In Episode 3: Bushwacked, Mal freely admits to his identity as Malcom Reynolds, former browncoat Sergeant. His crew and passengers also freely admit to their identities.

Later, in Episode 5: Safe, Mal docks with an Alliance Cruiser to request that they save Shepherd Book's life. In this case, he gives the officer forged paperwork under a different name. The officer looks over the paperwork and says:

Official seal's out of date, Captain... Harbatkin?

Logically, this seems backwards: he admits to his identity when he's committing an actual crime, and hides it when he's innocent and just requesting medical aid.

Why the change?

  • Was the first encounter some sort of "honesty attempt" that didn't work out the way he expected? So he decided to play it safe from then on?

  • Was the real Captain Harbatkin somehow related to the Alliance, and thus might be more likely to get the medical help they were seeking?

  • 5
    My impression was, his fake papers weren't that good. The second officer seems suspicious just seeing them. The first would have called bullshit right off, especially since they were in the middle of crime. Mal thought he could spin that first guy the right way if they didn't give any other reasons to be held.
    – Radhil
    Feb 22, 2018 at 2:05
  • @Radhil I like this idea - it matches with the fact that they take the cargo out of the secret compartment. want to turn it into an actual answer?
    – LevenTrek
    Feb 22, 2018 at 7:17

2 Answers 2


If you are a famous outlaw (i.e. known to be a criminal by your real name), you’d use an alias for the legit operations.

Now, this really does not hold up too much as he uses his real names when docking (and while it’s unconfirmed when they land on the core worlds, but they make no mention of it or try to hide the ship’s/crew’s ID).


There are many possible reasons there probably is not a true canon reason

That being said the simplest explanation is forged credentials cost money and in the first situation they had yet to purchase them or they did not want to waste expensive forged credentials in a situation where they had already been caught committing a crime

In the first episode they were caught looting in the second they sought the cruiser for medical help.

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