The Crew of Serenity
Our heroes: a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who fly from one planetary backwater to the next, alternating honest cargo runs with petty crime, and making just enough cash to keep flying.
Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds
Captain Reynolds is a Browncoat—a veteran of the stellar civil war that precedes the events of the series by six years. He fought under the rank of Sergeant for the Independents, the side that lost to the Alliance. He has been left bitter by the Independents' loss; he never quite recovered from seeing his ideals crumble around him. Ever since, he has been eking out a living on the wrong side of the law, at the helm of the Firefly-class ship Serenity, defiantly named after the valley where the Alliance's victory was sealed.
- The Anti-Nihilist: He answers to no laws or belief system anymore—only to his own sense of right and wrong. See the conversation under Establishing Character Moment and Übermensch below.
- Badass Longcoat: Mal is a competent fighter and a determined man. Although he runs into better fighters fairly regularly, he will get back up and fight them again, without hesitation. He wears the brown coat from his military days in the Independents. It can get him into trouble as the coat is symbolic of the "Browncoat" resistance.
- Berserk Button:
Jayne: What're you takin' it so personal for? It ain't like I ratted you out to the Feds!
- He volunteered to join the war on the Independents' side against the Alliance, that's how convinced he is that the Alliance is wrong. The civil war has been over for six years, but he still doesn't appreciate being associated with them. Accusing him of being in league with them tends to make him very temperamental very fast. He once punched Simon for making that mistake.
- He doesn't take kindly to anyone betraying him or members of his crew; in "Ariel," he nearly had Jayne Thrown Out the Airlock after discovering he tried to sell Simon and River out to the Alliance for the reward money:
Mal: Oh, but you did. You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! If it's a concept you can't seem to wrap your head around, then you got no place here! You did it to me, Jayne. And that's a fact.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mal and Inara are almost completely incapable of having a civil conversation. They argue about everything from Inara's career choice to Mal's career choice, his leadership abilities, her clients, her willingness to help out, his overprotective zeal. Everything. Even when they're not shouting, they're snarking.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Mal is, for the most part, a reasonably kind guy, but if you harm his friends or him, you're going to regret it.
- Big Brother Instinct: Kaylee is his little "mei mei". He's got absolutely no problem with the fact she can't fight or use a gun because that means she'll stay out of the fighting and, hopefully, stay safe.
- Big Damn Heroes: Several times over the course of the series, particularly in "Safe" when he rescues River and Simon.
- Born Unlucky: If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Every single job screws up somehow and usually from no fault of his own; very often, he's just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He even lampshades it. "It never goes smooth. Why don't it ever go smooth???" In the Serenity Tabletop RPG, his character starts with the disadvantage "Things Don't Go Smooth".
- Broken Bird: As a result of being a Shell-Shocked Veteran.
- Broken Hero: In addition to his A Father to His Men tendencies, and considering what happened to his homeworld, he was ridiculously, recklessly cheerful during the war. It's hard to tell if he's an adrenaline junkie, genuinely considered it just a big adventure, was all an act, was a coping mechanism, or if he was completely unhinged. Or even all of the above. But despite all the stress, he somehow managed to stay pretty upbeat. After the war, he alternates between this, Hurting Hero, and Knight in Sour Armor.
- Bruiser with a Soft Center: Can be quite tender and loving when he wants to be, especially to River.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Often will get the crew into high risk no reward situations just because he thinks it's the right thing to do. Hell, it's practically his motivation for the second half of the movie. He also tends to turn down really amoral jobs, or will give up on them when he finds out the whole story.
- Combat Pragmatist: Mal has absolutely no problems with shooting first. Once he decides somebody 'needs killing', he'll use the dirtiest tricks he can think of.
- Cultured Badass: In background materials we learn he was given a classical education by his mother.
- Deadpan Snarker: Like most of the crew, he gives and receives sarcasm.
- Despair Event Horizon: Serenity Valley was the turning point in the civil war. Mal had pretty much taken over defense of that valley, and despite very heavy losses was successfully holding it, too, fueled by nothing more than the belief that the Independent army was coming with reinforcements to turn the tide of the war. The Independents surrendered instead (massive Alliance reinforcements got there first), shattering Mal in the process.
- Determinator: One of his key features. Physical injuries rarely slow Mal down, and not because he's tough. He's just that determined to survive and protect his crew that he ignores pain and weakness and keeps pushing. Nathan Fillion said in a featurette that he partially based his portrayal on Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones: you can tell he's hurting, but he keeps going anyway.
- Death Glare: Serenity doesn't need weapons. It has Mal's eyes! Special mention must go to when the original mechanic, Bester, is revealed to be completely incompetent at his job. As Kaylee corrects the problems that Bester didn't even know about, Mal looks at the guy like he wants to kill him.
- Disappeared Dad: The one time Mal mentions his past ("Our Mrs. Reynolds"), he says that he was raised by his mother and "about forty hands". Why his father wasn't around is never stated.
- Doomed Hometown: His homeworld, Shadow, was orbitally bombarded by the Alliance so heavily that it was rendered completely uninhabitable afterwards.
- Double Tap: Mal does this to Dobson in the spin-off comic 'Those Left Behind' just to make sure he doesn't come back a second time.
- Establishing Character Moment: He gets several in the pilot, but perhaps the most textbook example is his conversation with Simon after he offers the latter a job:Simon: I'm trying to put this as delicately as I can... How do I know you won't kill me in my sleep?
Mal: You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me, and you'll be armed.
Simon: Are you always this sentimental?
Mal: I had a good day.
Simon: You had 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: Well, we're still flying.
Simon: That's not much.
Mal: It's enough.
- Evil Stole My Faith: He was apparently Catholic in his earlier years, but lost his faith upon the Independents' crushing defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley. His change is often described as deciding "God disagreed with him politically."
- Farm Boy: Mal was raised by his mother and "forty hands" on a ranch back on his homeworld, Shadow.
- A Father to His Men: He may be sardonic, but his crew are his family. Trifle with them and you are in for a world of pain.
- Field Promotion: Was breveted several times during the Battle of Serenity Valley, to replace his fallen superiors.
- Fight Magnet: Mal gets into an unnecessary fight at least once every few episodes. Zoe accuses him of doing it deliberately: why does he always manage to find himself looking for a quiet drink in an Alliance-friendly bar come Unification Day?
- God Is Evil: If he's not an outright atheist, his Rage Against the Heavens could stem from his belief that God choose the wrong side at Serenity Valley.
- Good Is Not Dumb: People often mistaken him for a fool when he does the (relatively) noble thing but he's definitely not stupid. He shows surprising savviness at times for when things go wrong or about to go wrong, especially with Jayne and his predictable siding with the highest bidder. When he tries to sell the Tams out to the Feds, Mal is the only one who figures out that the Feds got there a little too quick for Jayne's story to stick. People that ask Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? tend to mistaken his pragmatic nature (killing people off is a poor way to do repeat business) for having a soft heart.
- Good Is Not Soft: He might not kill a downed opponent that tried to kill him a moment before, but don't expect him to pull punches or shoot non-lethally before that. Also don't expect him to be very kind to anyone he sees committing atrocities or hurting innocents.
- Guile Hero: He likes to try to talk his way out of situations, with varying results.
- The Gunslinger: He is the quickdraw type. He even outdraws The Operative who's already holding a gun in his hand.
- Hidden Depths: According to supplemental material, he was the son of a wealthy rancher and his mother insisted on him having a classical education. He did know at least one of the fancy group dances in "Shindig".note "Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint."
- Homage: The idea of a hero persevering despite the absence of hope is the central thesis in Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus".
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: Mal calls Inara a whore to her face all he wants; the second somebody else even implies it... Inara calls him out on this at one point, and Mal's response is "I may not respect your job, but he didn't respect you."
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Casually shoots Dobson in the head from ten feet away in the pilot, while Dobson has a Human Shield, without breaking stride.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Malcolm likes to invert this when he makes what seems like assumptions, that are proven wrong and make him look innocent.
- In the episode "Bushwhacked" an Alliance official tries to use this one on Mal, telling him they're looking for a brother and sister without mentioning the two are adults. Without batting an eye, Mal pretends to assume he's talking about children.Harken: Alliance property, too. You could lose your ship, Captain. But that's a wrist slap compared to the penalty for harboring fugitives. A brother and sister. When I search this vessel, I won't find them, will I?Mal: No children on this boat.Harken: I didn't say "children." Siblings. Adult siblings.Mal: I misunderstood.
- In "The Train Job", where Mal very carefully asks the sheriff (paraphrased) "Why are we being held up? Was someone murdered on the train?", while knowing full well that the real reason was because people had just noticed that the cargo he had stolen was missing.
- In the episode "Bushwhacked" an Alliance official tries to use this one on Mal, telling him they're looking for a brother and sister without mentioning the two are adults. Without batting an eye, Mal pretends to assume he's talking about children.
- Jade-Colored Glasses: Ever since the Independents surrendered in Serenity Valley, he's no longer religious and sees the 'verse as a harsh place that needs harshness to deal with it.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mal displays both his nice side and his jerkass side. He delights in acting like a worse person than he is; in truth he loves his crew dearly, and will go to Hell and back for them, even Jayne.
- The Kirk: The 'main' character (if anyone can be said to hold that title), and the most conflicted.
- Knight Errant: Occasionally he'll decide to champion people in need of one.
- Knight in Sour Armour: Despite being a cranky, cynical bastard, he still has a strong moral sense and avoids jobs that are really dirty.
- The Leader: Displays elements of all four types, at different times.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Displays shades of this, as seen in the episode "The Message" in the flashback to his army days:Mal: WHOO-HOO! I'M RIGHT HERE! I'M RIGHT HERE! YOU WANT SOME OF ME?! YEAH YOU DO! COME ON! COME ON!
