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Forward is a Doorstopper-lengthOriginal FlavorContinuationFirefly fanfic written by the same author behind Tiberium Wars and Renegade. It is partially an alternate universe fic, as it RetCons several major character deaths in Serenity, but otherwise remains true to the ending of the movie. The story follows the crew of Serenity as they continue on, and have to struggle with the enemies they've made and new ones that appear, while the Alliance struggles to remain in control.Notable for strong characterization, believable character development, and a wide, overarching plot arc. General consensus among the reviewers has that the story captures the Firefly essence very well, with many of the reviewers comparing the writing favorably to Joss Whedon's own.The story is separated into episodic story arcs, to emulate the series' episodes. The fic starts off very dark, particularly with regards to River's madness and Mal's more ruthless tendencies, but lightens as the story progresses. As the series has progressed, it has graduallyrevealed an overarching plot relating to the Academy and the Alliance's more shadowy operations.The primary characters of the story are Mal and River (the latter of whom the author admits is his favorite character), and the story spends a great deal of time exploring both of their mindsets, pasts, and moral quandries. The story does not yet involve a non-canon pairing, though the author has confirmed that the story will have a later pairing involving River and as-yet-unnamed character.Notable also for its....unusual....take on River's mental processes.The story currently consists of nine story-arc "episodes" and five brief "interludes." In order:
Oh, and don't forget the fact River even called him Captain Hammer a lot after that.
Affably Evil: Many of the villains come off this way, including Dumont, Obrin, and Echo.
Anachronic Order: The "Silver" arc is presented out of order, with brief flashes of the Operative's slaughter of Dumont's men taking the lead in each chapter, and the prologue featuring Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee standing around stark naked at the end of the latest job. The events leading up to this are detailed in the subsequent story.
Angrish: In the "Third Interlude." Though technically, its Mandarin which Mal is mangling due to his apparent anger.
An Offer You Can't Refuse: In "Silver," Womack forces Mal into one of these by demanding he attack Dumont's estate and destroy the evidence of their organ harvesting operations. If they refuse, he'll have them arrested for organ smuggling instead.
Anti-Magic: Blanks, who are immune to psychic powers outright, making them ideal as security guards/recovery agents for the Academy's psychics. It is implied that the Hands of Blue are Blanks, as is John Garis. The Academy also has developed some kind of anti-psionic implants that they equip their commandos with, which has a limited effect on protecting them from Inducers and River's empathic senses.
Catalogue of injuries: hairline fracture in shin. Multiple fractured or broken ribs. Lacerations, bruising of back, vertebrae, possibly wrenched shoulder and back muscles. Bullet lodged in gut, precise location unknown. Head trauma, ninety-plus percent probability of concussion (postulate round ricocheting off boulder and bouncing off skull, or maybe shrapnel knocked loose by same) Bruised jaw. Sunburns.
Artificial Gravity: Played with in "Adrift," where the gravity is cut out and the crew are forced to move and operate without any gravity systems. This is later used as a weapon when Reavers board the ship. Mal lures them into entering through the floor hatch in Serenity's bay, and when they all rush from their gravity-equipped ship into the zero-G Serenity, they begin flying about the bay in an uncontrolled fashion. naturally, this makes them perfect targets to shoot at.
Ascended Extra: A lot of one-shot characters are brought back for individual episodes, and some of them even become recurring guest stars. These include Colonel Obrin, the Operative, Ott and his crew, Lieutenant Womack, and Jubal Early.
The Atoner: Colonel Rishard Dannet, River's former combat trainer at the Academy. His guilt over working on the project grew to the point where, as he put it, "it was either retirement or suicide." When River corners him, he is perfectly willing to let her have her revenge for his participation in what happened to her. She forgives him instead, because he sees her as a person, not a tool or a weapon.
The author is a huge fan of Summer Glau. It shows; River is often one of the dominant characters, and there are several scenes where River is naked or her sexuality is explored. As the author says himself, "She's easily my favorite character, and she's such a versitale walking plot device that I can't help but play with her." Aside from the fact that this story is partially River-centric, the author's also written several T:SCC stories focusing on Cameron and Allison Young as well as a T:SCC and Mass Effect crossover involving Cameron.
Another, more subtle one (only notable when one looks at the author's other works like Tiberium Wars and Renegade) is that Peptuck is a hardcore military and firearms fan, and it shows in both how often professional soldiers and mercenaries show up, and in how he describes their movements, weapons, and kit. Especially noticeable in "Last Man" where the narrative takes pains to show how both the Rifles, Konstantin's later mercenary group, and Jayne are constantly aiming down sights, checking gear, and moving around like well-trained soldiers who cover one another, call out targets, and generally behave like real soldiers.
Axe Crazy: River is still more than a little bonkers in this story.
Axe Crazy though she may be, River has nothing on Inducer One-One-Nine.
Jayne: You. Look. I've gotten into fights with idiots ten times meaner than you two. I fought militia, mercenaries, goons just like you. Hell, I've fought Alliance marines before(...)I've even tangled with Reavers.
There's also Mal's heartfelt concern for a dissatisfied customer in Condor:
Mal: Badger, I've got personal beef with Adelei Niska. And you know I've got all manner of trouble with the Alliance. Now, on top of all that joy, I've got a bunch of happy little low-life Browncoat terrorists who want me dead too. So, you want to join the party, feel free. Just get in line.
In "Wrath", River delivers one right before she kills the power.
River: You have made multiple assumptions, based on fallacious reasoning, which I find hilarious. First, you think I am still an emotional wreck. You believe that I am unstable, ineffective, defeated. That is a reasonable but terribly erroneous assumption. I am functional. (...) The second fact is that you assume physically restraining me will keep you safe. You should know better by now that restraints are irrelevant. Because I can kill you with my brain.
Badass Preacher: Book. Though he was already a badass preacher in the series, in "Adrift" he charges into the middle of a Reaver horde, whispering Bible quotes while wielding a sword.
Bad Dreams: Wash periodically has nightmare about his time in a POW camp during the war. River also has consistently unpleasant dreams that are often mixed in with horrid memories of the Academy. Mal has bad dreams about all of the horrible things he's experienced or been forced to do over the course of his career.
Batman Gambit: River and Jayne pull one when River talks Niska into executing Volsky, causing him to drop his knife, which Jayne picks up and uses to cut himself free.
In the "Silver" arc, River manipulates the rest of the crew into thinking she's too traumatized to help them on the upcoming heist, which gives her an opening to carry out a private mission of her own. However, doing so results in River being seriously wracked by guilt as she prepares to run off.
All of "Wrath" is a trap to get River in the same room with Ornstintz.
Bedmate Reveal: In "Condor," Jayne learns that Ashley, the woman has just bedded, is actually Kaylee's sister.
