Simon:"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:"It's enough."
—from the pilot episode "Serenity"
Firefly is a Science FictionSpace 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. Unfortunately the film's box-office performance was mediocre, barely covering its costs, which probably doomed the idea of further movies.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 universe has only tightened following a successful military victory against the rebellious Browncoats of the frontier planets.Malcolm Reynolds is a former Browncoat who now captains a run-down tramp freighter called Serenity. 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 (Mutant Enemy 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. Firefly is noted for being one of the few canceled television series to be spun off into a major motion picture. The Universalfilm was titled Serenity because Fox 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 workfrom a similar fate, even if Dollhouse only lasted until December of 2009. The cast included:
This page has a recap page here.Hulu 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.There's talk, now that Netflix is beginning to introduce original content, of Firefly being revived as a Netflix-original.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 Serenity.
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.
In-universe; 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 quips he'll be in his bunk after seeing the ambassador, the next line is: "Jayne, grab your weapon."
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
Sheriff: 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. (beat) Mal: 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".
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."
Bait and Switch: Skillfully done in the pilot. Simon is introduced with ominous music, Scary Shiny Glasses and a stiff, 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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
Bi the Way: Inara; explicitly shown in "War Stories". And, if Jewel Staite's reaction during that scene is anything to go by, possibly Kaylee, too. "I'll be in my bunk."
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.
Blood From Every Orifice: The Hands of Blue kill people using a small pen-shaped ultrasonic weapon that causes bleeding from eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and finger nails are bleeding too. It looks extremely painful.
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 againjust to make sure.
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!"
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
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?
Bloke: 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.
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 The orbital mechanics of the system itself are very unlikely; a star system like the one portrayed in the 'Verse would be very unstable at best.
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.
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 magazinein front of the trigger, much like a Mauser C96.
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.
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..."
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.
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.
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 a PlayStation another cast member gave him.
Dark Reprise: "Jaynestown" ends with a redux of "The Ballad of Jayne Cobb".
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.
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.
Deus ex Machina: At the end of the Big Damn Movie, but a well-done type four.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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's saying she gets why she should not have the gun from a logic standpoint, but does not get why it is important.
Executive Meddling/Screwed by the Network: Fox insisted that Joss Whedon to write a second pilot because they wanted more action and less drama. They also threatened to pan-and-scan crop, no matter how it was shot, necessitating re-shoots. Then they aired the episodes out of order and preempted a bunch of them for baseball. The series didn't even get to finish its first season.
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.
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 Mal 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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 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.
Inara: (holding Saffron at gunpoint) What, you didn't see it coming?
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.
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)
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".
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.
Heroism Incentive: Mal and Zoe offer Jayne better pay and his own quarters in exchange for dumping a weaksauce crew that gave him little money and no respect. The fact that this deal also kept him from killing them was an added bonus.
Jayne Cobb, who is just about the last person on Serenity's crew that you would expect to play guitar or send money to his momma. He's also the first one to join Book in saying grace. In the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite", Adam Baldwin confirms that he portrayed Jayne as being a man of God.
Similarly, you would not count on Simon being a criminal mastermind ("Ariel"),
Holier Than Thou: Shepherd Book was deliberately designed as a subversion of this trope.
Honor Among Thieves: Amongst Mal's crew, anyway. Many of the other criminals in the series do not share this trait.
Honor Before Reason: The show practically runs on this, although Jayne often plays a Sancho Panza role, sometimes to an extreme degree.
Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Inara, to name one. "Heart of Gold" is also the name of an actual whorehouse, in an episode featuring said whorehouse and its owner, Nandi, who is a madame with a heart of gold.
Horrible Judge of Character: In a flashback in "Out of Gas", Zoe says of one of the possible candidates for Serenity, a mustachioed, laid-back, strangle little geek with a fondness for Hawai'ian shirts: "I don't like him." Said geek is Wash. The man, y'know, she ended up marrying.
How We Got Here: "Out of Gas" on two levels: one showing how Mal came to be the captain of Serenity, and the other showing how the ship got, well, out of gas. The R. Tam Sessions show several of the steps in River's descent into madness, and "Trash" is often referred to as "How Mal Got Naked".
