moments between Mal and Kaylee. Here’s Caroline’s look back at Shindig…
The first three episodes of Firefly centred on the underbelly of the show’s universe, and Shindig moves us away from that world and into the glamorous lifestyle of the Alliance-run planets. The class distinction the show has been hinting at from the start is shown here in action, with the basic brutality of Mal's world clashing with the pretence and privilege of Inara's.
And it's Inara's show from the beginning, as we follow her on business to the social event of the season, before Mal gets in trouble for a misguided attempt at defending her honour. He must fight his competitor to the death in order to leave with his crew, fighting for Inara's place on Serenity in the process.
The episode begins with a game of pool in a dive bar, where some petty theft and a fistfight leave Inara feeling pretty out of place. Later it's Mal's turn to feel the same, as some business leads him to go to the same party Inara's attending with Atherton, one of her paying clients.
There are also some cute Kaylee moments (when is Kaylee ever not cute?) when Mal takes her along as his date after he insults her, and their dynamic saves the episode from being throwaway. Unlike Inara, who is still effectively window-dressing for the episode's glamour and charm, the nuances of Kaylee's character are touched upon more deeply than they have been before. Her joy at getting dressed up and finding her place among the privileged attendees is sweet to watch and reveals a little more of her relationship with Mal.
As the plot hangs on the eventuality of two men fighting over Inara, it's not surprising that she becomes fairly passive as a result. There's a flash of independence when she starts teaching Mal how to swordfight, but mostly she just sits back and lets it happen. This is highly disappointing; as the character never really developed to the extent that others were allowed to. During such a short run, each character has an episode in which to shine, and this is Inara's. She's defined by her relationship with Mal, providing the pretty face and fun flirtation but little else.
On the whole, it's a lot more light-hearted than an episode like Bushwhacked as, while we might react to some mild peril, it's a pretty sure thing that Mal won't be killed in the sword fight. The fun comes from the party itself, as well as the social politics and fish out of water moments it provides. The costumes, set design and class-wars reflect the past while placing these elements firmly in the future through use of some stunning special effects. It's also nice that we stay on the same planet for the whole episode, resulting in some more relationship moments between Wash and Zoe away from the bridge.
Overall, the point of the episode solidifies Mal's outlook; his world is honest and honourable, while the life of the Alliance is anything but. Fun and light-hearted episodes of Firefly have their place, and Shindig is one of its stronger attempts.
You can read our look back at episode three, Bushwhacked, here.