Objects in Space

Objects in Space
"Objects in Space"
Firefly episode
River holding the "object"
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 14
Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by Joss Whedon
Production code 1AGE11
Original air date December 13, 2002 (2002-12-13) (Fox)
Guest stars
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Heart of Gold"
Next →
"Serenity: Those Left Behind"
List of Firefly episodes

"Objects in Space" is the 14th episode and series finale of the science fiction television series Firefly created by Joss Whedon. Serenity encounters Jubal Early, a ruthless professional bounty hunter who will stop at nothing to retrieve River. But River, feeling unwelcome on the ship, takes a novel approach to escaping from the long arm of the Alliance.

The inspiration for this episode came from Tim Minear, who gave Whedon the idea by merely mentioning Boba Fett. Whedon expanded upon the suggestion and extrapolated it into the villain of this episode, the "preternaturally cool, nearly psychic bounty hunter" Jubal Early — who shares a name with Jubal Anderson Early, a Confederate general in the American Civil War.[1]

River's and Early's tactile and spiritual connection with physical objects reflects an existential experience in Whedon's youth and his subsequent study of Jean-Paul Sartre's existential novel Nausea.[2]



The show opens with a shot of Serenity flying by a planet, and then zooms into the ship and through its passages to end on River, who lies in bed listening to not-quite-audible voices. She arises and takes a walk through the ship's rooms and corridors, encountering her shipmates in varied conversations with each other. Simon and Kaylee are relaxing in the common room, the doctor telling the mechanic an amusing anecdote about medical school. River suddenly "sees" them looking at her, with Simon telling her that he'd "be there right now", apparently implying she is responsible for taking him away from his successful medical career. Finding Jayne and Shepherd Book in the kitchen, she "hears" Jayne guiltily repeat his confession to Mal about selling out the Tams on Ariel, and Book mutters an angry but cryptic statement hinting at a sadistic past. River continues to wander the ship, and is moved by the sound of ocean waves as Zoe and Wash passionately kiss on the nearby bridge. Above the cargo bay, as Mal and Inara discuss her impending departure, River sees their unspoken frustrations over their unrequited relationship. Fleeing the intense emotions, River runs down to the unoccupied cargo bay, where she spots a tree branch. She sees herself on leaf-strewn ground and picks up the branch, telling herself "It's just an object. Doesn't mean what you think." Suddenly, the real world returns, and she finds that she is holding one of Jayne's pistols while the crew surrounds her in a panic, trying to get her to drop the weapon. Mal takes the gun from her and discovers it is loaded and ready to fire. When Mal admonishes her for handling loaded weapons, River runs off, crying.

The image cuts to a small vessel closing with Serenity, aboard which is a man reviewing wanted bulletins for Simon and River. Meanwhile, the crew discuss the dangers of River's presence on the ship. When Zoe muses whether River has ever handled a gun, Kaylee reluctantly tells everyone about her experience during their assault on Adelei Niska's SkyPlex, when she was unable to return fire, and how River easily killed three attackers with single shots with her eyes closed. The crew begin to speculate that River may be a "reader", having psychic powers, and though Simon objects, they begin to question whether she is a danger to them. While talking, the crew are being listened to: above the room, on the hull of Serenity, the mysterious bounty hunter is tapping into the hull, and below the room, in the cargo bay, River is listening through the floor plating.

Mal decides to sleep on the matter, and the crew breaks for the "night". Kaylee follows Simon out as he goes to "check on my assassin", and she apologizes for having to point out the danger River presents. Simon, however, is more sad than angry, believing his sister feels that Serenity is "more home to her than any place she's been". He openly admits his regret at not practicing medicine (using the exact words that River "heard" earlier) and tries not to blame it on River herself, but on her unknown experimenters.

Once the crew goes to sleep, the bounty hunter boards Serenity. He runs across Mal and quickly knocks him unconscious, dropping him into his cabin, and then locks the rest of the sleeping crew in their cabins. He surprises Kaylee in the engine room, and uses psychological terror - specifically threatening to rape Kaylee - to force the frightened girl to cooperate. Next, the intruder drops in on Book, disabling him instantly with a brutal kick to the head. Simon hears a noise and rises to check on his sister, only to be attacked by the stranger, who addresses him by name. The two men engage in verbal sparring; the bounty hunter, Jubal Early, waxes philosophically on the nature of things while he demands to know where River is. Though Simon refuses to help Early at first, the bounty hunter threatens to kill him and rape Kaylee if he refuses, and the doctor reluctantly agrees.

With Simon "helping" in the search, Early checks out the cargo bay and shuttles, commenting on the nature of "objects in space" while doing so. When Inara tries to appeal to Early's emotional side, he smacks her across the face, and then locks her in her shuttle. The two men finally arrive on the bridge, where Early settles on a direct threat, announcing loudly to the ship that he will kill Simon if River doesn't reveal herself. River then responds over the ship's intercom, telling Early about how she was unwanted on the ship but could not bring herself to leave, so she simply "melted away," becoming part of Serenity.

In the engine room, River's voice comes over the intercom, reassuring the bound Kaylee and asking for her help in a task. Meanwhile on the bridge, Early is openly skeptical about River's claim, but her voice returns to reveal uncanny knowledge of the bounty hunter's own weaknesses. River's verbal probing, aided by Simon's wry humor, gradually convince Early and the others that she has joined with the vessel. She sends Kaylee, who has managed to free herself, off on a mission to unlock the cabins. Zoe prepares an assault, but River insists that they do not use guns, and instead tells Mal of an alternate plan.

