The ship is quiet, drifting in space. And it’s so quiet on board – no one is around, things are scattered on the floor. Suddenly, with a crash, Mal is scattered on the floor, gasping, and there’s a voiceover saying that if you treat this ship proper, “she’ll be with you for the rest of your life.” Which may not be much longer, in Mal’s case.
Way-back flashback: Mal opens the cargo bay doors to show the Firefly to Zoë. “You pay money for this, sir? On purpose?” Zoë is so not impressed but Mal is clearly in love, saying that she won’t win any beauty pageants, but is so “solid she’ll be with you ‘til the day you die.” “That’s because it’s a deathtrap,” says Zoë, and Mal sputters at her, continuing the tour. At this point, the crew is just the two of them: they need a pilot, a mechanic, maybe a cook. Mal is rapt, however, envisioning a home and freedom. He’s already picked out the ship’s new name.
Present: Mal is still lying on the floor. The shot is from below, through a grate, and quite a lot of blood is dripping down. That can’t be good. Where is everyone? He staggers to his feet and grabs some chunk of machinery that he dropped when he fell, then staggers off into the ship.
More recent flashback: our whole Serenity crew is having a roaring good time at dinner, Book telling apparently hilarious stories about his life in the monastery. We pause the hilarity for some exposition that Wash has, under orders, charted a course to their next destination that goes way out of their way into the space-boondocks to avoid Alliance patrols. Meanwhile, since it’s Simon’s birthday, Kaylee has made him a cake, complete with candles. When he goes to blow them out, however, the lights flicker and there’s a HUGE explosion. Zoë pushes Kaylee out of the way and gets thrown across the room by the blast; she’s knocked unconscious and is badly hurt. Mal and Jayne act quickly, closing all the bulkhead doors and then venting the fire out the cargo doors into space.
When the fire is extinguished, they bring Zoë to the infirmary so Simon can help her. Mal send Kaylee to the engine room to figure out what happened. Kaylee is in shock, staring at Zoë: “She ain’t movin’. Serenity ain’t movin.” But she still goes to the engine room. Mal wants Wash on the bridge to help suss out what happened but Wash doesn’t want to leave Zoë’s side. Mal grabs him and slams him into the wall. Wash goes.
Way-back flashback: Wash, with a cheeseball mustache, is checking out the bridge – Mal is hoping to hire him as the new pilot as he comes highly recommended, but Zoë doesn’t like him: “Somethin’ ‘bout him bothers me.” Mal is incredulous: “We finally got ourselves a genius mechanic and now we need someone to fly this thing.” “Genius?” says a decidedly male voice. “No one’s ever called me that before. Shiny!” It’s a decidedly male mechanic, blond haired and bare chested, and so very much not Kaylee!
More recent flashback: Zoë is not doing well and Simon plunges a HUGE needle into her chest (Inara gasps and turns away). It’s pure adrenalin and should jump-start her.
Present: Mal has lurched into the infirmary and found another HUGE needle of adrenalin. He jams it into his OWN heart and starts spasming. Holy yuck.
More recent flashback: Kaylee reports that the catalyzer on the port-compression coil blew, main life support is down because the engine is dead, the explosion wiped out the auxiliary life support, and they vented most of the extant oxygen out into space when they vented the fire. They have a couple hours of air left: “First we’ll start to feel it, then we won’t feel nothin’ at all,” says Kaylee dully.
Simon has stabilized Zoë but she is still unconscious. Inara comes to check on them and Simon starts telling her the clinical description of death by suffocation until she cuts him off. Book prays in his quarters until he is interrupted by River. She notes that he’s afraid they’ll run out of air, and “die gasping.” That won’t happen, she says, and the preacher gets his hopes up briefly until she continues: “We’ll freeze to death first.”
Mal finds Wash on the bridge. The pilot has sent the distress beacon but thinks it’s futile since they’re so far out of range of anyone or anything. They shout at each other until Jayne yells at them: “Hey! What do you two think you’re doin’, fightin’ at a time like this? You’ll use up all the air.” It’s been a while since I said this but boy, do I love Jayne.
Present: An alarm is blaring now, and an automated voice counts down ‘til the oxygen runs out. Mal is painfully and bloodily making his way to the engine room.
Way-back flashback: Mal strides into the engine room, shouting for Lester and asking about what the delay is this time. Lester is busy, having standing-up sex next to the engine. Mal coitus- interrupts; the mechanic explains that engines make this girl hot is why they’re boinking here and not in his bunk. Mal doesn’t care. He wants his bird flying. Lester starts to say that there’s a problem with the grav-boot when the girl cuts in. She’s Kaylee and she says the grav-boot is fine, it’s some other something that’s broken. In no time at all she’s fixed the engine, saying that her daddy says she’s got natural talent – she’s never even been in a Firefly before. Mal immediately offers her a job and she delightedly runs off to tell her folks. Lester shakes his head, “Mal, what do you need two mechanics for?” Mal deadpans, “I really don’t.”
