Editors’ Note: Firefly fans rejoice! The Joss Whedon show was only with us for a year, but it lives on in The EW Community. Check Brandi McCormick’s previous posts for all 14 episodes of Nathan Fillion goodness as she recapped the series from the very beginning.
Season 1 | Episode 14 | “Objects in Space” | Aired Dec 13, 2002
Alas, fellow Whedonites, the time has come for the final episode of Firefly. And aside from feeling a bit unfinished (solely because I knew going into it that I was doomed to never see another episode), this final episode did not disappoint.
It’s the River Tam show in “Objects in Space,” and for the first time in the series’ run, I am 100 percent okay with that. This episode addressed many problems I always had with her character. My main issue was that she wasn’t that interesting or integral to most storylines, and instead was relegated to being in the fetal position with a scared look on her face most of the time. Here, she is practically bursting with personality—a funny, brilliant and helpful personality that we haven’t really seen with her up to this point. So needless to say, I was more than bummed when I remembered that we would never get to dive deeper into River’s life after this exemplary character showcase. Blast you, prematurely canceled shows!
But back to the action at hand. The saga of River begins when the sister Tam makes her way around Serenity. Presumably she’s just on a regular afternoon stroll, but as she encounters each of the shipmates, she experiences a sort of hallucination in which they “speak” to her, revealing the true meanings behind their words and actions.
When she comes upon Simon and Kaylee, she envisions that Simon blames her for ruining his prestigious medical career. Her hallucination with Mal and Inara shows her their true feelings for each other. She “hears” Jayne admit to selling her and Simon to the Feds on Ariel. All of the emotions are too much to bear, and she flees to the cargo bay. But it’s here that she experiences the most intense hallucination: She suddenly sees herself surrounded by fallen leaves and a single tree branch at her feet. She picks it up, stating, “It’s just an object. Doesn’t mean what you think.” And then suddenly, the real world comes whirling back into focus. She’s not holding a tree branch, but is actually holding one of Jayne’s guns. The entire crew surrounds her, begging her to hand it over.
This close call leads to the crew having a sit-down to talk about River and the kind of liabilities she brings to Serenity. Most of them speculate that River probably has never even used a gun before, making this a onetime incident, but Kaylee chimes in. She squashes that thought outright when she tells them how River killed three men on Niska’s SkyPlex during their rescue mission for Mal and Wash. Everyone is beyond shocked, and begins to speculate if she actually is a real danger to them—and, more important, if she might have actual psychic abilities. Of course, River hears the whole thing, but she’s not the only one. There’s a stranger tapping into the hull of Serenity at that very moment, and unbeknownst to everyone, he heard the whole thing too.
Mysterious bounty hunter Jubal Early (Richard Brooks) boards Serenity unheard and unnoticed just moments later. He’s ruthless, and without breaking a sweat he gets the jump on everyone, first taking out Mal and locking him in his cabin, then locking up everyone else as well.
Next up is poor Kaylee, who’s startled by Early. He proceeds to threaten her with rape if she doesn’t forfeit River’s whereabouts. Kaylee acquiesces and in return, Early leaves her tied up and helpless in the engine room.
Book is the next victim to Early’s violent intrusion, and he’s taken out with one swift kick from Early. This guy is good.
But things get more interesting when Early and Simon come face-to-face. Early address Simon by name, fully aware of his identity, as Early has actually been sent to Serenity for the sole purpose of capturing River. But they’re both in the same boat on River’s whereabouts—River having disappeared in the middle of the night without a trace. Early manages to get Simon’s cooperation only after threatening to rape and kill Kaylee, and the two head off in search of River. Inara gets caught in the crossfire of the hunt, and Early answers her pleas of truce with a slap to the face.
After searching fruitlessly in the cargo and shuttle areas, Early grows restless. Arriving on the main bridge, he announces that if River wants her brother to live, she must reveal herself now. And just then, River’s disembodied voice fills Serenity.
She states over the ship’s intercom that she’s no longer on Serenity, but has simply “melted away,” deciding to become a “part of the ship.” It’s a pretty spooky moment, and the true turning point for River’s character: She’s transformed from strange lab experiment to necessary Serenity entity.
This ethereal intercom announcement from River is heard by the rest of the Serenity crew, all of whom are more than befuddled, having no idea what’s going on since they’ve all been locked away in their cabins. River then communicates with each of them separately, setting up her master plan.
Kaylee manages to free herself and sets out unlocking everyone’s cabins, and the rest of the crew prepares to take down Early. Meanwhile, River is able to use her otherworldly abilities to probe Early and converse with him about personal and private details, successfully rattling Early and convincing him that she has, in fact, become one with the ship. It’s a treat to see the ruthless Early break from the unsettling shakedown River is giving him without her even being present in the same room.
But that lapse in Early’s judgment only lasts momentarily, as it dawns on him that he’s not been talking with a spirit-like River, but that she’s been on his ship the whole time and has been using the intercom system to communicate with Serenity. Aware of the coup she’s pulled, Early now converses directly with River, and is further surprised when she actually offers herself up to him without question. She says she’ll go with him, aware that she’s become a dangerous liability for her Serenity family, and is now unwanted and unneeded. Simon is not in on the plan, however, and as Early leaves to join River on his ship, Simon jumps Early and gets himself shot in the leg.
Early leaves Serenity, but as he traverses the top of the ship, he’s greeted by Mal, who’s been waiting in ambush for this exact moment. Without hesitation, Mal shoves Early off into space, dooming him to float around in the deep black infinity until he runs out of oxygen. Chilling, yes. But totally badass? You bet.
With Early drifting off Clooney-style, River floats back down to Mal’s waiting arms. They return to Serenity and all is well. The Serenity family is all together; the threat of the Alliance is far away. It’s a sweet ending to an otherwise tense episode, and weirdly fitting for what ended up being the series finale. (I seriously can’t say how thankful I am that it didn’t end with a cliffhanger.)
Oh, and by the way:
- River: Permission to come aboard?
Mal: You know, you ain’t quite right.
River: It’s the popular theory.
Mal: Go on. Get in there. Give your brother a thrashing for messing up your plan.
River: He takes so much looking after.
- When Simon and Early are forced to step over Book’s unconscious body, Simon asks, “And which part of your plan dictated the necessity of beating up a shepherd?” Early dryly replies, “That ain’t no shepherd.” Ugh! Again with the mysterious Book! I so wish we could have gotten more seasons so we could have figured out just what his backstory was.
- Wash: Little River just gets more colorful by the moment. What’ll she do next?
Zoë: Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It’s a toss-up.
Wash: I hope she does the soup thing. It’s always a hoot and we don’t all die from it.
Thank you for following along with me as I returned to the world of Serenity! It’s been a real joy to revisit one of Joss Whedon’s most underrated babies, and only mildly heartbreaking (again) to be deprived of a second season. Here’s to hoping that Zoë and Wash had a darling baby like they talked about; that Inara and Mal finally confessed their love to each other and then could joke about how silly they were for ignoring it for so long; that Kaylee finds true happiness, whether it’s with the oblivious Simon or some other adorable space boy; that Simon is able to go back to practicing medicine once every last Alliance member is killed, and River can go on with her life out of harm’s way; that Jayne can learn the importance of family over money; and that Book can become ruler of the universe, as he is so clearly destined to do.
Get more of Brandi’s take on all things entertainment over at ReelSnarky.com!