Humans Are White: In a heavily East Asian influenced universe, supposedly resulting from a merger of the United States and China on Earth-that-Was, where non-Chinese people scatter Mandarin phrases in their English conversation, none of the main cast members is Asian. The only Asian actors to get any lines in the entire series play bit parts: a prostitute and a Shadow Play presenter in "Heart Of Gold", a crime boss in "War Stories" and a bridge officer in "the Train Job". The Author's Saving Throw from the DVD commentary is that character names like Tam and Wing suggest some Asian ancestry, and according to Word Of God, the part of Kaylee was originally written to be an actress of Asian descent, but Joss and company were impressed enough with Jewel Staite's audition that she got the part instead.
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.
Shepherd: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??
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).
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.
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.
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, Inarafinds 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kaylee can instinctively know just by looking, hearing or feeling what Serenity is doing and what is wrong with her. Kaylee also noticeably acts incredibly lost and helpless when Serenity suffers a breakdown in "Out Of Gas".
River's psychic abilities give her a more general empathy toward the ship and the crew, to the point where Simon notes that she considers it her first real "home". She can also pick out some issues with machinery even before they happen, such as the engine explosion in "Out of Gas."
Made from Real Girl Scouts: A fast food stand in the intended-pilot "Serenity" is selling "good dogs" — they are not pork sausages in a finger roll with optional onions and mustard.
Make Room For The New Plot: In the first episode (the last one actually aired), the overriding conflict of "what do we do with the captured lawman" is abruptly solved via a bullet through the eyes when the Reavers, a substantially more dangerous issue, arise.
A Man Is Not a Virgin: Zigzagged. The magistrate in "Jaynestown" believes this so he hires Inara to take his son's virginity. During their time together, Inara explains to the magistrate's son that this is not true. But after losing his virginity to Inara, the son defies his father, saying that his time with Inara did in fact help him grow up.
Fess: You're the one who wanted me to become a man, Father. I guess it worked.
At the beginning of "The Message," when Tracy sits down to eat the beans you see the Alliance soldier sneaking up. Also in "The Message", just after Tracy regains consciousness and Kaylee enters the infirmary. The focus is on Tracy in the foreground as his eyes meet Kaylee's. However, Simon's still in the background monitoring his heart. As a result, the entire room can hear his heart speed up in response to Kaylee... and the camera angle on Tracy makes sure Simon's reaction to this is visible in the background. Ouch.
Mercy Kill: Mal suggests this for a "survivor" of a Reaver raid in "Bushwhacked". And plays this trope straight with one of the hapless victims of a raid in the movie, whom he shoots before the Reavers can do anything, and after which they let the body go.
Mexican Standoff: A regular feature. The pilot alone has multiple examples... including several in the same scene.
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.
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 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.
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!"
Nobody Poops: Averted. Mal is shown having a toilet in his cabin.
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.
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... *THUD* 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:
Early: 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: Who? Simon: 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.
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.
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 muchwith her friends.
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.
Also a meta one when 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.
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 and Jayne to help.
The Other Marty: Rebecca Gayhart as Inara, who was recast after filming a few scenes of the pilot. Joss Whedon does not fault her performance itself, but he apparently foresaw a problem since he shot most of her scenes in single-person profile so he would not need to bring in other actors in the event that he had to re-shoot her scenes.
Our Founder: The statue of Jayne Cobb in the episode "Jaynestown". Not quite the actual founder, but similar in spirit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Reality Subtext: While filming the funeral scene for "The Message," the crew was informed that the show had just been canceled. The sadness you see on their faces is real. This was also what the composer Greg Edmonson had in mind when he wrote the music for that particular scene.
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.
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'sWestern" feel.
Retired Badass: It's repeatedly implied, and downright stated in the graphic novel, that Shepherd Book, born Henry Evans, a high ranking spy for the Alliance before he defected, 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.
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.
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'."
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 resouces 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.
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 Jayneout 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."
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.
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 Word Of God in 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.
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.
