• So I really like this one. But the philosophical stuff Joss included just skates right by me. I know it’s there but I can’t really see it. That isn’t on him, since I have never had much of a philosophical bent (which is weird for someone who is a devout Jew).

    But otherwise, this is what Joss was striving for, and it’s good he got to do it at least once.

    Even if naming your black bounty hunter after the man who invented the deplorable “Lost Cause” myth is an odd choice. (Wikipedia says it was done because Nathan Filion is descended from the real Jubal Early. But that doesn’t mean it was a great idea. Or a bad one. I have never really decided.)

  • The Ploughman

    It’s been several years since I’ve revisited it, but at the time this was one of my favorite episodes of anything. I was very disappointed when the movie featured a bounty hunter and they didn’t bring back Jubal Early. So strange and violent in a way sideways to everybody else in the show.

    “Am I lion? I don’t think of myself as a lion. I have a mighty roar.”

    • Drunk Napoleon

      I wonder if that’s where Brooks got his conception of the character from – he’s thrown by the question but genuinely tries to answer it.

      • The Ploughman

        It’s such a strange thing to write in a script and I love it. You hardly have characters simply hear something wrong (in the same way you rarely have characters encounter somebody with the same first name, because why would you?)

        • thesplitsaber

          I wouldnt be surprised if it came out of improvisation-David Lynch uses stuff like that constantly.

    • thesplitsaber

      ‘I was very disappointed when the movie featured a bounty hunter and they didn’t bring back Jubal Early.’

      i actually kind of like it because it sets up a continuum of characters as a backstory for Book. Early is him as an Alliance assassin in full bloom. In Serenity the assassin is Book’s moment of clarity. And then the Book we see is the end product.

      And all three recognize each other-Early sees that Book isnt who he claims to be, and Book recognizes how the Alliance assassin in Serenity will act.

  • Miller

    “Whedon reads this scene as a profound way of expressing the idea that objects only have the meaning we imbue in them, and I read it as an excellent way to establish River’s morality from her perspective; we’re both right. What makes it work for me is the way it’s rooted in a practical idea; River’s viewpoint is beautiful, but it makes her dangerous.”

    This — Whedon’s view — genuinely offends me, and as much as I enjoy the structure and writing of this episode, I fall back on this as so much masturbatory bullshit. A gun is a gun. In the hands of a child, which River is, it is no less dangerous for her considering it a twig –what happens if she casually tosses it to the ground, safety off? What I think is really interesting here is that you can see the Alliance/Rebel split in this very question — an Alliance person (and that is very much me) says that if this is a concern, we should come up with a system that keeps guns from children. And Whedon would have that logically extend to the murderous paternalism that we see in Serenity, the state as overbearing parent. The alternative is an ad hoc structure that is tested in every minute and resolved by active instead systematic intervention — essentially the frontier attitude the show is set up to glorify. I find that philosophy repugnant but what I really find foul is some kind of highfalutin pretension that this is all just conceptual — objects in space — man! Own your ownage, don’t put on airs. If whoever has the gun wins, then just say so.

    • Drunk Napoleon

      I agree with all that, but I do think Whedon is a touch more nuanced about it than you present, especially within the moment – the punchline of the whole thing is that it’s actually quite a terrifying situation and all the characters agree River shouldn’t – but also within the broader viewpoint of the show. I think Whedon often accidentally creates nuance within his black-white-solid-grey viewpoint that he doesn’t recognise or anticipate, but I also think that accidental nuance elevates the show overall; a full-on Alliance way of doing things doesn’t work, but neither does a full-on Independent way, and nor does the precise path Mal manages to strike. Sometimes the practical solution is required, but then sometimes a conceptual pull-back is needed; it’s what makes me forgiving of even the offensive parts of Firefly, because they hit some intense philosophical beats.

      • DJ JD

        Reading your writing on this has me revisiting some of the parts of the show that frustrated me more deliberately, because I enjoyed the show immensely even as I wrote chunks of it off whole cloth, initially. I’ve mentioned how often the show left me rooting for the Alliance, I think unintentionally, and a similar structural tension happens here with the epistemology. After all, if it’s all just objects in space, then what difference does it really make if it’s a twig or a gun in River’s hand?

