This is a How We Got Here episode that begins with Mal sitting naked on a rock in the middle of a desert. We then go back in time three days to a rendezvous between Mal and an old war buddy named Monty. Both are working on part of a smuggling job, where Monty drops a cargo off on an uninhabited moon, only for Mal and crew to arrive shortly thereafter, pick it up, and move it along. While the two shoot the breeze, Monty cheerfully introduces Mal to his new wife Brigit. Mal recognizes "Brigit" as Saffron. A furious scuffle ensues, and it only ends for good when Saffron is caught Saying Too Much, confirming that she does in fact know Mal. A distraught Monty winds up leaving the two of them on the moon. This isn't a big deal for Mal, since he just has to wait for the crew to pick him up according to plan. Saffron, however, quickly sees that it would be the equivalent of being marooned on a rarely visited desert island.
Desperate, Saffron tries to barter or beg a ride from Mal (even offering to just be taken on board the ship in a crate, so he'll know she can't work any mischief), but Mal doesn't want to hear it. Finally, she offers to let Mal in on an extremely lucrative heist, but the scene ends without indicating whether he takes her up on it.
After being picked up by the crew, Mal is told that Inara wants to speak with him, and he is put off by Inara actually being polite to him, and is soon accusing her of trying to use her "feminine wiles" on him. However, all Inara wants to talk about is business: she hasn't had a client in weeks because Serenity hasn't been anywhere near the sort of place where she could find a client. She accuses Mal of purposefully avoiding planets where they could both work, and after some more back and forth with tempers flaring, Inara calls Mal a petty thief. Mal's pride is stung by this despite Inara's apology (probably because he knows that it's true, as his last job was smuggling boxes of geisha dolls with bobbing heads), so he goes back to the cargo bay and opens up a crate with a very disheveled Saffron inside, and agrees to do the job with her.
The mark for the job is a wealthy Alliance official named Durren Haymer, who Saffron claims specialized in creating biological weapons, and used them during the war to kill off entire neighborhoods, then moved in to loot those neighborhoods for valuables. (Naturally, that alone has Mal and Zoe seeing red.) One of those valuables is the target of their heist: the Lassiter, a model of the first laser pistol ever invented, which makes it the forerunner of all those in use during the show's present, and since there are only two intact models of that laser known to exist, it's priceless. Inara vigorously objects to having anything to do with a plan laid out by Saffron, but Zoe (after a My Fist Forgives You moment) agrees to go along. The job won't be a walk in the park, however, as Durren lives on what is essentially a private floating island, and if the laser is taken out any door of the house, it'll set off alarms that will have the Feds scrambling, and they'll be certain to get a look at Serenity before the crew can make their getaway... if they can get away.
Kaylee figures out a way around this problem: Durren's estate use a drone system that airlifts garbage dumpsters directly from the bottom of the island and flies them out to be incinerated. However, if the Lassiter goes out through the garbage, it won't trip any of the door alarms, and if they can reprogram where the bin will be taken by the drone, they can send it anywhere and pick up the laser without being tracked. So while Mal and Saffron infiltrate the house during a big party Durren is throwing (blending in with the hired help), Kaylee, Wash and co. will fly to the latest such bin, and manually reprogram it to be flown to a stretch of empty desert, far from the police or any prying eyes.
All this while, Simon and River hide themselves away from where Saffron could see them, trying to make sure she has no chance to recognize them and turn them in. However, while they do this, River notes that Jayne has been afraid of them ever since Ariel, afraid they'll know that he tried to betray them.
The heist starts off well, but both parts of the crew run into problems: after Kaylee manages to reprogram the guidance for the trash bin, Jayne gets shocked trying to put it back in, knocking him out, and nearly making him fall to his death while unconscious; and while Mal and Saffron are in the study getting ready to take the gun, Durren walks in, but reacts with joy to see his long-lost wife Yolanda (as Saffron was apparently calling herself back in those days), and starts thanking Mal profusely for bringing her home.
To Mal's shock, Saffron refuses to simply hit Durren and get him out of the way, instead insisting on telling him a story about her being abducted and sold into slavery when she disappeared six years ago. After a bit of babbling about making a new life with his precious Yolanda, Durren runs off to get a reward for Mal's bringing her home. Mal bitterly recriminates Saffron for the lies she told about Durren as he goes to finish disabling the security around the laser, only to find that while he's had his back turned, Saffron has drawn a hidden gun and has it pointed right at him. Apparently, this is the part where she backstabs him and figures out a way to take the Lassiter for herself. And in the middle of this, Durren walks back in, noticeably unsurprised and unfazed by the scene.
