Half of writing history is hiding the truth.
was cancelled partway through its first season
, a massive letter writing campaign was launched to bring it back. Years later, The Movie
was released to provide closure to some of the unanswered questions
of the show and accompany the comic series and other Expanded Universe
Shortly after the end of the series, the crew of the Firefly-class ship Serenity
is still getting into trouble. The presence of Ill Girl
and government experiment River Tam has brought the fist of The Alliance
down on her, Captain Malcolm Reynolds
, River's brother Simon
, Shepherd Book
, and Inara
More details are brought to light about the experiments that were done on River by the government and the Alliance conspiracy
that she learned by accident
through her powers
, driving her insane. Pursued by a ruthless and devoted Government Operative
, the crew seek to solve the mystery surrounding River Tam and the Alliance that has caused them so much misery, and perhaps use it to get out from under the thumb of the Alliance once and for all.
Provides Examples Of:
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Justified, as all the remotely compatible planets and moons have been Terraformed.
- All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Since cost and lives are no object to recovering River Tam, the Operative begins by killing every contact and destroying every criminal hideout that Serenity can use to stay hidden.
The Operative: When your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to.
- Almost Dead Guy:
- Mr. Universe survives long enough to record a message.
- Shepherd Book, who lives long enough to give an inspiring speech.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The Reavers are savage, mindlessly aggressive humanoids whose sole purpose seems to be spreading death and destruction to everything they come across. Rape, cannibalism and self-mutilation are their hobbies. It is revealed that Reavers are humans who had a negative reaction to an experimental mind-altering chemical agent.
- And I Must Scream: The Operative is able to paralyze people by striking a nerve in their lower back, which he uses to drop them onto his sword. It doesn't work on Mal, whose war injuries led to a surgery that displaced that pressure point slightly.
- And the Adventure Continues: The truth about the Alliance's actions on Miranda has been transmitted all over the Verse, and the Operative reports that it will weaken the current regime, but likely won't bring it down completely. Meanwhile, the crew of Serenity stays on the run (with River now serving as pilot full-time), with the future of the Verse anything but certain...
- Anti-Hero: The crew are all differing types, from 'straight arrow on the wrong side of the law' Simon down to 'slightly less murderous than the villain' Jayne Cobb.
- Anyone Can Die: Two major characters who the audience know and love die in the movie. Book and Wash. According to the commentary, this is precisely why those two died, to heighten tension and make that final fight scene, in which nearly everyone else is hurt all the more scary.
- Apocalyptic Log: Given by the female scientist on the planet Miranda, explaining what has happened to the people and how it created Reavers, the greatest threat of the verse.
- Apologetic Attacker: River beats up Simon to get to the bridge. Afterward, she explains that she didn't know if he was going to make her sleep, whereupon Simon wryly says, "you could have asked." Simon of course, always forgives his dear little sister. Also the Operative, who apologizes to Mal for killing all the crew's contacts (including an entire settlement with children and noncombatants), acknowledging that it was an evil deed.
- Arc Words: River is haunted by the words "Lie down" in her dreams. The Alliance poisoned the planet Miranda and its people laid down and died.
- Armour Piercing Question: Kaylee directs an absolutely perfect one (albeit in the form of a statement) to Mal after he boots Simon and River off of the crew. Mal is left speechless, and Zoe and Wash wisely stay out of Kaylee's way after she storms off in a huff.
Kaylee: If you had a care for anybody's heart-
- Atop a Mountain of Corpses: River stands triumphantly on the pile of dead bodies after defeating the Reavers.
- Ax-Crazy: River at times, though it turns out she has a very good reason for it. She's been conditioned to respond to certain triggers, one apparently being "attack everyone." She also absorbed a number of the Alliance's dirtiest secrets, such as the accidental genocide of 30 million people on Miranda. Knowing that your benevolent government was behind creating the Reavers would be enough to drive anyone crazy, let alone reliving the events leading up to it.
- Badass Crew: The whole crew kicks ass when they're forced to fight.
- Band of Brothels: The Guild of Companions. Inara has now a position of high priestess and a teacher to licensed companions in training
- Bar Brawl: Started by River, ended by her. Very, very quickly. She destroyed the pub, and took down many, many innocentnote people. Mal considers it likely that some of them died.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted; as River is piloting the ship off Miranda, she sports a long thin scar over her forehead.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mal and Inara. To the point where Mal knows something is wrong when he and Inara did not end up getting into a fight during a conversation.
- Berserk Button: Most of the crew have one or more, which makes their lives plenty interesting. Part of the plot centers on Mal's berserk buttons slowly, but surely, forcing the crew apart.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed:
- Mal, Jayne and Zoe share this view, at least when it comes to Reavers. When a bystander is captured, Mal shoots him dead before the Reavers can cut into him, an act later described by Zoe as "a piece of mercy". When Jayne looks like he is going to be captured, he asks Mal to do the same to him. The view seems to be universal among anybody who knows about Reavers.
- Cruelly subverted with the Miranda recording, in which the scientist tries to shoot herself after it becomes clear that she is not going to escape the Reavers. She does not do it quickly enough.
- Big Badass Battle Sequence: While the director admitted ruefully that he violated his own avoidance of Space Is an Ocean and Space Is Noisy for the big showdown between the Alliance and Reaver fleets, he said it was Worth It.
- Big Brother Instinct: Simon's principal motivation, largely fulfilled when his little sister is taken off the Alliance's must-kill list at the end of the movie.
- Biological Weapons Solve Everything: Failed spectacularly. The Alliance attempted to use an engineered gas to make the populace peaceful and non-aggressive. The gas worked too well: most of the population became so apathetic that they just laid down and died. The others became hyper-violent berserkers, known as the Reavers.
