Let’s talk about Firefly. Remember Firefly everyone? That show we all love? The one FOX cancelled? The one about the scrappy band of space cowboys by the guy who did The Avengers?
Hell yeah. Let’s talk about Firefly.
Specifically, let’s talk about Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. Captain of the Serenity, smuggler, browncoat, excellent shot, witty; all these describe the lovable Mal. Deeper than these though, are the real reasons we resonate with Mal so much.
A Man Who Lost
We first met Mal at the Battle of Serenity Fields. The browncoats are getting ripped to shreds by the Alliance, but this doesn’t faze Mal at all. He kisses his cross, and promises his men a victory. He’s a true believer, an idealist. He values the right to decide his own fate, and doesn’t want the Alliance stepping in. He fights hard, brings down a jet, and returns, only to find defeat.
The browncoats lose.
Flash forward a few years, and Mal’s the captain of the Serenity, and a decidedly changed man. Though it’s never straight out addressed in the show, Mal has lost his faith in God. He no longer wears a cross, no longer says Grace, and harbors no feelings of camaraderie with men of faith.
He’s a good man still, but he’s cold. He’ll joke and laugh with you, but if he tells you to do something, you’d better do it.
It’s disillusionment. There’s no grand fight for him to partake in. The war is over and he’s left with nothing but a ship and some friends.
He doesn’t regain his faith in the end, but he finds a new one.
The Faking Hardened Criminal
For all he’s lost, Mal isn’t a broken man. Yes, he smuggles, and generally commits all sorts of illegal escapades. However, he’s not a bad person, no matter how much he may believe himself to be.
Time and again, Mal will forgo the payment in favor of doing the right thing. He’ll boss his crew around, threaten them, shout at them, and consider doing the wrong thing. In the end, though, he always chooses correctly.
The Family Man
Mal has no wife (sort of). He has no children, no parents, no siblings. Yet, he has a family. As we see throughout the series, the crew of the Serenity is his family. And while Mal’s disposition may not change, we learn so much about him through Serenity’s adventures, we get to see just how he views each member of his crew.
Mal lost a war, but he gained a home and a family, and he’s willing to go to war all over again to defend both. It’s what makes him resonate so strongly with us.