Saffron tries to launch into an I Can Explain/Not What It Looks Like speech, but Mal shoots that down by simply telling the truth. Durren and Saffron begin a poignant confrontation, and Mal uses that opportunity to dump the laser into the garbage chute and signal for a pickup. Outside, Kaylee finally manages to return the reprogrammed guidance chip to the garbage bin Just in Time as the mechanical drone comes to pick up the bin. The drone takes it off to its destination, while Serenity flies off to return to a rendezvous point where Saffron and Mal are supposed to meet them.
Durren and Saffron continue their confrontation. Eventually, Saffron says that he's a complete fool for not calling the police the moment he saw her. Durren responds that he did, then shows them a small button on his ring: it's a panic button generally used for situations such as kidnapping and the like. "I love you, Yolanda, but I couldn't think for a second that you actually came here for me." Sirens are now audible as the police begin touching down on the grounds of Durren's estate. Saffron attempts to seduce Durren and convince him to call the police off, but he stoically refuses and begs her to get the help she needs. Now out of other options, Saffron drops him with a kick to the head, then she and Mal run for the exit. On the way out they fight with a few of the Feds, but manage to get out of the house (Saffron makes a brief stop to hack the house security system so that it will lock most of the police inside), get to their shuttle, and escape.
On Serenity, the crew discover a problem: the ship has had its ability to maneuver damaged. It looks like Saffron has sabotaged the ship a second time. Reluctantly, they conclude that they have to land and repair the damage before they can rendezvous with Mal or go to pick up the garbage bin and the precious laser within.
On the shuttle, Saffron begins shedding crocodile tears (with perhaps some touches of real regret) and begins a sad conversation with Mal about whether people can ever change. Mal is cautious, but eventually lets his guard down enough to get near her. Saffron promptly steals his gun, forces him to take his clothes off, and dumps him in the desert while she flies the shuttle over to where the bin was dropped. However, despite an increasingly frantic (and messy) search for the laser, she can't find it. Saffron finally concludes that it's gone—and turns to see that Inara (Lassiter in hand) has snuck up beside the bin and been watching Saffron in amusement. Turns out Mal and crew figured on a double cross, and during all the fuss with getting past the Feds, Inara got to the bin first, retrieved the laser, and let Saffron climb in and make a fool out of herself trying to find it. Inara seals Saffron into the bin, cheerfully telling her that the authorities should track it down in a few hours and take things from there.
Back on the ship, Jayne finally comes to in the med bay, unable to move. Simon lets Jayne thinks that he's paralyzed for a few seconds (during which Jayne is clearly terrified) before explaining that it's a temporary situation to make sure that Jayne wouldn't injure himself upon coming to, and then has a nice chat with Jayne about what happened on Ariel, and how they really should trust each other and live together instead of looking for opportunities to back stab each other. He promises never to hurt Jayne, despite all the times that Jayne is likely to be helpless and under Simon's knife due to the wounds that Jayne tends to pick up in his line of work, and then Simon leaves. River informs Jayne that she can kill him with her brain.
First Inara and then the rest of the crew eventually find a still naked Mal in the middle of the desert, who acts as if nothing is out of the ordinary, and begins making arrangements to leave the planet and fence the laser. As the cargo bay doors of Serenity close, Mal reflects on how well the day went.
Tropes used in this episode include:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Monty is plenty upset that Saffron wormed her way into his heart and his ship on false pretenses, but he seems especially angry that she made him shave off his beard in the process.
- Ax-Crazy: We always knew that Saffron was a little off, but when she starts screaming at Durren we realize for the first time just how thin her composure is and how close she is to going full-out psycho.
- Bad Bad Acting: It's not terrible, by any means, but the crew are a little... off while discussing the plan with Saffron. It may not stand out on a first viewing, but a careful watch on a second viewing makes things like out of place laughter, expressions that don't quite match the situation, and other little quirks stand out. Inara even remarks that she's surprised Saffron didn't see through it.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment:
- During the explanation of the plan.Wash: I'm confused.
Saffron: You're asking yourself if I've got the security codes, why don't I go in, grab it for myself?
Wash: No. Actually, I was wondering... what's she doing on this ship? ... We're in space! How'd she get here?
Mal: She hitched.
Wash: I don't recall pulling over!
- Durren's "You!" seems to be targeted at Mal, who's in the middle of trying to get to the Lassiter, but is actually aimed at Saffron.
- During the explanation of the plan.
- Blatant Lies: After the first time Mal meets Durren, Saffron tries to stick to her story and claim that he's as bad as she made him out to be. Mal calls her out on this, saying he knows it's not true, and that if Durren really was that bad Saffron would have knocked him cold immediately instead of trying to feed him a story.
