Saffron is back! And this time, she wants to include the crew of Serenity in her schemes.
My favorite thing about the YoSaffBridge arc is that Mal’s main recurring rival is a woman. A young, pretty, buxom redhead who he now knows can’t be trusted, but who still manages to outsmart him at almost every turn. She is the criminal mastermind that Inara wishes Mal was, able to put together a brilliant heist entirely by herself. And once again, she tricks him by playing into the (potentially gendered) stereotypes that he expects her to display. He thinks there must be someone that she truly loved, someone who could make her cry. She gives him a position of power and wisdom by asking him if people can change, and allowing him to define who she is. And then, when he is convinced that she’s vulnerable and he’s entirely in control, she steals his gun, steals his shuttle and leaves him naked in the desert.
As far as badass moves go, that’s pretty high up the list.
But, as the “previously” at the beginning of the episode shows, Saffron’s main rival on Serenity isn’t Mal, but Inara. Although perhaps “rival” isn’t the best word. More like “opponent” in an epic battle of pretence and wits. Both are masters of performance. Both are used to using smiles and politeness to manipulate and influence others. Both are intelligent and ambitious individuals. And finally, these interactions with Saffron gave Inara the chance to shine.
Of course, Inara’s performance isn’t always perfectly nuanced. Her appearance in the kitchen, dramatically yelling “idiots!”, isn’t exactly subtle. But her revelation that she’s been part of the caper since the beginning, that she’s in fact the only one who managed to outsmart Saffron and beat her to the drop point, is pretty wonderful. She stands there, gorgeous and sophisticated, and she snarks at her rival. She mocks her. She shows absolute delight to have been involved in defeating her. And it’s fantastic to see a happy, successful, even playful Inara.
Up until this point, all of Inara’s power has come from her job title and connections. People respect her because she’s a guild-sponsored companion, and she gets people’s assistance (in getting medical supplies, in removing locks on the ship) because she has friends in high places as a result. But Inara herself never really gets the chance to act or to assert power in her own right. So it’s amazing to see her be the badass she has the potential to be, acting and triumphing entirely in her own right, and succeeding as part of the main plotline, and not as the sensual sideplot in the background.
Better yet, she outsmarts Saffron at her own game, concealing her part in the plans by playing the stereotypical role that Saffron expects from her: a woman blinded by jealousy.
Meanwhile, after River’s badass potential was revealed last week, with her “No power in the verse” moment, the writers seem to have been driven to give her more personality than the crazy babbling waif. She gets to have some sass, when she comments that “Jayne is a girl’s name.” She shows that she has insight into others when she comments on why Jayne is afraid. And she gets to be both playful and a little terrifying again when she peeks her head around the door to tell him: ‘also, I can kill you with my brain.” Generally speaking, she’s still presented as a character viewed by others, rather than one with her own perspective, but she at least has more of a presence on her own terms. She has more coherency and more command of herself than we’ve ever seen before. In fact, this is the first time that River has said things that other people don’t know, and other people have listened. Normally, her cryptic statements are ignored or simply go unheard. This week, however, she tells Simon about Jayne, and Simon listens. He accepts what she’s told him. We don’t even see him questioning her assertion. She speaks, and the scene ends, suggesting that her voice finally carries some narrative weight.
But I think it’s the jokes that really mark her as a fully developed character this week. She only has two or three lines, but the lines show a kind of strength and independence that we rarely get to see in her. She expresses herself clearly, and it isn’t just about panic and fear and sadness. She teases. She jokes. She feels empathy for another. And she always seems fully in control of herself as she does it.
God, I can’t wait for the River-palooza in Objects in Space.