Safe (Firefly)

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Firefly episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 5
Directed by Michael Grossman
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg
Production code 1AGE04
Original air date November 8, 2002 (2002-11-08)
Guest appearance(s)

Isabella Hofmann
William Converse-Roberts
John Thaddeus
Gary Werntz
Skylar Roberge
Zac Efron
Erica Tazel

Episode chronology
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"Our Mrs. Reynolds"
List of Firefly episodes

"Safe" is the fifth episode of the science fiction television series Firefly created by Joss Whedon.

Mal must choose which crew members to save when one is gravely wounded and two others are kidnapped. Simon finds an uneasy haven in a remote village, but River's uncanny perceptions jeopardize the Tams' temporary safety.


The episode is interspersed with flashbacks, detailing Simon and River's lives before River's abduction: Simon, a studious young boy, River engaging in flights of imagination while correcting his textbooks, and their father encouraging Simon to become a "brilliant doctor". These expectations are derailed by River's sojourn at an academy, from where she sends letters referring to events which have not happened. The elder Tams are untroubled by River's letters, believing she's just playing games again, and abandon Simon when he takes precipitate and illegal action to rescue her.

In the present day, Simon continues to try to diagnose River's conditions and injuries, while Mal demands that they stay out of the way while he conducts business. On arrival at the backwater colony of Jiangyin, Shepherd Book aids Mal and Jayne in unloading and penning the cattle and meeting with the Grange brothers, their disreputable buyers. Just as they come to an agreement on price, local law enforcement arrives to arrest the clients, and Book is wounded in the ensuing gunfight.

Meanwhile, Simon and River join Inara and Kaylee in town as the women are shopping. Although Kaylee contemplates buying something nice for Simon, the doctor manages to insult her and her beloved Serenity with his complaints about his predicament, and the Tams are left to their own devices. Simon quickly discovers River has wandered off. She finds a maypole dance, and Simon watches his sister enjoy herself for a change. River's ecstatic dancing suddenly falters when Book is shot, but before Simon can react to his sister's distress, he is kidnapped by a group of men. River follows Simon and his kidnappers, and is seized as well.

Mal and Zoe manage to get Book back to Serenity to perform field surgery and stabilize him. When Wash is unable to find the doctor to help Book, Mal realizes that Simon and River have probably been taken by local hill folk who kidnap unwary people, especially skilled workers. He makes the decision to abandon the Tams in order to get Book off-planet and to proper medical treatment. On Inara's insistence, they seek assistance from the Alliance cruiser Magellan; its captain is ready to dismiss Book's condition until Book offers them his identification card, at which point the captain orders urgent care. Mal and the crew wonder what kind of connection with the Alliance Book must have, but a recovering Book dodges Mal's questions, claiming merely that "it's good to be home."

The hill folk welcome Simon and his sister. When Simon sees the many ill villagers, he settles into his vocation, but continues to insist that they have been kidnapped and should be released. Doralee, the village teacher who runs the infirmary, merely suggests that Simon may well be in the place he is fated to be. Simon and River share a memory of their childhood, and River despairs of how her plight has taken everything Simon had away from him. When River tells Doralee about the cause of a young mute girl's silence, Doralee realizes that River has an unusual power, but assumes this means that River is a witch, and should therefore be burnt at the stake. Simon appeals to the villagers, but when these efforts fail, he instead takes his place next to his sister, prepared to be burned with her. It is at this moment that Serenity swoops over the village, Jayne dangling from its hold with shotgun with a lazer sight at the ready, while Mal and Zoe stride in from behind, proclaiming themselves "big damn heroes" (a phrase that has been embraced enthusiastically by the show's fanbase) in a fake cowboy accent and demanding the release of the Tams.

As Serenity leaves Jiangyin, Simon asks Mal why he came back for them, and Mal explains off-handedly that Simon is part of his crew. "But you don't even like me," Simon reminds him. "Why'd you do it?" "You're on my crew," Mal repeats. "Why are we still talking about this?" The Tams join the rest of the crew for a cheerful dinner, having found a home.


  • The cattle shown as the cargo in the previous episode, "Shindig," are sold on Jiangyin, the destination world in this episode. As Serenity leaves the Alliance cruiser, Zoe and Mal also mention Badger's involvement in this deal from that episode.
  • This episode explores Simon and River's life before boarding Serenity.
  • This episode scratches the surface of Shepherd Book's mysterious past as he is rushed to medical attention after Alliance crew run his I.D. card.

Production details[edit]

  • A reference is made to a Chinese proverb in which Inara asks Kaylee whether the carved statue was meant to look like a duck, to which Kaylee responds that it is meant to be a swan. The proverb itself means it is better not to do certain things rather than do them badly.
  • The episode is also Zac Efron's television debut as a younger Simon Tam.

Guest cast[edit]

  • Isabella Hofmann and William Converse-Roberts as Regan and Gabriel Tam, the mother and father of Simon and River Tam.
  • John Thaddeus as Stark, the bandit who kidnaps Simon and River.
  • Gary Werntz as Patron, the leader of the township the Tams are brought to.
  • Zac Efron as young Simon Tam
  • Skylar Roberge as young River Tam
  • Erica Tazel as Doralee, the township's village teacher and informal doctor.


  • Espenson, Jane, ed., with Glenn Yeffeth (eds.). Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's "Firefly". Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books. ISBN 1-932100-43-1. 
  • Rhonda V. Wilcox; Tanya Cochran (20 May 2008). Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Joss Whedon's Worlds Beyond: Science Fiction on the Frontier (Investigating Cult TV Series). I B Tauris & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84511-654-5. 
  • Joss Whedon (1 Sep 2005). Serenity: The Official Visual Companion. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-082-3. 
  • Joss Whedon; et al. (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume One. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-314-5. 
  • Joss Whedon; et al. (25 August 2006). Firefly: The Official Companion: Volume Two. Titan Books Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84576-372-5. 
  • Joss Whedon (December 9, 2003). The Complete Series: Commentary for "Serenity" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 

External links[edit]