- Bittersweet Ending: For the film and the series as a whole. The crew exposes the Alliance's crimes and turns the Verse against them, the Operative spares them once he sees that killing them will accomplish nothing, most of the remaining Reavers have been destroyed, and the crew gets to fly off into the sunset. But Book, Wash, Mr. Universe, and whole communities of other good people had to die to make it all happen... and while it's suffered a crippling blow to its good publicity, the Alliance is still active and will probably try to hunt down the crew for vengeance eventually.
- Black Dude Dies First: Shepherd Book, if we're talking just about the main cast. Otherwise, we've got whole settlements wiped out before him.
- Black Screen of Death: During the fight between River Tam and the Reavers.
- Blessed with Suck: River is a psychic and a Waif-Fu combat goddess, but was forced to trade her emotional stability and her grip on what's real, and is unable to shut out other people's thoughts and emotions.
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: Although (according to the DVD) a translator worked hard to get Chinese slang correct, and the actors studied tape recorders, apparently it was still mangled in the pronunciation.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Jayne Cobb.
- Book Ends: *crunch* "What was that?"
- Bowdlerise: Usually when this film airs on television, River's involvement in the heist at the start of the film (in which she uses her psychic powers to detect danger) isn't shown. It's either cut for time, or because networks don't like the idea of a teenager helping out in something criminal, being depicted in a film.
- Brain Bleach:
- Break the Badass: The fact that Jayne Cobb is the most comfortable with gore and violence made it all the more significant when he was the one to demand the transmission of the Reavers messily killing the scientist be turned off. Jayne's fear of the Reavers in general seems to evoke this trope.
- Break the Cutie: In this case, comes conveniently pre-broken. There are the R. Tam Sessions, and enough flashbacks to see her being broken.
- Break the Haughty: With irrefutable evidence and a few well-placed words, Mal shatters The Operative's entire world view, systematically destroying every belief he's based his horrific actions on.
- Brick Joke:
- Mal instructs Jayne not to bring grenades to a meet because they aren't trying to blow people up. Jayne pouts, and then gets in an "I told you so" when the Reavers show up. Much, much later, on Miranda, the Reavers attack them, and this time he brought the grenades.
- Also the piece falling off Serenity mentioned under Book Ends.
- Bullet Proof Vest: The Operative plans to talk to the heroes. He's not there to fight, so he comes unarmed. But he's not a complete moron...
- Cannibal Clan: The Reavers are based on the myth of the Sawney Bean clan.
- Can't Stop the Signal: The Trope Namer. Mal uses Mr. Universe's equipment to broadcast the Miranda file and everyone in the universe finds out the truth about the Alliance and the Reavers.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Mr. Universe records his last words:
"Guy killed me, Mal. Killed me with a sword. How weird is that?"
- Catch Phrase: Lots of these, including:
- The Operative: "Do you know what your sin is?"
- Wash: "I'm a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar."
- Mr. Universe: "Can't stop the signal."
Mr. Universe: "From here to the eyes and the ears of the 'Verse, that's my motto. Or, it would be, if I started having a motto."
- The Caretaker: Simon to River.
- Ceiling Cling: River Tam while in the Alliance laboratory. And just about everywhere else.
- The Chains of Commanding: "Just... tell me when we get there."
- The Champion: Simon to River. Indirectly everyone else to River.
- Chekhov's Gun: Mr Universe's love doll of all things.
- Also Jayne's grenades.
- Chemical Messiah: The Alliance wants its populations to be docile and peaceful, so it develops the drug Pax (G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate) and tests it on the planet Miranda. It doesn't go well, so officially, there never was a colony on Miranda.
- Chewing the Scenery: Nathan Fillion (Mal) does quite a bit of this in the DVD outtakes.
Mal: Did you see us fight?
- River also does this in the deleted scenes.
Simon: What will Miranda show us?
Simon: Whose death?
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Mal suffers a vicious case of it. It's mostly under control at the start of the film, then has a flare-up about half-way after it's been irritated by exposure to the truth about Miranda.
- Close-Knit Community: Haven.
- Cold Open: The movie opens with a narration... that turns out to be a school lesson... that turns out to be a memory... which turns into a nightmare; then River is rescued, which turns out to be security footage being played back; then we fade into the title sequence and Serenity.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Alliance wears primarily blue and grey to match all their shiny tech. The Browncoats wear, um, brown, red, yellow, and orange, which goes with the Wild West setting. This symbolizes the Alliance's cold modernism versus the Browncoats' heart. The Tams wear dark blue, perhaps signifying their previous ties to the Alliance. The Reavers wear... heavily stained human skins.
- Combat Pragmatist: A number of characters are willing to fight dirty.
- Coming In Hot: Serenity crash-landing after being disabled by an EMP weapon.
- Command Roster:
- Continuity Nod: During Mal's Shirtless Scene, you can see the scar where he got stabbed in "The Train Job," and another from Niska's torture device in "War Stories." Speaking of which, the "Mule II" hovercar is the official replacement for the "Mule" ATV that was destroyed in that episode.
- Cool Starship:
- Serenity is one of the "rustbucket" variety.
- The gigantic flying wrecks of the Reaver ships are too - in their hideous way.
- The Alliance warships are more in line with your typical shiny futuristic Standard Sci-Fi Fleet.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Blue Sun is hinted at being behind the Academy.
- Covert Pervert: Both Kaylee and River like to watch.
- Crapsaccharine World: On the surface, the Alliance is a highly advanced democratic civilization. Start digging deeper and you have oppression and abuse perpetrated in the name of making them better. From relatively minor atrocities like involuntary surgery and brainwashing on children, all the way up to annihilating entire colonies and covering it up to avoid public censure.
- The Operative informs Mal that his ship has locked onto Serenity's pulse beacon and will fire with a single command. Mal responds by handing him that pulse beacon. He also preps six decoys for nav sat tracking, (Serenity being signal #7).
