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...
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.
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.
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 For certain values of "innocent," in the kind of bar Mal and his associates frequent 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.
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. Unsurprising considering that according to Zoe in the series, getting raped to death first is the best possible outcome for someone captured by 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.
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, the Reavers have been defeated for good, and the crew gets to fly off into the sunset. But Book, Wash, Mr. Universe, and whole bunch of other good people had to die to make it all happen and while it's damaged, the Alliance's leaders are still active and will probably try to hunt down the Serenity 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, causing most of the population to lie down and die and the rest to turn into the Reavers.
Mal: Did you see us fight? Kaylee: No. Mal: TRAP!!!
River also does this in the deleted scenes.
Simon: What will Miranda show us? River: Death. Simon: Whose death? River: EVERYBODY'S!!!!!!
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.
Cold Open: The movie opens with a narration that turns out to be a school lesson that turns out to be a hallucination; 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... red. Lots and lots of red. And what isn't red, is, well... skin tone.
Mal shoots not one, not two, but three unarmed men over the course of the two hour film. Take that, Boba Fett. This is also the only reason he holds his own against the Operative, who is much more skilled a fighter but doesn't resort to such tricks.
And other characters, like the Operative, who are not morons.
Jayne: Hell, I'll kill a man in a fair fight — or if I think he's going to start a fair fight....
Coming In Hot: Serenity crash-landing after being disabled by an EMP weapon.
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.
A subtle nod to "Objects in Space":
Simon: Am I talking to Miranda now?
Further, the barrels ejected from Serenity as they escape the Training House look and function just like the pilot's "Crybaby".
The second Reaver ship to appear in the climax is the one from the pilot episode.
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 all Better Worlds. Such abuse includes kidnapping a teenage girl and screwing with her brain to make her into a weapon and a behavioral modification experiment that results in the unintentional extermination of an entire planetary population and the creation of the Reavers.
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 said 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 brought his own fleet of crazy cannibals as backup.
Cruel Mercy: Mal does this to the Operative near the end.
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.
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"?
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 collapsed. "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.
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.
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.
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.
Kaylee: 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!
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.
Government Drug Enforcement: The G-23 Paxilon hydrochlorate introduced into the air processors of Miranda, to keep the populace quiet and non-violent. It ended up causing apathy and lethargy so extreme that the majority of people just laid down and died while the remainder were rendered hyper-aggressive and became the Reavers.
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.
Groin Attack: When River 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 is probably 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.
"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.
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, things Return to almost normal, though with the Verse changed irrevocably.
"TRAPPPP!" "I will turn this spaceship around! Do you want to fly? Fuckin' fly! I'll be in my bunk!" "What aren't you doing?" "Crap!" "SUMMER!!!" "Put Book front and center; he's our friend, we should honor him. Kaylee, find that kid who's taking a dirt-nap with Baby Jesus; we need a hood ornament. Jayne, try not to steal too much of their shit!" "Start with the part where Jayne gets knocked out by a ninety-year-old... man. With man-boobs. Oh, man..."
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.'"
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 is either dead or completely inhuman.
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.
I'm a Humanitarian: One of threethings 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.
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 amounts of people, the protagonists included, to pursue this mission. Once the broadcast of Miranda 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 youangry, 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 characters who already know each other. All done in ten minutes with admirable deftness. (Book and Inara are introduced later.)
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.
Kick the Dog: After the Serenity crew prevent the Operative from tracking them down twice - he takes it out on every settlement that's harbored Serenity in the past.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Simon: River, I'm sorry. River: No... Simon: 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.
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.
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.
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 keels, makes her a home.
"My turn." "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.
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 from a war wound, and he just played along so he could catch The Operative off-guard.
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'sWestern" 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.