"We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty."
Captain Reynolds is a Browncoat—a veteran of the stellar civil war that precedes the events of the series by six years. He fought under the rank of Sergeant for the Independents, the side that lost to the Alliance. He has been left bitter by the Independents' loss; he never quite recovered from seeing his ideals crumble around him. Ever since, he has been eking out a living on the wrong side of the law, at the helm of the Firefly-class ship Serenity, defiantly named after the valley where the Alliance's victory was sealed.
The Alliance in general acts as his, to the point that he'll deck you if you accuse him of being in league with them.
He's also a firm believer in honest pay for honest work, or fair trade. He'll do any job up to and including crime without batting an eye, and will trade something for more than it's worth if he needs it enough. But he expects his due. If you screw him over and try to keep everything and kill him he will wreck you. Doubly so if you suggest he'd have done so himself if possible. No, he would not.
Beware the Nice Ones: Mal is, for the most part, a reasonably kind guy, but if you harm his friends or him, you're going to regret doing so.
Broken Hero: In addition to his A Father to His Men tendencies, and considering what happened to his homeworld, he was ridiculously, recklessly cheerful during the war. It's hard to tell if he's an adrenaline junkie, genuinely considered it just a big adventure, was all an act, was a coping mechanism, or if he was completely unhinged. Or even all of the above. But despite all the stress, he somehow managed to stay pretty upbeat.
Chronic Hero Syndrome: Often will get the crew into high risk no reward situations just because he thinks it's the right thing to do. Hell, it's practically his motivation for the second half of the film. He also tends to turn down really amoral jobs, or will give up on them when he finds out the whole story.
Despair Event Horizon: Serenity Valley. Also possibly within the same timeframe, the destruction of his homeworld.
Determinator: Enough determination to prop up his crew when they're faltering, too.
Death Glare: Serenity doesn't need weapons. It has Mal's eyes!
Disappeared Dad: The one time Mal mentions his past ("Our Mrs. Reynolds"), he says that he was raised by his mother and "about forty hands", but makes no mention of his father.
Doomed Hometown: His homeworld, Shadow, was orbitally bombarded by the Alliance so heavily that it was rendered completely uninhabitable afterwards.
Double Tap: Mal does this to Dobson in the spin-off comic 'Those Left Behind' just to make sure he doesn't come back a second time.
Farm Boy: Mal was raised by his mother and "forty hands" on a ranch back on his homeworld, Shadow.
A Father to His Men: He may be sardonic, but his crew are his family. Trifle with them and you are in for a world of pain.
Field Promotion: Was breveted several times during the Battle of Serenity Valley, to replace his fallen superiors.
Fight Magnet: Mal gets into an unnecessary fight at least once every few episodes.
Lampshaded by Zoe: why does he always manage to find himself looking for a quiet drink in an Alliance-friendly bar come Unification Day?
Good Is Not Dumb: People often mistaken him for a fool when he does the (relatively) noble thing but he's definitely not stupid. He shows surprising savviness at times for when things go wrong or about to go wrong, especially with Jayne and his predictable siding with the highest bidder. When he tries to sell the Tams out to the Feds, Mal is the only one who figures out that the Feds got there a little too quick for Jayne's story to stick. People that ask Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? tend to mistaken his pragmatic nature (killing people off is a poor way to do repeat business) for having a soft heart.
Good Is Not Soft: He might not kill a downed opponent that tried to kill him a moment before, but don't expect him to pull punches or shoot non-lethally before that. Also don't expect him to be very kind to anyone he sees committing atrocities or hurting innocents.
Guile Hero: He likes to try to talk his way out of situations, with varying results.
Mal: You're welcome aboard my ship, Preacher. God ain't.
Not So Different: From Simon, which is something he vaguely acknowledges by the end of the series. Despite their different backgrounds, they both ran afoul of the Alliance and chose to resist in their own ways, protecting what was most important to them.
Papa Wolf: Don't mess with Mal's crew, as he takes it very personally. His reaction to putting his crew in danger is consistently decisive; whether or not it's terminal depends on how much immediate threat the enemy represents and how angry he is at the time.
Rebel Leader: Or at least the leader of his band of varyingly anti-Alliance misfits. As an Independent Sergeant, he didn't have much rank but still was this.
At the Battle of Serenity Valley, he was field-promoted several times as the higher ranking officers were killed, rising from leading a relatively minor unit to over 5000 men at one point, which were whittled down to just 150 by the time of the ceasefire.
Best exemplified in this conversation with Simon in "Safe", after the trope-naming Big Damn Heroes moment:
Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us? Mal: You're on my crew. Simon: Yeah, but you don't even like me. Why'd you come back? Mal:You're on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?
Also has a tendency to inspire this. Nowhere shown more clearly than in the movie Serenity, after his crew seems ready to mutiny at the prospect of flying through Reaver space and what he intends to use to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship.
Mal: I mean to confound these bungers. Take my shot at getting to Miranda. Maybe find something I can use to get clear of this. So I hear a word out of any of you that ain't helping me out or taking your leave, I will shoot you down. Get to work.
The trope is lampshaded and defied in "War Stories", when Wash accuses Mal and Zoe of lusting after each other, and at the end of the show we see that they can't even keep a straight face long enough to share a kiss. They really are life partners, but not sexually interested in each other.