Bedouin Rescue Service: Implied at the end of the "Fourth Interlude," after River passes out from the slew of injuries she's suffered fighting the pirates.
Beneath Notice: In "Silver," Inara deliberately disguises River as this, at least in a high-class sort of way. Inara dresses elegantly, while Mal dresses in his usual formalwear, which he looks awkward to draw attention, while River is dressed in an outfit and makeup that is just proper enough that no one notices her next to Inara and Mal.
Inducers are capable of making themselves so ordinary to others that they can walk past them without being noticed.
Berserk Button: Jayne has one regarding threats to Kaylee, and develops one regarding threats to River.
River appears to have one regarding Blue Sun, as in "Mosaic" she goes berserk upon seeing a Blue Sun sign on a building and starts shooting it. This appears to carry over to any of the Academy's test subjects, as Inducer One-One-Nine apparently murdered the entire staff of a Blue Sun lab in "Charity."
One of the Hands of Blue learns the hard way that shooting Simon in front of River is a bad idea. She chucks her blade at him from across the room, burying it into his chest, then runs up, rips it free, and stabs him in the face repeatedly in a blind fury so violent it literally leaves her soaked in blood from head to toe.
BFG: At one point in "Charity," Mal is held at gunpoint by a mercenary who is seriously compensating for something.
Big Bad: Though each "episode" has it's own villain, Adelei Niska is presented as the primary antagonist. However....
Bigger Bad: Admiral Havelock, the Alliance military officer who "signed off on" the Academy in general, and Mr. Whitman, the (current) head of the Academy, appear to be much larger threats.
Big Bad Ensemble: There's also the other Browncoats, as well as John Garis, who may or may not be working for the Academy. While most of the main arcs have clear-cut villains, it's hard to say who will turn out to be the Biggest Bad in the series.
Big Brother Instinct: Jayne appears to have developed one in regards to River, after both of them survived being tortured by Niska.
River even goes so far as to call Jayne a "sociopathic big brother."
In "Hunt", Katie uses her Psychic Powers to supplant one of these on River.
In "Business," Mal popping a Hand of Blue in the skull right as he's about to shoot Jayne.
Colonel Obrin actually accuses Mal of thinking he is a "big damn hero" in "Condor." Almost immediately afterward, Serenity shows up.
In "Mosaic," Jayne, on fire, wielding a knife, and charging into the cargo bay.
In "Adrift," first River to save the beleaguered Alliance soldiers, Simon, and Book, and then Book, when River is hit by paralytic darts. Later on, Serenity saving the shuttle from Reavers.
In "Charity," Wash and Monty roaring in as the train is about to be blown up by the Talon mercenaries.
In "Last Man" there's a triple whammy in the final chapter: In the flashback, the American saving Jayne from being tortured by the Mongol, and in the present, Wash saving Jayne from the Cossack by first putting his shuttle between them, and then by shooting the Cossack six times in the body armor when he boards the shuttle and is chocking out Jayne.
Bloodier and Gorier: The story is notably more violent than the series itself; all of the "episodes" tend to involve a least one large gun or melee battle against Mooks, with a hefty body count building up as the story progresses. Lampshaded a few times by both the author and the characters, with the author noting that in the first "episode" alone he probably killed more mooks than the actual series and movie put together.
Book Ends: The beginning of "Charity" opens with Zoe waking up to find Wash crying in his sleep, and comforting him from his Bad Dreams. The end of "Hunt" features Wash doing the same to Zoe after the emotional wringer she's been through.
Break the Cutie: The first few chapters of the first story start off upbeat, with River indicating that while she's still not fully recovered, she's healing. Then Niska gets his hands on her. The next few story arcs have her simply trying to recover from that trauma on top of all the other issues she already suffers from.
By the time "Charity" rolls around, it looks like River has mostly recovered and is becoming happy. Then Inducer One-One-Nine mindrapes her and kidnaps her, and the subsequent arc involves being brutally mindraped multiple times by said Inducer, followed by River killing a Hand of Blue in a berserk fury in front of Simon that causes a complete shame-driven Freak Out when she realizes he saw her rip the man's face apart.
Breather Episode: The various Interludes and a number of chapters show slice-of-life moments among the crew in an attempt to break up the action.
Brick Joke: Jayne setting himself on fire and charging with a knife to terrify his enemies in "Mosaic." Comes back with a dark echo in "Last Man" when in a flashback, it is shown that the Brit charging Jayne with a knife while on fire is one of the most terrifying things he ever experienced.
Brown Note: Weaponized. Lancelot, and the Merlins in general, seem to work by hitting people with mental bursts of their own traumatic memories to incapacitate them.
Jayne: "She goes off tellin her brother I showed her man parts, he's gonna...gonna...doctor at me.
Call Back: Several ones to minor elements from the series:
The old man Inara greets in "Shindig" is a major player in "Condor."
Organ smuggling from "The Message" is referenced heavily in "Silver", especially the designer organ creation.
Colonel Obrin, mentioned in passing in "The Message" is one of the villains in "Condor".
The flying estates in "Trash" and the "Silverhold Colonies" mentioned in "The Message" both become important in "Silver."
Canon Discontinuity: The author has stated that while most of the series canon is being used in this story, he is disregarding the "Shepherd's Tale" comic, as the background laid out in that is incompatible with the background he'd originally come up with for Book in this story. That being said, he has also stated he is willing to use elements from that comic, i.e. the interrogation scene.
The Caper: Done with a twist in "Silver": The crew originally backs down from the heist in question, until Womack forces them to go on it anyway.
Catch Phrase: Used as part of The Reveal whenever the author is being deliberately obfuscating about a character's identity, said characters being The Operative and Jubal Early.
Ceiling Cling: In "Charity" River uses one of these to ambush several mercenaries.
"Hunt" reveals that all telepaths have an affinity for it, and the Hands of Blue are trained to always check the ceiling.
The Chains of Commanding: Mal experiences these in increasingly heavy amounts as the series progresses. Zoe later begins to strain under the weight when Mal is in a coma.
Mal develops into a darker character during the Business arc, particularly when he is forced to torture and kill one of Niska's men to find out where Jayne and River were being taken.
Jayne notably softens, at least with regards to River, especially after the two of them survive being tortured by Niska. However, he still regards her as insane, unstable, and somewhat untrustworthy.
Book has heavy development of his past, particularly with regards to his history before converting to Christianity, along with indications of a past as an Operative, including the fact that he knows the Operative personally.
River gradually matures and develops into her own as a functional person, despite her insanity, though she still remains unstable and dangerous.
Zoe both softens and hardens at the same time; her maternal and caring side is shown, and is also contrasted with her cold and ruthless aspects, particularly in the later episodes.
