You have the Alliance on you; criminals and savages. Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded, including yourself... and you're harboring known fugitives. Mal:
We're still flying. Simon:
That's not much. Mal:
is a Science Fiction Space Western
that ran for four months on the Fox
Network in 2002. It was canceled after 14 episodes were produced; only 11 were aired, thanks in part to a severe case of Executive Meddling
. Its quick cancellation helped give rise to The Firefly Effect
. A DVD boxed set was released in December 2003 and has sold briskly ever since. A feature-film continuation, Serenity
, was released in October 2005 to critical acclaim.
In the future, humanity has spread across the stars, terraforming planets for colonisation and creating a new frontier reminiscent of the old Wild West. The dominant power in this time is the monolithic Alliance, whose iron grip on the 'verse has tightened after a failed rebellion by a group known as 'Independents' or 'Browncoats', the latter having become the demonym for the franchise's fandom.
Malcolm Reynolds is a former Browncoat who now captains a run-down tramp freighter
. Working as an amoral
jack-of-all-trades, he tries to eke out a life for himself and his crew away from the reach of the Alliance. However, things change when he inadvertently lets a deadly Alliance secret board his ship: a Mysterious Waif
who was subject to horrific experimentation aiming to turn her into a living weapon
The show was created by Joss Whedon
and Tim Minear
Productions), and combined
science fictional concepts (interplanetary travel, spaceships, terraforming
) with a Western setting (poor agricultural colonies where people ride horses, cattle ranching, cowboy slang). The Firefly
universe contains no non-human sentient beings
, and in fact no non-Earth-based life at all.Firefly
's life story is an interesting one: it went from (canceled) television show, to runaway cult hit DVD series, to comic-book sequel
, to major motion picture, to a book
having show-related pics and a few new stories to a currently unfinished, but soon-to-be-launched MMORPG
, titled Firefly Universe Online
is noted for being one of the few canceled
television series to be spun off
into a major motion picture. The Universal film
was titled Serenity
still owned the rights to the name Firefly
. There are also a few comics
, with plans for more. There's even a Tabletop RPG
. There are also constant rumors about a second television series (Whedon and many of the principals have constantly said they would be willing to pick up the show, with Fillion going so far as to say he'd be willing to buy the rights from Fox), and the cult status the series has attained after its premature cancellation may have saved a later Whedon work from a similar fate
, even if Dollhouse
only lasted until December of 2009. The cast included:
- Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds, disillusioned owner and captain of the Firefly-class transport Serenity.
- Gina Torres as Zoe Alleyne Washburne, his second-in-command, gun-slinging badass and deadpan snarker among snarkers. She is happily married to...
- Alan Tudyk as Hoban "Wash" Washburne, the pilot with no fighting skills.
- Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, the mercenary. A man with less subtlety than a sledgehammer, and even fewer brains. Maybe.
- Jewel Staite as Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye, the mechanic. Her default mode is very happy. Famous enough to be referenced in World of Warcraft. According to Joss Whedon, when Kaylee smiles, everything suddenly becomes shiny.
- Sean Maher as Simon Tam, a promising young doctor from a privileged family, now turned fugitive. Well-spoken but with an acerbic wit, and spends most of his time looking after...
- Summer Glau as River Tam, the mentally traumatized sister he rescued from government experimentation who is a little whimsical in the brainpan and a tiny bit dangerous.
- Ron Glass as Shepherd Derrial Book, a preacher with a mysterious, dark, and troubled past.
- Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra, a High-Class Call Girl who is a member of the Companion's Guild. Or, as Mal calls her, a "whore".
This page has a recap page here
has all 14 episodes of the series available for streaming. (NOTE: Does not play outside of the US
) It is also all up for instant stream on Netflix, Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus. Starting March 6th 2011, the show also began playing, in the correct order, on the Science Channel and in glorious HD.
In November 2012, the Science Channel aired a Firefly
10th anniversary special, titled "Browncoats Unite". It featured two of the main writers of the show, Jose Molina and Tim Minear, along with most of the cast, including Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk and Sean Maher, where they did a sort of retrospective of the show's history and its cult-classic status over the past ten years. In addition, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres and Morena Baccarin were interviewed separately and added their own comments on their involvement with the show. The forty-minute special culminated in the writers and actors taking the stage at their Comic-Con panel, which included Joss Whedon himself as well.
See also The Movie
This series provides examples of:
open/close all folders
- Absent Aliens: Although conspiracy theories still abound, and a fake alien (really a cow fetus) hangs in a civilian space station, purported to be a sign of alien life by a busker.
- Accidental Aiming Skills: In "The Train Job", hopped up on who knows what (intended as anaesthetic) Jayne manages to shoot an enemy right in the kneecap. When complimented on it, he replies "I was aimin' for his head..." Made rather worrying by the fact that there were two or three people he could have hit if he had missed by that far in any other direction.
- Accidental Hero: In "Jaynestown", Jayne tells of how he was forced to dump a ton of money to escape from a job-gone-wrong. The money landed in a poverty-stricken village and the villagers convinced themselves he did it Robin-Hood-esque.
- Accidental Marriage: "Our Mrs. Reynolds". After a successful mission, Mal celebrates a little too much and does not realize his part in a bizarre wedding ritual. Hilarity Ensues. Or not, if you're Mal.
- Action Duo: From the first, there is a lot of tension and distrust between Mal and Simon. Despite the distrust, when Simon is about to let himself be killed for his sister in "Safe" Mal comes in leading the team in a rescue party, demanding they let the two go. When Mal is in danger in "War Stories" Simon's aim is too poor to be of any help but he still manages to survive.
- Action Girl:
- Actually That's My Assistant: In "War Stories", Mal assumes that the bodyguard of one of Inara's clients is "The Councillor." Neither he, nor any of the others, was expecting a woman.
- Simon Tam. Mostly when he's around Kaylee, and helped along by his Fish out of Water status - notable in that it's quite a change from the calm, collected demeanour he assumed when he first came on board Serenity.
- Wash also qualifies, especially shown in the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
- Each of the cast has at least one moment of this.
- Adult Fear:
- The series posits the very, very real fear that your children could be targeted by a variety of threats, including rapist pirates and the government - which also brings up hefty fears of government repression and regulation.
- There's the fact that the Tam siblings are forced to become outlaws because their own parents would turn them back to the Alliance, despite the clear evidence that the Academy was doing horrible things to River. This plays off of the fear of child abuse and children being unable to rely on their parents for sufficient protection.
- River had been recruited by a prestigious school because she was gifted. Why? So she could be abused, tortured, and experimented on. It gets worse... she was regularly sending back perfectly innocent and happy letters in her own handwriting so all this happens without you ever suspecting a thing.
- Aerial Canyon Chase: Subverted in the episode "The Message". When this trope is attempted by Serenity, the pursuing ship simply flies above the canyon, keeping the ship in view. And when the heroes try to hide, the pursuers flush them out with saturation bombing.
- Afraid of Needles:
- Jayne, the big baby. Played for Laughs.
- River. Decidedly not played for laughs. She suffered horribly in the labs of the Alliance. Some of her flashbacks are really dreadful and scary.
- All Amazons Want Hercules: Averted. The series devotes an entire episode to repeatedly demonstrating that Zoe is not, nor has she ever been, attracted to Mal. Or Jayne (as if that needed saying).
- The Alleged Car:
Mal: I tell you, Zoe, we get a mechanic, get her up and running again, hire a good pilot, maybe a cook - Live like real people. A small crew - They must feel the need to be free. Take jobs as they come. They never have to be under the heel of nobody ever again. No matter how long the arm of the Alliance might get... we'll just get ourselves a little further.
Zoe: "Get her running again?"
Mal: That's right.
Zoe: So not running now?
Mal: Not so much.
- Discussed in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", in which some scavengers are discussing Serenity. One observes that it is just a hunk of junk, and the other observes that put together, all that junk makes a Firefly, which will keep flying practically forever with even a halfway competent mechanic to keep it going.
- All Planets Are Earthlike: Justified, as all visited planets and moons have explicitly been Terraformed to one degree or another. It should be noted that the core planets, where the wealthy and powerful live and where the Alliance is concentrated, enjoy much more extensive terraforming than the outer worlds where the poorer folk live.
- Almost Kiss: Simon and Kaylee in "Objects in Space".
- Almost Out of Oxygen: One of the several problems Mal has to solve in "Out of Gas".
- The Alternet: The Cortex spans the star system in which the franchise takes place. It's used for both video chat and browsing information in the series. RPG materials explain that access is cloud-based and pay-by-the-minute for private citizens unless they can afford a dedicated source box.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Reavers. Introduced by Zoe in the pilot:
: If they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing. And if we're very, very
lucky, they'll do it in that order
- Always Save the Girl
- Amazing Freaking Grace: At the end of "Heart of Gold" when there is a funeral held for those who did not survive the fight.
- Amazon Chaser: Wash in "Bushwhacked": "Have you ever been with a warrior woman?"
- Ambadassador: Inara is sometimes referred to as the ship's ambassador, mostly in the pilot.
- Anachronic Order: The episode "Out of Gas," which starts In Medias Res and flashes back to both How We Got Here and Everyone Meets Everyone. This was inadvertently done to the series as a whole, as the episodes were aired out of order during their original run on Fox.
- Anti-Hero: The crew of the Serenity are all criminals (except for Inara, who is a high-class prostitute, making her the most respectable member of the crew) and Mal and Zoe can be fairly ruthless. Jayne, a mercenary of minimal morality, zero delicacy, and inconsistent loyalties, takes this trope the furthest.
- Anywhere but Their Lips: Jayne's policy, which he explains after Mal experiences the Goodnight Kiss in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
- Arbitrary Skepticism:
Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe: We live on a spaceship, dear.
- Arc Words:
- "Two by two, hands of blue..."
- The Blue Sun corporation crops up a lot in logos, advertisements and billboards in the background, as well as one of Jayne's t-shirts; Whedon has said the show was cancelled before this could be explored.
- Armies Are Evil: Alliance officers believe that they are genuinely trying to protect people and improve the Verse, whether that is actually true or not.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- From "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Book's "special hell" for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.
- Simon detailing what River is gifted at in the pilot episode "Serenity": Math, Theoretical Physics, and... Dance.
- Ate His Gun: From "The Train Job":
It's funny your uncle never went to mentioning the Bowden's problem. Or that Joey Bloggs ate his own gun, about eight months back. Mal:
Did he? Sheriff:
Yep. Blew the back of his head right off.
So... would his job be open
- The Atoner: Throughout the series, Book is implied to have a checkered and unsavory past. Confirmed by the comic "A Shepherd's Tale".
- Author Tract: 80% of "Objects In Space" is Jubal Early echoing Joss Whedon's existentialist views with Simon at gunpoint. The other 20%? Summer Glau's bare feet, and Sean Maher's bare torso. Joss goes into even greater detail in the solo commentary which accompanies the episode.
- Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: It is a space western... with T-Shirts, corporate logos, the occasional mongol raider-style hat and space hookers. Of course everyone looks awesome!
- Awesomeness by Analysis: River is so quick with math, that in "War Stories", she only needed to glance at Niska's men for a second before killing all three of them in one shot each with her eyes closed. Kaylee remarks in "Objects in Space" that she just "did the math."
- Ax-Crazy: River, though she has a reason for it.
- Bad Guys Play Pool: "Shindig" starts with slavers chatting over a game of holographic billiards.
- Badass: The entire cast of them.
- Badass Adorable: River.
- Badass Bookworm: Simon.
- River qualifies as well since she's supposed to have been even smarter than Simon before the Alliance's horrific experiments. Not that the experiments have stopped her from having moments of clarity, revealing said intellect in the process.
- Badass Crew: The crew of the Serenity consists of two war veterans from the losing side of a civil war, a mercenary with a Wall of Weapons, a preacher with a Mysterious Past, a Hooker with a Heart of Gold who is also a Lady of War, a mechanic with an innate understanding of machinery who can fix problems by analysis, an Ace Pilot, a doctor and a Waif-Fu with Improbable Aiming Skills.
- Badass Driver: Wash. He's an ace of a pilot and can pull off several very dangerous maneuvers.
- Badass Grandpa: Book, though he never married and will insist he's not a grandpa.
- Badass Longcoat: Mal and Zoe in their browncoats.
- Badass Preacher: Book. Unsurprising given his implied past.
- Badass Boast
- Bad Boss: Adelai Niska, who regularly tortures people for minor, minor details. Like talking at a wedding.
- Bad Dreams: River has lots of them.
- Bait and Switch: Skillfully done in the pilot. Simon is introduced with ominous music, Scary Shiny Glasses and an unsmiling, formal demeanor, seemingly marking him as a villain. Dobson, meanwhile, is in the background of almost every scene and is treated like an extra. This makes The Reveal that Dobson is The Mole as much a surprise to the audience as to the characters.
- Bait-and-Switch Comparison: Wash's reaction to the preserved mutant cow fetus in "The Message". (Simon is standing nearby, just after having angered Kaylee... again.)
Wash: Oh my god, it's grotesque! Oh, and there's something in a jar.
- Ballad of X:
- "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb"
- "The Ballad of Serenity"
- Band of Brothels: The Guild of Companions.
- Bar Brawl: A constant among Serenity's crew.
- Bare Your Midriff: Inara, on occasion.
- Batman Gambit:
- River in "Objects in Space". Though she probably should have known what the reaction of Simon, who gave up everything to keep her from the Alliance, was going to be, with a plan that involves her saying she was going to give herself up.
- The whole crew in "Trash". This one also counts as a Xanatos Gambit, since the crew would have gotten away with it whether YoSaffBridge had turned on Mal or not.
- Behind the Black: An absolutely hilarious example in "Objects in Space" where Jubal Early steps out into an empty hallway and looks one direction; he then turns to look the other way as the camera pans to show a very confused Mal staring blankly at the intruder.
- There's also the end of Shindig where Mal and Inara are talking in the cargo bay, and then the camera moves back a few dozen feet to show a herd of cows, all mooing noisily the moment the audience can see them
- Being Tortured Makes You Evil: One of the Reavers' most sadistic tricks. Sometimes, when they take a ship, they leave one person alive and make them watch. The one time we saw this in-series ("Bushwhacked") it resulted in the unfortunate victim trying to become a pseudo-Reaver himself as a coping mechanism.
