The words,"O Captain! My Captain!" evoke feelings of inspiration and admiration, leaders who spark fire in the hearts of their followers and brave the good fight to win the day.
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For decades, television has offered us the best of the best -- men and women who stand tall in order to lead the way. Sometimes, they fall. Sometimes, they rise again. Always, they leave a legacy of honor and service.
Whether law enforcement/military, scientific explorers, in retail, or freedom fighting across time and space, our captains have earned our hearts and salutes with their passion and fortitude
Malcolm Reynolds -- Firefly
Browncoat Prime, Malcolm Reynolds may have lost the war against the Alliance but he never stopped opposing them with his merry gang of Big Damn Heroes. From train heists to shindigs, heaps of trash to hearts of gold, Reynolds led his crew through Reavers and hands of blue against all odds and that made them mighty.
Nathan Hale Bridger -- Seaquest DSV
The seaQuest vessel was a dream come true for Bridger who had conceived the idea of a revolutionary type of submarine but abandoned the work upon the death of his son. When both son and wife had passed, he was enticed back and took command of the seaQuest as well as a contentious crew made up of both military and science officers. And a talking dolphin. Saving the world was an annual event aboard the seaQuest, it seems, and Bridger managed it with clear-sightedness and adaptability.
Kate Beckett -- Castle
Over the eight seasons of Castle, we get to see Beckett at every stage of her police career (even leaving the force for a period of time). This all leads to her eventual promotion to the rank of captain. Her relationship with her detectives is one of respect and loyalty, won over years of camaraderie and support.
Raymond Jacob Holt -- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Calm, cool, and maybe a tad robotic at times, Captain Holt is the gravity that anchors the Nine-Nine when it would go spinning into the Phantom Zone. Although he holds his members to high expectations, his expectations for himself are just as high. Having faced challenges in his career due to his race and his homosexuality, he is forced to continue playing a rigged game as the politics of the police hierarchy repeatedly force his hand.
Killian "Hook" Jones -- Once Upon a Time
Initially written as a supporting character, this exciting and dynamic representation of the well-known villain, Captain Hook, quickly won the hearts of viewers and Emma Swan as well.
James Gordon -- Gotham
Canon tells us that he will be Commissioner Gordon one day but we know him best on Gotham as Jim Gordon who is promoted to Captain just as the crazy hits the fan and the city needs evacuating and patrolling. In that order. Described by the man who knows him best as "the last honest man in a city full of crooked people," Jim Gordon is both what Gotham wants and what it needs.
Sara Lance -- Legends of Tomorrow
Originally a character of emotional and mystical significance on Arrow, Sara is recruited to the misfit team of time-travelers on DC's Legends of Tomorrow and made Captain of the Waverider in the second season. Heroic and humorous, smart and sassy, this Captain Lance cuts a swath through enemies and lovers alike.
Donald Cragen -- Law & Order/Law & Order: SVU
Captain Cragen had a LONG career with Dick Wolf's New York Police Department, appearing in over four HUNDRED episodes between Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU. From Homicide to Anti-Corruption to Special Victims Unit, he saw crime and tragedy up close and was no stranger to loss and suffering himself. Rising above his challenges, he maintained a cool head among detectives of more volatile tempers and always did his best to see that justice was served.
Leland Francis Stottlemeyer -- Monk
Perpetually in turmoil personally but professionally proficient, Stottlemeyer was a steady Lestrade to Monk's Sherlock Holmes. Being Monk's friend but also his boss meant he had to make difficult decisions like suspending Monk after Trudy's death but their friendship survived and Monk maintained that Leland was the best cop he knew.
Turanga Leela -- Futurama
Pretty much the only competent member of the Planet Express team, Leela's constant personal self-doubt reminds us that everyone has insecurities no matter how many times they save their friends from total disaster.
Stephen Peacock -- Are You Being Served?