River is not afraid to bring a gun to a kung-fu fight. Nor are the Hands of Blue.
Nor are the Reavers.
Do not get into a hand-to-hand fight with Zoe. Especially if she's got a knife.
In "Mosaic", Ott is running away after having barely survived tangling with Serenity's crew, and Mal calmly shoots him in the back. Its one of the coldest scenes in the story, but it fits perfectly with his character.
Kaylee, of all people. Power loader!
The entire crew, collectively, in "Silver". They got Womack to lay off them earlier by telling him they planted an EMP bomb on his ship, which he found offscreen. Problem is, they didn't plant one bomb. They planted three.
And Jayne at Niska afterward, when Jayne begins cutting off his fingers.
The Mongol seems to enjoy doing this.
Coming-of-Age Story: For River, notably; a major part of the story's plot is her development into a functional adult, with the "First Interlude" showing her resolving to move past her trauma on her eighteenth birthday.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: In the comic Those Left Behind Ott's four-man crew manages to put up a good fight against Serenity's crew. In this story, Ott expands his crew to a couple dozen men. They get plastered. Either Ott isn't Genre Savvy enough, or River simply absorbed all of their kung fu through proximity.
Contrived Coincidence: A justified instance in Condor, when Book accidentally leads an Operative's men to Simon and Kaylee. They both happened to be in the same area, and Book was trying to hide from them before Kaylee spotted him and called his name. Less excusable is them being rescued by a squad of Alliance soldiers that happens to include Ash, Kaylee's sister. The author lampshades this in the author's notes, saying: "What a craaaazy coincidence."
In "Last Man," Jayne finishes telling Sheppard Book about his encounter with the Six Rifles moments before Wash informs him the last surviving member is on Glacier looking for them. This gets lampshaded too, it's described as being "the most disturbingly ill-timed news ever."
Conveniently-Placed Sharp Thing: In "Mosaic," when Ott's crew has captured Mal and his crew, Mal manages to escape by palming a piece of broken glass and using that to cut free. Afterward, Mal uses said glass to kill both of Ott's mooks. Also notably averted with River in the same sequence; she simply gets free by working her way out of her restraints when no one is looking.
There's also the opening scenes of each chapter of the "Silver" arc, which depict....someone....being utterly massacred by....well, someone else.At the end you learn it's Dumont's guards being slaughtered by Nemo.
A particularly wince-inducing one occurs in "Hunt," with a Hand of Blue facing Kaylee driving a power loader. Needless to say, the Hand loses.
River against the Persephone police in "Wrath." She pounds through fully armored SWAT units unarmed without even really trying, to the point that she's shocked at how easy it is. Then she gets curbstomped in turn by Lancelot.
In the same episode, River gets repeatedly curbstomped for weeks while sparring with Rashid.
Deadpan Snarker: Most scenes from River's perspective have her mentally snarking, particularly at Mal or Jayne, when she's being more lucid.
Death World: The planet of Silverhold is presented as one, where the terraforming process resulted in the unexpected creation of a deadly, heavy silvery gas that renders it nearly impossible to survive below a certain altitude.
Despair Event Horizon: In "Fourth Interlude," one of River's flashbacks shows the point where she finally crossed this during her imprisonment at the Academy. It is particularly potent, as this is juxtaposed with the rest of the chapter, which shows River at her most determined and resolute.
Determinator: What with Mal and Original Flavor, this one is pretty much a given. Jayne also shows shades of it, as does Book while fighting the Reavers in "Adrift." River also starts showing signs of it as the story progresses, with her drawing inspiration and determination from her experiences with Mal, Book, Jayne, and Zoe.
River fully qualifies in the Fourth Interlude. Damn. Continues in Wrath, where her response to torture and the threat of torture by Ornstintz is to defiantly keep challenging him to hurt her more because she's learned how to deal with pain. And in the flashback, she spends weeks straight getting curbstomped every time she spars with Dr. Rashid until she learns how to use her combat conditioning effectively.
Distracted by the Sexy: Literally. In "Charity", a psychic Inducer distracts River by having her become sexually attracted to Jayne, so she won't notice another Academy escapee. Paired with the Inducer's ability to become literally unremarkable enough that no one notices, and River never realizes she's there until the climax of the arc.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: There's a scene at the end of "Charity" showing River lying curled up in bed next to Katie. Its written like a mother holding a sleeping child, which becomes increasingly disturbing when one considers that Katie has essentially mindraped River into forcibly becoming a maternal/protector figure.
Later on, when River tries to rebel against Katie and attack her. The resulting scene where Katie mentally crushes River's mind is written like a rape scene, which is entirely appropriate.
Doorstopper: Currently at fifty chapters and counting, with the average page number per chapter coming out at around fifteen pages. That comes out to over six hundred pages if this was an actual paper book.
Dynamic Entry: "Silver." SIMON PUNCH! Also, in the same chapter, River ambushing Dannet via fridge.
Electric Boogaloo: Deliberately referenced by the author, who admits that "Business" is essentially the premise of "War Stories" with different characters and the use of the Alliance and the Hands of Blue. "Adrift" is essentially the premise of "Out of Gas" with Reavers, the Alliance, and Simon nearly dying. "Silver" is essentially the premise of "Trash," only with Lieutenant Womack, the Operative, and River's combat trainer from the Academy thrown in.
Enfante Terrible: Deconstructed in the form of Inducer One-One-Nine. Since One-One-Nine is a child, she has extremely poor impulse control, which drives her to kill any Blue Sun employees she encounters, mentally associating them with the Academy. This leads directly to the Academy finding and sending the Talon mercenaries after her, and it is how both Serenity's crew and the Hands of Blue track her down later, as even when she's hiding she can't control her impulses to kill.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The members of the Six Rifles generally go by their nationalities/ethnicities, i.e. "the American," or "the Cossack." The members of the group do appear to know each others' actual names, or parts of them, and the only one whose real name is entirely unknown is the Mongol.
Evil Gloating: When Niska captures Jayne and River, he calls up Mal to show them off and gloats about it.
Evil Versus Evil: In "Unfinished Business," Niska's men against the Hands of Blue.
From "Hunt," the Hands of Blue versus Inducer One-One-Nine, with a four-way gang war thrown in for good measure.
Fake in the Hole: In the Condor arc, Mal and Zoe duck for cover only to find that what was thrown at them was an empty magazine, with the message of "we could have tossed a grenade".
Fetal Position Rebirth: Used during the "First Interlude" while River is writing in her journal. She strips naked in her bunk, curls up in a fetal position, and writes down in her journal a personal declaration that she will no longer be a victim or tool for anyone else. For added symbolism, this happens on her eighteenth birthday.
Fingore: Niska gets a few fingers cut off by Jayne.
