November, c. 2490
|Ship(s) captained or crewed|
- "That young man is very brave. He gave up everything to free his sister from that place. Go from being a doctor on the central planets to hiding on the fringes of the system...There is not many who could do that."
- ―Derrial Book
Simon Tam gave up his life as a top trauma surgeon on Osiris, a central planet, in order to rescue his little sister, River Tam, from an Alliance academy, becoming a wanted fugitive in the process. He now practices aboard Serenity as the ship's doctor and attempts to heal River.
Simon was born in late November, c. 2490 to Gabriel and Regan Tam, and raised on Osiris, a Core World planet with major Alliance ties. Simon supported Unification, the issue that sparked the eponymous War of Unification. He was young at the time of the war however, and may have been easily swayed by Alliance propaganda.
Much to the pleasure and possible insistence of his father, Simon entered medical school c. 2507, and was accepted into "MedAcad", the best Medical Academy, on Osiris, presumably the University of Osiris. Simon graduated in the top 3% of his class, and promptly moved onto a medical internship, which he completed in a mere eight months (as opposed to a year), and is licensed to practice medicine.
Despite his normal rigid persona, Simon later tells Kaylee Frye, engineer of Serenity, that after he and his fellow doctors officially became surgeons, they imbibed quite a large amount of sake, and ended up naked on a statue of Hippocrates. There are also rumors that Simon began singing the National Anthem, from which he either managed to talk or pay his way out of the Alliance telling his father. Simon admits that he is quite "fuzzy on details" regarding this story.
From there, he became a resident trauma surgeon on one of the major hospitals in Capital City, Osiris.
Around this time, the Tam family was made aware of an elite Alliance-sponsored school called The Academy that their youngest daughter, River could attend. Simon stayed in contact with River throughout her time at the academy in the form of letters, that ceased for a time. When he received another, it was littered with spelling errors and mentions of jokes and memories that did not exist. Eventually, Simon realizes that River is writing in code, and that her message is "They're hurting us. Get me out." When he informs his parents of this, however, they dismiss it as paranoia.
Due to Simon's intense attachment to River, however, he continues a quest to find and bring her out of the Academy, even going to lengths to enter Illegal Blackout Zones—although these are never exactly explained—and being arrested, much to the shame of his family. Eventually, after two years of searching, he is contacted by an underground group that said they could rescue River and deliver her to Simon, should he be able to pay enough.
They explain to him that the Alliance has been "playing with her brain" and, if funded, the men agreed to sneak River out via cryogenics and taken to Persephone, a planet slightly outside the Core, where Simon could take her wherever he wished.
Simon then spends a large amount of money funding the movement, and even plays a pivotal role of the actual rescue, when he manages to enter the Academy disguised as a uniformed official of the Alliance government, and is able to question and incapacitate Dr. Mathias and his team during River’s treatment. Upon activating a hidden stun grenade, Simon releases River, allowing them both to make their way to an elevator shaft, break through, and climb onto a raft which they use to ride up to safety of the movement's ship over head. An elaborate escape which is recorded by the facilities security, and later reviewed by the Operative. Having escaped the facility, their ship is somehow able to escape the Alliance, and eventually head for Persephone.
When the Alliance learns of Simon's part in River's rescue, they promptly freeze all of his monetary accounts and put out a warrant for his arrest, along with River. Left with only what he has with him, including a medkit and encyclopedia, Simon concentrates on trying to help his sister, despite being labeled as fugitives.
When leaving Persephone at the Eavesdown Docks, he decides to board Serenity, bringing with him a large case that is eventually revealed to be River, cryogenically frozen.
