The Porn Fairy (shetiger) wrote in ship_manifesto,
The Porn Fairy

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Mal/Jayne (Firefly)

Title: Power Plays and Shiny Hats: Mal Reynolds/Jayne Cobb
Author: tigerlady aka shetiger
E-mail: docmichelle at livejournal dot com
Pairing: Mal/Jayne - Firefly
Spoilers: All Episodes, but nothing from the movie Serenity
Notes: All quotes are from the transcripts at
or my own efforts. Images taken from screencaps at Can't Take the Sky.

"Jayne. Go play with your rainstick." Mal, Our Mrs. Reynolds

Power plays. Drinking games. From Mal's playful slap on the back of Jayne's hand to the wrench to the back of Jayne's head; from Jayne's careful preparations for Mal's last stand to his bungled betrayal--it's one gorram messy and complicated relationship.

Mal/Jayne is sort of the black sheep of the Firefly slash family. Sure, it exists, unlike say, Book/Wash. But the dominant pairings in this fandom are Jayne/Simon and Mal/Simon. Both of those pairings certainly have reason to be, but I think that Jayne and Mal have an interesting relationship that has plenty of room for exploration as well. The power and trust dynamics between all three men are fascinating, as are the possibilities for more. But one thing's for sure--

This ain't no ruttin' Valentine.

The Players:

Malcolm Reynolds, better known as Mal, Captain, Cap, Sir, or Captain Tightpants, is the owner of the Firefly class ship Serenity. He and his first mate, Zoe, served together on the losing side of a rebellion against the governmental power, The Alliance. He's rather bitter about that fact.

May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one. (Bushwacked)

Mal ( the Latin) doesn't describe himself as a nice or good man, though he certainly has a code of honor and morals. He rules his ship as if he's a military commander, invoking his right as owner and captain when he deems it necessary. That being said, it's obvious that he cares deeply about the people he has gathered to himself--his crew--whether he originally intended to do so or not.

Jayne Cobb, sometimes known as a trained ape without the training, is a mercenary hired on by Mal under, shall we say, less than ideal conditions. He was holding a gun on Mal and Zoe at the time, and then shot his current boss in the leg when Mal swayed Jayne to his side. So, it's easy to see he's not the most warm and cuddly of employees. He has his moments, though. Jayne is a big man, excellent in a fight with or without his guns and knives, and is good at tracking and survival. For more on Jayne catch inlovewithnight's excellent essay on idol_reflection.

That Obligatory Me Thing

I was a Firefly fan from Day One. My husband and I made it a point to tune into Joss' latest creation, and by the time Mal Reynolds kicked his enemy through Serenity's engine, we both knew we were in love. (Keep in mind, this was The Train Job, back when Fox was oh-so-kindly showing the eps out of order.) I knew it was a doomed love, because hey--good scifi on Fox Fridays--but it was all the sweeter because of that.

I love all of the characters--every single one. I must admit I'm drawn more strongly to the three men who seem to get all the attention--Mal, Jayne, and Simon. Besides being pretty, they have very interesting dynamics among the three of them. I actually saw vibes between Mal and Simon during that first viewing of The Train Job, but the more I watch the show, the more I become interested in the relationship between Mal and Jayne.

Personally, I don't see Jayne and Mal in a 'true love forever' kind of way. Of course, I have read some stories that took the pairing to a deeper emotional level, and did it wonderfully. But what I see is two men who have a lot in common, yet have a fundamentally different view of the universe. Though Mal is Jayne's employer, he relates to Jayne on more levels than just a boss. Jayne seems to both respect Mal and see him as a challenge. Which ain't so different from the way Mal sees Jayne. It's a little difficult to pin down exactly why I see these two having sexual tension, but I think it comes back to a basic fact of how they are written. Joss Whedon is known for creating layered characters that are easy to imagine sparking off of any other character in his 'verse, no matter the type of relationship. Jayne and Mal are no exception to this. So let's take a look at what I do see.

The On-Screen Relationship:

Power and Trust

There are two things in the 'verse that scare Jayne Cobb. In Serenity, he tells us that Reavers (the scary less-than-humans that roam the fringes of civilization) frighten him. He then proceeds to freak out whenever they're mentioned. We don't know specifically why Jayne is afraid of Reavers, what stories he has heard or atrocities he has witnessed, but his fear serves as a measure of the ferocity of this particular devil. If big, bad Jayne is afraid of them, then they must be pretty terrible. We as viewers can accept that fear. (It's also interesting to note that he frequently looks to Mal during this episode for reassurance about the Reavers.)

Jayne is also demonstrably cowed by Mal Reynolds--time and time again.