Fire-Forged Friends: River and Jayne start off the story still somewhat hostile toward one another, but after surviving their ordeal in Niska's clutches, they develop into friends, albeit friends who still bicker and tease each other relentlessly.
Flashback: "Condor" opens with a flashback to the Unification War, and other flashbacks to the series itself are often used to highlight the importance of certain scenes. The "Fourth Interlude" makes heavy use of flashbacks, mostly in the form of dreams River has while asleep, flashing back to her childhood on Osiris or her time at the Academy.
Much of "Last Man" involves a flashback to a much younger Jayne while he was being hunted by the Six Rifles.
Early on in "Mosiac," Mal warns Jayne to not set anything on fire. At the arc's climax, Jayne sets himself on fire.
Early in "Charity," Zoe notes Simon has a vial of a drug that suppresses female sexuality, which Simon is keeping on hand because River is finally coming down off a long-term treatment by the Academy that suppresses her sexual impulses. Inducer One-One-Nine uses River's uncontrolled sexual impulses against her later to distract her.
"Charity" also has the decoding file at the top of each chapter. Paying close attention to the file as it decodes would reveal a few chapters early who Inducer One-One-Nine was, especially if one notes the only character in the story thus far with a name that has seven letters with "hry" in them.
"Third Interlude" has the "Mongol" make reference to "Andy's old rifle" and a man named "Konstantin" when confronting Jayne, with implications being that the Mongol is one of the six men who came to kill Jayne. In "Last Man" the, well, last man of the six ("The Cossack") has finally tracked Jayne down.
For Want of a Nail: Both Wash and Book survive because of this. Wash instead turned in his chair toward Zoe while speaking his Famous Last Words, and thus the spear only sliced across his chest instead of impaling him. In Book's case, Word of God is that Simon got there first instead of Mal, and just barely saved Book from death.
Fragile Speedster/Glass Cannon: The author describes River as this, in an effort to prevent her from being a God-Mode Sue. She is very fast, very acrobatic, very deadly, but one good hit will stop her. The problem is scoring the hit.
From Bad to Worse: Happens often enough that Mal gets worried when things are going smooth. Several arcs in particular stand out:
"Unfinished Business": River and Jayne get kidnapped by Niska, then tortured for hours on end. Niska tries to collect the bounty on River, bringing the Hands of Blue down on their heads. Meanwhile tensions rise between the rest of Serenity's crew as Mal tortures one of Niska's mercenaries and then throws him out the airlock when he's finished. Things don't start turning around until Niska orders one of his guards to rape River, at which point Jayne sees red. And then the Hands of Blue show up.
"Adrift": Everything that could possibly go wrong does so in the very first chapter. Mal gets pinned to the side of the ship by an asteroid because the winch stopped working due to an electrical surge that also wiped out power to everything on board, including the gravity generator (mercifully, the life support is still intact). Simon is in the infirmary at the time, and gets a pair of surgical scissors stuck in his chest. Kaylee's tether gets snapped and she goes tumbling out into the Black, and Jayne just barely manages to rescue her. Once they get back inside, things get even worse as Wash and Mal discover that someone is approaching: Reavers.
"Charity." Hoo boy. It starts off with a murder investigation that rapidly turns into the crew fending off an army of mercenaries, which turns into a desperate escape via train. Then there's another attack by mercenaries, this time with heavily-armed gunships....and that's before The Reveal, Mal getting shot and clubbed into a coma, and River being mentally beaten into submission and kidnapped by an insane, murdering psychic.
Happens in record time in "Hunt": What looks at first like it'll simply be a story about the crew going to Sirroco and rescuing River goes off the rails in part one, when the Hands of Blue arrive and Katie psychically ends the truce between the four gangs controlling the station.
Happens simultaneously in both the present and the flashback in "Last Man." The Cossack has come to get revenge on Jayne in the present, while in the flashback the Six Rifles are trying to kill him as a teenager. As the story progresses, the Cossack closes in on Jayne in the present and bears down on wash, using him as a hostage to draw Jayne out. In the past, Jayne's robbery crew is killed and he is chased out of town into the wilderness, where he fights a cat-and-mouse battle against the Six while running low on ammo and getting injured more and more, culminating in getting shot in the leg and captured by the Mongol.
"Wrath." It opens with River being captured by the Hands and Lancelot. Then it progresses to an interrogation of River that shows her breaking down gradually into a sobbing wreck. Then there's the revelation of the neural lace in her brain that will kill her or control her in eight months.
Full-Frontal Assault: In Silver, naked Jayne holding a stolen machinegun and spraying fire at a bunch of enemy soldiers.
Gambit Pileup: "Silver" ended up being one of these, with competing gambits from Mal, Womack, River, and the Operative.
The story as a whole appears to be one of these, with conflicting background gambits between the Alliance, the Browncoats (who the Operative/Nemo appears to be working with - maybe, we're not sure yet what their angle is), and apparently the Academy and John Garis/Echo, who may actually be doing something completely counter to them (again, no idea yet what he's planning, if anything.)
Genre Savvy: Mal, who points out that they have a miserable history of keeping prisoners imprisoned right before executing one of Niska's men.
Also in Unfinished Business, where Mal gets uncomfortable because the job goes exactly as planned. Things get worse.
Girl with Psycho Weapon: Marietta, who is a psychotic, heavily armed woman on Ott's crew carrying a massive chaingun.
Glass Cannon: the author's portrayal of River emphasizes this, pointing out that while being supremely agile and dangerous, one solid hit is all it takes to put River down. She gets tougher as the story progresses, but is still vulnerable to things like broken bones.
Government Conspiracy: "Second Interlude" implies that whatever the Academy's true goal is, it's something far more sinister than simply creating psychic supersoldiers. "Fifth Interlude" indicates something like large-scale mind control.
Hannibal Lecture: River delivers one to Volsky as he is torturing her, revealing not only the fact that his wife is cheating on him, but that he is plotting to assassinate Niska and the rest of his men.
Heel-Face Turn: The Operative is working for the Browncoats against the Alliance.
He Knows Too Much: A major part of "Condor" involves this, with Book acquiring data on the Academy's experiments. It is implied that the data is enough to potentially bring about a second civil war.
At the end of "Hunt" River violently butchers a Hand of Blue in front of Simon, and is so ashamed at his reaction that she runs off on her own in another ship.
Subverted in "Last Man" when Vera is destroyed by Konstantin. Jayne deliberately pushes it aside and soldiers through the shock, because stopping and reacting to it would get him killed.
Heroic Sacrifice: Andy willingly gives his life to save the young Jayne's in "Last Man."
