Captain Tightpants And The Companion

Another bar. Another brawl. Mal again reveals that he has some standards for what he does, stealing the wallet of a patron, and justifying it by noting that it belonged to a slaver. Thus begins Shindig, the episode where the series begins to come into its own, focusing on the dynamic between various members of the Serenity crew. While Inara accompanies a client named Atherton Wing on Persephone to a ball, Mal and Kaylee also end up there to pursue a smuggling operation for Sir Warrick Harrow. In attempting to defend Inara's honor, Mal inadvertantly challenges formidable swordsman Wing to a duel to take place the following morning.

The episode introduces the tension that underscores the relationship between Mal and Inara throughout the series. Though clearly attracted to each other, neither can overcome their personal biases to take the next step. While Mal knows that what he does is illegal, at least it's honest work for honest folk, the laws of the Alliance be damned.

MAL: Maybe I just like watching a professional at work, then. Is this the hardest part, would you say, or does that come later?

INARA: You have no call to try to make me ashamed of my job. What I do is legal, and how is that smuggling coming?

MAL: My work's illegal, but it's honest.

INARA: What?!

MAL: While this... the lie of it... that man parading you on his arm as if he actually won you, as if he loves you, and everyone going along with it. How can that not bother you?

INARA: "Going along with it"?

MAL: He treats you like an ornament. Other men look at you and discuss if you're worth the cost. The women talk behind their fans, picturing you with their husbands. And to your face, they're sweet as pie.

INARA: That's not true.

MAL: Well, I guess you'd know. It's not my world.

During Inara's visit to Mal the night before the duel, Mal describes how he sees Inara as a person of grace and character who is sullied by her degrading profession.

INARA: It's also slower, Mal. You don't need strength as much as speed. We're fragile creatures. It takes less than a pound of pressure to cut skin.

MAL: You know that? They teach you that at the whore academy?

INARA: You have a strange sense of nobility, Captain. You'll lay a man out for implying I'm a whore, but you keep calling me one to my face.

MAL: I might not show respect to your job, but he didn't respect you. That's the difference. Inara, he doesn't even see you.

INARA: Well, I'm sure death will settle the issue to everyone's satisfaction.

MAL: This stupid duel is the result of rules of your society, not mine.

INARA: Mal, you always break the rules. It doesn't matter which "society" you're in! You don't get along with ordinary criminals either! That's why you're constantly in trouble!

MAL: And you think following rules will buy you a nice life, even if the rules make you a slave.

Inara sees Mal as a small-time criminal who could do much better for himself if he tried harder to accept the constraints of civilized society. She takes pride in her work, seeing it as a form of art that takes years of rigorous training to master. The two are, in a sense, mirror images of each other. One is a branded a criminal merely for transporting goods from one place to another; the other has had years of schooling and is licensed in a professional guild but engages in selling her most intimate offerings for money. Mal cannot bring himself to love a lowly whore, and Inara could not accept the love a petty thief anyway. The result is a romantic tragedy of epic proportions.

As if to prove Mal correct, Wing lashes out at Inara after losing the duel, threatening her with starvation, though as Inara reveals, Wing is the one who will suffer by being blacklisted in the Companions' client registry. "You'll have to rely on your winning personality to get women. God help you," Harrow informs him.

Shindig showcases the crew's personality quirks - Kaylee's daydreaming naivete, Mal's impulsiveness, and more of River's hidden abilities. As the crew is being held hostage in the cargo bay by Badger and his men, River, heretofore unaccounted for, wanders into plain sight. While the others fear what disaster awaits her unrestrained whimsy, she puts Badger in his place giving him a tongue-lashing matching his cockney accent as the rest look on in astonishment.

To end with the typical Whedon plot twist, the secret property to be smuggled offworld turns out to be... cattle.


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