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Date Posted: 10:50:26 10/17/03 Fri
Author: KdS
Subject: Hitting port - "Heart of Gold" (UNSEEN) and "Objects in Space"

Heart of Gold - script by Brett Matthews. Synopsis:

On an unnamed planet, a local boss/bully named Rance Burgess believes that that he is the father of the child soon to be born to a pregnant prostitute named Petaline. Petaline works at a brothel known as the Heart of Gold, run by Mandy. Burgess confronts Petaline and Mandy demanding the child by any means necessary. Mandy contacts her old friend Inarra, asking for help. It turns out that Mandy used to be in the same Companion “House” as Inarra but left under a cloud. The women at the Heart are lower-class prostitutes, not official Companions. Inarra finds Mal cleaning his guns on the dining table, to her mock disgust, and Mal agrees to help the women for free, but Inarra insists on paying. Of the crew, only Jayne is initially unsure about working for free, but instantly agrees when he hears the clients’ occupation.

The crew arrive at the Heart, which also offers male prostitutes, to Kaylee’s interest. Jayne instantly disappears with one of the Heart personnel, with whom he will spend the rest of the stay when not actually shooting people. Mandy explains that the child may be Burgess’s but that he doesn’t deserve it. She says Burgess is deliberately keeping the planet undeveloped so that he can keep his power and live his frontier fantasies.

Mal and Inarra introduce themselves to Burgess at a local theatre. After some fencing over Burgess’s highly illegal military laser gun, Mal insists on leaving. On the basis of that meeting, Mal feels that Burgess will be a lethal and unrelenting foe and suggests that Mandy and all her women leave with them for a new home. Mandy refuses to let anyone take her business away from her, and Mal, recognising a kindred spirit, decides to stay and fight.

Petaline goes into labour, attended by Simon, as the crew fortify the house. We discover as Wash and Zoe work outside that Zoe wants a child, while Wash is concerned about the impermanence of their lives. This is not, apparently, a novel argument to them. Mandy and Mal bond over their mutual arsenal, and Mandy questions Mal on why only Jayne has shown any interest in availing himself of the women. Mal explains that Wash and Zoe are married, Book a priest, and Simon too uptight. Mandy points out that he hasn’t explained why he isn’t, and Mal claims preoccupation with the coming battle. Mandy recognises Mal’s feelings for Inarra, and asks him if he knows why Inarra left her House for the frontier. She tells him that Inarra was heading for high position within their House.

Later that evening, Mandy visits Mal in his room. Mandy apparently left Companioning after a row with a music teacher, finding the life “too constricting”. She arrived on their current home and took over the Heart from a bunch of male pimps who were ill-treating the women. Mal allows Mandy to seduce him.

Meanwhile, Burgess is visited by one of the Heart women, Shari, who has apparently been acting as his informant. She tells him about Mal and company, but he is unimpressed. Burgess rants about the evils of prostitution to his men, and then demonstrates his opinion on the rightful position of women by forcing Shari to fellate him in front of them.

In the morning Mal wakes up with Mandy and Jayne with his partner. Inarra meets Mal leaving Mandy’s room to his embarrassment. She first plays it free and liberated, saying that she’s happy that he and Mandy got some comfort. When it becomes obvious that he is feeling guilty and feels he betrayed her, she spits out that she thought Mandy had better taste and leaves, then cries alone in her room.

Wash and Kaylee head for Serenity, Petaline continues her labour, and Mandy starts apologising to Inarra, saying that she believed that Mal’s feelings for Inarra ran only one way. Inarra insists that she’s fine about it. Mandy challenges Mal for not telling her that Inarra had feelings for him. Burgess and his men arrive, and a gun battle ensues with walk-on casualties on both sides. Wash and Kaylee reach the shed where Serenity is hangered and find a couple of gunmen waiting for them. They and the gunmen end up trapped in separate sections of Serenity’s main corridor, separated by the blast doors.

Petaline gives birth, but Burgess bursts into the room and takes the child. Mandy confronts him, and Inarra puts a knife to his throat and grabs the child back. Burgess breaks free of Inarra, kills Mandy and leaves empty-handed on his antigrav buggy. Mal chases him on a horse. Burgess’s gun runs out of power, and Mal overtakes him. Mal contemplates shooting Burgess there and then, but beats him up and drags him back to the Heart. Petaline introduces Burgess to his son Jonah and coldly shoots him in the head. Obviously the new woman in charge, she orders Shari to leave.

