Silence in Space

First episodePrevious episodeUpNext episodeLast episode


First aired: The Signal: Season 8, Episode 6
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Anna Snyder
Edited by Paul Korswagen

This is now the fifth article in the Silence in Space series and I’m beginning to realise that watching episodes of Firefly without any sound often serves to focus the mind on the contrasts between events within a particular episode. I had expected that watching Firefly without the distraction of the audio would allow me to pick up on visual details I had previously missed, such as interesting items of set dressing. I certainly have noticed these kinds of things, but I have been far more struck by the contrasts between characters or scenes, which I had either not noticed at all before, or not appreciated in as much depth.

The episode Safe is a prime example of this. I had been very much aware before of the contrasts drawn between Simon and River’s father and Mal, but had not paid much attention to the contrasts evident between young Simon and River in the flashback scenes and their present-day selves. In terms of clothes, young Simon and present-day Simon are very similar. Both have dark trousers, white shirts and waistcoats. Their hairstyles also match. This similarity serves to emphasise the contrast in River’s appearance. In the flashback, she wears what looks like a school uniform and is neat and bright-eyed. Her hair is partially tied back and plaited. In the present-day scene, River wears ragged, loose clothing and combat boots. She is wild-eyed and her hair is unkempt. Seeing the contrast so starkly presented helps me as a viewer to understand more what it is that Simon is fighting to restore when he tries to repair the damage the Alliance did to his sister.

In the Heart of Firefly article I wrote on Safe, I commented on how in the opening scenes, Simon and River’s childhood home is contrasted with their current home on Serenity. Watching these scenes without sound made me realise that this contrast is achieved solely by visual information. We do not need to know what is being said to notice how luxurious, rich and elegant the Tams’ house is, nor how functional, rough and mismatched Serenity is in comparison. Similarly, even if we don’t hear what Gabriel Tam or Mal say, we can see a clear contrast in how they appear visually at the end of their respective scenes. Gabriel Tam seems to be the model of a genial father, who responds to his children’s pleas by eventually giving in, while Mal remains unmoved when Simon appeals to him to understand his situation. This of course sets us up for the reversal later in the episode when we will see Simon’s father ultimately letting Simon and River down and Mal, their captain and to some extent replacement father figure, coming through for them in the end.

As well as being a tale of two fathers, Safe is a tale of two medical facilities, which is something I had failed to register properly before my most recent viewing of the episode. In an effort to save Book’s life, Mal seeks help from the medical facilities aboard an Alliance cruiser. As Serenity moves in to dock, we look down on the bridge from the point of view of the cruiser. Mal, Inara and Wash look up with the expressions of people expecting to be squashed underfoot. Despite their misgivings, the venture turns out to be successful, thanks to Book’s ident card.

Meanwhile Simon and River are taken to a very different kind “medical facility” at the hill settlement. The place is dark and run-down, and equipped only with the basics. It is clearly a far cry from the bright lights and fancy equipment of the Alliance cruiser’s infirmary. Despite this, it appears to be a more welcoming place, although it turns out to be just as sinister in the end, and just as likely to give a person an uncomfortableness, to use Jayne’s words.

The Alliance cruiser’s inimical stance is clear from the outset. Even before the soldiers set foot on Serenity, Mal has his hands up in anticipation. The hostility of the hill settlers takes a little longer to come to the surface, but is shown very clearly when River is about to be burned alive and none of the onlookers protests. As I watched the episode, these two moments raised the same question in my mind - what kind of ‘verse is this?The authorities - in the shape of the Alliance - are not welcoming or sympathetic to Mal and his crew, but neither is the average man on the street, as represented by the hill settlers.

As well as two contrasting father figures, and two very different medical facilities, Safe also has two rescues, or rather one attempted rescue and one gloriously successful rescue. In the flashback scenes we see Simon’s abortive attempts to rescue River, and his failure to even convince his parents that she needs rescuing. In the present-day timeline, Serenity and her crew of big damn heroes come to rescue Simon and River in the nick of time. The dialogue of the rescue scene is certainly very memorable, but even without it, the blaze of glory is clear.

Having started the episode with a domestic scene, we leave it on a similar note, with Simon and River joining the rest of Serenity’s occupants (minus Book) around the dining table for a meal. After surviving the hostility of the Alliance soldiers on one front and the hill settlers on another, all seems right with the world, and, at least for now, everyone is safe.

First episodePrevious episodeUpNext episodeLast episode


This is an archive of the Signal website. It is no longer actively maintained.