“The family she made, the strength of her love for them, it’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.”
-Inara Serra, Firefly S1E13: “Heart of Gold”
Brief synopsis: Mal and company sign on to protect one of Inara’s friends and her whorehouse from the man that owns their moon, knowing it will likely be a losing battle.
Title significance: “Heart of Gold” is the name of the little whorehouse that Mal and his crew go to defend on behalf of Inara’s friend, Nandi. The episode revolves around Nandi, the owner of the whorehouse, and how her life and death affects both Mal and Inara.
“Heart of Gold” is also a reference to the saying “a prostitute with a heart of gold.” The idea is essentially someone who has had a rough life, someone people look down upon, who unexpectedly is the nicest person there is. Though it’s not really unexpected from Nandi, she fits this trope.
Family: In this episode, we get a look at another family that has been thrown together by necessity and stays together out of love. Nandi obviously loves her girls and boys, and will do anything to protect them and her home, much like Mal. We see how she refuses to run, because this place and these people are important to her.
We also see the perversion of the idea of family. Ranse Burgess believes he has a right to Petaline’s child just because of his DNA. But from what we see of him, Ranse is cruel, hard-hearted, misogynistic, and treats his wife, the family he does have, as well as Petaline, the mother of his child, like crap. He believes that Jonah belongs to him, but what he wants is just a shadow of true family.
Success of family: I like how we get to see a parallel family as well as a perversion of family.
What “Heart of Gold” does right:
- Nandi – I liked Nandi. The show did a good job of making me care about her and her little whorehouse in the brief time we knew her. Her interactions with Mal are spot on. I bought the chemistry between them, and I also saw the similarities between them. They were kindred spirits in a way, and when Nandi died we felt the pain of both Mal and Inara.
- Inara – I never connected with Inara much. This episode is a huge exception of that. That moment after Inara discovers that Mal and Nandi slept together, when she retreats to a corner and crouches, bawling, she suddenly becomes someone who shares something with me. I have had those exact types of moments, and every time I see this scene, I can feel those emotions again. This is my favorite scene of the episode.
- Emotions – I feel like this episode really made great use of the characters. Mal and Inara were obviously the stars, and their emotional stories shone brilliantly. But we also had Kaylee’s desire to feel pretty, Zoe and Wash’s discussion about having a baby, and Book’s awkward, yet kind, interactions with some of the girls, Jayne training his favorite prostitute for battle. They were all very elegantly done, and I very much enjoyed it.
What “Heart of Gold” could have done better:
- Girls/Guys - Besides Nandi, the girls and boys of “Heart of Gold” didn’t really have much personality. There was the spy, the two interested in religion, Petaline, and Jayne’s girl, and that’s as much as they got into it. I think we could have cared much more about the house and what was going on if some of these characters were developed a bit more and felt like real people as opposed to props.
- Lying – At the beginning of the episode, Nandi tells Ranse that Petaline has left the moon. Less than a second later, his men emerge from the house with Petaline. Why even bother lying if the girl is right there? Aren’t there any nooks and crannies where she could have hid? Like, it took them so little time to find her, she must have been standing right by the door. It seems like such a stupid lie when she knew they were going to find her in a second.
- Ranse – Ranse was so ridiculous as a villain. It made him very one-dimensional. I know it was likely done so we would agree that Nandi was completely in the right to oppose him having any claim on Petaline’s baby, but I think it would have been cool to have some moral gray area there (kinda like we had with the guy in “Trash”). He just didn’t make for a very interesting villain. Too heavy-handed what with making his ally kneel before him because she was a woman . . .
Overall: For the most part really good, but could have been much better with more effort placed in guest characters.