|"Out of Gas"|
October 25, 2002
Out of Gas is the eighth episode of the Firefly TV series and was first aired on Fox, on October 25, 2002. It differs stylistically from the rest of the series in that it tells its story alternately in three timeframes: events in the present, events in the near-past that led to the present, and events in the past that led to the formation of Serenity's core crew.
After Serenity suffers a catastrophe while on its way to Greenleaf on a mission that leaves her crew with only hours of oxygen, flashbacks show how Mal and Zoë acquired Serenity and assembled their motley band.
The episode opens in the present time with a mournful tune, showing Serenity apparently dead in space. The camera moves from darkened room to darkened room, showing no sign of any inhabitants. Mal falls into frame, collapsing onto the cargo bay grate floor. He hears voices coming from outside the cargo bay doors. A salesman is saying: "You buy this ship, treat her proper, she'll be with you the rest of your life"... Light falls across Mal's face as the bay doors open and we realize we're being taken to that moment in Mal's memory when he first enters the ship with Zoë.
Mal takes Zoë aboard his recently-bought ship, but she is taken aback at how run down it is and can't believe he paid for the "death trap". Mal is insistent that it's a good, solid ship and waxes eloquent about freedom from the Alliance and the ship's possibilities once they find a small crew. As they leave to tour, he tells Zoë he's even got a name picked out.
The flashback pans back to Mal in the present time, bleeding. Clutching his stomach, he laboriously drags a machine part along the catwalk. The camera pans up into the dining room a deck above, to a near-present flashback of the crew enjoying a meal and telling amusing anecdotes from their pasts. This important scene shows what a family the crew have become: sitting around a large dining table, eating, talking and laughing. It sets up the rest of the episode for the revelations of how they all met.
Ship's mechanic Kaylee arrives with a birthday cake for Simon. Before the doctor can blow out the candles, a power failure, accompanied by an odd sound, causes Kaylee to start toward the engine room. Just as River quietly announces "fire", a fireball shoots through the passageway. Zoë leaps up to push Kaylee out of the way and gets hit by the leading pressure wave, which also throws everyone to the ground. Mal quickly shuts the rear entrance of the common area. The engine room is engulfed in flames. Simon can't get to his medical supplies because the ship is sealed up. Mal remotely opens the cargo bay doors to blow the atmosphere, sucking the fire out with it.
Back in the present time, Mal continues his journey with the machine part. A door opening leads to another near-present flashback to Simon treating a gravely injured Zoë, while Wash desperately tries to rouse her. A stunned Kaylee tells Mal that Serenity "ain't moving", but Mal prods her to check out the damage. When Wash refuses to leave Zoë's side and man the bridge, Mal drags him away from her and forces him grudgingly to his post.
Mal and Zoë speak to a younger, mustachioed Wash who evaluates the condition of the new ship and considers taking the job the new captain is offering him. As Mal and Zoë head off into the depths of the ship, the first mate expresses her general misgivings of the potential pilot, although she doesn't know why she tells Mal that "he bothers me". Mal tells Zoë that Wash has come with glowing recommendations and is already being courted by other captains. Zoë tells Mal that it's all true, but nevertheless "he bothers me". Mal mentions they've also got a new "genius mechanic", causing an unfamiliar, unkempt man who overhears their discussion to be entertained by Mal's praise.
Back in the near-present, Simon jabs a flatlined Zoë with a shot of "pure adrenaline", and another jump cut takes us to the present, where a lone Mal does the same thing to himself in order to continue his struggle. Jumping back to the near-present, Kaylee despondently tells Mal that their life support is completely disabled, giving them only a few hours of oxygen left.
While Simon muses about suffocation, Inara reflects on her love of the ship. In his quarters, Shepherd Book is anxiously reading his Bible. River stops by to reassure him that they won't suffocate — they'll die from the cold first. On the bridge, an angry Wash snarks about Mal's refusal to accept their doom, pointing out that he deliberately chose a travel path that kept them away from any possible contacts. As they argue, Mal slips in a suggestion to get the attention of passersby that turns out to have a remote possibility of working. When Jayne enters to complain about their wasting air, another cut takes us back to the present, where Mal hauls the machine part toward the engine room as the P.A. system needlessly sounds an alarm about the failed life support and low oxygen levels.
