This episode is doing strange things to my mind.
Not unlike trying to walk inside a spiral, but instead of along-the-curves, it's trying to cross the lines and just skip them, or to leave the page altogether and go the the third dimension that isn't represented by a picture on it. I can nearly feel my brain whining at me to stop trying to go at two impossible directions at the same time, or at least to pick just the one. And I can't remember when a tv show made me respond like that.
From the very first shot - that planet, alone in the blackness of space, a little bit to the side, with colors and blurs, and then "Serenity" going by it, all quiet because there's no sound in space, above it (as much as there's an "above" where there isn't any gravity and ups and downs), not touching it of course, but still going over it, covering it - even before those amazing moving-through-the-ship-itself shots (and I'm going to ramble about them, as well, because I absolutely loved them) - from that single first shot, from those few quick seconds, combined with knowing the episode's name and realizing that, already, these are objects in space and where and how will it be expressed further? Ever since then, I knew that I'm going to love that episode I was about to see. And, no, knowing that it's a "Firefly" Joss episode didn't have anything to do with it (yeah, as if) - it was magic from that very first shot.
And then we came all the way inside - from the outer space, through the parts of "Serenity", to that grid under which River slept. And at first her face were unclear, and then the focus went to her face and the grid was unclear - and it felt to me as if the whole journey has found its goal.
And I can't explain it in words, but that voice that said "we are all just floating" fit so perfectly with it all - objects in space. And with what happened and was felt through the episode - that we are not just floating, that people are connected, that they care for each other and feel for each other and help and despite all the obstacles, even physics itself, are able to reach out and make a connection. Be warned, by the way, if this seems sap-y to you, I haven't even started yet.
I loved the way the different parts of the ship were connected on screen, through a visual continuous move through the walls and the technical-looking stuff. First, it was so very pretty - the insides of the walls, what makes the ship tick and fly and be their shelter from space (yeah, I know it's a bunch of gorgeous CGI, OK?). Also, I loved the way that it showed the inners of the ship, similar to how River seems to be able to see the innermost thoughts of the people around her. But most of all, that it connected everything. That nothing on the ship seemed to stand alone, isolated, separated from anything else on it - it was really a one big thing, all connected, comprised of metal and wires and people and the relationship between it all.
I even liked, despite how gorgeously beautiful I found those shots, that they were not used all the time, on every other episode - it made it so much more distinct to me, the whole point about standing alone and having connection and having a meaning to that connection. If I were used to seeing those shots, all that extra meaning would have been lost on me. Also, it was so fitting that in the episode when we first got to see the way River see things, the way she can't detach from them, we got to see "Serenity" in her way, in River's nothing-is-blocked way.
And then there was that gorgeous beautiful shot of the branches and the leaves on the floor of the cargo bay. I had tears in my eyes, it was so pretty. And I'm dense - I never get tears in my eyes because something is just plain pretty, I usually need an emotion spelled out for me! It was just breathtaking. And it had an extra layer of "seeing something you know with completely different eyes", with all the things spread on the floor. And I didn't mean it like that when I first typed it, but now that I did, it's actually in the full meaning of "through different eyes" - through River's eyes.
I loved the way that each time we saw Early's ship from "Serenity"'s bridge, there was some sort of movement there. It caught my eye on the first time, so on the following ones I looked closer, even though the interesting parts were with Early and Simon. It was Early's screens that were moving, I don't think we ever saw River inside there. But it was enough movement to say "hey, I'm still here, remember me?", so when Early realized River's whereabouts, it was a big "of course!".
And I loved those cut-together scenes of Early laughing, nearly-crazily, intercut with River's words. I always end up loving the way Joss makes the different-voice-and-picture scenes, with the quick cuts that jump from one to the other. It's like we get to see the emotion, or the visual expression of the emotion, the things that are running inside the head, when the words are being heard. I love those glimpses. I thought they illuminated beautifully the things that Rover said about Early, how he is not completely well. So much like her, so much the exact opposite from her.
Wash's dinosaurs, by the way, were there again. The amount in which I love those little bits of continuity is even larger than my ability to throw large paragraphs on anything.
[Edit: TCB. Um, it's going to be long]
It's like the people behind it all make these characters as 'full' as possible, as close to real as they possibly could while keeping them still imaginary, of course. They have histories and things they like and those histories and things they like remain the same between the episode (or have reasons for changing).
There were larger bits of continuity, of course. Kaylee's discovery from "War Stories" (then she didn't tell them at the time! Not even Mal! I was wondering about that), about River's abilities. River's attack on Jayne's shirt with a knife from "Ariel". Early learning about the fugitives from the notification to the feds in "Ariel". The whole betrayal of Jayne, selling out River and Simon, both in what bothers him and in his conversation with Mal. And, just like I keep saying, no bit of that made the episode not-understood when the viewer doesn't know it, and each and every one of them enhanced it when the viewer does. The one detail that was meaningful to the plot - Kaylee's story - was not familiar to the other characters and was repeated by her out loud. Oh, and Vera was mentioned again!
And again, of course, with the "contradictions". Mal saying that they are completely alone, and the next shot is of a ship getting closer to "Serenity". Mal saying that they have somebody on board who is a danger, meaning River, when actually it's Early, and he's really on the ship, not in the sense of being inside it.
And River's smile when she was out in space - it reminded me on her smile in "Bushwacked", when she and Simon were hidden on the outside of "Serenity" from the cops, and he was petrified, and she had that pure joy all over her face, awe and happiness and glee, all at once.
The whole thing was, to me, about things standing alone, about things being connected between them, and how their meaning is all different in those two different situations. How, in a way, the very fact that the connection between things changes their meaning, or even gives them one that never existed in the first place, in their actual, physical, well, existence, is a meaning in and of itself. I'm not sure I'm explaining myself very well, here. I don't know any philosophy, so I'm terribly lacking in its vocabulary (please note: this is not my usual English-vocabulary whine. I can get creative about the whining). Talking about such abstract things makes my head spin and knot itself around itself and then trip and fall over. I'm going to try, though, it's all running around in my brain and not letting me think about other things, so just consider yourself warned, in advance.