- Living Emotional Crutch: Every person on Serenity is an aspect of Mal's personality and someone he deeply cares about, even the ones who give him the most trouble, like Jayne or River. Book and Inara are particular examples; when the latter leaves the ship, Mal becomes more aggressive and unpleasant to deal with, while when the former dies in the movie, Mal starts to become willing to do anything necessary to succeed, even if it means defiling the bodies of their dead friends to make it through Reaver territory.
- Lovable Rogue: He's willing to knock over an Alliance hospital not just because it'll be a blow to the Alliance but because River desperately needs the medical—and because folks on the Rim desperately need the medicine. He will also renege on a deal (and pay pack the deposit) if he learns that it's going to seriously hurt people. He still wants his cut of the swag, but he's not going to sacrifice morality or innocent people to earn a quick buck.
- Love at First Sight: Not with any woman—with Serenity.
- Made of Iron: Getting shot, or stabbed multiple times, or even torturing him to death isn't enough to keep him down.
- Meaningful Name: The first aired episode, "Train Job" made a point of mentioning that Mal is Latin for "Bad", while the same episode makes clear that Mal is entirely too good for his own good. However, it's clear there's a very dark streak running through him, as revealed during the film. Once Mal is forced to fight a war, the side people is not so good.
- Morality Pet: His crew in general, as they often keep him grounded and willing to do the right thing. River becomes one in particular, as keeping her safe is a burden that he bears and he does go out of his way to keep her protected even when it would be easier to cut her and Simon loose.
- Mr. Vice Guy: He's a fan of all seven sins, but in the film, he decides to go with wrath.
- Naytheist: During the Battle for Serenity Valley, he kisses his crucifix several times when hoping for the best in the battle. Once the Independents surrender, however, his faith is shattered along with his dreams. He's never forgiven God.Mal: You're welcome on my boat. God ain't.
- Not So Different: From Simon, which is something he vaguely acknowledges by the end of the series. Despite their different backgrounds, they both ran afoul of the Alliance and chose to resist in their own ways, protecting what was most important to them.
- Older Than They Look: He's supposed to be about fifty, but he certainly doesn't look it. He's 50 years old in a 'verse where the average lifespan is about 120. This puts Mal in the same age bracket that Nathan Fillion was in during the show's production (31 years old, when the average lifespan is about 80).
- Organ Dodge: How he survives the Operative's nerve-paralyzing attack; a cluster of nerves were damaged in the Unification war and he had them removed, rendering him immune to the pressure-point attack on that spot. He does freeze up briefly from it, but the effect wears off in seconds while the Operative takes his sweet time believing he's already won the fight since a normal person takes much longer to recover.
- Papa Wolf: Don't mess with Mal's crew, as he takes it very personally. His reaction to putting his crew in danger is consistently decisive; whether or not it's terminal depends on how much immediate threat the enemy represents and how angry he is at the time.
- Platonic Life-Partners: With Zoe. Becomes an issue with Wash in "War Stories".
- Rage Against the Heavens: Hates God for letting the Browncoats lose the war.
- Rebel Leader: Or at least the leader of his band of varyingly anti-Alliance misfits. As an Independent Sergeant, he didn't have much rank but still was this. At the Battle of Serenity Valley, he was field-promoted several times as the higher ranking officers were killed, rising from leading a relatively minor unit to over 5000 men at one point, which were whittled down to just 150 by the time of the ceasefire.
- Relationship Upgrade: In the eight-month Time Skip between Serenity and the sequel comic Leaves on the Wind, he and Inara become a couple.
- Riches to Rags: His mom was a wealthy rancher, he's a struggling smuggler. His home world Shadow was made uninhabitable by Alliance attacks, leaving him with few options after he chose the losing side in the war.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: In "The Train Job," he backs out of a high-paying job given to him by crime-boss Adelai Niska when he discovers the cargo he was hired to steal was badly needed medical supplies for a suffering village.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: A man's got to make his own peace with losing a war, and Mal's still on that road. There Are No Therapists, or at least none that are being provided to veterans of the losing side.
- Sole Survivor: He and Zoe are the only members of their original unit to survive the Battle of Serenity Valley.
- Still Wearing the Old Colors: He wears the Browncoat of the Independents with pride.
- Troll: In the pilot, he tells Simon that Kaylee's dead. While he's messing with Simon for a prank, it also gives him a chance to assess how Simon really would take the death of the patient he at one point claims he'll permit die if anything happens to his sister. Turns out Kaylee's right—Simon really wouldn't let her die, and is horrified when he thinks she's dead.
- Übermensch: Although Mal would't define himself like this and appears to be a classic hero obeying regular morality, he has actually more in common with this trope. He's extremely charismatic, being able to inspire respect and fear into a man like Jayne and convince his crew to go on a suicide mission. When he lost the war against the all-powerful Alliance and their institutions, he rejected God and created a new reason to live. He lives by his own code, which includes protecting the innocents and the members of his crew by any means necessary no matter how ruthless (including threatening a traitor to a lethal fall, killing an enemy's henchman because he didn't comply with his request to the get-go and using the corpses of his deceased friends to disguise his ship), while living off both legal and illegal jobs. This thematic is especially present in the movie where it was revealed that the Alliance wanted to turn people into Last Men, Mal and his crew acting as their ideological counterpoint. He's also somewhat of a foil to the Operative who performs ruthless actions in order to make the world a better place, calling to a higher power to justify his actions and obsessed with "sin" while Mal is content to make a difference on a smaller scale, refusing to impose his will unto others, rejecting the concept of an a perfect world and preferring to accept life as it is and enjoying the moment.Mal: This report is maybe 12 years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried 'til River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear 'cause there's a whole universe of folk who're gonna know it, too. Theyre gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. Y'all got on this boat for different reasons, but y'all come to the same place. So now I'm askin' more of you than I have before. Maybe all. As sure as I know anything, I know this: They will try again. Maybe on another world. Maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people...better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave.[From a Deleted scene of the movie]The Operative: Serenity... you lost everything in that battle. Everything you had, everything you were. How did you go on?Mal: If you're still standing there when that engine starts, you never will figure it out.Mal: (After the Operative has left) What a whiner.
- Undying Loyalty: He will do absolutely anything for his crew, even the members he doesn't like. Best exemplified in this conversation with Simon in "Safe", after the trope-naming Big Damn Heroes moment:
- Simon: Captain, why did you come back for us?
Mal: You're on my crew.
Simon: Yeah, but you don't even like me. Why'd you come back?
Mal: You're on my crew. Why are we still talking about this?
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Wash accuses Mal and Zoe of having this from their long history as war buddies. He even claims he wishes they had slept together in the past because that way Zoe would be "over him". He is, of course, completely wrong: Mal and Zoe have so little sexual tension that even the perpetually crude and horny Jayne is creeped out by the idea of them ever getting it on.
- Venturous Smuggler: Mal is the swashbuckling Lovable Rogue captain of an interplanetary smuggling crew. His first mate Zoe and right-hand man Jane fit the archetype as well.
- What the Hell, Hero?: In the movie, even Zoe seems ready to mutiny after he states his intention to mount the corpses of their friends from Haven on the hull of Serenity, in order to make it look like a Reaver ship.Zoe: Sir, do you really mean to turn our home into an abomination so we can make a suicidal attempt at passing through Reaver space?
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Mal sure has a lot of fun kicking ass in a "pretty floral bonnet" (and he indicates to Inara it's not the first time he's ever done it, too) and when he is disguised as a woman to infiltrate the Companion school at one point during the movie.Mal: I can be quite graceful when I want to be.
- Would Hit a Girl: After Saffron tries to steal his ship out from underneath him, and almost gets his crew killed in the process, he's more than willing to lay her out cold for the trouble. The next time he meets her, he flies in fists first, no holding back.
- You Can't Go Home Again: According to the RPG, his homeworld was glassed by the Alliance during the Unification War.
Zoe Alleyne Washburne
Zoe is also a Browncoat. She was a corporal serving under Mal during the war against the Alliance. She even now accompanies him on Serenity and still calls him "sir", 15 years later. She is married to Wash, the wacky pilot of the ship.
- Action Girl: She's a hardened soldier who routinely wears body armor. Even Mal is a little bit afraid of her. She's skilled, she's accurate, she's ruthless. Supplemental material indicates she was part of an extremist group of Independents still wanted by the Alliance for terrorist activities.
- Action Mom: It's revealed in post-Serenity comics that she's pregnant with Wash's daughter, but hasn't slowed at all.
- Ambiguous Ending: In post Serenity comics, it is implied she kills the Operative, but it is not made clear.
- Badass Longcoat: When a task is going to involve putting holes in people, Mal brings Zoe along. There are a couple of episodes in which her combat skills are shown. She sticks with the general style over long coat even when she isn't wearing her old uniform.
- Berserk Button: Don't badmouth Mal or his leadership abilities in front of her.
- Big Damn Heroes: Zoe named the trope when the crew provided a last-minute rescue in "Safe."Mal: Well look at this. 'Pears we got here just in the nick of time. What does that make us?
Zoe: Big Damn Heroes, sir.
- The Comically Serious: Her straight-faced response to everything is part of what makes her hilarious. She's a polar opposite to her husband, who's the Keet and often behaves like an excitable child, all of which Zoe takes in deadpan stride.
- Deadpan Snarker: Extremely deadpan. Frequently happens when her and Mal are on a job, with one instance of her looking at a near-empty vault and joking that now they can finally give up their life of crime.
- Death Glare: She doesn't let it out often, but when she does, it's scary. She shows Niska after he hands her Mal's ear.
- Dislikes the New Guy: A flashback episode revealed that Zoe distrusted Wash when he first came aboard, despite his towering list of recommendations. She must have gotten over it at some point, because in the present day the two are married.Zoe: Just something about him bothers me.
