“Trash” is one of three episodes of Firefly that Fox declined to air during the show’s original run in 2002. Those shelved treasures have since been seen by any and all who care via DVD and previous cable network telecasts. “Trash” brought back Mad Men’s Christine Hendricks as Saffron, the sexy silver-tongued scam artist who duped Mal into marriage and tried to sell Serenity for scrap. It also exposed Nathan Fillion’s backside – and nearly all of his frontside – to the world: The opening and closing sequences featured Mal in the desert, wearing nothing but his birthday suit. Looking almost Thinker-esque as he sat on a rock pondering the skyline, the pants-deprived Captain Tightpants opened the show by saying: “Yep. That went well.” Fillion’s line reading suggested sarcasm. Fake-out! When we returned to the exact moment in the final act, we realized he was being totally sincere: The risky scam that cost him his clothes – but gained him a priceless treasure plus sweet vengeance against Saffron – had gone very well indeed. So much so that he seemed unbothered if not utterly oblivious to his nakedness. His shipmates were as surprised as we were to find their leader in the buff, but were more amused than uncomfortable by the spectacle. If Mal was unashamed of his nakedness, neither were they. So it goes in the ironic iron Eden of Serenity, where morality is relative, innocence is a state of mind, and snaky deceit is acceptable – as long as you’re not screwing your crew.
“Trash” had a slick premise. Mal and co. reluctantly teamed with Saffron to steal a priceless artifact – an original “hand-held laser pistol,” “the forerunner of all laser technology” – from a rich antiquities collector. Said antiques also included dollar bills, a phone booth, and… the Mona Lisa?! And said collectors turned out to be Saffron’s first husband – a little detail among many that she neglected to mention to Mal when she pitched him on the scheme. Saffron’s fibs within lies within treacheries produced a series of complications. We were left to wonder if Saffron’s evil was willful or pathological. Did she choose to be a snake, or was she the scorpion whose nature demanded that she betray the poor frogs that trusted her? And what was her real name, anyway? Was it possible that she had somehow forgotten? Regardless she was loathsome for her willingness to prostitute emotional intimacy as well as her body for money. Mal may have been fooled by some of her misdirection, but he never questioned her utter inauthenticity. This fundamental distrust of her – his confidence that she would always betray him, no matter what –allowed him to walk her right into the trash-can trap he had arranged with Inara. The scammer had been scammed. Saffron underestimated – or is that overestimated? – both Inara and Mal. She never thought the principled Companion Inara would get her hands dirty, never thought that Mal would use even her in his dirty work. (If only Saffron had been privy to the scene earlier in the ep, where Mal and Inara argued over the very issue – a scene that effectively set effectively us for that last, triumphant twist.) Put another way: Mal used one “whore” to bring down another. Neat.
NEXT: “Trash” = Allegory for Firefly’s behind the scenes struggles?