Oh, he had some warning. He hears a shot go off inside his ship (Dobson fired a round just before the whole standoff started), walks in, sees Dobson with a hostage... 2 + 2 = BANG. Pure and simple.
Mal kicking Crow right through the engine after hearing him promise to hunt him down and kill him. One thing you can say about Mal: you don't threaten him, and you don't threaten his crew.
"...darn." (smiles and kicks Crow into the engine)
To make it even better, he just repeats exactly what he said earlier to Crow to the next henchman with a straight face.
And the nekkid scenes at the beginning and end of "Trash". That grin!
Mal: Yep...that went well.
The end of the duel in "Shindig" was made of awesome and lol. "Ahh, I'm all right."
"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." *stab* "Guess I'm just a good man." *stab* "Well, I'm all right."
"You know, you didn't have to wound that man." "Yeah, I know. It was just funny."
"I got stabbed! Right here!"
"You'll have to rely on your winning personality to get women. God help you."
How about Lord Warrick himself, volunteering to be Mal's dueling second, meaning HE has to fight Atherton (a man he knows to be a bad-ass swordsman and killer) if Mal chickens out.
Mal standing up for Inara's honor by punching Atherton Wing in the face also counts.
A couple minutes after being tortured to death and revived, Mal stabs his foe in the chest.
With the same thing that killed him!
"Looks like business isn't running so much as crawling away. You want to meet the real me now?"
This has a funny (perhaps tongue in cheek) moment of disagreement between Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk during the commentary.
Nathan: Yeah, I want to go back and do that again.
Alan: That scene, that moment? Really? I thought it was just swell!
Nathan: You see, that's where we differ.
Mal definitively sealed his Determinator status in "Out of Gas," when the salvagers shoot him in the stomach. That just makes Mal angrier. He follows that up with trudging through the ship, shooting himself in the heart with a giant needle of adrenaline, then repairing the ship, before walking back through Serenity and finally collapsing from blood loss on the bridge. Now that is pretty damn awesome.
"Our Mrs. Reynolds." Summed up by one simple line:
"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."
Also, "If you turn on ANY of my crew, YOU TURN ON ME!" Jayne is lucky to be alive after Ariel.
Mal's face when he tells Jayne "You did it to me" is a CMOA and terrifying all rolled into one. The Crowning Moment Of Awesome is (1) Jayne honestly wouldn't intentionally doublecross Mal, because Mal is pretty much the only person he respects in the universe, and (2) Mal's commitment to loyalty and his True Companions is just that strong.
While Mal has many badass moments, they point to different qualities. While his decisive resolution to River being held at gunpoint establishes his bona fides as a gunslinger, I have to say the best moments with Mal are the ones that play to his most central trait of leadership. The "Jayne, walk away from this table" scene from Serenity and making Wash leave his dying(?) wife's side in Out of Gas show that he has a surpassing will to him that commands respect and loyalty. Getting that quality to the screen and to the viewers? Awesome.
In the aforementioned scene, when Mal makes Wash leave the infirmary? Apparently he is so threatening that Jayne of all people, gets a cautious look on his face and backs off!
"Yeah, but she's our witch." [KA-CHINK!] "Now cut her the hell down."
According to Nathan Fillion's commentary, his personal CMoA for Mal came at the end of the pilot, when Mal just shoots Patience's horse:
Mal: "Now I did a job, and got nothing but trouble since I did it, not to mention a few unkind words as regard to my character, so let me make this abundantly clear: I do the job. And then I get paid. Go run your little world."
From The Message: A flashback to the Battle of Du-Khang. Zoe sneaks up behind an enemy who's got Tracey at gunpoint and opens him like a letter.
The scene in Heart of Gold where he chases down Rance Burgess after he shoots Nandy. He runs outside, shoots one of Burgess's guys, jumps on his horse, and rides off after Burgess. The scene ends with Mal holding him at gunpoint before knocking him out and dragging him back for his execution.
In "War Stories," Zoe walks into Niska's space station solo and unarmed with a ransom for Mal and Wash. Pretty damn brave. When Niska tries to make her choose between the two men, she cuts him off and chooses Wash — because she knows that to rescue Mal, they need the best pilot they have. Then Niska cuts off Mal's ear and hands it to her. Without a word, looking him in the eye, she takes the ear, tucks it inside her vest, and practically carries Wash out the door. This scene forever cemented Zoe's status as a stone cold badass in this troper's mind.
Same episode, Jayne: "Time for some thrillin' heroics."
