Pairing: Mal/Simon - Firefly
Spoilers: All Episodes
Notes: We’re going by the DVD order, not Fox’s stupid order, so Serenity is first and Objects in Space is last. All quotes are from the transcripts at http://firefly.shriftweb.org/transcripts.shtm; icon borrowed from the wonderful skripka
I struggled for a bit to figure out what the unifying theme of this essay was going to be. I wanted to find a simple way to describe what is so fabulous about the Simon/Mal pairing. After much thought and many aborted attempts, including just writing “they’re hot, damn it, hot, isn’t that enough?” I’ve decided that the key to understanding Simon/Mal is to look at their huge potential (which sounds really dirty as I write it, but that’s not what I mean!). Unlike some subtextual pairings, Mal and Simon are not very couple like in the episodes, but their interactions show that they both have great interest in one another and that there is great potential for an intense, turbulent relationship in the near future. Simon/Mal is not about true love and soft moments, but about two people who are drawn to each other, who have an intense attraction for one another, and who have the ability to push each other to greatness. This is not a relationship about living happily ever after, but about two people trying to help each other live to fight another day.
There story is really rather simple. Boy (Simon) lives sheltered, privileged life as rich up and coming doctor. Boy loves sister. Boy loses sister. Boy gives up life to go rescue sister. Boy meets psychotic, bitter, troubled, sexy space captain (Mal). Sparks and punches fly. Boy and space captain come to agreement so that boy and sister can live on ship. Captain loves to provoke boy and stare at his ass. Boy loves to piss captain off and play doctor with him. Boy and Captain like to commit crime together and they live happily ever after stealing many things and blowing up what they don’t steal.
Okay, that last sentence isn’t true, but a girl can dream.
For those that aren’t so familiar with the show I thought I would give a bit of a taste of how these two interact act with each other before I continue.
From Jaynestown :
The management here don't take kindly to sight-seers, which is why we're posing as buyers. There ain't a one of us looks the part more than the good Doctor. I mean, the pretty fits, soft hands, definitely a moneyed individual. All rich and lily-white,
pasty all over...
All right. Fine. I'll go. Just stop describing me.
You're the boss, boss.
So finally a decent wound on this ship, and I miss out. I'm sorry.
Well, you were busy trying to get yourself lit on fire. It happens.
Captain... why did you come back for us?
You're on my crew.
Yeah, but you don't even like me…Why'd you come back?
You're on my crew. Why we still talking about this? (walks off, over his shoulder)
Chow's in ten. No need to dress.
Simon/Mal is one of those ships that entirely transforms the way you watch the show. There is so much subtext between two, in their words and actions, that you could write entire essays on just their subtext in a single episodes. Don’t get me started on Safe or as I have nicknamed it, “The One That Takes Place After Mal and Simon Had Sex and Mal has a morning after freak-out.”
For me, one of the most enduring images from Firefly is the first meeting between Mal and Simon. It is short and no words are exchanged, but they exchange such a significant look that you know these two are going to have a special relationship (well you know that because fox aired the episode is the wrong order, but we’re just ignoring that). There is such potential in the way that they look at each other with a combination of disgust, curiosity, and a wee bit of lust that the image of them sizing each other up has stayed with me and is one of the images that first comes to my mind when I think about this show. As Lex Luthor might say, these two are destined for greatness.
When looking at Mal and Simon’s relationship there are a few core issues.
1. Why does Mal let Simon and River stay on the ship?
Mal goes from being willing to kill Simon or at least abandon Simon and River on a planet where they will most likely be killed to being willing and coming about a second away from killing Jayne for almost getting Simon and River captured. That’s a pretty big change in opinion for a relatively short period of time. What changes in this period of time to make Mal so protective of Simon and River? At the end of the episode Safe , Simon asks Mal why they came back and rescued them, and Mal replied that it’s because they are members of the crew. Simon does not seem satisfied with that answer and neither am I.
When exactly did Simon and River become members of the crew? And what did they do to deserve Mal’s protection? Something that Mal doesn’t seem to give very often. I don’t think it has anything to do River. Mal rarely shows an interest in River except as a potential danger. All of Mal’s dealings are with Simon. In fact, at times he almost tends to view River as Simon’s property. To me, it is clear that it is something in his relationship with Simon that changes.