The word "imbue" was one I didn't know before I watched this episode. I had to look it up in the dictionary (see, the show is educational!). It was lovely, the way that Early looked for it, tried to find just the right phrase, drove all the attention to it, made me focused in it, but right through the flowing advance of the plot and the kidnapping and everything. Completely natural, yet I didn't have a choice other than go to look it up, it stayed stuck in my mind.
And space ships are always treated like isolated objects in space (and, honestly, I wrote "Objects in Space" now as just that, what I wanted to say, and only then realized that this is, again, the name of the episode!). Like they travel through it, communicate through technology and sometimes even tangible devices that are connect the metal bodies of two ships with all sorts of noise and machinery. It was done even on this show. But I can't think of a single time I've seen somebody just leave one space ship, drop himself from it, not connected to anything, and land on the upper side of the other.
And that was the way Early arrived on "Serenity" - jumped down from his ship, connected the two - was all about being and stopping from being, an object loose in space, as well. And they were surprised, each and every one of them, to realize that they were not an isolated object floating in space, unconnected to the rest of the world unless it's by their choice. None of them expected anybody to simply get on their ship from the outside, that way.
And even Early himself, who arrived to "Serenity" this way, who came up with the idea in the first place, seemed to not be able to realize that the connection is there for other people, as well. He was indeed the first to realize that River wasn't on board "Serenity", but on his ship - but it took him quite some time to figure out that she simply went on the opposite way in which he came from. And later still, he completely didn't expect Mal to be on top of "Serenity" and interact with him there.
He came up with the single implementation of the idea, which was indeed brilliant and nobody aboard "Serenity" could realize how on earth there was a stranger aboard their ship. Well, other than River, I guess, who used that idea in order to go to his ship and play his own trick on him. She, who didn't have her mind all imprisoned in "what usually happens" and "what is the way of things" and the way things looked, but saw the meaning behind the things, the connections between them - she was able to reach the correct conclusion and realize where he came from, and, moreover, that she could do the same.
And Early himself only saw the ship as something that exists from the inside, other than for that brief moment in which he used the outside in order to connect (there's that word again) between his ship and "Serenity". Despite actually doing the thing himself, it seemed like he was surprised to discover that other people can use the ship from the outside, as well. And then Mal surprised him there, by River's instructions. He looked at the crew members from the outside (in that cool shot in which his hand was on "Serenity"'s window, from which we went inside and saw the characters speaking.
[Edit: um, embarrassingly long]
He was the one who put some listening device on the roof of the ship in order to listen to what was going on inside. And it worked. But it seemed to me like some connection was missing, in his mind, to make this a constant possibility, a thing that could always happen, a constant connection, a way to see things rather than actually understand them, if I'm making any sense, and I'm not sure that I am. And River didn't.
Even Simon, when sitting with Kaylee, had her feet on him. Now, on top of this being one of the sweetest ways they could sit, it also seemed to me to be about them being physically connected. In the past, Simon couldn't tell a story that would make the others laugh, and he even tried (look, the only reason I keep bringing up "Out of Gas" is because it was so rich and full of stuff, OK? It's not like deliberately I'm trying to not-think-about-any-other-episode without it. It's just so much there). And now, sitting connected, in a way, in more than one way, one of those ways being physical, to Kaylee, he had no problem to open up to her, to make her laugh, to share that laughter.
Early was such a cool villain. Scary, interesting, with that velvet-y streaming voice and that deadliness. That all-body red suit (with the noises that leather makes when it moves). And the ability to nearly look into people's minds. So much like River, then again so much not. I liked him from before we saw him - from the very first shot of his ship, like a giant evil insect (I don't know what it's called in English, only in Hebrew - like the evil twin of the bee?).
Usually I don't speak music, but I couldn't help but notice that whenever Early was the focus, there was a certain music that was heard around him. I'm not sure which instrument it was, the clarinet? the oboe? But it was very distinct, to me, that it was "Early's tune", and I never catch things like that.
It reminded me, in a way, of "Peter and the Wolf" (which is one of the few pieces from which I can identify a couple of short segments, due to being forced to write a paper on it once in school). That piece is actually a story, and every character has an instrument that was dedicated to it (please note: I have no idea if this is commonplace and you're rolling your eyes at the ignorant girl. I just want to make sure that my comparison is explained). I don't remember who gets what, but it's an instrument along with a line of notes that is identifiable from all the rest. So when two characters fight, their representative instruments play together but not in harmony, for example. And Early's tune reminded me of that, and even, in a way, one of the actual tunes of "Peter and the Wolf", obviously, the wolf's, even though I can't remember any of it. Can something remind you a thing that you don't even remember? Hmm.
Oh, and I loved his name. I have no idea if "Jubal" has any sort of meaning, but "Early" obviously does. And still, it sounds like a name. And he fits that name - he caught up with "Serenity" faster than anybody else, he out-smarted the members of the crew before they managed to think about ways to beat him. He seemed to know, sometimes, what somebody wanted to say before that person knew that. And, yeah, it's not exactly "early" - but that's the beauty of it, that it's a little bit off, that it nearly describes it, and then it doesn't. It made much more sense in my head, before I started writing it down.
He talked differently to each member of the crew he encountered. Mal - he hit him flat out, not even trying anything else (and beating him fairly easily, on top of that). To Kaylee, he first complimented "Serenity". Then he threatens the engine, and with the same sentence, in the same, I don't know, usefulness, threatens her with rape. And makes her, the heart of the connections of the ship, to express out loud the fact that nobody will help her, that there is no connection left between her and the crew. She's all alone, an object in space. Right afterwards, that was the way he talked about her body - like it had no meaning, other than a way for him to get to his purpose (and I can't write "meaning" when I'm writing about this episode without loading the word with all the, well, meaning, that the episode itself gave it).
Then there's this whole conversation with Simon, in which Early hears "a lion" instead of "Alliance" - he heard the meaning he wanted to hear. He makes philosophical questions regarding objects and their meaning, do they still have the meaning when the people who gave them the meaning are no longer there to do the giving. He looks for a specific word and finds it. And then tells Simon that he isn't something, followed immediately by stating that he is, indeed, that very thing - it was as if he needed to hear himself say that, with his own voice, his own way of expressing the words.
