Oh Captain: Malcolm Reynolds

Ship’s captains have been an important part of genre fiction for a long time. Thusly, in our first genre feature series, we’re looking at ship’s captains. Today’s captain is Malcolm Reynolds of the Serenity.

Though short-lived, “Firefly” (and its accompanying movie “Serenity”) has become one of the best loved science fiction series of all time. Ask a sci-fi geek which series he or she would most like returned to television, the answer is almost always “Firefly.”

With only 14 episodes in the single season (only 11 of which were shown on television), we don’t have a lot to go on, but we did get quite a bit of background on the protagonist, more clearly than usual anyway.


he entire series is a clear allegory for the American western frontier: Soon after a civil war, Alliance citizens began to expand quickly into new territories of space, and establish colonies on previously uninhabited planets, and the order of the day was not always tight.

The crew of the Serenity – named for the defining battle of the war – are a traveling band of lawless men and women, led by a veteran of the losing side.

They might well be traveling the American west in a stagecoach called the Gettysburg, and led by a former confederate soldier. The social implications and interactions are all very similar to what we find in stories of those times, complete with corrupt sheriffs, new settlements and communes with ideas of independent living, and terrifying savage peoples.

In this environment, Reynolds thrives. Having lost his faith, his happiness, and his prospects in the war, he travels with no particular goal. This alone makes him much different from many other literary ship’s captains. There is usually some overriding goal or destination for the crew to which the captain is the most devoted. Reynolds, however, simply allows circumstance and opportunity to carry him from one chance encounter to another. His main goal seems to be survival first, and maintaining distance from the rule of the Alliance second.

The part of his story the audience gets to see is a time when Reynolds crew has an unforeseen swell. He had been voyaging only with his best friend, her husband, and a mercenary hired as a body-guard of sorts for some time.

As the series opens, he’s just recently taken on a spunky engineer and a sultry “companion.” Soon he takes on a priest, a Bio-engineered weapon-girl, and her brother.

With the exception of the brother, each of these additions seems to bring something to Reynolds which he lost in the war. Through them, and his reliance upon them, the character rebuilds himself, slowly becoming more and more of the man he was before the battle of Serenity Valley.

Then, as the story moves forward, and members of the crew die or leave, Reynolds is left with the important parts of himself returned.

The role was a breakthrough for Nathan Fillion, as it brought the relatively obscure actor into the spotlight for loyal sci-fi fans who are now willing to watch anything, so long as he is in it. For his own part, he’s stated in interviews that it’s the most fun role he’s ever played, and he misses it enough that, if he could afford it, he would produce and publish the show himself, just to get back into the role.

Come back tomorrow when we will feature Captain Zapp Brannigan. If there is a Ship’s captain which you would like to see featured in this series, let us know in the comments.