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Firefly Essay : Aspect of Mal

Linda H.

Sunday 6 August 2006, by Webmaster

Spoilers: All episodes from the series. None from Serenity, The Movie.

River: Mal. Bad. In the Latin.

From "The Train Job"

Firefly was a series that was cancelled before its time. If you’re reading this, chances are you agree with that statement. In the interest of not beginning this essay with a diatribe against the decision-making abilities of Fox Network Executives (aka: man-ape-gone-wrong-things-oh, wait, that’s Jayne and he *has* redeeming qualities, never mind), I will just say that the story is not finished. Mal’s story is not finished.

Firefly was an ensemble show in the way that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an ensemble show. On BtVS, much of what Willow, Xander and Giles went through onscreen was an external representation of Buffy’s internal struggles. This was made explicit in the Season Four episodes "Primeval" and "Restless." Willow was Buffy’s spirit, Xander her heart and Giles her mind. Buffy, the hero, was the hands of the group-the one who acted. If I may digress and offer one example of Joss’s multi-layered BtVS storytelling: After Buffy clawed her way out of the grave at the start of Season Six, Willow was eventually corrupted by using her powers to avoid painful truths. Xander was unable to commit to Anya because of his inner demons. And Giles absented himself for most the year because he couldn’t bear her pain. (Many thanks to Spring Summers and the S’cubies for these insights and more. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Spring’s Spikecentricity analyses on the S3 site and follow the links to the message board discussions.)

Similarly, all of the supporting characters of Firefly represent an aspect of Mal. Or rather aspects of the man he was before he lost everything in the Battle of Serenity Valley.

When we first meet Malcolm Reynolds in the episode "Serenity, Part 1", he is in the middle of a firefight, keeping his platoon alive and doing the impossible through a combination of intelligence, humor, compassion, faith, reckless bravery, and a quiet heroism borne of an extraordinary will. And then we witness the exact moment in which he loses everything, when the cause for which he fought so hard and so long abandons him. Everything he had achieved and endured became suddenly meaningless. He doesn’t even blink when the man he’d tried so hard to save is gunned down beside him.

When we next meet Mal, it is six years later. He is the captain of a transport ship named after that same battle. The crew he has assembled is tight-knit and loyal (for the most part), but Mal himself is closed off and dour. Their activities are usually on the wrong side of legal, and they are just scraping by. This is a Mal whose only goal is to keep himself and his crew flying.

Following is my interpretation of what Aspect of Mal each of our characters represents. They are listed in the order in which they first appeared in "Serenity, Part 1." I reserve the right to be totally wrong, since not all of their secrets have been revealed. (Not gonna rant about Network Executive decisions, not gonna rant, not gonna rant...)


First up, the crew. These are the folks who have kept Mal alive so far.

Zoe is Mal’s soldier, with all of the fighting skills, discipline and honor that implies. Perhaps more importantly, Zoe is the soldier that has never been betrayed -because her first loyalty is to Mal. She can outfight and outthink him when it comes to tactics, but she is content to leave the long-term strategy to him. While she will question the soundness of Mal’s plans, she will follow his orders instantly.

Jayne is Mal’s id, for lack of a better term. (For Spring’s Spikecentricity readers, Jayne could be considered Mal’s Olaf.) Jayne is crude, aggressive, always on the lookout for the advantage (and food and sex), and has a powerful survival instinct. Jayne is the one who will point out all the things that will put his life and his cut of the money in danger.

Wash is the part of Mal that hasn’t yet grown up, hasn’t gone to war and hasn’t given up on his boyish ideals about himself. He has a Xanderrific sense of humor, as well as a sense of fun and adventure. As the pilot, however, he is very, very focused.

Kaylee is Mal’s hope. With her cheerful optimism and ability to see the bright side of everything (and an under appreciated talent for liking almost everyone), Kaylee is the one who both literally and figuratively keeps Serenity flying.

