Monday, September 8, 2014

Joss Wheton's Firefly, "Objects in Space" as a modern chiasmus.

The Firefly episode "Objects in Space" is a chaismus. It follows an overt chaistic structure.  Also called an inclusio or a sometimes a Markian sandwich in the Gospel of Mark.

Today most of our examples follow short literary phrases. But, having a total chaistic structure in a large work was not uncommon. The Gospel or Mark apparently has one. But, they are rare today, and we don't teach it much as a literary form.

They are where each part of the beginning parallels the end, with the second part paralleling the penultimate part. And the third part paralleling the ante-penultimate part. It has modernly been ignored, outside of short literary phrases and not as an entire works of media as a sort of meaning palindrome. But, "Objects in Space" certainly fits pattern. Which is a rarity.

While some of the links might be a byproduct of simply trying to mirror the characters of River and Early as being both alike in their in their form but different in their intents and desires. Looking at the characters at their literal object self, you still get a sort of crazy psychic assassin created by the Alliance with preternatural shooting abilities faster than the crew.

Structure of the Episode

  • Objects floating in space.
    • Crew interactions (disjointed)
      • Early Descent
        • Discussion about River.
          • Kaylee is scared.
            • Early boards Serenity.
              • Wanders the ship / deals with crew.
            • River becomes Serenity.
          • Kaylee is brave.
        • Discussion about Early.
      • River Descent
    • Crew interactions (united).
  • Objects floating in space.

Objects floating in Space

Many people tends to notice that the beginning of the episode shows the planet that looks like the superball River and Kaylee are playing jacks with at the end. Joss Whedon mentions he did that overtly in the commentary. Or that the beginning has Early's voice saying "We're all just floating in space" while at the end he's literally just floating in space.

Crew Interactions

In the first sequence of the crew interactions we see it from the preception of River who is wandering around the ship observing as a passive witness of the interactions between the various parts of the crew. Each in their own room, talking about different topics (or simply kissing). Until she travels to the cargo bay and picks up a branch.

Doctor Shot & Fixed.

After the crew interactions and River with the gun, that she understands but doesn't comprehend. Mal makes reference several very wrong notions. That he's not talking to the doctor, that the doctor might be shot and nobody could fix him, and that they are alone.

Mal:  I want a lot of medical jargon, I'll talk to a doctor.
Simon: You are talking to a doctor.
Mal:  Yeah, okay -- my point is, coulda been you she mighta shot just then.  The doctor, as you just made note of.  And who exactly could fix you?  Not nobody.  We're deep in space, corner No and Where.  You take extra care with her. Cause we're very much alone out here.

And Just before the ending crew interactions we see the doctor being fixed after having been shot.

Simon:  To the left -- your left.  Okay, now very gently, pull that aside.
Zoe:  This is really not my area of expertise, Doctor.  I tend to be putting these into people more than the other thing.
Wash:  Can I mop your brow?  I'm at the ready with the fearsome brow mopping.
Simon:  You got the bullet.  Okay, I'm just gonna pass out for a minute, but you're doing great.

Early and River Descend

The scenes of both Early and River coming off Early's ship are basically the same. They both follow the same path, to arrive on Serenity. Though, in River's descent she comes to be caught by Mal and asks permission to come on board.


The two discussions are important with who is listening and who is doing the discussion. The first occurs with two secret listeners one above and below both, literally sandwiched between them like the two sides of the arc in the plot as they talk about River. Whereas the second occurs with those two being the participants and talking about Early.

It should be noted with regard to the chiastic structure the parallels within the discussion blocks are not always in the right order. The Little Man Who Loved Fire in both occurs both times before the discussion of River's and Early's preternatural skill with firearms, and that River is a reader. Whereas the Early's descent scene happens just after this exchange before the entire crew inexplicitly moves from the bridge to the mess hall and River's descent happens after all the discussions and before the second crew interaction.

Little Man Who Loved Fire.

Some of the parallels within the section aren't just demanded by the show arc and relationships but are actually different version of the same conversation.

Zoe: Where's River at now?
Mal: In her room. Which I'm thinking we bolt from the outside from now on.
Wash: That's a little extreme isn't it?
Jayne: Anybody remember her coming at me with a butcher's knife?
Wash: Wacky Fun.
Jayne: You want to go little man.
Wash: Only if it's someplace with candlelight.
Zoe:    Sir: I know she's unpredictable. But, I don't think she'd harm anyone.

In the second discussion version:
Early: "With the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I've ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome. Does that seem right to you?"
Simon: "What did he do?
Early: "Who?"
Simon: "The midget."
Early: "Arson. Little man loved fire."
* Kaylee is seen unbolting the crews quarters from outside.

