Firefly: Heart of Gold
June 18, 2015 11:25 AM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

A Companion-trained friend of Inara's who runs a brothel calls for help from Serenity when a local bigwig reveals his intentions to take his baby from the woman he impregnated. (wiki)

"Outside of “The Train Job,” “Heart Of Gold” may be the most Western-y of Firefly’s little Space Westerns, to such a degree that the science-fiction elements almost seem superfluous. Sure, the crew of Serenity arrive on a remote planet in their spaceship, where they offer to help a pregnant woman whose baby’s parentage has been determined by futuristic technology; and sure, the baby’s father leads a siege on the pregnant women’s home with laser guns. But everything else about this story—that the woman is a prostitute, that the house is a brothel, and that the epic gunfight takes place on a dusty landscape—could be transported almost verbatim to a movie or TV show set in the American frontier in the 1870s or some such."

"It’s apt though to talk about how to define Firefly—western or sci-fi?—in the context of an episode that to a degree is about definitions. It’s Inara who asks for Mal’s help with the pregnant prostitute, Petaline (played by Tracy Leah Ryan), because Petaline works for Inara’s old friend Nandi (Melinda Clarke); and it’s Inara who tells Mal plainly that Nandi and Petaline are “whores,” not “companions.” They’re not part of The Guild; they’re out on the frontier, doing their own thing, and as a result they’re vulnerable to the pressures of men like Rance Burgess, the wealthy brute who wants to claim the kid he made with Petaline." (Noel Murray at avclub)

. . .

"My reaction to “Heart Of Gold” was pure schizophrenia. Loved the setup. Hated the interminable gun battle. (It’s like writer Brett Matthews and director Thomas J. Wright forgot that genre clichés are to be invoked in order to elevate or transform them, not to methodically and wearily reenact them.) Was shocked into alertness when Mal succumbed to Nandi’s invitation. Found the actual soft-focus night-of-passion stuff disappointingly cloying and predictable. Then, finally, was moved by the epilogue’s twist when Mal almost confesses and Inara decides to flee."

"That epilogue feels like it belongs to a completely different episode. There's a rawness and honesty to it that contrasts sharply with all the business that buries the rest of the hour. What bothers me most about “Heart Of Gold” is how big it tries to be, and how small it therefore ends up seeming. The camera lingers on the hovercar effect as if to say “see what a sophisticated science-fiction show we’ve got here!”, and the whores’ solar-powered house is such a point of pride for the creative team that the many establishing shots of it are buttressed by defensive dialogue about how it’s not silly at all. But it is silly—all of it. The house looks like it’s been covered with space aluminum foil. The hovercar is show-offy at a distance, cheap plywood close up. (I do like Reese’s sheepskin seat cover, though; that’s a nice touch.) The villain’s laser gun is such a prop-tastic mess than even the “Check Batteries” joke thuds. And the straining isn’t just limited to the set dressing and effects. All the slow-motion stunt photography of guys being shot off horses seemed like a boring concession to inevitability rather than a loving homage to the grand tradition of frontier last stands." (Donna Bowman at avclub)

[Mal practices cocking and aiming his gun in the dining area when Inara comes up behind him.]
Inara: Hi.
Mal: BWAH!
Inara: [laughing] Sorry! Didn't mean to startle.
Mal: You didn't! I was just, uh… "BWAH!" That's more like a… It's a warrior like... Strikes fear into the… hearts of… You know, not altogether wise, sneaking up on a fellow when he's handling his weapon.
Inara: I'm sure I've heard that said. But… perhaps the dining area isn't the place for this sort of thing.
Mal: What do ya mean? It's the only place with a table big enough.
Inara: Of course. In that case, every well-bred petty crook knows that the small concealable weapons always go to the far left of the place setting.

Mal: I'll introduce you to the rest later. They're good folk.
Jayne: Can I start getting sexed already?
Mal: Well, that one's kinda horrific.

Kaylee: Look, they got boy whores! Isn't that thoughtful? Wonder if they service girlfolk at all.

