Saturday, November 10, 2012

Out of Gas

Sci-Fi Saturday

Stranded in space with only a few hours of oxygen left, the crew of Serenity reminisce about how they all came together.

The review for "Jaynestown" can be read here.

Much has happened to the crew of the Serenity since they came together, but there also has been a lot of back story that the audience has, until now, not been aware of. Contemplating his life, Mal (Nathan Fillion) thinks back to when he first purchased the Serenity, remembering how everyone originally came aboard, and hoping, one day, to see them again.

At the top of the episode the crew of the Serenity is gathered around a family-style meal, bonding with raucous laughter over Shepherd Book's (Ron Glass) story, waiting for just the right moment to surprise Simon (Sean Maher) with a birthday cake. While Kaylee (Jewel Staite) explains that the cake is made, essentially, of the exact same protein meal they had just eaten, she remarks that she did everything she could to make the frosting taste something like chocolate. It's very clear here that these people have really come to care for one another, and while they have kin in other places, it is aboard this ship that they have real family. As Mal is forced to make his crew abandon ship, he does his best to say goodbye to each of them without ever actually saying goodbye, Wash (Alan Tudyk) does something similar as he creates a button that will recall the crew at Mal's request "when [his] miracle arrives." Eventually Mal wakes up in the infirmary, surrounded by his friends in a scene that mirrors their earlier meal together, everyone happy to be together as a family once more. Relieved to see them again, Mal trades kind words with each of them, then worries that, should he be hallucinating as he dies, they may be gone when he wakes up, and this speaks volumes about what they mean to him, as he would rather be surrounded by no one else as he heads toward the light.

Throughout the series, Simon has always been incredibly level-headed while his sister River (Summer Glau) has proven more volatile, calm one moment and flying off the handle the next. This story proves how deeply similar the two can be, especially in their interactions with others. As Simon sits with Inara (Morena Baccarin,) the two worry about the time they have left, and Simon proves a disturbing lack of bedside manner, mechanically jumping into a clinical description of what will happen to them as they suffocate, stopping only at Inara's request. Likewise, River walks in on Book reading his Bible and praying, noting that, while the message of his Bible is about not being afraid, but states that he very much is. In trying to comfort him, River says that they will not die gasping for air, but completely fails in her comforting sentiment as she follows it by telling him that they'll freeze first. Both of the Tam siblings are very quickly able to identify what's bothering their friends, Simon understanding Inara's fear of death, and River seeing how afraid Book is of dying in pain, but they both are so socially awkward that they're unable to make the proper connection, and instead end up upsetting their friends even more.

It seems as though Zoë (Gina Torres) was written to save Kaylee from the explosion as a means to justify her exclusion from the bulk of the story. It would have seemed more genuine had Zoë tackled Kaylee to the ground and shielded her body from the blast, effectively ending with the same results, but here Zoë remains standing in the path of the flame, and it's just framed so awkwardly that it's not particularly believable.

In flashback, Kaylee is introduced to Mal as she has sex with Serenity's previous mechanic Bester (Dax Griffin.) Were she not having sex with Bester, Kaylee never would have made it aboard the Serenity, which somewhat undercuts her worth in the eyes of Mal, and then she immediately launches into an explanation about how to fix the engines. Were Kaylee somewhat educated on the art of working on machines, she instead mentions that she has a natural affinity for the work, despite never have seen this model of ship before. It would have been much more powerful for her as a character had she done some kind of research on her own in order to explain what makes her such a good mechanic, but instead she just simply "knows," and it makes it seem as though the writers were just unable to come up with a convincing reason that she would have been offered the job in the first place. In a separate situation, had Mal run into her at a garage and noticed her talent, it would have seemed more genuine, but here it is only because Bester is terrible that she's able to take his job.

The cast has never displayed a greater chemistry with one another, coming together as a family as they eat together, and falling into deep despair as they're forced to separate from one another. They work so well together that their affection feels absolutely genuine, and their interactions with each other are fantastic. This story is almost entirely focused on Mal, and Fillion does a great job carrying the episode, proving that he's more than worthy to continue as the show's lead actor.

Director David Solomon creates a tense mood as the episode opens on the dark, quiet and empty ship, with Mal falling to the floor, his blood dripping through the grate in the floor before cutting to the opening credits. The tone continues throughout the narrative as Simon injects a syringe of pure adrenaline straight into Zoë's heart, and Mal, having witnessed this earlier, is forced to do the same to himself later on. In a manner of speaking, Mal's trek through the ship, fixing what he can as he slowly bleeds out, is a way of him tying up loose ends with those he loves, especially evident as he replaces the broken part that Kaylee has needed since the first episode. The beginning and end of Mal and Inara's relationship is mirrored through flashbacks, as Mal recalls Inara's first meeting with him, her taking charge of the entire situation and declaring the shuttle as her own, and what they believe as their final meeting, with Mal finally admitting that the shuttle had never truly been his, but had always really belonged to her. The narrative ends just as it started, with Mal being told that if "[he] buy[s] this ship, treats her proper, she'll be with [him] the rest of [his] life," and the reveal that that had been spoken about a completely different ship, but Mal had just been too attracted to the Serenity to take notice of anything else.

Tim Minear shows a great understanding of his characters here, and writes each of them with a genuine voice that conveys far more than simply what's said. There are a number of contrasts between the past and present here, notably shown through Zoë and Wash's relationship, as Mal is forced to pull rank and threaten Wash physically to get him to leave his wife in Simon's care, where in flashback Zoë admits to not liking Wash, "he just bothers [her.]" There is a constant commentary about how none of these people want to die, and how very quickly they are coming to accept their own mortality in this situation, until finally Mal makes the decision to send them off in separate shuttles, sending four people per shuttle, with only himself left aboard the ship. Inara argues that he doesn't have to die alone, but Mal bluntly states that "everybody dies alone," and warns her not to trust Jayne (Adam Baldwin,) saying that he'll be useful if they run into trouble, but he's likely to try to take over.

There seems to be a greater story behind Inara's intense fear of dying, one which likely will come to play when and if a story is made revolving around her back story, though perhaps tying into her fear of torture as hinted at when the Reavers attacked in the first episode. Another recurring element might be the crew of the SS Walden, who seem to have been developed for more than a single appearance, and likely could create an entertaining rivalry with the crew of the Serenity.

The review for "Ariel" can be read here.


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