Sunday, January 1, 2012

Firefly--"Objects in Space"

"Objects in Space’ is the final episode of Firefly. Brace yourselves, Browncoats. Nathan Fillion, Jewel Staite, and Adam Baldwin all have steady jobs now, with most of the other cast appearing in guest roles elsewhere. “Objects in space’ is and forever shall be the final episode. At least there is Serenity and the never ending comic book series, no?

“Objects in Space” is River-centric and therefore every bit as weird as you might imagine. It is a dialogue intensive script dealing with themes of existentialism, particularly Jean Paul Sarte’s views on meaninglessness. I am a sucker for pointless discussions on existentialism that make one sound intellectual, but really amount to nothing. Maybe it is the irony that tickles my tucjus.

The episode begins with river wandering barefoot through Serenity while eavesdropping on snippets of conversation. She hears Simon tell Kaylee he would still be involved with his successful medical practice if not for river. She hears Jayne confess to shepherd his betrayal of the Tams earlier. Shepherd’s response is less than sympathetic to River. As she listens to mal and Inara discuss their stalled romantic relationship, River spots a tree branch lying on the floor of the cargo bay. She innocently picks it up to admire it more closely, but in reality, we see it is in of Jayne’s loaded guns. The crew worriedly surrounds her. Mal snatches the gun away and scolds her for picking it up.

The incident leads to a meeting in which the crew discusses whether river poses a danger to them. They speculate on whether she has psychic abilities she cannot control. Kaylee reluctantly reveals river’s demonstrated skill with a gun from a few episodes back. Simon himself begins to wonder if river would not be better off elsewhere, which pains him. Serenity is the closest thing to a home she has ever known.

Unbeknownst to the crew, their discussion has been overheard by river and Jubal Early, a bounty hunter who has sneaked on board in order to capture river for the reward. The two will be verbal sparring partners throughout the episode. Early knocks out Mal and Shepherd, frightens Kaylee into submission by threatening to rape her, and forces Simon to show him around the ship after locking the others in their cabins.

Like River when she saw the gun as a tree branch, Early wanders Serenity touching objects and talking about them in almost sensual terms. Both he and river view objects as separate from reality, so the only meaning they have is whatever they choose to give them. River carries on a philosophical discussion with early over the intercom in which she explains that she is unwanted by the crew, but feels so connected with Serenity, she has become part of the ship. Early does not believe her, but she appears to have an extraordinary amount of knowledge about him.

In the interim, river privately shores up the guilt ridden kaylee to unlock the cabin doors while instructing mal not to go in guns blazing against early, but take a more subtle approach. The plan is sped up when early figures out River has sneaked on board his ship rather than is a part of Serenity
. River tells him to return to his ship. She will go with him willingly because she has realized she is a burden to the crew. When Early emerges on the hull of Serenity, Mal is there to push him off. He floats away helplessly in space as mal happily welcomes River back.

Somewhat lost in the existential discussion is the theme of family. The crew has been wary of river from the beginning because they have been focused on performing their job. Her brother has made a useful place for himself as the medic, but river has done nothing but exist. It takes until the end of “Objects in Space” for them to realize they are not a ship of coworkers, but a quasi-family. You cannot get rid of family solely because they have difficulties or are not as useful as other members. It is kind of sweet when the crew are visibly shaken by river’s admission to early she feels unwanted by her “family’ and is willing to give herself up.

Do not get me wrong. River still has serious issues. Imbuing a loaded gun with the imagery of an innocuous tree branch is not an innocent mistake. But River views objects in a positive manner in contrast to Early, who truly embraces the meaninglessness and despair of things. The contrast shows, however, why river is less dangerous than the crew believed, and should not send her away. For good measure, there is a further contrast. River does initiate a positive plan to save the crew and defeat early. In a way, she even gives him what he wants--to be a true object in space. Early exhibits sarte’s belief in bad faith, meaning he denies responsibility for his evil actions because he claims to lack the lacks the freedom to do otherwise. River showed she was better than that.

“Objects in Space” is every bit as strange as it sounds, but it is also compelling. The long discussions over the meaning of objects relying on perception rather than common acceptance might make many eyes glaze over, but the broad theme of river being accepted as a member of the family after helping defeat an over the top homage to Boba Fett--Early’s ship even resembles Slave I--should be more than enough to keep viewers entertained.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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