This was the third episode to air, following “Bushwhacked.” It didn’t have a ton of added-on material, it seems, and I will say the following: This might be the only good decision involved in the re-order. Putting this episode on earlier is a great idea. It’s lighter in tone, but still has a lot of great character work, it’s cast-centric, has one of, if not THE, best openings in the show, and has Christina Hendricks really nailing her guest role as Saffron. Great hook episode. Also, having it after “Safe” has one logical flaw that I’ll address at the end.
The episode starts with a covered wagon moving through a shallow river-bed. A group of bandits on horseback appear to ambush the wagon.
The leader asks for the goods in the wagon, and then implies he’s going to rape the woman sitting at the front of the wagon. The man driving the wagon, revealed to be Jayne, advises against this, because his “wife” is a “powerful ugly creature.”
At this point, the wife is revealed to be Mal, who quickly banters with Jayne before addressing the bandit leader and telling him to surrender, because:
“…if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you.”
He touches metal, and Mal, Jayne, and Zoe quickly kill all of them. The locals throw a party to celebrate their liberation from the bandits, at which Mal and Inara flirt, Jayne gets drunk and is given a rain stick by the village elder, Zoe and Wash cuddle by a bonfire, and a local girl places a crown of flowers on Mal’s head before offering him wine. Mal is amused by this. I’m also amused because Mal wears both a floral bonnet and floral crown in the span of 5 minutes.
The next morning, the crew leave, and Mal finds a stowaway onboard in the cargo hold. When he asks who she is, the young woman, Saffron, responds “Mr. Reynolds, sir. I’m your wife.”
Jayne and Zoe enter the cargo hold and are mildly amused by the situation. Mal, however, is panicked about this turn of events, which leads to him constantly denying that the marriage exists, to the apparent dismay of Saffron. Zoe invites the rest of the crew down to meet Saffron, to a variety of reactions. Simon, confused, congratulates him, Wash mocks him, Book asks to see a dictionary, Kaylee is excited and defensive of Saffron, and Inara just looks unhappy. Mal continues to deny that he’s married, causing Saffron to burst into tears.
Mal asks to return her to the planet they left, but Wash points out that the Alliance landed after they left, and that one of the bandits was a citizen, so they’re potentially wanted for murder if they go back. Book returns to inform Mal that, by the customs of the planet they were on, he is INDEED married. In fact, she was given to him as a form of payment for services rendered. When Mal asks about divorce in front of Saffron, he is yelled at by Kaylee and Inara before Saffron leaves.
Mal follows after her and talks with Saffron about what to do with her. She’s worried he’s going to kill her, but he assures her that he’s going to find her a job and a life on the next planet they land on. She seems disappointed, but he says that she’ll realize he’d be a terrible husband. Upon hearing they have five days, however, she seems to be determined to prove her worth. First, she runs off to cook him dinner.
At this point, Book meets Mal in a hallway and instructs him that divorce is difficult in her religion, but he will help. Book then tells Mal that if he takes sexual advantage of her, he’s “going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.” Mal takes some offense to this statement, so Book agrees to set Saffron up with a separate room. Mal agrees. Book then pops his head back in to remind Mal:
THE SPECIAL HELL
Mal goes to the dining room where Saffron has made him dinner. Wash and Zoe join him and Wash quickly manages to put his foot in his mouth concerning his wife making him dinner. Zoe begins to find the situation less humorous as he does so, until Mal finally leaves, which allows Wash to finish his dinner. Saffron, in a hilarious moment, asks Mal if she wants her to wash his feet. Mal merely walks off.
Mal goes to see Inara who isn’t exactly happy with him. Tempers quickly flare with them shooting barbs back and forth. Inara is clearly upset that Mal’s actions have hurt their relationships, while Mal is subtly trying to remind her that they don’t actually have a relationship and he doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. He ends up getting kicked out by Inara and running into Jayne.
Jayne, in another hilarious moment, offers to trade Mal his best gun, Vera, for Saffron. Mal, of course, finds that idea repulsive. “She’s not to be bought, nor bartered, or borrowed, or lent. She’s a human woman doesn’t know a damn thing about the world and needs our protection.” Jayne, unhappy, accepts this.
Mal runs into Saffron, who comments that he’s a good man for resisting Jayne. She agrees to find a job at the next planet. We’re then shown two men planning to “net” Serenity if they come their way, but nothing else.
On the bridge, Zoe is now angry at Saffron’s presence on the ship. Wash tries to justify Saffron’s behavior by pointing out that she’s from a different culture, at which point Zoe becomes angry that Wash is defending her. She heads to bed, leaving Wash alone. Mal returns to his bunk, only to find Saffron naked in his bed.
She tries to seduce him, but Mal resists at first. She stands up naked in front of him, and Mal says that it’s not that she isn’t pleasing to him, he just thinks it’s immoral. She proceeds to read the Bible:
On the night of their betrothal the wife shall open to the man as the furrow to the plow. He shall work in her again and again, ‘til she bring him to his full. And rest him then upon the sweat of her breast. – Iplayah 6:9
Mal can only respond, stunned “Whoa. Good Bible.”