And then we have the passengers. These are the people who may help Mal reclaim those qualities that made him extraordinary.

Inara is Mal’s Heart on so many levels. Mal loves her, but he can’t quite bring himself to commit to her. In fact, they both insist on keeping their relationship strictly business, when it is so very obviously not. She lives in the shuttle, separate and able to leave at any time. As a Companion, she genuinely makes a difference in the lives of her clients, but she makes certain that her time with them is limited. Wash once pointed out that Mal had intimacy issues. I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Inara has them, too.

Book, I believe, represents Mal’s lost Faith, and often serves as the voice of Mal’s conscience. Book’s Aspect may be more complex than that-perhaps moving into Forgiveness territory. However, since we know virtually nothing about his past, I will just leave this aspect here, as it is the role he usually plays on board the ship.

Simon represents Mal’s lost Heroism. Almost everything that Simon does-giving up his old life to save his sister, saving lives as more of a calling than a profession, being willing to sacrifice himself when all else fails-are the acts of a hero. He is not perfect. There are times when his actions put others at risk. But he never stops trying to do the right thing. (Just a side note: Simon’s hands-a hero symbol-are repeatedly emphasized throughout the series. He often enters rooms hands first. He is a surgeon. Many of the tableaus with River show his hands helping her or comforting her. It is his forearm that gets sliced by Stitch in "Jaynestown." And finally, when he is held at gunpoint by Early in "Objects in Space," his hands are forward at waist-level, not up in surrender. Mmmm...pretty torso...oops, did I type that out loud?) And as Erin, beta-reader extraordinaire, pointed out to me, the menacing Blue Sun representatives-arch-nemeses of River and Simon-have unnatural and harmful Hands of Blue.

River is the personification of Mal’s tortured Spirit. When we first meet her, she is frozen and in stasis. And in light of the kind of man that Mal used to be, it is no surprise that his Spirit would be so closely related to his Heroism.

I know that some of these Aspects may seem counter-intuitive. But it’s what I see in the moment-of-truth scene in "Serenity, Part 1:"

Kaylee, Mal’s optimist, has just been unintentionally, yet almost fatally, wounded by Dobson, an Alliance representative. Simon runs directly to her, intent on saving her life. Book, Mal’s moral voice, disarms and knocks out the Fed. (Notably, Book will resort to violence when violence is called for.) Inara, Mal’s heart, is only concerned about Kaylee. Jayne, Mal’s powerfully pissed-off id, goes to kill the Fed. Book just barely prevents him from doing so. Zoe, Mal’s disciplined soldier, is finally able to make Jayne stand down. And then Wash, the only crewmember who is absent from the scene, announces that the Alliance has ordered them to stop.

Simon pauses, makes a decision, and stands up to demand that they run. As Mal and Simon face off, we as an audience may not yet realize that they both have the exact same things at stake: the lives of their little sisters. (Mal affectionately calls Kaylee mei mei.) Simon, the Hero, has already chosen to give up his old life to save his sister. Here, he is asking Mal to make the same decision. Inara, Mal’s Heart, tells him to do it. Mal is enraged at her demand.

Mal is fully aware that if he chooses to run from the Alliance ship, he will put his people and his freedom at risk. But to do otherwise, he would forever lose any chance to be the man he was before the Battle of Serenity. He would most likely lose his hope, because there would be no guarantee that the Alliance will treat Kaylee’s wound in time. He would lose his heart, because Inara has already told him to run and to do otherwise will forever mar their relationship. He would lose his faith, because Book chose to travel with them on the strength of his connection with Kaylee. And, in sacrificing Simon (and, unknown to him, River), Mal would give up his capacity for heroism and therefore kill his already tortured spirit.

All of these Aspects hang in the balance of this one decision. And then Mal makes the Hero’s choice. For which we are all grateful.