- Inara lighting a flashbomb disguised as an incense stick unbeknownst to Mal or The Operative probably counts.
- The Operative might arguably qualify near the end, bringing in the entire fleet just to deal with one ship. Turned out to be extremely useful when Mal tricked a second fleet into pursuing him.
- Creator Cameo: Joss Whedon plays the guy who guards the payroll.
- Cruel Mercy: Mal does this to the Operative near the end.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: River, completely, totally, utterly obliterating the Reavers by herself.
- Not to mention the Bar Brawl earlier, where she kicks the asses of every single person in the bar.
Wash: Get to the part where Jayne gets beat up by a ninety-pound girl. 'Cause I don't think that's ever going to get old.
- Curse of the Ancients: All the swearing that isn't done in "Mandarin"(-ish) has an Old West feel to it. Gorramit.
- Cultured Badass: The Operative. Also, as it turns out, Mal.
The Operative: The girl will rain down destruction on you and your ship. She is an albatross, Captain.
Mal: Way I remember it, an albatross was a ship's good luck, till some idiot killed it. (Inara narrows her eyes) Yes, I read a poem. Try not to faint.
- The Cutie: Kaylee and River
- A Date with Rosie Palms: See Brain Bleach.
- Danger Deadpan: Wash is a completely different character when flying the ship: normally he's loud and panicky, but at the helm, he is completely calm and collected, no matter what imminent doom might be following him.
Wash: This landing is gonna get pretty interesting.
Mal: Define "interesting."
Wash: [deadpan] "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die"?
- Dead Man Writing:
Mr Universe: "Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that?"
- Death Glare: At one point Jayne, in his usual carelessly offensive manner, manages to irritate Zoe. She tells him that he wants to leave the room. And he does.
- Derelict Graveyard: Reaver Territory... including the Reaver ships.
- Determinator: Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach get in the way.
- Despair Event Horizon: River's dialogue indicates that she crossed it at some point during her time at the Academy. The Operative crosses when he learns the Alliance made the Reavers. The R. Tam Sessions used to promote the movie sees the entire Break the Cutie process in action. Poor River...
- Disability Immunity: The Operative hits Mal with the same pressure point attack that's paralysed all its victims thus far. He gives his customary salute, prepares to run Mal through - and gets his throat punched. "Piece of shrapnel tore up that nerve cluster'n my first tour. Had it moved."
- Double Meaning Title: Serenity is (obviously) the name of the spaceship, but the title also alludes to the Alliance's plan to control the people of the Verse by using drugs to make them naturally peaceful and docile. Historically, the title refers to the Battle of Serenity Valley and more broadly the struggle between "civilisation" (The Alliance) and independence (The, erm, Independents) that forms the undercurrent of the film. Thematically, The Operative, Mal, and River are all looking for peace of mind.
- Dramatic Irony: The audience and Mal know what the Reavers are, but The Operative does not, and boy is he in for a surprise...
The Operative: There are a lot of innocent people in the air being killed right now.
Mal: You don't know how true that is.
- The Dreaded: The Reavers. They even scare The Operative.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Mal tries to disguise their ship as Reavers. They painted their spaceships with blood and tied whole corpses to the front. He used his murdered friends as those corpses.
- Driving Into A Truck: The Mule escapes the Reavers by driving up the ramp into Serenity.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Poor Wash.
- Dual Wielding: River uses a sword and axe taken off the Reavers during the big showdown.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: A lot of people die in order to reveal the horrible truth about Miranda to the whole universe.
- Earth That Was: Trope Namer - well, the original series was, but the movie made the term more prevalent.
- Emergency Cargo Dump: Discussed Trope. Zoe wonders why Mal refused to let a civilian tag along with them to escape a Reaver attack (Mal subsequently Mercy Killed him), and he says their hovercraft won't carry five. Zoe says they could've dumped the cargo, but Mal says they couldn't afford to fail this job.
- Environmental Symbolism
- Epic Tracking Shot: After 10 minutes of schizophrenic, Smash Cut-ridden intro, we get the title card, and then a 4-minute-long Oner that brings us home to the ship and her crew. (Movie Magic Tidbit: the sets for Serenity are divided between top and bottom levels. The cut was disguised with a whip pan on one of the stairwells so that it looks like a single take.)
- Escape Pod: Used by the Operative to escape his flagship as it was being destroyed.
- Establishing Character Moment:
- The Operative gets a fantastic one.
The Operative: In certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.
Director: [sarcastically] Well, unfortunately I forgot to bring a swor—
[The Operative pulls out a sword]
- The first scene aboard Serenity is a continuous take which highlights each member of the crew, as Mal walks through the ship and talks to each one of them.
- Evil Versus Evil: The Alliance vs. the Reavers is a pretty clear case of Lawful Evil vs Chaotic Evil.
- Facial Dialogue: During the opening robbery, River and Zoe have a short conversation using nothing but facial expressions that goes something like, "That guy has a gun and he's about to pull it." "You sure? he looks like a hick." "Yes, I am sure, now stop him before he moves!"
- Later when River's big brother Simon mistakenly thinks that River might have multiple personalities, and asks if he is speaking to Miranda now. River's reply is a What an Idiot glance at her brother.
- Fake in the Hole: Seen in the deleted scenes, when Mal and Inara escape from the Operative. Mal throws a real, but not armed, grenade, making the Feds near his shuttle dive off for cover... then Mal picks the grenade back up and goes on his way.
- Fan of the Past: In a sci-fi western with gunslingers galore, The Operative uses a sword to great effect. Lampshaded by one of his victims post-mortem.
- Fanservice: Unsurprisingly large amounts of it, too...
- Finagle's Law: Count on it every time.
