“Everybody dies alone.”
Out of Gas, the eighth Firefly episode, is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It sees an explosion onboard Serenity leave the ship with only a few hours of oxygen. Stuck in the cold reaches of space, days away from the nearest planet, the crew evacuates in the ship’s two short-range shuttles to try to increase their chances of finding help. The episode is intercut with flashbacks detailing how Mal, Zoe, Wash, Inara, Jayne and Kaylee all ended up together aboard Serenity.
It’s quite an effective piece of storytelling, this, contrasting the cold dark of a dying spaceship with the golden-tinged nostalgia of gathering a ka-tet. It’s a shame, then, that the plot and meta-narrative it supports are just a little…trite. Though the odds against it are staggering, a ship comes to help Serenity (with Mal left alone on board in the hopes of just such a miracle); its captain agrees to supply the parts the ship needs, but then attempts to commandeer it and murder Mal. “You would have done the same thing,” he says, the point being that Mal in fact does not – given the chance to take revenge on the captain with a gun, he chooses instead to shoo him off the ship. Faced with the crime and amorality possible in the far depths of space, Mal and the crew of the Serenity choose humanity and togetherness; their reward is that, pretty much literally by magic, they are reunited and Serenity‘s troubles ended, despite a potentially fatal chest wound, a direct order and some almost astronomical odds. The crew, odds and ends of the galaxy as they are, value their friendship and their humanity above their lives, so they get to live. And Then the World Was Saved By Love.
Stephen Moffat needs to be getting on the phone to his copyright lawyer.
It’s a nice story, but it’s also kind of a lie. It relies on narrative cheating, or on viewers being able to suspend their disbelief long enough to allow the possibility that not only does a spaceship appear to Serenity in the nick of time (*cough*Douglas Adams*cough*), not only does Mal manage to fix the engine single-handed, but also the shuttles return in time to save their captain’s life, despite knowing that staying out in space is pretty much their only chance at survival. And if you really have to stretch the rules of your world quite that far to make your ideological point, you’re doing something wrong.
(I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I do actually like Firefly. It’s piratical and funny and humane and well-characterised and all complaints I make are relative. That is all.)