I'm not quite sure how to describe the storytelling technique Tim Minear uses in this script. I suppose most simply put it's three different timelines that Minear interweaves, though it doesn't quite feel like nonlinear storytelling to me. I think the inter-cutting between the present (wounded Mal trying to fix the ship) and the near past (how Mal ended up shot on his broken ship) is quite effective because it allows the story to begin in medias res. The plot isn't terribly complicated nor particularly original, so the structure gives it a little pizazz. Not surprisingly, I don't love the deep flashbacks showing how each of the crew members ended up on Serenity. For the most part, I don't think they provide much information about these characters who, on the whole, sorely lack backgrounds.
Wash and Inara's flashbacks irk me the most. Wash's flashback exists for the cheap "laughs" of his mustache and Zoe saying that she "don't like 'im." Of course she didn't like him. No couple in the history of television liked each other at first. Yawn. The flashback with Inara renting the shuttle essentially rehashes what her interview with the Alliance officer in "Bushwhacked" reveals. Nothing new there. And similar to Zoe's "I don't like 'im," Inara tells Mal not to call her a whore ever again, which of course he does all the time. So I guess that flashback does provide new information: Mal is even more of an ass than I thought.
Jayne's flashback is entertaining, though not particularly revelatory. Like I said previously, I don't feel the need to learn more about Jayne's past at this point because it's clear how he ended up flying with Mal, so "entertaining" is perfectly satisfying. I think the final flashback serves as a nice coda to the episode, though again it's not all that telling. Kaylee's flashback is the only one that provides some new background information and character development. I remember being a little shocked by the introduction of Kaylee in flagrante delicto with Bester* because she has seemed rather naive about relationships up to this point in the series, despite all the talk of her nethers in the Big Damn Movie. We also learn that before flying with Mal, Kaylee lived on a farm with her parents and even seemed to have a good relationship with her father. But of course, we never see this father who isn't an overbearing dictator or a deserter.
*Do we ever have any indication of how long the crew of Serenity has been flying together when the series begins? That fact never seemed that important until I read that Jewel Staite thinks that Kaylee is supposed to be around 19-years-old. Staite was 19 and 20 while filming the series, so that's not an outrageous assumption. But if Kaylee is supposed to be 19 when the events of the series happen, then how old would she have been in this flashback? Would she have been over 18? Because Bester is clearly not a teenager. (The actor is 10 years older than Staite.)
I totally don't buy that wounded Mal with his one bitty gun would scare off the half-dozen pirates who shoot him. Even if they find him enough of a threat to retreat to their ship, why didn't they wait until Mal expired to take over Serenity? Mal had a good chance of dying: even if the gunshot wound to the gut didn't kill him, it could prevent him from repairing the ship so that he would suffocate. The pirates could easily have flown away when they saw the shuttles return. Anyway, that's what I would have done.
Nathan Fillion has to spend a lot of time alone in this episode, and I think he does a great job keeping the audience involved, even though he doesn't have any dialogue. He really sells Mal's pain without going too over-the-top or too hammy with it — he really knows how to bring physicality to a role. Even though I know that Mal won't die, Fillion's acting and David Solomon's direction manages to make me genuinely concerned for him. I like the sense of finality Solomon creates when the crew is saying their goodbyes and Mal is closing up the ship after the shuttles depart. Also, having Mal be simultaneously in danger of suffocating and bleeding to death effectively creates dramatic tension at the climax of the episode.
- "You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?" (Zoe)
- "'Day' is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It's not applicable. ...I didn't get you anything." (River)
- "I mean, let's say you did kill us...or didn't. There could be torture. Whatever." (Mal)