Hero Killer: Deliberately invoked with the Hands of Blue. Though they haven't been able to kill anyone yet, it hasn't been from a lack of skill or effort; in fact, in both instances where they've fought River, they've handily beaten her. Of the four that have appeared in the story, one had to be hit by a sneak-attack from Mal, Jayne had to pummel another senseless with a bedpan and slit his throat with a scalpel after a drawn-out brawl, another required Kaylee to hijack a power loader to stop, and the last was only stopped when he accidentally triggered an Unstoppable Rage in River by shooting Simon. Pretty much, whenever these guys appear, it's an Oh, Crap moment for everyone involved, and for good reason.
Hero Stole My Bike: In the "Third Interlude", River tries to sweet-talk a bystander into letting her take his ATV. Jayne demonstrates they don't have time by punching the man off the bike and stealing it.
He Who Fights Monsters: Colonel Lee Obrin, Mal and Zoe's former commander. Mal accuses him of being no different from the Alliance due to the way he regards River as a weapon/strategic asset instead of a person, as well as the fact that he believes they have to teach people the "correct" way to think.
Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: River and Jayne. Though not romantically paired up in the story (yet), the two have developed a brother-sister dynamic that often invokes this.
Human Resources: Dumon't operation involves the production of those designer human organs that Womack smuggles, by growing them inside lobotomized human slaves.
I Am Not a Gun: River makes this assertion in "First Interlude." Her fears and insecurities regarding this are explored over the series, culminating in a Freak Out in "Hunt" when she becomes terrified of what her combat programming is making her do.
I Call It "Vera": River buys the electrosword that was stolen in the "Adrift" arc and names it "Laertes." Jayne names his revolver "Boo," and his oversized knife "Binky." The Trope Namer herself gets to see a lot of action as well.
In "Business" Jayne uses a metal bedpan and a surgical scalpel to kill a Blue Hand.
In "Mosaic" Mal uses a shard of glass to kill two of Ott's goons.
In "Silver", Zoe and Book turn the mule into a giant fragmentation grenade to blow up Womack's ship.
In "Last Man" young Jayne turns an entire storage shed into a bomb using propane, gasoline, mining explosives, and a lighter. During the same story arc, the rest of Serenity's crew is assembling an anti-ship missile to shoot down Konstantin's ship out of a scrapped missile drone and parts of Inara's shuttle.
Incendiary Exponent: in "Mosaic" Jayne, armed only with a knife and a cupboard full of chemicals and an old coat, sets himself on fire to terrify Ott's crew, reasoning that nothing is scarier than a huge man charging you with a giant knife while on fire. "Last Man" implies that Jayne got the notion from how he killed the Brit, who did the exact same thing to him, only involuntarily.
Zoe: "I'm hoping this isn't part of some brilliant plan you've cooked up."
Mal: "Oh, no, I am most definitely making this up as I go along."
Zoe: "That's very reassuring, sir."
Echo: "Plans are for people who are competent. I'm not. I just have a remarkable proficiency at adaptation."
In the Back: Mal has no compunctions about shooting Ott in the back as he runs away. The guy tried to kill his entire crew, after all.
Invincible Hero: Deliberately averted in River's case. The author has outright said that he dislikes stories where River is used as the "solve everything" button. As a result, while River is portrayed as one of the deadliest fighters in the setting, she is still quite vulnerable, and has actually been either defeated or suffered serious injuries in most of the fights she's been in.
In "Charity," Mal deliberately snarks at a mercenary holding him at gunpoint, giving Book the opportunity to knock out his comrades and sneak up on him. Afterward, Mal kicks him in the shins.
During "Last Man" Jayne taunts the Cossack with a stream of insults relating to his mangled arm and leg to piss him off and draw him away from pursuing Wash.
Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Subverted. Mal and Zoe are unable to get one of Niska's men to give up the location of Niska's ship. They eventually have to rely on Book and Wash to coax the information out of him.
Jedi Mind Trick: Pretty much what Inducer One-One-Nine uses to avoid detection, by making herself appear unremarkable while focusing others' attention on something else in the environment. Toward the end of "Charity", One-One-Nine uses this to sneak River right past the rest of the crew while they're trying to help a critically-wounded Mal.
Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: an almost infuriating number of teases and clues and hints are dropped about the Academy as the series progresses, though they've been coming in faster and faster as the plot progresses.
Joker Immunity: Both played straight and averted. Niska and Womack both survive tangling with the crew of Serenity, though only because Jayne was distracted from killing Niska by River, and no one could stick around to make sure Womack stayed dead when they shot down his ship. On the other hand, Mal bluntly executes Ott by shooting him in the back. Several minor villains, i.e. Dumant, Obrin, and Bascjo are outright killed.
Karma Houdini: In "Business," Niska manages to escape a second time after Jayne gets loose and starts cutting off his fingers. Later, in "Silver," Womack manages to survive the destruction of his ship through sheer ice-cold ruthlessness.
Knight Templar: Colonel Obrin, who wants to use River's abilities for the sake of the Browncoats. Also, the Operative, who kills an ambulance crew just to protect the crew of Serenity without their knowledge.
Lady of War: "Adrift" explicitly invokes this, referring to River as an "Angel of Death" as she massacres Reavers.
In the shootout in the warehouse in "Business," River tries to ram the doors to escape, but doesn't break through, to which Jayne complains "that always works in the vids."
The sheer number of Mooks the crew fights at the beginning of "Business" is lampshaded with Mal commenting that "it was like someone had found a discount site on the Cortex for hired goons."
While Simon is confronting the Operative at the party in "Silver", he bluntly lampshades just how overwhelmingly melodramatic the man is.
At the beginning of "Mosaic", Wash confesses to "feel like [he's] only alive because of the whims of some silly god."
In the first chapter of "Charity" Mal lampshades the number of references and in-jokes they're using during the voice-recording scene. This goes meta and recursive a moment later when River lampshades the lampshading.
Large Ham: In the Second Interlude, Morris the bartender. Then again, that's only natural, as the author commented that the character was inspired by BRIAN BLESSED.
Last Name Basis: The Hands of Blue are only identified by their last names.
Lightning Bruiser: The Hands of Blue, whose blue gloves (and undersuits) are actually a strength- and speed-enhancing suit of low-profile Power Armor. They're almost blindingly-fast when they need to be, can tank gunfire (and Inara's crossbow bolts) and hit like sledgehammers.
Mama Bear: Zoe in "Charity", particularly when the mercenaries assault the chapel.
Then it's called into question when Katie is outed as an Inducer, since she outright states that she was manipulating those feelings in Zoe because she wanted a mother. Of course, Inducers can't do anything with feelings that aren't already there, so she likely does have those tendencies; they were just being driven Up to Eleven by Katie.
It also appears to have left a pretty heavy effect on Zoe after she realized what had happened.
Zoe: "She got in my head."
