Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Out Of Gas"

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Out of Gas." Original air date: October 25, 2002.

There are quite a few lessons I learned in film school that have stuck with me. One of them is a quote attributed to Jean-Luc Godard: "A story must have a clear beginning, middle, and end... but not necessarily in that order." That's what "Out of Gas" is all about - using nonlinear storytelling to pack an emotional punch.

I wasn't ready to watch this episode again. I remembered that it was brilliant episode, and that I loved the way it used flashbacks, but I also remembered that it was a lot to handle. Unfortunately, due to my (oft-delayed) Firefly rewatch mission, I had no choice.
The very first thing you see and hear in this episode is nothing. The ship is still, empty, quiet. I've said before that this show is so clever, so dialogue-heavy that the silent moments always come as a shock. The first sign of life? Mal, barely alive, hitting the ground. In the ten years that have passed, Nathan Fillion has aged a little bit, and somehow he looks especially young in this particular shot. Too young to die, and yet I know that that's a serious possibility.

Over the course of these 40-some-odd minutes, we see how the show's characters joined the crew, and almost get an idea of what made them bond together. We see how they came on the ship, how they leave it, and how they almost could have died without an escape plan. We see that Mal is a real captain, through and through, and how his responsibility to his ship outweighs everything else that's important to him. There's some vintage Firefly levity in there, but it's mostly just Tim Minear making us feel our feelings.

This episode was intended to air much later in the series' run - when we're even more attached to the characters and the ship, but in a way, Fox made a really ambitious decision by messing with the intended air date of this particular episode. Putting your characters in mortal danger and exposing their backstories when viewers are only five episodes in? That's big. And it happened two whole years before ABC aired Lost, whose third episode ("Walkabout") threw its viewers right into the kind of intense storytelling that would make the show famous. And, like "Walkabout," it's the kind of episode that never loses its impact. (Sidebar: Jack Shephard vs. Mal Reynolds. Discuss.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's something in my eye.

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