Last week I mentioned in the comments that I didn’t really like “Heart of Gold,” so I did my best to re-watch it with an open mind. I hadn’t seen it in a while, couldn’t remember much about it, and assumed that I was in a bad mood the first time I saw it. After the re-watch I can safely say I don’t dislike this episode anymore. I hate it.
“Heart of Gold” is much more of a classic Western than the other Firefly episodes. This may be one of the reasons I didn’t care for it to begin with, I am not a huge fan of Westerns. You’ve got your damsels in distress, and a good old-fashioned whorehouse run by Nandi, an old friend of Inara’s from back in Companion school. Nandi (otherwise known as Lady Heather from C.S.I.) has carved a place for herself and her girls out in the middle of nowhere and refuses to give in to Rance Burgess. Rance is one of the other reasons I don’t like this episode. He’s too bad. He is the most powerful man in town, and according to Nandi the reason for the serious Old West vibe. The town could have been modernized somewhat, but Rance has most of the money and all of the power and he likes playing cowboy. Especially since he gets to be the cowboy with the best toys.
Rance is one of those men who like to spew bile about a woman’s proper place, and how the ladies at the Heart of Gold have no respect for “the sanctity of fatherhood, or decency, or family,” yet the reason he’s all worked up about them is that he got one of the girls, Petaline, pregnant and she won’t let him have the baby to raise with his wife. The part where he makes the traitor whore, Chari, give him a blow job in front of his cheering posse, to prove that she knows her proper place, is too much. He’s not even someone I would love to hate. He just disgusts me and makes me want to change the channel.
Back at the ranch, Mal has agreed to take on this job pro bono because he can’t stand to see a lady and baby in trouble, but Jayne has enthusiastically agreed to work for trade. He is so enthusiastic that Mal is worried that they might have to do some chores after fighting the bad guy to even things up. Shepherd Book has one of his rare moments of moral awkwardness when some of the girls ask him for a sermon. He gets over his awkwardness when they tell him that the last shepherd who came through led a sermon after taking it out in trade from the girls who asked. Shepherd Book doesn’t like to see a lady taken advantage of any more than Mal does. When the crew starts preparations for the upcoming fight, he offers to help fortify the building and reassures the girls about their chances of getting through in one piece. When the fighting begins, he won’t break his rules about killing, but he stays outside making sure the building doesn’t burn down. He is also more than happy to knock bad guys off their horses with his fire hose. Fire hoses apparently occupy the same fuzzy area as kneecaps.
Kaylee and Wash don’t have much to do in this episode. Actually, I take that back. They do have a lot to do, but they get very little screen time. They are supposed to provide aerial support during the fight, but Rance knows about Serenity (courtesy of his spy Chari) and he sends a few men to the ship to keep them on the ground. Wash and Kaylee have their hands full trying to trap them where they can’t do any harm. They do, however, have an exchange when they first get to the Heart of Gold which is one of the only things I like about the whole episode. Kaylee is feeling blue about her love life and says:
Kaylee: Everyone’s got somebody. Wash, tell me I’m pretty.
Wash: Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion.
Kaylee: ‘Cause I’m pretty?
Wash: ‘Cause you’re pretty.
I’ve had days like that myself.
Alright, I feel like I’ve been avoiding an elephant in the room so I might as well get it over with. While Inara is helping Simon and River deliver Petaline’s baby, Mal and Nandi compare guns and end up having sexy times. It is actually a well done and pretty sex scene, but it has the wrong lady in it. I hate that Mal sleeps with Inara’s friend, even though Inara is the one who keeps telling him that their relationship is strictly business. And you know what? I don’t like Nandi. Melinda Clarke, the actress who plays her, has a sort of exotic sex appeal, but her acting style is very monotone and she has great big dead eyes. She just rubs me the wrong way. The next morning Inara runs into Mal as he is leaving Nandi’s room and he makes her cry. (Not right then and there, Companions have more dignity than that. She goes off to sit in the corner and cry where no one can see her. I’ve had days like that too.) Mal apologizes, Nandi apologizes when she realizes that Inara is hurt, but it’s too late. The damage is done. And then she gets killed while stopping Rance from taking the newly delivered baby away. The other part of this episode I like is Mal and Inara’s exchange over her body. They don’t say a word, but Inara manages to convey, “I know there’s a whole bunch on emotional crap here that we don’t have time to deal with right now, but don’t you dare let her die in vain,” with facial expressions alone. It is a superb bit of acting.
Mal chases Rance down and brings him back alive. Forced to his knees with a gun to his head, the ruins of his raid scattered around him, he still feels he has the right to demand to see his baby. Petaline brings the baby out, introduces him to his father, then shoots Rance in the head. It’s pretty obvious who will be running the ranch from now on as Petaline tells the rest of Rance’s men to leave, and kicks Chari out with them. Something tells me that Chari won’t be having a very happy life from here on out.
After a lovely funeral service for Nandi, Serenity heads back out into space. Mal starts to have the “Life’s too short to ignore our feelings” speech, but Inara cuts him off. She tells him that seeing the family Nandi had made for herself made her appreciate how strong those bonds can be, so she’s leaving. And that’s when I say, “Now I remember why I hate this episode.” I’m sure if the series had been allowed to go on, this would have been the beginning of some delightful pulling together/pushing apart romantic tension. As it is, with only one more episode to go, it just seems bleak. And on that note, I’ll see you next week for “Objects in Space.”
Photo from Squickerwonkers
7 replies on “LadyGhosts of TV Past: Firefly, “Heart of Gold””
Melinda Clarke (Nandi) is to you what Jonathan M. Woodward (Tracey) is to me! :)
That Wash and Kaylie quote encapsulates like 80% of the friendship I had with this guy in my first year of university. Whenever we saw each other in the caf or something we would basically tell each other we looked awesome and OMG I love your insert-clothing-item-here!! I would totally do you!
“Oh, look, they got boy whores. That’s thoughtful.”
Julie Cooper will always be a madam in some form or another…
There are times when I watch this episode and think that maybe this was related to the writers’ strike because it seems so atypical but then I have to remember that this show was off the air WAY BEFORE the writers’ strike and I’m left with no explanation. It is just a low point (by which in comparison will make all the other episodes look far better).
And thus, MY FAVORITE EPISODE IS BEING COVERED NEXT WEEK!
Chari blowing Rance in front of the townsmen is, for me, the worst moment in this entire series. This would be my least favorite episode even without that scene, though.
I physically cringed when Chari dropped out of camera view the first time I saw this episode. It was the most horrible ever.
I agree about that scene with everyone.
I love the episode though … it’s actually one of my favourites.