He wondered if River was sleeping with any other member of the crew, which seems off, considering how well he seemed to know all the other crew members to far. Can it be because he hadn't seen River yet, at that point, and therefore couldn't "read" her like he did the others? Or was it just a trick to try and unbalance Simon? Or both? Did I mention what a cool villain he was?
And later he said something about Book not being a shepherd. He wouldn't let the person decide what they are, wouldn't let a change to happen. River saw that secret dark past in Book as well, just as Early did. But he wouldn't let him be a shepherd now, wouldn't let him choose the current meaning for his life.
It's like he's able to read people in a way that is similar to River's talents - by a glance at them, short and subtle and going to the deepest edges. And he, so unlike River, uses his knowledge and understanding to objectify the people around him, to make them steps in the way to his goal, to deprive them of meaning.
[Edit: worse than you think]
While she is doing the exact opposite! I mean, the gun, for example. Early saw his gun as a means to shoot or threat Simon into helping him find River. A means to a goal. A tool that is designed for one purpose and that's all its meaning. River saw the gun as a branch - she took that meaning and gave it a completely different one!
Then he talks about the lack of connection (again, that word) that Simon has with his own job, with being a doctor, how he can't understand his patients if he's not going through their suffering. As is there's no such thing as empathy and understanding, and as if nothing from the "outside" of a person can mean anything to that person.
I'm sorry, this feels nuts - I'm nearly going over every second line he said and there's meaning in it, just waiting to be mess around with my brain. It's like Early is a big brain-messer in a red leather suit and a gun. Or all the philosophy classes I never took and know nothing about (though, I don't think they came with red leather suits, for the record). He even gets to say the episode's name, in context to "Serenity" and the people and all!
And then, in the middle of the philosophy lecture, when it seems like he's lost of the way the walls are expanding the how people don't appreciate that, he's still alert enough to point his gun at Simon who is trying to look for a moment to beat him. Trying to look for the right moment, just like Early said he would, but regardless of that.
And I loved his line about "maybe I've always been here". Creepy. Moreover, makes you think - or, well, makes me. About the hidden dark secrets beneath anything, that the real destruction of something comes from a decay from within, and the outside circumstances only bring it out into the light. And he was wrong - he wasn't able to fracture the crew - he hasn't always been there, there were places he didn't know and wasn't able to infiltrate, and that's how Rover beat him. But, still. Creepy.
And he ends up being all isolated, a complete object in space, no connection to anything at all. And that's his last line (and the last line of the show, as well) - "here I am". That's all there is, that "I" who is "here" and there's nothing around it that ties it to anything. A complete object in space.
Though, if there's anybody who can emerge alive from that situation, that would be him.
If I'm not mistaken, the only one that River didn't get a different-than-what-I'm-really-saying-right-now line from, was Kaylee. Is it that with Kaylee it's so very much "what you see is what you get", no dark secrets, no shadowed corners of the soul? Or does it have anything to do with Kaylee seemingly being the only one who connected to River as River, not any other adjective that any other members of the crew may have used? Or that the two are connected? Or does it have anything to do with the way Kaylee tried to distance herself from River after "War Stories", and now either she closed herself up or River tries to be considerate and not reach out to her too much, sensing her fear, the dryness of the friendship that started to bloom between them? Obviously, I have no idea. I just thought it was such a lovely touch.
I loved it that Kaylee's toes (seen in Simon's lap) were painted red. It was such a gentle touch - at first I wasn't sure I saw it well, but later, when she was tied up, they were seen red again in those cute flip-flops or however you call these shoes in English, and that confirmed it. From the Kaylee of the beginning of the show, the girl that Inara wanted to convince to wash her face, there was seen a change, a development. Living side-by-side with Inara probably affected her, as well as wanting to impress Simon, I guess, and it wasn't a thing that was pointed out with bright lights and shouted at. It was just there. Along with that cutie teddy-bear that's sewn on her work clothes.
I liked it that when Mal told everybody to go to rest a bit, and most of the crew members went to bed, Kaylee went to the engine room. And not to her hammock, as well - she was fiddling with instruments when she first heard Early. It was her place for relaxation.
It also rang true that she thought that the noise she was hearing was River. She was still scared of what she saw in "War Stories", and she wasn't scared of any other member of the crew. I liked it that she reached to one of her tools as a weapon. And I loved the way she moved when she opened the locks on the doors - she was shaking with fear, she gave all she had in order to defy Early and help her ship and her crew, and it showed. Again, like in "War Stories" - it wasn't a "let's become heroes" from a storybook. It was the human fear and the human bravery of acting on something with that fear, despite it.
If you're too tired about me burbling about how much I love the relationship between Kaylee and Mal, then, well, too bad. I just love it. He listens to her immediately, even when it's not about mechanics stuff, when it's people stuff. He tried to calm her down when he saw she was nervous, to make her see that he likes her just the way she is, no difference, no matter which skills she may lack that others of the crew have, like the ability to shoot a human being. In a way, he probably even likes that difference in her.
And even in the situation in "War Stories", that they both know could have cost him his life (um, again), when the more practical thing to do was to convince her to learn to use a gun (and who is more practical than Mal?), he doesn't want her to change. If she's any different in order to protect the world they're trying to build, then part of that world is already missing and not being protected. If ever a big brother will be born to me, that's the kind of relationship that I'd want between us.
Finally we saw Simon relaxed in the presence of Kaylee! Able to share his past, and seemingly with no bitterness at that very second, at least none that I could see (River could). Able to make her laugh, out loud. Able to laugh at himself. Able to not be completely closed off by remarks and hints, to continue to carry out the conversation without distancing himself from her and her smiles and her presence and her liking him. It seemed like such a lovely moment, for the both of them.
And that was how come I practically jumped at my seat when he stared at River and so coldly said that thing that could hurt her the most - that had it not been for her, he would have been able to run his rich meaningful climbing-up doctor's successful life. And Kaylee's serious and distanced expression when he said that - as if River wasn't even there, Kaylee had all her attention focused on Simon. And it took me the cut to the next shot of the both of them still laughing and comfortable to realize that it didn't happen, that Simon didn't really say that. That it was all in River's head. That this was the way she saw things.