In the commentary Joss says that the above is "possibly my favorite exchange that I've ever written" and lets the audio play uninterrupted. River is said to be like the midget. Small, deadly, unpredictable cargo. And in both we are given the image of a little man who loves fire. In the first discussion this happens after Mal says they are going to lock River in her quarters. The second exchange is followed by Kaylee (on River's orders) freeing the crew from their locked quarters.

The Skill of River & Early

Just after the Little Man Who Loved Fire lines we have direct discussions about the skills of these two people, in the same terms. Kaylee tells about the events from the episode "War Stories" she specifically describes River to the crew in the same terms that River speaks about Early.

Kaylee:  All three, dead in an instant.  And her eyes still closed.
Jayne:  Well that's [a baboon's ass-crack].  You saw it wrong.
Kaylee:  Not a jot.  And it weren't autofire, or luck...  She just... she just did the math.
Zoe:  You understand how that sounds...
Jayne:  What?  She killed them with mathematics, what else could it have been.
Kaylee:  You couldn't have done it, Jayne.  Nor you, captain.  Nobody can shoot like that that's a person.

Whereas later River describes Early in the same fashion:

Zoe:  I can take this guy out.
River:  He's faster than you.  All of you. And he's wearing armor.
Wash:  What about his face?  Is his face wearing armor?
River: No touching guns. /  It's soon now.  Are you ready?
Mal:  How do you know what this guy is gonna do?
River:  I'm very close to him.  He doesn't even see it.

He has his eyes closed and is a faster shot than the rest of the crew. River smiled in a sort of creepy fashion, whereas Early has no armor on his face.

Simon the Advocate

In both discussions. Simon serves as the advocate. In the first he advocates for River saying, "I just want to understand what you're saying here. I thought River was your friend." And for Early, "We're becoming fast friends." In the first, he genuinely loves his sister. In the second he has a gun to his head and is mocking the request.

River the Reader

In the first discussion, River is 'a reader' because, as Mal "girl know things things she shouldn't; things she couldn't." During the second conversation, we see this power being displayed she knows things, things she couldn't. Because, she's a reader. She's literally on his ship reading things.

Wash:  Psychic, though?  That sounds like something out of science fiction!
Zoe:  You live in a spaceship, dear.
Wash:  So?
Jayne:  Whoa, back up a sec.  Are you saying she really read minds?

This discussion is reveled in a much more literal and far less science fiction manner with Early's epiphany:

Early: Well I'll be a son of a whore. You're not in my gorram mind.  You're on my gorram ship!

Kaylee's Fear & Bravery

Kaylee apologizes twice once to Simon for telling the crew about River and a second time to River for telling Early where she was. These apologies happen on either side of Early's walk around the ship. Until he decides to stop playing "Hide-And-Go-Seek".

While Kaylee is scared of both River and Early, backing away in fear while River has the gun in the cargo bay, and in the story she tells, not only afraid of the violence of Niska's men but of the smile River had after River dispatched them. Her fear of River is coupled with an understanding that she has good intentions, and likely saved her life. Whereas in the case of Early her fear is due to his bad his intentions (which he repeatedly insists are not under his control). Threatening to rape Kaylee and demanding that she be tied up after telling her that nobody can help her.

Both River and Early are tools of great violence, much like a gun, but where Early sees an exquisitely designed weapon, River sees a branch. Early threatens Kaylee both explicitly with his physical presence but with his violence. Whereas River comforts Kaylee while not even being able to touch her, or being on the ship at all. River helps, not as person but as a disembodied voice. Telling Kaylee to free herself, which she does. "Nobody" does help her. And, unlike Early, River has very seemly uses for Kaylee's body, freeing herself and the crew as a part of River's plan. The two Kaylee interactions on each side has somebody who doesn't touch her and can't really be there, making her feel different things. One ends with the crew locked up, and Kaylee tied up. The other with Kaylee untied and and the crew freed. 

Early Violates, River Becomes

Mal: "How come all of a sudden there's a guy on board and you're all of a sudden the ship?"

There are radically different way that Early and River interact with Serenity on the respective sides of Early's wandering about the ship. Early violates the ship, and the crew. River says in the mantle of Serenity, Early "crawls inside me, uninvited and you hurt my crew."

Early violates the ship and then the crew. Whereas River becomes the ship, and then becomes the crew at the end. They are, as an object, the same. Preternatural psychic assassins made by the Alliance. The difference is in the intentions they have. It is not the purpose for which they were made but the purpose they give themselves. While Early claims to "live by a code" and only harm people if the "job requires it." River notes that he's a liar, not honorable, and only took the job so he could hurt people.

Wandering the Ship

The core section of the episode is Early wandering about the ship and violates the crew in a variety of ways dealing with each person according to the type of threat they are.