- Fire-Forged Friends: By the end of the film, Jayne has a measure of respect for Dr. Tam. Even offers him a drink.
- Flirting Under Fire: Simon and Kaylee during the climactic fight scene.
I didn't plan on going out like this. Simon:
I never planned anything. I just wanted to keep River safe. Spent so much time on Serenity
ignoring anything I wanted for myself. My one regret in all of this... is never being with you. Kaylee:
You mean to say... Sex? Simon:
...I mean to say. Kaylee: Hell with this.
(cocks her gun
) I'm gonna live!
- Fly-at-the-Camera Ending: A chunk of Serenity breaks off and flies at the camera.
- Forced to Watch: The Operative was devastated by the recording of the PAX log.
- Foreshadowing: The Alliance lacks manpower to keep peace on the outer planets so they hire private contractors. When they tried to subdue a planet by themselves in the past, they accidentally poisoned its people.
- Future Slang: Follows the tradition of Firefly: a lot of the slang is (loosely) Chinese or a slurred version of current language.
- Genius Bruiser: The Operative is exceptionally cunning and thoroughly deadly. He's also utterly ruthless, and has been given free rein by the government to do anything he needs to.
- Get Out: Zoe: "You wanna leave this room."
- Ghost Planet: Miranda
- Gone Horribly Right/Gone Horribly Wrong: What happened on Miranda. On the one hand, the drug did work as advertised: people were rendered calm by it, so much so that they neglected their own well-being out of apathy. On the other hand, as with any drug, a small segment of the population proved to have an adverse reaction, creating the hyper-violent Reavers. They also wanted to create an unstoppable psychic spy/assassin in the form of River, and in the process, they got exactly what they wanted - only said psychic spy/assassin turned against them and blew the whole Miranda scandal wide open.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: The Operative is a trained and skilled martial artist, Mal just hits things.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Sarah Paulson's recording ends with her being attacked by the Reavers. She's moved out of the frame, but the sound leaves no doubt about her fate.
- The Government: The evacuation of Earth, naturally, required an Alliance between all the governments of Earth. The Alliance was still necessary afterward to arrange terraforming and prevent clashes over viable worlds. By the time of the film, the Alliance is no longer necessary but still in charge: and those at the top are determined to stay in charge. Provides a faceless Bigger Bad responsible for sending the Operative.
- Government Conspiracy: Possibly a private sector conspiracy by Blue Sun, but with definite government involvement.
- Government Drug Enforcement: In this case, done without consent or knowledge, and without oversight or accountability.
- Graceful Loser: The Operative - but not the Alliance.
- Grand Finale: The film is pretty much this for the series.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Mandarin-ish and Cantonese-oid phrases scattered through the dialogue, often as family-friendly swearwords. Doubles as a Bilingual Bonus. As the DVD set shows, they used actual Mandarin phrases, although as mentioned above, the pronunciation is so atrocious that even native speakers will have trouble deciphering them, and some of them are absolutely hilarious in English.
- The trigger phrase that Simon uses to put River to sleep after she clears out the bar is Russian, "Это курам насмех", meaning literally "This is hilarious to chickens", an old Russian saying used to denote something ridiculous.
- Another Bilingual Bonus for the name of the chemical used on Miranda. Pax is Latin for "Peace".
- Groin Attack: When River's violent programming is triggered in the bar on Beaumonde, in the middle of trashing the place and beating the crap out of everyone within reach, she grabs Jayne's package and squeezes. Hard. Jayne is icing it down in the next scene. This could be a subtle Brick Joke to an episode of the series when River insulted Jayne by stating that his is a girl's name, to which he angrily replied, "I'll show her good and all I got man parts."
- Hand Signals: While the crew is exploring the planet Miranda Zoe takes the point position and uses gestures to guide the movements of the rest of the team.
- Hard Work Montage: At the very end.
Mal: Think she'll hold together?
Zoe: She's tore up plenty. But she'll fly true.
- Hate Plague: A small portion of Miranda's population had an extremely violent reaction to the Pax, becoming the first Reavers.
- Have a Nice Death: The Operative usually offers one of these.
"This is a good death. There is no shame in this."
- Heal It With Booze: After being shot through the leg by a Reaver harpoon, Jayne busies himself by pouring his flask over his leg wound... and then taking a swig.
- The Heavy: The Operative is a secret government agent who represents the Alliance's interests and carries out their plans to use extreme measures to create a better world. The government elite who give him his orders remain unseen, so he's the closest to an overarching villain in the movie and presents the biggest threat to the heroes.
- Heel Realization: The Operative upon seeing the evidence of what happened on Miranda.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted by River; see the main page for details. Played straight with Simon in what amounts to a lingering Heroic Sacrifice through the entire series and movie when he gives up status and fortune and lives with outlaws, so he can rescue and comfort his sister.
- Heroic Safe Mode: Zoe.
- The Hero's Journey: Oddly, given the not-particularly-heroic nature of the crew, the film follows this pattern remarkably closely. It begins with Mal performing his everyday duties as a low-end crook and bank robber, only for his routine to be disrupted by a literal Call to Adventure; in this case, the signal that activates River. Though Mal initially refuses the Call, he Crosses the Threshold when the Operative murders his friends. With the aid of River's essentially supernatural powers, he descends through a swarm of monsters onto a planet of the dead, fights his way through a Road of Trials (in this case, a fleet of enemy ships) and then faces the Operative in battle before ultimately forcing him to Atone, while River reaches Apotheosis. In the end, the universe and the heroes Return to a new equilibrium.
- Hidden Army Reveal: One ship emerges from the cloud... followed by all of the Reavers
- Hidden Depths: You wouldn't count on Mal knowing 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', or River being a death machine. The Alliance didn't expect Simon to instantly adapt his natural brilliance into stealing test subjects right out of top secret labs. And Book... Book knows all about the Alliance, and operatives, and such.