On the bridge, River continues her talk with Jubal, relentlessly implying his own insanity. Finally, Early realizes that River is not part of Serenity, but has managed to sneak onto his ship. However, River reassures the frantic bounty hunter that she will go with him. She compares her own dangerousness and instability with his, and she burdens the hearts of her shipmates by saying she does not belong with them, and that her departure will allow them to get on with their lives. Simon refuses to let Early escape with River, and tries to stop him, but in the process is shot in the leg. Hearing the noise, Jayne wakes up and pulls the curtain off from his gun cabinet in a seemingly resolute and heroic way, revealing numerous weapons, before turning over and covering himself with the curtain. Leaving Simon in the cockpit, the bounty hunter starts his EVA back to his ship, but finds Mal outside, waiting in ambush, and the captain shoves Early off into space, before welcoming River back aboard Serenity.

Later, in the infirmary, Simon instructs Zoe as she removes the bullet from his leg. Just outside, Mal tries to express his unspoken love to Inara but is stopped when she abruptly informs him that she is permanently leaving the ship. In the cargo bay, Jayne mocks Book's failure to defeat Early, despite "all them years of priest trainin'", and Book implies that he fought Early and only succumbed after a prolonged fight. Kaylee and River play jacks while Kaylee relates a racy anecdote from her past. River picks up and examines the bouncing ball, with its swirling, multicolored surface, which recalls the multicolored planet Serenity flies by in the opening shot. The camera pans down through and out of the ship to show Serenity sailing off into space.

The show ends on Jubal Early, tumbling helplessly through space: "Well... Here I am."

Deleted scene

An alternate version of Mal and Inara's conversation about Inara's impending departure. In this version, Inara complains about not being able to find decent clientele and threatens to leave the ship. Mal says "no one's forcing you to stay". The "true version" of the scene has entirely different dialogue and makes reference to the fact that Inara had already made the decision to leave in "Heart of Gold". This alternate version was aired as part of the episode in the original broadcast because "Heart of Gold" had not been aired yet, so the reference would not have made sense to viewers.


In the DVD commentary Joss Whedon explains that this episode is intended to resolve the crew's tension regarding River, ending with their acceptance of her as a valuable member of the crew. Whedon struggled with various ideas of how to approach the script until Tim Minear gave him the idea of using a bounty hunter.


As Whedon discloses in the DVD commentary, much of the dialogue and imagery was inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre. In his essay We're All Just Floating in Space, Lyle Zynda analyzes this episode's interpretation of existential meaninglessness, arguing that both River and Early perceive physical objects as divorced from the meanings with which others imbue them. For example, when River picks up the gun, she sees it as a harmless branch - an object, as she says, that "doesn't mean what you think" - transformed by her perspective into a benign thing of beauty. Early also describes his gun as "pretty" with a pleasing weight (both features separate from its function) yet acknowledges that its design aids its intended use, which Whedon describes as "grotesque." While moving through the ship, both River and Early seem to be acutely aware of and derive sensual pleasure from their environment, stroking the walls, conscious of the physicality of their surroundings. Whedon notes in the DVD commentary that one of the ways he illustrated this quality was to keep camera focused on River's bare feet as she walked. Early, admiring specifics of the ship's design, significantly echoes the episode's title when he says, "People don't appreciate the substance of things. Objects in space." It is the "physical implication" of a world without morals, the moral implication of which was verbalized by another of Whedon's creations, Angel: "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."

Zynda claims that ultimately, River and Early's ability to experience objects divorced from their common meanings allows them to imbue those objects with a value of their choosing. However, River chooses a perspective that brings joyful wonder, and Early chooses to contemplate those same objects - such as the gun - with despair.[3]

Early also enacts one of Sartre's central ideas, the concept of "bad faith", when he denies his responsibility for his actions by claiming he is not free to do otherwise.[4] When River accuses him of hurting people, he counters, "Only when the job requires it." She calls him a liar: "It's why you took the job."


  • Kaylee tells Mal and the crew about River's talent for gunplay demonstrated in "War Stories."
  • As Whedon points out on the episode's DVD commentary, Early, having secretly assessed the crew from their conversations, takes down Shepherd Book the same way he handles ex-soldier Mal — quickly and brutally — providing another hint of the preacher's hidden nature. Early confirms this later when Simon challenges him about "beating up a Shepherd", to which Early replies "That ain't a Shepherd."


  1. ^ DVD commentary for "Objects in Space", chapter 1.
  2. ^ DVD commentary for "Objects in Space", chapter 3.
  3. ^ Espenson, Jane; Yeffeth, Glenn (2004). Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly. Smart Pop series. ISBN 1-932100-43-1. 
  4. ^ Sanchez, Julian (September 30, 2005). "Out to the Black: The existentialist libertarianism of Joss Whedon's space western". Reason Magazine. http://www.reason.com/news/show/32972.html. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  • Espenson, Jane, ed., with Glenn Yeffeth, ed. Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's "Firefly". Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books. ISBN 1-932100-43-1. 
  • Tanya Cochran (20 May 2008). Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Joss Whedon's Worlds Beyond: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Investigating Cult TV Series). I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1845116545. 
  • Joss Whedon (1 Sep 2005). Serenity: The Official Visual Companion. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1845760823. 
  • Joss Whedon (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume One. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1845763145. 
  • Joss Whedon (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume Two. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1845763725. 
  • Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 

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