Following are some of the other ways in which keeping the Aspects in mind made me see another layer of storytelling in the rest of the episodes. None of these burbles are a complete picture. Mostly, they are just partial x-rays of the bare bones of Joss’s storytelling. The flesh (i.e. the writing, the acting, the directing, the design, the music, the FX) which he and Tim Minear drape over those bones is what makes Firefly extraordinary.

The Train Job

Simon immobilizes Jayne long enough for them to rescue Mal and Zoe and to carry out Mal’s decision to return the medicine to the sheriff. I think that Joss and Tim Minear consciously set it up so that Mal’s Hero aspect is the one who neutralized his Self-interest and that his Heart and his Conscience were both involved in the job that resulted in Mal’s doing the right thing.


Due to suspicion and officiousness, Commander Harken of the Alliance heavy-handedly rummages through Serenity and the lives of most of her crew and passengers. And fails to find anything of interest except a few questionable goods and a Reaver victim whose self-mutilation he mistakenly attributes to Mal. In fact, despite his extensive questioning of Mal and his people, the Commander is unable to understand Mal’s capacity for goodness and heroism because River and Simon (who are the only ones in true danger from the Alliance) have been temporarily and expediently exiled from the ship. And I believe it is significant that they are present, though unseen, when Mal makes the choice to save the Commander’s life, despite his restraints and the threat of imprisonment.

Also of interest are the parallels drawn between River and the proto-Reaver (which is masterfully discussed in Sara’s Firefly reviews on the S3 site. I’m sure you, dear reader, have already found and enjoyed them all.) They have both undergone appalling psychological and physical torture. The main difference between them is that in River’s case she had someone close by to comfort her when she screamed-first Simon and then Inara. Later, as Mal speaks to Commander Harken about what, in essence, goes into the making of a Reaver, Harken deliberately comments on how the war was similarly horrendous. I believe the underlying message here is that anyone can become a Reaver if they are made to face the Darkness. But if you have someone there with you and if you have enough inner strength, you can pull yourself back from the abyss.


Mal doesn’t call any planet home. From what Wash, Zoe and Inara say, he breaks the rules of every world as often as he breaks atmo. But are there any circumstances in which he will ground himself? Well, yes. As both he and Inara, his heart, demonstrate, they will both submit to the rules of Society, despite the threat to their lives and freedom, when a loved one’s life is at stake. Eventually, though, Mal will still be himself, despite the rules. He wins the duel with Atherton through a combination of Kaylee-like optimism and a moment of Jayne-like "cheating" when Atherton is momentarily distracted. And proves himself to be, well, OK by choosing to ignore the rules when the danger is past.

Both of the worlds under examination in this episode have their share of pretension. Inara’s world is represented by Atherton, who is a reversed mirror of Mal: he expresses admiration for her, but treats her like a whore, a commodity. Mal demonstrates his love for her, but calls her a whore to her face. Mal’s criminal world has its share of pretension, too, as River eerily demonstrates when she reads Badger: "Spent some time in the lockdown, but less than you claim."

In the end, neither Mal nor Inara choose to stay in their respective worlds. They are able to keep their freedom, though not without cost ("I got stabbed, right here."), as illustrated by the final shot of them sharing some wine above the cattle in the cargo bay.


For the first time, Mal sees River as a person in her own right, rather than just the Doctor’s crazy sister. It makes perfect sense to him when she says that the cattle, confined, forgot how to be themselves until they saw sky. Mal and River, too, have forgotten themselves. For a brief time, they remember: River, when she comes across the village dance and Mal, when he is caught up in a gunfight. The deliberate intercutting of these scenes indicates to me how much violence is a part of Mal’s life. And here, too, as in the Battle of Serenity, his faith, represented by Book, receives a near-fatal wound. The moment that Mal realizes that one of his crew is injured, River, his spirit, stops dancing, and Simon, his hero, is abducted.

