Firefly: Objects in Space Ep. 14 December 29, 2007Posted by Chris in Firefly.
Tags: Firefly, Serenity
Which is More Dangerous — A Gun that Looks Like a Stick or a Crazy Killing Machine that Looks Like a Girl?
Sadly, here we are at the last episode of the series. By this time, the cast and crew surely knew they had been canceled and the mood of this episode seems appropriately gloomy. Understandably, the plot for this episode addresses a fundamental question of the series: Is River so damn crazy that she can’t be trusted? But turnabout is fair-play, and the episode begins with River walking as if through a dream where she imagines (or perceives) what each of the crew’s true feelings are towards her and each other. Simon tells her he’d be a successful doctor back home if it wasn’t for her. Jayne tells her he couldn’t help but betray her because the money was too good and Book tells her he doesn’t care if she’s to blame or not for her craziness. It seems as though River’s telepathic abilities make her a lens through which we can see into the minds of the rest of the crew members and through her, we’re able to see the hidden conflicts and craziness of and between them as well. Wash and Zoe seem so preoccupied with each other that River perceives no hostile intent from them. On the downside, their lack of awareness of the threats around them mean they spend most of the episode in bed while the rest of the crew are saddled with handling an intruder.
To understand the true weight of River’s craziness and whether it is dangerous or not, we’re introduced to a truly dangerous and crazy character in the form of Jubile Early, a bounty hunter that sneaks on to the ship and tries to grab River. In meta-show terms, Early appears to play the role of the FOX executives who canceled the show. His very name speaks of this role in that the show was canceled “early” and Early is the symbolic instrument of that untimely demise. Like other villains in Firefly, Early’s a psychopath and as such, he’s totally unencumbered by feelings of compassion or guilt. During a painful scene where he threatens Kaylee with rape unless she cooperates, he says: “Ain’t nothin’ but a body to me, and I can find all kinds of unseemly manner of use for it…” Whedon et al. must have had a similar impression of their FOX bosses who couldn’t seem to understand the depth of feeling and commitment the show’s creators had for it — they must have seemed like senseless show-killers. In a way, this episode is really a revenge fantasy for the show’s creators, seeking to get the final word on the bounty-hunter FOX executives. So while Early and River are roughly equivalent in the crazy department, he’s dangerous because his intentions are entirely self-serving and malicious.
At the beginning of the episode, we’re asked to consider just how dangerous River is in a scene that echoes her display of frighteningly good gunfighting abilities in War Stories. River finds a pistol and she’s instantly surrounded by the rest of the crew who talk her into letting it go. The crew’s reaction to her shows clearly just how dangerous they think River might be. Like a parent to a wayward child, Mal tells River in no uncertain terms, “No touching guns.” Toward the climax of the episode, River takes this line and turns it on its head as she repeats these words to Zoe and Wash as they’re about to go fight Early, indicating she thinks the rest of the crew may be just as untrustworthy. As River is talking to the crew through the intercom (acting like she’s become one with Serenity) she questions whether the crew can be trusted as she says, “…and no touching guns.”
Even seeing this pattern in the scenes and the dialogue, I still don’t exactly understand why River would think they’re untrustworthy. The reason why she wouldn’t want them to use guns is not clearly stated. It would seem like the most natural thing for practically anyone in this situation to seek the advantage in firepower to overcome an armed adversary. One guess I have is that River sees the threat coming to and from the crew itself. River has ostensibly morphed into the very fabric and workings of Serenity and as the voice of that machine which keeps them all alive, she would seem to be concerned that by using guns, the crew is a threat to Serenity — both in the literal and figurative terms as the physical ship would be harmed from gunfire and the peace and “serenity” of the crew and ship would be at risk as well. This hypothesis seems confirmed by River’s speech to Early and the crew as she decides to give herself up. She says, “I don’t belong….dangerous like you…can’t be controlled….can’t be trusted. Everyone could just go on without me and not have to worry. People could just be what they wanted to be…could be the people they wanted. Live simple…no secrets.” Here, River echoes some of the key themes of the series. Indeed, here River sets up the movie to come by channeling Mal’s inner-most desire and motivation to live simply and “…take jobs as they come…” as expressed in Out of Gas. So, at the end of this episode at the end of the series, one of the most critical plot and character development elements appears to be the relationship between River and Mal which sets the stage for the movie which is told as a story about Mal by River. It’s not clear to me whether this is an intentional “set-up” for the movie by the writers, but it does seem clear to me that this is an important dynamic in the series. It is clearly a story of the importance of trust; both in terms of how it is lost and how it can be regained.
But interestingly, in the end, it’s Early that speaks for the show and it’s predicament (and Serenity) as he floats through space to his demise and says: “Well, here I am…” Yes, here it is, the end of the show and it’s creators make it abundantly clear through the use of some veiled metaphor that they were seriously pissed off at FOX for killing their “Serenity”. They were also using this episode as forum to ruminate about their hurt and angry feelings, asking pointed questions about the nature of trust and how much it sucks to have it betrayed. How do you know when the person next to you isn’t going to rat you out like Jayne did to Simon and River in Ariel? Fortunately, this all makes for fun and interesting viewing. But, at this point I’ve watched this episode almost three times to get this far in writing this post, so just as when FOX axed the show virtually in mid-sentence, I will put this post to rest as well.