- Book's strange expertise is explained in the third of the three comic books, "A Shepherd's Tale."
- High-Class Call Girl: Inara.
- Hilarious Outtakes: Included on the DVD, and they are indeed hilarious.
- Honor Before Reason: Especially Mal. Jayne calls him out on it when he gets fed up, but brings it up himself later.
"Shepherd Book always said, 'If you can't do somethin' smart, do somethin' right.'"
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Inara, to name one.
- Humans Are Flawed: Joss states in the commentary that the point he wanted to make with this film is that while the Seven Deadly Sins are bad, they're also inseparable from human nature. This is demonstrated with Miranda, a world where everyone from whom sin was 'removed' is dead - and those who clung to it are no longer human.
- Humans Are White: For a universe which is heavily Asian inspired and merged completely with Chinese culture, none of the main cast members even have Asian features; Tam is likely a Chinese surname, but Simon and River don't look at all Chinese. Even the colonists, Alliance navy and (from what little one can see) Reavers tend to be mostly Caucasian.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: "Put a bullet to me. Bullet in the brain pan. Squish."
- Identical Twin ID Tags: Parodied. Mal can tell them apart because "Fanty's prettier," but there is no easy way to spot distinction between them.
- I Did What I Had to Do: This has become the Operative's mantra, the only thing that keeps him functioning.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: River would give anything not to be a mind reader.
- Ill Girl: River, of course.
- I'm a Humanitarian: One of three things the Reavers do to their victims. And if you're very, very lucky, they kill you first. From the Mercy Kill scene, it's clear they prefer their dinners alive and screaming.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Wash.
- Indy Ploy: At first, Mal is forced into Villains Act, Heroes React by the Operative's campaign of destruction. When he finally decides that he will take no more, he switches to the Indy Ploy, uncertain how he can make things turn out well but determined to do so.
- Insane Equals Violent: The Reavers.
- Instant Expert: River being capable of flying Serenity at the end, though lampshaded in that she's psychic and a genius.
- Instant Sedation: Averted when Kaylee is shot with three tranquilizer darts.
- Instant-Win Condition: The Operative's mission is to eliminate River Tam before any of the big state secrets she has in her mind can be let out. He's willing to kill huge numbers of people, the protagonists included, to pursue this mission. Once the broadcast of the 'Pax' report goes out, that mission is a failure, so he has his men stand down, as the damage is done, and killing Mal and the others is no longer "necessary" to him.
- In the Back: "You shot me in the back! I haven't made you angry, have I?"
- Intro Dump: For viewers who haven't seen Firefly, the intro has explain that Earth has been abandoned and humanity now occupies another star system, the backstory elements of the Alliance/Independents war, River's treatment at the Academy and Simon's rescue, and introduce us to Serenity and seven of the nine major characters who already know each other. All done in ten minutes with admirable deftness.
- Ironic Echo: When Mal shows the Miranda recording to the Operative, he forces the latter to eat his words about how he was building "a world without sin" by showing him what such a world would actually look like.
- Jumped at the Call: Simon's rescue of River.
- Karmic Thief: Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a private security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his crew's cut to the poor.
- Kick the Dog: After the Serenity crew prevent the Operative from tracking them down twice, he coldly reasons that they have to run somewhere, so he starts destroying every settlement where Malcolm Reynolds is known to have friends or contacts. More chilling than most examples because this is not anger or revenge, just a Scorched Earth strategy.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: It's safe to say that there was no sympathy for Dr. Mathias when the Operative killed him at the beginning. Likewise, the pilot of the Alliance vessel Mal rather ruthlessly murders had just slaughtered a ton of innocent people.
- Killed Off for Real: Shepherd and Wash.
- The Kirk: Mal.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Book and Wash.
- Knight Errant: Mal.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Also Mal.
- Knight Templar: The Operative.
Inara: We have every reason to be afraid.
Jayne: Why? Cause this guy beat up Mal? That ain't so hard.
Mal: Whoa! He didn't beat me up. Nobody said that.
Inara: Because he's a believer. He's intelligent, methodical, and devout in his belief that killing River is the right thing to do.
- Leader Wannabe: Jayne gets disgusted with Mal's leadership and asks to be the leader at one point.
- Lens Flare: Intentionally on Whedon's part.
- Let's Get Dangerous: The Alliance had no idea what they set loose when they triggered River's implanted Waif-Fu.
- Living Emotional Crutch: Simon to River, and do not mortally wound Simon when River is around.
- Lodged-Blade Recycling:
Operative: (stabs Mal)
Do you know what your sin is, Mal? Mal:
Aw hell, I'm a fan of all seven
. (pulls sword back out)
But right now, I'm gonna have to go with Wrath.
- Make It Look Like a Struggle: Mal has an exchange with a guard early in the film about doing this so it doesn't look like the guard just rolled over and let them take the cash.
- Manchurian Agent: River.
- Maybe Ever After: Mal and Inara seem to end on this vaguely good note.
Mal: Ready to get off this heap and back to your civilized life?
Inara: I, uh... I don't know.
Mal: Good answer.
- Meaningful Background Event: When they're at the bar on Beaumonde, you can hear the news announcer on the TV talking about an attack where the only survivors were a group of people who sealed themselves inside of a bank vault.
- Meaningful Name: Combined with a Bilingual Bonus, The Pax. Pax is Latin for Peace.
- Ditto for Miranda, which works either as an ironic reference to Shakespeare's The Tempest ('O brave new world that has such people in't') or a more direct one to Picnic at Hanging Rock (in which Miranda is the name of girl who disappears).
- Mercy Kill: For anyone taken by the Reavers:
Jayne: I won't get eaten! You shoot me if they take me!