- Brutal Honesty: When Saffron attempts to invoke Not What It Looks Like (see the quote below), Mal diffuses the completely unrealistic expectation (she was holding a gun on him and he was holding a priceless gun from Durren's collection, which should have been secured and in a display case) with this instead.Durren: Well, I appreciate your honesty. Not, you know, a lot, but...
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: During their happy reunion, Durren reveals that a young security programmer named Heinrich vanished on the same day as "Yolanda" and at first he thought they ran off together, until the police found his body. Saffron later admits to Mal that she'd forgotten all about him and hadn't remembered his name until Durren mentioned it.
- The Caper: The main plot of the episode is pulling a caper off.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The fact that Saffron has this enables the Serenity crew to make plans and contingencies for when she does so, rather than if she does so.
- Corpsing: In-universe. When they're trying to fool Saffron, Wash and Kaylee crack up a few times. She doesn't notice.
- Dark Action Girl: Saffron shows that she can fight against Mal, bloodying him up some in the process, takes out Durren with a single kick, and helps fight a few cops during the escape from Durren's estate.
- Dumpster Dive: After Saffron betrays them to pick up the loot herself, she is seen inside the dumpster looking for it, except Inara got there first and already has it. Inara seals the dumpster with Saffron inside to wait for the authorities while Serenity makes her getaway.
- Easily Forgiven:
- The crew seems surprisingly willing to work with Saffron, even after the whole lightningy-death thing from "Our Mrs. Reynolds". But then, that doesn't mean they trust her.
- Likewise the Tams with Jayne.
- Failsafe Failure: The primary plan is that Mal and Saffron will pick up the Lassiter using the shuttle. The backup plan is that Serenity will pick it up if they are delayed. Saffron's machinations prevent both Mal and the ship from making it there. Averted in the end, as the crew has anticipated Saffron's betrayal and has stationed Inara at the dump site in order to collect the Lassiter before Saffron gets there.
- Female Gaze: Averted, at first, when Inara sees Mal naked. Her eyes remain locked on his. Then he walked past her, and her eyes go downwards...
- Foreshadowing: When River says that Saffron is a liar, Jayne remarks that in that respect she's no different from everyone else on Serenity. The specific thing they're all lying about is that they trust Saffron this time.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: The Tams pull a non-police variant on the incapacitated Jayne. Simon assures him that he will never harm him and it's in everyone's best interest to just let sleeping dogs lie (insinuating that as the crew's medic, pissing him off is a bad idea since he'll inevitably get injured). River just flat-out tells him, "Also? I can kill you with my brain," to screw with him and watch him squirm.
- How We Got Here: The episode starts with Mal nekkid in a desert, quite happy with himself. The rest of the episode shows why he's happy about this development.
- I Have Many Names: Saffron is up to three aliases now, none of which are her real name. At one point Mal combines them all and calls her YoSaffBridge.
- Implied Death Threat: Simon pulls a masterful one on Jayne. A direct threat would be met with violence or bravado, so he paralyses Jayne and then says that he would never harm Jayne for betraying them. While this might be true, he knows that Jayne would never believe it.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Mal meets Monty's new bride, an old enemy. They pull guns on each other and fight. After Monty separates them, Mal explains their mutual history to all present, and then:"Bridget": You're a liar, Malcolm Reynolds!Monty: ...now I ain't never got to tellin' ya his name.
- Thereby proving, at the least, that she and Mal weren't strangers, as she had said. Had she not made that mistake, she still would have had to explain why their first reaction upon seeing each other was to pull a gun on each other.
- I Never Told You My Name: Mal is introduced to a pilot friend's new wife—who is a con artist that Mal has previously had a rather severe run-in with. They commence fighting, and the pilot demands to know what's going on. Mal shouts accusations at her, to which she responds "You're a liar, Malcolm Reynolds!" The pilot had never told her Mal's full name.
- Large Ham: Mal's old war buddy Monty. "AH SHAVED MAH BEARD FER YOU, DEVIL WOMAN!"
- Meaningful Background Event: Watch closely and you can actually see Saffron steal Mal's gun, though the complete lack of attention from the camera means it's likely a surprise to any first-time viewer.
- Motivational Lie: It's highly likely that everything Saffron says about Durren is a lie that would make Mal and Zoe feel justified in robbing him. (She even specifically notes early in the episode that Mal and Monty were Browncoats together, and what would fire up a Browncoat more than an Alliance officer using chemical weapons and stealing from the helpless?)
- My Fist Forgives You: Zoe punches Saffron in the face before agreeing to go along with the plan.
- Naked People Are Funny: Kaylee is amused watching Mal naked. In fact, she's the only one unfazed by it...
