Episode Report Card
Shack: C+ | 14 USERS: B
The anvil is mightier than the sword

Back at the hotel room, Mal and Inara are sparring. With swords, as opposed to the usual sparring, though they're going to be doing that, too. Inara is kicking Mal's ass. Actually, she's thwapping it with the flat of her sword. Kinky. She explains that the problem is that Mal is swinging the sword like he's chopping wood. He has to thrust it, sometimes. Thrust your sword, Mal! Thrust! Mal argues that chopping is a stronger attack. Inara points out that it's also slower. Inara points out that speed is more important than strength: "We're fragile creatures. It takes less than a pound of pressure to break skin." Wow, she's had some kinky clients. Time to switch back to the verbal sparring. Mal asks if Inara learned all these fancy details at the "whore academy." Inara backs off and points out that Mal has a strange sense of nobility. He laid out Atherton for treating Inara like she's a whore, but he's not afraid to call her names about it. Mal explains that the difference is that while Mal doesn't respect Inara's job, Atherton didn't respect Inara as a person. Inara snarks that death should sort out the issue to everybody's satisfaction. Mal shoots back that it was the rules of Inara's society that brought about the duel in the first place. Inara shoots back that Mal never follows the rules anyway, no matter what society he's in. She angrily points out that Mal doesn't even have any respect for his fellow criminals, and that's why he's constantly getting into trouble. Mal retorts that Inara will follow the rules that will give her a nice life, even if it's as somebody's slave. Then he sort of meekly asks her not to take Atherton's offer. Inara is surprised. He tries to pawn it off by saying that if Atherton's in the position to repeat his offer to Inara, that means Mal's dead, and he doesn't like people who kill him. Okay, then. Oh, and he luuuuuurves Inara. He asks her again not to take Atherton's offer. She looks at him longingly, because she luuuuuurves him, then excuses herself to go back to Atherton's room. She tells him that Atherton will be up early. Mal swings his sword around and thinks about thrusting. Ew, not that way. Actually, probably that way, too.

Morning. Atherton snottily takes off his twee jacket as everybody prepares for the duel by a lake. Inara's there. Sir Benny is there by Mal's side. Everybody ready? After some silent preparation, the duel begins. Parry. Thrust. Parry. Thrust. Atherton is clearly in control of the duel. He toys with Mal, making him think that he's doing a better job than he is. Mal is falling for it, but both Benny and Inara recognize what's happening on the sidelines. More dueling. Atherton has an obnoxious smirk on his face the whole time. You've got to give the actor credit -- it's like he was born to play roles like this. Eventually, Atherton slashes Mal's shoulder. More dueling. Atherton decides to bait Mal by just standing there with his sword behind him. Mal falls for it. That annoys me, because Mal is supposed to be pretty clever and there's no way he shouldn't have seen through that. But he doesn't. He rushes Atherton, who quickly spins away and stabs Mal in the torso, drawing quite a bit of blood. Ow. Sir Benny points out that this duel might not last very long.

Commercials. We return to the duel. Mal is losing. Sir Benny warns Inara that they're coming up to the end, and she might not want to watch. More dueling. Eventually, Atherton pushes Mal's hand down to the ground and steps on the sword, breaking the blade. Atherton holds his sword at Mal's neck. Inara interrupts Mal's pending execution and begs Atherton not to kill Mal. She says she'll take Atherton's offer if he doesn't. Atherton turns to look at Inara, and that's all the opening Mal needs. Yay! Cheating! Mal pushes Atherton's sword away, then punches him in the mouth. Atherton drops his sword and falls back a few steps. Mal picks up his broken blade off the ground and throws it into Atherton's shoulder. Ow! As Atherton is pulling the blade out, Mal picks up Atherton's sword and whacks him on the head with the hilt guard, knocking him down to the ground. Mal's in charge now.

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