- Beleaguered Childhood Friend: Featured in "Heart of Gold", Nandi is this for Inara.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Mal and Inara, and Mal and Saffron to a degree. Done deliberately with Jayne and Simon.
- Berserk Button: A handy list of things that will make you want to leave this room:
- Do not insult Serenity in front of Kaylee. Just don't. She's her mechanic and doesn't take it well.
- Do not do anything to put River in danger, or Simon will kick your ass. Hard.
- That said, River has her own almost literal Berserk Button, but she can't control it and it's made her insane. Until the end of Serenity, at least.
- Do not threaten any of Mal's crew. Even if you happen to be a member of it.
- Jubal Early does not like it when you visit his intentions.
- From the pilot, do not imply you believe that Mal is anything like the Alliance. Simon got decked for it.
Jayne: Saw that comin'.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: In "The Message", Tracy does make it to his homeworld for a proper funeral, as requested by him in his fake - later real - will.
- Becoming the Mask: Joss Whedon let it slip in an interview that Derrial Book was not Shepherd's real name, but rather he had taken the identity of a man he had killed. They go into detail in the comic.
- Best Her to Bed Her: Saffron briefly pretends to be one of these at the end of "Our Mrs Reynolds" — it does not work. Tries again in "Trash", for about 30 seconds — also doesn't work.
- Beware the Nice Ones
- River: No power in the 'verse can stop her. Also, she can kill you with her brain.
- Simon has also shown the capability of fucking you up... politely.
- Mal qualifies, as generally he's affable, decent, and polite. It takes a lot to push him over the edge, but once he's there, there's pretty much nothing he won't do, or do to you, to get revenge.
- The Bible: River tries to "fix" Book's copy in "Jaynestown".
- Big Brother Is Watching: The Alliance, at least on the Core Worlds, has a widespread surveillance system, which is why Zoe is reluctant to leave the ship while on Core Worlds. Dialogue between Simon and his father in a flashback in "Safe" suggests that the Alliance keeps a record of certain places you have been; when Simon's father walked into a jail to pick him up, it was apparently recorded on his permanent profile.
- Big Brother Instinct: Simon has this for River, and everyone has this for Kaylee.
- Big Badass Battle Sequence: The first episode shows the tail-end of the Serenity Valley battle, while "The Message" explores one small part of an earlier campaign.
- Big Damn Heroes: The trope name comes from dialogue near the end of the episode "Safe". The awesomeness is emphasized further by Zoe and Mal having to shout over the engine noise of Serenity hovering above them.
Mal: Well, look at this! Seems like we got here just in the nick of time. And what does that make us?
- Bilingual Bonus: The Chinese curses, which according to the show's Wikiquotes page mean things like "frog-humping son-of-a-bitch" and "holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews." The phrases themselves are always accurate Mandarin Chinese, but the actors' pronunciation was often so poor as to be incomprehensible.
- Biological Weapons Solve Everything: An erstwhile Alliance officer made his fortune using biological weapons to depopulate communities, then he looted their untouched valuables. Maybe. The only evidence comes from a pathological liar.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Atherton of "Shindig", who loves Inara in his own sick, twisted, possessive, misogynistic, cruel way. At first, he's a well-mannered gentleman, but at the slightest hint of Mal trying to help Inara, he's throwing her off him and attempting to kill Mal.
- Tracy of "The Message", who tricks his old war buddies to both take the fall for, and avoid, dirty business he got into in the first place, nearly getting them killed, and when confronted over it, takes Kaylee hostage and gloats about tricking said war buddies, calling them "saps", saying he specifically chose them because he knew they'd get all emotional and willing to help out an "old friend". When he's mortally wounded by Mal, he realizes just how far he's fallen.
- Saffron's M.O.
- Bi the Way: Inara; explicitly shown in "War Stories".
- Bittersweet Ending / Distant Finale: The short story "Take the Sky" included in the Firefly: Still Flying companion book. Set 20 years after Serenity, whether it leans towards bitter or sweet depends on which character you focus on. Of course, there is always the chance that it all takes place in Mal's head in a split second before he faces the Operative for the final time, but it is ambiguous enough to speculate on. And there might be foreshadowing.
- Black Market Produce: Shown in the pilot episode, with Kaylee enjoying a strawberry and the crew getting excited about fresh vegetables and herbs.
- Blah Blah Blah: Mal's "jabber, jabber, jabber".
- Blessed with Suck: River.
- Blood from Every Orifice: The Hands of Blue kill people using a small pen-shaped ultrasonic weapon that causes bleeding from he eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and even the finger nails. It looks extremely painful.
- Boisterous Bruiser:
- Jayne Cobb.
- Monty from "Trash".
- Boom, Headshot: Goodbye, Dobson. He survives in the comics, though. Not that it helps him any when Mal pulls this off a second time, with much more fatal results... and then shoots him again just to make sure.
- Born Unlucky: Mal. This and A Simple Plan have forced him to become a master of the Indy Ploy.
- Bounty Hunter: Jubal Early from "Objects in Space." Very much the evil sadist version.
- Break the Cutie:
- In this case, comes conveniently pre-broken. There are the R. Tam Sessions that were released as a lead-in to the movie, and several flashbacks to see her being broken.
- Jubal is breaking Kaylee in "Objects in Space". River helps fix her.
- Wash in the episode "War Stories", for a bit.
- Break Them by Talking: Inverted, when River gives one to Badger in "Shindig" and later to Jubal Early in "Objects in Space".
- Brick Joke: Combined with Precision F-Strike in "Jaynestown". At the start of the episode, Kaylee and Simon are arguing about whether or not Simon uses swear words. Simon says he swears "when it's appropriate." After arriving on Higgins' Moon and discovering a statue of Jayne in the town square, Simon lets out a dumbfounded "Son of a bitch!"
- Buffy Speak: ...well, it is a Joss Whedon show.
- Building Is Welding: Kaylee is welding the Ambulance in "Ariel."
- Bullet Proof Vest:
- Zoe's is dented in the pilot.
- Jubal Early is seen wearing what is referred to as 'armor' in "Objects in Space". Given the outfit's resemblance to that of the Operative and the Operative's armor's resemblance to the vests worn by Alliance federals and soldiers, this might indicate a consistent design in 26th century armor.
- Wash also very cheerfully suggests a subversion:
Wash: What about his face? Is his face wearing armor?
- Burn the Witch!: River almost has this done to her in "Safe."
- Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: "The Message."
- Bury Your Gays: In the climactic showdown of "Heart of Gold," the first person on the defenders' side to be shot is one of the few "boy whores," whom both Kaylee and Nandi imply only service men.
- Buy Them Off: In "War Stories", Zoe tries this to get Mal and Wash back from Niska. When Niska only consents to let one of them go and tries to give Zoe a Sadistic Choice, she doesn't hesitate to choose her husband.
- Tall Card, the card game played during "Shindig." The actors insisted that the writer create actual rules for the game, which she dutifully did, so that they would have proper motivation. It is still incomprehensible to the audience.
- The "hoop-ball" game they play at the start of "Bushwhacked," which even Simon says is not being played according to any rules that he can discern. It may be called "Spaceball," based on a soundtrack title.
- Cannibal Clan: The Reavers, inspired by the legendary Sawney Bean clan.
- Cannibal Larder: In "Bushwhacked", the Reavers left one of those in a spaceship they, well, bushwhacked.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: In "Out of Gas", Simon is apparently bad at telling funny stories about working at hospitals, not that Jayne gives him much of a chance. "Objects In Space" either shows that he can if he is given a chance, or else he just got better. When he tries to make a wry observation to Kaylee in "The Message," it goes very badly.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Played straight with Mal and Inara. Subverted, with Simon and Kaylee. He tells her she's pretty, even -- ''especially'' -- when she's covered in engine grease and later tells her his politeness (stiffness, in her book) is just his way of showing her he likes her. Of course, he still bungles the flirting after that pretty badly anyway.
- The Caper: "The Train Job," "Ariel," and "Trash." Also, the beginning of the Big Damn Movie.
- Caper Crew: Usually Mal as the Master Mind, Zoe as the Partner In Crime, both of them as the Burglars, Jayne as the Muscle, Wash as the Driver, Kaylee as the Gadget Girl and Coordinator.
- Car Fu: The Mule, done by Wash in "The Train Job", and later used in "War Stories" as well.
- The Caretaker: Simon, for River.
- The Cast Showoff: In case you did not know beforehand, "Safe" shows you that Summer Glau is a damn good dancer. Adam Baldwin also plays guitar.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: When Mal and Wash are being tortured by Niska, they argue about whether Mal ever slept with Zoe. Mal is doing this deliberately to keep Wash's mind active so he doesn't succumb to the torture. Later, after Wash is somewhat recovered, he realizes what Mal was doing with obvious gratitude.
- Casual Interplanetary Travel: The Verse is confirmed to take place in five star systems that are relatively close together.
- Chain Pain: Mentioned in the show; from "The Train Job":
- The Chains of Commanding: "Just... tell me when we get there."
- The Champion: Simon to River.
- Chance Meeting Between Antagonists: The episode "Trash" has Mal run into Saffron his ex-wife, who tried to get him and his crew killed on some backwater moon. As soon as they see each other they draw guns on each other.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The port compression coil. Mentioned back in episode one ("Serenity"). Becomes very important in episode 8 ("Out of Gas").
- Chronologically speaking, Kaylee telling Mal how the coil fits in the drive is a Chekhov's Gun, given that he remembers it after he is shot in the stomach and manages to install the coil even as he is bleeding. The same part then shows up at the dump on Ariel, only to be tossed aside by Wash. You'd think he'd want to keep a spare after what happened. Though Wash probably didn't know what it was; we see Kaylee find one in the Reaver wreckage and keep it.
- In "Our Mrs. Reynolds," Jayne shows off Vera, then uses it at the end of the episode to disable an electricity net.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Fess Higgins in "Jaynestown", who seems to be in an unimportant C plot with Inara...until he releases his father's land-lock on Serenity.
- Chiaroscuro: Used throughout the series, most often on the actual ship but also in other locations—for example, Badger's den on Persephone, and any of the border planets at night.
- China Takes Over the World: Or more accurately, China takes over half the world (and shares power with the United States).
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Mal suffers a vicious case of it.
- Cloning Body Parts: Possible but illegal because, according to Simon, "the technology's not ready yet." Nevertheless, in "The Message" Mal and Zoe's war buddy Tracy is being used to smuggle cloned organs.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: River Tam as a result of her psychosis.
- Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Simon.
- Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: The Alliance, which started out as an alliance between the United States and China. Unproduced scripts name it the "Anglo-Sino Alliance," but "Ariel" titles it the "Union of Allied Planets."
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Mal and Wash are tortured by Niska in "War Stories."
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Alliance wears primarily blue and grey to match all their shiny tech. A slur for them is "purple-belly," which refers to the purple-tinged armor seen on the footsoldiers. The Browncoats wear (obviously) brown, red, yellow, and orange, which goes with the Wild West setting. This symbolizes the Alliance's cold modernism versus the Browncoats' heart. The black-and-grey uniforms of anyone shown manning an Alliance ship are also pleasantly reminiscent of the crew (not the soldiers) of the Death Star.
- Combat Medic: Simon, when pressed. Zoe also has some experience with this, as seen briefly in "Safe"; although she has some trouble removing a bullet from Simon's leg at the end of "Objects in Space".
- Combat Pragmatist: A number of characters — particularly Mal — are willing to fight dirty. The only instance of anyone fighting clean on the show was Mal's duel with Atherton Wing in "Shindig". It started clean but, Atherton being a Jerk Ass and Mal being Mal, did not stay that way.
- Best exemplified in "The Train Job":
Mal: Say that to my face?
Bar fly: I said you were a coward... and a pisspot. Now what are you going to do about it?
Mal: Nothing. I just wanted you to face me so she could get behind you.
Whereupon the bar fly turns, just in time for his jaw to meet Zoe's shotgun butt.
- Command Roster:
- Companion Cube: "I call it Vera."
- Company Town: Canton, the ceramics workers' town on Higgins' Moon in the episode "Jaynestown", is explicitly called one by Jayne. Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get rich, the place is a mess, and the workers are mostly indentured so they can't quit. The RPG rulebook notes, however, that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode. It is also implied that not just Canton, but the entire moon that the episode is set on, is owned by Higgins, going by the fact that the moon is named after him, or at least his family.
- Continuity Nod: Starting in the pilot, every time Kaylee has occasion to talk to Mal about the engine, she's likely to bring up the port compression coil. Guess what blows in "Out of Gas"... and, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Chekhov's Gun that shows up again after it's been fired, Wash finds and chucks a port compression coil in the junkyard in "Ariel."
- Conveniently Close Planet: The planets in the setting are all located within a five-star system, allowing for them to be reached without faster than light travel. note
- Conveniently Coherent Thoughts: Played with in "Objects In Space." When River is shown reading the minds of the rest of the crew, their thoughts come in the form of clear sentences. However, in most cases they are non-sequiturs or irrelevant to the current situation or conversation. Except for the thoughts River gets when Zoe and Wash are making out; those actually come in the form of crashing ocean waves and other sensations that cause River to sway and stumble.
- Cool Gun: It's a Space Western. There are dozens of 'em.
- Special mentions: Mal's gun, which he describes in the comic Better Days as one of the only two things that have stuck with him since the war. The other would be Zoe. The gun is styled after 19th century revolvers, bearing the most resemblance those from Remington, but is an autoloader with the magazine in front of the trigger, much like a Mauser C96.
- Zoe carries a "Mare's Leg" — a lever-action rifle with a sawed-off barrel and stock — identical to that used by Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive.
- Jayne carries a Le Mat revolver — 9-shots of .42 caliber plus one of 16 gauge buckshot — which appears to have an accessory rail mounted above the barrel. He fires it ONCE onscreen. His FAVORITE gun is a Callahan Full-Bore Auto-Lock with a customized trigger and double cartridge thorough gauge which he named ''Vera''. It's based on the real-world Saiga assault shotgun, and was originally modified for the movie Showtime.