Jayne in the pilot really struck me with how freaking Bad Ass the man is. The fact that he was willing to shoot down Book to make Dobson pay for shooting Kaylee...shockingly enough, that episode also had a few Crowning Moments of Heartwarming for Jayne.
"...I was gonna get me an ear, too."
"Pain is scary."
Really, the entire interrogation scene.
That scene, to me, is one of several moments where Jayne shows (to an attentive observer) that he is not the total idiot that he sometimes comes across as. He is able to quickly, accurately and confidently deduce from Dobson's behavior just how much Dobson was able to accomplish - while giving Dobson the impression that he is just a simpleminded, sadistic thug. Jayne Cobb is not a genius, and he may be the worst-educated member of the crew, but he is not witless by a long shot.
I find the moments when Jayne gets a clever verbal jab in at another character to be Crowning Moments Of Awesome of a subtler sort. Although they are in a sense used to show that an antagonist is currently holding the Idiot Ball (i.e. "wow, Jayne just outsmarted him, he must be REALLY stupid!"), they also show that for all his, ah, unsophistication, Jayne has some cleverness to him.
For instance; Badger: "Chap seems to have taken an irrational dislike to me." Jayne: "What 'appened, 'd he see yer face?"
Or the look he and Mal share a few minutes later, when Badger proclaims his ability to get his hands on a couple of... invites.
The escape from the holding cell in "Ariel," which was not only a joint CMOA for both Jayne and Simon (see Simon example below) but also a redemptive moment for Jayne, whose very fault it was that the two of them and River were in that holding cell to begin with since Jayne had planned to turn Simon and River over to the Alliance for the reward money, but got betrayed himself and arrested along with them due to the Fed he dealt with wanting to keep the reward for himself and who almost got Thrown Out the Airlock because of the greedy and stupid move that got them captured in the first place.
And the ensuing moment of awesome/heartwarming when Jayne, upon realizing he is going to be Thrown Out the Airlock , makes the last request that Mal not inform the rest of the crew why which is the only thing that convinces Mal to spare his life.
In the next episode, he's seen being overly generous with his share of the heist and for example buys fresh fruit for the whole crew.
Wash holding onto the control stick in Trash, even though the audience is treated several times to a flashing display with a klaxon "PROXIMITY WARNING" flashing. He's sitting in the bridge, with no clear view of the top of the ship (the bridge isn't the highest elevation on Serenity; the area above the dining room is), having to guess how much distance exactly there is between the roof of the dining room and the trash crate, and also having to compensate for the wind, managing to keep Serenity from moving more than a foot in any direction. The flashing klaxon alarm alone would be enough to drive anyone nuts...
While we're on the subject of Wash's piloting skills, War Stories gets another entry here. He manages to make a powered-down, unguided run at Niska's station's docking bay and nail it perfectly.
Zoe: It's like throwing a dart and nailing the bullseye from 6000 miles away. [proud smile] That's my man.
Mal and Wash arguing over Zoe's loyalty to Mal and the effects it was having on Wash's marriage while in the middle of being tortured.
This only gets better when you rewatch it and notice Mal is doing all he can to hold Wash's attention on the argument and off being tortured. When Wash is about to break Mal raises the subject of whether there was anything sexual between him and Zoe and Wash becomes noticeably more determined.
The moment Wash makes the decision to become an Action Guy.
Zoe: He'll make it last as long as possible. Days, if he can.
Wash: *drags himself to his feet with the most determined, enraged, and downright scary look he's ever had up to this point in the series* Bastard's not gonna get days.
Standing up to Mal when he threatens to kill Simon.
The Reaver Ship / Serenity Chase scene. Everyone freaking out. Yelling, screaming. Looking terrified out of their minds (that includes both Mal and Jayne) and basically preparing for the worst. And in the middle of it all, Wash at the controls, flying Serenity, perfectly calm. You could argue he was simply holding back his tension, but still. When he speaks his voice is rock steady, without an ounce of fear.
"If everybody could just be quiet a moment."
"I don't mean to alarm anybody, but I think we're being followed."
"I need Kaylee in the engine room, please." He might as well be making that request with no urgency whatsoever. You can see why a strong woman like Zoe is completely in love with him even though he's not a fighter.
The Crazy Ivan to throw off the Reavers near the end: "Here's something you can't do."
And he gets aptly rewarded for it, too:
Zoe: Sir, I'd like you to take the helm, please. I need this man to tear all my clothes off.
Wash(leaving with Zoe): Work, work, work....
His is an evil laugh.
"Oh my god! What can it be?! We're all DOOMED! WHO'S FLYING THIS THING?! Oh right, that would be me."
