Firefly Episode 4: Mal Ends Up in a Swordfight Amid Outer Planets
It all starts when ship’s engineer Kaylee decides she wants to dress like a Southern belle…
In Episode 4 we open with the crew returning to the planet Persephone where the series began. While in the Market, Kaylee, the ship’s engineer, finds a dress that she particularly likes and Mal, who is growing impatient because he’s carrying something heavy, says there’s no way she could use the dress because she’d look silly working on the ship in such a thing. Of course, this infuriates everyone, and they all leave in a huff.
Now, what’s interesting about this scene is the world-building. The show really commits to the whole Western genre because the dresses remind one of the southern belle’s style or even something out of the Victorian Era — vintage garments that high society might wear back in the day.
Now, I won’t say this is distracting enough to take something away from the show, but I thought that the idea of the rich as well as the poor going along with the Western style was a little much. So far, we’ve seen the Alliance dressed in the standard space attire, which is something similar to Star Trek. I like the notion that the settlers wear rugged, Western style clothing because it works with the idea of terraforming other planets. This was a real opportunity to show the contrast between the elites and those who live on the outer planets but the differences were not really explored.
Anyway, Mal lands a deal with Badger, the boss who backed out of their previous deal in the episode 1 because the foodstuffs that the crew smuggled were marked by the Alliance. However, Mal still agrees to accept Badger’s deal, which is to go to a fancy party and secure an arrangement with a local businessman.
Mal, feeling like a jerk on account of his poorly-thought-out remarks to Kaylee, decides to buy the dress so she can attend the ball. While there, dancing and mingling with the socialites, they run into the Ambassador, Inara, who is having troubles of her own. Her current “date” has offered to pay for her services permanently so she can stay on the planet and not have to run around with brigands. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mal doesn’t like this and punches the guy in the face.
This leads to the man challenging Mal to a duel… a sword duel. Mal know nothing about sword fighting, but agrees anyway because how hard could a sword duel be? The good news is the businessman thought all of this was hilarious and agrees to use Mal’s ship to smuggle his cargo.
Of course, they fight, and the duel doesn’t go well for Mal because it turns out sword fighting is hard. The Ambassador offers to stay with her client if he spares the captain’s life. Mal doesn’t like this, and in the heat of emotion, knocks the sword out of the client’s hand and, once again, punches the guy in the face, ending the duel.
It’s not a bad episode, but it’s filler in every sense of the word. The only thing that’s accomplished is the Ambassador and Mal like each other a little more… they’re supposed to be in love or something, but beyond that we learn little.
The only thing worthy of note is the extended commitment to the Western motif — and I have to say, in this instance, they went too far. I like the idea of the outer planets being the Wild West, but the contrast is greatly weakened in this episode. One of the things that makes the story work is the idea that these rough-and-tumble renegades are up against a galactic threat.
The Alliance has lasers, massive ships, and all sorts of wild technology which creates a sense that our team is up against great odds. And as it typical in this type of story, there is a veiled promise that, somehow, our team is going to bring this empire down, a promise which is fulfilled in an unexpected way in the movie rendition, Serenity (2005).
But in this episode, we see the socialites dressing in period attire, which creates a sense that we are not looking at some sort of economic power contrast, but a standard style of the day. It’s a nit-pick to be sure, but I thought it weakened the story’s premise… just a bit. And I’m sorry, I love lightsabers and sword duels in space as much as the next guy but seeing a regular fencing match without some sort of technological twist was a little disappointing.
Anyway, we’ll review Episode 5 next time. Oh, and by the way, the businessman’s cargo turns out to be cows.