- In "Objects in Space" River picks up a desert eagle. How she got her hands on it, no-one knows.
- Several background characters are seen with British Webley or Enfield revolvers. Also seen are an M1 Carbine, several H&K prototypes, almost every bullpup rifle in use by a European military today... ...you get the idea.
- Cool Old Guy: Book.
- One rescues Kaylee from the Alpha Bitch in "Shindig." His name, only mentioned in the credits, is Murphy.
"What a vision you are in your fine dress — it must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days to get you into that getup. 'Course, your daddy tells me it takes the space of a schoolboy's wink to get you out of it again..."
- Cool People Rebel Against Authority
- Cool Starship:
- Serenity is one of the "rustbucket" variety.
- The gigantic flying wrecks of the Reaver ships are also... quite a sight to behold.
- Nothing says hubris like the Alliance's "flying city block" design.
- Several of Wash's old ships in the Float Out one-off comic count, as do the Reaver ship — with other ships welded to it for added coolness — and the shiny new Firefly-class.
- Corralled Cosmos: Enforced by Reaver territory.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Blue Sun is hinted at being behind the Academy. The fandom's view of Fox actively invokes this, as well.
- The Cortex Is For Porn: According to Simon and River's father in "Safe", who therefore refuses to allow a Dedicated Sourcebox in his house. But, his wife already ordered one for Simon, so he might as well give up the fantasy that this is his house.
- Covert Pervert: Both Kaylee and River like to watch. River even participates, after a fashion. At the end of the movie, she DOES watch... Kaylee and her brother, which spawned at least two fanfics.
- 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 population and the creation of the Reavers.
- Crazy Cultural Comparison: In the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds," Mal accidentally gets married because what he thought were general celebrations on some backwater planet actually included a wedding ritual. Thankfully for Mal's romantic life, Saffron's actual plans include stealing his ship, and preclude any long-term relationship.
Wash: Some people juggle geese!
- Creepy Child: River, one of the rare heroic examples.
- Creepy Souvenir: Reavers take people's skins as trophies, cover their spaceships with blood and they tie whole corpses to the front of their ships.
- The Crime Job: "The Train Job".
- Crouching Crazy, Hidden Badass: River.
- Culture Chop Suey: Due to its backstory of America and China being the two first superpowers to colonize space, the Verse is a mishmash of Western and Eastern cultures.
- In "Ariel", Mal says that Book is probably contemplating a rock garden while visiting an abbey. Rock gardens are more characteristic of Eastern religions, especially Zen Buddhism. Mal may have simply been making a joke, but this suggests the Christianity that Book follows has incorporated some elements of Buddhism as well.
- The funeral at the end of "Heart of Gold" suggests a Christian/Buddhist fusion, including both a cross and Eastern-style incense bowls.
- Cultured Badass: Inara.
- Curse of the Ancients: All the swearing that is not done in "Mandarin"(-ish) has an Old West feel to it. Gorramit.
- The Cutie: Kaylee and River.
- Danger Deadpan: Wash is a completely different character when flying the ship: normally he is loud and panicky, but at the helm, he is completely calm and collected, no matter what imminent doom might be following him. Well, it started out this way, he got a bit more excitable while flying later on in the series, particularly in "The Message". On the DVD commentary Joss states it was due to the influence of playing an Xbox another cast member gave him.
- Dangerous Phlebotinum Interaction: In "Ariel" an undercover Simon Tam saves a patient from cardiac arrest, then tears the patient's doctor a new one for causing it. The doctor had made the mistake of giving his patient a painkiller that, when combined with a standard prep drug used for the patient's procedure, reacts to form a vasoconstrictor.
- Dark Action Girl: Saffron. She's introduced in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" as an innocent girl from a backwater No Woman's Land planet who was sold into marriage with Mal as payment for a job. In reality, she's actually an incredibly skilled con artist with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, typically seducing men (and women, if Inara's any indication) and then stealing from them and leaving them for dead. Both of her appearances show she is plenty capable of kicking ass as well, especially in hand-to-hand combat.
- Dark Reprise: "Jaynestown" ends with a redux of "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb".
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Plenty of sneaky references.
- From "Our Mrs. Reynolds":
Mal: It's been a while — a long, damn while — since anybody but me took a hold of my plow...
Jayne: I'll be in my bunk.
Kaylee: Goin' on a year now I ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!
- Dashingly Dapper Derby/Dastardly Dapper Derby: Badger's "very fine hat".
- Data Pad: A deleted scene from the pilot has Simon looking up the origin of the ship's name on a voice-activated tablet. A brief scene from the movie also has Mal looking at what appears to be a video postcard of Inara moving out of her shuttle.
- Dead Man Writing:
- Played with in "The Message".
- Mr. Universe's Sex Bot in the movie.
- Deadly Euphemism: A clever one in "Heart of Gold".
- Deadly Nosebleed: And eyes, ears and fingernails bleed. This is the first indication that the implement held by the Blue Hands is deadly.
- Deadpan Snarker: Everyone. Yes, even Jayne. Everyone also has at least one moment of Snark Fail, often just as funny.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Shepherd Book.
- Invoked in the Pilot when Mal rips the authorization code off a fallen comrade and then tells one of his squaddies "You're Lieutenant Baker" so they can order air support.
- Death by Sex: Nandi in "Heart of Gold".
- Death Glare
- Hell, Zoe does it a lot. Zoe to Niska in "War Stories". Zoe to Mal in "Shindig". Zoe to Wash... frequently.
- Mal's glare can probably blow up a Reaver ship.
- Jayne during the interrogation scene in "Bushwacked". Played for laughs.
- Simon does not need to look formidable. His eyes are scary enough.
- From the movie:
Simon: This isn't fear, this is anger.
Mal: Face like yours, it's hard to tell.
Simon: I imagine if it was fear, my eyes would be wider.
- Death Ray: The Hands of Blue's creepy ultrasonic weapon.
- Derelict Graveyard: The Reaver ships around Miranda, as well as the ruined ships in the first comic series.
- Description Porn: Jayne gets this way about Vera, his favorite gun, in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
Jayne: Six men came to kill me one time; the best of 'em carried this. It's a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge... it is my very favorite gun.
- Despair Event Horizon: Mal crosses this at the battle of Serenity Valley, not even blinking when his comrade is blown away beside him when he realizes that the Independents have lost. River's dialogue indicates that she crossed it at some point during her time at the Academy.
- The Battle of Serenity Valley is also the moment Mal loses his faith. If you look carefully, you'll notice he's wearing a crucifix during that scene. From that point on, he's openly antagonistic to any display of religion.
- While never mentioned in-series, it was likely compounded by the fact that during the same timeframe, the Alliance orbitally bombarded Mal's homeworld of Shadow so intensely that it was rendered uninhabitable afterwards.
- Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach ("Shindig") or being tortured to death ("War Stories") get in the way. This, combined with his Combat Pragmatism, is why he wins fights with opponents much more skilled and better-equipped. If he's breathing, he is never, ever beaten.
- And even if he's not breathing. After the aforementioned torturers kill him, they shock him back to life. And then he proceeds to lay a beatdown on them both. The man is practically Made of Iron.
- The RPG gives a continuity nod to this sequence, describing it as an "Incredible" Discipline skill check. For reference, that's 6/8 possible difficulty levels, and they don't necessarily scale linearly.
- Simon has more than a little of this in him. Nothing — not even a bullet in the leg ("Objects in Space") — is going to keep him from protecting and caring for his baby sister.
- Differently Powered Individual: Psychics are informally referred to as "readers".
Mal: We're not thieves... but we are thieves. The point is we're not taking what's his.
Simon: (to Jayne) You're like a trained ape! Without the training!
- Distressed Damsel: River, constantly, as well as Kaylee. Joss Whedon was once heard to say that whenever they felt they needed to up the drama, they would just have someone hold the cute engineer at gunpoint.
- Disturbing Statistic: From "Safe":
River: The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds given adequate vacuuming systems.
: See, morbid and creepifying
I don't have a problem with. Long as she does it quiet-like.
- Don't Think. Feel: When the crew invades a skyplex to rescue The Captain in "War Stories", secondary defense of the ship relies on a shepherd, a doctor, a mechanic and a mentally traumatised young girl. At the time, Book is the only with known combat training. Although Simon does try hard to help, Book ends up having to advise him that he's thinking too much and should just go with the shot. In the end, it doesn't help. Simon still can't hit the broad side of a barn. His sister, on the other hand... ''does'' feel it.
- When Kaylee asks how a client is chosen, Inara tries to explain that it's a process of feeling out a client through compatibility of spirit rather than actually thinking logically and carefully about it. Mal doesn't believe a word of it.
- Doomed Defeatist: The opening scene for the series is a flashback to the Unification War. Mal Reynolds is leading a group that's holding ground against a numerically larger opponent. One of his soldiers, Private Bendis, says they're going to die. Mal tells him reinforcements on on their way and they'll be okay. Instead it's the enemy that gets reinforced and Bendis is killed while standing next to Mal.
- Doomed Hometown: Mal's homeworld was "Shadow", a major Browncoat holdout from Unification, which the Alliance orbitally bombarded so much that the whole moon was rendered uninhabitable afterwards.
- Double Caper: "The Train Job".
- Dramatic Space Drifting:
- During the episode "Objects in Space", in which Jubal Early is spaced and left to die. Played for comedic value at the end of the episode, where even Jubal recognizes he is performing some excellent Dramatic Space Drifting. "Well... here I am."
- In "Bushwhacked", when Serenity encounters a derelict ship and then a dead body smacks into the cockpit windshield, startling Wash (and the audience).
- The Dreaded: The Reavers.
- Drugged Lipstick: Saffron.
- Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Simon Tam saves a man's life from his incompetent doctor while breaking into an Alliance hospital to check on his sister's condition.
- Duel of Seduction: Saffron and Inara. Inara wins (at least, she recognizes the game).
- Dull Surprise: Mal reacts this way at times. In the pilot episode "Serenity", he reacts to opening Simon's box and seeing River with a dazed stare and simply muttering, "Huh." Happens again in "War Stories" when he meets Inara's guest the Councillor, who is revealed to be a woman and not the male assistant who first entered Serenity.
- Dumb Struck: A girl in the village of the people that kidnap Simon and River.
- The Dung Ages: Some of the outer planets are... backwards in terms of technology and cleanliness. A particular example is Higgin's Moon, where the filthy, impoverished slaves are constantly covered in dirt and mud because they literally are farming mud (or rather, the materials used to make high-quality ceramics).
- Dutch Angle / Hitler Cam: How the power members are often shot when they're being Big Damn Heroes.
- Dying Alone: From "Out of Gas".
Inara: Mal, you don't have to die alone.
Mal: Everybody dies alone.
- Dynamic Entry: "Serenity" (pilot episode): "Anyone so much as moves—" *headshot* Bonus points to Mal for pulling this off against a man holding a hostage without so much as breaking his stride: the unholstering and execution happen as casually as breathing.
- Early Installment Weirdness: In the pilot episode Inara is referred to as "the ambassador" by several characters in multiple situations, which Mal explains is because her status as a Companion often helps them gain access to worlds they would normally be barred from. Though they continue to exploit her high society contacts throughout the series, her nickname never appears after the first episode. On a more fundamental level, Wash's character evolved over the series as he progressed from a very reserved pilot when in danger in the first episode to an excitable and loud pilot in "The Message".
- Also, Book shows some nervousness in the pilot when he's around Inara, although this may be lingering embarrassment on his part that the "Ambassador" nickname led him to believe she was a state official before Mal tells him her real profession.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: It says something when this series' ending is one of the more positive ones Joss Whedon wrote.
- Earth That Was: The Trope Namer.
- Eloquent In My Native Tongue: Although (according to the DVD) a translator worked hard to get Chinese slang correct, and the actors studied recordings, it was still mangled in pronunciation.
- Emergency Cargo Dump: In episode "Jaynestown", Jayne explains that he once pulled a heist on Higgins' Moon, but then had to dump the cargo to stay airborne after he got hit by anti-aircraft fire, and the strongbox inadvertently landed in the indentured workers' Company Town causing Jayne to become a local hero. He neglects to mention he pushed his partner Stitch Hessian out first, and Magistrate Higgins sends the vengeful Stitch after him.
- Environmental Symbolism
- Epic Hail:
- The button in "Out of Gas". Subverted in that it was never actually used.
- In the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite", Alan Tudyk recalls sending the button from this episode to Joss Whedon with a note quoting his line (paraphrased): "When your miracle gets here, just push this button to call us back." It turned out that this happened while Joss was fighting for Serenity to get the green light.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Jayne's "cunning" hat (and the letter accompanying it, revealing that he sends money to his family).
- Even Jayne Cobb Has Standards: While Jayne really doesn't get along with the Tams to the point he tries to sell them back to the Alliance, even he is visibly shocked to hear the extent to which the Academy screwed with River's brain. So much so that he tries to get them out as fast as possible, so as to escape the Alliance guards he called.
- Everyone Can See It: Mal and Inara are fooling exactly no one. Inara gets away with it a little more than Mal (even her friend Nandi initially doesn't realize Inara has feelings for him, though she does eventually), but Shepherd Book figures it out within a day of being on the ship.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Wash's toys which he is seen playing with in the pilot.
- Also, in the flashback in 'Safe,' young River (while playing) claims they've been cut off from their platoon because the Independents were using dinosaurs.
- Erotic Eating: Kaylee with the strawberries. Particularly in the unaired pilot version.
- Everyone's Baby Sister: Though nearly all of the main characters were gravely injured in one way or another over the course of the series, Kaylee's injury was made, by far, the most personal for the rest of the characters, to the point where Mal was ready to throw Simon out of the airlock.
- Evil Brit: The only characters with British accents are London Gangster Badger and Jerkass Atherton Wing, who both appear in the episode "Shindig". And, of course, the Operative in The Movie.
- Evil Laugh: In the pilot episode "Serenity" Wash, while playing with toy dinosaurs, proclaims that the Allosaurus has "an evil laugh" when it betrays the Stegosaurus.
- Evil Redhead: Saffron.