Warrior Poet: Well, he's read at least one poem (try not to faint). That has to count for something doesn't it? Supplementary materials reveal he was the son of wealthy ranch owner, so it would make sense for him to have an education.
What the Hell, Hero?: He's given one of these throughout the series by every character except River. In the movie, even Zoe seems ready to mutiny after he states his intention to mount the corpses of their friends from Haven on the hull of Serenity, in order to make it look like a Reaver ship.
Zoe: Sir, do you really mean to turn our home into an abomination so we can make a suicidal attempt at passing through Reaver space?
Wholesome Crossdresser: Mal sure has a lot of fun kicking ass in a "pretty floral bonnet" and when he is disguised as a woman to infiltrate the Companion school at one point during the movie.
Mal: I can be quite graceful when I want to be.
Would Hit a Girl: At the end of "Our Mrs Reynolds", and the beginning of "Trash." Hard to feel sorry for the one receiving the fist, though.
You Can't Go Home Again: According to the RPG his homeworld was glassed by the Alliance during the Unification War.
The Stoic: You'll rarely see her get visibly angry, even when her husband and captain are being tortured. You don't see her laugh much either.
Straight Man: Usually to Mal and Jayne, although she can straightman any given crewmate.
Tranquil Fury: A loyal second-in-command and a tough, deadly fighter, she was rational and calm in dangerous situations.
Undying Loyalty: Toward Mal due to their experience together on the battlefield.
Unresolved Sexual Tension: Parodied — there is just about no lust and even less romantic chemistry between her and Mal, but her husband fears what their long history might mean for such a relationship. They disprove this notion in an almost-kiss that's so awkward even Jayne is unsettled.
In early episodes, Wash is a calm, masterful pilot, all Nerves of Steel while the other characters are panicking. By "The Message", he's just as excitable as anyone else because Alan Tudyk bought himself an Xbox and discovered he's not the naturally-calm-pilot type, which Tim Minearthrew in on grounds of Rule of Funny. And, just to confuse things, Wash shows elements of both performances in the Big Damn Movie.
Taken as a whole, his level of panic seems to be inversely proportional to the actual level of danger. When there's Reavers on their tail and they're running for their lives, he's oddly calm, while if it's something more mundane, he gets more excited.
Zoe: Proximity alert. Must be coming up on something. Wash: Oh my god.What can it be?We're all doomed!WHO'S FLYING THIS THING!?[beat]Oh right, that would be me. Back to work!
The Conscience: Frequently enough to be noticeable, though others fill this role as well. (Probably one of the things that draws him and Zoe together: they both try to keep things grounded.)
Non-Action Guy: Though he graduates a bit to "Semi-Action Guy" after "War Stories." He's no heavy hitter like Mal, Jayne, or Zoe, but he's apparently more apt to shoot than Kaylee or Simon after that ordeal.
The comic series show Wash to be a surprisingly capable and resourceful fighter, but he's just too damn nice to ever be really effective in a gun battle.
Even in the merchandise. Jayne's licensed toy looks like this◊ (Mal's is similar), while Wash's looks like this.
"Oh, one further addendum. That's the last time you get to call me "whore"."
Not really a member of the crew, Inara rents a shuttle for her... services. Despite (or maybe because of) her profession, she is well-versed in the ways of the universe (and sex) and continually shows Hidden Depths—who'd expect a space tramp to be good at Sword Fights? Plus, she is a High-Class Call Girl, which adds to Serenity's reputation: a woman who can go out in public on the arm of an aristocrat (and into his bedroom) wouldn't be shipping out with Mal and his crew unless they were at least somewhat respectable. Ironically, her profession is legal, which is more than Mal can say.
Ambadassador: Not badass to the degree of the rest of the crew, but she has no qualms with holding people at gunpoint and holds her own in hand-to-hand combat.
Adrenaline Makeover: In the comics she eventually exchanges her dresses for body armor and trousers.
Brainy Brunette: Inara may make her living with her body, but her brain is no slouch either. She has a working knowledge of many subjects that a Courtesan would be expected to converse intelligently about. She's well-versed in human psychology and the physical arts, martial arts, swordplay, history, religion, etc.
The Chick: She's certainly the most feminine woman on the ship, almost always in a dress, and she does a lot of the emotional legwork.
Cultured Badass: It is suggested that Companion training includes social and physical grace, at least some performing arts, and psychology. Inara appears to be at least somewhat adept at swordplay. In the movie Serenity, it is shown that she also may have been trained somewhat in the martial arts and is skilled with a bow and arrow, apparently preferring them over firearms.
The Face: Officially, her role on the ship is to use her social contacts to "open doors that would otherwise be closed" to a group like Captain Mal and the crew. Being that she's the only one with a legal job she's the only one that can show their face to polite company the crew might need help from.
High-Class Call Girl: She is a Companion, a high-society courtesan licensed by the Union of Allied Planets (the "Alliance") to entertain the wealthy and powerful. As a registered Companion she brings a certain respectability to the ship that they can use.
Ill Girl: Word of God and Morena Baccarin confirmed a subplot involving Inara with a terminal illness, hinted at in "Serenity," "Out Of Gas," and "Heart of Gold."
