Big Damn Heroes

Hoping to sell the cattle cargo acquired in Shindig, the crew lands on Jiangyin, and as usual, the exchange doesn't go smooth. In the meantime, River wanders off to a country dance where she quickly picks up the steps and joins in. In a brilliant sequence typical of Safe, the scene alternates back and forth between the hostilities and the River's dancing. Flutes and piccoloes play in the background as shots ring out in the dirt, and the gunfight itself becomes a dance. In the midst of the festivities, Book takes a bullet to the shoulder and Simon is abducted by hillfolk. As River approaches believing they are playing hide-and-seek, she is also kidnapped while Serenity is seen taking off in the distance.

Inara eventually convinces Mal to seek help from the Alliance. After Alliance personnel board Serenity, the officer initially refuses to help until a barely conscious Book offers his Ident card. The Alliance cruiser gladly provides medical care to Book, hinting yet again to Book's mysterious past. When Mal later broaches the subject, Book tactfully dodges the question.

Safe revolves around the sacrifices Simon is willing to make to help his sister. The flashbacks to their childhood demonstrate his parents' unwillingness to take responsibility for River's safety. Simon realizes that a parent isn't just someone of great standing, but rather someone who is available when inconvenient, even when dinner parties mark the social calendar. He has to play the part not only of brother, but also of parent, as he is forced to sacrifice his life's ambitions for the sake of his sister. River, through all her mental haze, realizes this - “You gave up everything you had to find me, and you found me broken." Simon sacrificed his career as a respected surgeon, the wealth of his family, and his standing as a law-abiding citizen in order to find and rescue River. And as he realizes at the end of Serenity, he also gave up romance on board the ship.

In a moment of Stockholm Syndrome, he begins to feel sympathy for his kidnappers, rolling up his sleeves to treat the sick, and beginning to believe that perhaps Jiangyin is as good a place to call "home" as any other. The feeling is shattered when Doralee accuses River of being a witch moments after telling Simon to "judge not". Gone is any semblance of romanticization of the frontier. Superstition rules the benighted hillfolk wanting to murder an innocent girl. In a rare moment of rage, Simon lashes out, "She has done nothing to you! If she dies tonight, it won't be God's will that killed her! It'll be you! Your lunacy, your… ignorance!" Once again, he is willing to play the part of big brother as he takes a place on the pyre beside her, comforting her and holding her tight.

When it's "time to go", our Big Damn Heroes make a grand entrance with shotguns in hand, as Jayne hangs out the spaceship with the really big gun lookin' to kill some folk. Our witch lives to fly another day.

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Two quibbles: I don't think

Two quibbles:

I don't think Simon has Stockholm Syndrome. He never stops resenting and criticizing the townspeople for kidnapping them. Rather, he has an irresistable sense of duty as a doctor toward those in need of his aid. He doesn't want to be there, but as long as he's there, he can't ignore patients who rely on him. This trait is exhibited again in the Ariel episode, where he stops in the middle of a tense heist and risks getting caught in order to save a patient's life from an incompetent doctor's administration of the wrong medication.

Also, you didn't mention one of the more significant developments in the character dynamics of the show, which is also the only aspect of the series that gave me cognitive dissonance when I saw the film. At the end, Simon asks Mal why he came back for them. Mal says, "You're on my crew." This is a big deal. He repeats it in response to Simon's repeated question, making clear that no further explanation is required as to why he would risk his life to save someone from death. And this sense of belonging to a group with shared loyalty spurs Simon in a later episode to make a truce with Jayne, telling him "when you're on my table, you're safe," just as Mal had told him back at the beginning, "If I ever shoot you, you'll be awake. And you'll be armed." I found it really jarring that in the film Mal tells Simon he's NOT one of the crew, as though this episode had never taken place.

I think that perhaps you are

I think that perhaps you are being too literal CMN. I suspect that Mal was speaking out of anger and frustration and was saying what he thought would hurt or anger Simon.