Firefly: Out of Gas Ep. 8 November 7, 2007Posted by Chris in Firefly.
Tags: Firefly, Serenity
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.