Insistent Terminology: She's a Companion not a whore (those are people who aren't registered with the Guild), as she keeps telling Mal.
Lady of War: Good in swordfighting and archery, and able to defend herself in hand-to-hand combat against skilled people such as Saffron or The Operative.
Mama Bear: Inara is the only one who will stand up to Mal whenever he threatens to boot Simon and River off the ship.
Not so Above It All: She really seems to enjoy participating in capers and double-crossing the villain of the week when she gets the chance.
Not So Stoic: When she runs into Mal coming out of Nandi's room in "Heart of Gold", she appears not to care about Mal having slept with Nandi. A couple of scenes later, she's crying about it in her room.
The Ojou: Companions aren't actually royalty, but they're sometimes treated like it.
Professional Sex Ed: In Jaynestown Inara is hired to bed the Magistrate's son and make him a man. She goes above what is expected of her by establishing a place of union, making it clear that she wanted to come to see him, and teaching him what makes a man.
Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: She is a companion, licensed to entertain the wealthy and powerful, who compliment her looks of dark curly hair and fair skin.
Riches to Rags: Loses her license and is decommissioned as a companion after the events of the movie. Now just part of the crew.
Sex Tourism: Inverted. Inara finds clients in the area they're in. "Trash" shows that it also depends on the jobs Mal takes on, much to her frustration.
"These girls have the most beautiful dresses. And so do I! How 'bout that?"
Kaylee is the ship's mechanic. She's perky and cheerful more often than not, always optimistic, and innocent—though she does enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. She's the most laid-back and friendly person on the ship at any given time (if you insult the ship itself, though...). She's probably the worst in a fight among the crew, but she's extremely adept at keeping the ship in working order, and seemingly has a spiritual link to it.
Badass Adorable: Easily the most panicky in a fight and unwilling to actually hurt people, but when the ship is rigged with a booby trap and the slightest mistake can result in either depressurization or getting raped, eaten and sewn into clothing by rabid space zombies, she's the best choice. By the movie Serenity, at least, she's reached a point where she can shoot back, but only when cornered and being attacked by Reavers. And motivated, of course, by Simon finally admitting his feelings for her.
Not much can get Kaylee mad, but make one smart comment about her ship...
Also, she is one for the rest of the crew. Hurt Kaylee, and no power in the verse will save you.
Brainy Brunette: Behind her cheerful smile is a mechanical genius. She actually describes her understanding of machines as intuitive; in her own words, "Machines just talk to me." Though as numerous conversations show, she is still quite well-versed in technical details.
Geeky Turn-On: In "Shindig", most of the men at the Ball are completely enthralled with Kaylee due to her friendly and down-to-earth personality, to the point they even shoo away potential suitors asking her to dance, simply because they want to continue discussing the finer aspects of current engine design in spacecraft with her.
Kaylee herself demonstrates this, if her previous lover is to be believed, as the entire reason he claims they were having sex in the engine room was because "engines make her hot". Seemingly confirmed in The Movie, when she and Simon decide to consummate their relationship there as well.
Good Bad Girl: When Mal first met her, she was screwing the former mechanic in the engine room.
The Heart: Everyone on the ship loves her and gets along with her without any trouble because of her open, friendly personality. Probably why she's the one who sits outside to advertise the ship to passengers.
Hollywood Nerd: Notably averted, at least in part — the cast is perfectly aware that Kaylee is attractive.
Sunny Sunflower Disposition: No one is ever more cheerful than Kaylee. So much so that Mal comments "I don't believe there's a power in the 'verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful. Sometimes you just wanna tape her mouth shut and dump her in the hold for a month". To which she responds by kissing Mal's cheek and saying, "I love my Captain."
Took a Level in Badass: A small one. During "War Stories" she can't bring herself to shoot a gun even when her life is in danger but by the time of Serenity she thinks that Simon is worth fighting for.
Trademark Favourite Food: Strawberries. She accepts them as payment for travel, and during a fancy party she hones in on the strawberries at the buffet table like a homing missile.
Unkempt Beauty: Especially when she's covered in engine grease. She shares this a bit with River, and it is a deliberate contrast between her and Zoe or Inara.
"No matter what you do, or say or plot, no matter how you come down on us… I will never, ever harm you. You're on this table, you're safe. 'Cause I'm your medic, and however little we may like or trust each other, we're on the same crew. Got the same troubles, same enemies, and more than enough of both. Now, we could circle each other and growl, sleep with one eye open, but that thought wearies me. I don't care what you've done, I don't know what you're planning on doing, but I'm trusting you. I think you should do the same. 'Cause I don't see this working any other way."
Adorkable: Mostly when he's around Kaylee, and helped along by his Fish Out of Water status - notable in that it's quite a change from the calm, collected demeanor he assumed when he first came on board Serenity.
Big Brother Instinct: Hugely towards River, given that he's willing to become a death-marked fugitive for her.
Break the Cutie: He had to throw away his very comfortable life after the government he hadn't before questioned mutilated his sister and wound up on the lawless fringes of space with a crew of rogues. He doesn't regret it, but it's not easy.
Cannot Spit It Out: It's difficult for him to act on his feelings for Kaylee (and ends up butchering any conversation with her at least 50% of the time because of the way he words things).