        As a result, I have to admit that I’m not as clear on Whedon’s point in this episode as you are. If he just wanted us to have our brains totally blown, maaan, putting the words in the mouth of a sadistic, insane bounty hunter was an odd choice. If we were supposed to agree (not just empathize) with River’s fluid, unchecked viewpoint, having her unwittingly put the crew in real danger makes no sense. I experienced the episode as more of a playful riff on something that Whedon doubtless knew about, but maybe wasn’t as beholden to any more. But I’m not sure about that, either.

        As a postscript, I also loved Brooks’ delivery, and wanted / still want to see him in a lot more Whedon stuff afterwards. Chloe Bennet from Agents of SHIELD is lovely and good with a quip, but her line readings are straight-vanilla Whedon–she reads them the way it seems like they should be read, but that generally means that that’s how almost everyone would read them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else take Whedon lines in the direction he did.

        As a second postscript, great point about Book’s friendship with Jayne maybe making more sense than it might seem at first glance. (Also, I first typo’d that as “at first Glass” initially and now, awww.)

        • Drunk Napoleon

          The sense I get from Whedon is that, if he’s not partially embarrassed about his ideas (possible but unlikely) then he’s at least hyperaware of the audience reaction, and so figures if he puts the words he really believes in in the bad guy’s mouth, that gives him an ‘out’ – he believes it, and he believes it sincerely, but he puts in a layer of irony so you don’t have to take it seriously if you don’t want to.

          (Also, I take your opening sentence as a compliment)

          • DJ JD

            Good, because I meant it as a compliment!

            I could see the rest of that being true, but if so, I’m still not clear on his final point: he put a gun in River’s hand, not a pipe or pen. A gun is a gun by any other name, after all.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            I’ve been thinking on the gun thing further, and I think where people are getting tripped up by it is that it’s working as both a specific plot device (“River is playing with a gun, which makes her dangerous”), and as a metaphor (“River sees the physical beauty of things beyond their purpose”). With you and Miller it sounds like a case of It Can’t Be Two Things, whereas I personally am usually comfortable letting a contradiction like that stand. In this particular situation, River’s worldview is dangerous, but it can be beautiful or useful in other contexts.

          • DJ JD

            Within the context of the show, it’s a great moment: it gives us River’s perspective in a way that makes sense to us, is clearly unsafe for them and pushes a long-burning tension to the surface in a way that doesn’t fall back on “River is opaquely wacky and dangerous,” which the show could occasionally flirt with.

            My problem with it comes if you try to take the larger show as a title-case Philosophical Statement. Personally, I tend towards positivism in my epistemology: I think that a gun is a gun even if nobody is around to call it that (with some caveats). If I understand what you’re saying Whedon is saying correctly here, that point is a bit more nebulous in his worldview–but if it’s that meaningless, then what’s the point? @disqus_wallflower:disqus said it to me and now I say it to Sartre: “if the rule you followed you brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”

            But really, I can’t subscribe to an antipositive epistemology even within the context of this episode, because the gun turned out to be a gun, and it really, really mattered to everyone. Okay, so what if she’d been alone? Her misunderstanding the reality of the object she interacted with could’ve led to her suffering grievous injury. To put it another way, a relevant ancient middle Eastern proverb: “The people perish for lack of knowledge.”

          • Miller

            You are putting all of this better than I did.

          • DJ JD

            Would you be at all irked if I wrote a two-part article on the various sexual utopias that women represent in Firefly? I keep thinking of more and more stuff I’d add to this, but I don’t want to steal your thunder.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Do it.

          • DJ JD

            Excellent! I’ve emailed them through the “Contact Us” button before and never received a response; Julius commented that that inbox might be full. How do I go about submitting something for here? I can post a burner email address if it would help.

      • Miller

        Heh, it certainly is an intense beat to provoke the kind of reaction I have, and that is a good thing. You’re probably right about the nuance, I haven’t seen this in forever, but even if we are supposed to side with the crew, there is still a sense of two sides here that I just don’t see, as opposed to thornier but still multi-sided questions the show deals with (is it all right to kill, etc.).

