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Heart of Firefly

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Playing Parts

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First aired: The Signal: Season 5, Episode 21
A discussion of Our Mrs Reynolds.
Credits
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton

Our Mrs Reynolds is an episode that never fails to cheer me up when I watch it. There is so much pleasure to be had in savouring again all the great comedy moments in this episode. Just following poor Mal’s befuddled expressions as he deals with his accidental “marriage” is enough to raise countless smiles. But added to that we have such fantastic lines as “I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you” and “My days of not taking you seriously are certainly coming to a middle”. And then there’s the “special hell”, juggling geese and, of course, Vera.

But underlying all of the fun is a theme that is expressed by Saffron towards the end of the episode:

SAFFRON
Everybody plays each other. That's all anybody ever does. We play parts.

Saffron herself is the queen of playing parts in the episode, but she is not the only one who is hiding her true colours. Even in the teaser, we see Mal and Jayne playing parts – to great comic effect – in the first of the episode’s two “marriages”. After Mal, Jayne and Zoe dispatch the bandits, Mal and Inara walk by the fire having the following conversation

INARA
This place is lovely, but -
MAL
Not your clientele. I understand. You got to play at being a lady.

Inara makes her living by playing parts, but it is not only when she is working that she is hiding her true self. At many points during Our Mrs Reynolds she struggles to keep her feelings for Mal hidden. Mal, in turn, also prefers to keep some mystery in his life:

INARA
So explain to me again why Zoe wasn't in the dress?
MAL
Tactics, woman. I needed her in the back. Besides, them soft cotton dresses feel kind of nice. There's a whole air flow.
INARA
And you’d know that because...
MAL
You can't open the book of my life and jump in the middle. Like woman, I am a mystery
INARA
Best keep it that way. I withdraw the question.

Although Mal is joking here, there is clearly some truth in what he says. Later when he opens up a little to Saffron about growing up on Shadow, we realise that talking about his past is not something he normally does.

When the crew finds out about the new Mrs Reynolds, Mal comments that he and Saffron are the only ones who don’t think the situation is funny. However, everyone is far too busy making fun of Mal to see that Inara also does not find it funny. For once, she lets her guard down and her true feelings are clear. As she and Mal talk later in her shuttle, it is again apparent that she is struggling to maintain her usual composure:

MAL
I'm sorry. Are you tetchy ‘cause I got myself a bride or ‘cause I don't plan to keep her?
INARA
I find the whole thing degrading.
MAL
That's just what Saffron said about your line of work.
INARA
Maybe you should think twice about letting go of "Saffron". You two sound like quite a match.
MAL
Maybe you're right. Maybe we're soulmates.
INARA
Yes. Great. I wish you hundreds of fat children.
MAL
Could you imagine that? Me with a whole passel of critters underfoot? Ten years time, I could teach 'em to—
INARA
Can you leave me alone for five minutes please?

Mal walks straight from misreading one situation to another in which he is similarly unaware at first of what is really going on, as he encounters Jayne and Vera. In this scene, Jayne is yet another character whose true intentions are not immediately obvious. At first, it appears that Jayne is deadly serious as he confronts Mal. The camera angle, the lighting and the ominous music combine with Jayne’s threatening pose and facial expression to set up wonderfully the comedy of the exchange that follows.

JAYNE
Six men came to kill me one time, and the best of them carried this. It's a Callahan fullbore autolock, customized trigger, double cartridge thorough-gage. It is my very favorite gun.

But of course it is Saffron who is doing most of the deceiving in the episode. Mal is not the only one surprised when she is revealed to have been tricking him. The audience is only let in on the secret at the same time that Mal is. The plot twist is a surprise to us partly because the story was already plausible and interesting enough without it, but perhaps mainly because Saffron plays her role so convincingly up to this point. Christina Hendricks notes in the official companion to the series that she chose to play Saffron as if she herself were completely convinced by the role she was playing. This results in the audience being similarly convinced.

Saffron’s presence on the ship works as a foil to show up some of the genuine feelings the crew members have, in contrast with her pretence. Wash’s genuine love for Zoe, for example, comes over loud and clear as he resists Saffron’s attempts to seduce him. And Inara’s true feelings for Mal start to make their way past her usual mask as she realises what Saffron is really up to:

INARA
Come to my shuttle.
SAFFRON
You would... you would lie with me?
INARA
I guess we've lied enough.
SAFFRON
You're good.
INARA
You're amazing. Who are you?
SAFFRON
Malcolm Reynold's widow.

When Inara thinks Mal is dead, her guard is finally and completely let down and she rushes to him and, yes, kisses him. Somehow no one manages to notice that she is hiding the second-hand after-effects of the good night kiss, as she attempts to regain her composure.

INARA
She's had training. As in Companion, as in Academy.
BOOK
Our little Saffron's quite a wonder. I'm beginning to think she married beneath herself.
MAL
How do you know? About the training?
INARA
She tried to seduce me too.
MAL
Really? Did she— did you—
INARA
You don't play a player.

It is interesting that Inara recognises the similarity between herself and Saffron at this point. Both are players, making a living from playing roles and making others believe in them. The similarities end there though, as Inara’s job is about pleasing others, whereas Saffron’s is about robbing them.

Luckily for Serenity and her crew, Vera is able to save the day. And – like Mal in the teaser – she even gets to dress up too! Then in Mal’s final confrontation with Saffron, he challenges her as to why she does what she does:

MAL
Why the act? All the seduction games, the dancing about folk— there has to be an easier way to steal.
SAFFRON
You're assuming the payoff is the point.

Saffron seems to believe that everyone in the ‘verse is simply playing each other. As such, life is just about making the best sport of it as you can. Mal responds by telling Saffron that the reason he has won the game this time is because he has people with him, who trust each other.

However, Mal remains as oblivious as ever about the true feelings of one of his crew. Maybe some people are just too good at playing their parts:

MAL
Come on, Inara, how's about we don't play. You didn't just trip, did you?
INARA
No.
MAL
Well isn't that something. I knew you let her kiss you.

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