Wash gets a few in Float Out. He: outwits the Alliance, single-handedly defeats a Reaver raiding party and weaponises the environment.
How about Wash NOT allowing himself to be seduced by Saffron in "Our Mrs Reynolds"? Just proves what a great guy he is and how much he loves and/or fears Zoe.
Wash & Kaylee
How about Kaylee and Wash building an ambulance using parts found in a junk yard in "Ariel"? It turned out absolutely perfect.
The moment in "Shindig" when Kaylee stops trying to be what she's not and wows half the party because really, most of those men would rather talk about engines than prance around.
How Kaylee got recruited. Mal's been stuck on a planet for a week, and walks in on Kaylee and his original mechanic humping away in the engine room. She then fixes the engine problem that the old mechanic couldn't figure out while still getting dressed, having figured out what was wrong while in the middle of sex. Mal then hires her on the spot.
Bonus points for the look on his old mechanic's face, because he doesn't realize he's just been fired.
Bester: Mal, what do you need two mechanics for?
Mal: I really don't.
"I need Kaylee in the engine room please." Even when she can't stand because of a gut shot, she's still the one you want in the engine room when reavers are chasing you.
"Look! Look! Look where I'm pointing!" She can even order Jayne around when she's in the engine room.
Extra points for petting the ship's frame: "Good girl."
Disarming the Reaver booby trap in "Bushwhacked". Considering that the slightest mistake could result in instant death and a ship full of psychotic space zombies was bound to come by at any moment, she's awfully calm.
In "The Train Job," Inara walking into the holding area and slapping Mal in the face, and his and Zoe's immediate understanding. Can you say "True Companions?"
In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Inara was the only one who didn't have to be poisoned or punched out before she realized that Saffron was a fraud.
Inara's defeat of Saffron in "Trash."
That whole conversation is just about perfect. "Oh sweetie you look just terrible!"
Not just her defeat. Which makes it even better.
"No, this is your blood."
Inara's placing of the Black Mark on Atherton Wing in "Shindig," the capper to the aristocratic Jerkass's Humiliation Conga.
Atherton Wing: Well, get ready to starve. I'll see to it you never work again.
Inara: Actually, that's not how it works. You see, you've earned yourself a black mark in the client registry. No Companion is going to contract with you ever again.
Sir Warwick Harrow: You'll have to rely on your winning personality to get women. God help you.
At one point in the above gunfight, he shoots a man in the kneecap at precisely the right moment to send him tripping forward to smack his head against the wreck of the mule, knocking him out. Made even better in the audio commentary, with Alan Tyduk referring to that as "getting Book'd".
One more for Book is his short but brilliant assessment of Simon's marksmanship.
Simon: Well, I don't know. I've never shot anyone before.
Book: I was there, son. I'm fair sure you haven't shot anyone yet.
I couldn't decide where to put this, so I think I'll just stick it at the bottom: special hell.
You don't talk at the theatre when Book is at the theatre. You might just lose a kneecap.
And then you will go to the special hell.
Punching Dobson! That is all.
An unarmed Book who is willing to stand between Jayne and Dobson to protect Dobson, and doesn't even flinch when Jayne points and cocks a gun at his throat is pretty damn awesome, too.
Just to be clear, Dobson was a federal agent who started waving his gun around unnecessarily and ended up shooting Kaylee just for walking into the room and startling him. Within about three seconds of him getting violent, Book was on him, disarming him and knocking him out without an ounce of difficulty.
Book's entire implied backstory. The saddest part of the series' cancellation was that this was never further explored, but it is STRONGLY implied that he was at one point an Operative or something similar, helped by lines like the oft-overlooked one from Jubal Early: "That's no shepherd."
In some ways it is the fact that his story is never told that makes him awesome. Mal, the most suspicious critter alive, simply accepts that Book has no past.
Mal: Gonna have to explain that to me someday.
Book: No, I don't.
Book talking down three rogue federal agents who were willing to light people on fire to get what they wanted. While unarmed.
An implied one in Objects in Space. JubalEarly fights Mal and wins. And yet when Book turns out to still be up, Jubal seeks him out and ambushes him so he doesn't have a chance to fight back. From a single conversation, Jubal could tell that he could not even risk getting in a fight with Book.
Simon has his moments too, especially in "Safe," where he fights off an entire mob of torch-wielding witch-burning loonies to save River, and when he realized he couldn't win, choosing to die with her rather than leave her.