- Exact Words: Point of interest, seems 'understand', according to Merriam Webster, means "To grasp the meaning/reasonableness of", whereas 'comprehend' means "to grasp the nature/significance of". Take this into consideration as you rewatch "Objects In Space," River was trying to explain to Mal that she understands that guns are bad, but that she wasn't perceiving what she was holding to be a gun at all (the audience could see she thought she was holding a tree branch).
- Expanded Universe: The Movie, the comics, online clips and games.
- Extreme Melee Revenge: Episode 10, "War Stories". Mal is captured by the elderly and sadistic Niska, is brutally tortured via electric shock, has his ear cut off, and is then killed painfully only to be resuscitated for further torture. When Mal's crew stages a rescue, Mal overcomes the guard and gives Niska a huge beatdown.
- Eyepatch of Power: Dobson, in Those Left Behind.
- Eye Scream:
- River Tam had this happen to her with needles at one point during her time at the Academy, though we only see flashes of this from a nightmare in "The Train Job". Later in "Safe", she rails at Simon during one of her crazy fits that "You can't just stick needles in my eyes and ask me what I see!"
- "Jaynestown": Jayne's former partner Stitch who was imprisoned in the town lost an eye in the (in)famous incident when Jayne threw him out of their plane.
- "Jaynestown": When Stitch is looking for Jayne to get his revenge, he finds Simon in the local pub. Simon is not as cooperative as Stitch would like him to be, and threatens that it will cost him his eyeball. With a really big knife in his hand.
- In the comics, Book has an eye surgically removed and replaced with a camera before the war. This allows his Independent superiors to keep an eye on him while he infiltrates the Alliance military.
- In the comics, Dobson from the pilot episode appears again. He did not die and he holds a grudge about our intrepid crew because he lost his eye in his encounter with them.
- Fake Brit: Invoked Trope. River's mimicry of Badger's accent in "Shindig".
- Fantasy Conflict Counterpart: According to Joss Whedon the setting was partially inspired by journals of Confederate soldiers on the frontier from The American Civil War, and the Unification War and aftermath has its similarities (Alliance occupation troops in the series' present = Union occupation troops during Reconstruction, for instance). However the comparison isn't perfect, as the Independent Faction started out independent instead of trying to secede and failing.
- Farm Boy: Mal is a Farm Boy, having been raised by his mother and 40 hands on a ranch back on his homeworld, Shadow. He spoke about it only once.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: Averted; Joss Whedon mentioned there is no faster than light travel in the Firefly-verse and supplemental materials indicate ships in the verse only get up to about 1/3 of light speed through inertial screening and gravity manipulation.
- Fate Worse Than Death: There's a reason Jubal's threat to Kaylee in "Objects in Space" isn't a death threat.
- Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: In a deleted scene for "Our Mrs. Reynolds", River tries to convince Shepherd Book to marry her and Simon.
- Faux Affably Evil:
- Jubal Early from "Objects in Space".
- Adelai Niska, as seen in his introduction in "The Train Job".
Niska: You do not like I kill this man?
Mal: No, I'm sure he was a... very bad person.
Niska: My wife's nephew. (waves dismissively) At dinner I am getting earful.
- Faux Death:
- River and Simon in "Ariel".
- Tracy in "The Message". In fact, he was put under by the same drug as the Tam siblings.
- Favouritism Flip Flop: In "Heart of Gold":
Jayne: Don't know these folks, don't much care to.
Mal: They're whores.
Jayne: I'm in.
- Fetal Position Rebirth: River.
- Feudal Future: There are a few Feudal Lords (barons, dukes, etc.) on different planets in Firefly.
- In "Shindig", Mal goes to a party full of aristocrats and winds up fighting one of them in an old-fashioned sword duel.
- "Jaynestown" features a moon ruled by (and named after) an aristocrat.
- Filk Song: Mal's Song, by Michelle Dockrey, incorporates the series theme song as the chorus.
- Finagle's Law: In the Serenity RPG, the name of the complication is "Things Don't go Smooth", taken from a line in "Safe". The description is basically this trope. As should be obvious, Mal canonically has the Major version of this complication listed on his character sheet.
Mal: It never goes smooth. Why don't it ever go smooth?
- Fire-Forged Friends:
- Mal and Zoe, to a Platonic Life Partners level. We don't see the exact moment of forging; rather, the war they were in together seems to have been a protracted forging process.
- In the pilot episode Mal and Simon start off as rivals because of the clash of their respective Papa Wolf instincts. At the end of the Pilot they learn to respect each other; Mal can think of many unkind things to say about Simon, but he recognizes he ain't weak.
- In "Trash", Saffron observes that Mal and Monty may have this in their past.
- First Blood: "Out of Gas".
- Fish out of Water: Simon is nervous and uncomfortable and damned near useless most of the time, so it is surprising when he has a complete personality flip and is suddenly the person with all the knowledge and confidence whenever there is a medical emergency. "Ariel" is pretty much one prolonged Crowning Moment of Awesome for him because of this.
- Floating Continents: The estates on Bellerophon, seen in "Trash".
- Foe-Tossing Charge: In "Safe", Simon does this to three men while trying to protect River from being burned at the stake. He ultimately fails to save River, but it's still an impressive attempt.
- Food Pills: The ration bars from the "Serenity" pilot episode.
- The Four Gods: The five suns of the verse have both English and Chinese names: Blue Sun/Qing Long, Red Sun/Zhu Qe, White Sun/Bai Hu, Georgia/Huang Long and Kalidasa/Xuan Wu.
- Foreign Cuss Word: The Mangled Mandarin swearing.
- Foreshadowing: In the pilot:
Mal: How come you didn't turn on me, Jayne?
Jayne: Money wasn't good enough.
Mal: What happens when it is?
Jayne: Well, that'll be an interestin' day.
- A very subtle one in "Our Mrs. Reynolds": the music that plays while Mal is unknowingly getting married follows the famous chord structure of Pachelbel's Canon, a very popular wedding song.
- Kaylee mentions in the first episode that they need a new compression coil, or else the ship will not work. Unfortunately, Mal does not listen and that is exactly what causes the problem in "Out of Gas".
- A good one in "Trash" when Simon confronts Jayne about his betrayal on Ariel. After Simon leaves, River, in a seemingly funny and Cloud Cuckoo Lander statement, says "Also, I can kill you with my brain". The significance of this statement is revealed in "Objects in Space" where River's intelligence, creativity and strategising comes together to defeat Jubal in a giant Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- A major example when the crew encounters Reavers in the pilot, which becomes important in the movie when they need some 'backup' against the Alliance fleet:
Mal: If we run, they have to chase us. It's their way.
- The first thing we see of Wash is him playing with toy dinosaurs, acting out a scenario where one suddenly but inevitably betrays the other, who responds by cursing him and trying to kill him. Later on, Jayne betrays Simon and River, and by extension Mal. Mal nearly kills him over it.
- Former Teen Rebel: Book. He eventually became a preacher, but he started out as a petty teenage criminal then became a spy during the war.
- Freudian Trio
- A Friend in Need
- From The Latin Intro Ducere: In "The Train Job", River comments on Mal's name, saying: "Mal. Bad. In the Latin."
- Full-Frontal Assault: Tracey in "The Message". He's unaware at the time, but after:
Tracey: I think I'm nekkid.
- Fumbling The Gauntlet: Mal to Atherton Wing in "Shindig".
- Funny Afro: In "Jaynestown", Book lets his hair out once. Once. Could also be considered a Scary Afro. And not just if you happen to be named River. Even Zoe is freaked out for a moment.
- Fun T-Shirt: Jayne has loads of them.
- Future Food Is Artificial: The processed protein which the crew largely subsists on fits this trope. Averted by Shepherd, who gives the crew strawberries, tomatoes and other fresh food when he first boards Serenity.
- Future Slang
- Gang of Bullies: Kaylee experiences some harassment at an upper-class party from a quartet of female attendees in "Shindig".
- Geeky Turn-On:
- Kaylee in "Shindig", managing to woo several gentlemen with her tech savvy.
- Kaylee's introduction in "Out of Gas", which reveals that engines make her hot.
- Simon in "Jaynestown", while in an advanced state of inebriation, reveals that he finds Kaylee especially pretty when she's covered in engine grease.
- Gender-Blender Name: Because "The Hero of Canton, the man they call Fred" just would not have the same zing.
- River comments on this in "Trash":
Jayne: Well, as a rule, I say girl-folk ain't to be trusted.
River: Jayne is a girl's name.
Jayne: Well, Jayne ain't a girl! If she starts in on that girl's name thing, I'll show her good and all I got man parts. (shoves his hand in his pants for emphasis)
Simon: I'm trying to think of a way for you to be cruder. I just... It's not coming.
- Generican Empire: "Union of Allied Planets" often shortened to just "The Alliance". Unproduced scripts actually named it the "Anglo-Sino Alliance," reflecting its nature as a merger between the United States and China prior to the final abandonment of Earth That Was, but this never made it into the final production.
- Genre Savvy: Abso-gorram-lutely everyone.
Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction.
Zoe: We live in a spaceship, dear.
- Gentleman Snarker: Simon. From a flashback in "Safe":
Simon: I'm sorry, Dad. I would never have tried to save River's life if I had known there was a dinner party at risk.
- Also, the elderly gentleman who rescued Kaylee from the Alpha Bitch in "Shindig".
Gentleman: 'Why, Banning Miller! What a vision you are in your fine dress. It must have taken a dozen slaves a dozen days just to get you into that get-up. 'Course, your daddy tells me it takes the space of a school-boy's wink to get you out of it again.'
- Genre Throwback: To westerns and space operas, at the same time.
- Get It Over With: Atherton and the spectators after Mal wins the duel in "Shindig".
- Ghost Ship: "Bushwhacked".
- Girl in a Box: River, which is often mistaken by many to be a Shout-Out to Outlaw Star, though Whedon has denied this. Specifically called "a girl in a box" in one of the trailers.
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot:
- Five words: "I'll be in my bunk." Inara and the ambassador turned Jayne on.
- Mal (incorrectly) guesses that Inara kissed Saffron in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", which knocked her out, as did Mal, by way of a poisoned kiss. He giddily grins at Inara's "affirmation" and walks off, leaving behind a very confused and very annoyed Inara.
- Give Me a Sword
- Give Me Back My Wallet: Near the beginning of the episode "The Message".
- Goggles Do Something Unusual: It's not remarked upon in the series, but in the comic miniseries Better Days, it's mentioned that the sunglasses Simon is wearing in the pilot hide his eyes from retina scanners.
- Good Feels Good: Jayne learns this due to his 100% Heroism Rating in Canton. However, it doesn't end well.
- Good Is Not Nice: Mal and most of the rest of the crew of Serenity are generally altruistic. That does not make them nice guys, however, as fellows like Crow ("The Train Job") and Atherton Wing ("Shindig") would attest.
Mal: Mercy is the mark of a great man. [stabs Atherton] Guess I'm just a good man. [stabs Atherton again] Well, I'm alright.
- Good Is Not Dumb: In the episode "Trash," Saffron assumes Mal is an idiot because he is being kind and compassionate to her. Then she walks headlong into his Xanatos Gambit when it turns out he expected her sudden but inevitable betrayal, and Inara beats her to the drop point.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Subverted, in that every time Mal goes up against a competent enemy, he loses. Except the swordfight in "Shindig", but he was not using fisticuffs, he was using whatever he could.
- Said swordfight was also a match he lost, at first.
- Good People Have Good Sex: From "Shindig":
Wash: I like our party better. The dress code is easier, and I know all the steps!
Zoe: [contented sigh] I'd say you do at that.
- Good Shepherd: Who will shoot you in the kneecaps and chop off your killer robots' heads with a giant curved machete.
- The Government: Alliance.
- Government Conspiracy: Hands of Blue — possibly a private sector conspiracy by Blue Sun, but with definite government involvement.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Mandarin-ish 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, and some of them are absolutely hilarious in English.
- Great Offscreen War: The Unification War, except for the final battle and a few flashbacks.
- Green-Eyed Monster: In "War Stories", Wash and Zoe are having a lover's spat, as Wash is very suspicious of Mal always, always bringing Zoe along on missions and laughing it up with old war stories. He finally demands that he go so that Zoe is away from Mal, and so he can do something fun and exciting, and as the mission drags on, accuses Mal of being in love with Zoe. The mission nearly gets them both killed, traumatizes Wash, and leads to Mal and Zoe pranking Wash at the end of the episode by mockingly attempting to consummate their "relationship". Mal actually invokes it to keep Wash alive and focused during the torture.
- Atherton, towards... well, anyone near Inara.
- The Great Repair: "Out of Gas".
- Guns Akimbo: Zoe and Jayne in "War Stories".
- Gunship Rescue: Repeatedly.
- Subverted: Serenity doesn't have any guns. Although on one occasion ("Safe"), she did have a big scary man with a gun hanging out of her.
- At the beginning of "The Train Job" Wash helps Mal, Zoe and Jayne escape from a bar brawl by threatening to start shooting. When everyone is onboard he laughs. "Transport ships don't have guns."
Wash: (speaking from inside Serenity) Every man there, go back inside, or we will blow a new crater in this little moon.
Jayne: (after the three of them have boarded) Damn yokels can't even tell transport ships don't have no guns on it! "Blow a new crater in this moon..." (laughs)
- Hacker Cave: Mister Universe's home in the movie.
- Half the Man He Used to Be: In "War Stories" after the torturer is shot, repeatedly, he falls onto some machinery, and gets cut in half.
- Hand Cannon:
- Mal's trusty service pistol fires .303 rifle rounds.
- Zoe favors a hogleg (a.k.a. mare's leg), a cut-down 1892 Winchester carbine worn in a hip holster.
- Jayne's better known for Vera, but he's hardly lacking in the handgun department. His main sidearm is a LeMat, a nine-chamber revolver with a second barrel for buckshot. That's right, tropers: a pistol and a shotgun.
- There's also a bunch of one-shot characters with large handguns. One is reminded of one of Dobson's semiautomatics in "Serenity", and Stitch Hessian's sawed-off shotgun in "Jaynestown".
- Happily Married: Zoe and Wash.
- Hearing Voices: River.
