This review contains spoilers.
Heart of Gold is the penultimate episode of Firefly, and it’s probably the one that deals most explicitly with issues of disenfranchisement and oppression (at least, as we recognise it in our society). Nandi, an old companion friend of Inara’s who now runs a brothel on an outer planet, requests the crew of the Serenity‘s help, promising a fee if they do so: a local bigwig is laying claim to the unborn baby of one of her prostitutes, and he’s not above using force to take it from her. Mal and the gang are needed essentially to blow seven hells out of him and his cronies.
It’s an episode, then, that’s primarily foregrounding misogyny as a form of marginalisation. The issue with the bigwig, as I read it at any rate, is not really that he wants the child; it’s that he doesn’t care about its mother, who he’d much rather see as a baby-making machine, an object, than a person who wants to keep the child. It’s about commodification: prostitutes as means to an end (where the end is, obviously, male pleasure) rather than as people who have chosen a particular line of work for pretty much the same reasons as anyone else chooses any other line of work (which is how the crew of the Serenity, by and large, see Nandi and her found family). The episode is about defending the kind of communities I’ve discussed in relation to Firefly before: communities carved out in defiance of the law of unregulated capitalism, in which help is shared rather than bought (Mal chooses to waive the fee for defending the prostitutes) and people support each other as people rather than as commodities.
But whereas earlier episodes on this theme (particularly The Message) made this kind of community triumphant, what the final stories of the series seem to play up particularly is the fragility of these alternative societies: they win a little at a huge price. The child is saved and the bigwig defeated; but Nandi (alongside a couple of unnamed prostitutes) is killed and Inara leaves the ship.
It is a particularly downbeat episode, and not among my favourites; but thematically it’s mildly interesting in the light of the final Firefly episode and the film Serenity. For which, reviews to come!