Objects in Space

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"Objects in Space"
Firefly episode
River holding the "object"
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 14
Directed byJoss Whedon
Written byJoss Whedon
Production code1AGE11
Original air dateDecember 13, 2002 (2002-12-13) (Fox)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Heart of Gold"
Next →
"Serenity: Those Left Behind"
List of Firefly episodes

"Objects in Space" is the 14th episode and series finale of the science fiction television series Firefly. Serenity encounters Jubal Early, a ruthless professional bounty hunter who will stop at nothing to retrieve River. But River, feeling unwelcome on the ship, takes a novel approach to escaping from the long arm of the Alliance.

The inspiration for this episode came from Tim Minear, who gave Whedon the idea by merely mentioning Boba Fett. Whedon expanded upon the suggestion and extrapolated it into the villain of this episode, the "preternaturally cool, nearly psychotic bounty hunter" Jubal Early. Whedon has said that if he were forced to pick one piece of work to represent his entire body of work, he would pick this episode.[1]

River's and Early's tactile and spiritual connection with physical objects reflects an existential experience in Whedon's youth and his subsequent study of Jean-Paul Sartre's existential novel Nausea.[2]

Despite being placed as the final episode on the home video releases, it was the eleventh episode produced and was intended to take place before "Trash" and "The Message".


As Serenity flies by a planet, River lies in bed listening to not-quite-audible voices. She arises and takes a walk through the ship's rooms and corridors, in her bare feet, encountering her shipmates in varied conversations with each other. Simon is relaxing with Kaylee in the common room, telling her an amusing anecdote about medical school. River suddenly "sees" them looking at her, with Simon telling her that he'd "be there right now", implying she is responsible for taking him away from his successful medical career. She then finds Jayne and Shepherd Book in the kitchen, where she "hears" Jayne repeat his confession to Mal about selling out the Tams on Ariel, and Book mutter an angry but cryptic statement hinting at his less wholesome past. River continues to wander the ship and is moved by the sound of ocean waves as Zoe and Wash passionately kiss on the nearby bridge. Above the cargo bay, as Mal and Inara discuss her impending departure, River sees their unspoken frustrations over their unrealized relationship. None of the people she encounters are aware of her presence - except when speaking directly to her - making it clear that this is River's mind "walking" telepathically through the ship.

Fleeing the intense emotions, River runs down to the unoccupied cargo bay, where she spots a tree branch. She sees herself on leaf-strewn ground and picks up the branch, telling herself "It's just an object. Doesn't mean what you think." Suddenly, the real world returns, and she finds that she is holding one of Jayne's pistols while the crew surrounds her in a panic, trying to get her to give up the weapon. Mal takes the gun from her and discovers it is loaded and ready to fire. When Mal admonishes her for handling loaded weapons, River runs off, crying.

As Mal comments on how alone they are, a small vessel closes with Serenity, aboard which is a man reviewing wanted bulletins for Simon and River. Meanwhile, the crew discuss the dangers of River's presence on the ship. When Zoe muses whether River has ever handled a gun, Kaylee reluctantly tells everyone about her experience during their assault on Adelei Niska's SkyPlex, when River killed three attackers with single shots with her eyes closed. The crew begin to speculate that River may be a "reader", having psychic powers, and though Simon objects, they begin to question whether she is a danger to them. While talking, the crew are being listened to: outside the hull of Serenity, the bounty hunter has left his ship and has tapped into the hull, and below the room, in the cargo bay, River is listening through the floor plating.

Once the crew goes to sleep, the bounty hunter boards Serenity. He first encounters Mal, quickly knocks him unconscious, drops him into his cabin, and then locks the rest of the sleeping crew in their cabins. He surprises Kaylee in the engine room, ties her up, and threatens to rape her if she does not cooperate. Next, he disables Book with a surprise attack. Simon hears a noise and rises to check on his sister, only to be attacked by the stranger, who addresses him by name. The bounty hunter, Jubal Early, waxes philosophically on the nature of things while he demands to know where River is. Though Simon refuses to help Early, the bounty hunter threatens to kill him and rape Kaylee if he refuses, and the doctor reluctantly agrees.

With Simon accompanying him, Early checks out the cargo bay and shuttles. When Inara tries to appeal to Early's emotional side, he smacks her across the face, and then locks her in her shuttle. The two men finally arrive on the bridge, where Early settles on a direct threat, announcing loudly to the ship that he will kill Simon if River doesn't reveal herself. River then responds over the ship's intercom, telling Early about how she was unwanted on the ship but could not bring herself to leave, so she simply "melted away", becoming part of Serenity.