- Dual Wielding: Briefly during "War Stories", with two pistols.
- Happily Married: During the series, she's happily married to Wash and trying to convince him that having kids is a good idea.
- Heartbroken Badass: After Wash's death in the film she becomes a subdued but implacable example of Tranquil Fury. She plants herself in front of the Reavers and has to be overwhelmed from all sides before she's finally taken down.
- Heroic Safe Mode: Slips into this in the immediate aftermath of Wash's death. She is completely focused on the mission at hand, and acting very much like she did during the Unification War flashbacks.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Zoe once blasts a gun out of a man's hand with her hogleg from at least a hundred yards away, before he could aim it after drawing it from another man's holster.
- Just Following Orders: A non-villainous, sometimes questioning, but very pragmatic version. Especially evident in a deleted scene from the pilot.Zoe: If you get Kaylee through this, I think [Mal]'ll do right by you. He won't kill unless he has no other option.
Simon: What if he tells you to kill me—
Zoe (instantly, without malice): —I kill you.
- The Lancer: Toward Mal. She hauls him back when he gets too wild—the dynamic was even more so during their soldiering days.
- Mama Bear: She is fiercely protective of Kaylee and later River, with her acting as a no-nonsense strict foil to the tender maternal presence that Inara provides, and both of them contrasting the goofy father that Mal plays.
- Military Brat: Zoe's backstory is that she was born ship-side to parents who raised her to be Career Military. This definitely explains her habit of calling Mal "Sir."
- Moment Killer: Her no-nonsense attitude can be a hindrance when somebody's Chewing the Scenery...Niska: There is not enough here for two. But perhaps for one! Ah, now -
Zoe (indicating Wash without hesitation): Him.
(Niska looks disgruntled)
Zoe: I'm sorry. You were going to ask me to choose. Do you want to finish?
- Nerves of Steel: No matter what the situation is, you can count on Zoe staying calm and composed, doing whatever needs to be done and doing it well.
- Number Two: Mal's effective second in command, most notably in "War Stories" when she leads the team to rescue him and keeps the crew under control.
- OOC Is Serious Business: The only dress she owns is a wedding dress. She only ever wears it twice—at the beginning and end of her marriage.
- Platonic Life-Partners: Once again, with Mal. The series devoted an entire episode to establishing that they do not, and never have, had feelings for each other, but she's still his right-hand woman.
- The Reliable One: Quiet, competent and always there.
- The Remnant: According to the tie-in comic "Better Days", Zoe was a member of the "Dust Devils", which were a group of Browncoats who kept fighting after the Independents surrendered.
- Sarcastic Devotee: She will follow Mal, but that doesn't mean she won't question him. Let's be honest: somebody has to.
- From "The Train Job", upon Mal telling her the presence of a full platoon of Alliance troops on the train "makes it more fun":Zoe: Sir, I think you may have a problem with your brain being missing.
- From the movie, on seeing a few stacks of bills in a small safe:Zoe: (positively dripping with sarcasm) At last. We can retire and give up this life of crime.
- From "The Train Job", upon Mal telling her the presence of a full platoon of Alliance troops on the train "makes it more fun":
- Scary Black Man: Gender Flipped. Zoe is usually not intimidating—that's what they keep Jayne around for. However, in the pilot she cows Jayne with a steady look and an unemotional comment.Zoe: You want to walk away from this table. Right now.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: She married a very cheerful, good-natured, and loyal fellow. Several people comment on it throughout the series, but Zoe makes it very clear that she has no problem being the gun-toting muscle in their marriage.
- Sole Survivor: She and Mal are the only members of their original unit to survive the Battle of Serenity Valley.
- Still Wearing the Old Colors: Like Mal, she continues to wear her brown coat.
- The Stoic: You'll rarely see her get visibly angry, even when her husband and captain are being tortured. You don't see her laugh much either, except when alone with her husband.
- Tranquil Fury: A loyal second-in-command and a tough, deadly fighter, she is rational and calm in dangerous situations. Even when her control slips at the climax of the movie, she remains stoic and determined to kill as many as she can before the end.
- Undying Loyalty: Toward Mal due to their experience together on the battlefield.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Parodied—there is no lust and even less romantic chemistry between her and Mal, but her husband fears what their long history might mean for such a relationship. A better part of "War Stories" is spent deconstructing the idea that it could be. They disprove this notion in an almost-kiss that's so awkward even Jayne can see it.Zoe: (completely deadpan) Take me, sir. Take me hard.
Jayne (having just walked in): Now somethin' about that's just downright unsettlin'.
- Violently Protective Girlfriend: In "The Message", Tracey takes a shot at Wash when he tries to call Womack. It does not end well for him.
Hoban "Wash" Washburne
Wash is the pilot of Serenity. Most of the time he is wacky, playful, excitable, and a bit on the immature side, though when he needs to be, there is no one more focused, calm, and collected on the crew. He's a whiz at the controls of a vehicle, and has saved the lives of the rest of the crew many a time.
- Ace Pilot: In the first episode he pulls off a very difficult piloting maneuver to escape some Reavers—definitely the kind of guy you want piloting your not-quite-legal ship.
- Amazon Chaser: From being interviewed by an Alliance officer in "Bushwhacked":Wash: Have you ever been with a warrior woman?
- Characterization Marches On: In early episodes, Wash is a calm, masterful pilot, all Nerves of Steel while the other characters are panicking. By "The Message", he's just as excitable as anyone else because Alan Tudyk bought himself an Xbox and discovered he's not the naturally-calm-pilot type, which Tim Minear threw in on grounds of Rule of Funny. And, just to confuse things, Wash shows elements of both performances in the Big Damn Movie. Taken as a whole, his level of panic seems to be inversely proportional to the actual level of danger. When there's Reavers on their tail and they're running for their lives, he's Chuck Yeager, while if it's something more mundane, he's a Keet.
- Zoe: Proximity alert. Must be coming up on something.
Wash: Oh my god. What can it be? We're all doomed! WHO'S FLYING THIS THING!? [beat] Oh right, that would be me. Back to work!
- The Conscience: He's the one most likely to voice when something is in danger of crossing the moral event horizon. (Probably one of the things that draws him and Zoe together: they both try to keep things grounded.)
- Danger Deadpan: From the movie:Wash: This landing's gonna get pretty interesting.
Mal: Define "interesting."
Wash: [emotionlessly] "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die"?
- A Day in the Limelight: "War Stories" largely centers around Wash's jealousy of Mal and Zoe's close relationship. His attempts to better understand their relationship result in him trying to fulfill Zoe's role on a mission, withstanding torture, and ultimately serving as co-leader and integral player in a rescue mission—all very different than his usual role.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: Does this in "War Stories" to punctuate a Badass Creed—with the smallest, girliest gun on the table.
- Establishing Character Moment: His two major ones in the pilot are the opening scene when he's playing with toy dinosaurs on the bridge, and toward the end when everyone is freaking out about the Reavers chasing them, he very calmly intones, "If everyone could just be quiet a moment," while he pulls off a difficult piloting maneuver to escape.
- Happily Married: To Zoe. In one episode, a very determined effort was made to seduce him. It didn't work: he just started babbling about Zoe. Awww.Wash: I wish I was somebody else right now. Somebody not... married, not madly in love with a beautiful woman who can kill me with her pinky.
- The Heart: Unashamedly sheds tears when he hears about River's torture or Tracy's Dying Wish.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In the movie, he is impaled by a Reaver spear through the cockpit's windows.
- Improbable Piloting Skills: Did Wash just perfectly hit a skyplex docking seal with a powered down Firefly from 6000 miles away? Hover with less than a foot of clearance under a floating island? Go barnstorming through canyons with a boxy, unaerodynamic space transport? Mal isn't paying him for his jokes.
- Inflationary Dialogue: Inverted in War Stories, when he tries to establish himself as a capable fighter to Mal:Wash: Hey, I've been in a firefight before. [Pauses] Well, I was in a fire. [Pauses] Actually, I was fired, from a fry cook opportunity.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Horribly. It's so shocking that his demise is often ranked as one of the most shocking film deaths in recent memory.
- The McCoy: Wash is usually the character who will react on an emotional, humanitarian basis.
- Nerves of Steel: When he's piloting. This contrasts starkly to his demeanor outside the cockpit, where he's more of a Non-Action Guy compared to Mal, Jayne, and his wife.
- Non-Action Guy: Though he graduates a bit to "Semi-Action Guy" after "War Stories." He's no heavy hitter like Mal, Jayne, or Zoe, but he's apparently more apt to shoot than Kaylee or Simon after that ordeal. The comic series show Wash to be a surprisingly capable and resourceful fighter, but he's just too damn nice to ever be really effective in a gun battle. Even in the merchandise. Jayne's licensed toy looks like this◊ (Mal's is similar), while Wash's looks like this.
- One of the Kids: Plays with dinosaur figurines while on monitor duty and gets excited over visiting the market so he can collect new ones. Zoe claims that it's one of his many charms.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Fills this role. He's constantly snarking or telling jokes and keeping the rest of the crew in good cheer. In the rare moments when he gets dead serious...
- Seduction-Proof Marriage: Saffron gave it a really good go, Companion training and all, but Wash wasn't buying it. He was more spooked that Zoe would walk in and get the wrong idea. Likewise, in "Heart of Gold" when Namdi gave the crew full run of her brothel's amenities, Wash didn't even so much as look—after all, he's married the amazon of his dreams!
- Survival Mantra: "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar." His survival mantra did indeed keep him alive in the air. But on the ground...
Not really a member of the crew, Inara rents a shuttle for her services as a Companion. She is well-versed in the ways of the universe (and sex) and continually shows Hidden Depths — like being good at Sword Fights. She's a High-Class Call Girl, which adds to Serenity's reputation: a woman who can go out in public on the arm of an aristocrat (and into his bedroom) wouldn't be shipping out with Mal and his crew unless they were at least somewhat respectable. Also, her profession is legal, which is more than Mal can say.