Mal doesn't argue his authority, or push his authority, or fight for his authority over Jayne. He assumes authority over Jayne. Mal expects Jayne (and everyone else on his crew who isn't paying rent) to do what Mal tells them to do. And Jayne does it. It might take a few strong words, but he does it. Witness the dinner confrontation in Serenity: Jayne teases Kaylee in a rather insulting manner, and Mal immediately calls Jayne on it. Jayne doesn't believe Mal is serious at first, but when Mal tells him to leave the table he does so (if rather sullenly). Mal doesn't have to get physical, but you get the impression that he won't hesitate to do so. It always makes me wonder how exactly Mal impressed this particular response on Jayne.

Mal's ire doesn't even have to be directed at Jayne for Jayne to take notice. In Out of Gas, Mal lays into Wash in order to get him to focus on Serenity's problem, rather than on Zoe's injuries. As Mal is shoving Wash into the wall, Jayne takes two steps backwards and out of range, a look of disbelief and worry on his face.

These are just two instances--Mal frequently quells Jayne's impulses with a look or a sharp "Jayne". When Jayne makes the big mistake of betraying Mal in Ariel, Mal takes it to the level of almost killing Jayne. We have good reason to think that Jayne responds to Mal's wishes.

I'm not trying to imply that Mal is abusive, or that Jayne is cowardly. What I'm saying is that Mal knows how to handle Jayne--he is a rather loose cannon, after all--and that Jayne respects Mal because of it.

Because Mal has Jayne under a degree of control, he is able to afford Jayne a certain level of trust. It's not a complete trust--in both Serenity and Ariel he is cognizant of Jayne's self-serving tendencies. It's more like a secured trust--like a credit card with a pre-paid balance.

Mal trusts Jayne's skills. In Bushwacked, after Jayne is spooked by the last survivor of the decimated ship, once Mal arrives on the scene he immediately asks "what did you see". There is no question from Mal about whether Jayne was imagining things--he knows Jayne knows his business. Mal trusts Jayne with the prisoner interrogation in Serenity, and he trusts Jayne to prepare Serenity and the extra shuttle when the crew has to flee in Out of Gas.

Mal repeatedly uses Jayne as a protector, not only for himself but for Zoe as well. Jayne obviously guards their backs in Serenity and The Train Job. He's even positioned as a sniper in Serenity. You don't put an excellent shot in a position to kill you unless you have some degree of trust that they won't do so. Mal, Zoe, and Jayne face life or death situations together frequently, and Jayne protects them as much as they protect him.

All in all, it's very much like the old maxim about respect--if you give a person respect, they will be a person worth respecting. Or something like that. Mal sets a level of behavior for Jayne to rise to, and then punishes or rewards him accordingly. I get the impression that this isn't a standard that Jayne has encountered before, and he responds well to it. Making Jayne leave the table in Serenity was a very real punishment for Jayne--he was clearly enjoying the interaction with the crew and guests, and was very sullen when he had to leave. The monkey wrench to the head in Ariel was a much more straightforward punishment for bad behavior. Conversely, when Jayne has taken a big step forward in considering morality in Jaynestown and is suffering from guilt and confusion, Mal is there for him. He takes Jayne seriously, offers advice and his own brand of comfort.

Now, the problem with Mal giving Jayne a certain degree of trust is that Jayne is not terribly trust-worthy. Which leads us to a whole mess of problems.

Antagonists? Enemies?

It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Mal and Jayne have an antagonistic relationship, or at best one of uneasy alliance. Besides their odd meeting in Out of Gas, this impression is created by two events: Jayne's betrayal in Ariel, and the shadow cast on his loyalty in the pilot, Serenity. I think that this impression is merely that, an impression, so let me address those events.

In the pilot episode (which in the famous scheduling brilliance of Fox, was not actually seen until near the end of Firefly's orignal run), several things are done to cast suspicion on Jayne's motives. While questioning the captured fed Dobson, Jayne is offered money to allow Dobson to escape. Jayne asks if that would mean turning on the captain; the camera cuts away before getting his final response. However, Dobson does manage to escape. Later, as Mal and Zoe negotiate the tricky exchange with the trader Patience, Jayne lies in position in the distance with a sniper rifle. The scope tracks across Mal's head, giving us the sensation that Jayne is targeting
Mal himself. At the end of the episode, Mal confronts Jayne, asking him if he had anything to do with Dobson's escape. Jayne denies this, saying the money wasn't good enough.

I'd like to step out into the area of meta-analysis now. In this pilot episode, we're given several misleads in an effort to build tension and keep the new characters' motives mysterious. This is most obvious in the introduction of Simon. In our first glimpse, he is revealed from behind a suspicious looking box, wearing dark sunglasses, looking completely out of place, as ominous music cues up. Of course, it is revealed that while Simon does have secrets, he really is one of the 'good guys'.