Mal: [aims pistol at Jayne]
Jayne: Well, don't shoot me first!
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Simply being put in a room with Key Members Of Parliament was enough to drive River completely monkey-shit. It is expanded on in the Novelization - she was writing coherent secret messages to Simon right up until that point, upon which they immediately degraded to hash.
- Mind Rape: Whatever the Academy did to River, she didn't turn out very well.
- Misfit Mobilization Moment: Mal, to his crew after finding the video on Miranda: "No more running. I aim to misbehave."
- The Big Damn Movie
- Mr. Vice Guy: Mal.
- Mutant Enemy: "Grr. Arg."
- Mysterious Waif: River.
- Mysterious Past: Book, and to a lesser extent River.
- Nay-Theist: Mal. More specifically, he is a maltheist. He equates belief to God, giving Book two of his better lines:
Book: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?
Book: It doesn't matter what you believe in. As long as you believe.
- Necessarily Evil: The Operative views his crusade this way. He abandons this notion after finding out the truth about Miranda.
- Nerds Are Sexy: Both Simon and Kaylee.
- Neutral Female: Subverted.
Inara: And that's not incense. [flashbang grenade detonates]]
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The plot of the film is driven almost entirely by the Alliance's efforts to stop River from revealing the information she holds. Had they not activated her subliminal programming or hunted down the crew of the Serenity, the heroes would never have gone to Miranda and learned the secret.
- Noble Fugitive: Simon and River.
- No-Holds-Barred Contest: The final fight between Mal and the Operative is a brutal beat down on both sides.
- No Name Given: The Operative. His name is taken from Doctor Mathais identifying him as "an operative" of the Alliance Parliament.
- No Place for Me There: The Operative knows he can't live in the utopia he seeks to create.
The Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Mal: So me and mine gotta lay down so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there, any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I'm a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.
- No-Nonsense Nemesis: Played with between River and Mal.
- Nose Art: The ship's name is painted in a stylized seal on the bow of the ship, in both English and Chinese.
- The crew later invokes this trope by disguising their ship as a Reaver vessel, complete with lots of red paint and human corpses lashed to the hull.
- Now Let Me Carry You: River, to Simon after he gets shot:
River, I'm sorry. River:
River, I hate to leave. River:
No, you won't! You take care of me, Simon. You've always taken care of me. (stands up and faces the unclosed blast doors
) My turn.
- Oh, Crap: The Operative's smugness turning to complete terror as he realises who Mal has brought with him to get past the blockade.
Operative: Target the Reavers! Target the Reavers! Target everything! SOMEBODY FIRE!
- When Inara meets the Operative. She's very good at reading and controlling body language, so the way her smile fades before he even said anything speaks volumes.
- The head scientist gets an understated one when Simon says, "She always did love to dance." He has just enough time to realize that this isn't a government official he's been escorting into Top Secret research areas before he is knocked out by the stun grenade.
- One Waif Army: River
- Only a Flesh Wound: When Mal gets stabbed during his fight with the Operative, though having Alliance medical care available soon after may make it somewhat less applicable. In all other cases, averted.
- Organ Dodge: The Operative's Pressure Point technique targets a nerve cluster Mal had moved due to an old war wound. The Operative is led to believe that it actually worked before a devastating surprise counterattack.
- Out-of-Character Alert: Inverted: a character doesn't say something they normally would, which tips Mal off.
Mal: Did you see us fight?
- Paper-Thin Disguise:
- The Paralyzer: The Operative uses a strike that targets vital nerve clusters, paralyzing his victim. He tries it on Mal, but it fails because of a war injury.
- Pass the Popcorn: When Inara calls Mal.
- Passing the Torch: In the final scene of the film, River takes her place in the cockpit of Serenity, taking over as pilot following Wash's death.
- Perfect Pacifist People: The Alliance tried to create a world like this artificially, and ended up creating the Reavers... and a big pile of people who died of apathy.
- Phlebotinum Rebel: River is the product of a program to develop psychic operatives, but what she saw and learned drove her insane. When she recovers, she is adamantly hostile to them.
- Playing with Syringes: River at the academy.
- Please Wake Up: Zoe's immediate reaction when Wash is killed.
- Pow Zap Wham Cam: Used when River "scans" the occupants of the trader outpost.
- The Power of Love: The core of Simon and River's relationship. Simon's love for River is practically the only thing holding her fractured psyche together. As a result, this is the force that allows her to pull herself together at the end of the film and save everyone.
- Invoked at the end with River and Mal:
Mal: You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do, since you already know what I'm about to say.
River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.
Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down, tells you she's hurting before she creels, makes her a home.
- The President's Daughter: River.
- Pre Ass Kicking One Liner:
"She always did love to dance..."
"You know what your sin is..."
"Ah, hell. I'm a fan of all seven... But right now... I'm going to go with WRATH."
- Precision F-Strike: "Eight months. Eight months you had her on my boat knowing full well she could go monkeyshit at the wrong word and you never said a thing." It's easy to miss it, but this is a cuss word they couldn't drop on Fox, but could in a Big Damn Movie.
- In the movie's novelization by Keith R.A. DeCandido, a version of the scene on Haven where Mal announces his plan to use the corpses of the murdered settlers as part of a disguise for Serenity to cross Reaver space is featured where Mal drops the F-bomb to emphasize his point. Pretty sure the same scene is featured in the early draft of the film's script floating around the 'Net, the version where Wash and Book don't die.
- Pressure Point: Used by the Operative.
- And subverted by Mal in his final fight with The Operative when he pretends to fall victim to this technique. In truth that particular pressure point was rendered invalid by the surgery used to fix a war wound, and he just played along so he could catch The Operative off-guard.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: a downplayed example.
