FireflyThe Firefly Episode Guide, Part V
Thursday 11 December 2003, by Webmaster
Firefly: The Firefly Episode Guide, Part 5 Episode by episode with Joss Whedon & Tim Minear, by Edward Gross
"OUT OF GAS" Official DVD Summary: After an explosion leave Serenity crippled, Mal orders everyone to abandon ship while he stays behind in an attempt to make repairs - and reminisces how he found the ship and picked its crew.
JOSS WHEDON Q&A
JOSS WHEDON: My single favorite episode. I broke the story very specifically with Tim. I pitched all of the flashbacks, very specifically the structure and I’m blowing my horn about what I had to do with that episode, because I did not write it and I did not direct, and it really is our best. Tim just wrote an amazing script, David Solomon, who’s been with me since the beginning of Buffy, shot it very beautifully. David Boyd, the D.P., brought in that insane reversal stock for the flashbacks that provided that incredible look. I don’t think anything ever got to the heart of both what we wanted the show to be sort of what a show should be, what the show was and how it was than that one. Apart from the flashbacks, just the very ending, just seeing Serenity from across a crowded room and falling in love, it explains so much about our characters, and who they were and what they wanted. It was such a simple premise: this ship is going to break, we’re all going to die because of something really, really mundane. I just think there was more emotion, surprising humor and a perfect kind of structure to that thing than anything else we did. To me, it was the most moving episode that we did.
CFQ: For me, an interesting aspect of the premise is that opposed to the Romulans firing disruptors at the Enterprise, you’ve got a ship in danger for a ridiculous reasons.
JOSS WHEDON: To me, the show was always about people who don’t have health insurance; who are trying to get the next meal, the next job, and the thing is that when you don’t get sick days, you can lose your job; you can lose your car. It’s like a domino effect. It’s very scary to live on the fringe there, and that’s where these guys are. This was the best example of that we ever had.
TIM MINEAR Q&A
TIM MINEAR: That’s probably my favorite episode and probably one my favorite things I’ve written in a long time. I think Joss and I both sort of did our best work on Firefly.
CFQ: But why? What was it about Firefly that touched the two of you so creatively?
TIM MINEAR: I haven’t the slightest idea. There was some kind of alchemy going on where the cast was perfect, the crew was amazing, the department heads were really reaching to do something extraordinary and maybe it was because the network didn’t love us. I don’t know what it was, but it was something about the show...You know what? A lot of it had to do with Joss’ belief in it. That was infectious. So for some strange reason we just bought into this universe hook, line and sinker. It was completely real for us, these people were completely three-dimensional to us and there was just something about it. I remember I was going to write the next episode and Joss had the idea that they run out of gas. I’m like, "That’s great, but now I have to write 54 pages. What does that mean?" We looked at it this way, we looked at it that way. There’s a tiny part of the story where this other crew comes aboard the ship, but that was originally going to be the story. They run out of gas and we get to see another scavenger ship with a crew not unlike the crew of Serenity, but they’re bad guys. That was the idea, but it didn’t thrill me. I remember Joss and I went out to dinner. We were eating our steak and Joss said, "Can the episode open with Mal being shot in the gut?" And I said, "Now you’re talking." Somehow we got to this notion of he’s bleeding to death and he’s remembering how he put his core crew together. So then, once we had that, it seemed natural that if we were starting with him getting shot in the gut, then the story becomes how did he get shot in the gut? Which meant that I was probably going to have to jump back 24 or 48 hours before and tell that story up to him getting shot. In the meantime, I’m crosscutting with him dragging himself to the sickbay and then to the engine room with this part to try and get the power back on. So there are actually three timeframes going throughout that whole show: 48 hours before, what’s happening now with him being shot and then years ago, and it’s all going to end up with him laying his eyes on this ship for the first time. What you discover by the end of that episode is this whole episode has been a love story, and it’s been a love story about Mal and this ship and what this ship means to him. So for some reason I got to tap into all kinds of interesting things in that story.