Although initially portrayed as a stuffy, pompous, and snobbish manager, Captain Peacock grew into a likable and understanding leader for the misfit staff of the Grace Brothers' clothing department. Whether fending off tales of Mrs. Slocumbe "pussy" or raising an eyebrow at the antics of Humphries or Lucas, he was nevertheless their stalwart supporter when Grace Brothers management would've enforced a more "normal" staff protocol.
Andrea Garnett -- The Last Ship
An original crew member of the USS Nathan James, Garnett disappeared for an entire season after surviving P.O.W. incarceration and finding out her husband and daughter had died. She returned in the Season 5 premiere, having been promoted to captain of the USS Jeffrey Michener. Her homecoming celebration was a shortlived one as this fan favorite and intrepid officer was shot and killed in the attack on Fleet Week.
James T. Kirk -- Star Trek
Starfleet has given us many beloved captains and Kirk was the first (in serial television airing chronology). He may not have been the smartest captain, but he had Spock for that. He may not have been the most skilled captain, but he had Bone and McCoy and Scotty for that. What he had was the attitude and chutzpah to pull off some of the craziest shenanigans in the galaxy.
Jean-Luc Picard -- Star Trek: The Next Generation
What to say about Picard? As captain of television's U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D, he encountered the Q (repeatedly), the Crystalline Entity, and the Borg. In fact, he led first contact missions with twenty-seven alien species. He was assimilated AND came back from that. He lived a lifetime as Kamin of Kataan, a civilization long dead and gone. He was a diplomat, commander, mentor, and scholar. He even learned some childcare skills along the way.
Kathryn Janeway -- Star Trek: Voyager
Trapped far (FAR!) from home with a crew made up of both Federation and Maquis terrorists, Janeway manages to not only bring her people home (with the help of future Janeway), she rescues and de-assimilates a Borg human and is even able to advocate for the holographic Doctor's status as a sentient being.
Benjamin Sisko -- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Many Starfleet captains are called upon to play different roles. Only Sisko had a role assigned to him before he was even born. As the Emissary of the Prophets, a non-linear alien species, his conception and birth were orchestrated by said Prophets and his ultimate sacrifice saved the universe from a firey Pah-wraith apocalypse.
Jonathan Archer -- Star Trek: Enterprise
Kirk may have been the first Starfleet captain we were introduced to but Archer was the first Starfleet captain EVER. He pre-dated the United Federation of Planets, representing instead United Earth as captain of the Enterprise NX-01. As such, he made first contact with species such as the Klingons and the Andorians. His adventures with the Enterprise included the time-traveling Xindi War and Mirror Universe shenanigans. Through it all, he managed to adhere to the tenets that the Federation would one day be founded on. You COULD say that he propelled United Earth forward through a quantum leap...
Christopher Pike -- Star Trek: Discovery
Our newest (version of this) Starfleet captain also has one of the shortest tenures on-screen. According to canon, Pike was the Enterprise's captain prior to Kirk (backed up by his role in the original, unaired pilot episode) and all we knew before Anson Mount "hit it" out of the star system with his take on this cowboy captain was that Spock felt great loyalty to him in the original television series while he would climb the Starfleet ladder in the cinematic Kelvin Timeline.
His temporary command of the Discovery demonstrated why his Enterprise crew valued him so highly. He was open to suggestions and made time to hear out ideas from any crew member. Furthermore, he put in the effort to get to know the crew -- their strengths, their fears, and their potential.
Samantha Carter -- Stargate SG-1
As the most ubiquitous character in the Stargate television franchise, Sam Carter epitomizes the ingenuity, intelligence, and integrity of Stargate Command. Her competence and calm approach to rapidly changing circumstances meant her teams could always rely on her to bring them home.
Jack Harkness -- Doctor Who/Torchwood
The movies may celebrate a certain earring-wearing, perpetually inebriated Captain Jack but Anglophiles and Whovians know where their affections lie when it comes to that name. Jack Harkness is the time-traveling immortal action hero no police box should be without. Frequently killed but never dead for long, he is the ultimate bounce-back boy and he always does it with a wink and a dimple. Carry on, sir! Aye, aye, all the way!
