Hey, I don’t have to say anything about this episode’s airing order, because it didn’t ever air during the original run. Yay?
The episode opens with a naked Mal sitting on a rock in the desert saying “yeah, that went well.” It then flashes back to three days earlier where Mal is meeting up with a former comrade-in-arms and current smuggling buddy Monty (Franc Ross). Monty and Mal chat before Monty reveals he’s just gotten married and wants Mal to meet his wife, Bridget. When Bridget arrives, she and Mal immediately pull guns on each other, because she’s Mal’s ex-“wife” Saffron (Christina Hendricks) from “Our Mrs. Reynolds.” Monty separates the pair and Mal explains. Saffron denies Mal’s story, but accidentally (or not, she’s really clever) uses Mal’s full name, resulting in Monty abandoning her on the planet with Mal.
Saffron attempts to seduce Mal, but he rebuffs her. She begs him for a ride, saying that she’ll die if she’s left on the lifeless planet they’re on now. Mal seems less than concerned about that eventuality. Then, Saffron tells him she had a heist planned with Monty that is worth a lot of money and she’ll let Mal in on it. Mal pulls a gun on her as Serenity lands on the planet.
Back on the ship, Mal is taciturn, confusing the crew. Inara invites him to her shuttle, which makes him suspicious that she’s trying to manipulate him for some reason. It’s revealed that the conversation is based around the fact that Inara hasn’t had any clients in weeks because Mal keeps picking jobs on planets too poor to afford her. She asks Mal if there’s a reason, but he denies it, then says that he’ll find her a planet full of “Lonely Rich yet appropriately Hygienic” men. She tries to ask him about a middle ground, but Mal, having had a bad day, quickly tells her that he’ll stay out of her “whorin’” if she stays out of his “theivin’.” Inara points out that Mal’s recent jobs haven’t made any money, then accidentally calls him a petty thief. Mal tries to disagree, but the point has been made: Mal’s been small-time lately. Mal starts to say that he could get a big job immediately but stops short. He leaves and goes to a crate in the cargo bay. Inside is Saffron. Mal tells her he’s willing to listen to her about her heist.
Mal and Saffron join the crew for dinner, where Saffron explains the job: steal an artifact called “The Lassiter” from a rich guy named Durran Haymer (Dwier Brown). The Lassiter is the first hand-held laser ever made and is basically priceless… except in the sense that people would pay a fortune for it. Saffron states that Haymer made his fortune off of making bio-weapons for the Alliance during the war, which allowed him to steal from rich neighborhoods by gassing them and taking their valuables. Saffron has Haymer’s schedule, security codes, and a layout of his compound, so it should be an easy job to walk in, grab the gun, and leave.
Wash asks Mal why Saffron is even on the ship, but Mal deflects. Jayne asks why Saffron doesn’t just do it herself, but Saffron admits that while she found a way IN to the compound, she hasn’t found a way out. Inara enters and tells Mal that Saffron cannot be trusted, but Mal rebuffs her. Zoe points out that Inara is right, but Mal says that he’ll be watching her the whole time. Zoe agrees to help, then punches Saffron in the face.
Mal sends Jayne to tell Simon and River to stay hidden so that Saffron won’t figure out they have a bounty on their heads. River hints again that she knows Jayne betrayed them, this time by saying things with female pronouns so that they could apply to Saffron, but then saying “Jayne is a girl’s name.” After Jayne leaves, River says that he’s “afraid we’ll know.” Simon takes this seriously.
Inara tells Zoe she’s going to be off the ship while they’re on the heist planet, Bellerophon. She warns Zoe not to let Mal alone with Saffron. As the heist plays out, the scene flashes back and forth between the planning and the execution. Mal and Saffron go in through a backdoor, blending in with help hired for a party at the estate. The plan is that, after they get the Lassiter, they will dump the gun in the trash, which is automatically removed by drone. Kaylee will hijack the drone to bring the trash bin to the middle of the desert, where they will retrieve it. However, in the process of reprogramming it, Jayne gets electrocuted and knocked unconscious.
