Good day, fellow Browncoats (and Alliance moles). So far, we’ve covered the pilot in Part 1, episodes two and three (“Train Job” and “Bushwhacked”) in Part 2, “Shindig” and “Safe “ in Part 3, and “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and “Jaynestown” (episodes 6 and 7) in Part 4.
We’re zooming into the second half of the season and coming up on some really great episodes. So make sure your six-shooter is loaded and let’s go.
Out of Gas (Episode 8)
This is one of my favorite episodes of all time, from any show. There is symmetry and a poignancy that we seldom see on broadcast television.
It begins with Serenity drifting in space. She is empty of crew. All is quiet. Then we see Mal fall to the floor with blood coming from somewhere. Next we are flashed back to Mal and Zoe checking out the ship for the first time. He is excited by the possibilities this little Firefly-class ship offers; she is not impressed.
Back in the “present,” Mal struggles to his feet with a piece of machinery in his hand and staggers off. Then we flashback to the crew sitting around the dinner table and sharing some laughs. It turns out to be Simon’s birthday and they surprise him with a cake. He’s about to blow out the candles when the lights flicker. A moment later, fire explodes from the engine compartment.
Zoe is knocked out by the blast. Mal locks down the ship and vents the fire out into space. They take Zoe to the infirmary. Then Mal sends Kaylee to the engine room to find out what happened. He also tells Wash to get on the bridge. Wash refuses to leave Zoe’s side until Mal forces him with some tough love. We see a flashback to when Wash was interviewing for the pilot job. (Great mustache!) Zoe doesn’t like him from the start, but Mal says they need him.
Kaylee delivers the bad news. They are dead in space with no life support. Inara talks to Simon about how she’s loved this ship since she first saw it. Simon is obsessed with the idea of dying on his birthday. Shepherd Book is reading his bible when River tells him not to be afraid. But he is afraid. She comforts him with the tidbit that they’ll freeze to death before they suffocate. Mal checks on Wash, who snaps at him. They angrily come up with a plan to boost the power of their S.O.S. signal.
We flashback to the first time Mal meets Kaylee, whom hires on the spot when he sees her knowledge of engines. Then we flash-forward. Mal checks on Kaylee in the engine room. She can’t fix the part they need to get Serenity running.
Mal splits up the crew onto the two shuttles and sends them each in the opposite direction to look for help, while he stays behind. Inara is angry, tells him he doesn’t have to go down with his ship. Mal replies that Serenity isn’t going down. Flashback to when Mal first met Inara. She responded to his ad about a shuttle to rent.
Their banter is there from the start, and the sexual tension too. Back in the “present,” Inara begs Mal to come with them. She says he doesn’t want to die alone and Mal replies that everyone dies alone.
Having sent his crew away, Mal sits on the bridge and waits for someone to answer their call for help. But we get the definite sense that Mal’s accepted the idea that there won’t be any help.
But there is. A ship appears off Serenity’s starboard bow. Her captain agrees to bring over the part Mal needs. Yet, when the airlock opens, the ship’s crew comes out with guns at the ready.
We go to a flashback to when Mal and Zoe first met Jayne. He’s part of a motley gang holding them up. Although his companions aren’t much to look at, Mal is intrigued by this big guy who seems to be the most competent of the bunch. He outbids the gang for Jayne’s services.
Back in the “present,” the other ship’s captain shoots Mal in the gut. They’re going to seize Serenity. But Mal gets back up with a gun in his hand. He chases them off his ship and then falls on the floor, taking us back to where we began the episode. Now Mal has a bullet in his stomach and not much time before he runs out of heat and oyxgen.
Mal fixes the engine, but he falls unconscious before he can call back the shuttles. He wakes in the infirmary with the crew around him (shades of The Wizard of Oz?). Zoe is better, too. They went against orders and came back for him. It’s a touching scene. Groggy, Mal asks if they’ll all still be here when he wakes up. They will.
I think this part of the season is the perfect spot for this episode. We already know the crew, but now we’re getting deeper looks into their pasts.