Mind you, by about three episodes into the show, they're both perfectly aware of his feelings towards her, and it is an ongoing discussion topic, he's just too danged shy and proper to do anything about it, even without being distracted by caring for and protecting River.
Combat Pragmatist: Over the course of his few fights, he beats up people while handcuffed, crushes a guy's windpipe with his knee just enough to knock him out rather than kill him, jumped off a high railing and gone for the gun rather than a punch.
Dogged Nice Guy: To Kaylee sometimes, although she's usually the one pursuing him. Sometimes it looks like they're making progress, only for him to unintentionally offend her and spend the rest of the episode moping after her.
Fish out of Water: The awkwardness disappears when he's in his element, as shown in the hospital on "Ariel" and also in "Heart of Gold" when Petaline goes into labor. Even though he's never acted as a primary in a delivery before. Medicine is his Forte.
River: You gave up everything you had... Simon: Mei-Mei, everything I have is right here.
Honor Before Reason: Basically his whole storyline. He gave up a lucrative job, all his money and lifelong dream to help his sister (his hunch being based on some pretty thin logic), ruining his life and turning himself into a fugitive. Later he says he will never harm Jayne or break his oath as a physician, despite Jayne betraying him and threatening him on multiple occasions. And one gets the impression he'd do it all again in a minute.
Nerves of Steel: Just watch him in "Ariel"! Or the opening of the Big Damn Movie, for that matter - it's the first time he's seen River in several years, she's currently strapped to a chair shrieking and whimpering, and he doesn't so much as twitch an eyebrow!
Old-School Chivalry: He is a well dressed doctor who doesn't swear or have casual sex. Needless to say he doesn't fit in with the thieves he lives with, but he says that he has to be proper because it's all he has.
River is the aforementioned precious cargo, and Simon's little sister. She's stonecoldcrazy. Withgoodreason, though, and she gets a bit better. She's also a prodigypar excellence, taking to difficult subjects with ease (considering university-level physics to be a "challenge" when she was fourteen, for example). She's enough of an asset to the crew at critical times that it makes up for being The Load when she's freaking out.
Blessed with Suck: She has psychic powers and is unstoppable in combat but it's definitely not worth the really screwed up process she went through and the lingering mental problems/complications she has after rescue.
Cloud Cuckoolander: Most of what she says is applicable to the situation at hand, but her language is slightly... perpendicular to reality. Judging by her flashbacks and the R.Tam Sessions, she was this way before she was driven insane, too.
The Cuckoolander Was Right: Many of her incoherent ramblings turn out to be true, especially the repeated "Two by two, hands of blue..."
Dark Shepherd: To Jayne, after Simon makes his pledge to let bygones be bygones. Just in case Simon's forgiveness isn't enough to keep Jayne in line, she reminds him that "I can kill you with my brain."
Deadpan Snarker: From time to time, especially when in her more lucid moments.
Jayne: Well, as a rule, I say girlfolk ain't to be trusted. River: Jayne is a girl's name.
Deuteragonist: Though Mal is the central character of the series, River and what happened to her at the Academy forms a major part of the conflict over the series, and River is central to a significant number of episodes and her story serves as one of the series' dominant running background plots. Becomes especially apparent in Serenity.
Dirty Mind-Reading: Brushes with this in "Objects In Space," and implied in both the movie when she spies on Simon and Kaylee and the comics.
Distressed Damsel: For most of the series — and even when she develops her impressive combat abilities, her insanity still renders her extremely vulnerable.
Does Not Like Shoes: She's barefoot at least half her screentime. Her feet are even referred to as the show's 11th character.
Let's Get Dangerous: "You take care of me, Simon. You've always taken care of me. My turn. *ass-kicking ensues*"
Living Lie Detector: Between her psychic abilities and extreme intellect, she can easily tell if someone is lying. She knows Jayne is up to something in "Ariel" right off the bat when she wakes up, she picks out Jubal Early's own self-deceptive lies in "Objects in Space," and one cut scene from "Our Mrs. Reynolds" indicates that she knew Saffron was up to no good the moment she got on the ship.
Living Macguffin: The reason why everyone wants to find her so badly is that she's privy to the Alliance's darkest secrets thanks to her telepathy.
Messy Hair: River apparently does not take good care of her hair immediately after being rescued, due to many more pressing issues like her batshit insanity. It gradually becomes a little bit better over the series; by the events of Serenity it is less messy and more curly.
Super Soldier: Apparently what the Academy wanted from her. The precise purpose of her psychic abilities and combat programming is not made clear, as there's equal suggestion that she could have been intended to be an assassin, a sleeper agent, a bodyguard/police agent, or a spy.
Unkempt Beauty: Deliberately designed this way: Summer Glau wore minimal makeup and her hair was a constant, tangled mess, to both represent her mental instability as well as create a stark contrast between River and the much more glamorous beauty of characters like Inara or Zoe.
Foreshadowing: That Book was more than he seems was hinted as early as the pilot where in the moments after Dobson gets distracted after accidentally shooting Kaylee, Book manages to both disarm Dobson of his gun and knocks him out with a one-two punch.
In Objects in Space, Jubal Early notably goes after Book the exact same way he went after Mal, hinting that the two were Not So Different and that Early sensed that Book was far more dangerous than he appeared.