The Operative: Key. Members. Of Parliment.
- Psychic Powers: River.
- Psycho Serum: G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate ("the Pax") has this effect on about 0.1% of people, turning them into Reavers.
- Public Secret Message: The code that makes River flip out is hidden in an ad spot for Fruity Oaty Bars.
- Quick Nip: Jayne.
- Quote Overdosed: Like the series, it's very quotable. You can't stop with just one.
- Radial Ass Kicking: River fights off Reavers coming at her from all sides.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Serenity's crew.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The Operative comes off like this at first. When Dr. Matthias sees him reviewing footage of River's escape, he protests that there was nothing he could have done to prevent that. The Operative actually agrees with this, saying that Simon had spent far too much time and effort preparing for the escape for them to realistically have prevented it. Then he does the thing with the sword.
- Rebuilt Set: Serenity looks a tiny bit different from the version seen in the show; most noticeably, the bridge is much smaller and is missing the storage lockers behind Wash's chair.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mal predominantly wears red clothes while the Operative wears Blue.
- Revealing Coverup: The Alliance spent a whole lot of time and effort hunting down River Tam, including murdering just about everybody who may have been in contact with her in order to cover up what she learned through her telepathy and being in the same room as several high ranking Alliance members. River, being insane, probably didn't understand what she knew and, in any case, wasn't in any position to tell anybody even if she did. But the Alliance's campaign of persecution gave Serenity's crew a big motive to find out and make the information public knowledge.
- Retraux: Joss specifically asked for old camera lenses to use to add the "70's Western" feel.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Mr. Universe sells out Mal, The Operative instead kills him with a sword. How weird is that? Bonus points for getting it right in the middle of asking for his thirty pieces of silver.
- Rhetorical Question Blunder:
Mal (to Jayne): Do you want to run this ship?
- Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Averted. Simon's time on the ship has stripped this element from him, replacing it with a tired bitterness behind much of his actions.
- Sacrificial Lion: Book and Wash.
- Schizo Tech: The just-settled Outer Planets have no infrastructures or industries built yet, and the Alliance considers anything past terraforming a low priority.
- This looks to be how the Alliance controlled the outer planets. "Join us and we'll upgrade your tech. Don't and have fun adapting yourself."
- School For Scheming: The Academy
- Science Fiction
- Send in the Search Team: Miranda.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: River occasionally. Possibly Simon. Possibly Kaylee, too, via mechanic talk.
- Seven Deadly Sins: What the Operative seems to be obsessed with. Given that they think they can "make mankind better", the Alliance's chief sin seems to be Pride.
- He Is Not My Boyfriend: Inara's reaction to the suggestion that she had a torrid affair with a pirate. Also, he's not a pirate, he's a smuggler, and VERY annoying.
- Shirtless Scene: Both Mal and Simon get this. Joss Whedon actually apologizes in the commentary for shooting shirtless!Mal at such a close angle and not allowing a full look at his physique.
- Shoot the Dog: The Operative describes this as his raison d'etre - his purpose in life, he says, is to create a world where monsters like himself will not be allowed to exist.
- Mal's choice to disguise Serenity as a Reaver vessel is also treated as a Shoot the Dog - he is desecrating the corpses of their deceased friends and turning their home into an abomination in order to defeat the Alliance.
- Shoot the Rope: Mal needs several shots to sever the mini-harpoon from Jayne's leg. While he's hanging from the back of Mule II at full tilt.
- Shrouded in Myth: Reavers, at least until their origin is revealed.
- Inara, amongst the other Companions. Rumor has it, she had a torrid affair with a pirate.
- Shout-Out: Numerous.
- A Simple Plan: Mal has these a lot. And they go wrong with alarming regularity
- Single Tear: The Operative, when he sees the footage from Miranda.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty
- Someone to Remember Him By: At the end of Serenity: Float Out, it is revealed that Zoe is pregnant with Wash's daughter.
- Sonic Stunner: Simon apparently found one that only works at head level, then uses it to rescue River by setting it off and ducking (she's conveniently seated at the time).
- Inara's flashbang-incense is a very crude version.
- Sorry That I'm Dying:
- Book to Mal.
- Simon to River.
- Space Clouds: The ion cloud around Mr. Universe's planet. Joss Whedon admitted that he knew exactly how unscientific this was, but he needed it there for Rule of Cool in the battle scene.
- Space Is Cold
- Space Pirates: Reavers.
- Space Western
- Stealth Hi/Bye: River. Simon once or twice.
- Stealth Pun: In the soundtrack, not the movie. The name of the song that plays during the introductory sequence (the classroom explanation of Earth That Was, specifically), is "Into The River". It all took place in River's head.
- Stress Vomit: While on the planet Miranda, the crew learns a horrifying truth about the origin of the Reavers, causing River Tam to throw up.
- Summon Bigger Fish: Captain Mal does this by getting the Reavers to attack the Alliance.
- Survival Mantra: "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar." Savagely subverted when Wash dies in the middle of saying it.
- Yes, but he's not flying any more. Flying is his super power. His milieu.
- Swallowed a Fly: After a horrific encounter with the Reavers, the crew barely makes it back, and crashes the runabout back onto Serenity. Simon (who stayed behind) is frantic over River, who is oddly calm:
River: I swallowed a bug.
- Sword Pointing: The Operative does this to Captain Mal when he first draws his sword during their fight in Mr. Universe's complex.
- Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: Wash, as per the above.
- Taking You with Me: A wounded Shepherd shoots down the Alliance ship that destroys Haven. "Not very Christian of me."
- Talkative Loon: River.
- Terrifying Rescuer: Mal. After he loses his temper, the Vault Guard genuinely seems more afraid of him than the Reavers.
Mal: You get everyone upstairs in there and you seal it. Long as you got air you don't open up, you understand?
