||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (June 2010)|
Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds
|First appearance||"Serenity" (Firefly episode)|
|Created by||Joss Whedon|
|Portrayed by||Nathan Fillion|
|Nickname(s)||Mal, Captain, Captain Tight Pants (Kaylee)|
|Occupation||Captain of Serenity|
|Relatives||Mother (Name unknown)|
Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Firefly franchise. Mal is played by actor Nathan Fillion in the 2002 TV series Firefly and the 2005 film Serenity. In the series, Mal is the captain of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity. The character was named #18 in TV Guide's Greatest Sci-Fi Legends list in 2004.
Conceived by Joss Whedon, the character Malcolm Reynolds was the only definite character he had in mind when formulating the ensemble cast. He wanted a hero, but not a hero in the classic sense; someone that is "everything that a hero is not.
In the proposed pilot, Mal was much darker and considerably more closed-off. Fox network executives objected, and asked that Mal be "lightened up". For the second episode ("The Train Job"), Whedon created a more "jolly" Mal Reynolds.
Whedon approached Nathan Fillion to play the lead, and after explaining the premise and showing Fillion the treatment for the pilot, Fillion was eager for the role. Fillion was called back several times to read for the part before he was cast. He noted that "It was really thrilling. It was my first lead and I was pretty nervous, but I really wanted that part and I wanted to tell those stories."
Los Angeles prop shop Applied Effects was approached by Randy Erikson to create Mal's main gun, a "Moses Brothers Self-Defense Engine Frontier Model B", and gave them a week and a half. Erikson provided a foamcore conceptual mockup and the base guns, one of which was a five-shot .38 caliber Taurus Model 85 revolver. Erikson researched American Civil War-era revolvers for inspiration and the final mockup had a brass or bronze look, with the revolver a little elongated. The biggest challenge was masking the shape of the original revolver and still keeping it operable.
On the TV series Firefly, a cast bronze pistol was used, but for the film Serenity, a more detailed replica was created which had moving action and a blank pistol hidden inside, so that it could be fired in close-ups. Since this version was quite heavy, a resin replica was also constructed, which in addition to being less tiring for the actors to carry, could be thrown or dropped with less fear of injury. Nonfunctional replicas of the gun are commercially available for fans and collectors.
GBB Custom Gunleather was tasked with creating Mal's gun holster, which was made out of oak-tanned carving leather. The character's coat, a relic of his time as a Browncoat, was a collaboration between Firefly costume designer Shawna Trpcic and Jonathan A. Logan, a leather artist. Trpcic sketched her idea and a cloth mockup was created before the final was made with domestic-farmed deerskin. The cuffs are actually the sleeves folded back, evoking the style of Oriental robes with their silk linings. Two coats were made for the character, one called "Number 1" coat and another called "The Hero" coat. The Number 1 coat's bullet hole is drawn in, while The Hero version has a detailed cut and sewn repair. As with the gun, replicas of Malcolm Reynolds' coat have also been made available commercially for fans.
Malcolm's main mission is to keep his crew alive and to keep his ship flying. As Firefly writer Tim Minear stated in an interview: "It's just about getting by. That's always been the mission statement of what the show is — getting by." In Serenity, Mal says of himself: "[If the] Wind blows Northerly, I go North."
Screens from Serenity suggest that Mal was born on September 20, 2468–which would make him 49 at the time of the series Firefly–though this may be a transposition of 2486 (making him 31, an age more consistent with his appearance), since the information screen also misspells his name as "Malcom". Mal was raised by his mother and "about 40 hands" on a ranch on the planet Shadow. Though Mal usually seems more practical than intellectual, he occasionally surprises his friends by displaying familiarity with disparate literature varying from the works of Xiang Yu to poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, though he has no idea "who" Mona Lisa is.
Mal volunteered for the Independents army during the Unification War against the Alliance, gaining the rank of sergeant during that time. His loyal second-in-command Zoe was by his side for most of the war, surviving many dangerous conflicts with him. The show mentions three such battles, including the Battle of Du-Khang in 2510 (featured in "The Message") and a long winter campaign in New Kashmir (as told by Zoe in "War Stories") where he commanded a platoon. Mal was also involved in the ground campaign during the Battle of Sturges (as seen in the comic book Serenity: Those Left Behind), which according to Badger was the "bloodiest and shortest battle in all the war", although Mal considers it a distant second. Mal fought in many more battles, but the turning point for him and the Independents came with their physical and emotional defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley on the planet Hera. On-screen information from the film Serenity suggests that Mal was given a brevet promotion to captain during the Battle of Serenity Valley to take command of the ever-increasing number of Independent troops who were losing their officers at the hands of the Alliance. This might explain why, in one of the deleted scenes from the Firefly pilot, Mal is described as having commanded at least 2000 men. On-screen information in Serenity shows him to have been attached to the 57th Overlanders Brigade; in the series pilot, Badger calls it the "Balls and Bayonets Brigade", though it is unclear whether that was a disparaging nickname coined by Badger himself or the actual unit sobriquet, a deleted scene in Serenity marks it as the actual unit sobriquet. It is unknown if the deleted scene can be considered canon or not.