Mal and Simon start off not trusting one another. Mal thinks that Simon is a spoiled rich brat who got himself in some sort of trouble and Simon thinks Mal is just a greedy asshole with no morals. Mal is initially quick to think the worst of Simon. When he realizes that Simon has smuggled River about the ship, he says, “The shock of what? Waking up? Finding out she's been sold to some borderworld baron? Or, I'm sorry -- was this one for you? Is it true love? Because you do seem a little…” I like to think that if he hadn’t been interrupted he was going to say gay, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that Mal doesn’t think much of Simon. And even when he finds out that Simon was trying to rescue his sister, he doesn’t seem that impressed, “Yeah, it's a tale of woe. Very stirring, but in the meantime, you've heaped a world of trouble on me and mine.”
Mal, however, changes his opinion on Simon rather quickly, acknowledging that Simon is a good doctor and deciding that Simon does seem to have some inner toughness. I think it’s telling of the future importance of Mal and Simon’s relationship that the last conversation is the pilot episode occurs between the two of them and sets up their relationship for the future.
You need me to look at that?
Just a graze.
(a beat, then)
So, where do you plan on dumping us?
There's places you might be safe. You want the truth, though, you're
probably safer on the move.(turns to him) And we never stop moving.
I'm confused. No wait, I -- I think maybe you're confused.
It may have become apparent to you that the ship could use a medic. You ain't weak. I don't know how bright you are, top three percent, but you ain't weak and that's not nothing. You live by my rule, you keep your sister from doing anything crazy, you could maybe find a place here. 'Til you find a better.
I'm trying to put this as delicately as I can... How do I know you won't kill me in my sleep?
You don't know me, son. So let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake, you'll be facing me, and you'll be armed.
Are you always this sentimental?
Had a good day.
You had the Alliance on you, criminals and savages... half the people on the
ship have been shot or wounded including yourself, and you're harboring known fugitives.
Mal looks out at the black sky.
We're still flying.
That's not much.
Mal answers, almost to himself:
I think this conversation is one of the keys to understanding Mal/Simon. What causes Mal to change his mind so completely about Simon? Yes, it is practical for them to have a doctor on the ship, but the practically of having a doctor in no way balances out the risk of having such highly wanted fugitives on the ship. There are a few times that Mal even forgets that Simon is a doctor. Mal clearly does not think of Simon as a doctor first. He tells Simon “You ain’t weak” and that is pretty much the highest compliment Mal is capable of giving. He sees something in Simon that makes him want to keep Simon around. Yes, he’s a great doctor, and yes protecting Simon and River is a great way for Mal to thumb his nose at the Alliance, but I also think that Mal sees potential for Simon to be something special and Mal wants to help Simon get there. You can see this as sexual or not. I can catalogue all the ass checks and eye fucks and some people will see it and some people won’t, which is fine, but I don’t think it can be denied that there is something special going on between these two and that they were being set up for a very intense, powerful relationship.
There is another aspect to that conversation that leads into my next point. I’ve talked a bit about why Mal wants Simon around (his very fine ass and his *cough* doctoring skills *cough*) but I haven’t talked much about why Simon would want to stay. Mal even implies that Simon should view this as a temporary solution, “You live by my rule, you keep your sister from doing anything crazy, you could maybe find a place here. 'Til you find better,” but Simon never even considers looking for another alternative. So…
2. Why does Simon stay?
I actually think this is the harder question. Mal has the power position in the relationship. It’s his ship and his rules. Simon is someone who is used to being in control and is easily able to assume control when he needs to. He is able to handle Jayne with ease when needed, he is confident and in control in any medical situation, and he plans crime in Ariel like he’s been doing it his whole life. Yet, Simon who gives every indication of not liking to be ordered around, pretty much immediately obeys Mal in Bushwacked when they have a run in with the Alliance. Simon, with very little hesitation, entrusts himself and his sister to Mal. Consider that in the Message, Tracy, who had been under Mal’s command during the war was not willing to trust Mal in a somewhat similar situation, and Simon’s behavior seems even more unusual and astonishing.