The mislead on Jayne is nowhere as clear-cut as the case with Simon, but it is a mislead. Yes, Jayne is entranced by the idea of easy money, but we don't get to see his answer to Dobson. We're obviously meant to think one thing and then be surprised by the opposite result at the end of the show. This reoccurs as Jayne sights Mal. We're meant to be on the edge of our seats, hoping that this turncoat doesn't shoot our shiny captain. Additionally, showing Mal and Zoe through the gun scope is a neat camera shot, and gives the viewer a sense of the geographical
relationship between the three characters.

During the show, however, Jayne never really does anything other than what Mal tells him to do. He looks tempted when Dobson offers him a reward, but would he really deal with a man that had just shot Kaylee? He has fun pointing his rifle at Mal, but in the process he is visually following his leader, watching Mal for cues.

At the end of the episode, Mal does question Jayne on his loyalty. We realize at this point that while Mal has repeatedly put himself in a position where Jayne could take advantage of him, he's smart enough to realize that Jayne isn't completely trustworthy. After all, Mal knows exactly how he got Jayne onto his crew. But for the time being, they are at a state of truce.

MAL: How come you didn't turn on me, Jayne?
JAYNE: Money wasn't good enough.
MAL: What happens when it is?
JAYNE: (smiling) Well... that'll be an interesting day.
MAL: Imagine it will.

And of course, Jayne does turn on Mal in Ariel. Except that Jayne doesn't really think of it that way. To him, turning Simon and River over to the feds is simply a way to make a lot of money while eliminating a potential danger. Jayne has made it very clear that he thinks the Tams are a risk to everyone on Serenity, especially after River knifed him in the chest. In The Train Job he tells Kaylee that he thinks Mal has a plan to turn in the Tams for money. He thinks that Mal's interests are in line with his own. He doesn't have a connection to the Tams, and so he goes for the quick buck. No, he's not a shining example of humanity. But it's interesting to see where his loyalties do lie.

JAYNE: What are you taking it so personal for? It ain't like I ratted you out to the feds.
MAL: Oh, but you did....You did it to me, Jayne, and that's a fact.

Jayne didn't intend to turn on Mal, which speaks to the fact that he has some feeling for him. Whether fear of, respect for, friendship with, or some other emotion in regards to Mal, it's hard to say. But it does exist.

Mal, on the other hand, reacts to the situation with the righteous anger of someone who knows that he would probably be betrayed, but had hoped otherwise. Why exactly has he tried so hard with Jayne? What did he see in him at that first confrontation, or shortly thereafter, that made him trust Jayne enough to keep him on his ship? It's impossible to say with so few episodes. But maybe it has something to do with another aspect of their relationship.

Buddies? Friends? Boys out for a night on the town?

When they're not at loggerheads over money or alpha-male posturing, Mal and Jayne really do get along well. I don't think they have deep, meaningful conversations about life--not often, anyway (see Jaynestown)--but they do have a certain compatibility. They share a certain ruthlessness (see Mal not be overly concerned with Jayne's interrogation methods). They both can descend to a kind of cruel sense of humor, such as when Mal told Simon that Kaylee was dead in Serenity, and when Jayne tricks Simon into the spacesuit in Bushwacked. They both enjoyed this picking on Simon. Watch closely in Bushwacked--you can very clearly see Mal holding back a snicker when he figures out what Jayne has done.

They feel free about flinging insults at each other, which strange as it seems, is often a sign of friendship. (All hail the snark!) In The Train Job, as the warrior trio sit in the bar playing Chinese checkers, Mal makes a move that lets Zoe move her piece to great advantage. Jayne tells Mal "nice work, dumbass". Mal just accepts it without blinking. And it goes the other way around, as in Jaynestown where we get this humorous exchange:

JAYNE: You know--Me, Jayne Cobb.
MAL: I know your name, jackass.

Jayne's the one Mal buddies up with to get drunk in Our Mrs. Reynolds. When Saffron has her big reveal the next day, Mal steps up to Jayne to quietly ask Jayne how drunk he got last night. You get the feeling this is something that has happened before, something that they two share. And really, who else is Mal going to have this kind of 'male-bonding' type of relationship with? Book and Simon are new to the ship. Mal wouldn't see past the shepherd's theology even if Book was interested in that kind of friendship. There is a potential with Simon, but Simon is clearly cut from a different cloth than Mal. When they connect, it's not on that root masculine level. Then we have Wash. I could see Wash and Mal being friends and palling around together, but Zoe is always, always between them.

Speaking of Zoe, you can use her relationship with Jayne as a measure of Mal's own feelings toward him. Zoe is definitely her own person, complex and interesting by herself. But at the same time, Zoe is an extension of Mal. They trust and understand each other implicitly. So how does Zoe relate to Jayne?

