I was at my nephew's birthday party earlier, and because I'm crap with kids, I ended up hanging out on the couch watching a Firefly marathon, which was pretty awesome, because Firefly rocks. And that had me thinking, I'd like to finally get around to taking a moment to examine Mal's particular type of existentialism -- because, to my mind, Captain Malcolm Reynolds is a shining example of a hero figure of Existential Humanism.
For anyone who's never seen Firefly, the show takes place in space, some hundreds of years from now, in a solar system very, very far away. The center of the civilization is the Core planets, which are at the peak of future-modern technology, but as you get farther and farther away from the Core, things get rougher.
Malcolm Reynolds is the captain of a Firefly class space ship, and he and his crew do odd jobs on the outskirts of the solar system. Sometimes legal, usually not.
Mal's a criminal by trade, but he has a very strict moral code. That's not to say he'll never do anything violent, cruel or paternalistic. But he's got a very clearly defined sense of exactly how far he's willing to go. He never hesitates to go that far, and he never steps over that line.
In the second episode of the series, The Train Job, the crew is hired to steal a shipment of supplies from a train. Over the course of the episode, after the heist, they discover that the shipment was a collection of medical supplies for a mining town, and that a great many of the citizens of the town will die without it.
In the face of the wrath of a crime lord renowned for his violence, and at risk of arrest, he returns both the money for the job to his employer, and the medical supplies to the town.
The sheriff, with a posse, catches him bringing them back. When he does, he tells him, "These are hard times. A man gets a job, he might not look too close at what that job is. But when a man learns the full circumstances of a situation like ours, well, then he has a choice."
And in one of the more inspiring lines in all of fiction I've heard, Mal simply responds, "I don't believe he does."
This isn't the last I could say about the existentialism in Firefly. But it's a good start, and if you're looking for some good existential humanist role models, Firefly is the show to watch.
Talk to you tomorrow.