Shipper on Deck: Most of the crew is gunning for Simon and Kaylee to get together. Especially Mal and Inara.
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 civilian 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).
The Siege: "Heart of Gold", against the goons of the local villainous magnate.
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!
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.
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 Fighter: The official term is ASREVnote short for Alliance Short Range Enforcement Vessel, 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 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).
Space Western: Complete with saloons, saloon fights, showdowns at high noon (albeit with swords), and horses.
Space Cossacks: "Take me out to the black, tell 'em I ain't comin' back..."
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?
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.
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."
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?! Jayne: Yes! Mal: [flustered] Well... you can't!
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!"
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".
River: I can kill you with my brain. (And in "Objects in Space", she proved just that.)
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.
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 mediaeval 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.
Mal: You don't want to go down this road with me, boy.
Simon: 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.
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).
Badger: I thought we might have a bit of a sit-down. Mal: I'd prefer a bit of a piss off. Badger: I'm very sorry, did I give you the impression I was askin'?
In "Safe", Mal tells Simon to take his sister for a walk away from the ship while he does business and Simon comments that he doesn't think that's such a wise suggestion. Mal points that it wasn't a suggestion.
A more serious case occurs in "Out of Gas" when Mal orders Wash to check Serenity after an engine malfunction, while Zoe is unconscious from getting knocked out by the blast from the engine.
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)
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.
Throw It In: One scene at the end of the episode "Ariel" has Mal debriefing the crew after retrieving River, Simon and Jayne. When Mal walks up to Kaylee, he reaches for her shoulders, spins her around and pulls her close to him. This was apparently improvised by Nathan Fillion, and the writers decided to keep the scene.
According to Tim Minear in the Firefly 10th anniversary special "Browncoats Unite", the part at the end of "The Message" where Kaylee holds Simon's hand was not in Joss Whedon's original script.
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.
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.
Tyke Bomb: River - all the candidates of the program that created her were children.
Underground Railroad: Simon mentions in passing that such an organization helped him get River away from the Academy. Mal and his crew effectively fulfill this trope in practice, helping the Tams stay on the move to avoid capture.
Unfazed Everyman: Although he did sign up for the crew of Serenity, Wash is also a Non-Action Guy who often finds the situations the ship gets into utterly confusing.
Subverted with most of the rest of the cast, who tend to wear the same clothes in multiple episodes. Zoe's leather vest, any of Mal's clothing... Kaylee even wears the same dress at one point that she was seen wearing in the flashback in "Out of Gas."
Even Simon wears the same vest at least twice before playing the trope fairly straight with a different sweater for each episode after "Ariel".
Unkempt Beauty: River Tam, natch. And Kaylee. Especially covered in engine grease.
Unresolved Sexual Tension: No, it is not your imagination that whenever Mal and Inara get within a foot of each other, electricity shoots out of your screen. It is the UST trying to explode your television/computer.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Subverted/inverted in "Ariel". Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are given responses to three stock questions they will probably be asked when bringing Simon and River's "corpses" to the morgue. Instead of what you might expect (a question they had not planned for pops up), the woman who would have asked just waves them past. Jayne, who had struggled with the line he was given, refuses to let his hard work go to waste and just gives it anyway.
Unstoppable Rage: Jayne briefly has one in "Jaynestown" when the mudder takes a bullet for him.
Unusual Euphemism: Between the Mildly Mandarin swearing, the use of archaic words like "quim", and various other slang such as "gorram" and "shiny", it is hard to find examples of usual euphemisms on this show.
We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The central planets do, anyway. Credits are primarily electronic currency (easy to track, hard to counterfeit), established by the RPG as having a 1:25 exchange rate with US dollars. The lower-tech outer planets favor precious metal coinage that has to be changed for credits to do (legitimate) business in the core.
Shepherd: She don't look like much. Kaylee: Oh, she'll fool ya.
What Did I Do Last Night??: "Our Mrs. Reynolds" has a version of this. When Mal's accused of being married, he asks Jayne how drunk he got the night before. Jayne, however, had passed out so didn't know.