Mal: Get them! Inside! The Vault!
- This Is Reality: The Operative.
"Nothing here is what it seems. He is not the plucky hero. The Alliance is not an evil empire. This is not the grand arena."
- Thememobile: The good ship Serenity.
- Theme Music Withholding: The "Ballad of Serenity" only appears in the end credits.
- There Are No Therapists: Not that there's any out there that could help much in River's case, not the very least because she's a fugitive who the Alliance and the Academy want back very badly.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Operative calls in the entire fleet to deal with a single, unarmed, cargo transport. Might double as Crazy-Prepared, because it turned out to be really helpful.
- Thicker Than Water: Behold, the Power of Brotherhood.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: River, in particular, is the one getting the bone.
- Tired of Running: "I aim to misbehave."
- Token Evil Teammate: Jayne Cobb. (Or at least more amoral than the rest of them anyway.)
- Took a Level in Badass: River. Boy did she ever.
- Not just River; it's shown that Kaylee is able to hold her own in a fight as well, especially when she's properly motivated.
- Tranquil Fury: Zoe and River both get this when their respective loved ones are hurt (or in Zoe's case, killed).
- Zoe simply fires at first, then calmly wades into the middle of the advancing Reavers almost suicidally before getting hurt and pulled back.
- River launches her own suicidal attack after Simon gets hit, but she's a lot more successful.
- Trauma Swing: An eery variation with River, who in one scene is standing behind a swing set that's engulfed in flames. It's shot so that River is framed by the burning swing.
- Tranquillizer Dart: Kaylee gets three darts to the neck during the final battle, but never does completely lose consciousness.
- Trigger Happy: Jayne. Mal against the Operative.
- Trigger Phrase: River has one. Played with in that a phrase makes her sleep; what turns her into a violent assassin is a subliminal message hidden within an innocuous advertisement.
- Trojan Horse: How Serenity runs the gauntlet through the Reaver ships to and from Miranda.
- True Companions: Serenity's crew. Mal will protect everyone on his ship and will punish anyone on his ship for harming anyone else.
- Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: Not that you need to try very hard.
- Tyke Bomb: River.
- Unperson: There is not a colony on Miranda and there never has been. And Miranda was never terraformed and never can be. And you're under arrest for asking.
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Mal and Inara.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: No, it is not your imagination that whenever Mal and Inara get within a foot of each other, electricity shoots out of your screen. It's the UST trying to explode your television/computer.
- Unstoppable Rage: River falls into a very calm rage when Simon gets shot.
- Unusual Euphemism: Between the Mildly Mandarin swearing, the use of archaic words like "quim", and various other slang such as "gorram" and "shiny", It's hard to find examples of usual euphemisms on this show.
- Undying Loyalty: The Operative acknowledges Simon's unwavering instinct to protect River:
The Operative: The boy spent his entire fortune developing the contacts to infiltrate this place.
Dr. Matthias: Gave up a brilliant future in medicine as well. It's madness.
The Operative: Madness? Have you looked at the scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It's love, in point of fact. Something a good deal more dangerous.
- Used Future: Justified.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: The Operative and the Alliance's goal.
- Villainous Breakdown: Happens to the Operative when he sees the Reaver ships following Serenity.
- He has another, much more complete one when he sees the Miranda recording, and realizes everything he told Mal in the quote under This Is Reality is precisely backwards.
- Voice with an Internet Connection: The appropriately-named Mr Universe.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Averted with River, when she learns of Miranda's secret, it works to clear her sub-conscious of the problem she was having assimilating the information.
- Waif Prophet: River.
- Waif-Fu: River, again. Those poor Reavers.
- Watching Troy Burn: Haven.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Operative.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Zoe points out that Mal could have saved a man's life simply by dumping the loot from a heist.
- What You Are in the Dark: Nobody but Simon would have known if he had abandoned River. Not even River herself.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: River gets one.
- Worth Living For: Played for laughs when Simon spits it out.
- Wrap It Up
- Wrench Wench: Kaylee.
- Written by the Winners: Comes up in the Cold Open; the teacher in River's dream gives a rather biased account of the war. Then there's Miranda...
- You Are Already Dead: A variant, the Operative uses a nerve strike, that while not deadly in and of itself, does leave them paralyzed so he can stab them with his sword.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Mal, Simon, and River.
- You Have to Have Jews: David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe, who is even shown breaking glass during his... "wedding".
- You Have Failed Me: Double Subversion. The Operative's superiors aren't angry that Simon got River out, as he clearly went to extreme lengths to accomplish it. They are, however, extremely angry that River's "handlers" showed their pet psychic to key members of Parliament.
Operative: Key. Members. Of Parliament. "Key." The minds behind every military, diplomatic, and covert operation in the galaxy, and you put them in a room with a psychic. [...] You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.
- You Rebel Scum!: From most Alliance officials.
- You Shall Not Pass: River, when the only thing standing between the badly injured and exhausted crew and the oncoming Reaver hordes are some broken blast doors.
- You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry
The Operative: Do you know what your sin is, Mal?
Malcolm Reynolds: Ah hell, I'm a fan of all seven. But right now? I'm gonna have to go with wrath.
And notably avoided
- Evil Army: Alliance officers believe that they are genuinely trying to protect people and improve the Verse, whether that's actually true or not.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: According to the manual.
- Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Buddhism and Christianity are still dominant religions. Also, Mr. Universe appears to be Jewish.
- Space Is Noisy: Instead, it is Mickey Moused. Justified in the big space battle scene since commentary says they technically are in atmosphere.
- Zombie Apocalypse: Despite the Reavers originating on Miranda, none of the locals were attacked by them in any way - they didn't live long enough.
- Some of the locals were - the science team who deployed the Pax and left the report for the crew to find.