This ties back to a discussion last month we were having on ATPoabout the existentialist "anti"-hero. Random's (as usual) excellent, well articulated post cut through to the heart of the matter for me, that matter being Joss' characters. What follows is my attempt to apply that to the Firefly episode, "Shindig."
Or, to put it another way: the classical hero is the hero of the epic; the existentialist hero is the hero of the farce.
Farce (from Wikipedia): A farce is a comedy written for the stage, or a film, which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely and extravagant - yet often possible - situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include puns and sexual innuendo, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases even further towards the end of the play, often involving an elaborate chase scene.
Unlikely situations: Kaylee requiring a dress to help Mal do crime, especially after he insulted her about her desire to have it earlier. Badger having to turn to Mal for help since Mal's airs will help him get the contract. Mal stumbling into a duel, one that is fought with swords, to protect the honor of a woman he repeatedly insults.
What makes this truly absurd is that none of the characters find any of this absurd. Kaylee proudly hangs her dress in her room. Badger and Mal cement their business relationship. Mal goes ahead with the duel, even when Inara comes to free him. While she is there, he continues to insult her, believing it is her profession he is disgusted with because it pretends to be something it isn't.
Everything in this episode is pretending to be something they aren't. Mal and Kaylee dress up to fit in at the party. The partygoers aren't the sophisticated people they pretend to be. The men are more interested in Kaylee's comments about engines and ships than they are all the fancying up of the other women. Atherton pretends to care about Inara, wanting her for his personal companion, while at the time really seeing her as his property, nothing better than a fast car to make him appear better than he is. The piece de resistance is River. She calls Dodger on his false airs while adopting a similar persona herself.
This episode fits every point of a farce and I doubt anyone here would argue that it isn't.
Now why a farce? What does this give to the story? That is what I will concentrate as I do my episode analyses from now on.
This setting, this dramatization of the real world sets up the absurdity that the existential hero must somehow come to terms with. Kaylee wears the dress and helps Mal, even after he has insulted her. Inara tries to help Mal escape and when he refuses, tries to help him by teaching him how to use a sword. Mal, put in the ultimate absurd situation, agrees to follow the rules of a society he doesn't belong to. It is he that is the sheep walking on two legs, but walk he does.
All the characters in this farce are put in absurd situations. All characters in this farce accept these absurdities, much as Camus' Sisyphus accepted pushing up that rock. In this acceptance, they become free to use their free will to deal with the situation the best they can. Mal even blithely remarks how he isn't a great man, reconciling his less noble emotions with an acceptance of them.
Was there a lot of character development this episode? We see River the most lucid she has been. Mal is one to already accept the absurd, not cursing the gods, but just trying to keep flying in an absurd universe. Inara, who was going to leave the ship because she couldn't deal with the absurdity around her, decides to stay, thus accepting the universe a bit more. Kaylee is just Kaylee and rolls with the punches, even when they hurt.
That is how I see the episode. What about you?