After Mandy’s funeral, Serenity leaves. Mal and Inarra agree that the women will be fine. Inarra tells Mal that she is glad that Mandy got some human contact with him the night before she died. Mal is still regretful and begins to confess that he loves Inarra. Inarra cuts him off and announces that she is leaving Serenity.

Mixed feelings about this episode, despite some interesting ideas. (One lovely little touch involves Book compromising with his feelings against taking life personally by fighting off Burgess’s men with a fire hose, and we discover that “sly” is the Fireflyverse euphemism for “homosexual”.) Firstly, there are some problems with the denouement. We’re seemingly expected to believe that Burgess’s men simply give up fighting once he leaves and let Mal capture him with no resistance. Wash’s and Kaylee’s escape from their predicament about Serenity is simply not shown, after a big build-up. (Some jerky interscene cuts suggest that there may have been last minute chopping down for time). There’s some interesting stuff with the very overt significance of guns in various scenes, with Inarra as the representative of propriety disturbed by Mal cleaning his guns at the table near the beginning, Burgess’s illegal and gratuitously powerful choice of weapon serving in his discussion with Mal as shorthand for his machismo and might-makes-right attitude, a scene of Jayne carefully explaining to his new friend what order to hand him various loaded guns in when the battle starts, and Mandy and Mal bonding over their shared appreciation for a fine weapon in a scene so full of phallic subtext it practically spurts over the audience.

More importantly, however, the episode shows up the confused nature of Firefly’s attitude to the prostitution issue. On one level, as a whole, we’re apparently meant to take on board the Firefly universe’s attitude to prostitution as an honoured profession. At the same time, however, in this episode, we’re shown Inarra, Mandy and Mal suffering from the usual jealousies and emotional discomforts that we would expect in such a situation in this universe. There is something of a contrasting trinity of relationships in the episode, with Jayne and his chosen “friend” apparently engaged in innocent sensual pleasure, Mal, Mandy and Inarra in a more complex and ambiguous relationship, and Burgess as the representative of no-holds-barred Eeeevil misogyny. (It’s another mark for Jayne enthusiasts, by the way, that his behaviour with his chosen partner for the night is shown to be, as far as it goes, affectionate respectful, and oddly innocent. Yet any portrayal of Jayne and friend as some ideal of happy casual sex is slightly undercut by the fact that on first viewing, I never catch his buddy’s name…) It would have been more interesting if the idea of male heterosexual prostitution alluded to early in the ep had been looked at more deeply, rather than just a few brief lines and some fnarr-fnarr remarks by Kaylee. There’ve been mixed messages all the way through on the Companion issue, with portrayal apparently varying at random with the individual authors’ beliefs as to whether mutually respectful and honoured prostitution is genuinely possible or just a male sexual fantasy (with Espenson in Shindig, the only female writer to have worked on an ep with major prostitution content, being especially cynical). This may just be first season moral ambiguity with a plan for the issue to be more deeply grappled with later. But it seems to me to be rather more a case of the writers themselves still being unsure what their collective position is. This undoubtedly deserves an essay of its own, but I feel qualified neither in terms of knowledge of the philosophical debate or personal experience.

Objects in Space was simply marvellous, although the early dialogue between Mal and Inarra as Inarra vacillates about leaving reveals that ME are guilty of the annoying sin of the bogus cliffhanger. Book and Jayne’s early dialogue about sexual issues is such a natural follow-up to the previous ep that it’s a pity about the Fox ordering. Mainly the ep’s a showcase for the sinister Jubal Early and River at her most Dru-like. Somehow the two seem a natural pair. The sexual threat is unusually intense, the dialogue crackling, and Simon’s grace under pressure perfect, although nobody could still have thought he was just a fop. The Kaylee/Simon thing verges on the annoying now (just kiss already) but it’s a great pity that this was the last episode.

The genuine creepiness of River’s visions at the beginning, and her psychoanalysing of Early was marvellous. It’s always so satisfying to see a real bastard bite off more than he can chew. One wonders if the bonhomie at the end will last. After all, she did save everyones’ lives, but she is still a very scary human being.

Some speculation on the board here about whether Early had some of the same treatment that River did. It's an interesting idea. I wondered if she might have been broadcasting to him in some way to unsettle him.

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