Former Teen Rebel: He eventually became a preacher, but he started out as a petty teenage criminal then became a spy during the war.
Jack-of-All-Trades: Name a skill, and Book seems to have some experience with it. He's competent enough in the engine room, an excellent shot and close-combat fighter, appears to have some medical knowledge, and can operate heavy weaponry and prepare explosives when need be. Being a Browncoat infiltrator/Alliance special forces officer gives him quite a bit of grounding in esoteric skills.
Mysterious Past: Until it was finally revealed in A Shepard's Tale, eight years after the series first aired.
Precision F-Strike: Book is usually the most well-mannered of the crew, but during "War Stories," he busts loose with one of the filthiest Chinese swears in the book (which translates to "filthy fornicators of livestock") upon seeing Zoe come back with Mal's severed ear.
"You think there's someone just gonna drop money on ya?! Money they could use?! Well, there ain't people like that. There's just people like me."
Jayne is a thuggish, misogynistic, crude Jerk with a Heart of Gold. He's not one to leave the back turned near, as he's a bit power-hungry and greedy. What he lacks in delicacy and loyalty, though, he makes up for in strength, cunning, and fighting prowess.
Dumb Muscle/Street SmartGenius Bruiser: While not refined or educated, Jayne is an impressive judge of character (reading Dobson's lies instantly, for example), a reasonably cunning planner, an expert tracker, and a capable pilot. Basically, so long as what he's doing is a practical skill and doesn't require a lot of Book Smarts, he can crack it.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: And write them letters. And send money to treat their brother Mattie for the damp lung note Consumption or pneumonia. And proudly wear their knitted "cunning" hats!
Even Evil Has Standards: Jayne may kill people at the drop of a hat, but even he finds the sheer brutality of the Reavers to be appalling. He also appears to be disgusted when he learns what the Academy did to River to make her so crazy.
The Face: His official job title on the ship, when asked by an outsider, is "Public Relations" (although this may have been Mal being Mal), and considering the Serenity's relations with the public, this usually means hurting people.
The Friend Nobody Likes: A lot of conversations between Mal and Zoe show that they think him to be the most expendable member of the crew.
Gender-Blender Name: His mother must have liked this trope, since his brother also has a traditionally female name, Mattie.
River: Jayne is a girl's name. Jayne: Well, Jayne ain't a girl!
Girl on Girl Is Hot: Upon learning that Inara will be servicing a female client on board her shuttle, he has only this to say:
Hidden Depths: Jayne Cobb, who is just about the last person on Serenity's crew that you would expect to play guitar or send money to his momma. He's also the first one to join Book in saying grace. Dresses himself up to be presentable to Sex Workers, and brushes her hair.
Mook-Face Turn: Mal and Zoe get themselves out of a sticky situation by Jayne to turn against his former employer.
Nice Hat: The orange hat his mother knitted for him. It's "Cunning".
Wash: A man walks down the street in that hat, you know he is not afraid of anything.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Maybe. Notably, he doesn't seem to have reached Vash The Stampede levels of Obfuscating Stupidity, as he appears to overcorrect whenever he does something out of character, such as putting a transparently stupid, vacant grin on his face after saying that he knew the word "Pretentious" or adopting an almost exaggeratedly gruff tone of voice saying he wanted an ear after instantly, and surprisingly intelligently deducing that Dobson was lying.
Odd Friendship: He and Book seem to be getting along quite well in later episodes, and spot each other when weightlifting.
Only in It for the Money: At least he's honest about it. In the pilot, he is offered a bribe to turn on Mal. When Mal matter of factly asks him why he decided not to, Jayne simply states that he wasn't offered enough money. Of course, Mal hired him off of his previous gang by making him a better offer.
Psycho for Hire: Mal actually hired him off his previous crew, whom he promptly betrayed and shot.
Scarily Competent Tracker: Thanks to his past as an unscrupulous bushwacker before joining the crew. It's the reason Mal hires him in the first place.
Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: He betrays the Tams for money but he's so horrified at what the Alliance did to River that he tries to get the Tams out of there early. You know if something is screwed up if it makes Jayne turn down a hefty sum of money.
Small Name, Big Ego: Thinks he could take over as captain if necessary. He's wrong, to say the least.
What You Are in the Dark: After he betrayed Simon and River to the Alliance, Mal locked outside the cargo doors as the ship was exiting atmosphere. Mal was going to let him be sucked into space, but relented when Jayne went from begging for his life to begging him not to tell the others about what he did.
Parodied in the Cold Open of "The Train Job", where they con some yokels into backing down by threatening to blow a new crater in their moon. Serenity doesn't actually possess any ship-mounted weaponry.
In the film they temporarily mount an anti-aircraft weapon whilst disguise her as a Reaver ship, which they later remove.
Spell My Name with a "The": Averted — you don't say 'the Serenity.' It's like a person's name. Which is a healthy bit of Shown Their Work, since at least in English this is how you're supposed to refer to a ship's name.
Thememobile: It's named Serenity pretty much because all the characters are after a bit of serenity, a bit of peace. And of course, the aforementioned Battle of Serenity Valley.
Used Future: Literally — Mal buys her at a used ship lot. The salesman tries to steer him towards a more suitable (read: expensive) vessel. Serenity was in such bad nick she couldn't get off the ground, let alone be space-worthy when Mal bought her.
