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|Written by||Helen Eaton|
|Read by||Miranda Thomas|
|Edited by||Paul Korswagen|
By Helen Eaton
Of all the relationships in Firefly and Serenity, the one between Mal and Saffron can put forward a good case for being the most tangled. For one thing, Saffron spends most of her two episodes playing one role or another, so she is something of a moving target. For another, the interactions between the two characters are played out against a backdrop of thrilling heroics, with Mal and Saffron switching sides and double-crossing each other with impressive nimbleness.
Their first meeting, however, seems to bode well. Mal, fresh from a successful stint as a big damn hero for hire, swaps his pretty floral bonnet for a "hat made out of a tree" and enjoys some celebratory wine and dancing, not realising he is, in his words, "signing up to have and to hold". The way Mal reacts on discovering his accidental marriage is (as well as being extremely funny) interesting as he sees himself and not Saffron as the problem with the match:
However he takes offence at Shepherd Book's "smutty mind" and at his crew thinking him an "evil, lecherous hump", so he is not entirely down on himself.
For her part, Saffron - in her "nubile little slave girl" guise - calls Mal "a good man", and he calls her a "nice girl". Mal considers Saffron's view to be a mistaken one, although almost everything he does in the early part of the episode contradicts this low view he seems to have of himself, as he struggles to do what is "morally right". And of course in turn Saffron's behaviour contradicts entirely Mal's misguided initial judgment of her.
Before Saffron's true intentions are revealed, we see her using her wiles on Mal and getting him to open up a little about his family and his past. He even starts to contemplate a future of a more domestic kind than his kind of life normally leads to:
Mal continues to resist Saffron's charms though and drives her to poetic extremes in her efforts to seduce him:
After the goodnight kiss, a different Saffron is revealed to the viewer, and, eventually, to Mal as well. Their relationship heads off in a completely new direction and becomes one between two people in the same line of work, but with very different attitudes to it. For Mal, stealing is a team game and the payoff is the point, so the easier the job is, the better. For Saffron, stealing is a lone pursuit and the playing of parts is more important than the actual payoff, so the more of a game the job is, the better. However, despite their differences, their meeting at the end of Our Mrs Reynolds does not end in a shoot-out:
Why does Mal let Saffron live? We know that he is not averse to killing those who cross him, and Saffron certainly does that. Perhaps he has a kind of grudging respect for Saffron and her style. His later description of her as a "brilliant, beautiful, evil double crossing snake" certainly suggests that. Or perhaps there is a tinge of pity in how he deals with Saffron, when he has her at his mercy. Maybe he sees in her something of what he might have been, had he not had a crew with him.
As for Saffron's view of Mal by this point, she also seems to appreciate some of his qualities, considering that his attempt to teach her to be strong was a sign of his doing "pretty well". She also respects how he bests her:
Mal and Saffron part with the former very much having ended up on top, both literally and metaphorically, but when they meet again, at the start of the events of the episode Trash, they are on an equal footing. On meeting each other again, they both react in exactly the same way, going first for a gun and then starting on the insults:
But as they continue to talk, we see some differences in their attitudes to each other. Mal is firmly against any further involvement with Saffron, but she sees him as a potential partner and attempts to persuade him to join her in her next scheme. Mal seems immovable, but of course does eventually relent and take Saffron on board Serenity, albeit in a crate. Why does he change his mind? Perhaps he feels that he is above treating Saffron in the same way she treated him and his crew. She had put them "in a position to die easy", but he chooses not to return the favour when he has the chance. Or perhaps it is simply that the job Saffron has in mind is just a little too tempting to reject outright.
It seems that Mal is not entirely convinced by the idea of working with Saffron though, and only decides to do so after a fight with Inara wounds his pride. He also very pointedly does not actually trust Saffron at any point during the heist, and does not expect or want his crew to do so either. Theirs is a working relationship based on mutual need rather than trust.
As Saffron's history with Durran Haymer is revealed, and the heist begins to unravel, it is interesting that Mal sticks with Saffron and doesn't make a hasty exit without her. Perhaps he feels honour bound to stay loyal to his partner, however crazy she is, or perhaps he simply still prefers to have her where he can see her:
Once on the shuttle and out of danger, Saffron finally lets a little of her true self show. Her feelings for Durran seem genuine and Mal responds to her revelations with just a touch of schadenfreude:
It's not surprising that Mal enjoys Saffron's vulnerability, considering how the situation was reversed during their first encounter, when Saffron made sure Serenity and her crew were the vulnerable ones. Maybe there is also some vindication for the view Mal expressed at the end of the events of Our Mrs Reynolds, when he tried to explain to Saffron how the key to him coming out on top was that he was with "people who trust each other, who do for each other and ain't always looking for the advantage".
It seems that Mal's opinion of Saffron has not changed much at all during the course of the episode, although he has seen past the play acting and glimpsed something of her real character. In contrast, the view Saffron expresses of Mal turns out to be misjudged:
As the episode draws to a close, it seems like a reversal of the ending to Our Mrs Reynolds is on the cards. This time Saffron is the one coming out on top, but of course there is one final twist, courtesy of Inara, and instead Mal (and his crew) are again the victors.
I like to think that Mal and Saffron's relationship did not end at this point. Perhaps there were further skirmishes which we did not get to see. Maybe sometimes Saffron did get the best of Mal. But ultimately it is hard to disagree with Mal's assessment of Saffron's inability to change, and equally difficult to see how by herself she could ever be a real match for Mal and his crew. It would have been fun to continue to watch her try though.