It's more awesome because when you know how much he already gave up, you can easily believe he would do such a thing. He had nothing left but love and honor (which in his case were the same thing) and it would be simply impossible to wimp out now. It was a very believable Heroic Sacrifice.
The "I will never hurt you" speech he gave to Jayne was also pretty dang noble.
Let's put that in perspective, shall we? Simon's entire life at this point is dedicated to protecting his sister. He finds out that Jayne betrayed them, and just a few hours later, Jayne ends up in the infirmary, completely at Simon's mercy. No one on the crew would have thought any less of Simon if he had killed Jayne right then and there. So what does Simon do? He forgives Jayne. There's a reason I consider this to be Simon Tam's best moment ever.
Of course Simon wasn't going to kill Jayne on the operating table. First Do No Harm. Not to mention his reasoning for forgiving Jayne: Being unwilling to kill him while Jayne was under his care, the only alternative was for the two of them to constantly be watching each other lest one of them get a knife in the back. And Simon finds that prospect tiring. He simply doesn't want to put up with the hassle. Also, River can kill Jayne with her brain.
Simon's response to Dobson grabbing River in the pilot showed just how serious he was about protecting her, too.
Not to mention air tackling Early. Twice. Once with a bullet in his leg. And then directing his own operation at the end to remove the bullet.
No love for "Ariel"? That entire episode is a testament to Simon's awesomeness. Especially when he saves a dying man and chews out the doctor that was taking care of him — while conducting a black ops raid on a high-security Alliance hospital, where Simon is most recognizable and most wanted.
That incident is also a Crowning Momentof Heartwarming because River watches Simon save the man's life and gives a sweet grin to show how proud she is of her big brother.
Simon went into the hospital on his own initiative. He went all the way through Ariel escorting River into the teeth of danger and out. And danger to River is the thing that frightens him most. The show doesn't show how frightened he really was. Yet he kept cool and steady for hours.
Jayne and Simon are being handcuffed and covered by two armed Feds. Not willing to accept this unfortunate turn of events, they take both Feds down, while both of them are still handcuffed. The best part is how Jayne manages to snap one guard's neck, and Simon takes down the second with a surgical, incapacitating kneecap to the throat, proving (yet again) that even The Medic can be a Bad Ass on this show.
And he doesn't even look bothered by the fact that he's suffocating the guard! And his first act on reaching home was to compliment Jayne's prowess.
Folks, we are leaving out the most important part of that entire scene. Simon doesn't just take down the guard with his knee - he flying, spinning air tackles the man first, backwards, with his hands cuffed. He may not have River's training, but it is clear the Tams have ninja blood.
And the most important thing: the moment he offers the job to Mal. He not only knows how to get Mal to help him smuggle River in and out of the hospital, but he has a perfect layout of the hospital, has timed everything, knows what to do, and, in short, shows the crew a plan so well developed that even Jayne was impressed.
Simon's moment in "The Train Job," where he ninja-dopes Jayne.
Well, to be fair, he DID tell Jayne to sit down.
In "Jaynestown," when Stitch starts beating the crap out of Simon, the doctor manages to smash a ceramic bottle over Stitch's head. Whether this is a Crowning Moment Of Awesome for our Non-Action Guy proving he's not a complete pushover, or one for Stitch for taking a ceramic bottle to the face without flinching is up to your interpretation.
Definitely a CMOA for Simon. Stitch has a knife to his face, Simon has got no chance at all, and he still risks his life for Jayne. THAT kind of loyalty is why Simon and River have a lifetime pass to Mal's crew.
And lets not forget that the guy DECODED messages from his sister, BROKE HER OUT of an alliance nightmare-academy, put her into suspended animation, and then spends the rest of the series making her better WHILST ON THE RUN. Awesome.
Every time you see what the Alliance is willing to do to protect their investment in River, Simon's rescue gets that much more awesome. They knew Simon was asking questions, and their security level is so high that they kill everyone who's even talked to her, but somehow he got in, then got her out.
River also got a moment or two lots of moments in the series, most notably when we all realize just how thoroughly she'd played Psycho for HireBounty Hunter Jubal Early in "Objects In Space."
Early: "I'll be a son of a whore. You're not in my gorram mind! You're on my gorram ship!"
River: (laughter) "Its very interesting here....all these buttons...."
Early: "Then are you gonna come out, stop me from doing what I don't want to? You gonna be smart here, River? ... River? ... Serenity?"
Along with the moment in "War Stories" where we see her kill three of Niska's men with three shots with her eyes closed. No power in the 'verse can stop her.
How 'bout the scene in "Shindig" when she completely owns Badger—while perfectly mimicking his accent!