And I can't help but wonder, especially when it comes to Simon, whom she knows best and the one who lost the most in saving her and continuing to protect her, if she didn't paint the truth with a bit of guilt. Not that Simon doesn't feel these things, mind you! I don't think that, being human (yeah, a fictional human character, I know that), he can avoid emotions such as these - missing his bright future that was now lost to him, the pleasant safe past, where his talents were the best the world could hope to get and he was in his right element, at home, doing the best thing he could do and promising himself as much as a person seems to be able to promise in the universe of the show. He wouldn't have been human, had he not missed all those good things.
And still, at least from "Safe" forward, it seems like he is not just regretting leaving his past behind. He does dislike his plenty of elements in his present life, no mistakes there, and he's not hesitating to make these emotions explicitly known, even in the price of hurting Kaylee's feelings every now and then (and what I like about him not trying to hide it, as I've already mentioned, is that it's the not-heroic character-in-a-story thing to do, which is so much like the whole air of the entire show). But he starts to find good aspects in his current life, as well. And I don't just mean Kaylee and how sweet she is, though that is a big factor.
For example, and again I go back to "Safe", which showed it best with its flashbacks and the difference between Simon and the Alliance doctors who refused to treat Book (see, I can reference other episodes, not just my beloved "Out of Gas"! How very grown-up of me), he was different in his commitment to medicine from anybody else around him, from early on. So, in a way, the straight-forward way of living on the edges of the law, is right for him. It's not that he doesn't regret all he had to miss, it's just that he is able to see, despite that, the right-for-him things that come up in his current way of life. And he would have never made any other choice, not ever. And he most certainly does not blame River for what happened. The Alliance, yes, definitely. But not River. And still, that's the way she sees it, poor girl.
Still, he sees River as a girl, who needs his protection, as a kid. He tells Mal that this is all River is - or all she wants to be. And he's trying to help her get back to being that. But she's not just a kid. And not only due to her abilities. She's a woman, or on the verge of womanhood, even if her brother has a hard time seeing that.
He couldn't just straight-through follow her plan, the way Mal did, for example. He had to jump on Early - which got him shot, and no other good to anyone. And it makes sense - even though he is the one who knows better than any of them how brilliant River is, he's the one who can't help but see her as the little sister who needs his protection, never the other way around. It's there in every relationship between an older and a younger sibling, to some extent, I guess. But here it's more than that - she really did need him to rescue her once. It seems like it's hard to leave that role behind.
He did grow - he is not directing his anger towards Kaylee anymore, as he did in the past. Even though she brought up the accusations against River, he is able to make a distinction between the messenger and the message, and to connect Kaylee back to River, through her most favorite subject - "Serenity".
Oh, and I couldn't make up my mind about whether he would have finally kissed Kaylee, had book not disturbed them, unknowingly broken the connection between them (objects in space, again). She would have probably kissed him. I'm not completely sure that he would have kissed her back, or even if he would, that it would have been for the right reasons, and not due to "not to hurt her". Maybe. Hopefully.
And I loved his dry responses to Early. His backbone, standing straight in front of a man who could kill him just as easily as blinking, answering back, inserting that dry humor whenever he could, even if only to show that his spirit wasn't broken, while doing what Early ordered him to. So, yeah, his jump at him was a lack of trust in River's plan - but it was also a very brave thing to do, painful too.
I love the relationship between Book and Jayne. They're actually buddies, connecting to each other without any sort of judgment, bridging the huge gaps that exist between their inner worlds and the ways they lead their lives through humor and sharing what they can (a meal, working out together).
I jumped again when Jayne looked straight at River and talked about his betrayal of her and Simon.
[Edit: more "..."]
It wasn't as surprising as Simon's change of pace, but it was just so very different from the laughter and the friendship and the conversation that was going on around there.
And it seemed to be, again, not the current thought in the mind of the person River was looking at, but rather, the thing that follows them the most, that is most on their minds, even if not consciously, even if not at the foreground, but still running endlessly in the background, not forgotten, not solved, not figured out, all the way through. And with Jayne, that seems to be the thing that most affected him, lately. What he did, what drove him to it, Mal's reactions, the attempts to make peace with the crew, that didn't even know they were betrayed, Simon's discovery and treatment of that secret. All that, in one sentence of explanation - "I got stupid. The money was too good". Such a Jayne way to explain things.
And later, with Mal - he didn't try to think ahead about a solution, just to prove that it wasn't his fault. He even didn't think ahead enough that when he mentioned that it was unconnected to him, that it was River who was the problematic, he didn't realize it would bring up his betrayal, Mal's discovery of it and the hard conversation that followed between them. And even when Mal brought it up, and it was quite clear that Jayne is, in a way, bothered by that, just like River just saw, he kept returning to what he saw as the subject - that this time it wasn't his fault. And again when the crew discussed River's condition, he kept returning to her attacking his shirt with a knife. He sees everything through such Jayne-centric-filtered glasses, that he should be reminded of everybody else, even if they are indeed important to him, like Mal.
And the best part is, he's still a very likable character. I have no idea how to separate writing from acting from directing from anything else, I'm not even sure I can define each of them, so all I'm going to say is that I really like that actor who portrays Jayne. I actually believe him (that's the one thing I know to tell about acting), and still like the character. When the one thing that seems to worry him about River (other than the attack-with-a knife) is that she may be able to read his mind and he wouldn't be able to keep his secrets from her. When he's continuing to sleep throughout everything, half-waking up for a second to wrap his weapons-cover around him? That's exactly what I'd expect him to do.
But the one whose "background thoughts" genuinely startled me was Book. He is so calm and serene and friendly to everybody and has that rich warm voice and that great welcoming-you-to-join laughter, and suddenly he's downright scary. And the transformation was so sharp, so immediate, and he was so completely tough and lacking a single drop of empathy and straight out cruel. Practically the opposite, in every way, of who he is, who he has been all throughout the entire show.
And, yes, there were hints dropped about his past - his ID card that the Alliance soldiers respected to much in "Safe", his confidence in front of the cops in "The Message", his proficiency with weapons and fighting, his constant alertness, noticing all the little alarming things that are happening around the ship and the crew nearly as quickly as Mal does, sometimes even before him. But nothing, until now, hinted at him being any less of a good man in his past, than in his present. Not directly.
