Firefly Month: Who You Are In the Dark in War Stories

The episode opens with Book and Simon debating on who the people that experimented on River were in terms of ethics. Book wonders if they wanted to see what kind of person River was by constantly tortuing her while Simon thinks they were being more specific. Meanwhile, on a distant planet, Niska (villain of the week from The Train Job) gets word that Serenity is in the vicinity. He’s torturing someone who neglected a payment. The works of a warrior named Shan Yu get brought up in both scenes.

River and Kaylee chase each other around the ship like two sisters, fighting over an apple. Apparently Jayne bought apples for the rest of the crew. Kaylee notices that Zoe always cuts her apples. And this is where the titular war stories start. Zoe said that the reason she cuts her apples is because of tiny grenades placed inside apples given by Alliance troops. When the Captain comes on deck, Wash brings up the fact that they could’ve made more money by cutting out the middlemen, but Mal brings up the fact that they need to play nice. Wash and Zoe  argue about this later because Zoe lied to her husband about not mentioning Wash’s idea. Wash is naturally jealous of how Zoe accepts Mal’s authority without question and is willing to lie to him. Wash feels like Mal is another husband.

When Zoe gets to a shuttle to deliver the last of the medical supplies, Wash decides to volunteer to help Mal to keep Zoe and Mal apart. Unfortunately, what starts out as a “milk run” turns into an ambush.

Back on the ship, Zoe takes Jayne and Book to check on where Mal and Wash are. Shepherd is able to identify the kinds of shots taken and recognizes that the men who attacked were professionals. They also quickly realize that it wasn’t a robbery…it’s a kidnapping. And Zoe knows who the kidnapper is.

Mal and Wash are taken to Niska’s lair and start arguing, with Wash thinking that Zoe always supports the Captain’s orders without question. Of course, Mal points out that Zoe married Wash in spite of him ordering her not to. (Again, would’ve like to have seen that story.) Niska puts the two men into his electrical torture machine and the two of them are still arguing. (Which is kind of funny in a dark comedy kind of way.) It turns out, though, it’s Mal’s way of making sure that Wash is still alive.

Zoe comes onto Niska’s space station to buy back the Captain and her husband and asks her to choose. Zoe chooses Wash without hesitation. Niska cuts off Mal’s ear (I have to wonder did they really do that to Nathan Fillion in real life) and sends both of them back to Serenity. Realizing that he owes the captain his life, Wash and Zoe decide to get the captain back. Jayne tells the two of them that it’s suicide. The rest of the crew surprise Zoe by volunteering to be armed backup, including Shepherd Book who says that while he isn’t intending on killing the Bible “tends to get fuzzy on the subject of kneecaps.” Zoe’s order as they arrive on the space station is “If it moves, shoot it, unless it’s the captain.”

The assault on Niska’s space station plays out like a really good video game with Zoe, Jayne, and Wash leading the full frontal assault and the rest of the crew holding down the main gate and providing cover. Book holds true to his word and shoots at the kneecaps while River surprises Kaylee by shooting three people down with her eyes closed.

Mal struggles to escape Niska and Viktor as Zoe, Jayne, and Wash make their way in. Zoe thinks that the captain needs to take care of Viktor himself. Mal replies: “NO! NO IT’S NOT!” and the three of them proceed to shoot him down.

All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

All screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy and are used for editorial purposes only.

Back on the ship, Simon reattaches Mal’s ear and Zoe makes her husband a bowl of soup. Then Mal attempts to fulfill his word by ordering Zoe to sleep with him and the two of them flirt in the most uncomfortable way possible. Of course, they have about as much unresolved sexual tension as Captain Hook and Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time. By that, I mean they have none at all. Even Jayne thinks it’s unsettling. Wash, of course, has no choice, but to steal Zoe away and declare to the Captain “We’ll be in our bunk.”

The underlying theme of this is “who you are underneath.” The reason that the warrior Shan Yu comes up is that he believed that you don’t really know a man until you torture him. The concept also applies to the rest of the crew of Serenity when they are put into a combat situation. We see that Zoe is cool under pressure, but loves her husband and her captain, albeit in different ways. We see Wash’s jealousy and vulnerability. We see hints of Book’s past by his knowledge of famous torturers and uncomfortably good marksmanship. We can see that Simon isn’t good with a gun, but his sister is. Most of all, we see why Malcolm Reynolds is the captain. He’s able to endure hours of torture and helps his comrades stay in line. His decisions may not be understandable, but they work out in the long run. The way that the crew works together will play a majorly important role next episode.

