“Control was the first lesson. And the last. ”
– Inara Serra, Serenity (deleted scene)
You know, while one can find great quotes and life lessons in most good stories, and even a number of lousy ones, it still says something that Joss Whedon managed to produce so many with such keen points. Even the material that got left on the cutting room floor has them.
This scene would have been our first introduction to Inara in the movie, where she is talking to another companion – meaning a sort of priestess prostitute – about what the newest girls are learning about their eventual vocation. Inara is very experienced, and she sees something that these girls are not learning which they absolutely must: control. That was what she learned first, and last, highlighting its importance, and it has served her well. No, it hasn’t just served her well, it has been vital to her survival, not to mention pivotal to her success.
There is not really anything that anyone can control except themselves, and yet there is something about people who are in control of themselves that enables them to do so. The way they carry themselves enables them to strongly influence the world around them, and the people in it. Wherever they are, and whoever they are with, they are the ones in charge. They are the ones in command, and no one commands them. No one does anything to them that they don’t choose to allow. Their domain is wherever they are standing, and people naturally avoid infringing on it. There’s no manipulation, no ploys or tricks, just a simple, unquestionable authority.
Inara herself demonstrates this several times. Naturally, this involves choosing to whom she sells her services, which she is enabled to do, but it’s more all-encompassing than that. When she calmly, but firmly, ushers a magistrate out of her shuttle, the man, well-accustomed to getting his way, can hardly utter a peep of protest as he is politely thrown out. When a customer reveals his vile, petty nature and swears to impoverish her for a slight to his ego, she responds from a position of power that he is the one who will never be granted services by anyone of her profession ever again. When her friends are being held on suspicion by the law, she simply walks in, collects them, and walks out, like a queen. Only the most depraved creatures even think of striking her, or doing her any other form of harm.
She is, quite simply, in charge. She is in charge of her choices, she is in charge of what she says and does, what she wears and where she goes, and, though she is a prostitute, she is quite firmly in charge of her sex. All access gained therein is granted by her consent and hers alone. There is no wavering, no questioning, no wishy-washy insecurity. She knows who she is, what she is about, and she exists neither above nor below anyone. No sly tactics or even brute force will work against her, and she does not engage in such herself. Even when what she feels is like a hurricane on fire within her, she is in control.
Now, I want to quickly add that being in control of oneself does not mean constantly being some uptight, anal-retentive stick in the mud. It also does not mean being cold, harsh, and without emotion. And it really doesn’t mean never feeling a thing or never letting oneself be out of control at all. We are humans, creatures of passion, and to deny that is to stifle something good within us, even to kill our capacity to love others.
Control doesn’t mean never losing control. It means choosing when to do so, and being able to reassert control as necessary. It means moving with the flow of what can’t be controlled and making it your own. It’s like dancing.
You know, I rather like that, now that I just thought of it that way.
People think control is an iron fist, but it’s actually a dance. A controlled, disciplined flow of what one does in the midst of a song that one has no control over, fueled by everything one thinks and feels and knows and practices, and one succeeds not simply when one has the spotlight, and all the pressures that come with it, but when one makes the entire stage one’s own, with others naturally following the leader.
And it always begins with controlling oneself.