- Heroic BSOD: A good number, including River throughout most of the series, and Mal is still recovering from the one at the end of the battle for Serenity Valley. On a lighter note, however, is the absolutely hilarious look of shock on his face right before the title sequence in "Our Mrs. Reynolds," after Saffron explains the situation to him.
- Heroic Sacrifice: 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.
- I Call It "Vera": A funny scene with Jayne and Mal in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" is the Trope Namer, where Jayne attempts to trade his favorite gun "Vera" for Mal's accidental wife Saffron.
- I Can't Dance: Just barely averted in the episode "Shindig" because real life writes the plot. The actors spent so much time rehearsing the "Mal can't dance" scene that Nathan Fillion actually learned to perform the choreography very well, so after recording the scene they had to dub in a line where Mal remarks that this is one dance he actually knows.
- Iconic Outfit: Jayne's knitted hat.
- If I Do Not Return: Subverted in The Big Damn Movie:
Mal: Zoe, ship is yours. Remember, if anything happens to me, or if you don't hear from me within the hour, you take this ship... and you come rescue me.
Zoe: What? And risk my ship?
Mal: I mean it! It's cold out there, and I don't wanna get left!
- If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: In some Casual Danger Dialog in "The Train Job":
Mal: I'd do this job for free!
Zoe: Does that mean I get your share?
Zoe: If you die do I get your share?
- In "Safe" Jayne doesn't even bother to call dibs. As soon as Simon and River get unintentionally marooned, he goes to Simon's cabin and starts looting the place.
Jayne (checking one of Simon's shirts to see if it would fit): Amazing we kept 'em this long.
- I Have Many Names: YoSaffBridge, "Saffron"'s nickname during "Trash", as a result of her using many, many names whenever she's seducing men - be it Saffron, Yolanda, or Bridget.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Kaylee getting shot by Dobson in the pilot.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: River.
- "I Know What We Can Do" Cut: For team heists.
- I'll Be in My Bunk: The trope name comes from a line spoken by Jayne in "War Stories" which becomes a bit of a Running Gag on and off screen.
- Ill Girl: River, of course. And as revealed in "The Message", Jayne faithfully sends money home to treat his ill brother Mattie's damp lung disease. Also, Inara.
- I'm a Humanitarian: One of the things the Reavers do to their victims, according to Zoe in the pilot. If you are very, very lucky, they will wait until after they rape you to death.
- I'm Going to Hell for This: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", this is what Shepherd promises will happen to Mal if he takes advantage of his accidental wife, Saffron.
If you take sexual advantage of her, you're going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
- She then tries to seduce him:
Mal: Oh, I'm going to the special hell.
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Depending on the episode, mooks can be hilariously incompetent or amazingly adept. For example, in the pilot's final shoot-out, Mal and Zoe are standing in the open, with no cover, against a numerically superior enemy force. Zoe gets hit dead center in the chest as a signal the fight has started, but for the rest of the fight, no-one can do anything but clip Mal, even though he's standing only a dozen yards away and only moving slowly. Zoe, on the other hand, brings down one of the bad guys, without even getting back up off the floor. Though to be fair, Jayne was listening in from a sniper's nest, and possibly took out the only mook acknowledged to have any skill gunslinging.
- Subverted in "War Stories". When the gang invades Niska's sky complex to rescue Mal and not a single one of them gets hit (even when Zoe stops bothering to use cover), it looks like a straight example of this trope. However, after it's all over, the ensuing conversation reveals it wasn't just the bad guys who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn... Simon couldn't either.
Mal: So, I hear you all took up arms in that little piece of action back there... how you faring with that, doctor?
Simon: I donít know... I... er... yeah, I never shot anyone before.
Book: I was there, son. Iím fair sure you havenít shot anyone yet.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: "Serenity" (pilot episode): Did Mal just stroll into the ship while pulling a perfect headshot — on someone with a hostage?! Earlier in the same episode: Did Zoe just shoot a man off a moving horse... while still lying down from getting shot?
- "Safe": Did Zoe just shoot a man's gun out of his hand... from a hundred meters off... from the hip??
- "Our Mrs. Reynolds": Did Zoe just hit two mooks on horses while diving sideways into a river?
- "War Stories": Did River just peek around the corner and then kill three guys perfectly without looking??
- Of course, it's Justified with River.
- Improbable Piloting Skills: "War Stories": Did Wash just perfectly hit a skyplex docking seal with a powered down Firefly from 6000 miles away? Yes, I believe that's exactly what he just did.
Zoe: It's like throwing a dart, Jayne... and hitting a bulls-eye 6000 miles away. That's my man.
- Inconvenient Hippocratic Oath: Simon, in "Ariel", responding to a Code Blue that occurs right in front of him, despite his fugitive status, and therefore giving us a rare moment of seeing him as he truly is rather than the Fish out of Water he often is when on Serenity. It also reinforces the strong suggestion in the pilot that he was only bluffing when he claimed he would let Kaylee die if they didn't run from the Alliance (a bluff that was revealed at the time because as soon as Mal gave the order, Simon helped Kaylee - reacting faster to Mal's words than even Zoe did, which means he didn't bother waiting to see if Mal was bluffing or if any of the crew would actually carry out the order).
- Indentured Servitude: Present as part of the setting's massive Schizo Tech.
- In "The Train Job" Inara extricates Mal and Zoe from the local sheriff by claiming he's a runaway indentured man whom she located after he embezzled money from her accounts.
- On Higgins' Moon ("Jaynestown") most of the ceramics workforce is indentured, which allows the magistrate owning their contracts to get filthy rich by keeping conditions in the Company Town as cheap and crappy as possible and paying them as little as possible. The RPG says his son has been working to improve things since the episode, though.
- Indy Ploy
- I Never Said It Was Poison: When the Alliance boards Serenity in the episode "Bushwhacked" after finding them engaged in illegal salvaging, the officer in charge mentions having received an alert about a fugitive "brother and sister" escaping on a ship matching their description. Mal inverts the trope by pretending to assume he means a pair of children. The officer seems annoyed to have to correct him that they are interested in a pair of adult siblings but quickly lets the subject drop.
- I Never Told You My Name: In "Trash," Mal is introduced to an old war buddy's new wife- who is a con artist that Mal has previously had a rather severe run-in with. They commence fighting, Mal shouts accusations at her, to which she responds "You're a liar, Malcolm Reynolds!" His friend had never told her Mal's full name.
- In Medias Res: The pilot episode begins right at the end of the Battle of Serenity Valley, one of the key turning points in the Unification War. "Out of Gas" begins towards the climax of that episode's story. "Trash" begins with Mal sitting naked in the desert, then goes on to explain how this came about.
- Insane Equals Violent: The Reavers. River averts it, though the crew thinks this is the case when she slashes Jayne (really going after the Blue Sun logo on his T-shirt). Her sudden assassin-ness in the bar in Serenity is due to her government conditioning, not her insanity.
- Insistent Terminology: Inara's repeated claim that she "hit her head" after she was knocked out giving the kiss of life to Mal, unaware that the drug that rendered him unconscious was on his lips.
- In a more straight-up and realistic application of this trope, in "Bushwhacked", Inara corrects an interrogation officer who calls the ship "the Serenity". It should be simply referred to as Serenity.
- Instant Sedation: The Goodnight Kiss does this, as Mal discovers. It takes a bit longer to work on Inara - several seconds instead of just one or two.
- In "The Train Job", it takes several minutes for the drug to knock out Jayne, but it still occurred faster than it would in real life and Simon indicated it acted on Jayne slower than it would normally affect most other people.
- Insult to Rocks: From "Shindig":
Sir Warrick: I know [Badger], and I think he's a psychotic lowlife.
Mal: And I think calling him that is an insult to the psychotic lowlife community.
- Intrepid Merchant: Mal and his crew have elements of this, though profit seems hard to come by.
- Invulnerable Knuckles: Played straight throughout most of the series, but averted in the Bar Brawl that opens "The Train Job". After the fight, which was solidly composed of Good Old Fisticuffs, Mal goes to the infirmary to mend his split knuckles and even admits to Simon that you are never supposed to hit somebody in the head with a closed fist because of the damage you will do to your own hand.
- Ironic Echo : In the episode "War Stories", Kaylee to River, after playfully wrestling an apple from her, and then River to Kaylee after killing three men:
"No power in the 'verse can stop me."
- Also in the same episode, when he's about to torture Mal, Niska apparently wants to meet "the real [Mal]". Once Mal incapacitates his torturer and sees Niska scurrying helplessly away, Mal angrily shouts, "You wanna meet the real me?"
- Tracy's message in, well, "The Message" is repeated after he's actually dead. Tracy himself even lampshades it a little as he's dying.
- ISO Standard Human Spaceship: While most ships in the 'verse seem to follow this trope, the Alliance cruisers strongly avert it, appearing as a series of pyramidal towers of varying sizes attached by sky-bridges and sharing a common base.
- I Will Find You: Simon finding River.
- It Always Rains at Funerals: At the end of "The Message" Tracy's funeral occurs while it's snowing. Then again, the way he specifically states he wants to take his family somewhere warmer would suggest that it just snows a lot on that planet.
- It Meant Something to Me:
- Subtle version in "Heart of Gold". Mal and Inara dress up and pretend to be a couple to go stake out the villain of the week together at a theater. No big deal is made of this. Mal agrees to help a friend of Inara fight against the villain, one thing leads to another, Inara finds out.
- Mal gets some of this in "Objects in Space", as when River reads his thoughts, he's trying to convince himself their relationship doesn't mean anything.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Simon accusing Mal of being willing to sell him and River to the Alliance. Out of line? Not when you remember that Mal's first words to Dobson after The Reveal were "Say, is there a reward?"
- Jayne also has a tendency to invoke this trope, particularly when clashing with Mal on Simon and River. Mal seems to realize it, too.
- Jittercam: Including CGI scenes. Zoic, who did the CGI scenes, would go on to use the same techniques in Battlestar Galactica.
- Karma Houdini: Adelai Niska from "War Stories", who was apparently spared after torturing Wash and Mal for hours, actually killing and then resurrecting Mal to continute to torture him. Probably would have been averted had the series not ended so abruptly.
- Karmic Thief: The crew of Serenity participates in several heists, but they are only willing to steal from the rich, and corrupt, especially those associate with the Alliance. After one heist ("The Train Job"), they end up returning the stolen goods when they find out that ordinary people have been put in danger by their theft.
- Kick the Dog: Jayne delivers a truly epic one in "Bushwhacked" to Simon after finding out he's scared of getting into spacesuits. He claims that Mal needs him to go over to the derelict ship, so he nervously suits up and does so... and then finds they already had life support working. But what makes it a truly Kick the Dog moment is that as the laughter dies down, Kaylee realizes Simon had the suit on wrong... meaning that if Jayne had been serious, Simon would have died.
- The Kirk: Mal, who often ended up having to choose between
nearly irreconcilably different options.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Mal does this to Dobson in the pilot.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better:
- Handheld lasers exist, but are very expensive and only in use by the Alliance and extremely wealthy private citizens.
- In the case of Rance Burgess in "Heart of Gold", his laser pistol gets off at least 3 shots before it displays a "Check Battery" warning light.
- Alliance guards use sonic disruptors which are quite effective, but deal absolutely no collateral damage, which throws off Mal and Jayne several times when they try to use them to blast open doors.
- Kissing Under the Influence: In "Jaynestown", Simon and Kaylee get very drunk, which drops Simon's inhibitions enough for him to actively hit on her. They stay at the bar and in the morning are found wrapped in each others arms, with Kaylee sprawled across Simon's chest. Simon insists to Mal that absolutely nothing untoward happened between them and that he wouldn't dream of behaving in a disrespectful manner where Kaylee is concerned... although she doesn't find his attempt to protect her honour quite so flattering. Later on, when the pair of them are alone together, it's confirmed that nothing happened between them... much to her obvious frustration.
Kaylee: Well, you confound me some, is all. I mean, you like me well enough, and we get along. And then you go all stiff.
Simon: I... I'm not, um... I didn't...
Kaylee: See? You're doing it right now! What's so damn important about being proper? It don't mean nothing out here in the black.
Simon: It means more out here. It's all I have. I mean, my way of being polite, or however, it's... Well, it's the only way I have of showing you that I like you. [Kaylee smiles slightly] I'm showing respect.
Kaylee: So when we made love last night...
Simon: When we what!?
Kaylee: [laughs] You really are such an easy mark.
- Knee-capping: Book does it in "War Stories", leading to this exchange:
Zoe: Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin'?
Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
- Knight Errant: Mal.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Also Mal.
- Lady of War: Inara, in the movie. And Nandi in "Heart of Gold".
- Lame Excuse: Saffron's last-ditch attempt to convince Inara to not lock her into a trash dump and leave her to stew for six hours, and get arrested by the Alliance shortly after.
"I have a condition!"
- Lampshade Hanging/Leaning on the Fourth Wall: From "Objects in Space":
Wash: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction!
Zoe: We live on a spaceship, dear.
- La Rťsistance: The Browncoats.
- Large Ham: Niska + scenery = nom nom nom...
- The Last Thing You Ever See: Very, very subverted in "The Train Job". Magnificently so. "Darn."
- Layman's Terms: From "Out of Gas":
Mal: I need that in Captain Dummy Talk, Kaylee.
- From "Objects in Space", when Simon attempts to explain why River's condition doesn't seem to have improved much since Ariel:
Mal: When I want medical jargon I'll talk to a doctor.
Simon: ...You are talking to a doctor.
- Leave No Witnesses: As seen in "Ariel", the blue-hand agents are disconcerted to hear that Alliance police spoke to River Tam. Well, they can fix that.
- Lens Flare: Intentionally on Whedon's part.
- Let's Get Dangerous: River in particular, but others have their moments, too.
- Libertarians In Space: The outer frontier worlds, as versus the more crowded Alliance core worlds where the Alliance had a firmer grip on the populace. The rebellion of the Browncoats against the Alliance in the backstory was about defending liberty in the frontier against the oppressive Alliance government, from the Browncoat point of view.
- Liberty Over Prosperity: Mal and his crew choose to live hand-to-mouth as far from the People's Republic of Tyranny as they can get to avoid the government after having lost the war.