While onboard Serenity, the Pilot Wash realizes a beacon has been sent to the Alliance, and Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds believes that it is Simon – a possible undercover agent – who has sent it out. In the ensuing conflict, they realize that Simon is not a fed, but Lawrence Dobson, another passenger, is. Dobson, in an attempt to gain control of the ship and capture the "fugitives" on board, and shoots Kaylee Frye in the stomach. As Simon is the only doctor on board, he alone has the means to save her, and uses this fact to make sure Mal Reynolds does not hand Simon and River over to the Alliance. Mal agrees only out of concern for Kaylee and resents most heavily anyone exerting power over him aboard his own ship. After Simon has done all he can for Kaylee, Mal decides to find out what Simon had in his crate. Mal opens it up, finding Simon's sister, River Tam.
Because of Simon and River's need to stay on the move in order to outpace the Alliance, Mal Reynolds offers Simon a job as doctor on the Serenity, and Simon accepts.
Simon soon settles into life on the ship, spending most of his time caring for River and attempting to figure out exactly what the Alliance did to her. The Tams remain below Alliance radar, despite some close calls, notably, the boarding of the ship in "Bushwhacked". It was revealed during this particular scrape that Simon has a phobia of being in empty space, likely due to the fact that he spent most of his life planet-side.
From the first, there is a lot of tension and distrust between Mal and Simon. This is due mainly to their similarities: both would do anything to protect their respective families, and both fears that the other is a threat to that. To Mal, his crew is his family, and he tolerates and accepts Simon and River as long as they do not threaten their wellbeing. Simon is likewise devoted to River, and often feels that Mal is flippant with her, and unconcerned with her safety. These two goals often conflict, despite Simon technically being part of Mal's crew.
There is also some tension with Jayne Cobb who is crude and uneducated and does not see any wisdom in keeping the Tams aboard. Indeed, after River attacked him with a knife in one of her psychotic outbursts, Jayne attempted to turn them in and collect the reward.
Simon remains so intent on making sure River is healthy and looked after that he doesn't concentrate on relations with the rest of the crew. When Simon meets up with Inara and Kaylee while they are shopping on Jiangyin, he manages to insult the only thing important in Kaylee's life by referring to Serenity as lo se, or, basically, "garbage."
Simon then loses track of River on Jiangyin, and while he finds her happily dancing with townspeople, he soon gets captured by hill-folk who are in desperate need of a doctor. This leads downhill, as River is soon accused of witchcraft, and while Simon is ready to die with her, Mal and Zoë successfully located them and come to the rescue. After they have safely returned to the ship, Simon asks Mal why Mal had come back for them. Mal simply responds:
- You're on my crew. Why're we still talkin' about this?
From that point on, Simon is clearly more a part of the crew. In "Jaynestown", he pretends to be a high-class buyer of ceramic mud as a cover for a job. While on this job, he and Kaylee have their first moment where it's realized that Simon may have more feelings for Kaylee than originally thought. When they sit together in the pub in Canton (the town where the job is), Simon get rather drunk, and when they get to talking, they reveal their true colors:
- Kaylee: You are pretty funny.
- Simon: And you're pretty... pretty.
- Kaylee: What did you just say?
- Simon: I just said that you're pretty. Even when you're covered in... engine grease, you're... No, especially, especially when you're covered in engine grease.
However, when they are awakened the next morning by Mal, Simon denies that anything could have ever happened between them, acknowledging Mal's older brother relationship with Kaylee. However, he did so in a manner that understandably angered Kaylee. They resolve this somewhat at the end of the episode when Simon explains that his polite manner is his way of showing respect and affection.
Later, Simon manages to insult Kaylee when, in a moment where he meant that he was happy that they (Simon and Kaylee) were getting along so well together, he mentions that all the other females onboard Serenity were either "married [Zoë], related [River] or a professional [Inara]." However, Kaylee took that to mean he thought he was "stuck" with her.
Simon appears prominently in "Ariel", where the crew finds themselves on Ariel, a Core Planet swarming with Alliance. Mal forbids the crew to leave, but Simon proposes a job for them that involves stealing medicine from St. Lucy's, a major hospital on Ariel, and selling them on the black market for profit.