A pair of mysterious men who wear suits and what appear to be blue gloves. They work for the Blue Sun Corporation, a contractor to the Alliance, and are in pursuit of River and Simon Tam. They will not hesitate to kill anyone who has had contact with River, even Alliance personnel, using a handheld device that induces fatal hemorrhaging to anyone near it (except themselves).
Brown Note: The mysterious weapon they use, which appears to be sound-based.
Cyborg: If the metallic parts in one of them in the comic is anything to go by, which might explain their immunity to their own weapons.
Death Ray: Though not so much a ray as a sonic emitter that causes catastrophic internal bleeding. The blue gloves they wear extend to cover their chests under their suits, so they're not affected.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: The first people we see them kill? The same Alliance crew members that were going to turn River and Simon back to the Academy, then backstabbed Jayne after he sold them out (though Jayne probably had it coming.
By-the-Book Cop: He grills all the members of the crew according to proceedure, reactions range from talkative to completely silent Death Glare (Jayne).
Even Evil Has Standards: When he discovers the sole survivor or the vessel tortured to insanity, he's quite shocked.
Harken: I haven't seen that kind of torture since... well, since the war.
I Owe You My Life: After Mal saves him at the end, he releases the crew without any further inquisition, but he does confiscate what they stole, because it was Alliance property.
Pet the Dog: When the tortured victim succumbs to the madness and begins killing members of his crew, his first order was to post guards at the nursery note The ship is the size of a city.
Punch Clock Villain: He's pretty much just a regular guy doing his job, frustrated by a lack of information from the higher-ups and wanting serve justice.
Reasonable Authority Figure: He just wants to figure out what happened, and has no evident corrupt or fascistic traits. He only really turns on the crew when he believes they brutally tortured the man found on board a vessel they were robbing, and dismisses their claims about Reavers.
"I'm a dangerous-minded man on a ship loaded with hurt."
A corrupt Alliance federal agent who pursued Tracey and the crew of Serenity. Although he claimed to be chasing Tracey because he was a criminal, which was true, he actually wanted to catch him because he was smuggling Womack's goods. He was supposed to be a recurring villain, but due to Fireflys cancellation, he became a one-off villain.
Badass Longcoat: As opposed to other uniformed Alliance-types we see, Womack favours a long duster-like coat.
Deadpan Snarker: Womack is deeply sarcastic and snarky to just about everyone he meets.
Dirty Cop: He's an Alliance agent involved in a spot of organ smuggling on the side, and God knows what else.
Jerkass: He's not just a crooked cop, he's a repulsive sadist who enjoys taunting others.
Jurisdiction Friction: Played With. Book does some research on Womack, and learns that he has wandered far from his own legitimate area of authority in pursuit of Tracey. He points out that if Serenity's crew shot him and left his corpse where it landed, nobody would care.
Kick the Dog: Womack is the one to tell Jayne that his hat makes him look 'like an idiot'. Sure, perhaps it needed to be said, but c'mon Womack...
Kill It with Fire: Threatens to set a poor guy on fire. He got as far as splashing something flammable on him and lighting a match, suggesting it wasn't exactly an empty threat.
Spiteful Spit: When forced to leave Serenity, he spits in the cargo bay in frustration.
Primary villain in Serenity. A special agent/assassin of Parliament, sent out to keep government secrets and take care of loose ends. While he technically represents their interests, they are never seen, making him The Heavy.
Affably Evil: For a man who's possibly the most dangerous assassin the Alliance has, he is impeccably polite, willing to negotiate, and seems genuinely saddened by the measures he's forced to take in capturing River Tam.
Villainous Breakdown: One inflicted on him by Mal in an ironic, thematic defeat; by the end, he himself says that he's a shell waiting to die, bereft of purpose. In short, exactly what Mal took steps not to become after Serenity Valley. Also has a minor one when he sees Serenity being followed by a horde of Reavers.
Warrior Poet: Though he misquotes a few poems from time to time, he fits the bill.
Would Hit a Girl: He slams Inara to the ground during her and Mal's fight against him.
Would Hurt a Child: One of the people on Haven is a little kid Kaylee plays with. The kid was killed in the Operative's attack.
Mal:I don't murder children. Operative: I do. If I have to.
You Monster!: A variation, in that he believes himself to be a monster. This is the reason why he doesn't think there's a place in the utopia he creates for him.
Played By: Michael Hitchcock
The Academy technician in charge of taking care of River. He is noticeable for an odd encounter with a certain spoiled rich kid who had curious questions about his baby sister. Vaguely related to this was an investigation by a government agent who gave him lessons about the customs of "certain older, civilized cultures".
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Paralyzing a government scientist and then leaving him helpless to stop himself from being impaled would normally be a Kick the Dog. When said scientist is a mad scientist who Mind Rapes young girls... well, let's put it this way: was anyone not pleased when The Operative killed him?
Torture Technician: He's not a sadist, and isn't out to intentionally cause pain, but he doesn't give a single damn if he does. River is put through outrageous torture at his hands, and he doesn't give a single thought to her as being a human being going through pain.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: She meets a horrible fate she certainly didn't deserve and the Pax was designed to make people happier and more relaxed...but she still participated in using a pathogen on a civilian population without their knowledge or consent.
