Silence in Space

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First aired: The Signal: Season 8, Episode 12
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Miranda Thomas
Edited by Craig Kurumada

Trash begins with an image we are unlikely to forget. A naked Mal surveys the landscape with a strangely contented look on his face. It might be expected that Mal’s lack of clothing is the visual information which stands out in the absence of any sound, but I found that instead it was the look on Mal’s face which got me thinking. Mal looks to be very much at peace, despite being in what does not look like a desirable situation. Although the main reason for his contentment is presumably that the heist has - more or less - gone to plan, perhaps the view also cheers his soul. As he looks out over the barren landscape, he is very much out of reach of the meddling arm of the Alliance. His ship and crew are on their way to meet him and - a slight want of clothing aside - all’s right with the ‘verse.

As I continued to watch the episode, I found myself becoming aware of just how many different versions we see of some of the characters. Mal and Saffron are the chief amongst these. In the scenes with Monty, for example, we see a relaxed and happy Mal. He is working, but seems largely carefree for once. All this changes very quickly when he sees Saffron though and then we get to see a Mal who has lost his cool somewhat and proceeds to fight in a very scrappy and ineffectual fashion with Saffron, leading Monty to intervene like a parent with two squabbling children. Later, as Mal gains the upper hand, and trains his gun on Saffron, he has to some extent regained his cool. This impression is very much helped by a hero shot of Mal with his gun in close-up. But soon after this we are back to the previous version of Mal as he walks onto Serenity with his bloody nose very much in evidence and his cool not so much. This very much sets the pattern of the whole episode for Mal, whose fortunes go up and down again rather quickly as the story progresses.

Meanwhile Saffron treats us to her usual array of guises. She tries the loving wife first on Monty, and then on Mal, making eyes at them both in turn. When she realises that game is up, she gives up on Monty and tries to reason with Mal. Later in the episode she uses the same approach with Durran Haymer, keeping the loving wife façade going as long as she possibly can, and then revealing her true colours when the cards go against her.

As well as some great visuals as Mal’s fortunes fluctuate and Saffron’s strategies adapt to new circumstances, we are treated to a couple of scenes in which the visual information alone could almost tell the story. Firstly we have Mal and Saffron’s confrontation after Monty cuts his losses and leaves. Both quickly reach for their weapons - Mal for his gun and Saffron for her lipstick. In a previous encounter Saffron’s lipstick had of course been a literal weapon, but here it is more a metaphorical weapon as she attempts to win Mal back. Mal holds firm though and fires off a shot. Saffron sticks out her tongue, and Mal shoots again. He even waves goodbye, as if the two shots were not clear enough. No words are necessary to follow the scene being played out. Saffron’s slow walk away is also telling. She gives Mal every opportunity to relent.

The second scene in which no sound is necessary to understand the relationship being portrayed is between Mal and Inara in her shuttle. Inara has lit some candles and pours the tea just before Mal enters. She arranges herself elegantly on the sofa before he comes in and looks for all the world like she is about to meet a client. Mal, in his red shirt, fits in well with the surroundings and although he looks slightly suspicious, he sits down at first. It only takes a moment for his suspicions to reach a critical mass though and he jumps up again quickly. Inara then manages to pacify him and he sits again, only to stand up again almost as quickly. Inara then loses faith in her “civilised” approach and stands up to join Mal, who has crossed his arms and started to look very defensive and uncomfortable. The discussion continues in a lively manner with Mal and Inara mirroring each other’s body language at several points. Both stand with their arms crossed, for example, and then both point at each other. Then Inara crosses a line - which the dialogue would tell us is calling Mal a “petty thief” - and everything changes. Both Mal and Inara look slightly embarrassed and avoid eye contact for a few moments before a more honest exchange and a hasty exit on Mal’s part.

There are other visual moments of interest in the episode. The reveal of Saffron in the crate, for example, is reminiscent of another time Mal opened a box to find a girl inside. Saffron might not bring trouble upon Mal and his crew on quite the same scale as River does, but she certainly makes life interesting.

The reactions of the crew members to Saffron’s plans for the heist provide some great visual humour. Wash is very funny, and aware of it, whereas Jayne is similarly funny, but completely unaware of it. Meanwhile Zoe takes it all in calmly, smiles and swiftly punches Saffron, which is all the funnier for Mal’s total lack of surprise at her actions. There are plenty of humorous moments later too, especially when Durran returns and hugs Saffron. The facial expressions of both Mal and Saffron are a comic treat. Mal biting a nail as he looks the other way while Durran and Saffron enjoy their reunion is a particularly amusing example of wordless humour.

With the job done, Mal and Saffron fly away, but the game between them is not over. Mal looks smug at Saffron’s apparently genuine tears, but then his face falls very quickly at her sudden but inevitable betrayal. He seems rather cross with himself as he begins to undress and then extremely cross as Saffron flies off in the shuttle. By the time Inara finds him though, all anger - pretend or otherwise - is gone.

Our last view of Saffron in the episode is of her stuck in the disposal bin, covered in trash. After much sparring with Mal and his crew during the episode, it is very clear who ended up on top. Inara reinforces this visually by looking down on Saffron from a lofty position. Her regal apparel also contrasts nicely with Saffron’s trash-adorned look. Inara’s veil shields her from the outside world, whereas Saffron’s face is smeared with the trash that she has been reduced to searching through.

The episode ends with some great reaction shots to Mal’s unclothed appearance. The direction of Inara’s gaze is very amusing, as are the failed attempts of Wash and Zoe not to snigger. Only Kaylee can take Mal’s contentment at face value and join him in his cheerfulness. Appearances are deceptive at many points throughout the story, but for Mal, in the end, it turned out to be a good day.

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