I remember we put it together, David Solomon directed and God bless him. David Solomon did for this episode what David Semel did for my episode of Angel, "Are You Now or Have you Ever Been?" They’re similar in many ways. They’re both flashback episodes and there’s a kind of poetry about how they’re shot. I didn’t shoot either one of them. So we put it all together and we looked at it were all so proud. We sent it to the network and I get a call from the network and they’re confused. They’re confused because it all seems to be taking place out of order. They were asking me if I could put it in chronological order. I had to explain to them that here was no chronological order for this episode. If I put it in chronological order, it wouldn’t make any sense because it’s jumping around like a fever dream and that it has it’s own kind of dream logic. I added that no one who has seen it has been confused in the slightest. But they just assume that people are too stupid to follow something like that, I guess. Basically my feeling was that if they insisted I put it in chronological order, I would just quit. There would be nothing I could do at that point. But, look, there were some people at the network saying that. For the most part, the executives who were covering this show loved this episode. They totally got it, completely protected it and it got to air as conceived.
CFQ: What I love about it is that you get a constant reinforcement of who these people are.
TIM MINEAR: A lot of people thought this would make a good pilot, but I disagreed. You need the weight of four or five episodes so you can appreciate who these people were several years earlier. "ARIEL" Official DVD Summary: Simon offers the crew a proposition: if they help him sneak River into a hospital so he can run tests on her, he’ll tell them where to find medical supplies that will fetch an enormous price on the black market.
JOSS WHEDON Q&A
JOSS WHEDON: Another show that blew me away and a lot of the credit goes to Allan Kroeker, who shot it. He really used our hand-held aesthetic in a dynamic way. There was just a lot of really gorgeous footage and a lot of energy. I remember actually pulling into the Fox lot behind Tim, getting out of the car and going, "I know what the next one is..." When you have the sword over your head the entire time of production, when you think you might be cancelled at any moment, the one great thing is you’re not allowed to go, "Here’s an interesting idea that we can doodle with. You have to go straight to the primal place. What is the most painful, the most important, the most riveting, the most telling - what will keep them in the seats, what will get them to come back? You have to go to the primal place every time out. To me, after "Out of Gas," what I needed to see was Simon and River and their world and what they had, what they lost and really see Simon sort of taking charge, which he pretty much did. I also wanted to see Jayne betray them, because you can be irascible so long before you’re just lovable. A lot of the thriller stuff in the episodes, which I’m actually quite bad at because heists are confusing, came from the writers, though it turned out to be something that was very crucial to the show. The jobs can be really riveting and exciting if they’re well done. So it turned out to be an extraordinary episode, and of course it ended with what we call the Jesus Corleone speech where Mal says, "You do it to any one of my people, you do it to me," while he’s about to kill Jayne. That, to me, was one of the most powerful things that we did. It was Nathan who thought of using the little hand-held coms so we didn’t have to have two guys standing at a window for an entire scene. That worked out great, because then he could move around.
CFQ: While it may be true to the characters, some people may think it’s kind of bold to take Jayne in the direction he went in in this episode.
JOSS WHEDON: It is, though we buy it back a bit when he clearly has regret and then he has a redeeming moment where he doesn’t want people to know that’s what he did, which is enough. But you want that tension there from the start when Mal says, "When are you going to betray me?" and he basically says, "We’ll see." Which I love, because he has that in him, no matter how lovable he might be.
TIM MINEAR: The thing that attracted me to Allan Kroeker’s work was that unlike a lot of TV directors, he got in there with the camera; he got into people’s points of view, he moved the camera through space and he shot like it was a movie. So we brought him in and I remember we were working on the script right until the last minute, which is often the case. He didn’t have a script for prep, he had an outline, and I was constantly changing it as he was shooting, and he kept up very nicely, thank you.
This is one of my favorite episodes. The scene between Mal and Jayne at the end is maybe the best in the show, where he locks Jayne into the airlock and threatens to blow him out. The acting is so good in that episode; everybody is brilliant. Our crew created all sorts of amazing things that we simply couldn’t believe. The script was written by Jose Molina, who was Howard Gordon’s assistant when he was on Angel, and then Jose went off and became a writer in his own right. He worked on Dark Angel, we brought him over to Firefly and he just kicked ass on "Ariel." He came up with a lot of the fundamental plot for that story. I had a team of people who could really break stories on that show, and that was pretty exciting.