- Ambadassador: Not badass to the degree of the rest of the crew, but she has no qualms with holding people at gunpoint and holds her own in hand-to-hand combat. The crew calls her "the ambassador," and while she's not officially a diplomat or state official, her presence does open doors otherwise closed to Serenity and her crew. She can often accomplish with wit, charm, and diplomacy what all of Jayne's guns could not.
- Adrenaline Makeover: In the comics she eventually exchanges her dresses for body armor and trousers.
- Band of Brothels: She's a member of the Companions Guild, which is something like a Weird Trade Union for courtesans. They don't let men run guild houses, a Companion accepts or rejects clients at will, and a client who mistreats a Companion can be blacklisted from ever hiring one again. She draws a sharp contrast here between a Companion and a common prostitute.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: With Mal, with whom she's constantly arguing with or disagreeing with, but they nonetheless acknowledge their mutual attraction. It's even a plot point in the movie.
- Cool Big Sis: She essentially acts as a surrogate older sister to Kaylee and is the only one she can do "girl talk" with.
- Cultured Badass: It is suggested that Companion training includes social and physical grace, at least some performing arts, and psychology. Inara appears to be at least somewhat adept at swordplay. In the movie Serenity, it is shown that she also knows self-defense and is skilled with a bow and arrow, apparently preferring them over firearms.
- Establishing Character Moment: In the pilot, when she tells Mal that if he boots River and Simon off the ship, she goes with them, and if no one will help them, she will. Bear in mind she just met them, and all she knows is that they're fugitives.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Inara is shown to be very in demand for both her male and female clientele.
- The Face: Officially, her role on the ship is to use her social contacts to "open doors that would otherwise be closed" to Serenity. Companions are apparently expected to travel, to meet with the influential and wealthy on various Alliance worlds: the rest of the crew thus gains access by being 'the help.'
- High-Class Call Girl: She is a Companion, a high-society courtesan licensed by the Union of Allied Planets (the "Alliance") to entertain the wealthy and powerful. As a registered Companion she brings a certain respectability to the ship that they can use.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Subverted. She does have a heart of gold, but she regards her profession with pride and would scorn attempts to 'rescue' her.
- Ill Girl: Word of God and Morena Baccarin confirmed a subplot involving Inara with a terminal illness, hinted at in "Serenity," "Out Of Gas," and "Heart of Gold."
- Insistent Terminology: She's a Companion, not merely a prostitute (those are people who aren't registered with the Guild) and certainly not a whore, as she keeps telling Mal. Unlike other examples, the distinction is made quite clear within the series (it boils down to, Companions are unionized and extensively trained, common streetwalkers and brothel prostitutes aren't).
- Lady of War: Good in swordfighting and archery, and able to defend herself in hand-to-hand combat against skilled people such as Saffron or The Operative. She is one of the most graceful people even the Companion Guild has ever seen.
- Mama Bear: Inara is the only one who will stand up to Mal whenever he threatens to boot Simon and River off the ship. A very quick way to piss the normally gentle Inara off is to threaten them — or any of the crew.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In Serenity: Leaves on the Wind the Alliance has had her kicked out of the Companions Guild for her role in the Miranda revelations.
- Not So Above It All: She really seems to enjoy participating in capers and double-crossing the villain of the week when she gets the chance.
- Not So Stoic: When she runs into Mal coming out of Nandi's room in "Heart of Gold", she appears not to care about Mal having slept with Nandi. A couple of scenes later, she's crying about it in her room.
- Ms. Fanservice: Her first scene shows her naked and having sex with a client. She habitually dresses in Pimped Out Dresses and tends to 'pose' more than the other characters. Again, deliberate and in-universe.
- The Ojou: Companions aren't actually royalty, but they're often treated like it. Their social status opens doors that would be locked to most people.
- Professional Sex Ed: In Jaynestown Inara is hired to bed the Magistrate's son and make him a man. She takes this duty far more seriously than the Magistrate, who sees it as a tiresome necessity in raising a shy boy.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: She is a companion, licensed to entertain the wealthy and powerful, who compliment her looks of dark curly hair and fair skin.
- Really Gets Around: Professionally. She's pretty much a high-end escort, but as a Companion, is also very picky and careful when it comes to her clientele.
- Relationship Upgrade: In the eight-month Time Skip between Serenity and the sequel comic Leaves on the Wind, she and Mal become a couple.
- Riches to Rags: Loses her license and is decommissioned as a Companion after the events of the movie. Now just part of the crew.
- Sex Tourism: Inverted. Inara finds clients in the area they're in. "Trash" shows that it also depends on the jobs Mal takes on, much to her frustration.
- Silk Hiding Steel: She's a gentle and motherly presence to everyone she meets. She's also a very dangerous woman to anyone who would endanger her or, even worse, her crew. It's notable that she and Jayne are the only two of the crew who aren't injured at all in the three-way fight against the Operative and the Reavers on Mr. Universe's moon.
- The Straight and Arrow Path: Inara's Weapon of Choice is a hunting bow, contrasting with the guns the rest of the crew uses.
- Team Mom: Especially to Kaylee and River, although she's very nurturing to everyone else as well. Except Mal.
- Tsundere: She is unflappably courteous and kind to everyone she meets... except Mal.
Jayne is a thuggish, misogynistic, crude Jerk with a Heart of Gold. It's unwise to trust him too far, as he's a bit power-hungry and greedy. What he lacks in delicacy and loyalty, though, he makes up for in strength, cunning, and fighting prowess.
- Accidental Hero: There's an obscure village of ceramic bakers on Higgins' Moon who hail Jayne as their version of Robin Hood. There was an incident: they misinterpreted his actions. The episode "Jaynestown" involves the crew making an illegal pickup in that village.
- Appeal to Force: Jayne often wonders why violence isn't being used. Case in point, when Mal is suggesting a meeting with Patience, who will almost certainly betray them.Jayne: Here's an idea: Why don't we shoot her first?
- He's also fond of this approach whenever he tries to usurp control of the ship from Mal, like in his "Chain of Command" speech from "The Train Job."Jayne: You know what the chain of command is? It's the chain I go and beat you with until you understand who's in ruttin' command here.
- He's also fond of this approach whenever he tries to usurp control of the ship from Mal, like in his "Chain of Command" speech from "The Train Job."
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Invoked with his "chain of command," but ultimately subverted. Jayne may be suited to combat and scaring people into submission, but it's also very clear by "Ariel" that he's not much good at actual leadership.
- Audience Surrogate: Subtly. One critic commented that "it's Jayne's job to say what the audience is thinking," particularly when they're thinking Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? Joss Whedon directly calls Jayne Firefly's Cordelia, who explicitely filled much the same role (saying what the audience was likely thinking).
- Badass Beard: His goatee adds to the sense of menace about him. He's very large, an excellent tracker, a brilliant shot. His gun know-how is encyclopaedic and his physical body is extremely tough and durable. Even his deep voice contributes to the image.
- BFG: He has a whole collection, but 'Vera' is his sentimental favorite.
- Big Brother Instinct: Consistently sends money home to treat his ill brother. He also thinks of Kaylee as something of a little sister and will wreak brutal revenge on anybody who hurts her.
- The Big Guy: His job is to be big, be scary, and when the need calls for it, to wield massive weapons and his raw strength to wreck opponents.
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Jayne believes the universe is divided into bullies and victims; nobody's clean and fancy ideals usually just get you shot. In his better moments (see his character quote) he wishes the world weren't so bleak.
- Blood Knight: Given any situation, he will always opt for violence. Fighting is pretty much his role on board and he's always armed.
- Boisterous Bruiser: When he's in a good mood. It's actually part of his "live fast, die hard" philosophy, as he tells Book in "The Message".
- Book Dumb: He's crude and uneducated (the RPG rulebook implies he dropped out of school after 6th grade), but he's a lot more clever than he typically lets on and is talented at many practical skills, especially when it comes to fighting. Still:
- Butt-Monkey: A decent portion of the show's humor is at his expense.
- The Corruptible: If money's involved. Case in point is his betrayal in "Ariel." It doesn't surprise anyone, since they got him by outbidding his previous employers while he had Mal and Zoe at gunpoint.
- A Day in the Limelight: Gets a lot of focus in "Jaynestown" when the crew has business on a moon where Jayne committed a crime years before. Jayne's reputation among the moon's inhabitants, his reactions to his fame, and even his old partner in crime drive most of the episode's plot as well as providing insights into his character.
- Dumb Muscle: Seems like this initially, but it's subverted. While not refined or educated, Jayne is an impressive judge of character (reading Dobson's lies instantly, for example), a reasonably cunning planner, an expert tracker, and a capable pilot. Basically, so long as what he's doing is a practical skill and doesn't require a lot of Book Smarts, he can crack it.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: And write them letters. And send money to treat their brother Mattie for the damp lung note . And proudly wear their knitted "cunning" hats!
- Everyone Has Standards: Jayne may kill people at the drop of a hat, but even he finds the sheer brutality of the Reavers to be appalling. He also appears to be disgusted when he learns what the Academy did to River to make her so crazy.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: A lot of conversations between Mal and Zoe show that they think him to be the most expendable member of the crew.
- Gender-Blender Name: His mother must have liked this trope, since his brother also has a traditionally female name, Mattie.River: Jayne is a girl's name.
Jayne: Well, Jayne ain't a girl!
- Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Upon learning that Inara will be servicing a female client on board her shuttle, he has only this to say:Jayne: I'll be in my bunk.