Firefly Month: Solid Ground and Synchronicity in Out of Gas

Out of Gas is unique in the sense that it’s told in anachronistic order. I’ll start with what I call “present day”:

The episode starts out with shots of an empty Serenity, which already tells the audience that something is wrong. Just as we start to wonder where everyone was, we see Captain Mal Reynolds collapsing onto the floor of the cargo hold.

The episode then flashes back to the crew of Serenity sharing funny stories around the dinner table and celebrating Simon’s birthday, when all of a sudden there’s an explosion from the engine room. The explosion knocks Zoe out and disables the life support and auxiliary power. To make things worse, they’re flying under the radar which meant that finding help is next to impossible. Kaylee explains that the ship can’t be fixed without a certain part, meaning that they are proverbially “dead in the water.” Mal tells everyone to evacuate the ship while he waits for help.

A while after everyone leaves, another ship arrives, but unfortunately, the people who have that part that Mal wants turn out to be scavengers and not good Samaritans. Mal manages to get them off and get the MacGuffin, but collapses.

And now we’ll move on to the scenes where Mal’s life flashes before his eyes.

Mal bought Serenity with Zoe, back when the ship was in a supposedly dilapidated state. Zoe is wary of it, but clearly she’s never seen home makeover shows. Mal hires Wash to be the pilot and a mechanic named Bester. Zoe does not like Wash, which again makes me wonder how the two got together in the first place. Later on, we find the mechanic Bester in flagrante delicto with Kaylee in the engine room.. Bester said that engines make her hot. Mal points out that the ship needs to get off ground because they’re behind schedule. Kaylee, mechanical genius that she is, points out the problem and gets hired on the spot at Bester’s expense. Some time later, Jayne gets recruited to the team when he and a band of robbers take Serenity at gunpoint and Mal bribes Jayne into turning to their side, offering room and board and more money. Finally, Inara is taken onto the ship, citing that her status as a Companion will create a sense of credibility and status. She asks for 3 things: complete autonomy, that Mal never walks into her shuttle without permission, and that Mal never calls her a whore. Well, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad, right?

Going back to the present day, Mal is able to give himself enough adrenaline to get the MacGuffin into the engine room and get the ship running again, but passes out before he can send a call to the shuttles to return to the ship.

The next thing we see is Mal waking up in the infirmary and I start wondering if we’re watching the end of Inception because Zoe supposedly regained consciousness and ordered both shuttles to return to the ship, thus saving Mal’s life. Too bad we never see that scene and are left guessing whether or not Mal and the rest of the crew died and the rest of everything is just an afterlife thing. I’m not gonna say I hate you, Joss Whedon. Not yet. I’m saving that for later. For now, I’m gonna roll my eyes and roll with the punches.

This was not an easy episode to analyze. This episode runs on backstory, which doesn’t lend much to finding themes or questions about morality. But then this old adage came to me: “God draws straight with crooked lines.” Also known as “everything happens for a reason.”

Synchronicity, as defined by Carl Jung, is “two or more events that are meaningfully related, but not casually related,” a coincidence that actually means something.

 

One can also argue that synchronicity is another way of saying “divine providence.”

 

At the end of the episode, we see that Mal originally looked at a large rocket-type ship before choosing Serenity. We also learn that Wash and Zoe weren’t a case of “love at first sight” and Kaylee only came onto the crew by chance. Jayne joined the crew because there would be more money and better service, Inara joined the crew because they needed her as much as she needs them and the pilot shows that everyone else on the ship started out as passengers.

But eventually, we see what all these moments lead up to: Zoe eventually gains a husband, Jayne gets to act as the crew’s enforcer and muscle, Kaylee gets to do what she loves for a living (working with mechanics, not the other thing; get your mind out of the gutter), Inara has a sense of independence, the Tam siblings find refuge, and Shepherd Book gets a home. What does Mal get out of it? He gets a family.

I think it’s fitting that the first flashback we see in the episode is when everyone’s gathered around the table exchanging stories and celebrating Simon’s birthday. They’ve come a really long way from how things started.

Joseph Susanka of “Summa This, Summa That” says:

He’s “out of gas” at the beginning of the timeline, searching for somewhere to anchor himself. The ship is what he finds. But through the course of the episode, as we see everyone coming together (and eventually, his efforts to protect them all as the ship *seems* like it’s deserving/betraying him), we come to realize that it’s the people on the ship that really anchor him. The real “solid ground.”

So instead of taking the idea that everyone died, I’d like to think that Providence came in to turn things around for Mal. After all, there are bigger things that the crew of the Serenity has to face.

JMJ