Manly Tears: In the epilogue for "Hunt," Wash has to leave the infirmary when Simon finishes reading the letter River wrote him, because he felt he shouldn't be there while the doctor cried, noting that "it was a man thing."
Meaningful Background Event: Throughout the "Charity" arc, there a number of minor scenes involving [ Zoe and a young, terrified little girl from the village named Katie. Most of these scenes are small and mentioned in passing, and are generally forgettable. Except Katie is an Inducer.
Discussed in "Silver" when Mal, Jayne, and Kaylee discover Dumont's slaves. Mal and Kaylee both agree that it didn't sit right that they couldn't put those brain-dead people out of their misery, but Mal is pragmatic enough to know that they didn't have time.
In "Last Man," Konstantin shooting Voronin as he lays dying from a lethal bullet wound from Jayne's ambush.
Mind Manipulation: The "Inducer" psychics appear to control emotions and responses in people.
River explicitly accuses Colonel Dannett of the "mundane torture" version when confronting him at the end of Silver.
The "Inducer" psychics can do the "psychic attack" variant to people, and the Merlin supersoldiers can disorient by blasting people with their own agonizing memories.
Mind Screw: Quite a few of River's loopier moments, especially in the two interludes focusing on her. There's a particularly screwy moment where River hallucinates Jubal Early coming after her, which threw more than one reviewer for a loop, as Early actually is alive and is hunting for her.
In "Mosaic," when River tears apart Ott's goons, the scene shows just how horrifying she is to them.
In "Last Man", the perception of Jayne from Konstantin's squad in the present day (especially when compared with the flashback involving the Six) is that he is a scary, deadly tracker and soldier that they're in over their head while hunting.
Mood Whiplash: In "Charity" the story intercuts between the majority of the crew fighting for their lives against a huge number of heavily-armed mercenaries, and Wash and Kaylee sitting around back on the ship, bored out of their minds.
Necessarily Evil: Admiral Havelock views the Academy as some horrible, evil sickness, and is at one point on the verge of purging the whole program. She also believes the Academy's actions are completely necessary.
Nerves of Steel: Zoe proves to be extremely adept at being able to lock her emotions down behind "iron-hard discipline." This proves to be critical in "Hunt," where she uses her control over her emotions to let her ignore the maternal love and concern Kathryn is forcing into her mind and shoot her.
(The head is the most vulnerable part of the power armor. So you have to shoot them in the head.)
No Gravity for You: When the Reavers attack Serenity in "Adrift", Mal lets them board, only for them to discover the gravity on the ship has been disabled (due to damage earlier in that episode). The sudden transition from a ship with gravity and a ship without it turns them into easy prey as they flail about helplessly.
Noodle Incident: Exactly why Mal is smuggling a box of puppies that ends up with a giant truck full of goons chasing the crew in the Third Interlude is never explained.
Last Man appears set to explain one of Jayne's canonical noodle incidents - specifically, the six men who came to kill him.
Another Noodle Incident is mentioned in the same story - the "Boros job" that the Six Rifles went on. Precisely what happened isn't clear, but there was apparently a cross-dresser involved, they got into a shootout with twenty federal marshals, and the Syrian removed shrapnel from "new and interesting places" on the Brit.
A minor one comes when Niska contacts the Alliance about River's bounty:
"The next ten minutes were the bureaucratic equivalent of open-mouthed, slack-jawed horror at the realization that River Tam was in the hands of Adelei Niska."
The second one is when Jayne realizes what that contact is going to bring in.
River: They come out of the Black. They come when you call. Two by two, Hands of Blue...
Finally, Niska has a truely epic one when Jayne starts cutting off his fingers.
In Chapter Four of Wrath,Ornstintz nearly shits himself when he sees something in River that he's never seen before: absolute lucidity.
Older Than They Look: The author holds firmly to the "canon" dates of Mal's birth, putting him in his fifties.
One-Man Army: What appears to be Nemo in the opening scenes of each chapter of "Silver," which depicts him/her massacring more than two dozen armed men with guns using only a blade.
One Steve Limit: Two of the gangs on Sirroco Station are called the Iron Talons and Red Talons, on top of the mercenary group Talon. River theorizes that none of these guys are very creative.
Out, Damned Spot!: River has one of these following the brutal fight with Ott's pirates at the end of "Mosiac."
In "Charity," it is shown why she has this reaction. Whenever she kills someone in close-combat, River is exposed to a full blast of both their emotions and their personal history, both of which are immediately cut off when they die in a manner that is apparently deeply disturbing.
Hardwired override controls are in in every Alliance ship, apparently. The codes for activating these are known only to high-ranking officials and Operatives. And a certain psychic.
When the neural lace in River's brain is finished, it will allow this to be used on River, either taking control of her or killing her.
Painting the Medium: "Riverthink," an...odd...way of showing River's confused mental processes. Most of the text in the story is left aligned, but the text during River's thoughts is centered, with a mixture of text changes, including bolds, italics, underlines, and capitalizations. Mixed in with a combination of non-sequiters, Cloud Cuckoolander babbling, random thoughts, and semi-coherent perceptions, it does a really good job showing River's screwy mind.
In the eighth chapter of "Charity" this gets turned on its head: an Inducer grabs River's hand, and through tactile contact is able to control her mind. This is signified by the text suddenly becoming normal, left-aligned, with no embellishments and the prose being completely clear and lucid.
Phlebotinum Rebel: In addition to River, there are at least three other Academy test subjects who have escaped, one apparently during River's escape and two more later on. One of them is Inducer One-One-Nine, whose name is Kathryn wade, and she is almost psychopathically violent.
Plot Threads: The series ties together three concurring plots: Mal's personal war with Niska, River coming to terms with her trauma at the hands of Niska and the Academy, and Book's explorations of the data needle pertaining to the Academy's operations. There are several smaller threads that have developed over the series as well, including Zoe's pregnancy, Ashley looking for Kaylee, Echo hunting for Serenity, and whatever the hell it is that the Operative is doing.
Private Military Contractors: The "Talon" mercenaries in "Charity," who are apparently part of a big interplanetary mercenary firm called "Skyhawk Intervention."
The Six Rifles are an elite six-man mercenary team.
Psychic-Assisted Suicide: One of the villagers in the "Charity" episode was forced to commit suicide after being used as a murder weapon by an Inducer; this is one of the clues that allows Book to piece together who was really behind the events of that episode.
"Hunt" opens with a particularly chilling example of this as Katie forces a Blue Sun worker to commit suicide by pushing him past the Despair Event Horizon.
Psychic Powers: Four known "types" of psychics are revealed in the data that Book recovers in "Condor": Blanks, Kinetics, Inducers, and Empaths, the latter of which River is noted to be the strongest.
