O Captain! My Captain! Why Nathan Fillion will always be Mal Reynolds in our hearts
We can’t lie – the sight of Nathan Fillion quipping his way through danger in a blue button down with that gun shoulder harness in the Uncharted live-action short did strange things to us. Strange and wonderful things, dear friends.
It isn’t just that he perfectly embodies the character of Nathan Drake from the classic Playstation game franchise or that filmmaker Allan Ungar listened to fans rallying for Fillion to take on the role and went ahead and made it – it’s also that the role gave us a stinging beloved reminder of the actor as Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly.It’s no surprise that fans saw Fillion in the role of Nathan Drake. As well as looking like the character, the Uncharted hero is also essentially an action-adventure version of Captain Mal. Like the Firefly character, he’s bold and courageous but he’s also prone to foolhardy decisions and faces often impossible threats with sly quips and sarcastic asides.
And damn, we miss Captain Tightpants.
Watching Ungar’s live-action fan film, all we could see was Captain Mal rebooted for the modern era. A space cowboy pulled from the stars and lolling about on earth, toiling the planet for treasures and smuggling them out of volatile territory and into his own possession.
Watching Fillion in the role, we’re reminded of how magnificent (and arguably influential) the actor is in the role of Mal Reynolds – a man who gave us a wise-cracking outlaw with some impulse control issues but an admirable set of beliefs by which he lives.
You can see the film here.
As heroes go, Mal is one of the most complex and layered in science fiction history. He isn’t just a standard hero – he’s flawed as hell and makes mistakes and his penchant for smart-assery can dig him into deeper trouble than it’s often worth.
But he’s also incredibly charming and more than happy to defer to his second in command Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) – arguably the true Captain of the ship with stronger leadership skills, not that he’s so happy to defer that he can admit that.
Since Firefly, Fillion has taken on a slew of roles in which the DNA of Captain Mal’s various layers can be seen. Bob Waite in Community had Mal’s sense of political savviness and shrewd wisdom; Richard Castle in Castle shared Mal’s nose for trouble and thirst for thrills; Mark Devereaux in Brooklyn Nine-Nine had Mal’s bombastic spirit and his proclivity for getting things wrong; and even Gary West in Santa Clarita Diet (who is little more than a disembodied head at this stage) mirrors Mal’s swaggering sense of humor and biting wit in the face of ruin.
None of this is to say Fillion has a limited wheelhouse or is being repeatedly typecast, but more that as Captain Mal the actor was able to showcase his acting range at its very best. The role isn’t a straight-up comedic one and yet it’s brimming with humorous delights that highlight the actor’s proclivity for hilarity.
Likewise, Mal as a hero is gloriously imperfect, giving Fillion the opportunity to add some emotional depth to the character and the occasional moment where the audience is rightfully shocked by his behavior.
With such a standout role that fans continue to adore and to discuss at length with each other, it’s understandable that many of us continue to see Mal in much of his further work. Should we be able to move on from Firefly and Serenity? Totally. But can we? Absolutely not. And we’re completely fine with that.
Coming up next for Fillion is his role as John Nolan in the brand new ABC series The Rookie in which the actor plays a man who deals with a midlife crisis by pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a cop. From the trailer, the show looks to be another potentially phenomenal role for Fillion in highlighting every aspect of his acting range. There’s drama, humor, and heroics, and plenty of pathos in between.
The Rookie looks like it has the potential to skewer issues pertaining to ageism, bureaucracy, and the complexity of modern masculine identity. It also looks like the sort of show that Fillion hasn’t had the opportunity to take on in recent years, with a more serious tone seemingly underlining the series.
However, look close enough and you might still be able to see Captain Mal between the lines of the character – facing death with a cool head, messing up his police training but refusing to fail, and accepting that his version of heroism might be imperfect, but he’ll stand by his beliefs, regardless.
We’re here for every role Fillion has in his past, present, and future as an actor. The man’s an absolute gem. But regardless of who he plays, he’ll always be Captain Mal to us.