Originally envisioned as a seven season project, Joss Whedon’s Firefly was cancelled in the middle of its first and was resurrected unexpectedly with the film Serenity. Despite its short life, the impact of the show, its world and its characters on pop culture is undeniable.
Whedon was looking to develop a science fiction television show that highlighted something he found lacking: “a gritty realism that wasn’t an Alien ripoff.” By treating outer space as the open frontier, he created a rowdy western that mirrored America’s post-civil war Reconstruction Era.
Who better than a civil war commander to serve as the protagonist? Former-sergeant Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (played by geek favorite Nathan Fillion) is the character who holds the ensemble together and here is a list of quotes that remind us why.
“Well look at this. ‘Pears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?” – Mal
“Big damn heroes, sir.” – Zoe
Whedon notes—in the DVD commentary for “The Train Job”—Mal was much darker and emotionally isolated, but FOX executives objected and asked that Reynolds be “lightened up.” By the second episode, Mal becomes a bit more gregarious, and his residual rough demeanor makes the moments when he sacrifices for others more compelling.
“And I’m thinking you weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling. So why don’t we just ignore each other till we go away?”
There aren’t enough opportunities to call people “pisspots,” or to observe they “weren’t burdened with an overabundance of schooling.”
Fillion auditioned for the role of Angel on Buffy and didn’t make the cut, and it took him multiple auditions to land the role of Mal. He thought of it as his first “leading role.” It’s like even he has no memory of Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place.
“It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.”
When the crew finds themselves in a city that worships Jayne as the “Hero of Canton,” the audience shares their shock at the Jayne effigy. Really? Jayne?
“She won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon, but she is solid. Ship like this, be with you ’til the day you die.”
In an episode that introduces each member of the crew, this metaphor couldn’t be more clear.
Also, try having a conversation online about who you “ship” without this gif popping up.
“Sure. It would be humiliating. Having to lie there while the better man refuses to spill your blood. Mercy is the mark of a great man. [lightly stabs Atherton with the sword] Guess I’m just a good man. [stabs him again] Well, I’m all right.”
No list would be complete without this exchange from “Shindig” (season 1, episode 6). Mal Reynolds was the only character that Whedon had completely figured out when he began writing the series. He wanted a hero, but not a hero in the traditional mold; Mal was meant to be “everything that a hero is not.”
“Are you gonna kill me?” – Saffron
“What? What kind of crappy planet is that? Kill you.” – Mal
“In the maiden’s home, I heard talk of men who weren’t pleased with their brides…” – Saffron
“Well, I ain’t them. And don’t you ever stand for that sort of thing. Someone ever tries to kill you, you try to kill ’em right back.” – Mal
Mal’s instinct for fair-play (even when facing the seductive powers of Christina Hendricks) may be why the character was named #18 in TV Guide‘s “Greatest Sci-fi legends” list in 2004.
“I aim to misbehave.”
Yes, good catch. This quote is from Serenity and not from Firefly, but it still counts. In a lot of ways, this sums up who Mal is and where his moral compass points. His character arc makes it clear that he, like Whedon, is an atheist and Reynolds has certainly suffered by believing in things. He channels that into creating his own code of ethics; in his world fighting for good is just misbehaving.
Rarely has a man being shredded by an engine that made so many people smile. It makes sense why Fox decided to air this episode—”The Train Job”—before the actual pilot. It’s an action-packed lead-in and Mal’s speech is the perfect ambiguous explanation of their thievery.
“Now think real hard. You’ve been birddoggin’ this township a while now. They wouldn’t mind a corpse of you. Now you can luxuriate in a nice jail cell, but if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.”
Without doubt, this line is legend in fan communities, internet commenting circles and Etsy shops. No lie. You can get it on t-shirts, mugs, pins, a Christmas ornament, a number of cross stitch samplers and bottle openers.