From what has been hinted at so far, it appears that Kinetics are telekinetics, and Blanks are immune to psychic effects. Empaths are, well, The Empath. Inducers appear to use a form of Mind Manipulation that works on either generating or enhancing emotions and perceptions, allowing them to subtly control minds.
Punch Clock Villain: The Alliance. Their soldiers are enemies in Business but actually become allies of the crew in Condor and Adrift.
In particular, Colonel Dannet, who was so affected by what he did to the children at the Academy that he retired early and hid out on a Rim planet, just trying to forget what happened.
Put on a Bus: Mal after "Charity," after he gets shot and beaten, rendering him comatose.
Ramming Always Works: Well, Serenity doesn't carry any guns, but the ship is a pretty damned durable, so it works in a pinch in more than one case.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Jayne is well aware that he is a bastard, who has done all kinds of horrible things. But even he finds rape to be an appalling evil, and goes into an Unstoppable Rage when Niska's men try to rape River. He's still shaken by the event later.
When River is on the ground and being chased by pirates in a spacecraft, the backwash from their thrusters hits her, picks her up, and slams her into a boulder, apparently breaking her legs and leaving her immobilized.
Remember That You Trust Me: River and Zoe have this conversation in "Charity" when River becomes worried that Zoe is afraid of her instability.
Rescue Romance: Notably subverted with River and Jayne, after they survived being tortured by Niska. The aftermath would have provided a perfect opportunity to follow up with one of these, but the author deliberately avoided doing so to develop both of their characters.
Ret Irony: Played with in the "Charity" chapter "Bastion." One of the mercs named Willis Gardner had decided he didn't like the job and would be leaving after this mission. We only learn his name and this information because River is reading his mind as she's killing him. This is less to establish sympathy for the character, and rather to set up the Out, Damned Spot! moment mentioned above.
Revenge Before Reason: Konstantin is willing to dive headlong into a blizzard and forgo aerial support because he wants to kill Jayne personally. When Jayne kills three of his men and the last one objects to continuing the pursuit, Konstantin responds by shooting him in the mouth and moving on alone.
Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: After being recaptured and brought in to Ornstintz when she comes to Persephone alone to kill him, during her interrogation she casually rattles off the names of several nearby asteroids in unstable orbits, and mentions how easy it would have been for her to redirect one into reentering the atmosphere and targeting him with it. She then proceeds to mention this trope by name.
River: Rocks fall, everyone dies.
Rule of Cool: Invoked by the author in one of his notes: " River now has a sword that tazes people."
Mr. Quinn cannot ever finish speaking his code phrase without being interrupted.
Wash ramming things. He's rammed gunships, drones, and at one point nearly crushed Womack's ship against his hull when the latter threatened to shoot Serenity down.
Sadistic Choice: Dr. Rashid discovers that the Alliance implanted some sort of self-replicating nanotechnology in River's brain that is rebuilding some of the damaged connections and has been playing a significant role in what seemed to be her recovering mental state. It's also constructing a Cortex transmitter that will allow the Alliance to control her—or kill her—remotely when it's completed (in approximately eight months from the time it is discovered). River is left with a choice: Remove the implant or leave it in place. If she even survives the surgery to remove the implant (for which Dr. Rashid gives her a poor prognosis in the first place) it will undo all of River's progress towards becoming an independent and functional woman and she would revert back to the mental state she was in when Simon first rescued her from the Academy. If she leaves it in and allows the implant to be completed, the Alliance (or potentially even the Independents, who have been expressing increasing interest in turning River to their side) will be able to control or kill her if she's anywhere within range of the Cortex. At least as of the most recent chapter of Wrath, no other alternatives have been presented and without hesitation River demanded the device be removed.
Sanity Slippage: Doctor Kondraki's logs in "Charity" as he apparently falls under the control of an Inducer.
Sequel Hook: Numerous hooks for future arcs are being dropped in the earlier parts of the story. For example, Book's data needle, at least three other Academy escapees, at least one more of the "six men" who came to kill Jayne still being alive and plenty more.
She Cleans Up Nicely: In "Silver," River briefly masquerades as Inara's accounting assistant, which involves her having to actually wear some makeup, brush out her tangled hair, and wear a semi-businesslike outfit. The rest of the crew has a muted version of the typical response to this trope, particularly Jayne.
Ship Tease: the author has hinted at both River/Mal and River/Jayne.
It isn't helped by the fact that the author both openly ships River/Jayne and has no objections to River/Mal. The author is steadfastly neutral in the Ship-to-Ship Combat within the Firefly fandom.
The the "Charity" arc has this in spades between River and Jayne.
Shower of Awkward: Sort of; in "Charity" River asks Jayne to stand outside the room while she takes a shower. This is coupled with some Redemption in the Rain for River, as River has bad memories associated with showers from her time in the Academy, and is facing that trauma by forcing herself to take a shower, and has Jayne stand outside to provide her with a stable mind to latch onto.
Shown Their Work: The author goes on a short spiel about why Vera's bullets would actually work in a no-oxygen environment, and then comes up with a plausible explanation as to why Vera's bullets actually don't fire very well in a vacuum.
The author put a bit of research into Arabic naming conventions, which shows in the "Fourth Interlude."
The final scene of "Business," where River is shown waking up, sitting down next to an unidentified male crewmember, and thanking him for bringing her home, is left open to reader interpretation as to who she is speaking to. The scene is rendered in "Riverthink" and therefore the name of whoever it is happens to be left unclear. It could be Mal, Jayne, or possibly even Book or Wash, depending on the interpretation.
The relationship between Jayne and the American. Word of God is that the clues are there, but that he doesn't want to state it outright, instead leaving the reader to figure it out on their own.
Stealth Pun: The events of "Adrift" force the crew to choose between letting Simon die from his injuries or going to the Alliance for help. This puts them between a rock and a hard place, which is literally the predicament Mal finds himself in for most of the first chapter.
In "Silver" the following conversation happens:
Zoe: Preacher, are you sanguine that this is going to work?
Book: If not, it shall be bloody.
Suddenly Sexuality: Subverted in Mosiac, where River has a brief lesbian makeout session. However, it turns out that River doesn't like girls, but she was drunk and confused, and there are hints at other, darker reasons behind the incident, relating to River's past at the Academy.
Taking the Bullet: In "Business" River spots one of Niska's men about to shoot Jayne during the gun battle after the mule is crashed and moves to block it. The subsequent realization of what River did is what fuels Jayne's subsequent Unstoppable Rage.
Tempting Fate: Lampshaded repeatedly to the point where it becomes a Running Gag, with characters mentioning at least once an arc that they're going to get jinxed. Which they do.
In "Charity" Mal tries to be Genre Savvy and keeps his mouth shut about how narrow their escape was. It doesn't work.
