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Serenity's crew has been hired by a small frontier town to deal with bandits that have been plaguing the town. The mission is successful, and the town thanks them by holding a huge party. There is much drinking, and Mal is given a cute flower headband by a young woman, who also gives him wine.
When the crew takes off the next morning, Mal discovers the young woman, named Saffron, has stowed away on the ship. She claims she's Mal's wife, an additional gift from the townspeople in payment for the job. Zoe comes upon Mal and Saffron; Mal tries to explain that he never agreed to marriage. Zoe's first reaction is to summon the crew so that they can congratulation the captain - what a scream!
Mal is extremely upset at the idea of being tricked into marriage. Saffron seems to be a very meek and subservient woman, and she is very hurt to see Mal's rejection. So Mal tries to assure her that she's quite nice, he just doesn't want to be married to her. They cannot take Saffron back to the planet because one of the bandits they killed had connections, so now people on the planet are after them. So Mal plans to find Saffron a job at the next world they visit.
The crew's reactions to Mal's "marriage" are interesting. Kaylee, Simon, and Wash are generally pleased and congratulatory, with Wash of course making numerous jokes. Book warns Mal not to take advantage of Saffron, because if he does he will be sent to a "special" hell. Zoe is amused by the situation until Saffron shows she is way too servile - cooking Mal's meals and offering to wash his feet - at which point Zoe just gets disgusted. Jayne offers to trade Mal his best gun (named Vera) for Saffron. Inara is upset by the idea of Mal taking up with a woman, even when it becomes obvious that the situation was accidental.
Mal tries to avoid Saffron. When he has to talk to her, he tries to convince her to stand up for herself, and that she shouldn't be treated like property. Saffron tries to convince him that she would be a great wife so that he'll change his mind about leaving her on the next world. Meanwhile, we get a flash to some unknown men on some type of spaceship or station that are waiting for a message from Saffron.
Saffron is waiting in Mal's bed for him that night (despite her having been given her own room), but Mal is adamant that he will not sleep with her. She does a lot of smooth talking (as Mal says, "being all naked and articulate") and finally breaks through Mal's resistance. She kisses him - and everything changes, as Mal falls unconscious from the drugs on her lips.
Saffron heads to the bridge and tries to seduce Wash; when she fails, she knocks him unconscious with a kick to the head. She quickly does some rewiring of the controls on the bridge, then somehow seals the bridge doors shut. Just after she leaves the bridge, she encounters Inara. She tries to seduce Inara, as well, but Inara is well-versed in manipulation and realizes something is wrong. Saffron comments about the late Malcolm Reynolds, and Inara lets her slip away as she panics about Mal. Saffron leaves on the second shuttle.
Inara finds Mal unconscious in his room. She thinks he is dead, so she gives him a passionate kiss. She realizes he's alive just as she also realizes she's been drugged with whatever was used on Mal, and also falls unconscious.
The rest of the crew discover Mal, Inara, and Wash and revive them. Mal tries to explain what happened, but of course everyone focuses on the fact that Mal was kissing Saffron. They cut through the seal on the bridge doors, and discover that Saffron has set a course for them and altered the systems enough that it will take quite awhile for them to set things straight and regain control of the ship.
When they are able to see their destination, Book comes up with the unexpected information that they are headed for a trap that will use electricity to fry all people on board, and then chop shop men will take apart the ship for parts. The trap is a circular device that the ship is set to fly through. They can't change course, but Mal sets Jayne up to use his favorite gun (Vera) to shoot out crucial components of the trap so that they fly through unharmed. We also see that the living areas of the trap are damaged, so the would-be disassemblers are killed.
Sometime later, we see Saffron in a remote cabin in a winter setting. Mal bursts in and holds a gun to her. He just came to get his shuttle back, and leaves Saffron there after they exchange some insults.
A lot of this episode is played for laughs, and there are a lot of funny parts. The whole "accidental" marriage idea is pretty funny, especially for someone as strait-laced as Mal, although I remember thinking that aspect was funnier in previous viewings than I did this time. This time, I thought a little more about how sad the situation was (if Saffron really was the meek woman).
There were several running jokes in the episode. Book's threatened "special" hell is referenced several times. Jayne's having a favorite gun, and naming it Vera. Inara insisting that she fell in Mal's quarters and knocked herself out. This joke got a cap on it when Mal asks her if that is true, and when Inara admits it isn't, he assumed Inara kissed Saffron and doesn't realize she kissed him. He can be so oblivious!
The presentation of the episode initially was very convincing - we really believe Saffron's character and her timid personality. The only warning was the somewhat ambiguous scene with the men at the trap. But once she was revealed as a liar, it was amusing to watch her trying to play Wash and Inara.
There were a couple aspects of the episode that didn't quite jell. How did Saffron know to be at the particular location to set up meeting Mal at the celebratory party? We've been told that Firefly-class ships are old and nothing special, so why such an elaborate plan to get one? Presumably the village elder was not in cahoots with Saffron, so why didn't he think it was odd to see her involved so much with Mal at the party when he probably didn't know her? When Saffron escaped from Serenity in the shuttle, why did she go to some world instead of meeting up with her partners in crime at the ship trap? This could be because she was hired purely for her baiting tactics, and she doesn't necessarily work with them exclusively.