At this point, both Mal and Simon go where they don’t want to go: Mal to an Alliance ship and Simon to the kidnappers’ village. And they both do what they don’t want to do, just because saving lives is the right thing to do. Once Book’s life has been saved, Mal makes the decision to retrieve Simon and River. Significantly, the only people who mention wanting them back are Kaylee, his hope and Book, his faith. Jayne, his self-interest, had already counted them out. Neither Inara nor Zoe tells him to get them back. But when they save Simon and River in the nick of time, they become Big Damn Heroes.

Our Mrs. Reynolds

This episode is about the almost-seduction of Mal, complete with a coitus interruptus metaphor at the end. (Pretty darned blatant metaphor, now that I look back on it.) Jayne, Mal’s id, was pretty much seduced by Saffron’s just being there. Kaylee, Mal’s optimist, immediately accepted her and was protective of her. Book, Mal’s conscience, insisted that she remain a temporary passenger. Zoe, Mal’s soldier, thought she was trouble. Inara, Mal’s heart, didn’t want anything to do with her.

Saffron tried and failed to seduce Mal time after time. Why did she fail? Because he was already in love. (He tells her that she cooked a mighty fine meal, but he had already eaten.) However, her last attempt was partially successful. Externally, the reasons why her final seduction did not quite work are represented by her last minute attempts to seduce Wash and Inara. Here, I believe Wash represents Mal’s boyish ideals, where love conquers all and it is just enough to withstand temptation. He does, however, get kicked in the head in an unguarded moment. Next, Saffron attempts to enter the supposedly unoccupied shuttle, but Inara is there, too. Inara, Mal’s heart, is not really interested in Saffron. She is able to therefore resist her attempt at seduction. And yet, she too, eventually ends up stunned as a result of Saffron’s kiss. And then adamantly refuses to be examined afterwards.

Side note on the Deleted Scene: During the episode, the one thing that made Mal smile about the entire marriage situation was brought up when he was hiding in Inara’s shuttle: kids. I don’t believe that it was a coincidence that in the Deleted Scene, River pretended to be pregnant in order to ask Book to make her marriage real. A hero like Simon or Mal would certainly marry someone to protect and raise a child. (This was a funny and disconcerting scene.)


In its examination of real and false heroism, I believe that this episode is a thematic companion to "Ariel" and "The Message." It is the first episode that emphasizes the conflict between Simon and Jayne, between heroism and self-interest. Mal almost seems to be a peripheral character who just orders them around. But in light of what Simon and Jayne represent, I think it is an examination of Mal’s (and Joss’s) attitude toward heroism in general. And it is complicated.

Mal seems to have no problem using heroism to help him in his trade. He tries to turn his real hero, Simon, into a criminal facade and he tries to disguise his self-interest, Jayne, as a hero. The problem with glorious public heroism is that it inspires faith and sacrifice. You have to be willing to accept that cost. I noticed that as in "Ariel" and "The Message," the smuggled goods are carried in a form that looks very much like a stretcher or coffin. (The coffin is literal in the case of "The Message.") I believe that this is why Mal is so very empathetic to Jayne in the end.

Perhaps I am reading too much into the stretcher symbolism, but I believe that Mal sees his heroism as hollow and has not reconciled his conscience to the number of lives that were lost because he was such an inspiration.

But going on underneath all of this, unnoticed by Mal and Jayne, are the unacknowledged and not-always-successful, acts of heroism by Fess Higgins, the Mudders and, yes, Simon. Fess Higgins, thanks to Inara, finds the strength to stand up to his father. And in doing so, helps Mal and the others. The Mudders, thanks to Jayne, have won themselves a better life by standing up for themselves and the Hero of Canton. Simon’s acts of heroism are smaller, and yet, in my opinion, no less real. He tries to show Kaylee respect, though ineptly, and is left behind for his pains. He tries to show Stitch respect and gets beaten for that, too. And he doesn’t give Jayne up to Stitch despite the threat to his life, although it doesn’t prevent Stitch from finding Jayne due to the loudly adoring masses. As Simon tells Kaylee in the end, such things mean more out in the black. As Sara mentioned in her excellent "Jaynestown" review: "If nothing we do matters, then the only thing that matters is what we do."