As I said, this is one of my favorite episodes. Some of the lines are fantastic. The action is riveting, like a scifi version of Apollo 13. Plus we get the riffing on birth-versus-death.
Every time I watch the scene where Mal sits on the bridge alone, drifting off to sleep while he waits for help to arrive, I have the same thought: what if he actually dies here and everything that comes after is a dream? Obviously, we all hate the “it was just a dream” plot device, but wouldn’t it fit like a glove here? Mal slips off into the great unknown while dreaming that his crew has returned to him.
Ariel (Episode 9)
While they’re there, Mal wants everyone to stay on the ship for their own good. He and Zoe are highly suspicious of these Alliance-controlled worlds. Jayne is messing with Simon, while sharpening his knife, and then out of the blue River takes a butcher knife and slices Jayne open.
Simon stitches up the cut, but Jayne wants him and his sister off the ship for good. Mal makes it clear that no one is leaving, but he’s worried. River is getting worse.
When they land on Ariel, Simon says he has a job for the crew. He will help them rob the hospital’s dispensary, and in exchange he wants their help smuggling River into the diagnostics ward so he can find out what the Alliance scientists did to her. Simon lays out his plan (ala Ocean’s 11) and the crew gathers what they’ll need. When they’re ready, Simon puts River and himself into a death-like coma. The crew sneaks them inside the hospital as a pair of DOAs.
While Mal and Zoe head to the dispensary, Jayne waits with River and Simon until they revive. But Jayne slips out of the morgue for a minute to place a call to the local feds. He’s turning the siblings in for the reward. Bad Jayne!!
Simon and River eventually wake up and head to the uber-MRI ward. On the way, Simon helps a flat-lining patient who was given the wrong medication and saves his life. They reach the machine and Simon scans River’s brain. He discovers that the scientists operated on her brain over and over, removing the part that would allow her to suppress fear and anxiety.
When it’s time to go, Jayne leads them out another exit and they run into the feds. The sibs are arrested and Jayne is shocked when he’s arrested too. The local fed chief has decided to keep the reward for himself.
Mal and Zoe get the booty back to their fake ambulance, but there’s no sign of the others. They figure out that the rest of their crew has been arrested and go back to spring them. Meanwhile, Jayne and Simon break free and flee with River.
However, two men with blue hands (Remember them from “Train Job,” episode 2?) have arrived to collect River and Simon. There’s a wonderful series of shots as these two blue-handed agents pursue our heroes at a casual, almost leisurely, pace. Finally, Mal and Zoe get them out.
Inara gets back to Serenity just as the crew returns. Simon says he got what he needed. He also sings Jayne’s praises for getting them out of federal hands. Mal dismisses the crew and then knocks out Jayne with a wrench.
Jayne wakes up in the airlock as Serenity takes off. Mal opens the outer doors, wanting a little chat with our bad boy Jayne. Mal knows Jayne called the feds and threatens to flush him out the airlock. Jayne admits it and Mal closes the outer doors.
We end with Simon giving River some medicine that may finally help her.
I really like this episode too. The robbery storyline is fun, but I’m most interested in discovering what the scientists did to River and also watching Jayne give in to his greed. After Jaynestown, I think most people probably thought Jayne was going to turn over a new leaf and be a good guy. But he returns to form. As much as I hated the betrayal, it lent the character more depth than just “I’m nice and fuzzy now. Let’s forget I was ever a cutthroat desperado!”
Thanks for joining me again. Next week, we’ll delve into episodes 10 and 11.
Read our complete Firefly Retrospective series:
Part 1 – Pilot
Part 2 – “Train Job” and “Bushwhacked”
Part 3 – “Shindig” and “Safe”
Part 4 – “Our Mrs. Reynolds” and “Jaynestown”
Part 5 – “Out of Gas” and “Ariel”
Part 6 – “War Stories” and “Trash”
Part 7 – “The Message,” “Heart of Gold,” and “Objects in Space”
Part 8 – Serenity, the Movie
Jon Sprunk is the author of the fantasy epic Blood and Iron as well as the Shadow Saga trilogy (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master). He’s also a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. For more on his life and writing, check out www.jonsprunk.com.