Mal arrives in the engine room hollering at Bester, the ship's mechanic, for failing to get the ship underway when he promised especially as they've got a job waiting for them. When Mal arrives, he catches Bester being intimate (and noisy) with an engineering groupie. When Bester finally notices, he explains that the girl gets hot around engines. Mal isn't interested, and orders him to get the girl off the ship and get the engine going. Bester starts to spout excuses for why it can't be done when the groupie, who is getting dressed, interrupts Bester's spiel to correct his inaccurate diagnosis. As she emerges from behind the engine, we see that it is Kaylee. When Bester sputters incomprehension, Kaylee explains she diagnosed the problem while on the floor and quickly fixes it. Mal is very impressed, and asked how she learned to do it. Kaylee tells him she's always had a natural talent around engines, as she works with her dad whenever he has work (which is infrequent). Mal offers her a job there and then, and Kaylee happily runs off to wind up her affairs at home. Bester questions why Serenity would need two mechanics, and Mal ominously says "I really don't".
Another jump back to the near-present shows Mal encountering Kaylee, who apologizes for being unable to fix the ship. She tells Mal about the broken catalyzer, which cannot be repaired, only replaced. Back in the present time, Mal finally reaches the engine room and tries to install the part — a replacement catalyzer — remembering what Kaylee showed him earlier but only drops it into the bowels of the engine.
In the near-present, Mal assembles the crew to order them to split into two groups and take each shuttle in opposite directions to try to find some help, however unlikely the possibility of success. With four per shuttle, he decides to stay behind in case someone is caught by Wash's beacon. Wash rigs a big red recall switch on the bridge so Mal can call them back. Inara objects to Mal's apparent desire to "go down with your ship", but Mal is simply refusing to accept defeat.
A flashback to the past shows Inara's introduction to her future quarters and "office", one of Serenity's shuttles. In response to Mal's bargaining tactics, Inara confidently announces that he'll rent her the shuttle, at a discount, in order to gain some respectability, helping him in his own, less licit business. The two also have their first fight, when Inara tells Mal that she supported Unification. She gives him two rules; never to walk in on her uninvited and never to call her whore (both of which he would constantly break).
Back in the near-present, when Inara pleads that "you don't have to die alone", Mal responds, "Everybody dies alone." Wash also appears to want to say something about their departing without the captain, but Mal deftly turns his attention back to his injured wife. As Mal seals off the ship compartments, the crew silently departs in opposite directions on their desperate missions.
Sometime later, Mal is awakened by a salvage ship attracted by Wash's beacon. When Mal opens the door to get the catalyzer, the skeptical captain holds a gun on him while his crew makes sure there is no ambush awaiting them.
Mal and Zoë are being held at gunpoint by three bandits, one of whom is Jayne. Mal and Zoë engage in clever banter with the bandits, with Jayne providing an example of his own limited wit. When Mal realizes how effective Jayne was at tracking them, he and Zoë encourage the gunman to switch sides and join their crew by promising a larger cut from jobs and his own bunk. Jayne casually shoots one of his former partners Marco in the leg and holds the other at gunpoint while he negotiates for his new job.
Back in the near-present, after the salvage crew gives the signal that they're alone, the captain likewise casually shoots Mal in the gut so he can steal Serenity itself. While the captain insouciantly chats with his crew, however, Mal finds a hidden gun and pulls it on the captain, ordering him to leave the catalyzer (as originally agreed) and to get off his ship. As soon as his ship is secure again, he collapses onto the cargo bay grate floor, as shown in the opening scene.
Back in the present time, weakened and injured, Mal manages to drag the new catalyzer out of the engine bowels and install it, starting the engine again. He slowly makes his way to the bridge, but collapses again, short of the recall switch.