"Keep walkin', preacher man."
River gets one in "Ariel," when she lets Simon give her the injection. Why is that a CMoA, you ask? Because it takes a lot of courage for a girl to — quite literally — let herself be killed, even if only temporarily. Especially considering how utterly terrified she was of death, and knowing that they were essentially walking into one of the most dangerous places in the Alliance on top of it.
She seemed even more afraid of repeating the nightmares than of death. I don't think she really believed it would be of use. She did it because her brother wanted her to.
Really, when River's mind is right, she's a bastion of courage. In "Safe," while Simon is panicking, she's completely cool and collected when she's the one about to be set on fire. In "Out of Gas" she's completely controlled even while everyone else is terrified of running out of air, in "War Stories" she steps out into the middle of enemy gunfire without hesitation to save Kaylee, and in "The Message" her reaction to the possibility of being trapped in a cave-in is to calmly count the time between the explosions and the shockwaves to tell how far away the detonations were. And don't forget how much courage she would have had to exhibit in "Objects in Space," knowing her brother was going to be hurt or killed if she screwed up. Whether or not this is due to her brilliant mind or her broken mind is up in the air, but it's still very impressive.
Simon's "I will never hurt you speech" was already mentioned, but River's line afterwards deserves mention. Not convinced her brother's nobility was enough, she shoots one line of pure horror at Jayne before walking out.
River: "Also? I can kill you with my brain."
The ship is the tenth character, and Serenity itself gets a CMOA at the beginning of "The Train Job." You know the scene I'm talking about.
Wash: Every man there go back inside, or we will blow a new crater in this little moon.
There are a lot of great Serenity CMOA's in the series and the movie. Lest we forget the Crazy Ivan, or coming through the clouds in the movie. As well as plenty of other money shots that really made that ship the Tenth main cast member.
"Trash" had a lot of Crowning Moments, even by Firefly standards. Zoe punching Saffron in the face, Simon's speech to Jayne, and, of course, "Also? I can kill you with my brain.", which is already above but still damned brilliant.
Oh, hell, "War Stories" is practically the entire Crowning Moment Of Awesome for the entire series. Everyone gets to do something awesome in that episode.
The part where the entire crew, including Simon and Kaylee begins loading up to save Mal, with Kaylee commenting that "Were it any one of us, Captain wouldn't hesitate."
In Bushwhacked, when the Alliance ship's crew is tearing up Serenity looking for the Tams, and the camera pans out to reveal them on the outside of the hull. But the sad violin music, and the fact that Simon is so understandably terrified, has it double for Tear Jerker status as well.
Also drifts into Heartwarming when you see River smiling, because you realize that she is not only having a fairly lucid moment, but is in a place where the only thoughts that are readily available to her are Simon's. It's the most at-peace that she looks until the end of the movie.
When the Rich Bitch tormenting Kaylee in "Shindig" gets expertly put in her place, followed by a one liner that shows that this is a really cool old guy. Go cool old guy!
"What a vision you are in your fine dress. It must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days to get you into that getup. 'Course your daddy tells me it takes the space of a schoolboy's wink to get you out of it again."
(To Kaylee as the Rich Bitch storms off) "Forgive my rudeness. I cannot abide useless people."
Every line by Sir Warrick Harrow in Shindig is a CMOA, a CMOF or both (mostly both).
Sir Warrick Harrow: You'll have to rely on your winning personality to get women...God help you.
Even the one-off characters who never showed up again got Crowning Moments in Firefly from time to time. "Jonah, say hi to your daddy." BANG! "Say g'bye to your daddy, Jonah."
"You wanted to make a man out of me, dad. I guess it worked."
"That thing about arresting you, I was just bluffing. Skunk, light him on fire."
Objects in Space. JubalEarly. Why are we still talking about this?
Jubal Early: Am I a lion? I don't think of myself as a lion. You might as well, though - I do have a mighty roar.
When Saffron reveals that her entire established naivete was an act so she could con the crew and steal their ship. Mostly because it was a really good act (this may also be a CMOA for Christina Hendricks) and she knew exactly what to do to play people. Even with the hiccup in her plan, she still manages to knock out Mal and Wash, screw up the engine so it wouldn't have been able to be repaired until it was too late, and then fly off in one of the ship's shuttles.
Crow, Niska's chief enforcer, gets a very nice speech at the end of 'The Train Job.' It's almost a shame that Mal had his reply rehearsed and his engine running.
Crow: "Keep the money. Use it to buy a funeral. It does not matter how far you run: I will track you down. And the last thing you see will be my blade."