Firefly question: Do you kick the vengeful bad guy into the engine?

In a thread I can’t be arsed to link to, someone (probably me) brought up the famous* moment in the Firefly pilot† in which Malcolm Reynolds, faced with the vengeful henchmen of a mob boss he, Malcolm, has just betrayed‡, offers the henchmen back the money he was paid for the job, only to be told that the henchmen plans to hunt him down and kill him regardless. In response, Mal flat-out murders the henchmen by kicking him into the running engine of his ship, which naturally turns him into meat confetti. Here’s the scene if anybody needs a reminder. And here’s today’s question: was what Malcolm did ethically justifiable?

My initial thought was yes, but on a further pondering I’ve decided it’s iffy. Yes, the henchman was a probable danger to Serenity and her crew. But he wasn’t an immediate danger, nor really the ultimate danger; that would come from his boss, Niska, whose name I can’t be bothered to verify the spelling of. The henchman was talking smack, yes, but he is obviously Niska’s man; he does whatever Niska tells him to do, and nothing that Niska forbids. Killing him at that moment isn’t strictly necessary, and does nothing to lessen the danger from the boss. I’m understand why Malcolm did it from a practical point of view, and from an artistic point of view I applaud Joss Whedon’s choice in having it happen – but I’m still not easy about it from an ethical point of view.

How about the rest of you?

  • In certain circles.
    † Well, it aired first, didn’t it?
    ‡ For good reason, maybe, but that doesn’t matter with kingpins of crime.

I don’t think it was intended to be morally justifiable. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was meant to 1) get immediate results, as illustrated by the reaction of the next henchman, and 2) illustrate Mal’s ruthlessness to warn Niska that he is no easy mark.

Obviously it was ethically justifiable…to Mal. It might not be to anyone else, although I’m sure Jayne approved. Either kick him into the engine or risk a member of your crew coming to harm in the future. No brainer.

Pretty much. However, the casualness with which it was done may be a bit more problematic.

Ethics get tricky when you are living in anarchy. The thing is, Mal had no legal recourse at all. His only option was to try and convince Niska that coming after him would cost more than it was worth. Now, it didn’t work, and Mal may have known it probably wouldn’t work, but it probably delayed the inevitable confrontation (which should have been the first of many).

Pre-emptive self-defense.

One of my favorite scenes. Established Mal as someone with his own set of borderline ethics, linked to protecting his crew and ship at all costs.

Which,of course, is not true. Mal had limits to what he’d do to protect his Serenity and her crew. If he didn’t, he would have kept the stolen medicine, thus avoiding any further problems from Niska. He and Zoe got away clean with it, after all. He was trying to minimize further danger, but he was consciously courting it.

Of course, one can make an argument that returning it was also a pragmatic matter–that not doing so would likely have cost him Kaylee once she found out about it, and Wash and Zoe as well. (He’d not have cared about Book at that point.) But I’m not buying it. Mal is willing to do a lot to protect his crew, but there’s limits.

Toro droppings.

*Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?
Mal: You’re on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?
Mal: You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this? *

Heck no. I could have damaged an expensive engine.

I’ll agree that there’s practically no limit to what Mal will risk for himself to protect his crew. There’s limits to what Mal will do to other people for his crew.

*Mal: Mercy is the mark of a great man.
Mal: Guess I’m just a good one.
Mal: Well, I’m all right. *

We never got to explore exactly how much Mal would do. But he brought down a government as vengeance for what they did to his crew.

Keeping the crew out of danger could have been accomplished by delivering the stolen goods. Niska made it clear what he would do if Mal failed.

It was his inability to deprive the townspeople of medicine that lead to the danger. In effect, Mal is betrayed by his own morality.

If I’m the ship’s captain, Skald, I’m always kicking the vengeful bad guy into the engines. BTW, I would like some hashish in my brownies.

I’m not sure why it requires being ethically anything.

Threads require hooks. But Malcolm is in fact a fairly ethical (though not moral) guy. He has a code he works at at sticking to. He’s a thief, yes, but the list of things he won’t do for money is a hell of a lot longer than the list of things on the other side.

That violates my ethics. If I can’t make you deliriously, orgasmically happy with an un-adulterated brownie, I have failed as a baker and a man.

I am of the opinion that Mal has a very strict and fairly internally consistent code of ethics, and fairly strong morals. That code bears very little resemblance to what external organizations, individuals, or religions would consider ethical or moral, but hey - at least he’s consistent!

As for me, I wouldn’t have kicked the dude into the engine because I never think of cool appropos shit like that until I’m lying awake at 3 am the next day.

However, I am of the opinion that I would have tried to do **something **to indicate to Niska that I am of the “not worthwhile to fuck with” denomination of shady characters. That was his actual goal. Didn’t work, but he was right - Niska should have taken the hint.

If I were in Mal’s place, I’d have done the same thing. But that’s an important caveat - were I myself, I’d never have gotten myself in that position in the first place. It’s all very well talking about the ethics of pre-emptive self defence when the ethics of *not stealing stuff *in the first place hasn’t been broached.

Also, I’d have put some sort of gun on the damn ship. Or missiles, at least.

That’s what bothers me most about that scene, too. I mean, it’s still an awesome scene–especially on first viewing. But every time I rewatch it, I always think “Wouldn’t that fuck up the engine?”

Oh, and I didn’t vote because there was no “Kaylee, Inara, and Zoe 3way” option.