Simon explains that his motive is to access the sophisticated neural scanners that are in St. Lucy's, as he has reached a wall in his attempts to find out what the Academy scientists did to River. He plans out the entire operation and with Mal's impressed approval, they perform a successful infiltration of Saint Lucy's hospital (through an elaborate plan, in more detail on the page for "Ariel") and Simon is able to gain access to the 3D neuroimager to look at River's brain, and realizes her amygdala has been "stripped," and she feels all emotion and cannot filter or push aside any emotion. While in the hospital River predicts that a doctor will make a mistake and kill a patient. Simon intervenes and saves the man, demonstrating his ability and how natural being a trauma surgeon is to him.
By "Objects in Space", the final episode, Simon has begun to loosen up much more, especially around Kaylee, and tells her about when he made surgeon and got drunk and sang on top of the statue of Hippocrates. Due to River's quasi-psychic powers, she "hears" Simon say "I'd be there right now" and later he says something similar to Kaylee, extending it to "I'd be there now if she hadn't -- if they'd have just left her alone." This reveals that as deeply as Simon cares for his sister and as much as her wellbeing has always been his ultimate concern, he does miss his old life.
- "You gave up everything you had to find me. You found me broken. It's hard for you. You gave up everything you had."
"Méi-mei, everything I have is right here."
- ―Simon telling River she is the most important person in his life
Although she often made him feel like an "idiot child" growing up, the two are nonetheless extremely close. Simon often affectionately calls her Méi-mei which means "little sister".
As children he and River enjoyed playing elaborate games together and remained intensely close during their younger years. Their close bond is what made it quite easy for Simon to give up his entire career, future and reputation to save her from the academy.
Part of the wealthy and influential Tam family, Simon grew up spoiled and lavished with the very best caliber of everything his family could buy. However, it seems that he and his sister were also driven to succeed by their high social climbing parents and that through they loved each other their bond was based solely on their family's standing in the community.
A few months into his sister's stay at the academy Simon began to get strange letters sent to him from River. He thought that they were written in code and was very concerned about how his sister was doing at the mysterious school. His parents however were more concerned about how his paranoia would halt his rising medical career, and they promptly dismissed his worries as being overprotective of his little sister.
A year later, Simon was bailed out of jail by his father after trying to find out more information about how River was being treated. It is painfully apparent that the elder Tam cared more about the fact that his son had gotten arrested and the shame and humiliation it caused their family's reputation than the fact that he only did what he did to help River. Tam Senior bluntly tells his son that he will not come for him again if he gets himself into any more legal trouble. The truth finally brought to light, Simon turned his back on his parents in order to save the only family he had left: River.
Armed with only the coded letters River sent him, his own personal fortune and help form an underground resistance Simon started to put a rescue plan into action. It took him nearly two more years but he was finally able to liberate River from the academy. Because of his actions, both Simon and his sister were disowned by their parents and labeled fugitives.
In order for them to keep a low profile and make themselves less of a target for the Alliance, Simon took his sister on board the Firefly ship Serenity. Despite the fact that he knew he could never go home again, Simon was nonetheless extremely relieved and happy to be with his beloved sister again after being separated from her for nearly three years.
Simon would do anything to protect River. Because of his intense dedication to her he hardly makes any personal connections on Serenity when he first arrives, focusing entirely on his sister's health.
In her more lucid moments River herself realizes the depth of the sacrifices her brother has made for her, she is heartbroken that can no longer live his life as a surgeon on the Central Planets. Simon refutes her concerns as often as he can, constantly reminding his sister that he has no regrets about saving her and that she is everything he needs to be happy.
Even through rescuing his sister has cost him his old life, Simon has no misgivings and willingly devotes himself to her care. His goal throughout both the series and film is to help River recover from the trauma dealt to her and to keep her safe from the Alliance.
It is shown in a deleted scene of "Our Mrs Reynolds" that River sometimes becomes confused about her and Simon's relationship. She asks Shepherd Book to marry them because they love each other, which Simon obvious vehemently protests.
In Serenity: Better Days, when all of the characters are sharing their dream futures, Simon says his dream future is that he and River could work together in the hospital on Osiris.