The Dog Bites Back: Lampshaded by Jayne: after he gets free from the binding Niska's men had put on him, he manages to kill all of Niska's men with a knife and then tortures Niska, pointing out that, while Niska likes to torture little girls (River) he does not seem to like when the little girl and the bear (Jayne) fight back.
Theme Naming: The Merlins are apparently named after the Knights of the Round Table. So far, there's been one named "Galahad" and another named "Lancelot".
Thicker Than Water: It is implied that the American is Jayne's uncle, and that he turns on the other Six to protect Jayne for this reason.
There Are No Therapists: Simon can't find a decent therapist for River, so he turns to the closest thing they've got: Inara. Unfortunately, River is being stubborn and difficult for her to treat, and Inara doesn't want to push her.
Thrown Out the Airlock: In "Business," Mal spaces one of Niska's henchmen after interrogating him, pointing out that he will not risk leaving a likely gun at his back while he's rescuing his captured crewmembers.
Title Drop: The final chapter of the "Mosaic" arc. This itself is apparently a reference to a line in the Those Left Behind prequel comic, where Wash asks Mal where they're headed at the end, and he says "Forward."
Too Much Information: Wash's reaction to when River jokes that Jayne doesn't just use gun lube on guns.
Confirmed. They're apparently being controlled by an Inducer-type psychic.
Traintop Battle: Played with in the climax of "Charity" - mercenary troops are rappelling down onto the train, but the crew fights them by shooting at them as they come down, from the sides of the train, as the top of the train has no cover.
Trauma Conga Line: Pick an arc. Either River or Mal will get conga'd - possibly both at the same time.
Inducers have the capacity to do this to human emotions and feelings, aplifying and controlling them to the point where people act completely irrationally around them.
Underestimating Badassery: In "Mosaic," Ott's crew thinks River is just a skinny teenage girl that they lump in with the rest of the crew when they take the ship. They only realize their thorough mistake once she starts punching out all their blood.
The Unfavorite: Ashley Frye's relationship with her family is unpleasant, to say the least. This means she hasn't spoken with the rest of her family in years. It is strongly implied that this is because she supported unification and joined the Alliance military. She appears to get along decently enough with Kaylee, at least.
True Companions: Deconstructed with Mal, whose devotion to his crew means that he is willing to torture and execute one of Niska's men to protect them.
Also, this is the entire reason Mal shoots Ott in the back at the end of "Mosaic." Do not fuck with Mal's crew.
In "Adrift," Mal makes the cold, rational decision to let a wounded Simon die rather than risk the crew's lives taking him to a nearby Alliance vessel for treatment. This does not sit well with him, however, and after some prodding from Kaylee, he relents and decides to give the crazy plan to save Simon a shot. Unfortunately, Inara, believing Mal really was going to let Simon die, went behind his back and helped Book steal a shuttle to transport Simon to the Alliance vessel. Mal is not happy, and there are some extremely tense scenes between them afterward. By the end of the arc, though, Inara and Mal manage to clear the air, with Inara pointing out that she only made the choice that she thought Mal should have been making, and that he ultimately did, and Mal reluctantly agrees.
Unreliable Narrator: Everything in "Charity." No one knew about or noticed the Inducer because she wouldn't let them notice her.
The Unreveal: The relationship between Jayne and the American is never outright stated. At one point it seems like Konstantin is about to reveal it, and then Wash shoots him. Word of God is that the relationship can be inferred by clues scattered throughout "Last Man."
Villainous Breakdown: Inducer One-One-Nine is terrified of the Hands of Blue, and it doesn't help that River likens her to the people who experimented on both of them.
The Cossack in "Last Man" gradually becomes more and more unhinged as Jayne kills his team one by one, both in the present and the flashback. He eventually ends up shooting the last survivor of his team in the present when he suggests they retreat and get reinforcements.
Weaponized Exhaust: In no fewer than three instances, someone has used the exhaust of a ship as a weapon. In "Business" Wash uses the plasma from a full burn to blind and heat up the hull of an Alliance gunship, allowing the crew a chance to open fire with their small arms and do some actual damage. It isn't until Jayne uses an armor-piercing shot that he actually penetrates the hull. In "Adrift" Wash blinds a Reaver ship with the damaged engine's exhaust, and in the "Fourth Interlude" River manages to send a pirate ship into an out of control spin by directing her ship's exhaust into the intakes of one of its engines, causing an emergency shutdown on that thruster.
"Charity." River and Jayne start going at it. There's an Inducer controlling the village, and its Katie. And then Mal's shot, suffered brutal head trauma, and now he's bleeding out. And Katie's mindraped River and now controlling her and making her walk away from the crew.
"Hunt" has a less brutal but no less important one, where River, rather than being rescued, flees from the crew out of both shame and fear that she cannot control her combat programming.
The last scene of "Last Man" shows River being captured by the Hands on Persephone.
Chapter Four of "Wrath". There's a neural lace of atom-thing superconducting wire being assembled inside River's brain. It is not just making her more sane and powerful, but also constructing a Cortex receiver to allow for remote control of her brain by the Alliance. And then on top of that, there's the reveal that River let herself be captured.
Wham Line: "Charity" has one hell of one: "Katie."
"Wrath": "Tell me, River, have you noticed that your powers have been becoming stronger?"
Also, in "Wrath": "Because I can kill you with my brain."
What the Hell, Hero?: suffice to say, most of the crew are not happy about Mal spacing Niska's henchman.
His initial decision to let Simon die rather than risk seeking medical aid from the Alliance was not very well received either.
When All You Have Is a Hammer: When all you have is the ability to enslave minds by manipulating emotions...though in this case, the character is a mentally unstable nine-year-old, and her repeated use of Mind Rape and psychic murder is what led to more violence, which leads to more psychic assault and murder....
When I rescued River from the Academy, I had to walk in there armed with only a stun grenade and pretend I was a military officer. The slightest slip-up and I would have been discovered. When we were about to be burned alive, I chose to stand up there, eat my fear, and die with her. When we were arrested on Ariel, I had to control myself while facing death or worse for her. And when we went after Niska's ship, I was in the room with you when you and Mal tore a helpless man apart for information in order to find River and Jayne.
So do not look at me, and tell me I cannot damned well be cold when I need to be to save someone I love.
River's letter to Simon at the end of "Hunt" is nothing but this.
Xanatos Gambit: Womack forces Mal into one of these in the "Silver" arc, with his primary goal being to placate his superiors in Allied Enforcement and keep any evidence from being traced back to himself. Either Mal goes after Dumont and destroys the evidence of the organ smuggling, or Womack arrests Mal and his crew and uses them as scapegoats. If Mal is taken down in the subsequent mission, the attack will force Dumont to flee the planet, achieving Womack's goals anyway. If Mal succeeds, he destroys all evidence of Womack's operations and Womack goes scot-free.