- Gun Nut: To practically Cargo Ship levels with his favourite gun given the Description Porn he gives it. He keeps a Wall of Weapons by his bunk and routinely takes guns from any dead bodies he finds, whether he's killed them or not.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: Discussed frequently, but subverted. Jayne explicitly keeps loyalty to the highest bidder. In practice, though, he sticks close to the crew of Serenity despite a few opportunities to jump fences.Mal: Why didn't ya turn on me, Jayne?
Jayne: Money wasn't good enough.
Mal: So what happens when it is?
Jayne: Well. . . that'll be an interesting day.
- Hidden Depths:
- Jayne Cobb, who is just about the last person on Serenity's crew that you would expect to play the guitar or send money to his momma. He's also the first one to join Book in saying grace. Dresses himself up to be presentable to Sex Workers, and brushes her hair.
- Also one very specific instance: despite being uneducated, he knows the correct meaning of the word "Pretentious".
- In "Jaynestown", after spending much of the episode enjoying his dubiously-based reputation as a local hero, he is genuinely shaken when someone takes a shot meant for him even after the distinctly un-heroic truth is revealed.
- I Call It "Vera": The Trope Namer. In "Our Mrs Reynolds" he lovingly describes his rifle and tells Mal its name, in an effort to trade it for Saffron.
- I'll Be in My Bunk: Also the Trope Namer. He says the phrase in "War Stories" when he sees Inara and the Ambassador meeting and it's made clear that Inara will be servicing her on board her shuttle.
- Intergenerational Friendship: He and the much older Shepherd Book form one over the series, particularly notable in "Objects in Space." Book is probably strongly reminded of his younger self.
- It's All About Me: Jayne thinks mostly about himself and is always happy to take the easy way out. Though he's devoted to his family and has warmed up to a couple of the crew.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Seems to do more of his "heart of gold" stuff more practically than the others: he shows Mal he cares in "Out of Gas" by prepping a suit for him and diverting what's left of life support to the bridge rather than anything more demonstrative, and he hides away from the others to watch Kaylee's surgery in the pilot. He also gives money to his mother (to the crew's surprise) and to the poor (once accidentally, once on purpose).
- Jerkass Has a Point: The episode "Safe" has him thrilled that Simon and River have gotten kidnapped, but he does make the point that not harboring fugitives makes their lives easier, and Zoe and Mal agree with that. In Joss Whedon's own words: "He's the guy who will say what everyone's thinking but are too polite to actually say it."
- Knife Nut: Carries one most of the time. Though he's even fonder of guns.
- Lovable Traitor: At least, he openly discusses betraying people, and even attempts it once, but can't quite bring himself to go through with it.
- Nice Hat: Subverted by the orange hat his mother knitted for him. It's "Cunning".Wash: A man walks down the street in that hat, you know he is not afraid of anything.
- OOC Is Serious Business: It speaks a lot about the absolute horror of Reavers that they turn him into a whimpering mess. On the same note, however, when the crew is pushed to the absolute limits, he's still just as willing to fight against them, even charging towards an army of them to save a grieving and furious Zoe from a Suicide by Cop."Zoe, get your ass back on the line!"
- Only in It for the Money: At least he's honest about it. In the pilot, he is offered a bribe to turn on Mal. When Mal matter of factly asks him why he decided not to, Jayne simply states that he wasn't offered enough money. Of course, Mal hired him off of his previous gang by making him a better offer.Mal: What happens when it is?
Jayne: Well, that'll be an interesting day.
- Played for Laughs: Jayne is a brutal thug with few interests outside women and money. But he's portrayed humorously (see Butt-Monkey), and it's his brutal one-dimensional nature that turns any display of real humanity into a heartwarming moment.
- Psycho for Hire: Mal actually hired him off his previous crew, whom he promptly betrayed and shot.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: This is practically his religion. Jayne has absolutely no problem killing someone if it'll protect the crew or himself ("... or if he bothers me, or if there's a woman, or if I'm gettin' paid... mostly only when I'm gettin' paid"), and frequently picks on Simon for being a sissified Core snob.
- Redemption Equals Life: After deciding to betray Simon and River to the Alliance behind everyone else's backs, he reneges on the whole thing after witnessing firsthand just what the Alliance did to River. He doesn't like her, but he doesn't think anybody deserves that. When Mal leaves him to be vented into outer space (which is tantamount to his greatest fear), Jayne stares him square in the eye and outright commands him to "make something up" about why he's dead. He would rather die a heinous and "unmanly" death than have his victims know that he was going to betray them. ''This'' is why Mal lets him live.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: His betrayal of the Tams in Ariel gets "rewarded" by the guy he's betraying them to arresting him along with them.
- The Rival: According to Joss Whedon in the commentary of Serenity, Jayne has no long-term love interest beyond a lingering crush on Kaylee. This is probably one of the reasons why he takes a powerful dislike to Simon.
- Sarcastic Devotee: He doesn't think much of 'honor', he doesn't think much of 'reason', and he definitely doesn't see any sense in Honor Before Reason. But Mal provides a steady paycheck, a room of his own, and regular opportunities to hurt folk.
- Sentimental Drunk: Very much so. Also has a tendency to hug people or admit when he's judged somebody wrong.
- Scarily Competent Tracker: Thanks to his past as an unscrupulous bushwacker before joining the crew. It's the reason Mal hires him in the first place.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: He betrays the Tams for money but he's so horrified at what the Alliance did to River that he tries to get the Tams out of there early. You know something's beyond the Moral Event Horizon if it makes Jayne turn down a hefty sum of money.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Thinks he could take over as captain if necessary. He's wrong, to say the least.
- Smarter Than You Look: Shows flashes of intelligence and is savvy enough to know when someone is lying.
- Sociopathic Hero: Jayne's favorite things are money, scaring people, killing people, women, and... well, no, that's about it. Heroic, ain't he?
- Sour Supporter: He never thinks much of Mal's plans, but he's always ready to join in. In Ariel he grouchily admits that Simon's come up with a good plan.
- The Starscream: Jayne definitely shows Starscream-like tendencies.Mal: You wanna run this ship?!
Mal: [flustered] Well... you can't!
- Thrown Out the Airlock: Mal almost does this to him after he tries to betray Simon and River to the Alliance.
- Token Evil Teammate: And he's quite aware that he's not a great guy. He later takes on this role willingly so that the other crew members don't have to dirty their hands in violent or questionable situations.
- Took a Level in Kindness: By the time of the movie, he's softened to a point where he at least respects the Tams as crewmates, even trying to attempt to restrain a berserk River and sharing a drink with Simon when the crew declares their war on the Alliance for what they did to Miranda and Haven."Shepherd always said... 'You can't do something smart? Do something right.'"
- Torture for Fun and Information: Discussed. He's a little too enthusiastic when Mal gives him the job of interrogating Dobson in the pilot. Mal directly orders him to just scare Dobson, though, and Jayne sticks to that despite a brief moment of disappointment. Of course, Dobson lies poorly almost immediately and Jayne sees right through it.Jayne: (irritatedly) I was gonna get me an ear, too.
- Wall of Weapons: Owns one, seen multiple times in the series over his bunk. An Alliance marine inspection team is actually a bit intimidated by the amount of weapons he has.
- The Watson: Sometimes. One way the show gets across information is having others explain it to him.
- What, Exactly, Is His Job?: Simon asks this question in the pilot episode, to which Mal replies, "Public relations". Seeing how much of the dirty work he does, he's probably something close to "security" or just plain "thug for hire".
- What You Are in the Dark: After he betrayed Simon and River to the Alliance, Mal locked him outside the cargo doors as the ship was exiting atmosphere. Mal was going to let him be sucked into space, but relented when Jayne chose to Face Death with Dignity and begged him not to tell the others about what he'd done.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Jayne's default solution to problems is fairly simple. So the crew has to explain to him why, exactly, they don't.
- Would Hit a Girl: In self-defense, if not generally. When River slashes his chest with a knife, he backhands her to the floor. No-one takes him to task over it however, as his action was entirely reasonable in the circumstance.
Kaywinnit Lee "Kaylee" Frye
Kaylee is the ship's mechanic. She's perky and cheerful more often than not, always optimistic, and innocent—though she does enjoy the simpler pleasures in life. She's the most laid-back and friendly person on the ship at any given time (if you insult the ship itself, though...). She's probably the worst in a fight among the crew, but she's extremely adept at keeping the ship in working order, and seemingly has a spiritual link to it.
- Action Survivor: She's the worst one in a fight amongst the crew, but she can still come out of most situations no worse for the wear. By the film, she's evolved to a decent Action Girl, and during the short Time Skip between the film and the comics, she's now good enough to sneak up on and take out Jubal Early. She likely could never handle him in a straight fight, but her disarming him when the rest of the crew was captured is a far better improvement than the situation he put her in in his first appearance.
- Ambiguously Bi: She appears to be as thrilled as Jayne when they see Inara with a female client in War Stories.
- Badass Adorable: Easily the most panicky in a fight and unwilling to actually hurt people, but when the ship is rigged with a booby trap and the slightest mistake can result in either depressurization or getting raped, eaten and sewn into clothing (not necessarily in that order) by rabid space zombies, she's the best choice. By the movie Serenity, at least, she's reached a point where she can shoot back, but only when cornered and being attacked by Reavers. And motivated, of course, by Simon finally admitting his feelings for her.
- Berserk Button: Not much can get Kaylee mad, but make one smart comment about her ship...
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: In Jaynestown, she reacts angily when Simon hints at rejecting her in a way that would never be tolerated if the genders were reversed and abandons him on the planet.
- Blithe Spirit: She recognizes that bad things happen. But she's confident that good things will happen too.
- Closer to Earth: Her optimism is not ditziness: she has a good deal of common sense, a genuine fondness for people that is usually reciprocated, and she's far more comfortable with her own sexuality than most of the cast.
- Cool Big Sis: Plays the big sister role to River over the series, especially after the two bonded in "Objects in Space."