Mal refused to believe he may be "Alliance", that he, a "good guy", a member of his crew, was once a "bad guy". But what other way is there to interpret his words? He said "I don't give half a hump if you're innocent or not", and in his tone it was possible to hear how much he really didn't care, and it was the very same warm and rich voice, the same man who held Kaylee's hand when she was wounded in the pilot and joked with Zoe when he was, later on. And it was completely believable. It was Book who was being so cruel and emotionless, and it wasn't, and no wonder that poor River is walking around like that, always surprised and startled by things, if that's the kind of air she "reads" from people all the time.
I loved the sound of waves that washed all over River with her glimpse onto the bridge, where Wash and Zoe were sitting. It got stronger, than weaker, and she sort of hugged herself a bit, as if to contain the sound, the strength of the waves, or the emotions that it made her feel. It just described that surge of emotion so vividly.
And I thought it was lovely, that Wash's and Zoe's strongest on-the-surface-or-below-it emotions and thoughts, were about each other. Even if they weren't kissing right at that moment, that was the emotion that River read from them. Like in "War Stories", where Wash was Zoe's choice to save. Like in "Out of Gas", where Wash had to be dragged from Zoe's bedside by Mal's sheer force of will in order to do his job. They are each other's first priority, and the rest, as full and layered with history and duty and emotion, comes later.
Inara is a complete mystery, now. I thought at first, up until "Out of Gas", that at least some of her motives are clear, but now, and especially after "Heart of Gold", I have no idea. What can one make out of her "I'm a big girl. Just tell me"? That she expects something terrible to happen, and is worried that it will be hidden from her? Who is the person who is supposed to tell her, and what, and why do/did they try to hide things from her? And how is all that connected to her leaving all her life behind, but not entirely, and going on board "Serenity"? And how does it connect to her harsh refusal to have any sorts of human emotional connections? And how many more questions can I ask about this one short sentence, so full of sadness and determination and power and fear?
[Edit: I warned you]
I liked the way Inara stood in the back through most of the crew's discussion about River. She was there, she listened, but she didn't take part. It was as if she was deliberately trying to distance herself away from the rest of the crew, to not be connected to them (objects in space. Once again). And still, can't resist. She only interfered in the conversation when it seemed to be turning into a joking-insults contest between Jayne and Wash, to make sure they all remember the seriousness of the topic.
Early talked to her straight out. He didn't need to convince her that he's capable of killing everybody, he immediately knew that she knew that about him, that she "read" him, in her way, as well. And I guess her last line to him was her trying to use Companions techniques on him, relaxing him, trying to change his focus. And he probably knew that, because that was when he hit her.
Was that the first time we saw somebody treating Inara in such an open straight-out violence? As far as I can remember, that's the first time I saw her bleeding, hurt physically in any way. Maybe that was why the effect of that single blow, after Early hitting so many other crew members, was harsh on me - it wasn't expected, not by the way she was treated all along, not by the way he treated her a minute ago. I guess that was why he did that.
And my heart went out to Mal, lost holding-to-what-he-can Mal, with his "None of it means a damn thing". Just like in (say it with me) "Out of Gas", where the one thing that he had was that world he tried to build himself, despite everything, despite every other single thing in the universe trying to stop him along the way. And after seeing Nandi die, in a way his reflection, the most predictable end for his own life, so meaningless and could so easily be spared. Losing his cause, his faith, everything that can underline anything else with meaning.
It's just like in Angel's "Epiphany" - "when nothing that yo do matters, all that matters is what you do" - none of this means a (damn, OK) thing. And that may be sad and make you feel deserted and all alone and left to look for a way in the dark (an object in space. Sorry, I couldn't help myself). But - and this is exactly what Mal did, and still does, and this is what "Out of Gas" was all about, for me - he didn't stop there. Yeah, it doesn't mean a thing. Well, let's make something that does, that will mean something because it's being done by us. So the pain of the loss may be still very burning and strong inside (he did name his ship after that battle that keeps haunting him, after all, the future is named after the worst part of the past, and you can't ever let go of it), and he's trying to hide it with humor and bad temper and bossing around. And with what he does - with this "keep flying" of his.
Yup, and I'm still a sap, for those who have not tuned it for the last few paragraphs.
Oh, and if I'm there anyway: I loved the shot, right after the big discussion about whether River was dangerous or not, after he sent everybody to rest. He just sat near the table in the common room, all alone. The decision had to be his, the safety of the ship and crew was on his shoulders alone and they all trusted him to give them the answer that would keep them alive. And he sat and thought about it alone, at the bottom line, for them but alone.
I loved the way he trusted River immediately. She said that she needs him to trust her - he was locked in his room after a man infiltrated his ship and he had no idea how, he was beaten by him quickly and rather easily, and all that was after he was wondering if she was a threat to his crew and ship. But all it took was her offhand remark that he shouldn't make a face, after he just did indeed make one, to convince him that she really does know what she's talking about. And he did what she asked him.
He started asking a question, to wonder how River reacted her conclusion, but when she told him that he had to go, at that moment, he stopped the question in the middle and just went to do what she asked. And that's Mal, short-tempered, I'm-the-boss captain. And he completely gave her his trust. The strange man was wondering inside his beloved ship, and instead of attacking him straight on, the way Zoe planned to, he left "Serenity" and went on top of it, to wait, in full trust that River will be able to play her part and lure Early out unsuspecting.
Did I mention lately how much I love the character of Mal?
And then he reached out to her. Her connection when she returned to "Serenity" was with him. And he understood - he talked to her, he joked with her, he gave her that brotherly caring look. He didn't pretend, not for a minute, that he understands her, that there's nothing wrong with her. He even told her that outfront. But he reached his hands to her and he invited her back inside his beloved ship, into his world, the one she detached herself from a moment ago, the one he was wondering if she was going to hurt. Oh, of course I melted, what do you think? By the time they were joking about Simon, I was a little puddle of sap in front of the screen.
There's a line in one of the "Narnia" books, explaining how come one of the characters (Lucy) responded slower to something than the other characters who underwent the same experience - she simply had things sink in deeper inside her, took them in more meaningfully than the others. I love that line, I love that ability to really be immersed in an experience, to really feel all the range of emotions and possibilities that appear in, well, whatever one may encounter.
And I remembered that line when River went down that stair, early on this episode. That was all she did - went down a stair, one that she probably used a million times before, a simple metal stair, probably just like dozens more around the ship.
