Silence in Space

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First aired: The Signal: Season 8, Episode 5
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton
Edited by Helen Eaton

The story of Shindig is all about fitting in. Throughout the episode, characters try to fit into worlds other than their own, with varying degrees of success. Mal and Inara come to realise that while they don’t fit well into each other’s worlds, they are also to some extent outsiders in their own worlds, and Serenity is the one place where they both fit in. Knowing that this theme runs through Shindig, I was primed to notice the visual information relating to fitting in and standing out, as I watched the episode without sound. And what struck me was just how clearly and effectively this theme is expressed in what we see.

The episode starts in a dark and smoky pool hall, where Jayne and, to a lesser extent, Mal, look very much at home. Inara is also there and couldn’t look more out of place. She is, as ever, elegantly dressed, and wearing red, which stands out in contrast to the dark and earthy colours of all those around her. Even her drink stands out, as it is pink, and in a small, fancy glass. Meanwhile Jayne drinks out of what appears to be a bowl, which is far more in keeping with the surroundings.

And then, of course, a fight breaks out. Perhaps Mal does not fit into his world as well as he first appears to. The fight in the pool hall and the duel on Persephone at the end of the episode are, like many aspects of the episode, in stark contrast. The pool hall fight involves improvised weapons and no rules, whereas the duel involves swords and a very clear set of rules. By the end of the duel though, Mal has realised that following the rules clearly doesn’t work for him and has reverted to his own no-rules approach to fighting, to great effect.

Returning to the start of the episode, the first scene on Persephone, which takes place outside the dress shop, is something of a visual feast. As well as the dresses on display in the shop windows, there are numerous fascinating costumes to be seen in the background, modelled by the passers by. Clearly, on Persephone, when it comes to fashion, anything goes. One character whose dress sense deserves particular mention is, of course, Badger. He arrives on the scene wearing his very fine hat and clothes which he seems to hope will help him with his businessman image, but in fact simply mark him out as someone who is trying (and failing) to be better than those around him and move up into a world where he does not fit.

As Mal and Jayne talk to Badger, they are served dainty sandwiches and tea in proper tea cups. Admittedly, the tea has wood alcohol in it, but as far as appearances go, Badger is clearly making an effort to rise above his station. He is, however, equally clearly failing in these attempts, as this is why he needs to use Mal to deal with Sir Warwick Harrow in the first place. Mal may be the main character having troubles fitting in during this episode, but Badger has his own troubles in this area too.

And then we come to the ball. In the whirl of fancy costumes on display, Inara and Atherton stand out somewhat as their costumes are more neutral in colour and subtle in their elegance, compared to the more brightly coloured and flashy outfits of those around them. In this way, Inara and Atherton also match each other very well and as they dance together, they look at home both with each other and with their surroundings.

We cut from the ball to Kaylee in the engine room and here we see another character very much in her element and fitting in with her surroundings. But then Kaylee gets her chance to experience another world, as she goes to the ball and wears the dress she had so longingly looked at earlier in the episode. For all its ruffles, Kaylee’s dress does not exactly fit in with the other dresses worn at the ball. Her dress is demurely buttoned up to the neck, for example, whereas the other dresses have lower necklines. Kaylee’s dress is also one of the few on display which does not involve some form of shiny or sparkly material. And in terms of its colours, the dress looks very child-like in comparison with the grown-up colours of the other dresses. Kaylee wears her hair mostly down, with a ribbon in it, whereas the other women wear their hair up and show off their fancy jewellery. In many ways then, Kaylee does not fit in, but from the look of sheer joy on her face, it is clear that she doesn’t realise it at first. When her dress is criticised by one of the other attendees, her face falls, but she soon cheers up when she finds more interesting people to talk to.

In contrast to Kaylee, Mal does not look very comfortable at the ball, partly because of the tightness of a certain part of his outfit, but also because he seems to know that it is not his kind of a party. He does make an effort to fit in though, and dances very creditably with Inara, despite a couple of false moves. As he realises he has inadvertently challenged Atherton to a fight, Mal seems to look more at home with the situation, until he realises exactly what kind of a fight, that is.

Having started the episode with Mal’s idea of a fight, we approach the end of the story by seeing what is initially a very different confrontation, but soon develops into the kind of fight Mal understands. This development, and the fact that he has been very much humiliated and beaten, reveals Atherton’s true colours and the look on his face suggests the gentlemanly charm we saw earlier in the episode was not the whole story of his character.

After all the excitement of the ball and the duel, the episode ends back on Serenity, with life returning to normal. Kaylee’s transformation from belle of the ball to a mechanic with a smudged face is a gradual one. As the crew waits for news of Mal, she has changed out of the dress, but still has her hair bow and make-up. By the end of the episode, she is completely back to her normal look, but she still has the dress to admire, and to remind her of her enjoyable, if brief, sojourn in another world.

Meanwhile, Mal and Inara sit side by side on Serenity, drinking fresh wine out of mismatched cups. They are likewise not particularly well matched, as they come from very different worlds. But in another sense they both don’t fit into these different worlds entirely, and seem most at home on Serenity, and perhaps with each other, as the looks which pass between them suggest.

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