- Covert Pervert: She's easily the most innocent member of Serenity's crew, but can be surprisingly open about her sexuality.
- The Cutie: Fun-loving, approachable, and the smallest person in the crew. She provides the page quote, and she is bubbly, outgoing and optimistic, though perhaps less naive than standard; she unashamedly likes sex, and goes after the stuffy Simon with a vengeance.
- The Engineer: She does a great deal with a rickety assortment of well-worn and/or second-hand parts. Pretty much every episode has her working on either the ship's systems or other electronics or machinery.
- Establishing Character Moment: In-Universe, for Mal—his first meeting with her starts with him catching her having sex with his mechanic in his ship's engine room, discovering that she did a Sherlock Scan on the whole array while in the middle of said sex, and solved the problem that was keeping his ship grounded (and his mechanic stumped) before she even finished getting dressed.
- Geeky Turn-On: Engineers and engines are a recurring geek turn on motif. Not only are rich, fanciable men regularly turned on by Kaylee's knowledge of engines, but she herself gets turned on by them, too.
- Good Bad Girl: When Mal first met her, she was screwing the former mechanic in the engine room. And wasn't embarrassed in the slightest at being interrupted.
- The Heart: Everyone on the ship loves her and gets along with her without any trouble because of her open, friendly personality. Probably why she's the one who books passengers.
- Love at First Sight: Kaylee was attracted to Simon from the very first episode when they met. Unfortunately for her, Simon Cannot Spit It Out until the Big Damn Movie.
- Machine Empathy: According to her, "They just talk to me."
- Making Love in All the Wrong Places: "Out of Gas" reveals that Kaylee didn't originally come aboard Serenity as a mechanic—Mal caught her and the previous mechanic having sex in the engine room. (Mal hired her and fired her predecessor when she managed to diagnose an engine problem he couldn't...based on her observations during sex.)
- Morality Pet: To Mal, Zoe, and Jayne. Hurting or threatening Kaylee utterly enrages them, particularly Jayne, who nearly eviscerated Dobson after he accidentally shot her.
- Ms Fix It: She has to do a lot of cross-wiring, bypassing and jerry-rigging. But whatever crazy thing needs doing—severing the nacelle safeties to do a Crazy Ivan, disabling charges attached to the external hull, removing the pulse locator—she's up to it.
- Naked First Impression: A very powerful example: was in the middle of having sex the first time she met Mal, but she diagnosed the problem with the ship despite supposedly being otherwise occupied. As a result, Mal hires her on the spot (although he does let her get dressed first).
- Pink Means Feminine: Has a pink Pimped-Out Dress that she got in "Shindig", and quite a few of her clothes at least have some pink elements to them.
- Plucky Girl: It's pretty rare—and really distressing—to see her lose her confidence.
- The Pollyanna: Nothing ever gets her down, or at least not for long. Mal himself sums it up.Mal: I don't believe there is a power in the 'verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful.
- Princess for a Day: In "Shindig", Kaylee gets to attend a fancy ball with Mal to make him look more "respectable" while he arranges a job. This includes Kaylee getting to dress up in the huge, frilly dress she had eyed longingly through a shop window earlier in the episode and enjoying a buffet full of fancy foods that Serenity's crew can't afford. She soon ends up happily discussing spacecraft with a crowd of adoring gentlemen.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: She has no shortage of attention when she spiffs herself up for Shindig, but ordinarily she sticks to Unkempt Beauty.
- Short Tank: She is an amazing mechanic who happens to have a love for strawberries and frilly dresses.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Kaylee adores Simon. Simon doesn't know what to do about it.
- Southern-Fried Genius: Well, she has the accent, and she's from the space equivalent of the boonies.
- Sunny Sunflower Disposition: No one is ever more cheerful than Kaylee. So much so that Mal comments "I don't believe there's a power in the 'verse that can stop Kaylee from being cheerful. Sometimes you just wanna tape her mouth shut and dump her in the hold for a month". To which she responds by kissing Mal's cheek and saying, "I love my Captain."
- Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Kaylee is Serenity's mechanic. She is a very talented, intuitive and natural engineer, despite her lack of formal training. She's usually unkempt, covered in engine grease and she wears grey, dark-green clothes, but she also usually sports at least one bright item, e.g. a pink shirt. She's also interested in 'girly' stuff, such as pink frilly dresses or pretty parasols.
- Took a Level in Badass: A small one. During "War Stories" she can't bring herself to shoot a gun even when her life is in danger but by the time of Serenity she thinks that Simon is worth fighting for. By the time of the post-film comics, she's good enough to get the drop on Jubal Early.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Strawberries. She accepts them as payment for travel, and during a fancy party she homes in on the strawberries at the buffet table.
- Unkempt Beauty: Especially when she's covered in engine grease. She shares this a bit with River, and it is a deliberate contrast between her and Zoe or Inara.
- Will They or Won't They?: The good doctor is stiff, awkward, living on the run, and busy repairing the broken cutie. You have your work cut out for you, Kaylee. They Do when Simon finally spits it out at the end of the Big Damn Movie.
- Wrench Wench: As said, she is a woman who likes mechanics.
Dr. Simon Tam
Simon is the doctor aboard Serenity. He's an extremely gifted surgeon and a cunning planner, even though he's socially awkward and not exactly streetsmart. He cares for his sister River more than anyone or anything else in the world, and he is willing to go to extreme lengths for her well-being.
- Act of True Love: Simon threw away a life of luxury, a prestigious career, and became a fugitive on the run for the rest of his life in order to protect his insane little sister, and not once is there even a hint that he regrets this choice.
- Action Survivor: A classic—he prefers being a Non-Action Guy and is only a hero because his mei-mei needed him.
- A-Team Firing: In "War Stories", after trying and failing to really contribute in the gunfight:Simon: I don't know [how I feel]. I've never killed anyone before.
Book: I was there, son. I'm fair sure you haven't killed anyone yet.
- Badass Bookworm: Jayne learned the hard way that, though Simon may not be the strongest guy around, you do not want to push his buttons. Ever. He is a doctor after all, and he knows all the ways to incapacitate/kill/deny medical aid to you without ever firing a bullet, and despite his aversion to violence, he is a lot braver than his initial demeanor might indicate.
- Beware the Nice Ones: He is one of the friendliest and most polite people on the ship. He's also the one who personally rescued River from the Academy, repeatedly hurled himself at anyone threatening her, and took up arms to rescue Mal despite having no experience with guns.
- Big Brother Instinct: Before he learned the truth, he was a brilliant medical student from an upper-class family, with a golden future. All he had to do was forget he ever had a sister. Instead, he became a disowned criminal with every expectation of spending the rest of his life as the caretaker of an irreparably brain-damaged woman, fleeing from the government and with every hand raised against him. He doesn't regret it at all.
- Brainy Brunette: He's highly intelligent and dark-haired, to the point that he earned a doctorate at quite a young age.
- Brainwashing for the Greater Good: When River is threatening to shoot Mal, Simon forces her into unconsciousness with an Institute phrase. River understands why he did it, but trusts him less from then on. By taking advantage of her conditioning he implicitly perpetuated it. note
- Break the Cutie: He doesn't regret the decisions he's made, but his new life is not easy.River (in a lucid moment): You gave up everything to find me. You found me broken. It's hard for you.
- Cannot Spit It Out: It's difficult for him to act on his feelings for Kaylee (and ends up butchering any conversation with her at least 50% of the time because of the way he words things). By about three episodes into the show, they're both perfectly aware of his feelings towards her, and it is an ongoing discussion topic, he's just too danged shy and proper to do anything about it, even without being distracted by caring for and protecting River. He finally spits it out just before they face down the Reavers in the Big Damn Movie.
- The Caretaker: Simon defies his family, abandons a prestigious career as a surgeon, and risks his life to rescue and care for his brainwashed and mentally unstable sister River. He will face down anyone who threatens her, while being endlessly gentle and patient towards her confusing and unpredictable outbursts.
- Catchphrase: Frequently calls River his meimei (妹妹), Chinese for "little sister".
- City Mouse: He's accustomed to civilization's rules and comforts. He doesn't adapt quickly or well.
- Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: To River, and Mal explicitly tells him its Simon's responsibility to keep an eye on her.
- Consummate Professional: When dealing in matters relating to medicine. In "Ariel" he risked breaking cover while robbing a hospital in order to save the life of a patient who nearly died due to a dangerous mixing of medications. He even tells Jayne that no matter what he does, when Jayne's on the table under Simon's care, he's safe.
- Combat Pragmatist: Over the course of his few fights, he beats up people while handcuffed, applies pressure to the carotid artery with his knee just enough to knock a man out rather than kill him, and leaps off a high railing to go for the gun rather than a punch.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: While by no means incompetent in the series proper, he does tend to... lack in areas he's not familiar with. But when it comes to busting River out of a top-secret facility in the Big Damn Movie, he's almost disturbingly cold and effective.
- Death Glare: Anyone who threatens Mei-mei withers slowly before his eyes. As do incompetent surgeons. He must have been a terror to work under.
- Dogged Nice Guy: To Kaylee sometimes, although she's usually the one pursuing him. Sometimes it looks like they're making progress, only for him to unintentionally offend her and spend the rest of the episode moping after her.
- Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: How dedicated is he to performing medicine and saving lives? He breaks cover while escorting River out of a capital city hospital on an Alliance-controlled planet to save a patient who was suffering a heart attack due to mis-prescribed meds. And takes the opportunity to school the man's attending doctor with a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
- Fish out of Water: The awkwardness disappears when he's in his element, as shown in the hospital on "Ariel" and also in "Heart of Gold" when Petaline goes into labor. Even though he's never acted as a primary in a delivery before. Medicine is his forte.