[Edit: I should have warned myself]
But she took that stair so fully, so completely, so immersed in that movement, in the sensation of the metal under her feet, in the leaving of the doorway and getting inside the common room - as if it was the most important thing she could do at that moment, giving it full attention and just so fully experiencing it. It was like I never took a stair before, seeing how deeply concentrated River was in taking that single little one. She can't make herself not feel, just like Simon said in "Ariel", and therefore even just the simplest, most mundane everyday pass from room to room, becomes as meaningful and attention-worthy as, I don't know, a complicated dance.
I loved the way River touched the walls as she was walking around "Serenity", at the beginning of the episode. She felt it, all the way through, with all the senses she could enlist for that. And still, all she did was just walking a bit around. She takes things in so completely. It reminded me of the way Mal patted the various parts of "Serenity" when he was walking inside it in "Out of Gas". Only, from him, that deep connection wasn't surprising, even in the everyday, seeing how important the ship is to him. So with River, it shows not only her deep connection to the ship (even before she ever claims to merge with it), but also the way she takes things, senses them, feels them.
I don't really remember, but I think this is the first time I've seen River barefoot - I remember that she had these funny little shoes-of-fabric in the examination room in "Ariel", but other than that, she was always walking around in her boots. Now, I loved that about her - it was such a strong contrast to her so very gentle and fragile form and manner, to her very flappy and airy and distinctively girly clothes, sometimes looking even childish. Boots always seem like the most grounded-to-earth, meant for not only walking, but stomping, sometimes even with a military connection.
And that so very beautiful shot (I think that's the right word), of River stepping on that dry branch after "reading" everybody's thoughts. And the first thought that jumped to my mind was a question - what is a dry branch doing inside the ship? There are no plants there, definitely not anything that is just lying around and not packed somewhere. However, it was after she saw, through the inside, each and every crew member. So in a way, I was somewhat ready for something else that wasn't ordinary to happen. It was like we already started taking a trip inside the world wearing River-glasses, so I was more willing to accept seeing things in a way that is more their meaning, and not just their outer shell, the way they look.
It all looked so much like a dance - River stepping on that branch, that little noise, her slow and careful and flowing step back with the bare foot that stepped on the branch, and then her bending down to look at it - just her head, her legs still straight, her hair falling freely next to it. She was all in it. Focusing on the one branch.
And then the whole cargo bay was full of branches and leaves, and it was completely from-River's-way-of-seeing-things point-of-view. And it was beautiful. The colors, the way the growing-things were so unexpected there, but still coveting everything, with the lonely little girl in the midst of it all. And, you know what? I don't know to explain "pretty" in words. But this is what it was. On top of the surprising and the "oh, this is what she sees?" aspects.
And she tried to explain the way she sees things - "It's just an object. It doesn't mean what you think" - the meaning of something is the meaning you give it. Other than that, it's just matter, no substance. And then when we realize that what she's holding, what she saw as a branch - and a brown dying one, poor little girl - is actually a gun, that she took in her hand a tool of killing and destruction and it was not that meaning of itself in her hands, it was completely different, she saw in it a completely different thing, she transformed it, by the meaning she gave it, into something of the world of the living and growing and something that is missing on the ship.
I didn't even notice, until we saw that it was actually a gun River was holding, that she held the branch in the exact same way that one would hold a gun. Again, the meaning of something, in this case, a movement, comes from its connection, and is completely different when it's a gun that can kill with a pull of the trigger, and then it's an innocent branch. And she tried to explain that it wasn't a killing machine she was holding, that she knew what it was and what she can do with it and what she chose to do with it - that "it doesn't mean what you think". But who can listen when a gun is pointed at them?
And then there's suddenly noise and running around and everybody's there, and it's a completely different place than it was a second ago, and we're no longer in the-way-River-gets-things, we're in our mundane way of seeing things, and just like the sharp transfer from "no sound in space" to the inside of the ship or to the atmosphere, it's a whole different thing, there, as well.
I don't know English well enough to tell what's the subtle difference between "understand" and "comprehend". I do know enough English to tell that Mal was talking, in front of River, about her, to another person, to Simon. And River answered, even though he didn't look at her (and Simon couldn't really tell the answer), and she tried to communicate something. I'm just not sure what. That she understands things at a different way than others? That the meaning she puts into things is different? And that's why she used two similar words, but contradicted them? I don't know.
I loved, just loved, the way River balanced herself on that railing of the passage on the floor beneath the one in which everybody else sat and talked.
[Edit: I'm nuts]
First, we got to go down (through "Serenity") to see that she's listening, concentrated, focused. Only later we saw more than her head, and the strange, unexpected, nearly impossible, way in which she balanced herself on the metal lines that were there.
I can't think of anybody who would balance themselves that way. Most people will climb on the railing or lean on it or at least not have their backs so straight and in such an angle with their legs. It's another one of those different connections that she makes, her way of seeing things differently than anybody else, making them be what she sees in them, and not the other way around. Also, just like the branches and the leaves, on top of the unexpected, it was just plain pretty. Again, a sort of dance, but without any movement at all, and that's another thing I didn't know was possible.
She broke my hear with her description of herself becoming one with the ship. So much of the previous scenes was about looking for her, and her absence. And it stood out, especially after so many of the former scenes being things seen more-in-her-way. And we didn't get to see her again all at once. We got a voice. And a heart-breaking description of how she wasn't wanted on the ship (which was true) and how she can't leave (also true).
I could nearly-believe that River did indeed melt with "Serenity" in some strange way. Only "nearly", though, because all the way through I kept thinking that this show is about the "everyday", not the "superpower", like "Buffy" was, and therefore having a character with a super-natural ability may contradict its basic premise. Of course, in terms of the result, River might as well could have telepathic abilities, but I still think that the source is different.
She talked to Kaylee, despite knowing how Kaylee were afraid of her. And she managed to convince her to do what Kaylee herself couldn't bring herself to do - cut the ropes, resist Early, in a way. Kaylee, on her own, couldn't master the strength. It was the connection with River - with just her voice! - the words, the emotions she was able to wake in her - that made her strong enough to try. And River was able to form that connection - that girl who seemed like she wasn't entirely living in the world.
