The Hooker With The Heart Of Gold

Heart of Gold is a an episode full of unrealized potential stifled by poor execution. A distress call goes to Inara from a brothel named the "Heart of Gold" on a barren planet. The crew of Serenity volunteer to help defend the prostitutes from the local thug Ranse Burgess who wishes to take his child from the pregnant prostitute Petaline who carries it. By sheer coincidence of timing, his attack on the brothel falls within minutes of the birth of the child. The action sequence at the end of the episode is sloppy and disjointed. A potentially interesting interplay between Shepherd Book and two prostitutes asking for spiritual counseling is left underdeveloped.

Most of the airplay surrounds the interaction of Mal and the head madam Nandi. Though Mal advises everyone to run off planet rather than fight "a monster who thinks he's right with God", Nandi adamantly refuses to leave the property and way of life she has worked so hard to earn. Impressed by her fortitude, Mal begins preparations for the inevitable showdown with Burgess.

NANDI: Rance Burgess is just a man... And I won't let any man take what's mine. I doubt you'd do different, in my position.

MAL: Well, lady I must say, you're my kinda stupid.

Whereas Jayne gladly partakes of the brothel's services upon arrival, Mal deflects the offer to "trade". The night before the battle, he is alone with Nandi as she tells him of how she ended up at the Heart of Gold. Once a Companion in training with Inara, she found her life on Sihnon too constricting and ventured out on her own. Finding the brothel run by a man who mistreated the prostitutes, she took it over and cleaned it up. Mal is attracted by her fierce confidence as a reflection of his own independent streak.

MAL: Miss Nandi, I have a confession to make.

NANDI: Maybe I should get the Shepherd.

MAL: Well, I ain't sinned yet, and I'd feel more than a little awkward having him here when I do.

NANDI: You expect to accomplish something sinful then, do you?

MAL: If I'm overstepping my bounds, you let me know.

NANDI: Malcolm, I been waiting for you to kiss me since I showed you my guns.

Nandi takes on the archtype of the hooker with the heart of gold, the fallen woman who though superficially sells her body for money, is of a wholesome internal character. It was her strength that drew Mal to her. That, and her guns. She defends her right to live and kill people who try to kill her that Mal tried to instill in a seemingly innocent Saffron. Whereas Inara keeps struggling with the compatibility a Companion's life and finding love, Nandi is sincere about what her profession means and makes no bones about it.

Reacting coolly when she finds Mal leaving Nandi's room in the morning, Inara breaks down in private, deeply hurt. Though Nandi tries to communicate to both Mal and Inara their interest in each other, neither is fully receptive. After losing Nandi in the battle, Mal realizes what he could lose in Inara and tries to let her know his feelings but before he can get the words out, she deals him that loss anyway.

MAL: Inara, I ain't looking for anything from you. I'm just feeling kind of truthsome right now. Life is too damn short for ifs and maybes.

INARA: I learned something from Nandi. Not just from what happened, but from her. The family she made, the strength of her love for them. That's what kept them together. When you live with that kind of strength, you get tied to it, you can't break away. And you never want to.

There's something that I... that I should have done a long while ago. And I'm sorry, for both of us. that it took me this long. I'm leaving.

Mal stares frozen as she walks off to her shuttle. Perhaps Inara concludes that her life and profession make meaningful bonds restricting, something that may have also contributed to her leaving Sihnon. She hates complications.


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The best thing about the

The best thing about the series is that we didn’t know all of the secrets that the characters had.

That was one of my favorite quips from the movie. I had been hoping to find out more about Shepherd Book's intriguing past. What I got was (going by memory here):

Mal: "One day, you're going to have to tell me about your past, Preacher."
Book: "No I don't."

I think there at the end,

I think there at the end, you've captured the essence of the episode. It was about the relationship between Mal and Inara all along. And it was starting to hint at why Inara was out in space on Mal's ship rather than working in a "temple". She and Mal both came to Nandi's aid. She came because she loved Nandi. Mal came for the work, and love for Inara. He stayed because Nandi's loyalty to her people had earned his respect.

Inara saw Nandi die for the people she loved and she knew that Mal would do that. But she had just admitted to herself that she loved him. She couldn't bear the thought of losing him the way the girls of The Heart of Gold lost Nandi.

The best thing about the series is that we didn't know all of the secrets that the characters had. We knew, at their core, what sort of people they were. We knew why we could trust them. And we could accept that there were some questions that weren't going to be answered any time soon.