Week Three of Science Channel’s Firefly revival brought us a “Shindig,” a lighter, more playful affair than the bleak thriller that was “Bushwhacked.” I wasn’t blown away by “Shindig” when I first saw it back in the day, and perhaps Fox wasn’t, either. During the original 2002 run of Joss Whedon’s sci-fi/western, “Shindig” was the third post-pilot episode produced but the sixth episode that aired, losing its spot in the intended order to “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” aka The One That Had Joan From Mad Men In It. Episodes like “Shindig” that fell more on the oater axis of Firefly’s sci-fi/western mash-up tended to feel the most contrived to me. If these future humans were advanced enough to fly spaceships, terraform inhospitable planets and play 3-D virtual reality billiards, why did they insist on living all Little House On The Prairie-ish on their colonized rocks? Ironically, my “Huh?” bafflement was similar to the Mal moment in “Shindig” when he arrived at the Jane Austen-goes-Bonanza high society soiree of the episode’s title and tried to make sense of the anti-gravity chandelier undulating in the rafters: “What’s the point of that, I wonder? I mean, I get how they did it. I just ain’t seeing the why.”
And yet I greatly enjoyed me the “Shindig” last night, without any hang-ups or reservations. It was the third time I had seen the episode – the first time in about six years, at least – and I found myself less fixated on its perplexing bits of eclectic world flair and more riveted by the thematic richness and sharp characterizations. With Firefly, perhaps familiarity breeds less contempt. I was arrested by another observation, as well: Even though Firefly is approaching 10 years old, it doesn’t appear dated at all. In fact, here is where the western/sci-fi thing actually flatters the franchise, because the classical western trappings give Firefly a timelessness that, say, the original Star Trek series lacks. Firefly wears its age well. Is it getting better with age, too? It’s a hypothesis I’ll be testing more in the weeks to come.
PRIDE AND PRETENTIOUSNESS
In which the measure of a man is counted by the jabs of his jib, and the worth of a woman is deemed irrelevant to the frills of her frippery.
BADGER: I had a problem with your attitude. Felt you was… what’s the word?
BADGER: You think you’re better’n other people.
MAL: Just the ones I’m better than.
What does it mean to make an honest living? What does it mean to live honestly? The questions danced around and sparred with each other in “Shindig” like bickering would-be lovers who can’t decide if they love or hate each other – which is to say, like Mal and Inara, paradoxes held together with stitches of rationalization always threatening to come undone. Mal was a smuggler willing to offer his ship to anyone willing to pay, no matter what side of the law his clients reside, but possessed great integrity and decency. He’s a proverbial whore with the heart of gold. Inara? Just a whore. Sorry: Companion. Which in the wild weird world of Firefly was a legal and honorable profession, as Companions were as erudite and sophisticated as they were glamorous and beautiful. But that doesn’t make the business of buying and selling intimacy and pleasure any less morally murky and emotionally fraudulent. Maybe that’s why, legalities and lexicon aside, Mal felt justified in calling her a “whore” up until this point in Firefly. Of course, Nathan Fillion’s performance suggested that Mal felt so much more for Inara than just mere indignation. We tend to hurt the ones we love – and probably a little more so when they’re sleeping with other people and not you.
NEXT: Walking Sheep, Piggish Captains