Mal and Saffron make their way to the gun, only for Haymer to walk in on them. Rather than being furious or suspicious, he’s thrilled to find out that his wife is back. Yolanda, as Saffron is known by Haymer, has apparently been missing for 6 years. The entire time, Haymer has been looking for her, clearly worried for her safety and still in love with her. Saffron concocts a story about having been sold into slavery, saying that Mal was a good Samaritan who gave her a ride back. After Haymer steps out, the pair finish the theft while Mal observes that this is the only husband Saffron has that she actually seems to care about. Saffron restates that Haymer is a monster, but Mal doesn’t seem to buy it.
He says that Haymer is her actual husband, leading her to pull a gun on him just as Haymer returns. Saffron tries to cover, but Mal quickly confesses. Saffron ends up aiming the gun at Haymer, upset at the fact that he now knows who she is. Mal draws his own hidden weapon, forcing her to drop her gun. She asks Haymer if he really thought she would stay with him in his private castle. He says he hoped, which she calls foolish. He says he pities her, which she mocks, until he reveals he called the police the moment he found them, saying “I love you, Yolanda, but I couldn’t think for a second that you actually came here for me.” On cue, the police approach the house. Saffron knocks Haymer out.
Mal and Saffron escape from the police, either using the security system to buy time or through brute force, until they make it back to the shuttle. On the ship, Mal and Saffron talk. Mal points out the Saffron could have stolen the Lassiter any time in the last 6 years but cared enough about Haymer not to until she had no choice. Saffron admits that she did try to make it work with Haymer, but ultimately couldn’t. Mal remarks that he’d seen her without clothing but had never seen her naked before. He tries to comfort her, only for her to pull his gun out of his holster. She forces him to strip, telling him she’s going to leave him in the desert.
Back on Serenity, it’s revealed that Saffron sabotaged the ship’s steering, meaning that they can’t make the rendezvous. Saffron abandons Mal in the middle of the desert, naked, before going to the drop site for the Lassiter. There, she digs through the trash dump until Inara ambushes her. Inara reveals that she and Mal had planned for Saffron’s betrayal, knowing that she would believe Inara’s anger at Mal would be genuine. She traps Saffron in the trash bin, then leaves.
In Serenity’s infirmary, Jayne awakens to find out that he’s paralyzed from the neck down. Simon explains that he knocked out Jayne’s motor functions to keep Jayne from exacerbating the spinal damage from when he was knocked out. Jayne asks if his spine will be okay, but Simon doesn’t answer, instead asking how much he got for selling them out on Ariel. Jayne denies it and calls for help, but the only one nearby is River. Simon leans in and, in one of the most oddly badass moments in the series, tells Jayne that he will never, ever, harm Jayne. Simon says that he doesn’t know if Jayne’s going to betray them again, but Simon is going to trust him and Jayne should do the same. It’s an amazing moment that really drives home how unusual Simon is as a protagonist, having someone who betrayed him completely at his mercy and just forgiving him.
River, on the other hand, helpfully reminds Jayne that, if he tries it again, she could kill him with her brain. It’s never addressed as to whether or not she can actually do that, but since she kills a man with a pen in the R. Tam Sessions without blinking and kills a room full of Reavers without taking a hit in Serenity, it’s probably a moot point. If she can’t give Jayne an embolism, she could probably just rip his organs out in alphabetical order with a pair of scissors.
Back in the desert, Mal repeats the opening scene, saying “that went well,” but it’s revealed that he’s talking to Inara. She questions if it really went well but Mal says that they got the loot, so it’s a win. Inara points out that her intervention was the failsafe, but Mal jokingly asks her how sad she’d be if she hadn’t gotten to play her part. Inara responds “heartbroken.” Mal walks back to the ship naked, acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary, evoking reactions from Kaylee, Zoe, and Wash. He ends up smiling at the desert as they take off.
It’s hard to say it, but this is a solidly bottom-tier episode for me. It’s still a pretty enjoyable hour of television, but it just isn’t as great as other hours of this show.
One big drawback is the Inara reveal. It just… it makes sense, but it also really doesn’t make sense. Based on the dialogue at the end, Inara had been in on the heist since before Mal took Saffron out of the crate, since they told the crew about it before they saw her. But, how exactly did that conversation play out? Inara calls him out for being a petty thief, and Mal goes “what a coincidence, I picked up Saffron and she might have a big heist that she’s definitely going to screw us on if it’s real. Want to bail me out if she manages to outfox all of us?” It just seems like there was no way for Inara to be so far ahead of the game based on the conversation they were having before the heist.