- Like Brother and Sister: Zoe and Mal. Would be Platonic Life Partners, but Zoe definitively chooses her relationship with Wash over Mal in "War Stories".
- Mal repeatedly acts the part of an older brother to Kaylee, particularly apparent in "Shindig". In the movie, he invokes Brain Bleach when Kaylee mentions having to rely on batteries for a year, in the movie. Though, to be fair, almost everyone treats Kaylee like a little sister, but it's usually more Mal and, to an extent, Inara.
Mal: Oh GOD, I can't know that!
Jayne: I could stand to hear more.
- Significantly, Mal calls Kaylee "Mei-mei", Mandarin for "little sister", just as Simon calls River and Nandi calls Inara.
- Living Emotional Crutch: Simon to River is the obvious example.
- When listening to how Joss Whedon envisaged this show, Mal is also this for River, especially in the film.
- Every person on Serenity to Mal. They each represent some emotional aspect or part of his life he's become dissociated from. This idea is somewhat validated by Nathan Fillion in the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite".
Nathan Fillion: The reason Captain Malcolm keeps these people so close is because they all are an aspect of himself that he's lost. In Wash, a sense of humor. In Jayne, a selfishness—
Adam Baldwin: Brawn.
Nathan: Whoa! (laughs) That's fair, that's fair. In Gina's character, Zoe, there's a capacity for love. In Book, he had his faith. Just things that he lost within himself that he can still have around him in his life, so it became very, very important to him.
- Living Legend: From the episode "Jaynestown": Jaaaaayne. The man they call Jaaaaayne.
- Lobotomy: River Tam had parts of her brain removed, though it was not her frontal lobe they messed up with. The operation removed her ability to suppress her emotions.
- London Gangster: Badger, an east-end gangster IN SPACE!!!
- Loveable Rogue: Mal qualifies for this or Anti-Hero, though he certainly has traits of both. Ultimately, it is probably his code of honor that pushes him into the Loveable Rogue territory. Jayne's more of a Wild Card, though he grows more loyal to the crew as the series goes on. By the time of the movie he comes to accept Simon and River enough that he even shares a drink with Simon during Mal's "I aim to misbehave" speech as a show of solidarity.
- Love Interest Traitor: An episode has Mal being (unintentionally) married to a young woman for a reward. But she turns out to be a con artist, intent on killing the crew (by leaving them to die) and selling their ship. Her appearance in a later episode reveals this to be her standard operating procedure: seduce, steal, leave 'em for dead, repeat...
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Ranks a 4; One Big Lie (the big lie in this case being artificial gravity and Psychic Powers).
- Moment Killer: Simon and Kaylee suffer from this repeatedly. Sometimes Simon accidentally does it himself.
- In the commentary for "Objects in Space", Joss yells at Book for interrupting their Almost Kiss.
- Mood Dissonance: In "War Stories", Mal and Wash have an enormous row about shipboard relationships and Zoe, while being tortured. Wash later realizes this is deliberate on Mal's part, to keep Wash from breaking.
- Mood Lighting: "Out of Gas" flashbacks.
- Mood Whiplash: In the pilot. "He's psychotic!"
- In "Heart of Gold", we go from Mal trying to make excuses when Inara catches him coming out of Nandi's room, to Jayne sleeping next to one of the prostitutes, to Inara crying.
- Mook-Face Turn: How Jayne was recruited, as seen in "Out of Gas".
- Morality Pet: Kaylee to Mal and Jayne.
- The Movie: Serenity, the Big Damn Movie.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Mal. According to him in the movie, he's "a fan of all seven".
- Mundane Dogmatic No FTL? Check. No aliens? Check. No Alternate Universe? Check. No Functional Magic? Check, unless you count River's Psychic Powers. No Time Travel? Check. No teleporters? Check. No instances of Space Does Not Work That Way? Check. Just goes to show you don't need all those fancy trappings to make a good Sci-Fi show.
- Mutant Enemy: "Grr. Arrgh."
- My Biological Clock Is Ticking: Zoe and Wash have a spat over having a baby in "Heart of Gold", as one of the prostitutes is pregnant (and the primary reason why the whorehouse is soon to be assaulted by angry men). Zoe wants it for this reason, while Wash is hesitant.
- My Fist Forgives You: Zoe to Saffron in "Trash".
- My Greatest Failure: Before "A Shepherd's Tale" came out, Joss hinted that Book was known for his greatest failure. The comic shows that this might actually be his greatest success, depending on how you look at it.
- Mysterious Mercenary Pursuers: The Hands of Blue.
- Mysterious Waif: River.
- Mysterious Past: Book, and to a lesser extent River.
- Naked on Arrival: River, in the pilot.
- Naked People Are Funny: One hilarious scene in "Trash" serves as an Establishing Character Moment for Mal - Serenity comes to pick him up after YoSaffBridge double-crosses him and leaves him naked in the middle of nowhere. Not embarrassed in the least, he banters with Inara, struts on board, barks a few orders, and stands there admiring the view before saying, "Good day!"
- The Napoleon: Badger
- Nay-Theist: Mal, after the events of Serenity Valley completely shattered his faith in God.
- Neck Snap:
- Mal does it to the Reaver victim in "Bushwhacked."
- Jayne does this to a Fed in "Ariel".
- Nerds Are Sexy: Both Simon and Kaylee.
- Never Trust a Trailer: One of the early ads for the show tried to play up the comedy aspect. While there certainly is some to be found, that really isn't the main point of the show.
- Nice Hat: These are very popular in the show.
- Jayne gets several of these, lampshaded both by the characters in story and the production team in the commentary. The most notable one is the hat he gets in "The Message":
- And Badger's "very fine hat".
- Also inverted with Two-Fry in the pilot, though he does get the comment from Mal — which was Jayne's cue to blow his brains out. Though it was a nice hat.
- Mal also gets one as part of his disguise at the beginning of "Our Mrs. Reynolds":
Mal: I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.
- Noble Fugitive: Simon and River.
- Nobody Poops: Averted. Mal is shown having a toilet in his cabin.
- Nominal Hero: Jayne.
- No Gravity for You: One villain with fantastic combat skills (Jubal Early from "Objects in Space") is defeated when River tricks him into coming outside of the spaceship, where Mal promptly punches him into the infinity of space.
- Non Sequitur Thud: A truly epic one from Jayne in "The Train Job".
Jayne: Now we're finishing this deal, and then maybe, maybe we'll come back for those morons... got themselves caught... and you can't change that by getting all... bendy.
Wash: All what?
Jayne: You got the light... from the console to keep you... lifting you up... they shine like... (starts grabbing at the air) little angels...
Wash: Did he just go crazy and fall asleep?
- Noodle Incident:
- Wash's story in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" about spending six weeks on a moon where the idea of recreation was juggling baby geese.
- A lot of incompletely told stories come up in the dinner scene in "Out of Gas" before the engine malfunction.
- Mal and Zoe mention several war stories in... well "War Stories".
- Jubal Early in "Objects in Space" gives us this gem:
You know, with the exception of one deadly and unpredictable midget, this girl is the smallest cargo I've ever had to transport, yet by far the most troublesome. Simon:
What did he do? Early:
The midget. Early:
Arson. Little man loved fire
- Not So Different: Simon and Mal often have surprisingly similar traits despite their differences. Most notable is their sense of loyalty and intense protectiveness, because if you turn on Mal's crew or Simon's sister you turn on them. And if you turn on both at once you are dead.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Holy shit yes the Reavers. This is taken Up to Eleven in "Bushwhacked" which relies explicitly on the horror of the aftermath of a Reaver-attack.
- No Woman's Land: Saffron tells a not-very-kind story of her upbringing and future prospects on Triumph in "Our Mrs. Reynolds".
- No Yay: In-Universe example. At the end of War Stories, Mal and Zoe "flirt" in an astoundingly deadpan manner just to mess with Wash. Jayne happens by just as they're about to "kiss":
Zoe: (in a deadpan tone) Take me, sir. Take me hard.
Jayne: Now, somethin' 'bout that is just downright unsettlin'.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Simon to Jayne at the end of "Ariel," to the extent that it borders on hero-worship - not knowing that Jayne had betrayed him and River to the feds.
- Offhand Backhand: River, in the comic.
- The Ojou: Inara. While prostitutes are looked down on in our culture, in The Verse a Companion is socially high-status, to the point where her presence grants the crew some respectability. Her training taught her to be graceful, controlled, and untouchable — most times, at least, but less so much with her friends. It's explained in some of the info accompanying the comics that the tradition of Companions started during the flight from Earth, which was several generations long. People needed a way to relieve pent-up stress...
- Oh, Crap:
- In "Shindig", Mal fails to understand that he has just challenged a man to a duel or what kind of duel it will be.
Mal: Use of his sw-what?
- Wash in the pilot during the dinosaur scene when he sees the Alliance cruiser. This happens just after the stegosaurus's "oh crap" after the sudden yet inevitable betrayal.
- The whole crew gets one in the pilot when Mal announces that a Reaver ship is passing nearby. And Wash gets another when he sees that the Reavers followed them.
- Done subtly in "Ariel" when River is having her scan in the background. Her brain-scan turns red and the information around it starts flashing rapidly. It's the first sign the Hands of Blue are arriving on the station (she then points this out to Jayne, but no-one understands her).
- Niska gets one when he meets the real Mal in "War Stories". And with reason.
- In "Trash", YoSaffBridge has one, when Monty points out that she referred to Mal by name, when he hadn't introduced them yet.
- Old Friend: Mal's pal Monty in "Trash", Inara's Companion companion Nandi in "Heart Of Gold".
- Once an Episode: A crew member getting either shot or stabbed. Mostly shot.
- One Big Lie: The spaceships and terraformed moons have artificial gravity. Also, Psychic Powers.
- One-Woman Wail: A vaguely Indian version, at the beginning of "Our Mrs Reynolds" and "Heart of Gold". The one at the start of Heart of Gold is this one. It's actually in Punjabi.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Generally averted.
- Notably played with in "War Stories": Mal is able to fight Niska and one of his mooks even after being severely tortured and losing an ear, but while he deals with Niska easily, Niska's a villainous Non-Action Guy who borders on Sissy Villain, while after jumping the mook, Mal ends up getting tossed around fairly easily and eventually needs Zoe, Wash, and Jayne to help.
- OOC Is Serious Business: You know Reavers are very very bad news when Jayne starts freaking out.
- The Ophelia: River, of course. "Two by two, hands of blue..."
- Orgasmically Delicious: As seen in the pilot episode "Serenity", Kaylee really likes strawberries.
- Our Founder: The statue of Jayne Cobb in the episode "Jaynestown". Not quite the actual founder, but similar in spirit.
- Out-Gambitted: YoSaffBridge, in "Trash".
- Out-of-Genre Experience: The episode "Ariel" features a brief switch to medical drama, and is itself The Caper rather than a Space Western.
- Out of Order: Numerous episodes were aired out of order, most glaringly the double-length pilot, which was aired last. While the chronological last episode did air, three episodes before it are only available on DVD and this necessitated reshooting a scene in the final episode, since it made explicit reference to events that had never been aired. The effect of malicious Executive Meddling.
- Papa Wolf: Mal for the entire crew. Simon for River.
- Parrot Expo-what?: In "Shindig".
Gentleman: Any of these gentlemen can lend you use of a sword.
Mal: Use of a sw-what?
- Parting-from-Consciousness Words: Jayne has an amusing moment when he's drugged during the "The Train Job". It starts off as this trope and finally ends in a Non Sequitur Thud.
- Mal in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" who says "Son of a—" as he passes out from Saffron's Goodnight Kiss. And later, Inara, who says "You stupid son of a—" as she passes out from kissing Mal on his lips.
- Patchwork Map: Madcap, nicknamed "the crazy moon", in the spin-off comic Float Out. Wash uses this as a weapon.
- The Pen Is Mightier: From the R. Tam Sessions: "I'll have to write it down..."
- The Perfect Crime: "Ariel" and "Trash." They get away with it both times, despite complications in both.
- Perpetual Poverty: Lampshaded in the second comic miniseries ("Better Days").
- Pet the Dog: Jayne has these moments, and while Mal starts off as a mean bastard in the pilot, by the end he is shown to be somewhat softer than he lets on.
Simon: Are you always this sentimental?
Mal: I had a good day.
- Photographic Memory: River in general but especially in "War Stories."
- Pimped-Out Dress: "Shindig" had plenty, including Kaylee's dress. Inara's was a more subdued and realistic fancy dress, but a lot of her outfits otherwise fit this trope.
- Pistol-Whipping: Zoe seems to favor rifle-whipping. Mal reverses his grip on his pistol while doing his whipping.
- Playing with a Trope
- Playing with Syringes: River at the academy.
- Please Keep Your Hat On: It's more like "please keep your hair tie on," but River gets very frightened when Shepherd Book lets out his Compressed Hair in "Jaynestown". Even Zoe admits that it's alarming.
- The Plot Reaper: In "Heart of Gold," Mal makes Inara jealous by having sex with Nandi, but it is okay because the very next day Nandi gets shot in the chest and dies.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Rance Burgess from "Heart of Gold" is the most obvious case, although there are others that arguably have shades of this.
- The Power of Legacy: At the end of "Ariel", Jayne begs Mal to use this trope, asking him not to tell that the reason Mal is launching Jayne into space is because Jayne sold out Simon and River to the Alliance. Mal chooses to spare him.
- The Power of Love: The core of Simon and River's relationship. Simon's love for River is essentially the fuel that gives him the reserves of strength required to sustain his lingering Heroic Sacrifice through the course of the series.
- Precision F-Strike:
- Simon in "Jaynestown", after seeing the statue of Jayne: "...son of a bitch!"
- A more subtle one with Book in "War Stories". Book never curses in Chinese like the rest of the crew does, except when he see's Mal's severed ear, and he goes off in a nasty-sounding tirade.
- The President's Daughter: The Alliance, Blue Sun, and Bounty Hunters all want to catch River.
- Princess for a Day: "Shindig." Kaylee was doing this from the beginning, and Mal went along once he saw Inara was there.
- Prison Rape: In "The Message", a corrupt Alliance lawman intimidates a post official who is one of Mal's friends into betraying him by graphic threats of what he's going to face in prison.