And when her laughter was carried around the ship, twice - I could nearly believe that she was indeed there, all there, in everywhere. That instead of an object in space, it became an object that fills out all the spaces.
Oh, and to jump over my broken heart (and that was the point that I couldn't stop my tears anymore), came her surrender to Early. It was part of her plan, of the trick she played on him, yeah - but, like in "Trash", through the lie came out shining the deepest truth. She was aware of her situation, of how different she is from the way she used to be, to everybody's sacrifice in keeping her on the ship, to the dangers and difficulties she is to them. She may seem detached, but she knows it all. And it breaks her heart, as well. And she said it to the ship's communication system, so that everybody could hear (other than, well, the sleeping Jayne). So that they'll know that she is indeed aware of that.
She was on a completely different ship, she used technology to have her voice carried to them, it was a part of a plot to save their lives - and under all those covers and things that usually make a distance larger, she made what was probably the most honest and straight and penetrating connection (that word again) with them, than she ever did before.
And the twisted mirror that Early was to her - having similar abilities, but all pointed towards the cruel and the deadly - having a "not her" that is more of her than any of them, was, in a way, a means for them to see how special and, well, good she actually is. Made them realize. Connect to her, not to what they feared she may be. Am I making any sense?
Just like (is it getting too much, the number of times I'm mentioning it?) "Out of Gas", it was a science-fiction story about the people. It had a situation that couldn't happen in our world, but illustrated so well something that I think many of us, if not all of us, feel from time to time. How we may end up as a burden to our loved ones, how we can't communicate with them. How we sometimes need to get out and loot at things from the outside in order to see their meaning. To be outside of something, an object in space, in order to see the connections clearer. In order to form the bonds.
And in this episode, when we first get a glimpse of things from her point of view, where she first relates to the ship, connected to it (and I don't mean it in the straightforward "I'm the ship" sense), she walks around it in bare feet. Her feet touch directly the grids and floors of the ship, she feels fully everything she steps on, she really takes it in and experiences it without any barriers. Which is, I think, the way she grasps everything that goes on around her, everybody who is around her - it's like there's no barrier between her and what she's in. It's like Simon said in "Ariel" - she can't not feel everything, there's no way for her to distance things from her. She walks around the world with bare, um, emotional, not feet, but maybe nerve-ends? And she absorbs it all in and she has no way to put socks or shoes on.
And that's strange, a sort of contradiction, even - she's the one that can't stop anything from reaching straight to her, she's the one to whom nothing can be an isolated object in space, everything is connected to the explanations and the secrets and the pasts of the people, and yet she is the one who, more than anybody we've seen on the show, is distanced and alone.
[Edit: what as I thinking?]
Other than Simon, who is pretty much connected more to the person she used to be before going to the academy, to the girl he used to know, and less to the young woman she is now, and to Kaylee, with whom she managed to create a very short bond of friendship, which was broken by the actions of River herself, the others are at distance from her. They may not throw her out, give Simon all the opportunities to try and cure her, protect her from trouble and come to her rescue, but they have no connection to her, to the person that she is, to her her, is I'm making any sense. It could be any other helpless young girl, related to their doctor, to whom they're bound, and they'd respond the same. The true essence of her, for practically everybody, is just as well an isolated object in space, it's so not-there for them.
So, other than Kaylee in "War Stories", for that brief moment, who connected to River as River, to the person she is now, as broken and patched and in pain as she is, this episode was the first time in which River, the person, the actual character inside the character, connects to the rest of the crew, connects to the ship. And not only she relates to them, it's going on both sides - they relate to her, as well. To her as River, not to her as the person who may cause damage (like in the beginning of the episode) or the person who needs protection (Simon was the last to recover from that, I think).
And that's what was so lovely in the scene between Mal and River on top of "Serenity". After he listened to her, after he accepted her plan and followed it and it worked, he reaches out his hands to her. She leaves Early's ship behind, she's not connected to anything at all, floating in space, not touching anything, but that's the moment that the warmest connection she ever had with Mal is formed. She has that bright joyous smile I just mentioned before, and through all the emptiness and blackness of space, from that other ship in the way that is never thought as any usual way to connect things, she floats to Mal's arms.
And he talks to her. Not around her, not in the third person like he did at the beginning of the episode, with the gun. Straight to her. And it's not just in words. And I'm the sappiest sap in the world and I should add sugar-quantities warnings stamped on my posts because of that. It all reminds me, and I find it a bit confusing to articulate why - of that sentence (that I loved) from Angel's Epiphany from the second season of AtS (that I loved), that (and I'm paraphrasing) if nothing that you do matters, the only thing that matters is what you do. It's the meaning that you pour inside your actions that is important. No, more than that - the meaning of one's actions come from them, not from the outside. I loved that sentence from the first moment Angel said it, and I agree with it so very much. And the funny thing is, I agree with it from a believing-in-G*d (there must be a better way to say this) point of view.
The simplest way to look at this sentence is in "there is no greater plan, no writer who decides who does what, no greater plan like in the hugest most complicated chess-game possible, in which each move by each player has calculated results to the situation of the other players". And then all that is left is the meaning you put into something yourself.
The way I come to this sentence is different - I don't think that nothing that I do matters, I don't think that there isn't any difference caused by my actions. However, this difference may be only to me. I can't change the situation of the world, it's going to continue to have bad things in it, as simple and as childish as those words may seem. I'm not going to make much difference, in the grand 6-billion-people way of seeing things. However, it matters. I believe in G*d, and in fact I have a very deep and meaningful relationship with he/she/it/them/whatever. I'm also a practicing Orthodox Jew, so I follow the Jewish 'halakha' as best I can. And I do believe that these actions have meaning. Also, I'm pretty sure I failed miserably in trying to explain myself here.
As far as I understand it, though, Joss is an atheist, so I find it even more interesting, that watching an episode of his (both writing and directing) made me think about things I do as part of me being not only a believing-in-a-deity person, but also actually practicing a religion, and one with lots of orders and things-to-follow, to boot. I mean, there are plenty of things that I do on a regular basis, that out of the context of being a part of me being a practicing Orthodox Jew, look positively silly, let alone meaningless. Not just to people from the outside, who don't believe in G*d, or that G*d actually cares about what one person does in the tiny-little-action scheme of things, but even to, well, me.