A fellow Browncoat who fought in the war with Malcolm Reynolds and Zoë Alleyne Washburne in the Battle of Serenity Valley.
Character Death: Bendis is riddled with Alliance bullets while standing next to Mal.
Played By: Franc Ross
A long-time colleague of Mal Reynolds who also fought on the side of the Independents in the Unification War. An extremely large (Zoe refers to him as a "sasquatch") and mostly genial man, he is known among his friends for wearing a thick beard and mustache.
Gentle Giant: He's a big guy, but greets Mal with a massive hug.
Old Friend: To the entire Serenity crew, but mostly Mal and Zoe.
Played By: Jonathan M Woodward
A war buddy of Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Alleyne from the war against the Alliance. Mal helped get Tracey through the war, but after the war Tracey became something of a drifter, eventually falling in with organ smugglers.
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: He spins a sob story about falling in with a bad crowd, but Mal deducts that he was doing plenty of killing by himself. He likely betrayed Womack, not the other way around. He also takes Kaylee hostage to aid his escape and save his own hide.
Faux Affably Evil: At first, he comes across as a harmless old grampa with a funny accent and probably some nice stories. Just when you're expecting him to pat his lap and hand you a Werther's Original, he has his henchmen slide open a door to show the hanging, mutilated corpse of his wife's nephew.
Mal:[barely hiding his disgust] ...I'm sure he was a... very bad person. Niska: My wife's nephew. At dinner I'm getting earful. And there is no way out of that.
Revenge Before Reason: Mal gave him back the money for the train job, but Niska takes the incident as a personal slight and wants to torture Mal for days before killing him to keep his reputation solid.
Sadistic Choice: Niska's attempt to give one to Zoe backfires on him when she immediately chooses Wash.
Slave to PR: He's constantly trying to uphold some kind of twisted reputation he has, to the point of killing his own nephew and letting Zoë walk away unscathed from an encounter with him.
One of the few recurring villains (they likely intended more, but dying off after one season does mess up plans a bit) of the show, Saffron is a con woman who specializes in seduction. Introduced in (and as) "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
For the Evulz: Compulsively. In her first appearance, she implies this is her real motivation for playing an elaborate ruse to send Serenity into a trap, not the money. In her second appearance, it turns out that she was once married to a man who could give her everything she could ever possibly want, but she left him because she still couldn't resist the urge to commit crimes and screw people over.
A former Companion who knew Inara on Sihnon before they both left the planet. Nandi gave up her life as a Companion — having concluded that it was too restrictive — to become a brothel madam, overseeing common prostitutes on one of the outer planets. When Petaline, one of her girls, becomes pregnant with the son of a local landowner, the richest, most powerful man on the small planet, she calls Inara to see if the crew of Serenity can help against the baby's father, Rance Burgess.
Action Girl: She learned how to use a gun, and use it well, long ago.
Badass: How she's managed to defend her whorehouse for so long from the likes of Burgess.
Mal: Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he's right with God.
A rancher who runs afoul of the crew of Serenity when he decides to wage war against a brothel run by Nandi, a former Companion and friend of Inara Serra. According to Nandi, Burgess was the richest man on the planet, and kept everyone else poor so he could play at being a "cowboy in his own gorram theme park".
Determinator: It's hard not to be impressed by the bastard's utter failure to give up, even when he's lost.
Family Values Villain: He has very 'traditional' views, clearly seeing men as superior and women as objects to be owned as property or used for breeding or simply making a point.
Rance: Now, Chari here, she understands a whore's place, don't she? But Nandi, and those others, they spit on our town! They've no respect for the sanctity of fatherhood, or... decency, or family! They have my child held hostage to their decadent ways, and that I will not abide. We will show them what power is! We will show them what their position in this town is! Let us all remember, right here and now, what a woman is to a man!
Feudal Overlord: He purposefully keeps the planet poor so that he can rule as the unofficial king.
He-Man Woman Hater: He sees Nandi's whores as less than human, and when Mal compliments his wife he right-away assumes he's talking about his gun.
Faux Affably Evil: He'd initially appear to be Affably Evil and he does get some killer lines, but he soon reveals how much he'll twist his rules just to hurt people. He's also terrifying when he wants to be.
Foil: Jubal is calm, intelligent (though not quite all there), a skilled combatant with a decidedly precise style, and deeply intuitive, able to suss out a person's nature in an eerily quick fashion. Just like River.
The Sociopath: While he claims to be Affably Evil, River taunts him in that she's been in his head and knows exactly what kind of person he really is. So did Jubal's mother. That's why she reacted with fear when she found the dead animals he'd killed.
Softspoken Sadist: Early has a deep but soft voice that's borderline hypnotic, but he's also a barely restrained sadist.
Villainous Breakdown: He abandons his witty one-liners and calm, smooth demeanour as River starts to run circles around him. Early becomes violent, suspicious, paranoid and even comes to believe that River has possessed the ship.
Twin brothers who act as fences for goods acquired by Mal Reynolds and the crew of Serenity. Although identical twins, Mal is able to tell the two of them apart (he claims "Fanty's prettier"). Their full names are Mingojerry and Fantastic Rample.
Evil Brit: Both of them are criminals trying to cheat the Serenity crew out of their fair cut of a dangerous job.
