Silence in Space

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First aired: The Signal: Season 8, Episode 8
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Anna Snyder
Edited by Yi Weng

Jaynestown begins and ends with two characters in conversation about something which makes no sense to one of them. In the opening scene those two characters are Simon and Kaylee, who express differing views of the relationship between swearing and appropriateness. Simon does not seem to accept Kaylee’s contention that the whole point of swearing is that it is inappropriate. In the final scene, the two characters involved are Mal and Jayne, who have an altogether more serious conversation about the motivation behind the actions of the mudder who took a bullet for Jayne. Jayne cannot understand why someone would continue to see him as a hero after the very unheroic truth about his past actions has been revealed. The two scenes are visually quite similar, but also in a sense mirror images of each other. The opening scene begins with a wide shot showing Simon and Kaylee on opposite sides, literally, but also in terms of the sides they take in the discussion. As they continue to talk, we as viewers are drawn into the action with a series of over-the-shoulder shots. The reverse is true of the final scene, as we begin with some over-the-shoulder shots of Mal and Jayne and then draw back, finishing with a wide shot. It is as if after being granted access to the story of Serenity’s crew for a short while, we are gently backing away to let Mal and Jayne continue to ponder what has just happened in peace.

Jayne is of course the focus of much of Jaynestown, but it is interesting how Simon - in so many ways Jayne’s opposite - is also sometimes the centre of attention too, and, like Jayne, spends a lot of the episode having a very confusing time. Early on in the episode, a parallel between the two characters is made clear by the clothes they wear. Both arrive on Higgins’ Moon wearing slightly outlandish outfits. In Jayne’s case, this is because he is attempting to remain incognito, whereas in Simon’s case, this is presumably because his previous life in the core did not provide him with suitable clothing for visiting a mud factory. Regardless of the reasons for their odd attire, however, both characters achieve a similar effect, in that they clearly do not look at home in their surroundings. And both begin their time in Canton by pretending to be something they are not. Simon certainly looks the part of a buyer, even if his acting skills are somewhat lacking, and with his hunched posture, Jayne’s body language is far removed from what would befit the hero of Canton.

Of course it is not long before Jayne comes face to face, literally, with the heroic image which his previous exploits on Higgins’ Moon had created. For what is ultimately a very serious episode, there are some wonderful moments of visual humour as the characters react to Jayne’s statue. Simon is open-mouthed with his hand to his face, seemingly transfixed by the utter nonsense of seeing a statue dedicated to someone he regards as being like a trained ape… without the training. Meanwhile Wash gives a little shiver, as if to suggest the thought of Jayne as a hero freezes his blood a little. The reaction shots later when the mudders begin to sing The Ballad of Jayne are similarly amusing, and a neat visual summary of the theme of not making sense which runs through the episode.

As the episode progresses, things seem to be looking up for both Simon and Jayne. Simon begins to blend in just a little with his surroundings, thanks to the wonders of mudder’s milk. He does at least manage to take off his jacket and the drunker he gets, the better things seem to be going with Kaylee, until the morning after, that is, when he puts his foot in it again. After his identity is revealed, Jayne also begins to enjoy life in the mudders’ tavern and to look very much at home in the company of his adoring fans.

The change of scene from the tavern to Inara’s shuttle is a great example of how focussing on the visual information can bring to light the way different scenes are often compared and contrasted. Both scenes are lit by candlelight and involve drinking, but in the tavern, the candles are rough and functional, and the drinks are similar. In Inara’s shuttle, the candles are elegant and refined, and so is the drink on offer, namely, tea. Another contrast is that the tavern is underground, which perfectly matches the downtrodden status of the mudders, who are trapped in their lives, having been given “the shortest end of a stick ever been offered a human soul”, whereas Inara’s shuttle is her personal cocoon of luxury, which can transport her away from the difficulties of life on the ground.

The reality of those difficulties is soon brought home to Jayne, whose enjoyment of hero status does not last very long. As he begins his “Jayne Day” speech, Jayne could not look more different from how he looked when he arrived on Higgins’ Moon. He is no longer hunching over, but standing tall and sticking his chest out. He looks off to his right and, whether consciously or not, mimics both the stance and the look of his statue, which is behind him in the shot. But the arrival of Jayne’s former partner Stitch is the cue for all the posturing to end. There are tense looks all round as Jayne and Stitch face each other, waiting to see who will make the first move. The fight between the two men is short and brutal and ends with Jayne killing Stitch by bashing his head against the foot of his statue. It is almost as if Stitch has died as a sacrifice to the image of Jayne as a hero. The mudder who took a bullet for Jayne is another sacrifice, but this time a self-sacrifice, and one which very much supports the definition of a hero as someone who gets other people killed.

How does Jayne react to the realisation that someone has died in defence of someone as unheroic as himself? He pushes over the statue of himself as a hero, in an attempt to destroy, both literally and symbolically, his heroic image. Jayne walks on to Serenity with his hands still covered in blood, and the look on his face suggesting that he feels he has metaphorical blood on his hands too.

Having started the episode partially stripped of his clothing, as he taped a gun to himself in the infirmary, Jayne ends the episode by being stripped of his usual self-assurance, as he talks to Mal about how the events in Canton simply do not make sense to him. There is no easy answer to his confusion and it therefore seems appropriate to end the scene with Mal and Jayne standing in silence, looking over the cargo bay.

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