Firefly Retro Review: Mighty Fine Shindig

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Shindig, Firefly Season 1 Episode 4, explores the themes of pretension and perception; being in a world outside of one's own, pretending in order to fit in and how we see each other in those worlds.  

In examining these themes, Mal and Inara's relationship takes centre stage.

The crew of Serenity is back on the planet Persephone (which is where they picked Simon, River and Shepherd Book). Inara makes a date with the wealthy and incredibly arrogant client Atherton Wing, who takes her to a high society formal ball.  

To Inara's chagrin, Mal, solicited by Badger, also attends the ball in order to make a connection with a wealthy client who needs merchandise smuggled off the planet.  Mal, who doesn't like how Atherton treats Inara, comes to blows with him, inadvertently challenging him to a duel with swords.

This episode of Firefly deals heavily with Mal and Inara's relationship, and their passive-aggressive-belligerent romantic tension is never more apparent than here. While they can't help but insult each other, it's also quite obvious how much they care for each other. Mal is willing to face death in a sword fight just to defend Inara's honour, while Inara was ready to sell herself to Atherton just to spare Mal's life. 

"Shindig" also explores the theme of pretension. Almost every major player in this episode is either pretending to be someone they're not, or trying to figure out where they belong.

The first coherent string of sentences we ever hear River speak is an epic deconstruction of Badger's pretentiousness, "a sad little king of a sad little hill."  Kaylee figures out very quickly that her fancy dress isn't enough to let her blend in the high society crowd.  

Atherton has Inara on his arm, a beautiful woman to show off as a trophy, while everyone pretends that he didn't buy her. Even Warrick Harrow, the nobleman with the merchandise, pretends to be a honest lord, while he's actually doing illegal business.

Inara pretty much states that she could belong in high society, should she accept Atherton's offer to make her his personal Companion, though all evidence points towards her being more comfortable in Mal's world.

Mal, according to all others, is possibly the most pretentious. Yet somehow, he's the most comfortable with himself. Without pretending, he seems to be more at home in high society than expected. His vocabulary is certainly more impressive than one would expect for a petty thief (palaver, anyone?), and he certainly blended in well enough at the formal - well, before the fight, anyway.

Also, Mal is the most perceptive of the pretension and dishonesty.  

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 doesn't seem to see that Atherton's regard for her is simply as a Companion.  His admiration of her is not as a woman with feelings and passions, but as a graceful prostitute who surprisingly has the capacity to blush.  Everything he sees of her is in the light of her job.

Mal wants Inara to stay on Serenity because he cares for her. Atherton wants Inara to stay with him, not to care for or love her, but to be hired as his own personal whore. 

In the end, Mal's comfort with himself and his honest perception is essentially what lands him the smuggling job. Well, that and his willingness to stab Atherton for fun.

The episode ends with Inara realizing that high society really isn't her world. There's no place she could be since she found Serenity.


  • River's verbal battery of Badger is the first indication of what may be going on in her head.  While I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen the rest of the show, you gotta be asking yourself how on earth she knew where he was from...
  • "Yes sir, Captain Tightpants."
  • Wash's poetry is golden. Indeed, Zoe would be"...somewhat less attractive now that she's all corpsified and gross..."
  • Visit our Firefly quotes section now!


  • Inara Serra is played by Morena Baccarin.  Since Firefly, she's become a sci-fi staple, playing Anna on the reboot of V, and Adria on Stargate SG-1.  

She's likely most widely known now as Jessica Brody on Homeland (a role which garnered her an Emmy nomination), and for very memorable guest spots on The Mentalist and The Good Wife.

Shindig Review

Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (8 Votes)
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Firefly Season 1 Episode 4 Quotes

What you gonna do in that rig? Flounce around the engine room? Be like a sheep walkin' on its hind legs.


The key seems to be handing Jayne a heavy stick and then standing back.