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On TV Today's Date:

Out of Gas
original airdate: 10-25-02

The story is simple enough. Engine broken, ship lifeless in space, only a few hours left to live. But the method used to present the story adds some liberal spice to this otherwise standard plot. Three timelines are represented as the viewer leaps from present to recent past and then to many years ago. All three jumps are made repeatedly and frequently, but after a few you get the hang of it, and the story starts to come together.

After the first fifteen minutes leaping around to the various timelines, you catch on to the idea there is a serious problem with the Serenity. The catalyzer on the port compression coil has blown in a most spectacular way. Life support is down, engines won’t run, and well, you get the idea. This leads to an episode fraught with peril and ample character background.

The third timeline, representing the years past, proves to be the most interesting to fans of the show. Mostly unrelated to the episode’s plot, a large amount of background information comes out of it.

Malcolm’s image as the dreamer and leader is reinforced. He bought the firefly ship because he fell in love with it, and then he found a way to make it work. (In a nod to Pinter, that "first" scene is the last one.) His leadership is shown over and over in this episode. He has a few harsh scenes where he appears uncaring and overbearing. But from the big picture you can see he has his mind on the crew and the ship and does what he must to make sure both survive.

In what should be no surprise, Jayne was a mercenary and a thief prior to joining the crew of the Firefly. He is a man with a price, and the price wasn’t too high, so Mal hired him under dubious circumstances. You can see that he at least has respect for Malcolm and the crew, most of the time, so loyalty does exist. But he is a true “service to the highest bidder kind of guy," and probably not to be completely trusted.

Zoe didn’t care for Wash when he first came on board the ship. She didn’t trust him and didn’t think he should be on board. Apparently her tune changed some time before they got married. But no information on this transition is provided. Yet.

Kaylee is just a natural wiz kid. Her arrival on the ship was both comical and completely by chance. But luckily for the crew she arrived when they needed her most and has remained working for them with the blessing of her parents.

Inara joined the crew of the Firefly of her own free will. The ship that she pilots is in fact one of Serenity’s main shuttles; she leases it from Malcolm and has an agreement for full autonomy under her lease. Her personal reasons for joining the crew and setting up shop with this band of misfits remain her own, though she admits that she's loved this ship from the moment she set eyes on it (the ship...or Malcolm?). But she is a tough negotiator and did not underestimate her value to the captain and crew.

Unfortunately no additional information about the arrival of Simon and River is provided. But the original pilot holds that information and should be coming up soon in the broadcast sequence.

The flash forward/back/middle device works reasonably well for this episode. The story itself is entertaining and well played out. And it gives a nice opportunity to show additional background on the characters. For any fan of the show this is some excellent long-awaited dirt on the characters and where they came from. Overall this episode was fun and dramatic at the appropriate times.

On a funny note, the website for Firefly had broadcast the Captain's s.o.s., and some TV gossip sites took that to mean that the show was being cancelled. Thankfully, that is not the case, but the show still has a ways to go before it secures itself for another season. Future episodes are slated to pull more on the main story line. We can expect the Alliance and the Tam family to start having more importance in the shows to come.

Kevin Goodman

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