More recent flashback: Kaylee is in the engine room, disconsolate that she can’t fix the engine because of the broken catalyzer. She shows Mal where it’s supposed to fit into the engine. “Sometimes a thing gets broke and can’t be fixed.”
Present: The gadget Mal has in his hand appears to be a new catalyzer. He has managed to get to the engine room but drops the catalyzer when he tries to fasten it in.
More recent flashback: Everyone (except the unconscious Zoë) assembles in the galley and Mal lays out the options. It’s starting to get cold and everyone is wrapped in sweaters and blankets. The two shuttles are available, which have fuel, heat and air; they’re short-range, however, and won’t get them as far as any planet or space station. Even so, Mal says they’ll send the shuttles out in opposite directions to increase the chances that someone somewhere will pick up the signal. When that happens, they can send rescue back. Trouble is, only four people can go in each shuttle and Mal is going down with the ship. Everyone looks sick at the thought but they don’t argue with him. Wash goes to fiddle with something with the beacon so that Mal can call both of the shuttles back to Serenity if rescue comes to him instead of them. Inara pleads with him to come with them but Mal is firm, saying he may have to owe her the security deposit she paid. “You don’t have to die alone,” she says. “Everyone dies alone,” quoth the captain.
Way-back flashback: Inara is checking out the shuttle Mal has available to rent. She has her full snooty on and we see that the head butting between the two of them begins immediately. She informs him that if she leases the shuttle, she will under no circumstances be servicing him or any of his crew. Mal: “I’ll post a sign.”
More recent flashback: The crew loads onto the two shuttles and take off, leaving Mal to go back to the bridge. He seats himself in the pilot’s chair and, shivering, wraps himself in a blanket. Some time later, a transmission comes through – someone has received Serenity’s distress call! Mal, who was not dead but only dozing, can’t believe it. The captain of the other ship is cagey, however, refusing to allow Mal onto his boat in the event the distress call was a trap; he finally agrees to give Mal a spare catalyzer for the compressor coil. Mal opens the cargo doors, breathing in the gust of new air. The captain and a search party board Serenity, guns drawn. That’s not so friendly.
Way-back flashback: On some planet, ruffians are holding Mal and Zoë at gunpoint. Jayne is one of the ruffians, chomping on a big ol’ cigar. The head ruffian asks Mal if they look like reasonable people and Mal shrugs, thinking that looks can be deceiving. “Not as deceivin’ as a low-down, dirty … deceiver,” says Jayne. Mal thinks that was well said. “Had a kind of poetry to it, sir,” says Zoë. After a bit of word bandying, Mal offers Jayne a job, a bigger percentage and his own bunkroom. Jayne shoots his compatriots in the knees, wanting to know how big a room.
More recent flashback: Back in the cargo hold and still at gunpoint, Mal tells the other captain to take whatever of his cargo he thinks is fair in exchange for the catalyzer. Without delay, the captain shoots Mal in the side, saying he’ll take the ship. He starts giving orders until Mal fishes a hidden gun from under something and puts it to the captain’s head. He grabs the catalyzer and waits until they leave the ship, the captain smirking that Mal would have done the same. “You can already see I haven’t,” grunts Mal, before closing the cargo bay doors. He falls to the decking, bringing us to the first scene.
Cut to the engine room where he is attaching the catalyzer, his hands slick with his own blood. The engine immediately starts cranking, life support engaging immediately. The camera takes a slow and unsteady trip down the hallway towards the bridge – Mal’s point of view. He makes it to the bridge but collapses, unable to go any further, just feet from the beacon that will call the shuttles back home.
Mal awakens, voices fluttering in his head. He’s in the infirmary and everyone is there. Zoë is awake; Wash has a tube in his arm, giving Mal a transfusion. Confused, Mal says he thought he ordered everyone off the ship. Apparently Zoë came to and ordered everyone back. “Her decision saved your life,” comments Simon. “Won’t happen again, sir,” Zoë murmurs fondly. “Good, and thanks, I’m grateful,” mumbles Mal. Simon then shoos them all out of the infirmary, saying the captain needs to rest. Mal agrees, and then picks his head up, looking at each of his crewmembers. “You going to be here when I get back?” he says, concerned. Book pats his hand, “We’ll be right here.” “That’s good,” Mal mumbles again, this time dropping off.
Way-back flashback: We’re at a used spaceship lot and the salesman is giving Mal the hard sell, “You buy this ship, treat her proper, and she’ll be with you for the rest of your life.” But Mal isn’t looking at the ship the salesman is trying to sell him – he’s already in love, gazing at the beat-up Firefly perched in the back of the lot.
7 hours ago