“Trash” (season 1, episode 11; unaired)
Noel Murray: A couple of episodes ago, when the subject of the Serenity crew’s under-employment came up, Jayne had a few choice words about the matter, saying, “My pop always said anyone who can’t find work ain’t lookin’ hard enough.” And now in “Trash,” Inara makes the point even plainer to Mal. They’re all barely scraping by, and she in particular is having a hard time maintaining her client base, and all because of Mal’s near-pathological aversion to anything resembling civilization—y’know, those planets and moons where the jobs are. It looks like everything’s set up for some kind of philosophical showdown between Mal and his crew, who are clearly a lot more comfortable working around the Core than their captain is. This is a discussion that’s been a long time coming—one that needs to be had.
And then Saffron shows up, and disrupts everything, as she is wont to do.
Well, technically she arrives at the start of the episode. After a shot of Mal sitting naked on a rock—more on that later—we flash back 72 hours, to Mal at a drop with an old war buddy, Monty. Then he meets Monty’s new wife, “Bridget,” who is in fact Mal’s old wife, Saffron. Monty abandons Saffron/Bridget, and Mal is preparing to do the same, when she mentions a job that he can help her pull: a heist of a rare laser gun, The Lassiter, being held by a man that Saffron describes as genocidal, war-profiteerin’ bastard named Durran Haymer.
I’ll be honest: Maybe it just suffers from the close proximity to “Ariel,” but I don’t think the big heist scene in “Trash” works as well as the one in “Ariel,” even though there’s a lot of similarity in the way they’re built into their respective episodes, with the plan being explained in voiceover while we see it play out. I also don’t think Saffron’s presence as a whole is as much fun as it is in “Our Mrs. Reynolds.” And I’m always a little disappointed when I watch “Trash” that it doesn’t do more with this conflict that’s been quietly intensifying over the past couple of episodes, between Mal’s vision of freedom and his colleagues’.
Or does it? We’ll talk more about where this episode lands later, and whether the ending makes sense either in terms of the plot or the theme, but there’s a big twist in “Trash”—similar to the reveal of Saffron’s true nature in “Our Mrs. Reynolds”—that I think is more than just a nifty surprise. When Mal and Saffron arrive at Haymer’s luxury apartment on the planet of Bellerophon, Saffron is able to get them inside because she’s acquired the access code. While they’re preparing to grab The Lassiter, Mal learns why Saffron knows the code: She used to live in that apartment, as the wife of Durran Haymer, who arrives mid-heist, gives her a hug, and calls her “Yolanda.”
Later, after “YoSaffBridge” double-crosses Durran and rockets off with Mal to retrieve The Lassiter from the place where it’s been spirited away, Mal grills her about who she really is, and Our Mrs. Reynolds admits that Mal’s intuition is right, and that she did try to reform and settle down with Durran, only to find the old restlessness and dissatisfaction creeping in, at which point she fled. Of course, this whole sob-story of Saffron’s is her way of getting Mal to let his guard down, so that she can swipe his gun. But I personally don’t think she was lying. I think Saffron’s a reflection of Mal in a lot of ways: someone who doesn’t fit in polite society and doesn’t care to. The difference is that Saffron is an agent of chaos, who’ll do her damage wherever she lands, while Mal is partial to order, so long as it’s on his own terms and “out of the world.”
Chaos can be predictable in its own way though, which is how we end up where we end up in “Trash,” with Inara getting the drop on Saffron and revealing that they’ve been working a sting on her. Sure, Saffron forced Mal to strip and then abandoned him in a desert, which wasn’t strictly part of the plan. But when we see him at the start of the episode saying, “Yep, that went well,” he’s not being ironical. He rode the whirlwind that is Saffron yet again, and made it through safely.
This is as good a place as any to turn it over to you, Donna. Do you buy the ending, and Inara’s place in it? And while I won’t embarrass you by asking you to comment on the allure of the naked Nathan Fillion, I do wonder if it read to you as sexy or silly?
Donna Bowman: I love the ending both as a comeuppance for YoSaffBridge and as a revelation of Inara’s centrality to the Serenity gang’s operations after all. No, it’s not believable that anybody would be able to see that many twists and turns ahead to position Inara there in the desert as the last line of defense. But then, it’s not believable when Saffron exploits Mal’s gloating over reducing her to tears to steal his gun. Believability ain’t the point. Keeping us all off balance and two steps behind the action is the point, because that’s fun. And who cares if the coincidences and triple-crosses strain credulity, when the script is so carefully crafted to bring back Inara for a well-deserved “I told you so,” long after we’ve forgotten the argument that opened the episode?
Color me thrilled about naked Nathan Fillion too, and no, not for reasons of cheap titillation. Often, and I feel certain you’ll back me up on this, nakedness destroys suspension of disbelief because we are thrown back into too-conscious awareness that this is what Actor X or Actress Y looks like without their clothes on, instead of remaining focused on the character’s behavior. In my opinion, the cold open allows us to get that problem out of the way before the story even starts, and when we return to the naked man in the desert, it’s naked Mal Reynolds instead of naked Nathan Fillion.