- Protagonist-Centered Morality: Joss Whedon has stated that the Alliance comes off as so domineering and oppressive because Mal is the star of the show and we are seeing the world from his perspective. He has a personal grudge against the government and, because he is a career criminal, only interacts with it when it is actively working against him; as such, Joss as has said he was not trying to put an anti-government message into the show, but that it emerged because of the characterizations of the cast. Had the show focused on a different individual, say someone living comfortably in the Core, there would have been a much heavier focus on the benevolent and beneficial aspects of government, like law and order and public works.
- Psychic Powers: River. It takes a while for anybody to catch on, since - as far as anybody knows - she's the first.
- Psychic Radar: River, natch. "Bushwhacked" sees her sensing the presence of the last surviving crew member on the Reaver-raided hulk Serenity finds floating past. Later, during "Ariel" she can clearly sense the closing presence of the Alliance's dubious hirelings. The movie has her going along with Mal on a bank robbery so she can point out anyone about to make a move on them.
- Psycho for Hire: Jubal Early from "Objects in Space".
- Public Execution: "Safe" has one of these of a Burn the Witch! style. It's interrupted due to the Trope-Naming Big Damn Heroes moment.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "WHERE! IS MY! SPACESHIP!"
- Punishment Box: in "Jaynestown", Jayne's former partner is kept prisoner in solitary confinement, in a small (looks to be maybe 5 foot by 5 foot) box on stilts in the middle of a swamp.
- Put Down Your Gun and Step Away: Awesomely subverted in the pilot episode "Serenity".
- Putting on the Reich: An Alliance trooper present in a flashback in "The Message" appears to a helmet identical to those worn by German soldiers in World War II.
- Alliance naval uniforms also qualify.
- Lt. Womack wears a leather black trenchcoat and a shoulder harness similar to those used by SS officers. Appropriately enough, he's part of the "Allied Enforcement" police force.
- Quote Overdosed: It is very quotable. You can not stop with just one.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
- Rape Discretion Shot: In "Heart of Gold", Burgess is standing in front of a large crowd of men, making an angry speech about how women need to know their place, with the hooker, Chari, standing by him. He tells the crowd "Let us all remember, right here and now, what a woman is, to a man." Then he turns to Chari, says "Get on your knees," and the camera fades away as she starts kneeling.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Reavers. Not necessarily in that order, either.
- Rationalizing The Overkill: In "Shindig", Mal stabs Atherton Wing a couple times after disarming him. Wing had previously insulted Inara and injured Mal quite badly in the ensuing duel.
Sir Warwick Harrow: You didn't have to wound him.
Malcolm Reynolds: Yeah, I know, it was just funny.
- Reactionless Drive: In the sequence showing Serenity going to full burn, it does spew a little bit of exhaust, but this exhaust is extremely rarefied and appears static against the backdrop of interplanetary space. Given the spacecraft's lack of internal space for storing propellant, the exhaust may merely be the (unaccelerated) fuel expended to power the Reactionless Drive.
- The jet turbines used for atmospheric operation, however, are clearly reaction drives.
- Ready for Lovemaking: "Our Mrs. Reynolds."
- Reality Has No Subtitles: Happens when various Chinese curses are spoken, and you can tell that they're curses from the context.
- Recruited From The Gutter: Jayne Cobb met Mal and Zoe at gunpoint while robbing them. When Mal offers him a spot on his own team, a better salary, and his own bunk, Jayne immediately turns on his partners and joins the crew. Possibly a subversion, as the crew of Serenity spends most of the series in Perpetual Poverty themselves and Jayne is never the most stalwart ally.
- Red Herring: When first introduced to Simon, the "bad guy"-chord comes in as he's hovering menacingly around a large crate wearing scary glasses. He acts suspiciously by asking many questions, leading Mal to suspect that Simon is the mole that is giving the Alliance their location. Book steps in and says that Simon isn't the mole — giving one the assumption that the mole might be him, until they turn to find the real culprit.
- Recruiting the Criminal: As seen in a flashback in "Out of Gas", Mal recruited Jayne while the guy was trying to rob him.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Joss Whedon loves playing with this trope and stretching the boundaries of it as far as they can go, sometimes with mind-bending results as the show will explore one such dynamic and then suddenly turn it on its head. This trope exists in the show, but it's explored in different ways even between the same characters, let alone between different characters.
- The Remnant: The Dust Devils in the comic book.
- Resurrection Sickness: Happens to Simon and River in "Ariel" after they fake their deaths to get inside an Alliance hospital. Also happens to Tracey in "The Message", who used the same drug to fake his own death as well.
- Retraux: Joss specifically asked for old camera lenses to use to add the "70's Western" feel.
- Retired Badass: It's repeatedly implied, and downright stated in the graphic novel, that Shepherd Book, born Henry Evans and who became a double agent working both the Alliance and the Independents, was this.
- Rhetorical Question Blunder: In the movie, Mal asks Jayne "Do you want to run this ship?" Jayne simply says he does and it throws Mal completely off.
- Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Simon is this once or twice.
- Rock Beats Laser: Not in a direct-opposition sense, but in terms of reliability, affordability and logistics. Laser and stun weapons exist, but bullets are generally preferred for practical reasons.
- Romantic False Lead: There are a couple of these littered through the series, mostly sympathetically portrayed but not always.
- Atherton Wing in "Shindig", one of Inara's clients. Mal disrespects Inara's job, but not Inara. Upon realising that it's Inara, rather than the job, that Atherton disrespects, Mal steps up to the plate. Cue the main tension of the episode.
- Tracey in "The Message" with Simon playing a rare, non-jealous role, in what amounts to a subtle comparison between Tracey's behaviour now and Simon's in "Bushwhacked" and the pilot. When expected to blindly trust Mal into letting his enemies onto the ship, Simon calms down and obeys whereas Tracey cracks and becomes violent. Tracey's threat of harm is real (he shoots and grazes Wash) whereas Simon's in the pilot was a bluff (he doesn't wait to confirm if Mal's order to run is a bluff or real, he acts to help Kaylee before Zoe has even responded to Mal). The episode ends with sense that Kaylee may not get pretty words from Simon, but he's solid, reliable and always there for her.
- Nandi in "Heart of Gold", paired with Mal as a foil for Inara. Like Simon, Inara tries not to interfere and attempts to keep her feelings to herself as much as possible.
- Roundhouse Kick: Some antagonists do this. Jubal in "Objects in Space" even does one in the same move as recovering from a punch.
- Rousing Speech:
- Mal does these sometimes, when he doesn't fumble them or crack a joke and completely ruin the effect.
- "Jaynestown" offers an incredibly weak one - but it's played straight, not as a subversion:
Jayne: "Far as I see it, you people been given the shortest end of the stick ever been offered a human soul in this crap-heel 'verse. But you took that stick, and you — well, you took it. And that's — Well, I guess that's somethin'."
- Running Gag:
- Jayne being in his bunk and double entrendes to masturbation for much of War Stories.
- Simon fumbling words with Kaylee during heart-to-heart conversations, who promptly leaves in an angry huff.
Zoe: (pointing at Wash) Him. (Off Niska's expression) I'm sorry. You were going to ask me to choose, right? Did you want to finish?
- Salt and Pepper: Wash and Zoe are an inversion. Zoe is a black woman and loyal soldier who cannot be persuaded to stop calling Mal "sir;" Wash is the eminently laid-back white-guy pilot who tells Zoe that if she has a problem with his plan she should tell him instead of just letting Mal call that shots. The two are Happily Married.
- Interestingly, whether Zoe is salt or pepper is dependent on what's happening and who she's with. With Mal she's the silent deadly warrior while he's the rowdy and adventurous gunslinger.
- Sarcastic Devotee: Jayne, Zoe.
- Salvage Pirates: In the episode "Out of Gas", Serenity suffers a Phlebotinum Breakdown and is left drifting in space with no power or life support. The crew of the salvage ship that seems to arrive in the nick of time decides there is more profit in shooting Mal and stealing his ship than in trading for the one part needed to fix the ship. In a couple of other episodes, notably "Bushwhacked", the crew of Serenity is accused of trying to pull this on other ships, but the crew never actually abandons anyone and does try to save the only survivor they find.
- Scary Black Man: Jubal Early from "Objects in Space". Book is black and startles River with his hair down in "Jaynestown", but is otherwise not scary during the show. In "Shepherd's Tale" comic confirms that Book was scarier in his youth, when he was an interrogator for the Alliance during the war.
- Scenery Censor: The ending to "Trash" with Mal strutting about naked in the cargo hold, along with Inara's sponge bath and River's emergence from the cryo box in the pilot.
- Schizo Tech: Justified; the just-settled Outer Planets have no infrastructures or industries built yet, forcing them to rely on horse-and-hatchet technology until roads can be paved and machinery imported. In "Heart of Gold", one planet, under the sway of Rance Burgess, is being purposefully suppressed; Rance has the resources to build a real city, but deliberately keeps the tech level down so that he can "play cowboy" and be the man with the best and biggest toys around.
- School For Scheming: The Academy.
- School of Seduction: The Companion temples.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Played with; space is really big and empty, as noted on a number of occasions (most notably "Out of Gas", where it's a plot point). On the other hand, Serenity just happens to run into other ships quite frequently.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: In the episode "The Train Job," the crew of Serenity are hired by Adelei Niska to steal from a train. However, when they discover that the items in question that they were hired to steal was in fact badly needed medicine for a degenerative disease, they promptly turn on Niska, return the money, and transport said medicine to its intended location.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Simon will do anything to save his sister. Even if "there is a dinner party at risk."
- Secret Test of Character:
- Mal does this to Simon in the pilot. He claims Kaylee died from her bullet wound to see if Simon would have really let her die.
- The end of "Ariel," when Mal threatens to throw Jayne out the airlock. The test was so secret it was even a surprise to Mal, who had every intention of going through with it. The reason for this is helpfully explained by Book at the beginning of the next episode, when quoting the words of Warrior Poet Xian Yu:
Book: Live with a man for forty years. Share his meals, and speak with him on every subject. Then, tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man.
- Seduction-Proof Marriage: In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Wash resists Saffron's advances due to this. Saffron eventually has to give up and go to her backup plan - a One-Hit KO. Zoe is suitably impressed and pleased.
- Selective Obliviousness: "Our Mrs. Reynolds" — "I knew you let her kiss you."
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: River occasionally. Possibly Simon. Possibly Kaylee, too, with all her mechanic talk.
- Setting as a Character: Played with in "Objects in Space" when River tricks the bounty hunter Jubal Early into believing that Serenity, the ship which is constantly anthropomorphised throughout the series, is actually alive, and that she has become a part of it.
- Played straight inasmuch as Serenity is often referred to as the 10th star of the show. (The 11th being River's feet.)
- Settling the Frontier: The basic backstory, from the beginning of the movie: "Earth-that-Was got all used up, so we found a new solar system. Dozens of planets, hundreds of moons." Numerous examples of frontier planets appear in the show.
- Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Explored in "Jaynestown", where the town's greedy mayor fully believes in this trope, but his son does not. Neither does Inara, who he hired to have sex with his son. After the deed, said son says he doesn't feel any different, and Inara tells him that sex in itself doesn't automatically make him a man. Played with in "Our Mrs. Reynolds", as Saffron says that she must bed with her newly-wedded husband to fully become a woman. That is, of course, bullshit to get Mal to lower his defenses.
- Sex by Proxy: Thanks to River's powers, she can feel it when people nearby are making out.
- Shameful Strip: In "Trash", YoSaffBridge forces Mal to strip before she abandons him in the desert.
- Shaped Like Itself: From "Shindig:"
Badger: You think you're better than other people.
Mal: Only the ones I'm better than.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Simon Tam. Also see Waistcoat of Style. He does start wearing looser, more relaxed shirts later in the series though.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Kaylee in "Shindig," not that she was not plenty nice before that. Heck, in "Jaynestown", Simon thought she dirtied up nicely, mentioning that she was at her most attractive when covered in engine grease.
- She Knows Too Much: The reason the Alliance is after River and Simon, and why the Hands of Blue kill anyone who knows about them - even Alliance personnel.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Mal.
- Sheltered Aristocrat: Simon, who struggles to fit in with the crew for this reason. It's also the reason Kaylee struggles to understand him.
- Shipper on Deck: Most of the crew is gunning for Simon and Kaylee to get together. Especially Mal and Inara.
- Ship Tease:
- In "Bushwacked" an Alliance officer interrogating Inara says "Do you love him?" Then the shot cuts away to reveal he was actually talking to Zoe and referring to Wash.
- In "Ariel," when River wakes up behind Jayne, her first words are "Copper for a kiss?" There's a bunch of other little things in the series too, like Jayne calling River "cute" in the pilot, and the "man parts" commentary in "Trash".
- According to the Serenity commentary, Jayne has no long-term love interests aside from a "lingering crush" on Kaylee. It explains some of his hostility and slight jealousy towards Simon.
- In a deleted scene from "Our Mrs. Reynolds," River wants to marry Simon.
- After Inara runs into Mal after he had slept with Nandy, she breaks down in tears in private, and Nandy confronts Mal over it - which would have been resolved, had the villain's goons not start their assault then.
- Shirtless Scene:
- Jayne gets shirtless at the beginning of "Jaynestown."
- Mal has a shirt-pants-shoes-and-sockless scene in "Trash". He's also shirtless in one scene in the movie.
- Simon in "Objects in Space."
- Shock Party: For poor Simon, in "Out Of Gas."
- Shoot Out the Lock: Subverted in "Ariel," when Jayne tries to use the Alliance-issue stun rifle to try to blow out the lock to get himself and the Tams away from the Hands of Blue. It isn't designed for this kind of thing, though Mal's shotgun does a much better job.
Jayne: Se-niou high-tech Alliance crap!
- Shoot the Hostage Taker: An Alliance lawman takes River hostage at gunpoint and gets out about half a sentence of demands before Mal storms in and shoots him in the face.
- Shot to the Heart: Done twice in the episode "Out Of Gas." Simon administers one to Zoe after she's injured in an explosion, and later Mal does it to himself to stay conscious after he is gut-shot.
