“She won’t be winning any beauty contests soon. But she is solid. A ship like this will be with you til’ the day you die.”
While celebrating Simon’s birthday, Serenity‘s engine suffers a major malfunction that shuts it down and blows out the life support. With only a few hours of oxygen left, the crew heads out in the shuttles while Mal stays behind to signal for help. As he struggles to keep breathing and make repairs, he reminisces on how he found the ship and how his ragtag crew came together.
A few weeks ago I saw an independent film called Dead Man. It’s a psychedelic western starring Johnny Depp as William Blake, an accountant who becomes a wanted man after a mishap leads to him getting shot. He meets a Native American who mistakes Blake for the famous poet and prepares him for a journey to the spirit world. And the rest of the movie is Depp slowly, slowly dying, fading in and out of consciousness. The reason I bring this up because this is the closest comparison for “Out of Gas” that I can think of. With all the gunfire in this show, it would seem fit that the ship itself would be the one that comes closest to killing everyone, especially since everyone who sees calls it a death trap. The very idea of dying out in space is horrifying, millions of miles away from civilization, slowly freezing to death and gasping for air. It’s sort of like a fusion of Gravity, 127 Hours and Buried years before any of those were even made.
I’ve always been a fan of movies and shows that show scenes out of order, and Out of Gas is no exception. It starts with Mal alone on Serenity and jumps back and forth, showing just how he got to this place and coming full circle by the end. When the episode gets the ball rolling we see the crew eating, laughing and sharing stories, enforcing the strong bond they have, only to have the rug pulled from under their feet, followed by a fire. With death right behind them, they all share their fears, but try to put them aside so they can get a hold of that one hope of survival. Even Jayne tells Mal and Wash to shut up when they start arguing and using up their precious air.
Equally important are the scenes where we learn how the Serenity crew came together. Aside from showing us how we got here, these moments save the episode from being a depressing slog, but also drive home the tragedy of what’s happening when we snap back to reality. We get to see Mal buy her, show her to Zoe for the first time, and the recruitment of Wash, Kaylee, Inara and Jayne. Apparently they found Wash on the same planet they bought the ship, and that Zoe didn’t like him at first. (It was probably the mustache.) Before Kaylee, their mechanic was a supposed “genius” named Bester. But he was immediately fired when he couldn’t fix a simple problem that was keeping them grounded and Kaylee noticed it when they were having sex in the engine room. (Engines make her hot.) When Inara first joined them, she was as diplomatic as she’s always been with the Captain, and was able to convince him to loan her his shuttle because she brings a certain credibility that they otherwise wouldn’t have. And Jayne? Well, let’s just say it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him on board.
More than anything, aside from showing how this ragtag band of misfits found each other, “Out of Gas” establishes that Serenity is as important a character as the rest of the crew, one as crucial, alive and real as Gotham City is to Batman, the Starship Enterprise is to Star Trek, or Springfield is to The Simpsons. It’s their home, their sanctuary, their last bastion of freedom. But even freedom has its limits. This episode explores Mal’s short-sightedness in his idea of “freedom”, and his knee-jerk reactionary need to go out of his way to avoid the Alliance to preserve that freedom. The reason they’re stranded and out of reach in the first place is because Mal wanted to take a long route that was out of sight. But it also highlights his abilities as a leader, as evidenced when he selflessly sacrifices himself to stay behind with the ship while the rest of his crew heads off to safety.
Overall I give “Out of Gas” 4/5. It creates a great atmosphere, it drives home the significance that each crew member has not to just each other but also the ship itself, and it was great to see how they all found each other. They may all be lost in the woods, but at least they’re not alone.
Next episode: “Ariel”
– The only thing that I don’t really like about the episode is the use of music in the beginning. It opens with Serenity in dead space, with shots of its empty interior, before cutting to Mal on the ground, bleeding and gasping for air. During this scene there’s this sad tune that sets the mood but gets a little distracting after a while. We first hear during that aforementioned montage. If I were in charge of editing, the music would’ve started when Mal fell on the floor.
– River: “Day is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It’s not applicable. ….I didn’t get you anything.”
– River: “Don’t be afraid. That’s what it says. Don’t be afraid.”
River: “But you are afraid. You’re afraid that we’ll run out of air. That we’ll die gasping. But we won’t. That’s not going to happen. ….We’ll freeze to death first.”
– Wash: Yes, Mal, it would boost the signal, but even if some passerby did happen to receive it, it would muck up their navigation and they’d be forced to stop and dig out their signal before the could even go anyplace! ….Well maybe I should do that then!
Mal: “MAYBE YOU SHOULD!”
– Mal: “Well looks can be deceiving.”
Jayne: “Not as deceiving as a low down, dirty, deceiver.”
Mal: “Well spoken. Wasn’t that well spoken, Zoe?”
Zoe: “Had a kind of poetry to it, sir.”