Initially looks like it's averted in "Jaynestown" when Mal finds Simon and Kaylee fast asleep in a compromising position. Simon insists to Mal that nothing untoward happened between them, much to Kaylee's annoyance when he fumbles his words and says, "not with her". However, at the end of the episode, it would appear his memory of events is more shaky than he was letting on: Kaylee starts talking about them making love that night resulting in a startled "When we what...?!" exclamation from him... and then he realizes Kaylee's teasing him.
River can suss out who people are in the dark. Her brother, Simon, resents her for making him throw away his comfortable life and everyone he'd ever known to go on the run. Jayne is genuinely sorry for trying to sell her and Simon out to the Alliance. Inara just wants to be treated like a regular woman by Mal.
Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: Subverted in "The Train Job". The crew mention they need to send someone respectable, and everyone looks at Simon, who seems nervous about it... cut to Inara, the ambassador of the ship, putting the plan into action.
Wrench Whack: Mal does this to Jayne toward the end of "Ariel".
Wretched Hive: Persephone is a more subtle one than most, but it is a planet where heavily-armed thugs can stick up a man in broad daylight and everyone will just move along a little faster. In the prequel comics, Serenity's crew also has a shoot-out with Badger's thugs while at the docks, inside the cargo bay of their ship, with an open door behind them, and no one says anything.
You Are Too Late: In "Trash", Saffron tells the gun's owner that he should have called the Feds the moment she showed up with Mal. Then he shows her the panic button built into a ring he's wearing, which he did, in fact, push when he saw her.
You Have To Have Jews: Amnon, the postal worker from "The Message," is seen wearing a kippah (traditional skullcap) and tzitzit (traditional white undergarment, the fringes of which hang out from under his shirt). In addition, Amnon is a biblical Jewish name. The commentary refers to him as "The only Jew in space," since he is the only character in the main series to display any such characteristics. Mr. Universe in the movie is all but outright stated to be Jewish as well, and is played by a Jewish actor (David Krumholtz).
In the flashback to the Unification War in the pilot, Mal does shoot an Alliance soldier through his armor. However, he was using a full size assault rifle, and he fired a large burst and scored a direct hit. It's also quite possible he was using armor-piercing rounds, given that the Alliance issues body armor to its troops as a matter of course.
Zoe wears a Bulletproof Vest to the meeting with Patience in the pilot. She takes a bullet early in the subsequent gun battle that knocks her flat, but apart from being knocked unconscious for a couple of minutes, she's completely unharmed.
Explosions In Space: As seen in "Bushwhacked", any explosions are strictly those of the warhead. Damaged ships simply break up, with broken parts floating in the trajectory of the ship.
Similarly, to stop the fire in the engine room in "Out of Gas", they seal off the kitchen with everyone in it and vent the rest of the ship (which, unfortunately, exacerbated the problem since the explosion also knocked all of the life support offline).
Faster-than-Light Travel: According to various supplementals and Joss Whedon, the giant ships that shepherded humanity from Earth to the new solar system took several generations to arrive, and Serenity also does not exceed light speed. Instead, she combines a fusion reactor core and grav screening to reduce her inertia in transit through frictionless space. Hard burn or full burn is another way of saying she has the equivalent of a turbocharger (improve engine output by burning more fuel at a higher rate). She's still quick enough to make travel from edge to edge of the part of space where the series takes place (about 315 AU) take days as opposed to years.
Instant Emergency Response: In "Trash", it takes about ten minutes for the police to arrive after Haymer triggers his panic alarm when he first sees Saffron.
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.
Unproblematic Prostitution: While downplayed, the main reason why Inara did court Atherton was not have to keep traveling (and living on a squalid ship with someone who frustrates her to no end). It's stated in Heart of Gold that being a Companion requires a lot of skills, and, of course, there's the matter of the accidental pregnancy bringing the wrath of the local baron on Nandi's whorehouse.
And, of course, any and all Alien Tropes. The closest thing you get to an alien in this series is an upside-down cow fetus in a jar. Well, that and maybe Jayne. Lampshaded in the abovementioned jar episode — alien conspiracy theorists still exist.