What our reverence for Pedro Pascal's daddy era says about us

He's the dad we need, not the dad we deserve. But if he were a mom? We wouldn't care

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published February 10, 2023 3:00PM (EST)

Pedro Pascal in "The Last of Us" (Liane Hentscher/HBO)
Pedro Pascal in "The Last of Us" (Liane Hentscher/HBO)

Find a thing you're good at and stick to it, could have been the advice Pedro Pascal's agent barked at him. The actor has certainly followed it, sandwiching his hugely popular turn as the title character in Disney +'s "The Mandalorian," a bounty hunter who becomes the defender of a tiny Baby Yoda throughout the galaxy, after the fall of the Galactic Empire, with the role of Joel in HBO's "The Last of Us," the defender of a tiny teen throughout the United States, after the fall of civilization. 

Switch out a spaceship for a pickup truck, a green creature for a mouthy human, and you have Pascal's latest oeuvre. "Scientists predict that by 2050 every popular show may involve Pedro Pascal escorting a magical child to safety" was the recent headline of one satirical newspaper. There's nothing funny, however, about the ratings for these shows. "The Mandalorian" is Disney +'s biggest cash cow, topping the Nielsen list of most watched streaming shows in 2020. As Variety reported, "The Last of Us" scored 7.5 million viewers for its fourth episode — and that was with competition from the Grammys. People sure do like to watch Pascal fighting for the life of someone small.

Pascal is the dad we need, if not the dad we deserve, but his characters' emergence as the de facto protector, a parental figure we love, cheer on (crush on) and respect says a lot about the double standard of care work. We only value it when men are the ones doing it.

Pascal is one of those actors who's been working for a long time, something that becomes apparent when one realizes he was on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," playing Eddie the freshman in a memorable college episode. That brief, if lovable and tragically fated character aside, many of Pascal's roles have been gritty, mean and sexual.

Fatherliness is more remarkable and rewarded than motherliness.

He has a bad boy past. He played the self-described "asshole attorney" in "The Good Wife," the vengeful and skillful Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, in "Game of Thrones." In "Narcos," his first series regular role, he took on the part of Javier Peña, a real-life DEA agent. He was a mean astronaut in "Prospect" (2018). He plays fighters, schemers and lovers. In Netflix's Judd Apatow-directed COVID film, "The Bubble," he portrays an aging lead actor who won't give up his womanizing ways. His characters have had their eyes gouged out. Twice.

But all that is in the past. In the near future — well, "Star Wars" stories are set a long, long time ago — Pascal's characters have been redeemed. In both "The Mandalorian" and "The Last of Us," a child redeems him. This is a character arc that just isn't possible for women. Expected caregivers, it doesn't seem surprising even when rough engineer Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris) babysits Baby Yoda. Of course Tess (Anna Torv) softens immediately to Ellie (Bella Ramsey). She's a woman, that's what they do. But when a man does it? It's shocking, refreshing and evidence of his goodness.

The MandalorianPedro Pascal as "The Mandalorian" (Disney+)

Pascal has landed squarely in the safe baddie sweet spot.

Fatherliness is more remarkable and rewarded than motherliness. A dad who actually sticks around? A dad who's a dad even if he doesn't have to be by blood? That's cause for a show and a celebration. Pascal has landed squarely in the safe baddie sweet spot. He's the hot teacher who's not secretly creeping on students (a rarity!), unpacked perfectly in a skit for "Saturday Night Live," which he recently hosted. 

Like Mando, Joel of "The Last of Us" is safe. He organizes his and Ellie's bedrolls widely apart when they sleep. He teaches her to shoot, like any self-respecting apocalypse father. When Ellie finds a porn magazine, he makes her get rid of it, and she does so, giggling. 

One of the places where "The Last of Us" doesn't quite work (along with its D student idea of geography) is the characters' ages. Ellie is supposed to be 14 but in both performance and writing she behaves like a much younger child, more immature, flippant and babyish than most 11-year-olds. And apocalypses tend to force children to grow up faster, rather than slower. In the most recent episode, Joel reveals that he's 56 — which, even if there's retinol and workouts in the QZ, seems highly improbable. 

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Aside from the glaring age issues, Pascal sells it. He's gruff with a heart of gold. He's stepped into a type, but like everything Pascal does, he wears those patriarch boots well. We love a redemption arc and the ultimate measure of goodness in our world (or worlds with space monsters or mushroom monsters) is one who cares for a child. But the one has to be a man for it to matter, for it to be special. A mother defending and fighting for a child through an apocalyptic wasteland? Well, that would just be a Tuesday in 2023. 

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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