On occasion, she does have to resort to threats to keep him in line when Mal's not available--such as when she tells Jayne to tie up the fed Dobson in Serenity rather than killing him. Jayne responds to her authority--and her gun--as he would to Mal making the threat.

However, when situations aren't tense, the two have a generally amenable relationship. They tease each other. This happens in both Shindig and Out of Gas. Additionally, Jayne does have a level of caring for Zoe. When she is knocked across the galley in Out of Gas, Jayne is the first one to reach her. He stands anxiously in the infirmary as Simon treats her. So we know there is some level of bonding between the warrior trio.

So. While Jayne isn't the best friend you could ever wish for, he and Mal do have a fairly good relationship. There are power struggles and trust issues, but overall Jayne follows Mal and Mal respects Jayne.

Where does this leave them on a 'shipper front?

Romance? UST? Hot Man Lovin'?

I'm afraid to say that in the matter of slashy moments for Mal and Jayne, you just have to extrapolate. The show had fourteen episodes shared between nine characters. That's not a lot of opportunity for interaction between the two. We do get little nuggets on occasion, such as the opening scene in Our Mrs. Reynolds:

(Two horses pull a covered boat-wagon down the bed of a shallow river, hiding their tracks. About six horsemen burst out of the wooded banks and surround the covered wagon, bringing their progress to a halt. In the front seat sit a husband and wife, their faces covered by a brimmed hat and flowered bonnet, respectively.)
BANDIT: And I think maybe you're gonna give me a little one-on-one time with the missus.
HUSBAND (JAYNE): Oh, I think you might wanna reconsider that last part. See, I married me a powerful ugly creature.
(WIFE) MAL: How can you say that? How can you shame me in front of new people?
(HUSBAND) JAYNE: If I could make you purtier, I would.
(WIFE) MAL: You are not the man I met a year ago.

(Mal and Jayne suddenly draw their guns on the horsemen, Mal slowly pulling his bonnet off.)

It's one of the more hi-larious moments on the show. While not explicitly slashy, it is both fun to watch as well as demonstrating Mal and Jayne's comfort level with each other. They're having fun with Mal in a dress--playing Jayne's wife.

Often people who don't see slash subtext argue that since the characters are clearly interested in the opposite sex on screen, they wouldn't be interested in a member of the same sex. But this is Jossverse, and Joss always gives us slashers a little wiggle room (and I'm not trying to get into fanwank here, honest). Bisexuality is clearly accepted, if perhaps not the norm, as demonstrated by Inara's female client in War Stories. In one of the unaired episodes, Heart of Gold, the companion Nandi asks Mal if he's sly--the Firefly 'verse word to imply gay, one presumes. Mal's reply? "No, no, I lean toward women" (emphasis mine). Definite wiggle room.

And Jayne? Well, he obviously likes women. But do you really think he'd be all that picky?

We run into one more barrier between Mal and Jayne getting together: Mal's interest in Inara. Whether you like the relationship or not, there were pretty clear moments that let us know he is interested in her, and that she returns his feelings. But setting aside that whole ball of melted wax, keep in mind that Mal is willing to be with other people. He does have to be talked into it, but he's ready to sleep with Saffron when she whammies him, and he does sleep with Nandi. So I think we could allow that Mal would stoop to scratching the itch on occasion. And Jayne is right there on Serenity, all convenient-like.

Now, would this actually happen? Mal has a whole passle of issues, sleeping with his crew among them. But that's the kind of plot that writers love to run with. What about Jayne? Well, I think he's looking for something from Mal, and he'll take it just about any way he can get it. One of my favorite Mal and Jayne scenes is from Out of Gas, as everybody but Mal readies to leave the ship. Jayne tells Mal about all of the careful preparation he has done to get Serenity as viable for Mal as long as possible--going so far as to prep a space suit without Mal's instruction. Then Jayne gets this deer in the headlights look, as if unable to deal with what's going on in his head. Yes, it's played for laughs, but at the same time I think it speaks a lot about how Jayne relates to Mal.

And they'd look really, really hot together.

The Resources

Like I said, there's not a lot of Mal/Jayne out there, but some of it is very, very good.

Ana's stories are here. She writes several different pairings, but Brought to Heel and Smoke on the Horizon are both Mal/Jayne.

I found The Call by Maystone to be a very realistic (and hot) scenario--the Reavers are coming.

Eleanor K's stories, especially A Game of Chance: Right and Fifty Credits are very hot.

I've probably missed a bunch of great stories. In fact, I hope I have, because then you guys can point me in the right direction. Firefly's Glow is a Firefly fanfic archive that's a good place to start looking for fic. You can search by character.

Christina has a Mal/Jayne video, Reason.

Additionally, I've started a Mal/Jayne community here on lj: shiny_hats. It's in its infancy, so please come on by and help me get it off the ground.

Tags: firefly
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