Wash was not an underdeveloped character in the course of either Firefly or Serenity. One episode, “War Stories”, focuses largely on him, and he had his moments in the film too. But, it would be fair to say that, owing to the brevity of the existing canon, Wash is one of many characters that we would like to see more of and know more about. Float Out gave us a chance to look at Wash a bit closer, through the three stories that are told about him, and through the final look at a mourning Zoe.
The first story is pure action hero stuff, and calls back to the “Crazy “Ivan” manoeuvre that Wash was able to pull in “Serenity”. Only this time, it’s more overtly suicidal: Wash deliberately steers his own ship into the Reaver “murder wedge”, with no guarantee that what he is doing will end with anything other than his own flattened form being jettisoned into space. But Wash pulls it off, showcasing both his bravery and his skill in the identification of ships and their weakpoints, even something as mutated as this Reaver atrocity. But it’s also more than that: it’s made clear that Wash’s actions were as much about saving the others who were with him on that convoy as it was abut saving himself. The Reavers are, as they were in Firefly, a mostly faceless enemy to be fought, and we have no problems seeing their ship plummet into the atmosphere of the planet: Wash’s actions are strictly heroic here, in a way that you almost wouldn’t expect of Wash. Maybe Mal, but not this guy who plays with dinosaur toys when he has nothing better to do. That, and the entire escapade shows clearly that Wash was tied up in criminal escapades long before he came on-board Serenity and hooked up with Zoe, shown stealing what are described as hospital ships.
In the second story, we cover similar territory, only without the very immediate peril of everyone involved being raped to death, eaten and having their skin sewed into clothes. Wash’s thrilling chase through the environment of Madcap is great to behold, showing Wash as a person who thrives when being the hunted as well as the hunter. If the first story called back to the way he dealt with the Reavers in “Serenity”, this game of cat and mouse can only bring the chase sequence in “The Message” to mind, as Wash once again steers his under-gunned ship into safety, using the natural terrain to his advantage. Here, the medium allows the creators to conjure up something a bit more visually impressive, as the two ships skirt rocks, mountains, grasslands, oceans and finally an arctic wasteland in the chase, and it’s all wonderful really. Here’s Wash, going through the motions on what seems to be an otherwise unexceptional transport job, but pulling off the thrilling heroics anyway. There isn’t anyone to save here, apart from his own life and that of his co-pilot, but Wash still comes off as competent, able and heroic.
Lastly, there is a story that showcases a bit more humanity, as Wash dumps a cargo of precious water purifiers in order to escape the long arm of Alliance law. It’s a short and sweet tale, that shows Wash as more than just a devil-may-care pilot ably cutting through Reavers and taking down pirates: here, Wash makes a conscious decision to dump something he doesn’t need in order to save his own skin, but also help a lot of other people in the process. Wash could have gotten out of that job richer than he had ever been before, but took the more morally righteous path: we can easily make comparisons to the choice made by Mal in “The Train Job” under similar circumstances. This story also illustrates some basic karma: Wash is soon beset by the very dangerous men who he undertook the initial theft for, but is presumably saved by the Alliance officer who noted the way he, Han Solo-like, dumped the cargo. Wash looks puny next to the two grunts who have presumably come to either end him or wish for death, but he stands a lot taller in a moral sense.
So, we have Wash the hero, Wash the daredevil and Wash the humanitarian. But there is also Wash the husband, and, as we see in the final panel, Wash the father who will never be. Zoe’s late intrusion into Float Out offers no new additional stories, but only some very brief looks at the man he was behind all of the adventures and heroism: a person who loved cheap booze, and who loved Zoe. The Jetwash, christened in Wash’s name, is more fittingly sent off into service with the breaking of the Chinese rotgut than any champagne, a suitable recognition of the person that Wash was, a man who didn’t go in for the fancy things or the high flying (ha) life, even though he probably had the skill as a pilot to pursue that path. No, Wash was happy with what he had and with what he was able to do: the final lesson of Float Out would appear to be that Wash was happiest in the company of his friends, the same people whose lives he would save over and over again, never hesitating to put himself in harms way to do so. Wash won’t get the chance to do any of that again, unfortunately, but his memory, and his legacy, lives on, through the remembrances of his friends, the ships that will bear hos name and the children he will never get to meet.
Next time, I’ll have a closer look at that final panel, and discuss a bit what Zoe’s pregnancy means as a narrative choice, and what he possibly portends for the larger canon.