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
- Ace Pilot: Wash
- Adorkable: Wash. What else would you call an Ace Pilot who plays with toy dinosaurs.
- A Friend in Need: Simon to River, Mal to both Tams, the unnamed "underground movement" that helps Simon find River.
- Always Someone Better:
Simon: "I am very smart...gifted is the term. So when I tell you that my little sister makes me look like an idiot child, I want you to comprehend my full meaning."
- Badass Boast: "We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty!"
- Bazaar of the Bizarre: Persephone
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Dobson; a lot of bad and a lot of incompetence
- 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
- Easily Forgiven: "He wasn't going to let me die..."
- Fire-Forged Friends: Simon and Mal who begin as rivals and learn to respect each other
Mal: "You ain't weak, and that's something".
- Book and Inara, as well; the fire here is Mal trying to make the preacher uncomfortable while tweaking the respectable whore's nose.
- Food Pills: The cargo they are carrying is salvaged protein bars.
- Get Out: "Walk away from this table, Jayne."
- Girl in a Box
- The Government: The Alliance
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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."
- Walking the Earth: Book
- The War of Earthly Aggression: Alliance vs Outer Planets
- Wasteland Elder: Patience
- Weaponized Exhaust: Wash and Kaylee arrange for the Reavers to fly into a patch of this.
- Wrench Wench: Kaylee
- You Can Run, but You Can't Hide:
Dobson: "There's nowhere you can take her that the law won't find her."
- You Rebel Scum!: The Alliance captain is contemptuous of Serenity 's illegal salvage ops.