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Recap / Firefly E14 "Objects in Space"

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"Does that seem right to you?"

Original air date: 12/13/2002

The episode opens with River wandering in a daze through the ship after awakening. She passes the members of the crew, but perceives what appear to be their inner thoughts and glimpses of their past (such as Simon wishing he was back home, Jayne saying that the money to betray the Tams was "too good", and Book gleefully threatening someone) and stumbles into the cargo bay. She appears to see the cargo bay full of leaves and picks up a stick, but tells herself, "It's just an object. It doesn't mean what you think." She suddenly returns to lucidity and finds the terrified crew surrounding her, as she holds one of Jayne's pistols that he left lying around. Mal takes the gun from her, and River panics and flees.

After this the crew holds a council. Kaylee reveals that River had handled a gun at the assault on Niska's stronghold with disturbing effectiveness. Mal speculates that she may have psychic powers, because of her knowledge of things that she could never know, and they wonder how much of a threat she is (unknowingly with River eavesdropping). The group is unable to come to any consensus on what to do with River and they break to go to sleep. Simon and Kaylee talk about how much River loves the ship and are about to kiss, only for Book to interrupt them.

As the crew settles in for the night, the bounty hunter Jubal Early, who had apparently been following them, slips aboard. He knocks out Mal and Book with ease, locks all of the bunks, and sneaks up on Kaylee in the engine room. With disturbing calmness, he ties her up and threatens to rape and kill her if she ruins his plans to capture River. He then locates Simon and forces him to help him capture River, on the threat of raping Kaylee if he refuses.

During the search, Simon and Jubal verbally spar with each other. It becomes immediately apparent that Jubal is insane, with odd quirks and philosophies that Simon effortlessly responds to. They search Inara's shuttle, but no trace of River comes up and Jubal very calmly hits her for suggesting that he'll walk away from the bounty.

Jubal and Simon reach the bridge and Jubal prepares to shoot Simon if they can't find River. She suddenly begins speaking over the intercom, telling Jubal that she's "melted into the ship" and is now Serenity herself. She taunts him with knowledge of his past and intentions, revealing Jubal to be a psychopath who took up bounty hunting to give him a way to act out his violent and abusive impulses. In between forcing the bounty hunter into a breakdown, she contacts the other members of the crew to set her plan for a breakout in motion—Kaylee cuts herself loose and releases the locks on the crew quarters, allowing Mal to sneak off somewhere. (Zoe and Wash are told to stay put, while Jayne sleeps through the whole thing.) Jubal suddenly realizes that River took a spacesuit and snuck aboard his ship, which is how he's communicating with them. Finally, River states that she plans on leaving with Jubal (sensing great similarity between them as mentally disturbed outcasts) and saving the Serenity crew the trouble of dealing with her. Simon attempts to stop Jubal, only to take a bullet to the leg.

Jubal fights his way back through the ship and outside, and he stands on the outer hull of Serenity. Before he can float over to his own ship, however, Mal appears behind him and kicks him off into deep space. River exits Jubal's spaceship (sending it off on autopilot) and asks Mal for permission to come aboard, revealing that her supposed attempt to abandon the crew with the bounty hunter was all part of her plan to stop him, and Simon took a bullet for nothing. Back aboard the ship, Simon guides Zoe in patching him up before he passes out. Kaylee and River play jacks on the floor of the cargo bay, showing that their friendship has been rekindled.

The episode ends with a shot of Jubal Early floating through space, air running out. He simply says "Well... here I am."

Tropes seen in this episode include:

  • A Day in the Limelight: The episode is entirely based around River.
  • Almost Kiss: Between Kaylee and Simon, before Book obliviously steps between them.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: The episode juxtaposes River against Jubal Early, who's definitely a Straw Nihilist. Faced with the same realization as River, Jubal's response was to become a complete psychopath who tortured his puppy.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Wash says that River being psychic sounds like "something out of science fiction". His wife points out that they live on a spaceship, to which he glibly replies, "So?" In the commentary for the episode, Joss Whedon points out that he meant for River's supposed merging with Serenity to seem plausible until it was revealed that she was merely hiding, since they wanted the audience to think that maybe Firefly wasn't as "hard" SF as it looked — that there might be magic at work there too, which would have opened up a new playing field. Alas...
  • Author Tract: Everything philosophical out of Early's mouth is pretty much Whedon's Existentialist views, though Early's Existentialism is the Shallow Parody version. He comes up with random and pointless analyses of basic ideas and doesn't consider any of them in any further depth than "huh, that's weird". It's the philosophical version of Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • River pulls one of these on Jubal Early, using both his insecurities and the rest of the crew to maneuver him into position to be ambushed by Mal. The only thing she didn't factor in was Simon's rather suicidal devotion to her.
    Mal: Go on, get in there. Give your brother a thrashing for messing up your plan.
    River: (sigh) He takes so much looking after.
    • Also, when Early forces Simon to help him. Bonus points because he explains his gambit to Simon, and it still works. To wit, Simon has to choose between unspeakable things happening to River or Kaylee. His only hope is to stall for time and hope to get the drop on Early. Early calmly explains that this is why Simon is going to help him look for River, and that's exactly what Simon does.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Both Tams. But especially River.
  • Bounty Hunter: Jubal Early took up hunting to appease his psychopathic tendencies.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Simon and River; this time River is taking the lead.
  • Break the Cutie: What Early threatens to do to Kaylee and is trying to do to River; as it happens Kaylee escapes and Early is broken by the other cutie.
  • Break Them by Talking:
    • Early threatens to rape Kaylee and makes it clear that no one onboard can help her, and forces her to repeat that fact in order to psychologically torture her into submission.
    • River takes a shot at doing this to Early, bringing up both his past and the psychopathic sadism that he hides beneath his philosophical exterior, managing to get under his skin.
  • Call-Back:
    • Kaylee slowly backing away from a gun-wielding River, referencing the scene in "War Stories" when River shot Niska's men. She tells the crew the story later.
    • River comes upon Wash and Zoe making out on the bridge. When she reads their feelings, the camera focus blurs for a moment. In previous episodes this was used during Inara's sex scenes to indicate someone having an orgasm. Those are obviously some intense feelings River's picking up on.
  • Can't Spit It Out: What River "reads" when she gets into Mal and Inara's argument.
    Inara: I'm a big girl. Just tell me.
  • Catchphrase: Jubal: "Does that seem right to you?"
  • Conveniently Coherent Thoughts: When River is shown reading the minds of the rest of the crew, their thoughts come in the form of clear sentences. However, in most cases they are non-sequiturs or irrelevant to the current situation or conversation. Except for the thoughts River gets when Zoe and Wash are making out; those actually come in the form of crashing ocean waves and other sensations that cause River to sway and stumble.
  • Creepy Child: River. A good variant on Creepy Child, but certainly creepy.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Kind of; the crew knew River was this, they just didn't realize how much of one she was until now.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Early's dust-up with Mal is over in just a few hits.
  • Damsel in Distress: Kaylee is held prisoner more by her own fear than Early's restraints, seeing as he left her in an engine room with plenty of sharp things. River helps her get past her fear enough to escape.
  • Dissonant Serenity:
    • Heh. River as "Serenity" is rather even-keeled for having a dangerous man holding her brother at gunpoint. It's all part of her plan to screw with Early.
    • Early's (presumably) last words drifting in space are a calm "Well... here I am."
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Early's job description;
    Simon: So you're a bounty hunter?
    Early: No, that ain't it at all.
    Simon: Then what are you?
    Early: I'm a bounty hunter.
  • Dirty Mind-Reading: Coming across Wash and Zoe in an intimate moment, River telepathically senses their arousal and is briefly overwhelmed.
  • Failed a Spot Check:
    • Audio version. Early manages to misunderstand several clearly-stated sentences in bizarre and non-sequitury ways.
    Simon: Are you Alliance?
    Early: A lion? I don't think of myself as a lion, though I do have a mighty roar...
    • He somehow fails to notice Mal right behind him, when he heard Simon move half a step behind him earlier. Possibly justified by the lack of Sound In Space.
    • Less excusable is Jayne's failure to recognize the fistfight going on right outside his quarters.
      • Not failure to recognize, failure to care. After all, sleep is important.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Simon. "Come on out, River, the nice man wants to kidnap you."
  • Heroic Resolve: A 140-pound doctor knocking down Early twice out of sheer Heroic Spirit certainly qualifies even if it is unsuccessful, and unnecessary as it turns out. He might even have got up a third time and tried again if River hadn't reassured him.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted; River is only pretending. However, the communications breakdown pushes Simon's Berserk Button.
  • Honor Before Reason: Only partially:
    Simon: I'd rather die standing.
    Early: The intention is not for you to die, Doctor.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • River.
      River: [Simon] takes so much looking after...

