BIG DAMN HEROES: Malcolm Reynolds
If you recognize the title of this article you have at least a passing familiarity with the phenomenon that is Firefly. Firefly is the short-lived (14 episodes and one film) but fanatically beloved western space opera following the trials and tribulations of the crew of a derelict 03-K64 Firefly-class transport named Serenity. And rather than to examine the show from the outside, its' treatment by Fox, its' fanatic fan base or even its foray into film and now games and comics, let's step into the ';verse and take a look at the head man, himself...Captain Malcolm Reynolds.
Mal was raised by his mother and "about 40 hired hands" on a farm on planet Shadow. When the war between the Independents (nicknamed Browncoats) and the Alliance came, Mal volunteered and eventually rose through the ranks to become a gunnery sergeant and the head of many campaigns, frequently with second in command Zoe Alleyne at his side. The Battle of Serenity Valley decimated the Independents, affectively ending the war and took a significant toll on the faith and psyche of the future captain, to the point that, when questioned if bank robbery was a "proper" profession for a former soldier, he said "Wars over...we're all just folks now". Conversely, he makes sure to be in an Alliance friendly bar on Unification Day, which usually ends up in a brawl. The man is a definite dichotomy.
This dichotomy shows up often in the Captain's dealings with his crew and the world around him. Mal likes to portray himself a man who goes with the flow. "Wind blows northly, I go north." He would like people to think that his only concern is the job and the money. But he is a man of extremely deep feelings about the innate goodness of humanity and a person's right to independence of action and thought. He risks his life and the lives of his crew to make sure that the secret of Miranda was seen, because "the people needed to see it" and he returned the money and endured the torture of the vicious Adele Niska rather than deprive a small village its needed medical supplies. Despite himself, people are drawn to him, whether he likes it or not and this is clearly illustrated in the crew and guests who live on Serenity.
Mal is loyal and protective of his crew beyond the normal levels of leader. He has risked life and limb on a number of occasions for one of his team, giving "you're part of my crew" as his only answer. And each of those crew members fulfills a need in him or in many ways, replaces some aspect of himself. In Kaylee, he finds a little sister, whose innocence and hopefulness in the good of others he is drawn to protect. In Wash, he had a brother, someone to trade wisecracks, arguments and sometimes punches with. In Zoe, he gets and receives trust and respect. She is his anchor...the one person he can always count on. Shepard Book provided him with a conscience and taught him that you had to have faith in something, no matter what that something is. In Inara, he found an equal, someone who can give as good as she gets, someone with passion, someone who confounds and frustrates him and makes him want to be his best. Even Jayne shows him what he might be if his selfishness ever outweighs his selflessness. The presence of Simon and River Tam create more problems than they help, but in Simon, Mal respects his devotion to protecting River at all costs and his skills as a doctor and recognized River's emerging skills as a reader and he also mirrors Simon's desire to keep her safe...although he would never admit it. "You're part of my crew...why are we still talking about this."
A quick wit, a quicker gun, a warrior, a philosopher, a scoundrel, Browncoat, Captain...all these words describe Malcolm Reynolds with one more that he would argue but secretly, he embraces and definitely embodies...hero.
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