Another is that this is the third heist episode, but it’s not as fresh as “The Train Job” or as fun as “Ariel.” I mean, yes, they’re thieves, so there were going to be heists, but that means you need to lean harder into the other aspects of the show to keep it fresh, and this episode doesn’t really play to Firefly’s strengths. The dialogue is great, as is the acting, but this is judging Firefly in reference to itself, so those were pretty much gimmes from the beginning and don’t count for much.
What really bothers me, though, is Saffron. In “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” Saffron has everything about her plan in place well before she’s onboard, down to her smallest actions designed to sow discord or create arousal. The only mistakes she makes are underestimating Wash’s love for Zoe and not being able to improvise perfectly when she runs into Inara, and her plan STILL goes off mostly without a hitch if Jayne can’t pull off a perfect series of shots while flying through space. She’s about 3 minutes from taking out the entire crew, even with the troubles.
But, in this episode, she screws up by calling Mal by his name right off the bat. Now, if this was part of her plan to get on Mal’s ship, that’s one thing, but it never feels like that. Instead, it comes off as Arsène Lupin tripping over his own feet. (If you didn’t get that reference 1: read the Lupin books by Maurice Leblanc, they’re amazing, I promise, and 2: think of it as Carmen Sandiego being blinded by her own hat and running into a wall). At that point, she’s almost abandoned in the desert to die because she’s left alone with a guy who she openly tried to murder. Then, despite supposedly having Haymer’s schedule, she picks a time he’s at home for the heist and, when busted, she doesn’t realize that Haymer’s not buying her cover, allowing him to call the police. She’s just nowhere near the amazing level of antagonist she was in her debut.
Part of this is because they really wanted to go into her background, and the only way to really do that in this setup is to have them get caught. The revelation that she had an actual husband and dreams of normalcy is a lot to add to the character, and a great decision, but the episode kind of over-indulges in it by having Mal and Saffron have the same kind of talk about it two or three times. And, again, while it fleshes out the character, the WAY in which it is done reduces the amazing image of her as someone who is both independent and almost completely in control from “Our Mrs. Reynolds.”
Now, counter to all of this is the fact that Christina Hendricks’s portrayal of Saffron is still amazing and, even if they might make her a little less competent, she’s a great character who manages to almost succeed except for Inara’s intervention. So, overall, she’s still a plus to the episode.
The rather large portion of the episode dedicated to reprogramming the trash unit is intense, but it also takes longer than it probably should. The show has action in it, but the strength of Firefly has always been the characters, and we don’t get much of that from those scenes.
Simon’s scene with Jayne remains one of my favorite moments in the TV show, because it really brings home how powerful it is to forgive an enemy, but moreso when you have them completely at your mercy and tell them that you won’t hurt them. Since humanity has a tendency to turn towards revenge and selfishness first (as Jayne did), it was great to see someone go the other way. Simon proves he’s the bigger man.
Also, just on a side note, this is one of the few episodes where the characters invoke the fact that they sometimes speak random Chinese. When Inara calls Mal petty, she corrects herself to 琐细, which Mal says is “Chinese for petty.” The Chinese language drops throughout the series have always been a great touch, since it points out that it’s not just America that survives into the future and it makes sense that the other major power (based on predictions from 2002) would be China, since it had the population and the manufacturing ability to migrate to space if pushed.
And, finally, I’m going to give credit for naming the planet Haymer lives on “Bellerophon.” In Greek Mythology, Bellerophon is the man who slays the Lycian Chimera, a monster which is three animals combined into one (Typically, a dragon/snake, a goat, and a lion). Saffron is a woman who is notable for being a combination of many different female characters she plays, leading to Mal referring to her as YoSaffBridge at one point just to drive it home. Haymer is the only man who ever got her to care about him. Just like Bellerophon, Haymer took the Chimera’s heart. Whether that was intentional or not, I still think it works as a reference.
Overall, I just never liked this episode that much, but it’s still better than most of the stuff on television. I’d probably like it more if I really appreciated a naked Nathan Fillion, but, alas, I don’t. Update: Also, he was wearing a picture of Joss Whedon to cover his junk. Just figured people should know that.
Score: 1.5 Fireflies (or 1 Lassiter)
See you next Friday, Browncoats.
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