And I’d also argue that naked Mal Reynolds makes a very important point in the epilogue. He’s been stripped in order to shame him, but when rescued, he makes an enthusiastic—and successful—show of not being embarrassed or shamed in the least. It’s the behavior of a man with nothing to hide, and it’s couched as a counterpoint to duplicitous Saffron on the one hand, who never said or did anything that wasn’t a calculated ploy, and to Jayne on the other, who lies trussed up on Simon’s table hearing the chilling news that he’s utterly safe there. (“Also? I can kill you with my brain,” River murmurs to her erstwhile betrayer.) Jayne’s a simpler sort than Saffron; knowing he’s being watched, knowing his secret is out, does tend to tamp down his villainy. And Mal’s a simpler sort, too. Watch me all you want, his nude entrance into Serenity’s cargo bay says. You can’t change the man I am.
Now as I throw it back to you, Noel, let me mention something that did eat away at my suspension of disbelief. I’m not one to nitpick details of the big heist, but I couldn’t ignore the lax security in the airspace around (as opposed to the buildings on) Haymer’s private floaty island. We’ve been so conditioned by space stations having sensors ‘n’ such that detect ships in the vicinity, that I couldn’t imagine how Serenity could lumber around the underside of the platform reprogramming trash bins without being detected, and it bugged the crap out of me because the whole trash-bin premise was otherwise so cleverly presented. Did anything in this episode—naked people, multiple betrayals, compound security, etc.—trip your credulity circuit breakers and make it hard to maintain the right level of audience involvement?
NM: It did occur to me briefly that Serenity was sure to be seen, hovering around the ass-end of the trash chute, especially after Wash characterizes Bellerophon as the “home to the rich and paranoid.” But then I think that’s part of the point of this episode, that as “trash”—at least by the standards of those tryin’ to get by with the barest necessities of a private floaty island—the crew of the Serenity is easily ignored. I loved watching Mal and Saffron make their way around Durran’s building, which looked not unlike a 21st-century luxury hotel and/or shopping mall. But I also loved that Mal ends up tossed-aside and bare-assed in the middle of nowhere, like some hunk of junk. (Or hunk holding his junk. Whatever.)
No, I’m still thrown by the Inara thing, not because I don’t think Inara would back Mal or that she couldn’t show up in the nick of time, but because the timeline is so confusing. One minute Inara is coaxing Mal into looking for work on a civilized planet—prompting Mal to sarcastically say, “Let’s set a course for the planet of the lonely, rich, yet appropriately hygienic men!”—and the next, Saffron is popping out of the crate where Mal has stowed her. Presumably, before Mal reveals Saffron and her plan to the crew, he tells Inara, “Hey, guess what, that thing you want me to do is already in the works! And you have a secret part to play!” It’s just a little awkward the way it plays out. I felt a little like Wash: “We’re in space! How’d she get here? I don’t recall pullin’ over!” (Also, Mal already having The Lassiter job in play means that the argument between him and Inara isn’t really about anything, which is frustrating because, like I said, this is an argument I think they should be having.)
But you’re right: I don’t want to undersell the fun of “Trash,” even if I don’t think it’s as fun as “Our Mrs. Reynolds” (or “Ariel”). The episode is worth it just for the banter between Mal and Saffron after Monty bails, as in the following:
Mal (while frisking Saffron): I just don’t want you pulling a pistol out of… anywhere.
Saffron: Mmmm. You missed a spot.
Mal: Can’t miss a place you’ve never been.
Saffron: Marriage is hard work, Mal.
It’s also worth it for Simon’s speech to an immobile Jayne about trust, which is shoehorned into the episode a little awkwardly, but serves a purpose nonetheless. Simon clearly has bought into Mal’s philosophy that a crew is its own thing, sharing boons and sharing woes, and that a crew can’t function if one member fears retribution from another. So they must proceed as though Jayne didn’t try to sell them out. And so they work Mal’s petty jobs deep in the black. And so they fill they’re assigned roles, even if that means that some of them get to have thrilling chases on floaty islands, and some of them get to muck about in a dumpster, and some of them get to enjoy an “exciting adventure in sitting.”
- In the comments section for our “Ariel” review, some of you took issue with our suggestion that Simon was unaware of Jayne’s betrayal, but this episode would seem to indicate that we had that right. It’s not explicitly stated, but Simon seems confused and surprised by River saying that Jayne is “afraid we’ll know,” which seems to be one of River’s psychic (or whatever) flashes. The implication—again, seemingly—is that River just then figured it out, followed inevitably by Simon.
- Saffron must have some kind of influence, to get a man to shave off his beard. (“You’re usin’ wiles on me,” indeed.)
- After warmly reuniting with Saffron, Durran leaves the room to get some money to pay off Mal, and when Saffron suggests they hurry up and finish the job while he’s gone, Mal cracks, “Yeah he might come back and hug us in the act.”
- Here, ultimately, is the problem with the Chinese phrases and slang on this show: It takes a second or two to figure out if a character is speaking Chinese or just mumbling.
- The Firefly team missed a good chance to change the lyrics to the theme song, just for this episode: “Take my love, take my paaants…”
- From the “Here’s where society is at in the early 2500s” department: There are still bobblehead dolls. (Bobblehead geisha dolls, anyway.)
- From the “You don’t pay Jayne Cobb to talk pretty” department: “She starts in on that ‘girl’s name’ thing, I show her good and all I got man-parts.”
Next: We’ll be taking the next two Fridays off while Noel attends the Toronto International Film Festival. Back on September 21 with “The Message.”