As he hears the voices from the various flashbacks, he gradually comes to in the infirmary, where the crew is bustling about. A supine but conscious Zoë welcomes him back to awareness, with Wash giving him a blood transfusion. She takes responsibility for ignoring his orders and returning to Serenity — fortunately, since he never sent the recall — but she promises not to do it again. Mal drowsily asks if he went someplace, Book replies wryly "Very nearly."
Inara says with understated relief "We thought we'd lost you."
Simon who is tending to Mal administering more pain medication reiterates Zoë's statements saying that "The decision saved your life." Shortly after this exchange Simon firmly tells everyone that Mal needs to rest. The rest of crew starts to leave.
When Mal starts to drift off again, he asks them "Y'all gonna be here when I wake up?" He reaches for Book's hand Book takes it and gently assures him so. Reassured Mal drifts off to sleep once again.
In an old shipyard, the salesman tells Mal "Yes sir, right smart purchase this vessel. Tell you what. You buy this ship, treat her proper, she'll be with you the rest of your life"... however he is referring to a yellow, rocket-like ship. However, Mal's attention has drifted elsewhere, as the salesman notices in the middle of his sales pitch. Mal is looking across the yard to an old, broken-down and abandoned Firefly-class ship at the edge of the lot. As the salesman tries to attract his attention, for Mal it's love-at-first-sight...
Allusions to earlier episodes
- In this episode, the ship is crippled by the failure of the catalyzer on the port compression coil. Kaylee mentioned that this part needed fixing twice before: in "Serenity", when she asked Mal to buy a new compression coil for the engine, and in "The Train Job", when she complained that "somebody won't replace that crappy compression coil". In the former case, Kaylee warned that it would leave them dead in space if it failed.
- River's ability to sense the approaching fireball before anyone can sense it alludes to her psychic abilities, most notably seen in "Objects in Space". As it frequently happens, her utterance has two interpretations; Simon assumes her "fire" is a reminder to blow out his birthday candles.
- At the end of the episode, Jayne questions the genuineness of the incense in Inara's shuttle. In Serenity, Inara tricks The Operative with a Flashbang disguised as incense.
According to the DVD commentary, Alan Tudyk took the big red "recall" button from the Serenity set and presented it to Joss Whedon, telling him that if Whedon managed to get the series renewed, he could press it to call the cast back.
Also according to the commentary, Gina Torres (Zoë) was written out of the bulk of the episode because the filming took place just after her marriage to Laurence Fishburne and they were away on their honeymoon.
Behind the scenes
(Special Thanks to BrownCoats.com.)
- "It's a piece of feiwu [junk]." "Feiwu? [Junk?]" - Zoë and Mal talk about Serenity.
- "Qu ni de. [Screw you.]" - Wash curses Mal when the captain demands he leave his injured wife to get to work.
- "What the gui [hell, demon] do you two think you're doing, fighting at a time like this? You'll use up all the air." - Jayne.
- "Gausaang haitung guzoeng. Gimcaa jeonghei gungjing. [Cantonese: Life support failure. Check oxygen levels at once.]" - Serenity. Repeated several times.
- "What in the name of suoyou de dou shidang... [all that's proper...]" - Mal walks in on Bester and Kaylee in the engine room.
- "Sorry, Captain. I'm real sorry. I shoulda kept better care of her. Usually she lets me know when something's wrong. Maybe she did, I just wasn't paying attention..." "I cannot be having this from you right now. We got work to do. Dong ma? [Understand?]" - Kaylee, then Mal.
- "Billy, get this plugged in. Jesse, call Stern over here. You and him'll pilot this pile of goushi [dog crap] out of here." - The pirate captain instructs his crew on making off with Serenity.
- "Out of Gas" transcript
- Firefly Talk podcast article - "Out of Gas: A Love Story"
- "Out Of Gas" shooting script from Firefly Browncoats at Internet Archive