Saturday, October 13, 2012


Sci-Fi Saturday

Mal is challenged to a duel when he confronts Inara's date to a formal dance, halting the smuggling job he had been trying to set up.

The review for "Bushwhacked" can be read here.

Where Inara (Morena Baccarin) is incredibly skilled in her interactions with people, Mal (Nathan Fillion) has a tendency to toss out insults before learning he just infuriated exactly who he needs help from. In getting comfortable with his crew he manages to alienate them from time to time, a quality that seldom gets him into trouble on his ship, but on-world puts him on the outs with a good number of people.

Mal and Inara have a great chemistry in this episode, from their interactions dancing at the ball to her support of him during the duel. It's rare to see Mal out of his element during a job, but here he is forced to conform to the ideals of a world he had previously shunned, wearing a suit and feigning a level of decorum he has never attempted. Inara has trained in many social skills that Mal has never had use for, and here it is she that has the knowledge and ability to finish the job the Serenity's crew has taken on. She teaches him to dance, she teaches him to fence, and, while he is well-versed in gun fighting, he remains fairly unskilled in swordplay. The actors play off of each other so well on a regular basis, and their role-reversal here displays an alternate side of their relationship that we might otherwise not have been privy to.

The discussion of legality versus honesty is very interesting as Mal and Inara debate companionship against scavenging. Where Inara's occupation is perfectly legal, Mal argues that it's completely dishonest, as everything she does for her clients is based on playing into whatever lie they pay her for. As a companion, Inara's clients often confuse their feelings, believing that they truly have fallen for her, or that whatever emotion she feigns is totally honest. Mal, on the other hand, admits that what he does is absolutely illegal, but claims that it's completely honest, stating that what he does is very straight-forward, everyone knows exactly what he's up to when he's up to it, but it's necessary for him to get the money he needs.

At one point Inara is verbally disrespected by her date Atherton (Edward Atterton) and simply lets it slide, pretending as though she either didn't hear the comment or that she somehow deserves the barbs he lashes out. On the one hand, it's easy to imagine that she felt the need to maintain her composure as he was paying for her services, but Inara has always struck me as the kind of woman who is very self-aware and unwilling to allow herself to be put down, so to see her here being so dismissive and beat down is very out of character. She is, at any time, able to end her service with Atherton, and she has had to be blunt and upfront with men in the past, so why she allows him to walk all over her here is beyond me. The fact that she even considers staying with him on Persephone in order to live out the rest of her life as his private companions is even more insane, as she would very quickly become a kept woman in a very repressive world.

The episode's premise feels somewhat forced, with everything, very coincidentally, happening at the same place; Inara attends a very exclusive ball, which is then where Mal is sent on his job, facilitating the conflict between Mal and Atherton, allowing for both their duel and the resulting hostage situation. The time spent on the build-up to the duel, and the duel itself, halts the pacing of this story, and more attention should have been given to the hostage situation aboard the ship which proved to be much more interesting in the few snippets shown.

Badger (Mark Sheppard) does a great job in this episode, but Atterton's Atherton is one of the highlights, providing a very good foil for Mal and being incredibly good at being bad. Summer Glau (River) gives a good performance during her brief appearances, and Jewel Staite's Kaylee is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.

Vern Gillum's direction shows both the hilarity and beauty of the dangerous situations these characters get into, showcasing the elegance of a fencing match, and Mal's inability to use a sword, against the violence of their duel and the very real threat of death. Kaylee's out-of-style dress, and the obliviousness with which she interacts with the other women at the party, is off-set by the fact that she becomes the most popular woman amongst the men at the party, able to relate to them on a level that the other women are incapable. The party is designed to mimic the idea of civility, to re-imagine a world that time forgot, a world far removed from the western-theme of the rest of the universe, and it's an interesting contrast to use for this series.

Writer Jane Espenson keeps a good focus on character interaction here, the scenes where the Serenity's crew deal with their hostage situation being some of the highlights. Kaylee's interaction with the men at the party, talking to them about ship parts and becoming the most fascinating woman in the room to them, speaks volumes to how oblivious to her own situation her character is, pining only after men who show no interest in her and assuming she's not well-bred enough for the men at this party when they, in fact, can't tear their eyes away from her. River's interaction with Badger, assuming a matching accent and speaking to him as though he's beneath her, is a very well-done sequence, surprising both the audience and the characters while adding another layer to the mystery of River Tam. Inara calling out Mal on the fact that he calls her a whore to her face, while despising Atherton for doing the same, provides a moment where Inara takes charge of her fate and refuses to be looked down upon, but the fact that she doesn't have the same conversation with Atherton confuses things and slightly undercuts the strong-will she displays with Mal.

The attraction between Mal and Inara is made very clear here, and the two of them appear to be coming to some kind of understanding about one another. In her interaction with Badger, River once again displays a skill that questions what exactly was done to her in her captivity.

The review for "Safe" will be posted on October 20th.


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