If I take a step back from me and look at what I'm doing, on certain moments, it seems like a series of meaningless acts, like moves in a dance, only not so pretty, and definitely without rhythm. But because I do have that faith, and because no action, as irrelevant as it may seem, which follows any halakha, as 'small' as it may seem, doesn't stand on its own, doesn't exist without the connection of it to the larger picture, to the faith and to me trying to lead my life in the best way I hope I can find according to that faith, each movement suddenly gets meaning.
So, standalone, they are objects in space. Maybe not downright meaningless, but whatever 'aloneness' meaning they may have, it begins and ends with that, and that's all there is (I know that 'aloneness' isn't a word, but I couldn't talk about an action being 'lonely' - that description requires an emotion attached to it, IMHO).
[Edit: and, of course, these last few paragraphs can re-define "off topic"]
The actual meaning of many of those things - the order in which I wash my hands before I eat bread, the not-switching of the light-switch during the day of sabbath - is not in the action itself, it's in its connection to all that's behind it, causing it and keeping it there, in a way. It's because of its connection to the meaning behind that movement, and the connection to that meaning to the whole world of Judaism and its principles, and the connection of that to my own personal relationship with G*d, and through that, with, well, me, and that me that I'm trying to be, that the not-click-on-the-switch gets its meaning. And that meaning can be as deep and as important as, well, anything.
Many people who stop practicing Judaism say that the first time to click on a light switch on a Saturday, to put in their mouth a non-kosher food, to eat in a day of fasting (all of these are actions that are strictly in the realm of relationship between a person and G*d, they don't affect any other person, they can't hurt people's feelings or be untruthful or anything like it) - in those first times, they often describe it as if they're expecting a lightning to come and hit them from the sky, or a large booming voice to scold them from above or something. And it's only in hitting a light switch, an action that they do each and every day without ever thinking about it at all, and still, the connection, the meaning all around it, makes it seem different, makes it get meaning of its own.
And, in a way, me getting to babble about all these connected to religious-stuff things, proves my point. I got that meaning from a 42-minutes episode of a TV show. It's all moving colors and voices and pictures, nothing more. Yet it made thoughts gush in my brain for so long now, on so many different things, some of which - as far as I know - are pretty completely meaningless for the creator behind those 42 minutes, behind that show. I watch the pictures-and-voices, and I can't watch it as an object in space, I have to watch in with connection to who I am, what I believe in, whom I'm trying to be. I can't not do it - these are the glasses that I wear on my brain, so to speak (also, ick, scary visual place). I have no way to experience things, but through those lenses which are, well, me and my personality and experience.
And therefore, whatever pictures-and-voices are happily playing on my computer screen, are getting their meaning, how I feel and think about them, from the connections to that me, with the thoughts and the feelings. I can't watch a TV episode without any context, without me being me and not anybody else affecting the way I feel and think about it. It's not an object in space. Especially when it makes me think so much that I feel my head spin, it's ingrained in that me whose head is spinning. OK, now just typing this sentence made me spin, I think I'm overdoing it.
Hmm. There should be a way to measure how far from topic a person can actually get. I think I may give that measurement technique a good run, with not-surprisingly high numbers.
Tralala list: Kaylee nudging Simon's face with her foot - such a familiar, comfortable gesture. River turning, of all people, to Kaylee when she was holding the gun - she who was with her the last time she held that kind of thing. Mal talking to Simon completely as River's brother, not as a doctor, and therefore surprised by his jargon-filled response. The picture in Early's ship, taped to the dashboard - later River talked about his mom and a dog, but that picture was there all along. Wash noticing that something is wrong, but being distracted by the conversation. Wash and Zoe holding hands, after the mentioning of the kidnapping by Niska, through the following discussion. Book interfering on behalf on River (saying she saved Kaylee's life). Zoe being the first to realize what Mal was getting at, when he described River's ability. Book being the first one to agree with him. And then both Zoe and Book thinking together like soldiers. Mal turning off the light as he leaves the room - the "everyday" thing to do. The single tear that rolls on Kaylee's cheek when Early forces her to say that she's alone. Early repeating the question "That seems right to you?". Early licking the metal rod (as opposed to River's gentle pet of the ship). Jayne's display of guns at his bedside. River's laughter at the communication system on "Serenity". Early calling River by her name, and then calling her Serenity, just to be sure. Zoe's expression when she was Simon's doctor. The gentle touch-and-go between Mal and Inara, when he wanted to know how her hurt lip was, so intimate.
I thought something about the "no sound in space" aspect, of the whole show, and then I realized that I've already had that thought in the past. It was, yes, you got it, in "Out of Gas". I'm copying and pasting from there: "It illuminated how that life-or-death situation in that little ship and that group of people, the thing that meant so much for them, looks small and unmeaningful to the outside world. How the meaning of things is what you give to them from the inside, not what they look (and not-sound) from the outside. It was like the complete opposite of River's gorgeous wondering smile when they were on top of Serenity in "Bushwhacked" (also in complete silence from the outside), but both other-sides-of-coin seem similar to me. I don't think I can dig my way out of this words hole I put myself into - I don't seem to manage to word that part yet. I'll just say for now that I loved the cuts between the inside and the silent outside, and try to explain this later."
And, well, this is later, and I still can't phrase it better, because this was exactly what I thought during this episode, as well.
[Edit: just one more. No, really!]
They both made me react so similarly. "Out of Gas" with the emotional meaning for things, with the relationships with the people around us and with ourselves giving meaning to the inanimate objects. And "Objects in Space" in the more, I don't know, intellectual aspects of that meaning? I can't explain this well, but it's like the y complete each other, for me.
And then, when River and Kaylee were playing, at the very end, and the ball they used for the game suddenly looked just like that planet - things are the meaning that you give them - I had tears in my eyes, it was just so beautiful and rich and almost sparkling with meaning. And I know that the actress of River is a dancer (I've seen her on AtS), but in that shot of the ball, holding it gently in her hands and focusing on it - it looked as if her palm, her fingers, were dancing. Very delicately, no big movements and grand gestures, but dancing. Breathtaking. And when the picture zoomed out and we were looking at the ship from the outside - did I mention the tears? I don't have words for these things. It's like the place the words end.
- Nilly - Aug 10, 2004