In the engine room, River's voice comes over the intercom, reassuring Kaylee and asking her for help. On the bridge, Early is skeptical about River's claim, but she reveals uncanny knowledge of the bounty hunter's own weaknesses. Early gradually starts to accept the possibility that River has joined with the vessel. Meanwhile, River sends Kaylee, who has freed herself, to unlock the cabins. Zoe begins to prepare an assault, but River insists that they do not use guns, and instead tells Mal of an alternate plan.

On the bridge, River continues her conversation with Early, needling him about his violent tendencies and his past. Early realizes that River is not part of Serenity, but she has managed to sneak onto his ship, which puts him on the defensive. River reassures him that she will go with him as his bounty, as she is a burden on her shipmates, and her departure will allow them to get on with their lives. As Early starts to leave, Simon tries to stop him, but in the process is shot in the leg. Jayne wakes up and pulls the curtain off of his weapons compartment, but just uses it as a blanket and returns to sleep. Leaving Simon in the cockpit, the bounty hunter starts his EVA back to his ship, but finds Mal outside, waiting in ambush. Mal shoves Early off into space, before welcoming River back aboard Serenity.

Later, in the infirmary, Simon instructs Zoe as she removes the bullet from his leg. Inara walks away from Mal as he tries to examine her cut lip. In the cargo bay, Jayne mocks Book's failure to defeat Early, despite "all them years of priest trainin'", and Book implies that he fought Early and only succumbed after a prolonged fight. Their friendship apparently restored after being damaged by the events of War Stories, Kaylee and River play jacks while Kaylee relates a racy anecdote from her past. River picks up and examines the bouncing ball, with its swirling, multicolored surface.

Meanwhile, Jubal Early tumbles helplessly through space and says, "Well... Here I am."


In the DVD commentary Joss Whedon explains that this episode is intended to resolve the crew's tension regarding River, ending with their acceptance of her as a valuable member of the crew. Whedon struggled with various ideas of how to approach the script until Tim Minear gave him the idea of using a bounty hunter.


As Whedon discloses in the DVD commentary, much of the dialogue and imagery was inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre, especially his novel Nausea. In his essay We're All Just Floating in Space,[3] Lyle Zynda analyzes this episode's interpretation of existential meaninglessness, arguing that both River and Early perceive physical objects as divorced from the meanings with which others imbue them. For example, when River picks up the gun, she sees it as a harmless branch—an object, as she says, that "doesn't mean what you think"—transformed by her perspective into a benign thing of beauty. Early likewise describes his gun as "pretty" with a pleasing weight (both features separate from its function) yet acknowledges that its design aids its intended use, which Whedon describes as "grotesque".

While moving through the ship, both River and Early seem to be acutely aware of and derive sensual pleasure from their environment, stroking the walls, conscious of the physicality of their surroundings. Whedon notes in the DVD commentary that one of the ways he illustrated this quality was to keep camera focused on River's bare feet as she walked. Early, admiring specifics of the ship's design, significantly echoes the episode's title when he says, "People don't appreciate the substance of things. Objects in space." It is the "physical implication" of a world without morals, the moral implication of which was verbalized by another of Whedon's creations, Angel: "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."

Zynda argues that ultimately, River and Early's ability to experience objects divorced from their common meanings allows them to imbue those objects with a value of their choosing. Whereas River chooses a perspective that brings joyful wonder, Early chooses to contemplate those same objects with despair.

Early enacts one of Sartre's central ideas, the concept of "bad faith", when he denies his responsibility for his actions by claiming he is not free to do otherwise.[4] When River accuses him of hurting people, he counters, "It's part of the job." She replies, "It's why you took the job."

Guest cast[edit]


  1. ^ reddit AMA (April 10, 2012)
  2. ^ DVD commentary for "Objects in Space", chapter 3.
  3. ^ Espenson, Jane; Yeffeth, Glenn (2004). Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly. Smart Pop series. ISBN 1-932100-43-1.
  4. ^ Sanchez, Julian (September 30, 2005). "Out to the Black: The existentialist libertarianism of Joss Whedon's space western". Reason Magazine. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  • Rhonda V. Wilcox; Tanya Cochran (20 May 2008). Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Joss Whedon's Worlds Beyond: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Investigating Cult TV Series). I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84511-654-5.
  • Joss Whedon (1 Sep 2005). Serenity: The Official Visual Companion. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-082-3.
  • Joss Whedon (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume One. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-314-5.
  • Joss Whedon (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume Two. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-372-5.
  • Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.

External links[edit]