Once again, we’re spending Tuesdays this summer revisiting Joss Whedon’s space Western Firefly,” and this week brings with it a very familiar face from another show that’s about to become a staple of the blog this summer. A review of “Our Mrs. Reynolds” coming up just as soon as I kill you with my pinkie...

“But she was naked! And... articulate!” -Mal

When Christina Hendricks strutted her way across the halls of Sterling Cooper in the “Mad Men” pilot, she was a revelation to most viewers. Who was this confident, sexy, hyper-competent redhead, and where had she been hiding all these years?

Anyone who came to “Mad Men” after “Firefly” was much less surprised.

Hendricks is, in a word, fantastic as Saffron, the not-so-innocent bride who’s fixing to steal every inch of Serenity out from under its flustered captain and his amused crew. She’s completely believable both in Saffron’s pose as the shy farm girl and then her true face as a slick super-villain who’s every bit as talented and versatile as Joan Holloway, and her presence allows Joss Whedon and director Vondie Curtis-Hall to push the show into its most overtly comic direction yet.

“Our Mrs. Reynolds” is just a hilarious episode, from start (a cross-dressing Mal bickering with Jayne) to finish (the priceless look on Inara’s face when she realizes how completely Mal misunderstood how she got the poison on her lips), and all the way in between (Book’s repeated warnings about “the very special Hell” remain my favorite). Nathan Fillion gets ample opportunity to play flustered - dig his reaction to hearing this woman say “I swell to think of you in me” - and once Hendricks gets to play the switch from Saffron’s acting job to her real personality (or as close as she lets anyone get), she has a number of wonderful comic moments, like her frustration at realizing that Wash, like Mal, isn’t going to try to have sex with her and she’ll have to resort to Plan B.

I had wondered if the episode wouldn’t play as well going in knowing about the short con Saffron’s running, but in some ways, it’s even more fun to see how she twists Mal, Wash and Jayne into knots, knowing that it’s deliberate. And her presence exposes sides of several major characters we hadn’t quite seen before. Mal discloses details of his past he wouldn’t have told anyone else, and in his reluctance to accept this beautiful gift he’s been given, we see another of those lines that this unapologetic thief won’t cross. Though we knew Zoe was the dominant partner in her marriage to Wash, her frustration with his reaction to Saffron gives us a better sense of their dynamics (and another impeccably-phrased line for Gina Torres to deliver in “You know that sex we were planning to have, ever again?”). Book takes on more of a paternal role among the crew, and Inara’s love for Mal becomes even more overt (and funnier) as she becomes jealous of Saffron, and then(*) grateful when Mal turns out not to be dead.

(*) And in between, she pretends to be falling for Saffron’s seduction attempt in a fine piece of fan service.

On the other hand, Jayne? Jayne just wants the pretty redhead, and will trade his best gun Vera for her. And Vera comes into play for one of the show’s cooler action beats, as he has to take out the control hub of the web-ship while shooting through a space suit so Vera will have the necessary oxygen to fire. I don’t know if that’s scientifically-accurate (paging “MythBusters”...), but the visual is great - like a deadly ventriliquist’s dummy.

After Serenity is saved, Mal tracks down Saffron to retrieve the stolen shuttle, and in the process gets her to reveal something of herself. She doesn’t give up her real name, but when he asks why she would go to such convoluted lengths to make cash, she replies, “You’re assuming the payoff is the point.” Most people who wind up in a frontier, be it the Old West, or the outer planets and moons of the post-Earth ‘verse, are there because they have no better options available to them. But there are some there for the adventure and freedom the frontier provides. Saffron had companion training, but instead wound up as a con woman and thief (a kind of blurring of the lines between Mal and Inara), and whether she was forced into that life initially or not, she clearly relishes the game more than the prize, and that makes her very dangerous, and very memorable.

Saffron returns in a later episode (and that’s as much as we’ll say on that score for the sake of any newcomers), and it’s easy to imagine a different timeline where “Firefly” ran longer and she appeared more and more frequently as a hindrance to the Serenity crew. Alas, we never got that timeline, but Hendricks eventually did find another role that fit her as well as this one.

Some other thoughts:

  • Interesting to see Mal and Jayne enjoying each other’s company at the post-mission shindig. It helps that booze was involved, but generally these are two who barely tolerate each other.
  • In going back over my notes, I didn’t make a single mention of River, though she does appear in a priceless deleted scene where she demands that Book marry her and Simon. Is Summer Glau in the final cut at all, even in the background?
  • As one of Saffron’s partners with the net, Benito Martinez doesn’t fare much better than Glau, getting a couple of lines of dialogue before he and his partner are blown out into the vacuum of space by Jayne and Vera.
  • With Book’s knowledge of how the space-net works, we get another hint about his mysterious past.

Up next: “Jaynestown,” a spotlight episode for everyone’s favorite crude, hair gun-namer, known to some as “the hero of Canton.”

What did everybody else think?