Quentin Larry Lance -- Arrow
Seriously, I did not know his middle name was Larry. Quentin Lance may have started as the anti-vigilante, anti-Oliver Queen adversarial curmudgeon but he soon became an integral member of Team Arrow. Overcoming the loss of two daughters and always contending with the specter of his alcoholism, his demise at the hands of The Dragon was a solid emotional punch at the heart of the fandom.
Kara "Starbuck" Thrace -- Battlestar Galactica
Rebooting the iconic 1970s space soap was an ambitious undertaking and one of Ron Moore's most controversial choices was to gender swap the cigar-chomping, charismatic Starbuck. It was a choice that paid off in droves as Kara Thrace as portrayed by Katee Sackhoff quickly became a fan favorite and grew the role into something much more than a hot-shot pilot and best bud.
H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock -- The A-Team
Some may think twice about following where this captain leads as he tended more toward "loose cannon" than "rock steady". However, when a plan was in place, he could always be counted upon to pull his weight and carry through. Murdock may not have been predictable but he was always interesting.
Teela -- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
As Captain of the Royal Guard of Eternia, Teela is a formidable fighter prone to hot-headed decisions. Much of her life is shrouded in secrecy as she is unaware of who her biological parents are as well as ignorant of Prince Adam's dual life as He-Man. Still, she represents the Royal Palace with honor and is a caring and supportive friend and daughter.
Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, B.J. Honeycutt, "Trapper" John McIntyre -- M*A*S*H
A three-for-one deal! M*A*S*H ran from 1972 to 1983 and its finale is still considered one of the high water marks in television history. Although Hawkeye was the most central character throughout the series, his relationships with Honeycutt and Trapper were at the heart of what viewers loved about the show. Faced with terrible odds in a war-torn environment, these captains of medical military aid carried on for the good of those they served.
Zoe Anderson -- The Rookie
With a background in military policing, this captain of the Mid-Wilshire Station always had her eye out for threats as well as good talent. She requested Nolan to her squad despite his unusual circumstances because she had a feeling his experience would be valuable to the team. Although she was good at the desk tasks involved in being captain, she was eager to lead in the field when given the opportunity. Dying in the line of duty epitomized her motto "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome."
Jim Brass -- C.S.I.
Brass would be the first to admit that he's no knight in shining armor. You can take the cop out of New Jersey but... well, you know. He drank. He partied. He fooled around. But when it came down to police work, he was one of the clean ones, refusing to take bribes or turn the blind eye even when his own daughter was involved. Appearing in over 300 episodes over fourteen years, he was a pillar of the Las Vegas C.S.I. unit.
Ed Mercer -- The Orville
As the captain of The Orville, Ed Mercer leads in the style of his personal hero, Kermit the Frog, with great vision but also with great insecurity. As seen in ret-con on The Orville Season 2 Episode 14, left to his own devices, he was unable to reach the captain's seat despite having the talent and skill. Luckily, he's had good friends and supporters who gave him the push needed to show what a great captain he could be.
Merrill Stubing -- The Love Boat
Sure it's a throwback of pretty epic proportions but Gavin MacLeod's Stubing was the image of a "captain" I imagined all throughout my childhood. Who wouldn't want to hang out with the captain whose job seemed to mostly comprised of greeting people about to go on holidays and then conducting weddings by the end of the trip?
Matthew Crawley -- Downton Abbey
Bonus Captain: Since most of us don't really think of him as a captain first, the emphasis here is on the "most beloved" part.
Matthew Crawley was promoted to Captain in the British Army during World War I. Much of his love for Mary stewed and deepened throughout his absence from England and his convalescence at Downton Abbey after the war cemented their affection for each other. Who can forget that moment when he suddenly stood up despite being told he would never walk again? That sound in the distance? That was a thousand hearts bursting out in song.