  • Attacks Mal.
    • Locks up the Crew.
      • Engine Room / Kaylee.
        • Attacks Book
          • Reasons with Simon.
        • Discover Book
      • Infirmary / Simon
      • Cargo Bay
      • Empty Shuttle
    • Inara Shuttle, No threat / Locked.
  • Attacks Inara.

Kaylee and Simon

There is notable parallels in the section is Simon and Kaylee are discussed by Early while they are in their respective homes. Kaylee works in the Engine Room and Simon feels "at home" in the Hospital.

The Engine is referred to as the heart of the ship that any of a thousand parts could cause it to die, a slender thread. And Simon is told that he should be cut on.

Both involve discussion of torturing a teenage girl.

Both have Early suddenly interjecting the threat of violence.

Early:  That's her beating heart, isn't it?  You pull off any one of a thousand parts, she'll just die. Such a slender thread. --  You ever been raped?
Kaylee:  The captain is right down the hallway, he can hear you --
Early:  The captain's locked in his quarters.  They all are.  There's nobody can help you.  Say it.
Kaylee:  There's... there's nobody can help me.

Then later, when talking with Simon.

Simon: She wouldn't come in here anyway, she hates this room.  You see, Early, the people you're planning to sell her to cut up her brain in a lab like this.  Tortured her.  A teen-aged girl.  Not some bandit on a murder run, just an innocent --
Early:  You ever been shot?
Simon:  No.
Early: You oughta be shot, or stabbed, lose a leg... to be a surgeon, you know?  Know the kind of pain you're dealing with.

The mirror in the arc must be intentional. Some of the verbal clues are too obvious to be imagined. It may not have been a direct attempt to do a more explicit chaismus but certainly to follow the given arc well enough to show how River and Early are reflections of each other physically and in function but not in the meaning they give to their lives.

Update: Also fun, the scene with Early listening from above and River from below and the crew in the middle and it panning. That's the visual representation of the plot. The crew in the middle and they switch sides from inside to outside and outside to in respectively.

Update2: There's a lot to be said about the literal/actual things that happen. Like Shepard Book coming between Simon and Kaylee. He does this literally walking between them and while Early deals with the crew. There are clear parallels between Kaylee in her home of the engine room and Simon in his home of the medical room. But, stronger ones between the events of Kaylee getting tied up and Kaylee getting freed. There's a clear analogy between the fight had with Mal at the beginning of Early and Simon's fight with Early at the end. These happen just after Early gets on the ship and just before Early gets off the ship.

  • Object in space, planet
  • Crew Interactions
  • Ship appears
    • Descent to Serenity
      • Early enters Serenity
        • Fight with Mal,
          • Crew locked, 
            • Kaylee tied, 
              • Simon & Early
            • Kaylee freed
          • Crew Freed.
        • Fight with Simon
      • Early leaves Serenity
    • Descent to Serenity
  • Ship leaves
  • Crew Interactions
  • Object in space, ball
While the discussions clearly share parallels the actual structure of when they occur with regard to the plot differs a lot. Things like River saying "no touching" with regard to "no touching guns" and then not touching anything the entire episode. The discussions about the relevant preternatural assassins occurs at different points relevant to the plotline. Just as the same thing of River and Early being the same and yet different in how they interact. The remark by Kaylee that "no person could shoot like that" and then River becoming not a person but the ship and then not cargo, but rather crew.

The only scene that is itself a chiasmus is the Early and Simon talk in the barracks.

  • Book knocked out.
    • Simon looks for River.
      • Early threatens Simon with gun.
        • Plan is not to kill Simon.
        • Are you Alliance? / Lion
        • The empty room, does it have purpose?
            • So you're a bounty hunter?
              • That's not it at all.
              • Then what are you?
            • I'm a bounty hunter
        • Tracking you since the Feds on Ariel
        • Plan not to kill Simon..
        • Plan is like the room without the girl
      • Early threatens Simon with gun.
    • Simon looks for River.
  • Book knocked out.

This book ended with the "Kaylee rape / Simon shot" scenes in their respective homes. On either side of these, locking up the crew and locking up Inara. Attacking Mal, Attacking Inara.

After this we get River's version of the same elements, again. In River's version the Kaylee tie up scene is paralleled with Kaylee being freed. And the crew being locked in, to the crew being freed. And the fight with Mal is clearly paralleled by the fight with Simon. There are also clearly a number of elements between the two different discussions on the bridge. With locking them in their rooms, little man loves fire. And the crew discussions in the mess hall and the crew discussions in their quarters. There's also similarly discussion of sharp things, namely the butcher's knife attack on Jayne and the sharp tool to free Kaylee. River making faces of smiling in Kaylee's story and telling Mal not to make faces. And the obvious clear parallels between River and Early and the discussions of them as Alliance-made preternatural assassins, and Kaylee as a reader both in the sense of a psychic and on Early's ship. 

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