Firefly, Season 1, Episode 6, “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall
Aired October 4th, 2002 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.
“Our Mrs. Reynolds” holds up just about as well as any of the episodes Firefly aired during its run, no matter how many times it gets run through the rewatch wringer. Even if you know the twist that occurs about two thirds of the way through the episode, the zingers and character interactions throughout maintain the entertainment factor at the same level as the first time you set your eyes on Mal getting accidentally married in a drunken stupor. From the very beginning, with Mal and Jayne trussed up as a married couple in order to lure bandits to their wagon, it is clear “Our Mrs. Reynolds” will be high on the humor scale. After a few that had their bummer moments and intense endangerment of the crew, it is just about time for an overtly comedic installment. Even the danger that the crew befalls at Saffron’s hand lasts only a few minutes and is still peppered with one-off lines that are delivered with a wink. The peril never seems real enough to bring the mood down; this is a con man caper, not a mission for murder, and the writing keeps the difference between the two in mind throughout.
As Saffron, Christina Hendricks steals the episode out from under the majority of the main cast. A relative unknown at the time (she had done around a dozen projects prior to appearing here), she portrays the submissive and seductive sides of the part with equal aplomb. Even though it would be another half a decade before Mad Men premiered, it is easy to see many of the qualities that eventually made her a great Joan Harris in this role. The ability to flip the switch from pure innocence to con woman menace can be easily tied to the incisiveness of her future roles. More important is the way Saffron’s advances tear down the cockiness and confidence of Mal. Throughout the series, it is apparent that Mal is an expert at hiding behind bluster whenever he is put back on his heels, but with Saffron he can’t manage to mask his flustered being. His macho swagger is immediately dismantled at the first hint of sexuality in his quarters, which is especially hilarious because even though most of his act is based on his appeal to women, it comes to light very quickly that he has not had relations with a woman in quite some time. His chivalry is as much a protection of Saffron’s virtue as it is a guard against him having to take down his defenses and admit he might be unpracticed in this area. What continuously makes Mal such a great character is that it can be both things without compromising his integrity or humanity. He’s a stand up guy but not without his flaws, especially with women.
Saffron’s effective breakdown of each man’s defenses on Serenity is impressive and telling based on the order they fall. Jayne, the overt lover of guns and pretty women, never stood a chance, and even though he is never physically felled by the seductress, he is under her spell immediately. Mal pretends to be strong, but can’t last through ten minutes of flattery and flowery language before getting felled by poison lipstick, of all things. Wash, the only married man aboard, hides behind his nuptials as a reason to not give in, but is obviously drawn to Saffron’s being regardless, which eventually costs him the cockpit and some dignity. Chances are slim that Mal dressed as a docile wife was tied to the beginning of this episode completely on accident. Whedon has never been afraid to confront gender politics, and a bonneted Mal riding around with Jayne is a clear sign that the show does not care about masculine ideals nearly as much as it cares about telling a good story for all characters.
Hence, the most pleasing part of this episode is not how Saffron has an effect on the men of Serenity, but the ways that the women on board respect her both before and after she reveals herself to be a double agent. Zoë’s defense of her status as Mal’s new wife is gleeful, sure, but also protective because she knows her captain and his weaknesses. Inara is transparently jealous of Saffron’s connection to Mal, but bristles at the idea that he would dump her on the nearest planet without another thought. No matter her feelings for Mal (or against him), her loyalty is to the woman under his thumb. It speaks to the gender dynamics on the ship that this stands out so starkly and is such a welcome sight. Even though the women in the world of the show are treated acceptably most of the time and Companions are some of the most revered citizens in the Verse, women are still the inferior sex in this universe. The rapid back and forth between Inara and Saffron when the latter gives herself away is one of the best moments of the entire series, and this is at least partially because it occurs between two independent and strong woman who are enemies yet respect the other’s skills. The gender equality thread continues through the end of the episode, when Mal knocks Saffron out for taking advantage of him and his crew. It doesn’t come off as abusive or cruel on Mal’s part, because Saffron is just as capable of inflicting damage as anyone else, and as such can be retaliated against the same way the crew would against anybody who tried to endanger them in that way. It takes a lot of finesse and character work to have a mostly heroic main character punch out a semi-defenseless woman, yet it works because Saffron was given almost as much room to become her own entity and enemy as the rest of the crew received in the early goings.
In the end, the episode really rests on the story of Saffron, rather than the subsequent danger that befalls the crew. The impending doom of the ship being captured and sold takes up such a small sliver of the episode that it is only right that it gets resolved in the same proportion of the running time. The MacGyver-ing of Vera to guide Serenity safely through the lasers is entertaining and allows Kaylee and Jayne to have some fun in the episode while everyone else orbits around the Saffron insanity. River and Simon barely play a role in the action at all, with River not speaking a single line throughout. The humorous romp that is “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is a gift to the audience, while still managing to seamlessly layer in multiple moments of character development and shading. It doesn’t hurt that, because it is a stand alone episode free from the confines of a larger Alliance or River/Simon storyline, there is so much more room to play with each interaction. There are few bad episodes of Firefly, but this is a high water mark when discussing the best of the best.
- It is hard to decide which reaction is better: Zoë’s joy when telling Mal “Everyone should have a chance to congratulate you on their day of bliss” when announcing the marriage to the crew, or the look on Inara’s face when she hears the news.
- “I’d be a good wife.” “Yeah, well I’ll be a terrible husband.” At least Mal is honest with himself.
- “Remember that sex we were planning to have, ever again?” Another reminder that Gina Torres is a queen.
- “Oh, I’m going to go to the special hell.”
- “I think we’ve lied enough.” “You’re good.” “You’re really good. Who are you?” “Malcolm Reynolds’ widow.” It is hard to overstate how incredible it is to watch this exchange over, and over, and over again.
- Sci-fi goddess Morena Baccarin getting to play around with comedy is a treat, especially because it leads to the wonderful sight of Inara, still half-drugged, insisting that all she did was fall.
(POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR FUTURE EPISODES PAST THIS POINT)
- “You ever think about playing me again I’ll riddle you with holes.” Well, if that isn’t foreshadowing, then foreshadowing doesn’t exist.