After the war, Mal acquired his own ship, a derelict 03-K64 Firefly-class transport. Mal named the ship Serenity after the Battle of Serenity Valley, the decisive battle of the Unification War.
Though Mal loses faith in God and religion following the Battle of Serenity Valley, he retains a strong faith in humanity. Though wary in his personal dealings, he puts great stock in the fundamental goodness of people in general. This faith in an individual's abilities to do the right thing manifests strongly in his very negative view of governmental institutions. "Governments," he says in the pilot, are for "getting in a man's way." The Alliance, whose government seems particularly fond of interference and regulation, is thus his logical nemesis. Though he loathes the Alliance, he acknowledges he lost the fight against them and is now looking purely to keep out of their reach; this is best summed in his comment in Serenity, "I just wanna go on my way." However, throughout the course of the film Serenity, Mal comes to learn more of the Alliance's dark secrets, which rekindles his fighting spirit and causes him to once again take up the fight against the oppressive regime. Mal expresses his newfound resolve during his speech near the final act of the film Serenity: "They [the Alliance] will swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave." His anti-government attitude is reflected in his choice to live on a spaceship, drifting from world to world, as far away from Alliance interference as possible.
Fillion shares his view on the motivations of the character he portrayed. Mal has lost so much that each character in the crew he has gathered on Serenity represents an aspect of himself he no longer has. "In Wash, he has a lust for life and a sense of humor he's lost. In Jayne, he has selfishness. In Book, he has spirituality. In Kaylee, he has innocence. Everybody represents a facet of himself that he has lost and that's why he keeps them close and safe, and yet at arm's length."
In the DVD commentary, Fillion reveals that Reynolds' ultimate motivation is simply to 'Continue. That's all, just... continue'.
- Badger - One of Mal's more frequent employers, the two of them are frequently at odds, Badger finding Mal's apparent arrogance to be an impediment to their business relations and has been shown to act with hostility towards Mal and his crew. However, they seem to have a grudging respect and understanding for each other. It's possible he was killed by the Operative or his men during the events of the movie.
- Adelei Niska - When Mal does not finish the job for notorious crime lord Adelei Niska during "The Train Job" he is later held to account for it in "War Stories" by being captured and tortured, despite him having given Niska back the money he was paid. He is actually killed for a few seconds before Niska revives him to continue torturing him.
- The Operative - the antagonist of the movie Serenity, the Operative and Mal fought twice; both times, Mal only escaped alive due to luck (the intervention of Inara in the first fight, and his past surgery preventing the Operative's favoured move — a strike to a nerve cluster — from taking him out later). After watching the recording of what happened on Miranda, the Operative aids the crew of Serenity in repairing their ship and letting Mal go.
- Zoe Washburne - Although not a romantic relationship by any means, the two are very close, having fought and survived a war together; indeed, their closeness sometimes makes Wash, Zoe's husband, jealous, a theme which is explored in the episode "War Stories." As Joss Whedon says in the DVD commentary for Serenity, Zoe is "the one person [Mal] can count on the most."
- Inara Serra- A Companion who rents one of Serenity's shuttles as a home/transportation, thus increasing the potential client base of both herself and Serenity's crew; unresolved romantic/sexual tension between them is one of the character arcs of the series. They fight often, but care deeply for each other, as Mal has gone to extreme measures to keep her safe or defend her honor.
- Kaylee Frye - Serenity's long-suffering mechanic, Kaylee and Mal seem to have an older brother/younger sister relationship, with Mal serving as a protecting influence in times of physical and emotional danger.
- Jayne Cobb - A mercenary who was hired away from a criminal gang that was, at that moment, in the process of robbing Mal and Zoe, Jayne is loyal to whoever offers him the best payment, though he seems to afford Mal a great deal more respect than implied by his pay. The two frequently conflict over the proper course of action to take, and Jayne has stated his desire to lead his own crew. Jayne even appears frightened of him when Mal icily forces Wash to go back to work in "Out of Gas," but all-in-all, they respect each other.
- Derrial Book - Although he initially disdained the preacher due to his own loss of faith in Serenity Valley, Mal nevertheless became relatively close to Book; when Book was dying after an attack by the Operative, Mal assured the Shepherd that he was as much a part of the crew as anyone.