And the thing is I don’t think there is a rational explanation for his behavior besides the fact that Simon has a massive crush on Mal. Simon entrusts his live and his sister’s life to him. Simon, a doctor, is even willing to take up arms in War Stories to help rescue Mal. Simon thinks Mal is crazy, but he sees in Mal’s craziness a method of survival that Simon admires. Simon’s life did not prepare him for the situation he finds himself in. Simon’s situation is incredibly bleak. He is a wanted fugitive and his sister is in even more danger than he is. Simon is lucky to be alive and free and doesn’t have any guarantees that the same will hold true tomorrow. In Mal, he has found a model of behavior and someone to look up to and admire. Mal excels at surviving in impossible situations and I think Simon believes that in Mal he has found the key to his and River’s survival. And it's not a bad choice, but it's not a choice made from logical thinking. It is not wise for a wanted fugitive to stay on a ship where someone has betrayed them and a bounty hunter as already found them, but Simon has found something special on Serenitythat has made him decide that this is the place that he wants be. And though other members of the crew probably played a factor in that decision, I think that more than anything, it is Mal who he is staying for.
3. Is there any chance for a happily ever after?
So we have a hero-worshipping boy desperate for survival and a psychotic space captain who sees something in said boy that intrigues him. Not exactly a good recipe for happily ever after. I really, really want to be able to that in spite of everything that these two have a chance because there are a lot of good things about their relationship. They genuinely respect each other. They work well together. There is a definite attraction. I mentioned earlier that they don’t really have many couple like moments on the show, but they are there (watch Out of Gas and notice where Simon’s hand is on Mal’s leg in the last scene) and Simon certainly doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to get together with Kaylee and Mal does say in Heart of Gold that he leans towards woman with the obvious implication that he has no objections to leaning the other way. There are many signs of their attraction and there are many indications of what a good team they could make, but I just can’t say that either of them could find enough peace to ever live happily ever. River will always come first for Simon and because of that Simon will always be running and Mal is just too fucked up to be able to find peace with anyone, though I think he could come the closest with Simon. Mal has shown that he needs constant validation that he is a good person and that he is fighting the good fight and I think he can get a lot of that through his relationship with Simon. I think that for a while they could find some sort of balance where they could be a functional, happy couple, but I don’t think it could last for very long. Ultimately, I think that both of them are just too unstable. Mal’s sanity is a very fragile thing based on the continued flying of Serenity and the safety of the crew. Simon existence is a threat to that stability. I think Mal would be faced with a choice between Simon and the life that he has made for himself since the war and whatever the outcome of that choice, it would be ugly. Simon is at a very transitory point in his life and though as much as I think it would be for the best for him to stay on Serenity, commit crime, and have lots of sex with Mal, I can’t see him being willing to stay put for very long. As I said before, the choise to stay on Serenity is not rational, and at some point the raional part of Simon's mind would reassert itself. He would either think staying there was too much of a threat to the rest of the crew or he would decide that there were better places or ways of protecting River. And unfortunately I think both Simon and Mal are too stubborn to ever admit that they need one another.
Sadly, though the potential for happitness is there, I think that these two are destined for tragedy and most likely of the Gift of the Magi sort… a lot of noble sacrifices that wouldn’t be necessary if they would just communicate with each other.
So, why do I love this 'ship that seems destined for disaster? I really couldn't say except that I must be a glutten for punishment. Despite, or perhaps because of their flaws they just seem so perfect for each other. They make me smile, they make me laugh, they make my jaw drop at their amazing hotness, they make me want to give them both a good smack. One the one hand, I can happily see them merrily robbing banks together and having a grand old time, but at the same time I can easily see one of them killing the other for a number of perfectly good, but misguided reasons. They drive me insane and I love every second of it.
Simon needs Mal to survive and Mal needs Simon to find some peace. I need them to just shut up and kiss already. I really hope these two crazy kids can work it out just like my other favorite ‘ship, Angel/Lindsey, were ultimately able to do…
I like it here on the Nile.
Here are some good places to go to get your Simon/Mal fix:
Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, I do write Simon/Mal fic and a lot of this essay comes from my experiences and thoughts while writing this pairing, but most of my stuff is hiding in my journal or not currently available which I do apologize for. The more I tried to write Simon/Mal as light and happy, the more I realized that I really don't believe it's possible for these two, though as long as they keep flying, I'll keep trying to write it. Maybe one day they'll get it right and live happily ever after in spite of us all.