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Firefly: Out of Gas Ep. 8 November 7, 2007

Posted by Chris in Firefly.
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This episode is one of my favorites.  Juxtaposed for our consideration are the conflicting aspects of Mal’s personality and the choices he’s made.  In a series of flashback sequences, we see how Mal bought Serenity as his ticket to “freedom.”  Showing the ship to Zoe for the first time, Mal gives a thumbnail of his vision for how they could make their way through their post-war years: “I tell you Zoe, get a mechanic get her up and runnin’ again, hire a good pilot, maybe a cook…live like real people.  Small crew, them that feel the need to be free, take jobs as they come…you never have to be under the heel of nobody, ever again…” 


Mal Faces the Consequences of Relying on Himself 

Interlaced with these flashbacks are scenes in the “present” where Mal has been wounded and is struggling all alone to repair his damaged ship.  Through these contrasting scenes — Mal as member of a the loving family that is the ship’s crew and Mal alone and near death — we are shown a central tension in Mal’s character.  While he longs for independence and freedom from the society he sees as oppressive, he also needs the tight bonds of companionship that he has found in Serenity —  he needs people but wants to avoid the complications that social life brings.  This tension leads him to take the ship “under the radar”, traveling through the backwaters of space to reach his destination unmolested by the Alliance.  Unfortunately, it is his need to avoid society that puts his family-crew in danger — once the ship breaks down, they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with little chance of rescue. 

Interestingly, the resolution of this problem is for Mal to become even more independent.  Mal puts his ultimate faith in his own abilities by sending his crew off in shuttles searching nearly in vain for help.  At each step, Mal is supremely pragmatic in his choices — he’s always looking for the choice with the best odds of success.  But still, in the end his seemingly pragmatic choices lead him to rely on himself for survival.  As he settles in to save air and fight the creeping cold of space, his earlier idea to jury-rig and “boost” their distress signal (a bit of technobabble was given here to justify a plot point) pays off and a ship arrives with the part needed to repair Serenity.  For a brief moment, it seems Minear is offering us some hope that society can be a positive force — at the very least, it can be the safety net that rescues us from peril.  But this turns out to be a false-hope as the would-be rescuers try to kill Mal and take Serenity.  Here too, Mal needs to rely on himself to repel the pirates and repair the ship. 

Mal drives off the attackers and eventually repairs the ship but just as he is about to send the recall message to the two shuttles carrying the crew away, he collapses and passes out.  When he awakens, the crew has returned of their own accord and we come to understand they’ve saved his life by defying his orders.  This is the last word…after all Mal’s choices to drive people way in his time of crisis and rely on his own resources, it is the loyalty of his crew that saves him.  Social life (if not society as a whole) is redeemed and Mal along with it.



1. Kym - November 7, 2007

Again, nice pointing out of a theme I had missed! Intentionally or not, you also made me aware that Mal is constantly finding the danger in the authoritarian part of larger society (ie the Elder in OMR betrays him even after the crew helps him out.) And, Mal is repeatedly reinforcing the idea that one’s family (blood kin or gathered kin) the smallest unit of society is what creates a better chance of survival (ie his words to Saffron in OMR in the second to last scene)

This is my favorite episode. I love the writing! The intertwining of the past and present is beautifully crafted. Minear takes my breath away as with each scene he cleverly ties past and present together (ie the grate Mal falls on is the spot Zoe points at in the initial showing of the ship.) This is craftmanship that is so refined it has become true Art.

2. Chris - November 7, 2007

Oh, right! Zoe says, “what’s that, sir?” and points to the grate…I knew they were in the same spot as when Mal collapses, but I’d never thought that she/they were symbolically pointing to Mal’s body…keen observation.

3. Kym - November 7, 2007

oooo, just pretend that I made it myself and didn’t read it somewhere else ;>

4. Kym - November 7, 2007

BTW, I like that you added a picture to the blog. And, I like the caption.

5. Chris - November 7, 2007

Keen observation: I would have never been the wiser…

Mal’s Picture: Thanks…I’m trying to work in some pictures to break up the visual monotany of text, text, text…that’s my typical writing mode…dense, breathless text.

6. Kym - November 8, 2007

I just realized you put photos on other posts. I love the one of River dancing!!

7. Chris - November 9, 2007

Yeah…I put that one in with you in mind!

8. Faith, Community and Religion in Firefly « Sci-Fi TV Geek - November 13, 2007

[…] themes in Firefly.  It makes a similar point to my earlier post on the episode, “Out of Gas“, where I proposed that Firefly revolves around questions of relying upon (and having faith […]

9. violetteverite - November 16, 2007

“When he awakens, the crew has returned of their own accord and we come to understand they’ve saved his life by defying his orders. This is the last word…after all Mal’s choices to drive people way in his time of crisis and rely on his own resources, it is the loyalty of his crew that saves him.”
Interesting. This is very central to Whedon view. In BTVS, the central character and the leader will repeatedly try to drive her closest friends away. And they’ll come back again and again by sheer loyalty. Very fascinating view on leadership we have here.

10. Chris - November 16, 2007

I agree! I admit that I haven’t watched much Buffy, so it’s interesting to hear that this is a theme at the core of much of Whedon et al.’s work. It’s a very interesting view: that leaders can promote loyalty somehow by trying to rely on themselves and protect their followers from danger and by engendering this loyalty, they save and protect themselves (but indirectly by their followers defying them). A complex dynamic, to be sure.

11. Firefly: Trash Ep. 11 « Sci-Fi TV Geek - November 20, 2007

[…] and the rest of society as possible.  However, just as we noted in the discussion of “Out of Gas“, a fundemental tension in Mal’s character is that while he wants to live life […]

12. Firefly: Objects in Space Ep. 14 « Sci-Fi TV Geek - December 29, 2007

[…] motivation to live simply and “…take jobs as they come…” as expressed in Out of Gas.  So, at the end of this episode at the end of the series, one of the most critical plot and […]

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