- "I spent so much time on Serenity ignoring anything.. that I wanted for myself. My one regret in all of this is never being with you."
"With me? You mean to say... sex?"
"I mean to say."
"The Hell with this. I'm gonna live!"
- ―Simon and Kaylee finally express their feelings to one another.
From the moment they met, Simon and Kaylee had an unspoken attraction. Kaylee developed a massive crush on him from the moment she saw him and struggled to get his attention. As the series goes on, they develop a friendship and admiration for each other. They both possess an inherent kindness and are inclined to want to help those in need. However, Simon's rather single-minded devotion to River and his "proper" attitude prevent them from engaging in a more substantial relationship. A little shell-shocked by life on the poor and scrappy border planets, Simon unintentionally insults Kaylee and her beloved Serenity on a few occasions, something that Kaylee is quick to stand up against. After leading the crew's robbery of a hospital on Ariel, Simon begins to loosen up a little, and he and Kaylee have fun together more often, telling jokes and stories.
Simon almost never gets mad at Kaylee, the only time being when Kaylee made River seem like an unpredictable killer to the rest of the crew, leading them grow suspicious of her. Eventually, Simon and Kaylee confess their feelings for each other when they think they're about to die, and subsequently consummate their relationship in the engine room of the Serenity.
- "Doctor could be called a lot of things, Coward wouldn't be one of them though"
Throughout the series and film Simon has an antagonistic relationship with Mal. They both feel extremely protective over their families; Mal's being the crew, and Simon's, his sister.
Despite their vastly different natures Mal nonetheless respects Simon and his medical skills immensely and finds him a invaluable member of the crew.
In the episode Safe, when River and Simon were kidnapped by hill people Jayne first suggested that Simon fled with River when he saw the heavy law enforcement presence. However Mal shoots down this saying that the doctor may be many things but he isn't a coward. In the end Mal rescues River and Simon in the nick of time. Later on when Simon asks Mal why he came back for them seeing as he doesn't even like Simon, Mal causally responded that he is on his crew, thus finally accepting River and Simon into the fold.
Behind the scenes
There is a perceived discrepancy regarding Simon's role in the rescue of River, as the film and the series offer slightly conflicting views on how exactly River is released from the Academy. However it should be noted that the discrepancy is based on Simon's account given to Malcolm Reynolds, at a time when Simon was extremely suspicious of him, and so it is quite likely that Simon's account is not intended to be completely accurate. Hence the depiction in Serenity is not incompatible with the series. The explanation given in the series (more specifically, in the pilot episode "Serenity") is that Simon funded the group that smuggled River out and picked her up on Persephone suspended in cryo in a large crate, with no mention made of his direct participation:
- Zoë: How’d you do it?
- Simon: Money. And luck. For two years I couldn’t get near her, then I was contacted by some men, some underground movement. They said that she was in danger, that the government was playing with her brain. If I funded them they could sneak her out in cryo, get her to Persephone, and from there I could take her wherever.
In the film, however, a security video captured Simon impersonating an alliance official and being directly involved in rescuing a fully animate River
Joss Whedon has commented on this, saying that for the movie he had to have Simon rescue River, for plot reasons, and saying that Simon was lying when he first told the crew about rescuing River (which is believable given his character), and that he plans on addressing the issue at some point.
- Firefly – "Serenity" (First appearance)
- Firefly – "The Train Job"
- Firefly – "Bushwhacked"
- Firefly – "Shindig"
- Firefly – "Safe"
- Firefly – "Our Mrs. Reynolds"
- Firefly – "Jaynestown"
- Firefly – "Out of Gas"
- Firefly – "Ariel"
- Firefly – "War Stories"
- Firefly – "Trash"
- Firefly – "The Message"
- Firefly – "Heart of Gold"
- Firefly – "Objects in Space"
- Better Days
- Those Left Behind
- The Other Half
- Serenity movie
- Serenity novel