- Foil: Simon reflects a younger version of Mal, one who hasn't had his optimism shot off in the war yet. When a Power Trio is called for, it tends to be Simon vs. Jayne.
- Also potentially to Tracy in "The Message." Just like Tracy, he boards Serenity under false pretenses, endears himself to Kaylee, and is on the run from people willing to kill him for what he took from them. Tracy, however, is charming, down to earth, closer to the border world mentality which displaces Simon so frequently, his motives for theft are more or less for selfish profit, and he reacts violently when Mal plans to deceive the Alliance by handing him over (like he did with Simon and River in "Bushwhacked") instead of trusting him.
- Gentleman Snarker: In several places. "Objects in Space" was an awesome display of Gentlemanly Snarking while he's talking with Early about River.Simon: I can't keep track of her when she's not incorporeally possessing a spaceship.
- Good Is Not Soft: His two main drives (medicine and saving his sister) are both extremely altruistic. But in certain conditions he's cold-blooded enough to give even Jayne pause. At one point he flat-out drugs Jayne into unconsciousness because he was trying to take over the ship.
- Hidden Depths: Twice (in River's rescue and in 'Ariel'), Simon puts his much-touted brains to work on The Caper. The man has quite a genius that way; his ability to plan and schedule is almost good enough to overcome the crew's bad luck and assorted dysfunctions... almost.
- Honor Before Reason: Basically his whole storyline. He gave up a lucrative job, all his money and lifelong dream to help his sister, ruining his life and turning himself into a fugitive. Later he says he will never harm Jayne or break his oath as a physician, despite Jayne betraying him and threatening him on multiple occasions. And one gets the impression he'd do it all again in a minute.
- Incest Subtext: Simon and River's relationship is greatly textured, mixing sibling, parent, doctor, and lover roles with the necessary abandon.
- I Will Find You: Variation; he had already done this when the show opens (although how he does so is seen in the prologue to the Big Damn Movie). Now it is necessary to make sure they don't find her.
- Living Emotional Crutch: To River; he's what keeps her relatively stable, and as long as he's safe she's fine.
- The Medic: Naturally, being a professional doctor. Mal explicitly says it's why he's offering Simon and River safety on his ship.
- My Fist Forgives You: Punches Mal in the face for endangering River's life in the movie, although he was just returning the favor.
- Naïve Newcomer: He knows nothing about his new life, which conveniently allows others to explain things that would otherwise require an As You Know approach.
- Nerves of Steel: Just watch him in "Ariel"! Or the opening of the Big Damn Movie, for that matter—it's the first time he's seen River in several years, she's currently strapped to a chair shrieking and whimpering, and he doesn't so much as twitch an eyebrow! Of course he has them. He's a surgeon.
- Old-School Chivalry: He is a well dressed doctor who doesn't swear or have casual sex. Needless to say he doesn't fit in with the thieves he lives with, but he says that he has to be proper because it's all he has.
- Overshadowed by Awesome: He's a genius with a specialty: his sister is a prodigy with dozens of natural talents.
- Promotion to Parent: And personal physician, and therapist, and bodyguard, and once even Gentleman Thief. But it's also made clear that these responsibilities are really wearing on Simon, as River herself points out in a lucid moment. The fact that Gabriel and Regan Tam want nothing to do with them doesn't help, either.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The blue to Mal and Jayne's red. Unless River is being openly threatened, Simon is often the calmest and most rational person on the ship.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: He's always dressed in very sharp suits, quite in contrast to everyone else on the ship.
- Sheltered Aristocrat: He grew up in luxury on the capital planet of the Alliance. The rim is quite a shock to him.
- Shirtless Scene: Experiences one while having a conversation with a loony bounty hunter at gunpoint.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Simon is cooler, calmer, and more disciplined compared to his more sensitive and (for obvious reasons) erratic little sister.
- Sugar-and-Ice Personality: He's cold and formal to most of the universe. He's almost sickeningly devoted to his sister.
- The Strategist: Comes up with a complicated but solid plan for infiltrating the hospital in "Ariel", which even Jayne admits is excellent.
- Undying Loyalty: To River. This is one of the most notable things about him as well as his reason for being on Serenity in the first place. He literally gave up his whole life—wealth, prestige, safety—to rescue and protect River from the people who'd been torturing her.
- What You Are in the Dark: Simon could have abandoned River at the Academy and continued living a very good life. No one would have known and River would have just thought he hadn't understood her code. He saved her anyway.
- Will They or Won't They?: Kaylee. He is shy about this sort of thing and he is busy taking care of his Mei-Mei. They Do at the end of the Big Damn Movie.
River is the aforementioned precious cargo, and Simon's little sister. She's stone cold crazy. With good reason, though, and she gets a bit better. She's also a prodigy par excellence, taking to difficult subjects with ease (considering university-level physics to be a "challenge" when she was fourteen, for example). She's enough of an asset to the crew at critical times that it makes up for being The Load when she's freaking out.
- Action Girl: In one memorable scene during "War Stories." In the movie, it turns out she's got plenty of such skills, but hypnotic suggestion keeps them suppressed.
- Afraid of Needles: Her experiences in the Academy leave her an extreme aversion to needles in particular and medical facilities as a whole. Simon outright tells Early that River would never hide in the ship's medical bay if she could help it.
- Ax-Crazy: She has slashed people up in the past, including Jayne, for wearing a Blue Sun t-shirt and insulting her brother. In the R. Tam Sessions, she murdered her "counselor" with a pen.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: She only needed to glance at Niska's men for a second before killing all three of them while firing only three shots with her eyes closed. Kaylee remarks that she just "did the math."
- Badass Adorable: Small, cute, and a Teen Genius. Also Ax-Crazy, a psychic, and a Super Soldier.
- Barefoot Loon: Her lack of footwear emphasizes her, to say the least, singularity in comparison to the rest of the team (as well as being the actress' personal preference).
- Beware the Nice Ones: Ordinarily she's an emotional mess who can't even think coherently. When she has good moments (Kaylee and Simon seem most likely to bring these out), she's gentle and fun-loving. But there's a third aspect of River...
- Big Brother Worship: She looks up to and openly adores her big brother, Simon. It's not hard to see why, given the lengths that Simon goes for her.
- Blessed with Suck: She has psychic powers and is unstoppable in combat but it's definitely not worth the really screwed up process she went through and the lingering mental problems/complications she has after rescue.
- Boots of Toughness: These are what she wears on the occasions she does put something on her feet, hinting at the badassery underneath her brokenness. The movie shows what use she can put them to.
- Brainy Brunette: She is considered a child prodigy, intelligent beyond her years and athletically gifted. Her intelligence dwarfs that of her gifted brother ("Gifted" means an IQ of at least 150) and she has unkempt brown hair.
- Break the Cutie: In a convenient pre-broken package. The R.Tam Sessions show the whole process from start to finish.
- Broken Ace: Before she was sent to the School, River was a natural prodigy who, as Simon explains it, was good at almost everything she did, whether it was academic or athletic in nature. Even post-School, she displays great intelligence and incredible fighting ability, but her splintered sanity has caused her to become unstable and impeded her ability to use her talents.
- Broken Hero: The last (chronological) episode, "Objects in Space," promoted her from Broken Bird to a heroic character. Ascends to full-scale Broken Hero in the movie.
- Ceiling Cling: In addition to her mental talents, she's a natural at gymnastics, and uses this trick multiple times, particularly in the movie.
- Cheerful Child: Her lucid self is still rather childlike.
- Child Prodigy: Hyperintelligent, learning at a pace that made Simon—himself a genius—look like an "idiot child."Simon: I am very smart. I went to the best Medacad in Osiris, top 3% of my class, finished my internship in eight months. "Gifted" is the term. So when I tell you that my little sister makes me look like an idiot child, I want you to understand my full meaning. River was more than gifted. She... she was a gift. Everything she did, music, math, theoretical physics—even, even dance—there was nothing that didn't come as naturally to her as breathing does to us.
- Child Soldier: One of the Academy's goals in "developing" her. What came out the other end of the process was a virtual One-Man Army in a seventeen-year-old's body.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Most of what she says is applicable to the situation at hand, but her language is slightly... perpendicular to reality. Judging by her flashbacks and the R.Tam Sessions, her brilliance tended to make her speak this way before she was driven insane, too.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: Many of her incoherent ramblings turn out to be true, especially the repeated "Two by two, hands of blue..."
- Combat Pragmatist: No part of your body is off-limits when she's in assassin-mode.
- Covert Pervert: Has no love life of her own, but takes an owlish interest in that of others. At one point she spies on Simon and Kaylee making love, and her psychic abilities mean she can't not peek into the others' romantic lives.
- Crazy Sane: Because Fear Is the Appropriate Response to a lot of things she knows through her telepathy, River's emotions usually precede what the other characters will/should be feeling once they realize the truth of a situation.
- Creepy Child: She has her moments, particularly in "Bushwhacked" while she's wandering the halls of the derelict ship or on Miranda in the movie.
- Cursed With Awesome: The way she sees her psychic powers. She outright says that she wants to be a normal person in "Objects in Space" and rails against Simon's medication in "War Stories" because it makes her feel normal and that she knows it's only a temporary reprieve before she descends into madness again.
- The Cutie: At first, pre-Academy, River was sweet, friendly, and naive. She wanted so badly to go to the Academy and learn, and it cost her dearly. By the time we meet her, she's been almost completely broken, but in her more lucid moments, she's still the same nice girl underneath. Just also insane.
- Cute and Psycho: Small, adorable, and periodically goes completely insane and starts cutting on people.
- Dance Battler: In the movie. Her Waif-Fu fighting style was created with the aim of appearing dance-like, as both the character and her actress Summer Glau are dancers
- Dark Shepherd: To Jayne, after Simon makes his pledge to let bygones be bygones. Just in case Simon's forgiveness isn't enough to keep Jayne in line, she frightens him with "I can kill you with my brain."
