Mal\'s Beloved

Out of Gas blossoms in three separate timelines, the first of which takes place in the present and begins with Serenity floating in space against the backdrop of an eery silence. Scenes inside the ship reveal no sign of the crew. Haze fills the living quarters and debris is scattered along the floor. A tinge of blue permeates the ambiance as a pallid Mal crashes onto the floor of the cargo bay, blood dripping from his abdomen.

Flashback to voices in Mal's head as a salesman makes a pitch to Mal who is looking to buy a ship. Exaggerated yellow has replaced the blue while Mal makes a similar pitch to a skeptical Zoe.

The scene shifts to hours before the present, back to neutral colors and a lively crew eating dinner and enjoying each other's company on Simon's birthday. The jubilance is soon interrupted as Kaylee's warnings to Mal in both the pilot episode and The Train Job about a worn-down compression coil finally materialize. Both Serenity and the crew are out of gas as the engines are stalled and the oxygen is running out fast.

In the confusion that follows, Mal shows that he is a survivor. Years spent on the frontier have honed his disposition to tame the cosmos and beat back the constant attacks from his surroundings no matter how grim the odds may be. Though the facts of their impending deaths put the rest of the crew into a state of shock, Mal springs into action as his instincts take over. He forcibly extracts a despondent Wash tending to his wounded wife and somehow impels him to come up with a way to enhance the strength of their distress signal. Excuses from Kaylee aren't good enough. Knowing that every last mile and minute count, he comes up with a plan to send out the crew in the two shuttles in opposite directions to maximize the chances of finding help. Even after being shot in the stomach, Mal finds a way to secure the replacement coil from armed men and inject himself directly in the heart with chemicals to fuel those last few steps into the engine room. Fate is a concept for men looking to become corpses, and Mal ain't one of them.

Masterfully transitioning between the three threads of time, a story of courage, loyalty, and willpower emerges. Yet the heart of the episode is revealed very early by the language Mal uses when first encountering Serenity.

SALESMAN: Yep. A real beauty, ain't she? Yessir. A right smart purchase, this vessel. Tell you what, you buy this ship, treat her proper, she'll be with ya for the rest of your life.

[...]

ZOE: Sir, it's a piece of Fei-oo.

MAL: Fei-oo? Okay. So she won't win any beauty contests, that's true enough. But she's solid. Ship like this, be with ya 'til the day you die.

[...]

MAL: C'mon. You ain't even seen most of it. I'll show you the rest. Try to see past what she is, on to what she can be.

Out of Gas is, in the end, the telling of a love story. The romance at its center is the one between Mal and Serenity. For a man so cynical about life and authority, one who has lost his faith and independence, Serenity represents the only remnant the old order he was once part of. She is a symbol of his defiance, the ability to choose his destiny, his partner in life. She is his constant companion, loyal and faithful, never leaving his side.

Can a maiden of steel temper a hardened man's soul as one of flesh and bone?

In Mal's case, one final flashback reveals the answer. As the salesman whose voice is heard making the same pitch at the beginning of the show tries to sell Mal a towering spaceship - "Tell you what, you buy this ship, treat her proper, she'll be with ya for the rest of your life" - Mal doesn't seem to be paying any attention. His eyes have wandered over to a more humble, unpretentious boat off in the distance. Captivated by her features, he can't stop smiling. It's love at first sight.

Inara was wrong when she urged Mal to join them in one of the shuttles. He wasn't going to die alone. He was going to die in the arms of the one he's loved since the day he laid eyes on her.


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