It takes a lot to shock me when it comes to Firefly. I have listened to countless discussions, participated in numerous debates, read articles, interviews and books and overall consider myself something of an expert on the matter.
When Sean posited his view that he saw Mal as a "my way or the high way" style bully it gave me serious pause mostly because I had never encountered this view before. Mal is generally accepted as a broken, flawed anti-hero...but a bully?
What I would like to do here is not so much argue the point but to collect evidence to support Sean's case. When someone posts an example let's discuss it to determine if it helps or hurts the argument.
I rewatched Serenity and the Train Job with the express purpose of spotting instances of this behavior and I still had trouble finding many examples. The more I looked the more I saw Mal not being a bully though his actions or his inactions. For example:
1. Wouldn't someone who dealt with situations absolutely arm his ship?
2. Wouldn't a bully have authorized torture when interrogating the Fed?
3. On Whitefall when they are scoping the territory Jayne says, "Aren't you sure you don't want to piss yourself like you did with Badger?" Mal doesn't challenge him, snap or anything. He simply says, "Walk soft" "Don't kill anyone if you don't have to"
4. At the end of the show wouldn't a bully have stomped on Jayne's head when Jayne admitted that he would have turned on him if the money was good enough
5. Wouldn't a bully not have let Simon on his crew after the comparisons Simon made of Mal to the perfect alliance officer?
If you pay close attention even when Mal says he is going to do something he always go with what the group feels is right. He doesn't toss River and Simon out, he doesn't drive Inara off the ship.
I admit I may be blind to this, but I simply still don't see it.