- Nice Guy: Saffron eventually admits that Durren was a good man, although in this case Good Is Not Dumb.Saffron: I tried. I actually tried. I thought "This is a decent man. The genuine article..." Yeah, he had money. I thought it would help. I thought if I had everything I wouldn't want...
Mal: Heinrich the security programmer?
Saffron: You know, I had forgotten his name...
- Not Distracted by the Sexy:
- When the crew picks up a naked Mal, everyone is a little discombobulated by it, and by how utterly casual he is about the whole thing. Except Kaylee, who talks to him as if it were just another day and everything was normal.
- Also, Saffron tries to seduce both Mal and Durren to get what she wants. Neither one of them goes for it.
- Not What It Looks Like: Saffron tries to claim this when Durren returns and there can be no denying that they're in the middle of stealing the Lassiter. It doesn't work, in large part because Mal (who was being held at gunpoint by Saffron and was probably about to get shot before Durren's return) immediately trips her up and gives some Brutal Honesty to Durren.Saffron: [holding Mal at gunpoint] Congratulations. Anything else you want on your tombstone, you piece of crap?!
Durren: Now I'm intruding.
Saffron: [hesitates for a moment] Durren, this isn't what it looks like...
Mal: Unless it looks like we're stealing your priceless Lassiter cause... that's what we're doing. Don't ask me about the gun though, because that's new.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Durren seems hopelessly sweet and naive when he first talks to Mal and Saffron, but it turns out that the moment he saw them he pushed an alarm on his ring that called the police in. Everything he said to them was an effort to delay them long enough for the police to arrive.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Played with. It appears that Durren is doing this when he's thanking Mal for returning "Yolanda", and you can just see the misery getting etched deeper and deeper on Mal's face. As we later see, however, Durren knew something was going on the moment he saw them and was slinging around the guilt deliberately.Durren: I owe you a great debt of thanks.
Mal: Just gave the lady a lift.
Durren: No, you've done much more than that. You've returned to me the only thing I truly treasure.
Mal: [slowly, and with obvious guilt] Well... then this is a day I'll feel good to be me.
- Oh, Crap!: Jayne's reaction to waking up paralyzed. Not to mention River's "I can kill you with my brain" line.
- Once More, with Clarity!: The episode opens up with Mal dryly observing that "That went well." Get all the way to the end of the episode, and We learn that the crew was running a Xanatos Gambit on YoSafBridge. Mal had been in fact dryly observing that "That went well".
- Out-Gambitted: The Serenity crew have various hooks in their plan depending on when Saffron betrays them (as they know she will); the crux of the one that works is a fake argument with Inara, which leads to everyone, Saffron included, dismissing her from the plot.
- Psychic Powers: River can kill you with her brain.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Simon mentions that he and Jayne could continue this way, before admitting that "that thought wearies me" and suggesting they bury the hatchet.
- To the Pain: Inverted. Simon explains that he will never hurt Jayne. He just happens to say it in a tone usually reserved for death threats. Although River is a little more straightforward about it. ("Also, I can kill you with my brain.")
- Tuckerization: The Lassiter Pistol is named after noted Pixar director John Lasseter, an old friend and collaborator of Joss Whedon. Lasseter is perhaps best known as the director of the original Toy Story, which was one of Whedon's first film credits as a screenwriter.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The Serenity crew expect Saffron to double cross them and come up with an unspoken counter. Naturally it works, although Inara reveals that she was supposed to be the fail-safe in case Saffron managed to make everything else go wrong for the Serenity crew.
- Villainous Breakdown: Saffron fakes one to lower Mal's guard before hijacking his shuttle. She appears to have a relatively minor real one, however, when Durren gives her the Puppy-Dog Eyes and it makes her scream hysterically at him.Saffron: I SAID DON'T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT!
- Xanatos Gambit: Saffron betrays Mal and disables Serenity, taking away both the initial plan and the back-up. However, Inara is already at the rendezvous point in a plan that they'd cooked up as yet another fail-safe, and had been working on the entire episode.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Saffron holding him at gunpoint and Durren walking in certainly weren't things that Mal expected, but he manages to make it work by getting them to concentrate on each other. This lets him dump the Lassiter while they argue, then pull a gun right back on Saffron.
- You Are Too Late: Saffron tells Durren that he should have called the Feds the moment she showed up with Mal. Then he shows her the panic button built into a ring he's wearing, which he did, in fact, push when he saw her. Right as he does this demonstration, the police can be heard arriving.
- You Have Outlived Your UsefulnessMal: They killed Heinrich? [glares at Saffron] Guess he wasn't useful anymore.