Firefly, Season 1, Episode 11, “Trash”
Directed by Vern Gillum
Written by Ben Edlund
Aired July 21st, 2003 on FOX
Welcome to Sound on Sight’s summer look back at Firefly, the beloved yet short-lived series that aired on FOX during the 2002-2003 TV season. Every Thursday, we will revisit an episode at a time of the show’s one and only season, in the order that they were meant to be seen. The correct sequence is accurately reflected on most, if not all, streaming services that currently have the show, but for those watching via other methods, the accurate order can be found here. Now, without further ado, time to spend some time with the most entertaining group of grifters in The ‘Verse.
In this case, the strength of an episode like “Trash” lies not in its ingenuity, but in its parallel storytelling structure to that of “Ariel”. Whereas the latter episode dealt with heavy emotions and important character growth in the midst of its central heist, the former is much more comfortable leaving the heaviness of the last two episodes by the wayside and having a bit of fun. The audience has been here before with these characters though, organizing an important heist that carries a fair amount of danger, and as such the writing doesn’t have to put in as much legwork to make it work. Everyone is already familiar with Saffron, for better and for worse, and has experienced the set up and execution of a theft while the organizer recites the steps via voiceover. In addition, any crew members that are angry with someone else on board have been in that same kerfuffle before, so there isn’t a ton of time devoted to exploring these conflicts. Simon and Jayne have chafed against each other’s priorities multiple times, Mal and Inara’s back and forth is certainly nothing new, and Saffron and, well, everyone, obviously have their share of past troubles. All of this manages to stay just on the right side of repetition without becoming tedious, and as such it allows the adventure portion of the episode to breathe.
The presence of Saffron is cleverly done, in that it places the audience in a position of thinking they know everything that is happening because it is so familiar, and then pulls the rug out from under them at the end. Granted, it is not a particularly drastic reveal that the Serenity crew was conning the con woman all along, but it is just plausible enough that Mal would get duped by Saffron a second time that it is a nice surprise when the plan comes together exactly as they’d hoped. From the beginning, the viewer is kept in the dark regarding any sort of internal conspiracy by the crew to beat Saffron/Bridget/Yolanda at her own game. She is introduced in a similar way as in Hendricks’ first appearance, an innocent and loving woman (if a little less naïve here) who just wants to be loved. Having her be “married” to one of Mal’s oldest friends is a nice touch, as it is not a stretch to expect her to be the one who appears from the darkness when he calls her to be introduced. The ensuing fight between Mal and Saffron, replete with high kicks and a well-choreographed roll in the dirt, is a plausible way for the conflict to be put behind them both in order to lift a vintage laser gun worth millions of dollars. The way the episode works with audience expectations, from the in media res opening of Mal naked in a desert to the plan having various hitches along the way at times unrelated to Saffron, successfully misdirects attention away from the sleight of hand being performed right in front of their faces.
The main thrust of the plot itself, the theft of an antique laser gun that is the forefather of all laser technology from an Alliance captain (another footnote in the history of technological advancement in the show’s universe), is a breezy bit of fun with only a modicum of danger involved, which is a necessary tone to strike when bouncing back from a dark episode such as “War Stories”. The banter between Jayne, Kaylee, Wash, and Zoë while rigging the trash bin to redirect is yet another glimpse at what makes these characters so fun to be around on a regular basis. The simple fact that Wash and Zoë can sarcastically (yet lovingly) bicker with each other during a daring stunt and still successfully pull it off with nary a hitch says it all. Additionally, Mal and Saffron’s expert entry into the building and professional disabling of the security systems guarding the gun make the exploit far closer to an Ocean’s 11 style caper than the high-security bank robbery-esque mission that “Ariel” offers. The winking language during the job, the feeling that Mal and Saffron can barely stand each other, and the middle-of-the-job interruption by Saffron’s previous mark/husband are all great incorporations of the loose, slapstick genre that Firefly continues to deploy most weeks. The interruption by Durran, played by the ever-puppy-eyed Dwier Brown AKA John Kinsella from Field of Dreams, also doesn’t play lengthy games with the audience by pretending he is fooled by Saffron’s wiles because, again, everybody already knows what she is up to so it doesn’t make sense to go through those steps with Monty and Durran in the same episode and stall all momentum. Durran calling the police with his fancy ring sets up yet another great stunt sequence through the gardens of his property, and everyone gets to go home happy except the guy who just got fleeced for a priceless valuable.
The greatest thing to see in this episode is the way it respects the ability of the women involved in the heist. The show has always acknowledged that Zoë and Kaylee (and Saffron when she’s around) are all capable of beating the men at their own game with brains or brawn, but Inara has long been relegated to the wily sex worker role where she can use her smarts to gain the upper hand, but only when that intelligence is combined with her romantic allure. Here, she not only is the one who shows Mal how far he’s had his head in the sand regarding new jobs, but contributes to the plan with her acting ability, not her professional abilities. Inara and Mal’s tête-à-têtes are at this point slightly repetitive—sexual tension, insult, backtrack said insult, rinse, repeat—so what a great development it is that their early conversation here actually has results in regards to Mal’s outlook on his current state of mind. A second season almost certainly would have given Inara far more character development than she receives in the first, but as that of course was not to happen, it is a treat to see at least a small amount of broadening and conviction here. Plus, she gets to wear an awesome veil while holding a gun. That one of the few downsides to this is episode is the fact that there is not enough time to further build upon this sneak at a more involved Inara is a telling factor to how well it works as a whole.
- River tipping off Simon about Jayne’s betrayal is a small moment, but Simon taking the high road and just scaring Jayne instead of getting revenge places their relationship at a new level of understanding.
- Another episode, another time Shepherd Book only gets a handful of lines. Sigh.
- Wash’s flustered frustration about why and how Saffron is magically back on the ship is by far one of Tudyk’s comedic highs. “‘I don’t recall pulling over!”
- So many amazing Mal and Saffron exchanges. A few: 1. “You and lipstick are a dangerous combination if I recall.” 2. “You missed a spot.” ” Can’t miss a place you’ve never been.” 3. “You won’t tell anybody about me breaking down? Then I won’t tell anyone how easily I got your gun out of your holster.”
- To be fair to Mal, Geisha dolls with big heads that wobbled do sound pretty cool.
- Put another tally on the “Zoë Is The Greatest” board for punching Saffron in the face.
- “A real working man. Struggling to get by with the barest of necessities on his private island.”
- Another beautiful moment of acting by Nathan Fillion and Christina Hendricks, even if it does end up being a ruse, is the exchange encompassing “…I’ve seen you without your clothes on before. I never thought I’d see you naked.”