She attempts to seduce him again, but he resists, saying that he can’t consider them married as payment for a debt. Not that he isn’t tempted, because it’s been “a long damn while since anybody buy me took ahold of my plow.” She persists, saying:
“If I’m wed, I am a woman, and I’ll take your to leave to be bold. I want this. I swell to think of you in me. And I see that you do, too.”
And yes, that line comes with the obligatory crotch glance.
She tells him that she will absolutely get off on the next planet, but just begs him to give her one night. He says “Oh, I’m gonna go to the special hell,” and kisses her, before regaining his senses and starting to tell her that he can’t… right before he realizes he’s been drugged and collapses.
Saffron joins Wash on the bridge and tries to seduce him, but he never really considers it, leading her to kick him unconscious. Saffron drags him out, seals the bridge door, and heads for the spare shuttle. She runs into Inara, who eventually realizes that Saffron is trying to manipulate her, but Saffron attacks her, gets into the shuttle, and takes off. Inara runs to check on Mal, finds him alive, and kisses him from relief. She calls for Simon, then realizes that she’s also been drugged, and passes out.
Mal awakens to find out that Saffron has disabled steering, navigation, and communication, in addition to sealing the bridge. They manage to make it inside the bridge, but still cannot steer, and then learn that they’re headed for an electromagnetic net that a chop shop runs. When they hit the net, everything in the ship gets electrocuted. They manage to destroy the net from outside of the ship using Jayne’s gun “Vera,” as well as kill the chop shoppers. Kaylee manages to fix the ship’s steering.
Mal tracks down Saffron and attacks her in her room, but ends up sparing her life. Mal then confronts Inara, who claimed earlier that she had “tripped” rather than admit she kissed Mal. Mal makes her admit that she didn’t trip, but instead of realizing the truth, assumes that she also kissed Saffron, leading Mal to walk away smiling with Inara looking stunned.
I love almost everything in this episode. The dialogue has almost no weak points. Mal’s personality and values are explored. Saffron is an amazing character to have in the episode. Inara and Mal’s relationship is deepened. Zoe and Wash’s relationship is… not really tested, but I bet Wash is getting the good sex that night for not even really considering sleeping with Saffron. Book and Mal have one of the funniest sequences in the show. It starts off with a shootout in a covered wagon, and most of the episode is in a spaceship. Pretty much as space-western as it gets.
Saffron’s character is perfect for the setting of Firefly. She uses the rural and odd nature of the colonies of the Outer Rim to bind herself to Mal, who she knows won’t hurt her. She quickly ingratiates herself to some of the crew, while sewing discord amongst the others. She does it all so perfectly and so naturally that, until Wash refuses her, everything she does really seems to be going to plan without anyone suspecting that she even HAS a plan. She’s just that good with reading people and playing her character. And, full credit to Christina Hendricks, she does slightly alter her behavior when around the other characters to really sell that she’s conning all of them in subtly different ways. Best of all, this is to basically set up an ambush in the middle of space. Or… the left of space. The down? Space is weird.
When the plan does start to break down, first with Wash, then by running into Inara and being rushed to cover for herself, Saffron is still competent and efficient. She gets into the shuttle and leaves immediately, abandoning the crew to their fate. Given that the chop-shoppers say that she “gets it done,” this appears to just be her standard operating procedure. One can only imagine how many people she’s left to die in ships headed for the net.
Mal’s character in this episode is pretty great, too. When he finds out that he’s married, his first instinct was to be horrified and insist that he wasn’t, because Mal actually cares about marriage and other such pledges of loyalty, so he doesn’t want to do one lightly. Everyone else just seems amused by Mal’s carelessness in letting it happen, or thinks Mal is being overly cruel to Saffron, with the exception of Inara, who is just upset with Mal. When he is finally confronted by a very seductive, and very naked, Saffron using the full extent of her implied companion training, he still manages to hold on to his principles, even after he wavers long enough to kiss her. It’s a hell of a moment.
It’s really hard to single any part of this episode out because the entire thing is pretty great. This was the second episode I saw originally, and it was the reason why I said “this show could be amazing.”
The only weakness in the episode is that they had to keep River out of it, for the most part. As aired, she has no lines in the episode. In the intended order, this is kind of a necessity, since we just had an episode that made it explicit that she can read minds. In the actual airing order, since we didn’t really have as much understanding of River’s abilities, it doesn’t raise as many questions.
Of course, it turns out that there actually WAS a scene filmed with River speaking in the episode, it just got cut for time. That scene was actually pretty funny, since it involves River trying to convince Simon to marry him so that they’ll always be together. During that sequence, when Mal and Saffron come in, River calls her a thief, but Saffron admits she took some food. Saffron says she didn’t realize she was seen, and River says “I didn’t see you.” Then, they move on, dismissing River, who now tells Simon they have to get married. She shoves a pillow under her shirt and says “I’m in the family way.” It’s a great scene and at least addresses the issue. Oh, hey, I found it online:
Since River gets a huge part of another episode focused on a guest character, I’m willing to overlook the lack of her in this one. It’s not the best episode of the show, objectively, but it’s one of the best for people who like the show. It’s got western elements, plenty of space elements, great performances, great dialogue, and humor out the wazoo. Great episode all around.
Serenity Scale: 5 Fireflies (Or 1 Night with Saffron)
See you next Friday, Browncoats.
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