Firefly: Out of Gas (25 October 2002, David Solomon)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While a critically injured Mal attempts to save his ship, we see flashbacks to how the crew came together…

Written by Tim Minear. Directed by David Solomon.

Best performance: Nathan Fillion holds the whole thing together as Mal – he’s the protagonist of the main storyline and is in every flashback scene.

Best bits:
* The in medias res opening: Serenity deserted, Mal bleeding…
* The “What’s that?” gag in the first flashback scene. (By the way, all the flashbacks are shot with a harsh, sepia light. It’s a stylish way of distinguishing them from the main story.)
* Inara: “A companion doesn’t kiss and tell.” Mal: “So, there *is* kissing?”
* The dinner scene: all nine regulars sharing a meal, trading banter and celebrating Simon’s birthday. It’s so likeable you almost want the entire episode to be these people just hanging out. It’s the calm before…
* …an explosion rips through the ship!
* Wash’s flashback: he has a moustache and Zoe doesn’t like him.
* Back in the present, Simon Pulp Fictions an injured Zoe with an injection of pure adrenalin.
* Simon says he doesn’t want to die on Serenity. Inara pointedly replies that she doesn’t want to die at all. (This was foreshadowing for a story arc that never came to fruition: Inara is actually terminally ill.)
* Mal rowing with Wash – an argument that accidentally leads to a solution to their problems.
* Kaylee’s flashback: shagging Serenity’s old mechanic and then impressing Mal with her technical knowledge.
* Inara’s flashback: a scene with Mal that’s full of subtext and sexual chemistry.
* The incidental music is excellent.
* Another ship floats into view through the cockpit window.
* Mal opens the airlock once the other ship has docked and a gust of air hits his face.
* Jayne’s flashback: he’s in a gang holding up Mal and Zoe when Mal convinces him to switch sides.
* Jayne says Inara’s ship smells funny. She explains it’s incense.
* One final flashback: Mal spotting Serenity in a junkyard…

Review: In the pilot episode we learnt how Mal knows Zoe, and how Book, Simon and River ended up on board Serenity. So this episode could be considered to be a mopping-up exercise: we now see flashbacks of Mal buying Serenity, recruiting Wash, Kaylee and Jayne, and meeting Inara. But rather than being dry or functional, this is superbly fluid and engaging storytelling. The intercutting of the three time frames (past, present, future) is breathtaking. The dialogue fizzes with energy and attitude. It’s another tremendous episode.

Ten nav sats out of 10

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy vs. Dracula (The WB, 26 September 2000, David Solomon)

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These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Sunnydale, California, in the year 2000.

Faithful to the novel? This opening episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fifth season pits our heroine and her friends against Dracula, who’s suddenly arrived in town. It’s a new plot, but there are a lot of echoes of the book. The Count (played by Rudolf Martin) is delivered to his new home in coffins full of dirt. He can transform into wisps of smoke, a wolf and a bat. (When he turns into smoke while Buffy’s trying to stake him, she complains: “That’s cheating!”) Dracula easily bends Xander to his will; Xander thus becomes an equivalent of book character Renfield (even eating insects). Buffy is seduced while in a kind of waking dream and is bitten on the neck. Also, Giles has an encounter with a trio of Dracula’s Brides. The original idea for the episode was for Buffy to fight a master vampire *akin* to Dracula. But then executive producer Joss Whedon pointed out that the character was in the public domain…

Best performance: Nicholas Brendon’s very funny as the enthralled Xander, who flips between bitterly moaning about his lot and being subservient.

Best bit: A lot to chose from – mostly the comedy moments. When Dracula portentously introduces himself, there’s a beat before an excited Buffy says, “Get out!” When Xander meets Dracula he mocks his accent and does an impression of the Count from Sesame Street. He later nonchalantly locks girlfriend Anya in a cupboard. But the highlight is Giles’s reluctance to be ‘saved’ from the sexy Brides: “My shoe! Silly me, I’ll just pop back…”

Review: This is by no means one of the best episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (my favourite TV show, incidentally). I can think of a dozen straightaway that are better, while two online rankings I saw put it 100th and 65th. But it’s a reflection of the show’s high quality that it’s so entertaining. This is witty, playful and inventive stuff, full of character comedy and emotion-driven plotting. Smartly, each of the regulars has a different reaction to Dracula turning up: Buffy is excited by the danger, Willow thinks he’s sexy, Xander feels jealous, Giles feels left out, Riley feels threatened, and so on. The episode is having great postmodern fun with the clichés of the myth, but it’s far from just a spoof. Superb.

Eight big, honking castles out of 10