In the episode Safe, Mal comes back to rescue Simon.

SIMON Captain... why did you come back for us?

MAL You're on my crew.

SIMON Yeah, but you don't even like me. (beat) Why'd you come back?

MAL You're on my crew. Why we still talking about this? (walks off, over his shoulder) Chow's in ten. No need to dress.

Again in the episode Ariel, Mal threatens to allow Jayne to get sucked into space for betraying the Tams to the Alliance.

But then, at the beginning of the movie Serenity, Mal tells Simon, "I look out for me and mine. That don't include you unless I conjure it does."

I was wondering if there was any indication in the books or extra media that would indicate why Mal had this change of heart?

  • 6
    A guy can't change his mind?
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 19:28
  • See the answer here Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 5:28
  • 6
    I reckon Mal never intended to leave Simon and River. The reasoning I assume he’s having is: “I got an entire planet to scour to find my doctor and I got a person who’s going to die in a couple hours unless I get qualified medical attention right now. If I don’t find my doctor in a couple of hours, Book dies. The likelihood of me taking this little time to find Tams is really low. The likelihood of Tams lasting a bit longer than Book is quite some higher. So I attend to Book first, Tams later."
    – Nomenator
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 13:36

4 Answers 4


It was pretty heavily implied (by Kaylee, IIRC - I don't have the book or the film to reference right now) that Mal has been more angry and moody since Inara left the ship. With both Inara and Book gone, Mal's lost his stabilizing influences. He's becoming erratic, ruthless, and mean-spirited. It's the same reason he was willing to drive away and leave the man in the town to the Reavers rather than bringing him along.

  • 4
    While your point is actually even more legit than mine, I disagree about the Reaver part. The man simply couldn't have been saved - reavers were too many, and Jayne didn't have grenades - so what Mal did was mercy killing. Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 19:51
  • 35
    But as Zoe says when she confronts him about it, "Back in the war, we would've never left a man behind." His reply "Maybe that's why we lost." The point being that even Zoe is noticing a change in Mal's behavior, enough to comment on it.
    – Werrf
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 19:55
  • Back in war Mal didn't have anything but the Browncoats to worry about. He was reckless, committed. Now he has a crew to care for, as he points out in the remainder of the conversation you just quoted. Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 20:00
  • 3
    I'm not trying to argue whether his choice was justified or not - just pointing out that Zoe, who knows him best, seems to think he's changing, and becoming more ruthless.
    – Werrf
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 20:06
  • 1
    I agree. But it appears to me that she only compares captain-Mal to sergeant-Mal. She doesn't mention Inara or Shepherd. Mal is aware of the change, in the beginning of the film he says "War's long done. We're all just folk now." Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 20:08

I don't see how he changes his mind.

He comes back for Simon because:

  1. Simon is very useful
  2. Simon is reliable, since he also needs the cap'n in order to keep River and himself safe from the Alliance.

He then threatens Jayne because latter is a betrayer scum. But then again, Mal probably knew this moment would come - Jayne changed his allegiance in Out of Gas, and the only reason why he didn't betray Mal in Serenity (ep. 1) is "money wasn't good enough". Yet Jayne saw what happens when one bargains with the Alliance, and Mal knows that. So he pokes Jayne just a bit, so that the lesson is well-received. Indeed, Jayne is sorry, and Mal is assured that Jayne is "one of his crew" once again.

And lastly, when Mal says

that don't include you unless I conjure it does

He wants to be clear that although a crew member may be useful, Simon in particular comes with difficulties as well, as he continues to explain,

You stuck a thorn in the Alliance's paw. That tickles me a bit. But it also means I have to step twice as fast to avoid them, and that means turning down plenty of jobs. Even honest ones.

Still, the Captain seems cold, but IMHO he wouldn't abandon anyone just like that (what happens later in Serenity is another thing entirely). Kaylee actually says the exact same thing after she is treated, in episode 1.

  • 3
    I would argue that he comes back for Simon because "You're on my crew." He had accepted them as family, or at least that's how I took it. Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 20:54
  • 2
    @BrendanHughes - I regarded Mal's crew equivalent to family in this case. Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 5:23

An out-of-universe answer, which I realize isn’t necessarily the goal here, but I feel that getting meta is the only way to make that scene from Serenity make sense.

I always treated the plot of Serenity as including a condensed version of the Firefly continuity, for the sake of audiences unfamiliar with the show. Thus, we see Mal and Simon’s frosty early relationship, because it’s crucial to understanding Mal and Simon’s characters.

I would therefore say that the quote you have from Serenity took place prior to “Safe” and “Ariel.”

This doesn’t quite make sense (for instance, the statement is made in part in reference to River being taken on a job for the first time, but Firefly certainly gave no indication that such a thing had ever happened even off-screen), which is why I say Serenity included a condensed version of the Firefly continuity. Thus, the events of both Firefly and Serenity took place, but not in exactly the way they’re presented in Serenity, and not strictly ordered among the episodes of Firefly (though clearly nothing of Firefly takes place after the main events of Serenity).

  • 2
    +1 Great point. The film worked so well because they were willing to make it standalone rather than just a final episode. That meant playing with the characters a bit to provide drama for people who didn't know them. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 10:32
  • 1
    The opening scene where Simon rescues River is not that consistent with the series either, unless you squint quite hard, but again, for the film it is perfect. Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 10:33
  • Except the reason Mal includes River in the mission is because "she's a reader". This is something they don't realize until at least midway through the TV series and the characters don't voice their suspicions to each other until the final episode. But by the beginning of Serenity, they've all accepted that fact so the movie must occur in its entirety after the events of the TV series.
    – aleppke
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 22:38

I'd suggest that Mal never intended to leave Simon behind, but that he was a) being moody, and b) teaching Simon a little bit about himself and what to expect.

  • 1
    Yeah, you’re probably right about (a). But as far “teaching Simon about himself,” surely Simon already was familiar with Mal’s personality by that point?
    – Adamant
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 23:52
  • Well, for whatever reason, Mal felt compelled (maybe he was just cranky) to make it clear to Simone that if he ever were to do something to make Mal decide he wasn't part of the crew, he'd be on his own. An affirmation of the need for loyalty, of sorts.
    – Rick
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 0:54

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