Firefly: Objects in Space (13 December 2002, Joss Whedon)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A man sneaks aboard Serenity, hunting for River…

Written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Best performance: Guest star Richard Brooks as the bounty hunter Jubal Early. He has a whimsical manner and spouts philosophy, yet is stealthy, dangerous and threatening. (Joss Whedon modelled the character in part on Boba Fett.)

Best bits:
* The opening SFX shot: a zoom into Serenity, through its innards and ending on River – the key character of the episode.
* A series of moments where River observes her colleagues – Simon and Kaylee, Jayne and Book, Wash and Zoe, Mal and Inara – and we see the conversations through her warped and possibly psychic POV.
* A stunning cut from River holding a stick to what’s really going on: she’s actually holding a loaded gun.
* The incidental music is great, especially an oboe-like cue linked to the character of Jubal Early.
* Silently, calmly and efficiently, Early breaks into Serenity while it’s alone in deep space.
* A pair of camera moves in the same scene of the crew discussing River – one goes through the floor to reveal River eavesdropping from below; the other goes through the ceiling to reveal Early eavesdropping from above.
* Wash scoffs at the idea that River is psychic. “That sounds like something out of science fiction,” he says. Zoe: “You live on a spaceship, dear.”
* Mal unexpectedly comes face to face with Early in the ship’s corridor.
* Early confronts Kaylee in a scene of real menace. “Have you ever been raped?” he asks nonchalantly.
* Simon asks Early if he’s “Alliance,” but Early mishears him: “Am I a lion? [Considering it] I have a mighty roar.”
* River talking over the Tannoy, claiming to have become the incorporeal essence of the ship. It’s a stunning bluff, coming just as you’re starting to think the episode is morphing into 2001: A Space Odyssey.
* River, despite only talking to him over a radio, knows that Mal has pulled a face.
* The reveal of where River is actually hiding: in Early’s spaceship.
* Jayne, who’s been sleeping through the whole incident, is woken by the noise of a nearby fight… so turns over and goes back to sleep.
* A super 77-second Steadicam shot that moves through various spaces, encompasses all nine regulars and ends on a smiling River.

Review: Objects in Space is a lyrical episode, full of beautiful imagery, mounting tension, deep questions, point-of-view switches and smart storytelling. In fact, it often feels more like an art film than an episode from a science-fiction show. Various threads in River’s character arc are drawn together then weaved into a thriller plot featuring the deliberately arch and cool Early. He and River are two sides of the same coin. They share an overwhelming awareness of existence and each *experience* life and the physical world, rather than just live in it. “People don’t appreciate the substance of things,” Early says at one point, not long after we’ve seen River fascinated by her mundane surroundings. Questions of how meaning is created also run throughout the story – for example, River picks up what to her is a harmless object, but we recognise it as a gun. Yet this is far from a drab existential exercise: it’s also gripping, exciting, tense, classy. What a sensational ending to the series, which makes you ache even more that it was cut so short. At least there’s still a movie to watch…

Ten embarrassingly large stacks of money out of 10

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