- Simon Tam - Simon and Mal are frequently in conflict when responding to the actions of River, but Mal nonetheless respects Simon's strong devotion to his sister and his skills as a doctor, which Mal uses to rationalize Simon's continued presence on Serenity.
- River Tam - River's mental state and many of her actions cause friction among the crew and often put the crew in danger, but she also has skills that come in handy. Her actions often tempt Mal to kick her off the ship but he never follows through.
- Hoban "Wash" Washburne -The pilot of Serenity and Zoe's husband, Mal has a brotherly relationship with, which includes fighting often and humorously.
Mal generally retains a close relationship with his entire crew, regardless of how much he might try to distance them from him or argue with them; when Simon Tam once asked Mal why he came back to save him from being burned alive by angry villagers, he simply replied, "You're on my crew." When pressed again, with Simon citing the ease with which they could have simply been abandoned and the problems caused by their presence, Mal reiterated, "You're on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?" Mal expressed a similar sentiment when he confronted Jayne over his betrayal of Simon and River, saying "You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me!"
Fillion won the "Cinescape Genre Face of the Future Award — Male" award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, USA for his role as Malcolm Reynolds. Fillion also won the SyFy Genre Awards in 2006 for Best Actor/Television and was runner-up for Best Actor/Movie.
The character was named #18 in TV Guide's "Greatest Sci-fi legends" list in 2004. In 2008, Empire ranked Mal as #51 on their list of the 100 Greatest Movie Characters. In 2011 SFX Magazine voted Mal Reynolds #1 on their Top 100 Sci-Fi icons of the century.
In the New York Times review of the movie Serenity, Manohla Dargis had this to say about the character and Nathan Fillion: "Mal is no Neo redux; he's closer to Indiana Jones, if absent Harrison Ford's rakishly handsome looks and star magnetism. Like the rest of the cast, Mr. Fillion is a charming performer, but he borrows rather than owns the screen, which dovetails with Mr. Whedon's modest aspirations for this film."
In the video game Halo 3 a soldier is named "Gunnery Sergeant Reynolds" in a nod to Malcolm Reynolds, and was also voiced by Fillion. Also he voiced the Helljumper named Buck in the video game Halo 3: ODST, after Bungie decided to include his face as a soldier.
In Fillion's new series Castle where Fillion plays crime writer Richard Castle, there are numerous fan Easter Eggs and references to Firefly and Malcolm Reynolds hidden around Richard Castle's office. In the second season Halloween episode, Castle dressed in full Mal Reynolds garb as a costume; in a further metafictional reference, Alexis Castle - the daughter of Fillion's character - comments that he wore the outfit five years ago (The real-world time that had elapsed between the release of "Serenity" and this episode airing). Also, when he and Beckett visit a warehouse with Mandarin Chinese-speaking workers, Castle speaks clear and correct Mandarin Chinese (with a little foreign accent) to the workers, telling them his partner was crazy and would start shooting, prompting them to quickly reveal the location of a Chinese spy and run away. When Beckett asks him how he knows Chinese, he responds "TV show I used to love", referencing Firefly, other hints and allusions include him shooting a gun out of a thugs hand, upon being complimented for his marksmanship he comments "I was aiming for his head" mirroring a line Jayne Cobb had said in Firefly. In the episode Setup, Richard Castle's mother was going to a spa named the Oasis of Serenity, he asked what this was and his mother replied "Haven't you heard of the Serenity?". In episode 4 season 2 of Castle, Fillion is seen wearing two blue gloves and miming "two" by "two", a reference to the actions and gloves of the Blue Sun Corporation. In Chapter 16 of Heat Rises written by Fillion's character, Jameson Rook references Malcolm Reynolds. In the most direct reference, in the episode "The Final Frontier" Castle comments that he likes good sci-fi shows like Battlestar Galactica and "that Joss Whedon show."
In the 2012 novel Frozen Heat, there are two tertiary characters with the last names of Malcolm and Reynolds, and they are almost always referred to by last name in the same sentence.
In the 2007 horror thriller White Noise: The Light, Fillion plays Abe Dale. A near-death experience leaves Abe with the ability to identify those who are about to die. Abe's friend Marty Bloom (Adrian Holmes) compares Abe's ability to a super power and says "that sure as hell sounds like some super hero Captain Tight Pants bullshit to me, man." This is another nod to Fillion's role as Malcolm Reynolds ("Captain Tight Pants") on the series Firefly.
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- Whedon, Firefly Companion, Vol 1, 81
- Whedon, Firefly Companion, Vol 1, 83
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