Silence in Space

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Objects in Space

First aired: The Signal: Season 8, Episode 15
Written by Helen Eaton
Read by Helen Eaton
Edited by Yi Weng

Before I came to write this instalment of Silence in Space, my impression was that Objects in Space is a very visual episode, in the sense that much of the story is communicated by what we see, rather than what we hear. When I sat down to watch the episode, this impression was very much confirmed. There is a richness in the visual information which enhances our appreciation of what is being said perhaps more than in other episodes.

One of the first things I noticed was the focus on movement from above and below, rather than on movement from side to side. People and objects are forever moving up and down, and so is the camera. Take the very first shot, for example, in which we follow Serenity moving from the bottom of the frame to the top, past a moon. This of course has a bookend at the end of the episode, when Kaylee and River play jacks with a ball that matches the moon in colour. This time the camera follows the ball as it goes down. And in between these two shots there are countless other instances of vertical movement. Early and River both float down from his ship to Serenity, for example. Early drops Mal’s unconscious body down into his sleeping quarters, slides down the handrails to knock out Book and then jumps down from above to attack Simon. And at the start of the episode we follow River as she moves up and down various steps throughout Serenity. We then see her head coming into frame from above, looking intently at the stick on the cargo bay floor and then we view this scene from high above her. Shortly after that we see Early eavesdropping from above on the conversation about River’s abilities, and River doing the same from below. It seems appropriate that in an episode which centres on two characters who view the objects and space around them in very unusual ways that the perspective we the viewers have on them is similarly unusual, thanks to the focus on vertical movement.

It is also fitting that River and Early each have a very particular way of moving around Serenity. River walks around Serenity barefoot with a tenderness that almost suggests she is treating the ship as a living entity which has something to communicate with her. Early is also intensely aware of his surroundings as he moves through the ship and he approaches the objects and spaces around him as if they can tell him where River is hiding. But Early is River’s opposite in the manner in which he does this. In contrast to River’s barefoot state, he is cocooned in his spacesuit, gloved and booted. He is an invader for whom Serenity is a hunting ground. He prowls around, cat-like, pouncing on the people who get in his way and always landing on his feet.

Although Early is the invader, River is shown to be an outsider like him as we follow her through the ship at the start of the episode. She encounters the other eight occupants of Serenity in pairs, which visually reinforces her status as the one on the outside. Even Simon, who does often form a pair with River, is shown to have found another connection with the crew, separate from River. He and Kaylee are a picture of “innocent intimacy”, as the shooting script puts it, with Kaylee’s legs draped over Simon’s lap. Book and Jayne cooking together gives us a different picture of friendship, but one which similarly involves two people connecting. Wash and Zoe, of course, are very much connected, as the embrace which River sees from a distance confirms. And finally there is Mal and Inara, who are the pair which is different. They are together, yet not together; they interact, but look in opposite directions. River moves away, looking almost queasy with the conflicting emotions which she senses from Mal and Inara.

Our brief time experiencing the world as River does comes to an end as she reaches the cargo bay and picks up what she sees as a stick. The view down on to the cargo bay floor covered in autumn leaves is a stunning image which perfectly sums up just how differently River sees the world around her. And then the harsh way in which River is brought back to reality is matched for the viewer by the abrupt switch from her perspective on the scene to that of the concerned crew members around her.

At several points during the episode our perspective as viewers is unusual for a different reason. Rather than moving through the ship as a person would, the camera is not confined by the space and the objects in that space. At the start of the episode, for example, the camera finds its way to River by travelling through the inner workings of Serenity, past wires and pipes, coming to rest behind a grating to peer down on River in her bed. The camera also takes us down through the layers of the ship to focus on River listening in to the conversation about her and then back up through the layers of the hull to where Early is listening from above. Like River and Early, the camera is not bound by the conventions of how to move through the ship.

Although the camera is not confined, the action is, as it largely takes place within Serenity. At times this creates a stagey feel, which fits very much with the story. Early and River are both so otherworldly in how they interact with their environments and the people they meet that it is appropriate for the look of the episode to be less grounded in reality than that of other episodes. The cutting between Early’s different reactions to River’s speech about him further contributes to the stylised look of the episode. It’s as if we are getting another glimpse through River’s fractured perspective.

As the episode draws to a close we get a wonderful visual contrast between Early’s fate and River’s return to Serenity. Early is pushed off Serenity and floats off, flailing and grasping for something solid to hold on to. In contrast, River floats down to Serenity in a controlled fashion and Mal is there to receive her with open arms, both literally and metaphorically.

There is a further contrast at the end of the episode as we get another shot which goes through all of Serenity’s occupants in turn. Whereas at the beginning of the episode the camera accompanies River looking in on everyone else, neatly paired off without her, this time the camera moves through the ship alone. We see all the characters again, but this time Simon is with Wash and Zoe, leaving Kaylee to pair up with River. Now everyone, including River, is connected, and part of the same crew.

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