- Shout-Out: See here.
- Shower Scene: Inara's sponge bath in the pilot episode "Serenity."
- Shown Their Work:
- The show averts Space Is Noisy.
- The "official" astronomical name for the 'Verse's star system is "34 Tauri"; that name is available because it was incorrectly applied to what turned out to be the planet Uranus by astronomer John Flamsteed in 1690, ninety-one years before it was recognized as a planet.
- A rather obscure example: Serenity is rarely referred to as "the Serenity", and when this occurs in "Bushwhacked" the character who says it is immediately corrected. In English, at least, it is actually incorrect to use "the" when stating a ships's name, as a ship's name is supposed to be treated as if it were a person's (the exception being if some other description is used when identifying the vessel. IE: "the Firefly-class transport Serenity" would be considered proper usage).
- Shrouded in Myth: Reavers until the movie.
- The Siege: "Heart of Gold", against the goons of the local villainous magnate.
- A Simple Plan: Mal has these a lot. And they go wrong with alarming regularity.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Zoe and Kaylee for Wash and Simon respectively.
- Sinking Ship Scenario: "Out of Gas".
- Sliding Scale of Continuity: The episodes can pretty much stand on their own in a mostly arbitrary order, though this may largely be because it never got the chance to go anywhere with the hinted Myth Arc.
- Sliding Scale of Law Enforcement: Police in the series run the gamut from honest to corrupt to incompetent to dangerously savvy.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Core worlds are very shiny, while outer worlds are very gritty.
- Sniff Sniff Nom: Jubal Early in "Objects in Space" on Serenity.
- Someone to Remember Him By: As shown in one of the comics, Zoe is pregnant with Wash's daughter.
- Sonic Stunner: Seen in "Ariel" and "Trash".
- Soundtrack Dissonance: The shootout/dancing scene in "Safe".
- Sociopathic Hero: Jayne Cobb, who will gladly backstab his own for more cash. It's hinted at that he actually regrets this mindset when it gets him into trouble, though.
- Space Cossacks: "Take me out to the black, tell 'em I ain't comin' back..."
- Space Fighter: The official term is ASREVnote , but everyone calls them "gunships". According to the RPG sourcebook, they're atypical for this trope in that instead of being fighter jet-sized, they're roughly the same size as regional passenger jet (83 feet long). They carry a crew of up to four and often double as police squad cars IN SPACE!
- Space Is Cold: Played straight, at least on the face of it: characters tend to talk about space as being cold, e.g. Book saying "As I understand it, it's awful cold outside" in the pilot. "Out of Gas" is where it gets less clear: River remarks that even with Serenity's life support dead, they won't suffocate because they'll freeze to death first. She might be right: assuming that ship architecture in the 'verse is anything like ours, Serenity would be designed to radiate all her waste heat and make herself livable with internal heaters (reference Apollo 13 in real life).
- Space Is Noisy: Averted; any action outside the ships is totally quiet, with quick cuts to the inside of the receiving ship to show the result and get the noise. There are exceptions, but they only occur when there is enough of some kind of atmosphere (be it planetary or nebular) to reasonably carry sound.
- Space Pirates
- Space Police: The Federal Marshals ("Feds") and the Interplanetary Police ("Interpol"). The RPG sourcebook goes into more detail than the show had time to. Interpol concentrates on tracking suspects and investigating crimes (e.g. the Alliance cruiser Dortmunder alerts them to Serenity's illegal salvage operation in the pilot), while the Feds enforce Alliance national laws and pursue criminals across interplanetary borders (they're the cops hunting Simon and River).
- Spaceship Girl: Subverted by River in "Objects in Space".
- Space Western: Complete with saloons, saloon fights, showdowns at high noon (albeit with swords), and horses.
- The Spartan Way: Jubal in "Objects in Space" suggests surgeons shouldn't be allowed to practice until they themselves have first been cut on. Also a Brick Joke when he shoots Simon in the leg later and says, "Now you know what it's like."
- Spice of Life: Justified with actual spices (particularly in the RPG). The food that independent spacers (like the crew of Serenity) stock the most of is packaged protein, because it's cheap and it keeps forever. It also doesn't taste like much of anything, making fresh produce, herbs and spices a welcome treat. Shepherd Book said it best in the pilot ("Serenity"):
Book: The important thing is the spices. A man can live on packaged food from here 'til Judgment Day if he's got enough rosemary.
- Spiritual Successor: Whedon's script for Alien: Resurrection involved an amoral crew of mercenaries and a partially insane woman, subject of mysterious scientific experiments as part of a government weapons project, with preternatural abilities. Sound familiar?
- Staring Kid: Jayne gets his own personal one in "Jaynestown."
- The Starscream: Jayne definitely shows Starscream-like tendencies. Best exemplified by this quote from the movie:
Mal: You wanna run this ship?!
Mal: [flustered] Well... you can't!
- Stealth Hi/Bye: River.
- Simon once or twice.
- Also Mal in "Objects in Space". Mr. Early looks to the right of a corridor. No one there. He looks to the left. No one there. He turns back to the right. Mal is there. Made hilarious in that Mal and Early have the exact same "Oh shit where did you come from?!" expression on their faces when they see each other.
- Stealth Insult: Wash, on describing Jayne with his hat on in "The Message": "A man walks down the street in that hat..."
- Simon, after his father bails him out of prison in "Safe": "I'm sorry, Dad. I never would have tried to save River's life if I had known there was a dinner party at stake!"
- Stealth Pun/Visual Pun: In "Safe", River dances.
- Steam Punk: While not strictly steampunk, the series does contain a lot of steampunk themes (mixing 19th century aesthetics with sci-fi elements and storylines) as well as steampunk character types such as the Wrench Wench, and went a long way toward popularizing the genre.
- Still Wearing The Old Colors: Browncoats were soldiers who fought for the Independents, who lost to the Alliance in the Unification War. They were named after the simple, brown leather trench coats they wore as uniforms. After the war's end, clothiers made good money dyeing brown coats blue or gray as folks wanted to forget the past and let the past forget them. Those that still 'wear the brown' do it on purpose. Captain Malcolm Reynolds and ZoŽ Alleyne wear the signature brown coat. Even the fanbase calls itself "browncoats".
- Storming the Castle: The assault on Niska's skyplex in "War Stories."
- The Strategist:
- Simon in "Ariel", River in "Objects in Space".
River: I can kill you with my brain.
- Mal demonstrates this as well, successfully capturing an enemy gun turret and shooting down a skiff during the Battle of Serenity Valley, and figuring out ahead of time how Patience would betray him. His expertise seems to be in short-term planning, since anything he plans from beginning to end tends to go awry - as expressed in the movie:
Mal: Jayne, how many weapons you plan on bringing? You only got the two arms.
Jayne: I just get excitable as to choice... like to have my options open.
Mal: I don't plan on any shooting taking place during this job.
Jayne: Well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar.
- Strawman Political: It is a credit to the writing on the show and the development of the universe that varying camps of fans can make convincing cases for The Alliance being a government of liberal or conservative Well Intentioned Extremists. There's also some debate as to whether or not the whole show is a Deconstruction of Libertarian philosophy, with an idealized Libertarian Warrior Poet (Captain Mal) having to deal with the reality of a wild frontier with no strong government influence where corporate corruption, criminal activity and slavery are the rule. It actually fairly demonstrates both sides of the arguement. The Core Worlds are peaceful and prosperous, but the government can do damn near anything they want to their citizens as long as they can justify it — such as cut up little girls' brains or dose entire planets with mind control drugs. The Rim Worlds are anarchic and destitute, but you can always look your accuser in the eye and settle it one way or another — or even round up a posse of fellow victims and exact some frontier justice. The argument seems to be that a healthy civilization needs both and any attempt to "rid the world of sin" will do nothing but harm in the long run.
- Subspace Ansible: Either that or whenever they're conferencing with someone over the cortex, they're close enough that there's no noticeable delay. The pilot episode does indicate that there's a range limit for communications.
- Super Soldier: Implied with River, especially in "War Stories" and "Objects In Space." Confirmed like Hell in the Big Damn Movie, although it's more Super Assassin-Spy-Soldier than just Super Soldier.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Mal, to Inara when he apparently figures out how she passed out after Saffron takes over Serenity in "Our Mrs. Reynolds": "I knew you let her kiss you!"
- Surgeons Can Do Autopsies If They Want: Simon's a trauma surgeon, but he is also apparently trained to handle autopsies to some degree, mentioning in "Bushwhacked" that he is familiar with handling corpses. This makes him the logical choice to handle the autopsy in "The Message."
- Fridge Logic kicks in when you realize that, as a med student, Simon was operating on cadavers, so is better trained than the crew at handling dead bodies.
- Take a Third Option: In "Trash", Simon finally learns the truth about "Ariel". The two options would seem to be either he bottles up the knowledge and keeps it to himself or he goes medieval on Jayne for the betrayal. He does neither. Instead he corners Jayne for a calm, rational discussion about the subject where he reveals that, as Jayne's medic, he'll never hurt Jayne and that he's freely going to put his trust in Jayne to do the right thing in future. It terrifies and confuses Jayne. River playing the bad cop to Simon's good cop doesn't hurt, either.
- Takes A Level In Badass: Petaline at the end of "Heart of Gold"
Petaline: "Rance, this is Jonah. Jonah, say hi to your Daddy."
(calmly puts a bullet through Rance's head)
Petaline: "Say goodbye to Daddy, Jonah."
- Taking the Bullet: One of the mudders does this for Jayne in "Jaynestown".
- Tasty Gold: Played with in the pilot episode "Serenity". What the audience thinks is gold is actually food in a gold wrapper, so biting into it to confirm its authenticity makes perfect sense.
- Talkative Loon: River. Jubal Early from "Objects in Space" fits the trope as well.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Subverted by the Combat Pragmatist Mal. He blows a lawman's head off mid-speech in the pilot. Subverted again in the movie.
- Talk to the Fist: In the pilot.
Mal: You don't want to go down this road with me, boy.
Oh, you're not afraid of them [the Alliance]? I already know you'd sell me out to them for a pat on the head. Hell, you should probably be working for them. You certainly fit the prof—! *clobber*
Jayne: Saw that comin'.
- Tap on the Head: At the end of "Ariel," Mal delivers one to Jayne. With a wrench.
- The Team: The series maintained an ensemble cast that portrayed the nine crew members of the ship, Serenity. The crew is driven by the need to secure enough income to keep their ship operational, set against their need to keep a low profile to avoid their adversaries.
- Technical Pacifist: Book. From "War Stories":
Zoe: Preacher, don't the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killing?
Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
- Telepathy: River. There's a hint that Jubal Early from "Objects in Space" may have at least a very rudimentary level, although not to River's degree.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: In "Bushwhacked," the crew is placed under arrest and subjected to interrogation. The resulting montage alternates between the serious (Mal, Book, Zoe, Inara) and the hilarious (Jayne, Kaylee, Wash).
- That Came Out Wrong: When Badger is describing how to get into the party in "Shindig" he mentions that people couldn't buy an invite with a diamond the size of a testicle, but he had got his hands on a couple. Mal and Jayne immediately begin sniggering, and it takes Badger a few seconds to catch on.
- In "War Stories", right after Jayne says that he'll be in his bunk after seeing the ambassador, the next line is: "Jayne, grab your weapon."
- In "Our Mrs. Reynolds" when Jayne tries to trade Vera for Saffron, Mal tells him to "go play with your rainstick" (to clarify, Jayne had earlier mentioned that he had picked up a rainstick (a type of hollow stick with beads that sounds like rain if you turn it upside down) at the same festival that Mal picked up Saffron).
- That Wasn't a Request:
- Thememobile: The good ship Serenity.
- Thicker Than Water: Behold, the Power of Brotherhood.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Subverted hilariously at the end of "War Stories".
Zoe: (stops Jayne from shooting Niska's goon, who is engaged in a fistfight with Mal) This is something the captain has to do for himself.
Mal: NO!! NO IT'S NOT!!
Zoe: (surprised) Oh.
(Zoe, Jayne, and Wash unload more ammo than is really necessary into said goon)
- Those Two Bad Guys: The Hands of Blue.
- Through His Stomach: At the end of "War Stories": "Wife soup!" (Made by, not of...) Especially touching in this case, because Zoe previously expressed utter contempt for the idea of cooking for her husband.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: Jayne almost suffers this fate in "Ariel."
- Throw the Dog a Bone: It leads to some problems in the next episode ("War Stories"), but in "Ariel" the crew finally does pull off a complicated job and make out like bandits, pulling in quite a bit of money.
- To the Pain: Inverted. In "Trash", Simon explains that he will never hurt Jayne. He just happens to say it in a tone usually reserved for death threats. River's addendum is a more straight-up version, said in a more casual tone: "Also? I can kill you with my brain."
- Token Evil Teammate: Jayne Cobb. Jayne may not be actually "evil," though he is particularly greedy, violent, and self-serving, even considering he is on a crew of thieves and criminals, and attempts to sell River and Simon to the Alliance for money.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The contents of Simon Tam's mysterious box in the pilot, which is also revealed in the opening credits for that episode, as well as the actual trailers. That opening also informs the audience that Simon and River are going to be permanent cast members.
- Of course, the credits also reveal that Book is a main cast member, which should make the identity of the real Alliance mole pretty obvious.
- Train Job: Trope Namer, no less.
- Treasure Chest Cavity: In "The Message". But it turns out it's not gold: it's specifically grown organs for transplants.
- Trigger Happy: Jayne.
- Trigger Phrase: As seen in the movie, River, and how. To be more specific, a phrase makes her fall asleep. What turns her into an unstoppable killer, on the other hand, is a subliminal code embedded in an innocuous advertisement.
- Trojan Prisoner: "The Train Job."
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: According to some illustrations in Still Flying, young Jayne. In that at ten years old he was shooting spaceport varmints for the bounties, and using the money he earned to bet on homeless gladiator blood sports and buy beer.
- 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.
Jayne: Hell, I'll kill a man in a fair fight... or if I think he's gonna start a fair fight.
- Turbine Blender: To one of Niska's goons in "The Train Job".
- Tyke Bomb: River - all the candidates of the program that created her were children.