Out of Gas

This episode is an examination of what Mal is like when he loses all of his Aspects. It brought to my mind the moment in "Becoming Part 2" when Angel taunts Buffy: "No weapons, no friends, no hope. What do you have left?" Buffy’s answer: "Me."

During the crisis, Zoe, the soldier, is taken out of the picture almost immediately. In a disaster this complete, Mal’s way of dealing with the crew through orders is not as important as everybody doing what they need to do to survive. And so it is Jayne who helps him the most in the immediate aftermath of the fire. And it is Jayne who holds Simon’s life-saving at bay until the danger is past. Wash and Mal both lose their sense of humor, but by indulging in a childish fight with each other, come up with a "teen-age prank" solution that ultimately saves them all. In the mean time, Mal asks Kaylee to bring back hope, but she can’t.

Mal sends his heart and everyone else away (including his survival-instinct Jayne) in order to stay with the ship. Tellingly, the only other person besides Mal who is standing as he informs them of this decision is Simon, the hero. Alone, and out of sheer stubbornness, Mal overcomes every obstacle except the last one to survive. In the end, he needs the others to disobey him in order to save his life and to make that life worth living.


Like the earlier Jayne and Simon episode of "Jaynestown," Mal doesn’t seem to be front and center. But with the Aspects in mind, consider who’s being examined: Inara (heart), Book (conscience) and River (spirit). Mal has a decision to make: River has inexplicably attacked Jayne. Should River and Simon remain on board?

This episode contains several turning points. Simon becomes a criminal by intent as well as circumstance, though not for personal gain. Jayne finally gives in to temptation, but then learns shame. During the escape from the Feds, there is a point where Jayne wants to go back the way they came and Simon wants to try a new route. It is River who makes the decision on which direction to go: off into the unknown. The implied turning point for Mal is his decision to completely accept Simon and River as part of his crew, despite the risks. Simon, with his criminal plan, has proven himself capable, determined and resourceful enough to survive on Ariel, if you don’t take the Blue Sun goons into account. And at this point, Mal does not yet know of the Hands of Blue-he only knows of Jayne’s betrayal. And so, in the end, it is Jayne whose place in the crew hangs in the balance. And significantly, I believe, it is only after Mal forces Jayne to realize his shame that Simon is able to give River the treatment she needs to wake up.

Also, as in "Jaynestown," Jayne’s self-interest is mistaken for heroism and Simon’s risky heroic detour to save a man’s life goes unacknowledged by anyone except his fellow crewmates. Here, too, the stolen goods are transported in stretcher/coffins. Once again, I got the feeling that this symbolizes the one of the costs of heroism. The deaths, in this instance were of their enemies-who were only doing their jobs. While it was not what our heroes intended, they were the cause of it, nonetheless.

War Stories

In this episode, Mal and Wash are tortured by Niska. Mal saves Wash from breaking by keeping him angry and fighting. But Wash saved Mal here, too. With Wash there, Mal had someone else to focus on, someone else to help. And Mal did it through his sense of humor. Wash’s presence allowed Mal to disengage himself from what Niska was trying to do to him. Which is exactly what a sense of humor does.

Wash has now been, in effect, tested in battle. He finds within himself the strength and determination to rescue Mal, even if he has to kill to do so. And, deliberately, I believe, River is shown to be able to kill as well. (The only ones who are unable to shoot another human being: Kaylee and Simon -if Book is to be believed.)

Side note: I believe that if it had been Zoe (the soldier) who was with Mal when they were taken, Mal would have engaged Niska directly in a battle of wits. Because he would trust that Zoe could take care of herself. But as Zoe proved in her "Sophie’s Choice" moment, Niska can be thwarted by someone who refuses to play his mind games.


