It’s the triple timeline episode! “Out of Gas” opens with an empty Serenity and Mal about to pass out on the floor of the cargo hold. From there, we bounce back and forth between now and a few hours ago, with flashbacks peppered in about how each crew member joined the ship. I will do my best to re-cap as clearly as possible, wish me luck.
So, as Mal lies on the floor, we hear a voice-over of a used rocket ship salesman saying “Real beauty, ain’t she? Yes, sir. Right smart purchase, this vessel. I tell you what. You buy this ship, treat her proper – she’ll be with you for the rest of your life,” and we fade into Flashback #1 – Mal and Zoe Meet Serenity.
In some ways, this scene looks like your normal Mal and Zoe bantering, as he tries to sell her on the ship and she plays the doubting Thomas, but it is so much more. We’ve always known that Mal is something of an idealist, but here, before he is a captain with people to protect, we see that it goes beyond that. Mal is a dreamer. He looks at a beat-up ship that doesn’t even run yet, and he sees freedom. “Ain’t never have to be under the heel of nobody ever again.” Watching the two of them, you realize that Zoe offers him a different sort of freedom. Without her, he would lock that dreamer side of himself away. A captain is responsible for his people, and daydreams could get them killed. With Zoe around, however, he can let some of that loose, knowing that if he goes too far she will be there to bring him back down to earth. As they walk off to finish exploring the ship, we come back to Mal on the floor of the hold and we see that he’s bleeding.
Now we jump back a few hours, to family dinner time. Everyone is relaxed and laughing, sharing stories around the table. Wash comes in late to tell the captain that he has set them on a course custom-made to keep them under the radar (plot device!). The fun continues with a surprise birthday party for Simon. Just as he is about to blow out his candles, the lights dim and Serenity hiccups a little. Kaylee is about to head to the engine room to find out why, when something blows up and a wall of fire comes barreling down the corridor. Zoe pushes her out of the way and (I think) gets hit with a blast wave. I’ll confess, I’ve never seen what happens to her in the confusion, I just know she ends up on the floor unconscious. Mal seals off everything that might be on fire and does this cool thing where he opens the cargo doors a crack and the fire gets sucked out into space. Once that’s done, he goes into full damage control mode and sends Kaylee to find out what is wrong with the ship, and he forces Wash to leave unconscious Zoe so he can assess their situation on the bridge.
Flashback #2! We first meet Wash. There are only two really notable points about this scene. Point one, Zoe really doesn’t like Wash upon first meeting – “I don’t know sir. He just bothers me.” Point two, Wash’s bitchin’ mustache. Presumably, Zoe started to warm up to him once he shaved the dead squirrel off his lip.
Back to timeline B (a few hours ago), Zoe is in the infirmary and Mal helps Simon give her a big honkin’ shot of adrenaline to the heart to keep her alive. Flash to the present where Mal has made his way to the infirmary to give himself a big honkin’ shot of adrenaline to the heart to keep himself alive, and then we’re back to Timeline B.
Kaylee tells Mal that the engine blew a part, and they are dead in the water. Not only that, but the explosion blew out back-up life support. Since ejecting the fire took a lot of oxygen with it, they only have a few hours left to live.
Mal heads up to the bridge, where Wash is hanging out being pissed. Mal tells him to signal for help, and Wash reminds him that they are flying under the radar, as per his orders, and there isn’t anyone around. They fight some more (this part is awesome set-up for next week, BTW) and manage to come up with a Hail Mary they can use to boost their distress signal a bit.
In the present, Mal is making his way through the ship with an engine part in his hand.
Flashback #3! Mal is storming through the halls, asking their original mechanic Bester when the ship will be fixed. Instead of working on the engine, Bester is enjoying some sexytimes with a local girl in the engine room. While Bester tries to BS Mal about why the ship isn’t running, local girl Kaylee cheerfully tells him he is wrong and proceeds to demonstrate the fact by fixing the ship while getting dressed. As quick as that, she’s in and Bester, whoever he was, is out.
In Timeline B, Kaylee is mourning. Her baby is broken and her friend is hurt and she doesn’t know what to do. She shows Mal the blown catalyzer and tells him that sometimes things get so broke you just can’t fix them.
Present Mal finally gets to the engine room with a new catalyzer and drops it trying to get it into place.
In Timeline B, Mal sends everyone out in the shuttles. They are short range, but they have heat and air. Four people in each one, going in separate directions increases their odds of survival. People start doing the math, and figure out that Mal is staying with the ship. He explains that someone has to stay incase their distress signal is heard. Hopefully between the three of them, someone will find help.
Flashback #4 – Mal is showing Inara around an empty shuttle. As much as I love their romantic tension, this scene is just more of the same. They each try to get the upper hand while the first sparks of attraction fly. Inara obviously has the advantage because sexy women make men stupid, but we can see that Mal isn’t going to give in that easily.
Back to Timeline B. Inara tries to convince Mal that he doesn’t have to go down with the ship, but he ain’t budging. Wash explains the call-back he has set up – if Mal gets his miracle, all he has to do is hit a big red button and the shuttles will come home. Even Jayne tries to give Mal some last minute encouragement. They all go, and Mal settles down on the bridge, wrapped in a blanket waiting for the impossible.
We cut to commercial and when we get back, wouldn’t you know it, the impossible has occurred. Someone is hailing Serenity. Mal negotiates a trade. Someone can come onto the ship, if they show him a catalyzer at the door, and Mal will pay for the emergency repair. The guy from the other ship shows Mal the engine part through the window, he opens the airlock, and the Anti-Serenity crew runs in, ready to shoot Mal and take the ship.
Flashback #5! Mal and Zoe are being held at gunpoint by three thugs, one of whom is Jayne. They are slightly impressed that someone was able to track them down, and figure out that it was Jayne. The two of them woo Jayne, who is even less smart then than he is now, and manage to convince him to change sides by promising him a bigger cut and his own room.
Back in B, the bad guys shoot Mal. Thinking he is down for the count, they prepare to take over the ship. Luckily he fell right next to a gun, so he hauls himself back up and makes them leave, without their catalyzer. The other captain leaves with a shrug and a “You would have done the same,” to which Mal replies, “We can already see I haven’t. Now get the hell off my ship.” They leave, Mal falls to the floor, and Timeline B has caught up to the start of the show. In the new present, Mal manages to get the catalyzer in place and the engine starts again. He manages to drag himself to the bridge where he passes out a few feet from the big red call-back button – Cut to commercial.
Mal wakes up in the infirmary, cleaned up, bandaged and on lots of pain killers. Zoe had been unconscious when Mal sent everyone off in the shuttles. When she woke up she made Wash turn around because she sure as hell wasn’t about to let her captain go down with his ship alone. They got back in time to save his life and call back Inara before he woke up. They tell him what happened, Kaylee tells him he did a good job fixing her ship, and Simon orders everyone out so he can rest. He starts to fall asleep, and stops to ask if they will all still be there when he wakes up again. Book assures him that they will and Mal lets himself drift off. As he does, we get our very last flashback, #7. It’s the used rocket ship salesman we heard in the beginning, telling Mal, “You buy this ship, treat her proper – she’ll be with you the rest of your life,” only this time we see that the salesman was trying to sell Mal a different ship, a big yellow one. While he gave his pitch, Mal was captivated by another ship – our very own firefly.