Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: In anticipation of Mad Men’s final episodes, special guest appearances from the show’s stars from before they went to work at Sterling Cooper & Partners.
Firefly, “Our Mrs. Reynolds” (season one, episode six; originally aired 10/4/2002)
Mad Men made Christina Hendricks a household name, but she was already a convention name thanks to a two-episode guest role as Saffron on Joss Whedon’s 2002 space Western Firefly. Nowadays it’s hard to imagine the poster woman for Mad Men going unnoticed, but Saffron is introduced very sneakily in “Our Mrs. Reynolds.” She’s just a part of a montage of the crew celebrating a successful mission with the locals around a campfire. She shares a drink with Captain Malcolm Reynolds and then disappears to dance. She doesn’t even speak. The next morning she turns up as a stowaway on his ship, and she reveals they’re married now. The crew takes it as a big joke, at least until the stakes increase, but they’re all concerned about this poor woman. As written by Whedon and played by Hendricks, Saffron is as simple and subservient to Mal as the voluntary bunker wife in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
There’s more to Saffron than patriarchal obedience, but that’s where she overlaps with pre-partnership Joan. Both are women trying to get by in a man’s world. At first Saffron’s practically a caricature of Joan back when her goals were to get married and stop working. With an extra helping of Joan’s sometimes childlike sweetness in her voice, Saffron exaggerates her demureness to a different effect. Joan’s hush-hush in order to keep things running smoothly, but she knows (and she knows her superiors know) how valuable she is. Whereas Saffron is so servile because she’s trying to appease her men, appealing to their sense of dominance. The crux is whether that treatment appeals to Mal. “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is a funny, exciting adventure, but like much of Hendricks’ later TV gig, it comes down to gender politics. How can Saffron thrive in a patriarchal universe?
In 2010 Christina Hendricks said she received more fan letters for Firefly than Mad Men. Her performance is so memorable that Saffron became one of only a few supporting characters to recur in the 14 episodes of Firefly, returning for another funny marital adventure in “Trash.” But “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is where Saffron made her first impression—and where Christina Hendricks made a name for herself.
Availability: “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is available as part of the Firefly: The Complete Series DVD and Blu-ray sets. It is currently streaming on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus, and can also be purchased through the major digital services.