After his torture at the hands of Niska, Mal’s heart just hasn’t been in his work. Neither has his Heart, Inara, had any work. By chance, Mal runs into a criminal opportunity: Saffron. She is allowed onto Serenity on his terms, but he only lets her out of her container when Inara’s "petty" remark goads him into action.

Significantly, Mal keeps Simon and River away from his criminal activity. Book, too, has only a peripheral supporting role in the caper. (Saffron and Mal made a token mention of how Durren had unethically acquired his vast wealth during the war.) Jayne is a willing participant because the payoff is so huge. However, as more and more of Saffron’s twisted motivations are revealed, Jayne is knocked out-Mal is no longer participating in the crime for the money. By the time he and Saffron steal the weapon, Mal is depending on Kaylee (hope), Zoe (self-discipline) and Wash (sense of adventure) to help him complete the caper. But thanks to his criminal counterpart, they are sabotaged. Only Inara (heart) is able to get the better of his criminal, by leaving her re-contained in a trash bin outside the ship.

Also in this episode, Simon and River realize that Jayne betrayed them on Ariel, when he chose money over loyalty. Simon and River both decide to let it go, specifically because they choose loyalty over safety, but with a demonstration of strength that Jayne can’t help but remember.

The Message

When Mal and Zoe first receive their message from Tracey, the entire crew is touched by his death. Everyone deals with their feelings in their own way. Simon offers to find out how he died. Wash makes arrangements to carry out his last wishes. Kaylee retreats alone into a quiet grief. Book prays for him. Jayne attempts to reaffirm life through physical exertion. River communes with the body. Mal, Zoe and Inara get drunk and share memories of Tracey, with laughter and tears. But Tracey makes things a bit more complicated.

In this episode, we have another contrast comparison of Simon. Since he and Jayne have come to an understanding (illustrated in the infirmary scene, where Jayne wordlessly follows Simon’s directions with impeccable timing), this comparison is with a different selfish character: Tracey. Like Simon, Tracey attempts to use Mal and Serenity to transport a human in stasis. Only this time, the human is Tracey, himself. In fact, everything that Tracey does is for himself. (Side note: River’s stasis was presented as a birth image. Tracey’s is a death image.) Unlike Simon, Tracey tends to do the wrong thing and say the awkwardly charming thing that gets him out of trouble. Simon tends to do the right thing and say the awkwardly wrong thing that gets him into trouble. Simon is polite out of respect. Tracey is polite while holding them at bay with a gun. ("No thank you!")

Whenever Simon is contrasted with someone else, I believe that the series is also examining the costs of heroism. Here, the "treasure" is Tracey, himself. And he is transported in what becomes, literally, his coffin. Tracey survived the war because of the heroic efforts of Mal and Zoe. And yet everything they did to carry him and to teach him was not enough. In the end, agonizingly, he forced them to shoot him because he refused to make the right choices that would save others, and therefore himself. One of the most excruciating facets of heroism is that you can’t save everyone, no matter how hard you try. And yet you have to keep trying.

Heart of Gold

The title of this episode carries a double meaning: good heart / mercenary heart. Why do we do the things we do? Because it’s right? Or because we want to get laid paid? If it were up to Inara, everything would be strictly business, with no complicating obligations. Mal, however, is not so certain. Complications have a way of piling up, whether we want them to or not.

And here in this episode, we are shown the successful seduction of Mal. I believe Mal let himself be seduced because Nandi was an Independent Companion -what Inara could be if she were free of the Guild and, by implication, the Alliance. But independence has its price and Nandi’s bordello proves to be vulnerable when a baby’s custody is contested. With loathsome people like Rance around, it is no surprise that Inara still feels she needs the protection and legitimacy of the Guild.

