“We always hoped you two kids would get together. Who is she?”
“Our Mrs Reynolds” serves almost as an answer to various complaints I’ve had throughout the show. In “Shindig“, I complained that the appeal of being a Companion was completely lost on me; while this episode doesn’t show Companion work, it does make seducing people into ownage. In “Safe“, I complained that the episode sacrificed plot plausibility for a thematic point; this episode has no specific thematic point to make and simply lets both character and plot unfold before us, and as a result hits multiple comic and dramatic highs and gestures at a few interesting ideas.
“I would appreciate it if one person on this boat would not assume that I’m an evil lecherous hump.”
“Nobody’s saying that, sir.”
“Yeah, we’re pretty much just giving each other significant glances and laughing incessantly.”
The first idea, which dominates the first half of the episode, is the collision between Mal’s libertarianism, Zoe’s feminism, Book’s desire to protect an innocent, and Saffron’s old-school wifery. Mal is caught between being offended that anyone would feel the need to defer to an authority higher than themselves (“Someone tries to kill you, you kill ’em right back!” is the most Mal line in the series), and respecting Saffron’s ability to choose on a level I doubt he can even articulate; the twist is that Saffron is trying to manipulate him, and it says something about Mal that she has to convince him that her choices are entirely her own, and to express her choice in as clear a vision as possible, before she can do that.
The choice on the part of the writers to make Saffron a Companion-trained spy means this gets all tangled in to sexual politics. Christina Henricks would go onto play another riff on the femme fatale in Mad Men, and that makes it easier to see this episode’s shortcomings on that front; Saffron is just one particular asshole who fucks her way out of problems and can be completely rejected, while Joan is a complex human being who had limited choices and had to make the best of things. Whether or not Saffron is a negative representation of sexually active women is beyond my ability to say, but I can say this: that between Hendricks’ fantastic performance (switching the charm on and off as she pleases) and the plotting, it’s fun to watch Saffron go, and she manages to make ‘being a Companion’ look cool just by extension.
“But she was naked! And all… articulate!”
Another minor aspect of this episode I really like is a little parceling out of backstory. At one point, Mal is surprised to find himself opening up to Saffron about growing up on a farm with his mother “and about forty ranchhands”, fulfilling the implication of that working-class connection between him and Kaylee, and Wash opens up to her as well when he tells her he grew up on a world where he couldn’t see the stars – his telling Zoe about seeing the world where people juggled geese sounds like just a funny joke, but I also like how it shades in his irreverent viewpoint. Anywhere else, Wash’s casual bro outlook would be generic; here, it’s simply one point of view amongst many, which makes it stranger and more unique.
The other way this improves upon “Safe” is the presentation of the old-timey world of the border colonies, weird and misogynistic social structures being slightly more plausible than a belief in goddamned witches. It helps that the majority of episode expresses this in Saffron’s fake worldview rather than hanging out in that society; Saffron is (pretending to be) the consequences of one action of that society rather than an illogical next step.
“See, Vera? Get dressed up nice, you get taken out somewhere fun.”
The ending of the episode is a bit indifferent, though not enough to sink the whole thing. Saffron manages to get away, and has sent the ship into a big fancy net that raiders can use to disable the ship and kill everyone inside; Mal predictably thinks fast and pulls off a small plan that involves shooting and Kaylee being awesome (it’s not true that Vera would need oxygen to fire, but the visual of shooting through a spacesuit is too awesome to care). Mal tracks down Saffron and gives her a stern telling-off; it’s not that I think he’s wrong about any of this but it really doesn’t feel all that necessary beyond owning Saffron in revenge.
We then follow Mal into Inara’s shuttle to debrief, and he nearly figures out she kissed him earlier; the Mal/Inara romance, them dancing around each other never quite landing on admitting their feelings, never really grabbed me, but I can see how it did other people, especially when this ends on Mal smugly being extremely wrong about Inara’s actions.
- This episode has a lot of big laughs, but my biggest is Mal’s silent reaction to Saffron asking if he wants her to wash his feet.
- Benito Martinez appears as one of the raiders ready to take on Serenity, and I’m deeply offended he was basically wasted on a redshirt.
- “My days of not taking you seriously are certainly comin’ to a middle.” – one of my favourite lines in the show.