Kaylee: Cap'n seem a little... funny to you at breakfast this morning?
Wash: Come on, Kaylee. We all know I'm the funny one. (more at wikiquote)

In the "Previously on" opening, a scene is shown where Simon and Kaylee are talking in a hallway. Kaylee asks if there is anything on the ship that Simon likes, and Simon goes to stroke Kaylee's hair. This scene doesn't actually happen until the following episode, "Objects in Space". (wiki)

• The labors of Book in “Heart Of Gold” include: making a sandwich, and comparing his carpentry skills to Jesus’. It’s fair to say that this is a character who hasn’t really gotten his due.

• One doesn’t usually expect an evening at the theater to feature as many shadow puppets as it does in this episode.

• Wash, trying to sound commanding when Zoe suggests a three-point watch on four-hour shifts: “3.4 hours should do it.”

• From the “Here’s where society is at in the early 2500s” department: Frozen dinners are still a thing, given that Jayne compares Nandi’s reflect-y house to one.

• From the “You don’t pay Jayne Cobb to talk pretty” department: Surveying the wares an Nandi’s brothel, Jayne declares, “My John Thomas is about to pop off and fly around the room, there’s so much tasty in here.” (Wash, on Jayne’s pronouncement: “Would be you’d get your most poetical about your pecker….”) (avclub)
posted by valkane (10 comments total)
I miss this show so much.
posted by Thistledown at 2:40 PM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

It’s fair to say that this is a character who hasn’t really gotten his due.

Agreed. Shepherd Book was definitely underused. I got the feeling that Whedon & co created the character and then had no clue what to do with him. And, unfortunately, it was also a waste of Ron Glass.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:20 PM on June 18, 2015

I've watched this series more times than I can count. Except for this episode, which I've only seen once, when it was broadcast, and I mean to keep it that way. It's not just the execution, whose painful details the above reviews note, it's that it's written wrong. The characters aren't themselves. And what's almost worse, it's uninteresting: IIRC there's nothing about the story that requires it to take place in the Verse as opposed to an actual Western. I love Firefly, which for my purposes is a show that doesn't include this episode.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:35 PM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I got the feeling that Whedon & co created the character and then had no clue what to do with him.

There's tons of Book backstory in the comics, to the point where I am wondering if they had it there sitting on the shelf ready for a bunch of reveals in a season 2 that never came.
posted by Artw at 9:45 PM on June 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

IIRC there's nothing about the story that requires it to take place in the Verse as opposed to an actual Western. I love Firefly, which for my purposes is a show that doesn't include this episode.

It's up there with the one set in the space-south for annoying literalism in being a western, and my main argument for the show being better the further away from that it gets.
posted by Artw at 9:47 PM on June 18, 2015

This was one of the episodes that made me most worried about Serenity, and relieved when the movie turned out so well.

It's the other episode I always skip, partly due to the characters acting like they're wedged into a plot, but mostly due to that cringeworthy balcony scene with Nandi's informant. It's lazy writing compared to the rest of the series and Burgess was an awful-enough villain without it.
posted by mochapickle at 10:29 PM on June 18, 2015

It just... bothers me that that the solar sheeting is so shiny.
If you want power from the sun why would it be shiny? You'd want to absorb it.

If you want a shiny house excuse some sort of cooling excuse is the way to go.

Also, at no point did the lasers bounce off it, which I was disappointed by.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:33 AM on June 19, 2015

This episode has given my fiancé and I our most quoted lines:

"Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion."
"Cause I'm pretty?"
"Cause you're pretty."
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:21 AM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

The shiny house bothered me too - but, instead of collecting solar energy for, well, energy the shiny was to reflect the hot solar rays to keep the house cool?
posted by porpoise at 9:49 AM on June 19, 2015

I see we have all decided the most interesting thing to discuss in this episode is the solar engineering. I have no dispute.

In the "Previously on" opening... This scene doesn't actually happen until the following episode, "Objects in Space".

Given the uncertainty of airing in the final episodes I'd just guess they knew this episode was getting bumped at the time they were cutting that together. OiS had an air date, this never did.
posted by phearlez at 8:28 AM on June 22, 2015

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