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October 20th, 2005 - Trickle of Consciousness — LiveJournal
I just recently finished watching the Firefly DVD set. No real spoilers here so much as a more general wondering about some the themes / elements.

Specifically, I'm a bit conflicted about how Inara's supposed to function. Initially, Companioning seems to be about subverting expectations and throwing in some Whedonesque female empowerment.* It's the prostitute here who's bringing legitimacy, who is the most "honest" woman (or man, for that matter) on the ship.

The series in general often makes the point that in any exchange, it's the Companion who has the power. Potential clients have to present proposals to Companions, and anyone caught hurting (or even offending) a Companion can be blacklisted, no matter what kind of social station he or she has. So on that level, Inara as Companion seems to be a role of sexual freedom; it isn't about women being forced to sex but rather about them no longer being restricted by it.

But then you take and put the concept into the larger thematics of the series, and it looks very different. With the notable exception of the Companion profession, Firefly also works pretty hard to make Civilized Society something to be spurned. Mal and his crew aren't legitimate or respectable in the way Inara is, but most of the examples we get indicate we don't want them to be.

Again, the primary example here is female. River is both the product of the Alliance (which is largely used interchangeably with "civilization" or "legitimate"), and she's also quite obviously exactly what Inara isn't: her abilities come directly from her exploitation. The Alliance made her what she is against her will, and now they hunt her in the same way. They've hurt her (and if they have their way, will continue to do so) without any fear of retribution.

Maybe at this point, we're balanced. The same society empowers Inara and subordinates River. Societies are complex, of course, so maybe it's just a matter of "this part's good, this part's bad."

Only, then we have Mal. See, Mal and Inara, they have that whatever it is going on. Also, probably in part due to his hatred of the Alliance, he doesn't think much of her noble profession. And the thing is, the natural direction of their attraction would suggest that at some point they may get together. It's an eventuality I think we're very much meant to root for. But at that point, I'm pretty sure Inara can't be a Companion any more--if not due to guild restrictions, then due to Mal's own problems with the lifestyle.

That's where I get fuzzy. I think we're supposed to respect Inara's profession--possibly specifically as a counter-example to River's experiences in civilized space. So is it a good or a bad thing that we're simultaneously asked to support a character arc that means she gives up said profession, presumably along with whatever status and power that entails?

Of course, I suppose it wouldn't be an interesting dramatic conflict if there were only one good decision to make. It's entirely possible that the dilemma I'm outlining is exactly the question the character arc was eventually meant to deal with. Messily, and with lots of misunderstanding and angst and tears. Maybe some robberies and guns. Probably Reavers, too, 'cause what's a good soap opera without space cannibals?

* I'm fully aware there are those who don't find Whedon's women to be empowered, but I think we can safely assume his intent is empowerment, thus the "Whedonesque"

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