  • ZoeZ

    Oh, hey, I’m beloved!

    My understanding of philosophy is iffy at best, so this essay makes me want to revisit “Objects in Space” with Whedon’s reading of Sartre in mind.

    Jubal Early’s philosophical bent is so integral to his greatness as a character: think too much or too little, too deeply or too shallowly, and you are in likelihood no longer the Rational Man whose actions can be predicted. Jubal is dangerous not just because he’s capable, smart, and deadly, but because he’s deconstructed the rules of the world they’re in enough to not be bound by assumptions about them. Except he’s not superhuman in that–some of his actual tactics, like the threatened rape or the disavowal of moral responsibility by “it’s just the job,” are familiar ones–part of the long-acknowledged structures of humanity, if not the rules of civilization. River, on the other hand, is superhuman in that, just as the Alliance intended her to be.

    • DJ JD

      In my mind, the threatened rape plays into this. If he just wanted to threaten her, he could point a gun at her kneecap. This is something baser and uglier, of course. I haven’t seen this episode in ages, but I remember this being one of the few places where Early’s “blood-shit-piss” humanity makes an appearance. For all of his mental noodling about, the only subjective display of a type of desire I remember him showing. (A desire for power not sex, to dehumanize her vampirically, etc.)

  • DJ JD

    I view the rape threat as a very deliberate addition, but like you I’m just not 100% sold on its presence in the show. Jewel Staite was just a delight as Kaylee, but the character herself on the page actually played to a flipside of my criticism of the Companion sexual utopia. Sure, you might have a real-life character who is an engineering savant, cute-tomboy-who-always-looks-like-a-model, sexually voracious and just sweet as pumpkin pie to be around–but if I were betting, I’d bet on “nerd fantasy dreamgirl” over “actual flesh-and-blood woman” 99 times out of 100 for such a character. Kaylee has a sexual representation in that show just like Zoe, Inarra and River each do, and it’s probably the one that I find the most preposterous of the four, frankly.

    So now in this episode, the bounty hunter threatens to rape the character that the show’s intended demographic is more or less told repeatedly to fall desperately in love with. From there on out, he’s not just the bad guy, he’s the bad guy who challenges the audience’s fantasies and antagonizes them. (Young male nerds: not always nice people!) Even though Simon ends up as the damsel in distress this episode, I think there’s something to be said for viewing the episode through the filter of “before rape threat” and “after rape threat.” Like I said, I haven’t seen this in ages, but I suspect that shift in perspective is very intentional.

    • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

      Jewel Staite was just a delight as Kaylee, but the character herself on the page actually played to a flipside of my criticism of the Companion sexual utopia. Sure, you might have a real-life character who is an engineering savant, cute-tomboy-who-always-looks-like-a-model, sexually voracious and just sweet as pumpkin pie to be around–but if I were betting, I’d bet on “nerd fantasy dreamgirl” over “actual flesh-and-blood woman” 99 times out of 100 for such a character.

      Great, now you got me thinking “There are four women in the main cast; one is a manic pixie dream girl, another gets her feet shown off a lot, and a third is a prostitute.”

      • DJ JD

        “…and the fourth is a doting wife.” Yep, that’s basically it, if you add that the one who shows her feet is an impossibly powerful killer (a telepath, even!) with massive communication issues played by a formally-trained dancer. Sorry man. It’s been on my mind since I first saw the show.

        • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

          Don’t be sorry. I wouldn’t be thinking it if I didn’t already have some side-eye for Joss given recent events. It just sorta goes to underline that his whole “I’m a Good Male Feminist Writer” thing is pretty hollow.

          • The Ploughman

            You know what he needs? More female characters shooting guys in the dick.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            I love performative white allyship!

  • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

    There’s a Marilyn Monroe quote, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best”, which I’ve always fucking hated because people who use it tend to have no ‘best’

    https://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/images/stories/blogarticles/2016/March2016/Not%20Alone.gif