The pivotal Aspect scene in this episode: Inara catches Mal in the act of sneaking out of Nandi’s room. She makes sure that he believes she doesn’t care and even insults him in the process. Two tableaus follow: Jayne comfortably cuddled with his bed partner and then Inara sobbing alone. Both Jayne and Inara are also shown being reflected in mirrors, indicating that they were exactly reflecting Mal’s conflicting feelings of post-coital bliss and aching heart.

For the fight, Zoe, Jayne and Book actively defend the bordello. Kaylee and Wash are kept out of the fight by the bad guys. And significantly, Inara, Simon and River (Mal’s heart, heroism and spirit) are attending to the baby’s birth.

The question of why Inara left the Core Planets is brought up again, though not answered. Nor do we know anything about Mal’s romantic past. In the end, both Mal and Inara acknowledge their feelings for each other, and it has nothing to do with business. As a result, Inara decides to leave Serenity. They are unable to allow themselves to love and be loved. For some reason, they both find it just too painful.

Objects in Space

This is the episode in which Mal and the others completely accept River as a permanent part of the crew. In the teaser, Mal demonstrates that he sees Simon as a person first and as a Doctor second. The rest of the episode shows how Mal and the others come to accept River similarly. And the way they did it was to face their fears about River and also, for Mal, Kaylee, Inara and Simon, their own personal fears.

Jubal Early represents everyone’s worst fears of what River could become: someone who is able to read everyone and exploit that knowledge to their advantage. Early touches down on Serenity the moment that Kaylee reveals what she knows about River’s part in "War Stories." But Joss demonstrates the distinction between them River and Early by the different way they imbue meaning to a gun: River sees the gun as a tree branch, something that’s part of life. Early sees it as a weapon and focuses on its purpose-a means of power and coercion. This is what everyone learns about River in this episode: that while they may not completely understand her, she does not see them as things, or a means to an end. She values their feelings and she lets herself be vulnerable to them.

Early invades Serenity and encounters Mal. He knocks Mal out immediately. Mal is now helpless and locked in when his crew is in mortal danger-no doubt one of his worst fears. Zoe, Wash and Jayne are locked in as well-discipline, idealism and self-interest are not gonna weigh in on Mal’s final decision to keep River on board. Early then goes after Kaylee. Kaylee had kept quiet about River’s ability to kill until this evening. Her fears finally overrode her friendship. Kaylee’s ability to like and befriend people leaves her vulnerable, although most people cannot help but like her in return. Early sees her as a thing and therefore he can use and overpower her with little effort-a fear that Kaylee would keep locked in the back of her mind. He next neutralizes Book, Mal’s conscience. As Mal demonstrated in "Ariel," conscience doesn’t have the final say when one of his own people is a threat to the others. Simon is next. He (and therefore heroism) is vital to Mal’s decision to let River stay. Early, too, sees his importance in his efforts to reach her and uses him as guide and bait. (Simon’s fears, by the way: losing River and having someone else be hurt by his actions or inactions.) Early next gets to Inara. He violently rejects her empathy and keeps her cut off from the others. (Does Inara fear isolation? Rejection? Does Mal?)

In the end, Early does not get to River, however. She gets to him. She outmaneuvers him at every turn and gives Kaylee and Mal the strength and the opportunity to expel their fear from the ship. Fighting fear, no matter how heroically, is not always enough because it can’t be killed. In the end, getting rid of your fear is an act of will, of spirit.

. . .

I began to think about all of the above when I listened to the DVD commentary on "Serenity, Part 2." Nathan Fillion mentioned that he believed the characters all represented parts of Mal with which he had lost touch. When I started to think about the characters from this angle, the stories took on an extra dimension.

And, as I mentioned in the beginning, the story of Mal and his chosen family is not finished. There is so much that we don’t know about our characters and their world. As I write this, Serenity Tthe Movie is over 100 days away. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joss has changed the Aspects since the characters have no doubt changed over the course of time.

Counting down to September 30, 2005.