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Firefly: Objects in Space Ep. 14 December 29, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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 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.



1. Kym - December 30, 2007

Bravo, an excellent analysis and you’ve added to my understanding of the show.

One caveat which don’t change the excellence of your essay. Though the crew knew that Firefly was going under at this point, it wasn’t until The Message (which was actually the last episode filmed) that they found out it was canceled (at the cast Christmas party I believe…ouch!) But nonetheless, the doom was in the air and doesn’t change the validity of what you say.

I never had been able to understand Book’s internal comment when River goes by and I think you have something. A new view that I’ve never heard before.

I love the idea that Early is there to juxtapose his evil craziness against River’s confusion and let us see how benign she really is.

I love how you point out that River doesn’t trust the crew with weapons. I had thought of this almost as a snarky comment on her part but now I can see that there is a whole different take on this. Maybe it is a greater comment on mankind as a whole. We can’t be trusted with weapons? I’ll have to think on this!

Very very intelligent and thoughtful analysis (as usual!)

2. Chris - December 30, 2007

I think River’s comment on guns has multiple meanings. It’s clearly snarky and it’s right to take it as such. I think it’s also a comment on all of us, in that nobody can be trusted with weapons if we’re to achieve “serenity”.

Thanks for setting me straight on the timeline of the show and when the word was given that they were canceled. I’ll make some edits to the post to reflect.

Thanks (as always) Kym for your interest and thoughts!

3. Kym - December 30, 2007

I find it interesting that both River, when she has made a plan, and Mal don’t inform people of the whole plan. They just want absolute trust. And, people get hurt. Simon in this case and, most memorably, Tracy in the Message because of Mal’s plan.

4. Chris - December 31, 2007

Yes…it seems clear that Mal and River have several parallels. Other characters refer to Mal as “crazy”, just as they do with River. Both Mal and River have fought to be independent and/or free of manipulation by the Alliance. In different ways, each has been driven crazy by these experiences. I think this is part of the reason Mal is willing to believe in River and allow her to stay on the ship.

I’m wondering if their mutual need for trust represents anything “deeper” or if it’s just another area where River and Mal have something in common.

5. Kym - January 1, 2008

I wonder if that is something in Whedon himself or is it something he is trying to say through his characters. Or is it just sloppy writing? Nahh!! Happy New Year Chris!

6. Chris - January 3, 2008

I agree….nahhh! He’s a pretty intentional writer, so I doubt it’s sloppiness. It sounds like the wishful thinking of a leader who — like I imagine Whedon must feel sometimes — hopes that people will just follow him out of love and trust. Leaders often see questioning and doubt from those they’re leading as a lack of respect, love and trust. What Whedon, Mal and River (though she’s not really a leader) want is for everyone to follow them without question.

7. Kym - January 3, 2008

Interestingly, every time the failure to trust is followed by disaster ie simon and Tracy.

8. Chris - January 3, 2008

Yeah…is that because Whedon sees the need for unquestioned trust for the leader as suspect in an of itself, or is this rather him making the case that if people had trusted the leader and done what he said, then everything would have been OK?

9. Kym - January 4, 2008

I hope its the first but sometimes I fear the latter.

BTW, have you read your email?

10. Chris - January 4, 2008

I suppose someone who’s developed such a loyal fanbase would naturally have some leadership hubris.

I just checked my email, and didn’t see anything unusual. What am I missing?

11. Kym - January 4, 2008

Sometimes I think Whedon might not be perfect…gasp. Don’t say that in the fan rooms. But, even not perfect, I enjoy his work immensely and admire his stands on many political issues.

(I sent you a message a couple days ago on the CeF…@y.com one. Did you get it.)

12. Chris - January 6, 2008

Strange…no, I didn’t get it. I’ll send you an email just to make sure your address is correct.

13. Kym - January 6, 2008

I got the email and replied. Did you get that?

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