Mal: We're still flying.
Simon: That's not much.
Mal: It's enough.
Six years after a bloody and protracted war forced Alliance rule on all colonized planets, veteran Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds is still devastated over the defeat of his cause. Too embittered and strong-minded to be a compliant Alliance citizen, he buys a spaceship—a Firefly-class transport he names Serenity
, after the last important battle of the war—and carves out a life on the fringes of civilization: a difficult and often complicated existence, but a free one. With him is Zoe, the only surviving member of his original platoon, now his first mate; her husband, Wash, who pilots the ship; cheerful mechanic Kaylee; and rough-hewn mercenary Jayne.
After illegally salvaging cargo from a derelict spaceship, Serenity
's crew heads for the planet Persephone. There they pick up a courtesan, Companion Inara Serra, who rents one of Serenity
's shuttles; and, in a last-ditch effort to make some money, take on passengers. On board for the trip to Whitefall, a remote frontier moon: gentle Shepherd (Reverend) Book, cool and aloof Dr. Simon Tam, and bumbling smiler Lawrence Dobson.
But Dobson is actually an Alliance police officer sent to arrest Simon, apparently for the theft of the large crate he's brought with him. When Mal pries it open, though, the crate proves to contain a young woman, whom Simon identifies as his sister, River Tam, astonishingly brilliant but now psychologically damaged by years of unspecified medical
torture experimentation research
. Simon was able to get her away from the Academy, the Alliance-sponsored facility that was holding her, but does not know how—or even if—he can help his sister heal.Serenity
heads for Whitefall, a frontier moon, to try to sell the salvaged cargo. Mal and Zoe survive an attempted double-cross by their buyer, and get back to the ship having successfully completed the transaction despite themselves. As they'd successfully evicted the Fed at Whitefall, Mal offers Simon and River a place aboard Serenity
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Dobson; a lot of bad and a lot of incompetence
- Bait and Switch: The episode's first half does all it can to play up the idea that Simon is the mole (which actually works even better if you've seen the actor as Don John in Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing first). Of course, it's all for naught if you were paying close enough attention to the credits.
- The Caretaker: Simon to both River and Kaylee.
- Dare to Be Badass: Simon had already done this when he first arrives
- Death Glare: between Simon and Mal a couple of times
- Derelict Graveyard: Where they pick up the cargo in the beginning.
- Dirty Business: Simon threatens to let Kaylee bleed to death; it was probably a bluff but it indicates that he has a trace of Knight Templar Big Brother that he seldom shows elsewhere.
- Knight Templar is pushing it. It's far simpler - River is Simon's first and foremost responsibility, Kaylee isn't. Thus, River comes before Kaylee.
- Do a Barrel Roll: Wash and Kaylee get the ship to perform a Crazy Ivan to escape the Reavers.
- Dumb Muscle: Jayne, starting off as he means to go on. It nearly gets him, Zoe and Mal killed by Badger's goons.
- Easily Forgiven: "He wasn't going to let me die..."
- Fire-Forged Friends:
- Flat "What.": Mal's reaction when Dobson tells Simon's under arrest.
- Food Pills: The cargo they are carrying is salvaged protein bars.
- Foreshadowing: When discussing Mal's phony claim that Serenity is delivering medicines for the Alliance, Simon is notably startled.
- And again during the dinner scene, Simon's still nervous about the Alliance. And when Mal states governments meddle, it's Dobson (The Mole) who defends the Alliance.
- Get Out: "Walk away from this table, Jayne."
- Girl in a Box: The Trope Namer, which is actually a quote from promos shown before the episode aired.
- Heroic Resolve: Simon jumps on Dobson from a catwalk to rescue River.
- Holier Than Thou: Badger accuses Mal of thinking he is this. But then it is not hard to be holier than Badger.
- The Horde: The Reavers get their first mention early on, having killed someone Mal's worked for. And then there's Jayne's nervous reaction to their mere mention.
- Hostage Situation: Subverted; when Dobson grabs River, Mal just shoots him. Without breaking stride.
- I Owe You My Life: "I didn't think you'd come for me."
- I Lied: Patience tries to backstab Mal and steal the food bars.
- Intrepid Merchant: Serenity: you don't have to be lucky to be intrepid.
- Invulnerable Horses: Very much averted, as Patience uses her horse for cover and Mal shoots it dead. It falls over onto her, trapping her under it and ending the battle.
- Ironic Echo Cut: After Mal tells Simon that Kaylee's dead, he rushes to the infirmary...where he finds Kaylee very much alive. His response? "The man's psychotic." Cut to the bridge, where we see the rest of the crew laughing their asses off after Mal told them what he just did, with Wash saying, "You are psychotic!"
- I Will Find You: Simon has already done this for River.
- Love at First Sight: Kaylee; a bit difficult as the doctor is awkward, and busy with important matters.
- The Mole: Dobson. At first Mal thinks it's Simon.
- My Fist Forgives You: Mal to Simon. Twice. Simon suffers no permanent damage to his face because after all female viewers might be disappointed and therefore he cannot have a broken nose or missing teeth, even when hit by Mal.
- Nice Hat: Badger. And one of Patience's men; Mal even compliments him on it by saying the trope name...right before Jayne shoots it off the guy's head.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Mal was willing to help Dobson arrest Simon, until Dobson tells him he's under arrest as well for smuggling. That changes Mal's disposition quickly.
- Noodle Incident: Mal's previous negotiation with Patience.
Wash: Didn't she shoot you?
Mal: Everyone's gotta make a fuss.
- Papa Wolf: Mal and Simon
- Playing with Syringes: The explanation for how River got where she is.
- Punch Clock Villain: Lawrence tries to portray himself as one, but it doesn't do him much good.
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Dobson tries this. Mal puts a bullet in his eyenote without breaking stride.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money! / Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: River's rescue is because Simon was willing to do this.
- Space Navy: The Alliance Navy.
- Team Chef: Book prepares dinner for everyone, and it's apparently pretty fabulous. (Though considering the crew's usual fare, fresh-grown produce probably was.)
- Think Nothing of It
River: I didn't think you'd come for me.
Simon: Well, you're a dummy.