Sunday, December 08, 2013

Cult-TV Blogging: Firefly: "Trash" (July 21, 2003)

In “Trash,” Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the crew of Serenity cross paths once more with treacherous Saffron (Christina Hendricks), the duplicitous criminal who nearly conned them into a pirate’s space trap some time earlier (“Our Mrs. Reynolds.”)

In exchange for rescue from a dead moon, Saffron offers to share with the Firefly’s crew the treasure from the heist of a life-time, or “the perfect crime.”  In particular, Saffron claims to know the exact location and security codes of the Lassiter, the first laser gun, and thus a valuable antique.  The ancient gun now is on display in a private collector’s home on the planet Bellerophon, one of the central planets.  If Mal and the others can steal the Lassiter, it will fetch a high price on the black market.

Malcolm and his team plan the caper -- which involves disguises, a futuristic gated community of sorts, and an automated drone garbage system -- but everyone is nervous about working with Saffron, a criminal know that they will double-cross them without thought…

Like “Ariel,” “Trash” is a great Firefly (2002) caper story, but one made even better by the presence of Christina Hendricks’ Saffron -- “a brilliant, evil double-crossing snake” in Mal’s words -- as an uncertain ally.

As the end of the episode reveals, everyone is playing everyone else in “Trash,” and so the episode is a con within a con within a con.   The twists and turns are brilliantly orchestrated, especially when Saffron lives up to form.

Structurally, “Trash” is intriguing because it opens after the caper’s end, with Mal sitting naked on a rock in the arid desert.  He says “Yep, that went well,” and the suggestion is pretty clearly that he’s been had or tricked again; that he’s failed.

As the remainder of the episode leads up to this denouement, however, we start to see that our assumptions about Mal’s presence there (and his tone…) are not correct. On the contrary, he is undeterred and un-phased about being stripped of his clothes. And for once, “the job” actually did go well.

The most delightful revelation in the course of “Trash” is that Inara (Morena Baccarin) -- who has been vocally upset with Mal and the plan involving Saffron -- is actually in on the secret, and is present at the end to procure the Lassiter.  It’s nice to see Inara so expertly playing her role in an under-handed crime plan.

I wrote some about Saffron (and Hendricks) in “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” but she is the most charismatic -- in my opinion -- of all Firefly’s villains for the mere fact that she is such a talented chameleon.  She changes approaches or strategy depending on who she is in the room with, and seems to make that shift as easily as she breathes.  Here, Saffron is able to trick Mal again, by once more showing a vulnerable side.  He knew that moment would come and planned for it, but the fact is that Saffron again gets the better of Mal. This makes Mal either an easy mark, or Saffron a positively exceptional con-artist. Whatever the truth, the moments Mal and Saffron share are wonderful, tense, and charged with sexual tension.

I would have loved to see a second season of Firefly for many reasons, but not the least of which is the return of Saffron.  It would have been great to see her return one more time, or even join the crew for a time.  Could you imagine a ship with both Jayne and Saffron among the crew?

In “Trash,” we do learn some more about Saffron’s background, but these facts don’t fully illuminate her, or make her transparent.  We learn that she is the mark’s wife, and that he has been searching for her for six years.  He calls her “Yolanda,” but Saffron also goes by the named Bridgette.  Thus there’s the sense in”Trash” that we may know one chapter of Saffron’s life, but not necessarily the most important one, or the truth of things.   We also learn that Saffron ran off with an associate of her husband, and that the associate mysteriously died soon after.  Saffron claims she didn’t kill him, but the problem is that we simply can’t trust a single word that she says.

If Saffron gets her comeuppance in “Trash,” then Jayne (Adam Baldwin) gets his as well.  Thanks to River (Summer Glau), Simon (Sean Maher) learns the truth of what happened on Ariel, and gets Jayne on his medical bay…where he can threaten him with bodily harm.  Showcasing his essential decency, however, Simon never harms Jayne.  Instead, he shows simply and effectively that he is -- and always will be -- better than Jayne.  He shames him, and Jayne, for all his flaws, is still susceptible to being shamed.

Next week: “The Message.” 

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