      River: You're not right, Early. You're not righteous. You got issues.
    • Early, of all people, says "you folks are all insane".
  • Insane Equals Violent: Early's definitely violent, but his not-quite-right-ness manifests in other weird behaviors, like randomly licking surfaces.
  • Kick the Dog: Executed literally, as young Jubal's Start of Darkness.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!:
    • Simon's attack on Jubal.
    • Humorously subverted with Jayne. He angrily wakes up during the ruckus, looks up at the fighting with a scowl, takes the blanket off his weapon cache, heroic music plays... and he goes back to sleep with it as another blanket.
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: River is terrified by her ability to hear what people are really thinking (including how they actually feel about her).
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Early makes a vague reference to one of his previous bounties: a midget arsonist.
      Early: You know, with the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I've ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome. Does that seem right to you?
      Simon: What'd he do?
      Early: Who?
      Simon: The midget.
      Early: Arson. Little man looooved fire.
    • During River's mind-reading of the crew, she comes across Book having a very un-preacher-like moment.
    • It's never made clear how that gun got there, though a hint is dropped when Jayne claims that he left it in a safe with a combination lock, implying that River pulled the passcode out of his mind.
  • Papa Wolf: Simon and Mal.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: River goes barefoot the entire episode.
  • Psycho for Hire: Early is bugfuck crazy.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Invoked; Early threatens to rape Kaylee, clearly framing that as the most vile, painful thing he can do to her, to force both Kaylee and Simon into submission.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: River gives one to Early. Through her telepathy we see his mental armor crack a bit.
  • Sadistic Choice:
    • Simon. Help Early find his sister or get shot and let unspeakable things happen to Kaylee. He chooses the former to stall for time.
    • Early does this to Kaylee as well: surrender without warning her shipmates, or get raped to death.
  • Scary Black Man: Jubal.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Subverted. He starts talking about Serenity's engine like he's setting up for this before asking Kaylee if she's ever been raped with zero transition.
    • Turned around on him when he realizes River is in the cockpit of his ship, excitedly looking at "all these buttons".
  • Shirtless Scene: Simon is ripped.
  • Shout-Out: Jubal Early is named after a Confederate general who may just be related to Nathan Fillion.
  • Spaceship Girl: Subverted; River is just pretending to be this.
  • The Spartan Way: Early's "suggestion" to Simon about possible "innovative improvements" in medical training—specifically, that surgeons ought to be shot or dismembered so they know what it feels like to go under the knife.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Simon exchanging banter with Jubal.
  • Telepathy: The possibility that River is a "reader" is brought up for the first time among the crew. Quick cuts are used to show the audience River's perceptions, including hearing what people are thinking as if they were talking out loud.
  • Took a Level in Badass: River uses her powers consistently for the first time, maintaining lucidity for long enough to drive Early into a mental breakdown and set a trap for him at the same time.
  • Unexpected Virgin: River walks in on Jayne and Shepherd Book having a Seinfeldian Conversation wherein Book has just disclosed his virginity to Jayne, much to Jayne's surprise. Book's religious order apparently has a celibacy requirement, though it's strongly implied (and eventually confirmed in the Expanded Universe) that he had a career in black ops before that.
  • Villain Has a Point: In an abstract way; Early claims that Book isn't a Shepherd, which, although not literally true, alludes to Book's shady past, which the audience (via River's telepathy) gets a reminder of in this very episode.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Shepherd Book's religious order is expected to be celibate, though we only hear about half the conversation since the scene is mostly told from River's rather warped perspective.
    Book: Some orders allow shepherds to marry, but I follow a narrower path.
    Jayne: But I mean, you still got the urge. They don't... cut it off or nothin'?
    Book: No, I'm more or less intact. I just... direct my energy elsewhere.
    Jayne: What, like masturbatin'?
  • Warrior Poet: Jubal Early clearly thinks he's one of these, but his analyses are usually shallow and more a sign of his disordered and disturbed mental state than anything else.
  • Worthy Opponent: One-sided—Early seems to respect Simon. Simon only regards Early as a threat to Kaylee and River. River states clearly she does not respect Early.
  • Your Mom: River begins screwing with Early with this. He claims he's not fazed but of course she knows better.