“Sounds like the finest party I can imagine getting paid to go to.”
“I don’t suppose you’d find it up to standards of your outings. More conversation and somewhat less petty theft and getting hit with pool cues.”
Mal and the gang return to Persephone to refuel, but end up crossing paths with their former contractor, Badger, who wants them to speak on his behalf to a local bigwig he wishes to do business with. To get a hold of him, Mal must attend a fancy ball that Inara just so happens to be attending one of her clients, Atherton Wing (Edward Atterton) who wishes to hire her as his own personal Companion. Mal doesn’t take kindly to Atherton’s possessiveness and punches him, inadvertently challenging him to a sword fight with Inara as the prize.
Boy, that last episode was pretty grim, wasn’t it? Thankfully, this one does plenty to lighten up the mood. Well, as lighthearted as being challenged to a deadly duel by an entitled, stuffed-shirted blue-blood can get, anyway. Regardless, “Shindig” is more of a comedy of manners, and does an excellent job of showing in greater detail the differences between the inner and border planets. It’s more or less a sci-fi version of the dichotomy between high and low society you’d find in a Jane Austen novel, but a clash of classes is always fun to watch. This episode definitely falls on the western side of the coin, with its Victorian dresses, elegant balls, and its Shakespearean insults, all shook up with the presence of Mal, whose idea of resolving issues is less passive aggressive quips and more socking a guy in the face. A good TV show is one where you can put a character or characters into any setting, situation or conflict, and the rest of the plot just writes itself, and this episode of proof of that.
If it hasn’t become abundantly clear by this point, Mal and Inara are madly in love with each other. Their relationship is kind of like a mash-up of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy with Benedick and Beatrice. While their societal origins as far apart as you can get, they’re more alike than either one wants to admit. The unresolved sexual tension between them is tense enough to cut with a knife, and both are too proud and stubborn to confess their love to the other. Mal calling Inara a whore and Inara calling Mal a petty crook seems to be as far as their affection goes. Which is probably why Mal took such great offense to Atherton calling Inara a whore without any subtext. He may not approve of her way of living and only allows her on the ship because she brings a sense of credibility, but he still respects her, whereas Atherton only sees her as a decoration and a sex object. And while Inara blends in perfectly with the high society she comes from and adheres to their rules, she’s not really fond of the high-nosed aristocrats that make the rule, which is why she seems to be more at home with the provincial folk on board the Serenity
In the show’s first B-plot, Badger holds the rest of the crew hostage after Mal gets himself in trouble. It ends up going absolutely goes nowhere, but has the episode’s weirdest moment. While everyone is trying to cook up a plan to sneak out of the ship and rescue Mal, the increasingly unpredictable River comes out of nowhere and disorients Badger by mimicking his Cockney accent. She then reveals it was fake and waltzes off like it was nothing. It comes completely out of nowhere, has zero importance to the plot, and after it happens, no one ever speaks of it again. Earlier she seems like she’s about to have a meltdown when she starts ripping the labels off of cans and rambles incoherently, and it seemed liked she was about to snap on Badger but it ends up confusing everyone instead. This won’t be the last time River’s spontaneity leaves everyone speechless, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Overall I give “Shindig” a 4/5. While technically it’s sort of a genre swap, it still fits in nicely within the show’s world. The dynamic between Mal and Inara is wonderful to watch, Edward Atterton does such a great job of making Atherton a loathsome backfeifengesicht, and any episode where Kaylee gets a moment to shine is a winner in my book.
Next episode: “Safe”.
– Zoe: “Too much foofaraw. If I’m going to wear a dress, I’d want something with some slink.”
Wash: “You want a slinky dress? I can buy you a slinky dress. Captain, can I have some money for a slinky dress?”
– Badger: “Course you couldn’t buy an invite with a diamond the size of a testicle, but I got my hands on a couple.” (Mal and Jayne snicker) “Of invites!”
– Depending on the episode, my favorite character fluctuates between Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee, and Kaylee completely steals the show here. Sure, her dress is kind of ridiculous, but I think that was the point. Besides, Jewel Staite really pulls that thing off. The best parts of the party for me both involved her: when an older gentleman stands up for her when she’s being picked on by a group of bitchy debutantes, and later when her knowledge of engineering makes her the center of attention.
– Jayne: “What we need is a diversion. I say Zoe gets naked.”
Jayne: “I could get naked.”
– Mal: “Mercy is the mark of a great man.” (stabs Atherton) “Guess I’m just a good man.” (stabs Atherton again) “Well I’m alright.”