Silence in Space

First episodePrevious episodeUpNext episodeLast episode

Heart of Gold

First aired: The Signal: Season 8, Episode 14
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton
Edited by Paul Korswagen

Heart of Gold contains one of my favourite Firefly images of all time. As the shooting script describes it, “We see The Bordello, in all its tinfoil splendor. Reverse on our people, in a long-lens tight group, heading towards it.” It is this second shot which provides the image I love so much. It represents one of the few occasions when we see all nine of “our people”, that is, Serenity’s occupants, together. The way in which they walk in one big group - rather than in twos or threes – communicates this togetherness very clearly. They might have differing motivations for responding to Nandi’s distress call, but they are united in their determination to help.

As Mal and his crew walk towards the Heart of Gold, there is sunlight from one side which creates a warm, golden glow to the shot. There are other shots in the episode in which sunlight is prominent. Wash squints at the bright sunlight as he and Zoe prepare the tripwire, for example, and we see the sun come up behind a large cactus as the day of the battle dawns. There is warmth created in other ways too, such as by the colours of Inara and Nandi’s outfits, and by the reflected lighting from the solar sheeting on the brothel. The overall impression of light and warmth in the episode is very much the opposite of the previous episode, The Message, in which night and cold predominate.

The shot which introduces us to the Heart of Gold begins in the darkness and cold of space, however, and only then zooms in on the brothel in the wilderness of the desert. The solar sheeting of the building glints in the sunlight as the camera comes to rest on it. The overall visual effect is a powerful one when we take it in the context of the story. Nandi’s house is a tiny beacon of freedom and independence on a moon which is run by a powerful tyrant. Her story is the struggle between the Browncoats and the Alliance, but in miniature. The solar sheeting of the house may be designed for the practical purpose of cheap power, but its reflective nature provides us with an image of a house which does not absorb the oppression of the world around it, but rather reflects it away, thus protecting its occupants.

There are many visual contrasts between Rance Burgess’ world of technology and wealth and Nandi’s world of basic living and making ends meet. For example, Burgess arrives at the Heart of Gold on a hovercraft which has what appears to be a sheepskin seat cover, whereas the inside of the brothel is wallpapered with sheets of newspaper. Then there is Burgess’ laser pistol and Nandi’s set of antique pistols. These are clearly two people who occupy entirely different worlds, despite living on the same moon.

Another image which particularly struck me as I watched the episode without sound was that of the shadow puppet play, which we briefly focus on at the start of the scene in which Mal sizes up Burgess and then see glimpses of in the background behind Burgess. In the part we see at the beginning of the scene, spaceships flee Earth-That-Was, when it was no longer possible for humanity to continue to live there. The choice was made for flight rather than fight. Nandi chooses differently for her situation though, and decides to stay on and fight, rather than take Mal’s offer to flee in Serenity.

The shadow puppet play continues in the background behind Burgess as he talks with Mal and it seems particularly appropriate that we see the red glow of a burning Earth-That-Was behind a character who is very much about destructive oppression. Later we see Burgess inciting the gathering mob to take the fight to Nandi and this time in the background is a flaming torch, which again is very in keeping with his character.

As the battle begins, it is interesting to me how clearly the different characters come across, even by means of visual information alone. Kaylee, for example, clearly senses that something is off with Serenity when she and Wash enter the ship and discover that three of Burgess’ men had got there before them. Kaylee seems to realise that her beloved Serenity has been invaded before she actually sees evidence of it. Jayne is another character who stays true to himself as the shots start firing. He prioritises girls over guns somewhat during the battle preparation, but then reverses the priority order when the actual fighting begins. Also true to form is Book, who – in an apparent extension of his “kneecaps” approach to violence towards his fellow man – pulls his weight in the fight by using a hose rather than a gun.

It is Mal who brings the fight to a close though, as he goes after the fleeing Burgess. Like Nandi’s struggle against Burgess, Mal’s final fight with the man is like the fight between the Browncoats and the Alliance in miniature. Burgess flees on a hovercraft, and Mal chases him on a horse. Burgess relies on his laser pistol, whereas Mal relies on his wits, and his fist. But the result of the fight does not reflect that of the war between the Browncoats and the Alliance. This time independence wins out, though at a cost, as Nandi does not survive to see the victory. Her funeral, though sad, is a far more hopeful sight than the scene of Tracey’s body being brought home which brings the previous episode The Message to an end. The latter takes place in the cold and dark, with those receiving the body similarly darkly dressed. Nandi’s funeral is in the daytime, in warm sunlight, and some of those attending dress in white. The sight of Petaline standing with baby Jonah also gives us at least a glimmer of hope for the future.

The episode does not end there though. Mal and Inara have one final scene together, which begins with hope, but ends in despair. Their playful banter from early in the episode is replaced by awkwardness, and a determined lack of eye contact, as they talk in the cargo bay. At first they stand at some distance apart and then Mal makes the first move, literally, by coming round to Inara’s side. He is clearly taking the initiative to resolve the tension between them, but Inara prevents him from continuing with her own shocking revelation. It is not necessary to hear Inara’s words to realise that what she tells Mal is devastating. She manages to hold onto her composure until just before she turns away, but Mal is too stunned to show much reaction at all. The ending shot of Mal alone is a stark contrast with the images of family, togetherness and cooperation which have characterised much of the episode, and is all the sadder for this.

First episodePrevious episodeUpNext episodeLast episode


This is an archive of the Signal website. It is no longer actively maintained.