Sheriff of the small town seen in "The Train Job."
Reasonable Authority Figure: He understands Mal and Zoe trying to do the right thing, and lets them go, knowing that times are tough for them as well. He's also seen giving a prisoner a light for his cigarette.
The Sheriff: Of the small town Mal and Zoe are robbing.
Played By: Edward Atterton
A young nobleman on Persephone who has hired Inara Serra on multiple occasions. On some of these occasions, he has proposed a more permanent arrangement with her.
Badass: Sure, Wing is a dick, but there's no getting past the fact that he's a highly skilled swordsman.
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: At first, he comes across as a pleasant and even charming young man. This facade drops soon and it quickly becomes apparent he's a possessive cretin.
The Dandy: He's a well-dressed pretty boy who doesn't look like he's even seen dirt before. Harrow even calls him a spoiled dandy.
Evil Brit: He speaks with a refined English accent, and is plenty evil.
Green-Eyed Monster: When Mal tries to simply talk to Inara, Wing quickly loses his temper.
Jerkass: The magnitude of Wing's dickery cannot be underestimated.
Upper-Class Twit: Atherton's upper-class position in society hasn't stopped him from being a violent frat boy in a grown man's body.
Played By: Gregory Itzin
Now Jayne saw the Mudders' backs breaking
He saw the Mudders lament
And he saw the magistrate taking
Every dollar and leaving five cents
— The Hero of Canton
The final word of law on Higgins' Moon, a small moon that has a primary export of mud. Higgins is a man who looks out only for himself. He treats his workers, known as mudders, harshly, almost as slaves, and metes out strict punishment to any who cross him, as evidenced by the confinement cage in which he imprisons Stitch Hessian after he and Jayne Cobb robbed him.
Bad Boss: He pays the mudders next to nothing, keeps them stranded in his little town and plays at being a king.
Grew a Spine: Fess was pretty brow-beaten by his father, but eventually stands up to him.
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Played with. His father hires Inara to bed him so he can become a man, and she does, but that isn't what makes him a man. Inara talks to him and gives him to confidence to stand up to his father, therefore becoming a 'man' through actions instead of merely becoming something else.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: His relationship with his father is very strained. Higgins doesn't consider Fess to be a 'man'. It's unclear how Fess is meant to meet women on a moon inhabited by his father, his father's men, and a society of people who are basically slaves and hate the Higgins family.
Gabriel and Regan Tam
Gabriel & Regan Tam
Played By: William Converse-Roberts & Isabella Hofmann
River and Simon's parents. Well-to-do, they take great pride in their social position and Simon's achievement. They support the Alliance and do not believe it could or would do anything to harm their daughter, River, who was in their care in a special school.
Abusive Parents: There are some implications that they are aware of what is happening to River; Gabriel barely pays attention to her even as a child, even though she is clearly more intelligent than her genius brother.
Played By: Dax Griffin
Serenity's original engine mechanic. Mal caught him having sex with a local girl, soon identified as Kaylee Frye, in the engine room. Mal demands to know what is taking Bester so long to fix the engine, and Kaylee then demonstrates that she has more knowledge of ship engine workings than Bester, whom Mal immediately fires in favor of Kaylee.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Pretends to still believe in Saffron's con, when he actually called the feds the second he saw her.
Puppy-Dog Eyes: Durran uses these on Saffron, who goes a bit crazy (well, crazier) and can't deal with them.
"If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're really lucky, they'll do it in that order"
Jayne: Reaver's ain't men. Book: Of course they are. Too long removed from civilization perhaps, but men. And, I believe there's a power greater than men. A power that heals. Mal: Reavers might take issue with that philosophy...if they had a philosophy...and they weren't too busy gnawing on your insides. Jayne's right. Reavers ain't men. Or they forgot how to be. Come to just nothin'. They got out to the edge of the galaxy, to that place of nothin', and that's what they became.
The Reavers are spacefaring, cannibalistic raiders that exist on the outermost fringes of the 'Verse. They are said to be folk who were driven insane after reaching the end of the galaxy and seeing the sheer nothingness.
The Berserker: Played with. When attacking someone face-to-face, the Reavers become mad, frothing, berserk killers. Outside of face-to-face combat, however, Reavers are disturbingly thoughtful and intelligent, laying carefully-prepared traps, operating advanced spacecraft, and deliberately torturing people to break their minds to increase their numbers. They're skilled enough that they can take an entire ship by surprise without leaving any obvious trace of their presence.
Cold-Blooded Torture: They flay, eat, and rape their victims until death, which is prolonged for many hours, and likely days, in some cases. Reavers are calculated sadists, they prefer their victims conscious - more than violence, they are motivated to inflict agony on people.
The Dreaded: Absolutely everyone...Zoe, Jayne, the Operative...is scared to death of them.
Dying Race: The movie reveals they fly without any reactor containment, meaning they're likely all suffering some degree of radiation poisoning. They also don't seem to breed and are unable to build any kind of culture, so the only method of creating new Reavers is to drive people insane. The Reavers cannot last more than a generation.
Go Mad from the Revelation: Reavers have a penchant for breaking and torturing people into becoming second-generation Reavers simply by exposing them to what they do to others.
The Horde: There are thousands of them, and they attack like a swarm.