- Deadpan Snarker: From time to time, especially when in her more lucid moments.Jayne: Well, as a rule, I say girlfolk ain't to be trusted.
River: Jayne is a girl's name.
- Deconstruction: Of the whole "manufactured super killer soldier/assassin" concept, showing just how mentally screwed-up such a manufactured supersoldier would become.
- Deuteragonist: Though Mal is the central character of the series, River and what happened to her at the Academy form a major part of the conflict over the series. River is central to a significant number of episodes and her story serves as one of the series' dominant running background plots. Becomes especially apparent in Serenity.
- Due to the Dead: She does what she can to tell the world about Pandora, her own life be damned.
- Dirty Mind-Reading: Brushes with this in "Objects In Space," and implied in both the movie- when she spies on Simon and Kaylee and the comics.
- Distressed Damsel: For most of the series—and even when she develops her impressive combat abilities, her insanity still renders her extremely vulnerable.
- Does Not Like Shoes: She's barefoot at least half her screentime. Her feet are even referred to as the show's 11th character. The camera deliberately shoots her bare feet entering or leaving scenes a lot.
- Driven to Madness: The Academy's torture prevents her from understanding or coherently explaining a lot of the truths she knows.
- Driven to Suicide: Or at least, driven to begging to be killed by her brother.River: [sobbing] Put a bullet to me. Bullet to the brainpan, squish!
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Whedon's commentary said that casting River was tricky: they needed someone who could evoke protective impulses and yet also be slightly alien, faintly repellent.
- The Empath: The majority of her psychic abilities center around sensing others' thoughts and intentions.
- Fetal Position Rebirth: Both her first appearance in the series and her last appearance in The Movie.
- Fight Magnet: River is second only to Mal in the amount of trouble that she attracts thanks to the huge bounty on her head and the sheer number of people who want her for her abilities.
- Genius Bruiser: Smart enough to make Simon look like an idiot savant and powerful enough to take on rooms full of Mooks by herself.
- Girl in a Box: She currently provides the page image. This is how Simon transported her aboard the ship.
- Going Native: Her struggles to adapt to the Serenity lifestyle aren't because of a personality clash, like her brother: they're due to trauma and schizophrenia. She still tends to pick it up faster than Simon. Well, most of the time.River (trying to bite an ice-cream ball on a string): This food is problematic.
- Gone Horribly Right: The Academy wanted to make River into a mind-reading spy and clairvoyant assassin. They succeeded, much to the Alliance's eventual regret.
- Hearing Voices: But not imaginary ones—she can hear the innermost thoughts of people around her.
- He Knows Too Much: One of many reasons why the Alliance is interested in her; she was at one point displayed to a collection of the highest-ranking government officials, and pulled critical secrets from their minds while exposed to them.
- Human Weapon: The Alliance wanted her to become an unstoppable assassin and spy. And, well...
- Incest Subtext: Simon and River's relationship is greatly textured, mixing sibling, parent, doctor, and lover roles with the necessary abandon.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: River does not want her psychic powers, especially because they make her friends and adoptive family terrified of her.
- Insane = Violent: Justified, as the experiments that drove her insane were intended to make her a Super Soldier, so violent tendencies are only to be expected. But played with: in some ways her insane self is preventing her from becoming violent.
- Instant Expert: According to Simon, she's able to grasp just about any subject as naturally as breathing, due to both her savant learning ability and latent psychic powers.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Shoots three guards without even looking in "War Stories", thanks to her Psychic Powers.
- Knight Templar Big Brother: Inverted, at long last, in the movie. Simon can no longer defend her, or even himself. Therefore she must become the protector.
- Let's Get Dangerous!: "You take care of me, Simon. You've always taken care of me. My turn." Cue River curb-stomping the fucking Reavers.
- Living Lie Detector: Between her psychic abilities and extreme intellect, she can easily tell if someone is lying. She knows Jayne is up to something in "Ariel" right off the bat when she wakes up, she picks out Jubal Early's own self-deceptive lies in "Objects in Space," and one cut scene from "Our Mrs. Reynolds" indicates that she knew Saffron was up to no good the moment she got on the ship.
- Living Macguffin: There are at least three good reasons the Alliance will spare no expense and kill any number of people to get her back, making her one of the driving elements of the series' plot.
- Living Weapon: Explicitly called such in the movie Serenity.
- Meaningful Name: She's named after Ophelia's river.
- Messy Hair: River apparently does not take good care of her hair immediately after being rescued, due to many more pressing issues like her batshit insanity. It gradually becomes a little bit better over the series; by the events of Serenity it is less messy and more curly.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: She can't control when she hears other people's thoughts and really doesn't like the more unpleasant ones she hears.
- Mind Rape: What the Academy did to her.
- Modesty Shorts: River wears black bike shorts under her dresses.
- Mysterious Waif: Viewers know there's a lot more to her than just being Simon's little sister when she shows up in the box. The mystery surrounding what was done to her and what the Alliance wants from her is one of the show's running plot threads.
- Mystical Waif: It turns out that she really is a bit preternatural.Wash: Psychic? Isn't that science fiction?
- Naked on Arrival: When she awakens from the aforementioned box.
- Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant:
- From "Out of Gas":
- In "Safe", after she's been yelling loud enough to spook the cattle in the cargo hold:River: The human body can be drained of blood in 8.6 seconds, given adequate vacuuming systems.
Mal: See, morbid and creepifying I got no problem with, so long as she does it quiet-like.
- Noble Fugitive: Like her brother, she's from an aristocratic family and now living on the run. Although her exile was not voluntary.
- The Ophelia: Heavily invoked; "River" is even a reference to the fact that Ophelia drowned in one.
- One-Man Army: In the movie, she destroys dozens of Reavers in hand-to-hand combat with barely a scratch on her.
- Photographic Memory: She remembers everything. One glance is all it takes!
- Phlebotinum Rebel: The decisions of the crew often have to factor in that there are MacGuffin Super Person government and corporate goons after her.
- Power Incontinence: She can't completely control when she senses things or when she can read other people's thoughts. It frustrates her.
- Psychic Powers: River has some form of telepathy and remote sensory capability, and possibly some version of Combat Clairvoyance. She also threatens Jayne by saying "I can kill you with my brain," though never demonstrates any ability to directly harm people with her psychic abilities.
- Reluctant Warrior: She may be the most brutal killing machine in the 'Verse, but she sure as hell doesn't want to be.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Notably when rattling off a lot of Techno Babble while editing Shepherd's bible.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: She is more sensitive, physically powerful, and (for obvious reasons) more erratic than her disciplined and calmer big brother.
- Spaceship Girl: "Objects in Space." Subverted in that she's only pretending, to confuse the Bounty Hunter. The setup, despite how it tended to be hard science fiction, sure had Jubal convinced!Early: Am I talking to Serenity now?
- Super Soldier: Apparently what the Academy wanted from her. The precise purpose of her psychic abilities and combat programming is not made clear, as there's equal suggestion that she could have been intended to be an assassin, a sleeper agent, a bodyguard/police agent, or a spy.
- Talkative Loon: River's less-lucid dialogue is sometimes nonsensical: at other times it's simply couched in metaphor. Mal even finds it worrying that "what she said makes perfect sense to me" when she talks about cattle "remembering who they are" when they see the sky.
- Took a Level in Badass: The series had one notable moment where she displays Improbable Aiming Skills ("War Stories"). In The Movie, she's a full-blown Lightning Bruiser.Wash: Start with the part where Jayne gets knocked out by a 90-pound girl, 'cause I don't think that's ever getting old!
- Tranquil Fury: Whenever River picks up a weapon, her face is quite serene. And not in a good way.
- Undying Loyalty: To her big brother in particular, but in time she extends this to the rest of the crew.
- Unhappy Medium: In fact, a screaming, miserable, self-destructive medium.
- Unkempt Beauty: Deliberately designed this way: Summer Glau wore minimal makeup and her hair was a constant, tangled mess, to both represent her mental instability as well as create a stark contrast between River and the much more glamorous beauty of characters like Inara or Zoe.
- Unstable Powered Woman: River was a Teen Genius from a wealthy family who gained powerful Psychic Powers after being experimented on. Specifically, she wound up with a damaged amygdala, which affected her ability to properly filter, feel, or control her emotions — as her brother and caretaker Simon points out, "She feels everything; she can't not." As a result she's highly unstable and prone to psychic freakouts and tantrums that potentially hurt the other characters, although she has stabilized a little by the end of Serenity due to the companionship of the crew.
- Waif-Fu: Especially during the movie, when she uses agility, hand-to-hand expertise, and precognition/telepathy to take out large groups of opponents singlehandedly.
- Waif Prophet: A straightforward use of the trope: a small, strange girl who can see and hear things no one else can.
- Weak, but Skilled: In terms of raw physical power, River is—as Wash points out—a 90-pound girl. In terms of skill (aided with psychic ability) however, she's the most dangerous person on the ship.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Justified, it's pretty much impossible to turn a girl into a psychic Super Soldier against her will without her ending up severely screwed up.
- You Shall Not Pass!: Against the Reavers in Serenity.
Shepherd Derrial Book
Book: Oh, I've got heathens aplenty right here.
The 'Verse's equivalent of a Christian priest, Book also wandered onto Serenity in the pilot, just wanting to walk the 'verse a while. Later he wonders if he's on the wrong ship, but then again, he does seem to know a lot of things that one doesn't find in The Bible.
- Abusive Parents: He left home in his youth to escape his abusive father.
- Ambiguously Christian: The Order of Shepherds say grace before meals and practice funeral rites, but call their priests "shepherds".
- The Atoner: It is implied very strongly that his Dark and Troubled Past was rather sinister, and that that was the reason he became a Good Shepherd.
- Awesome by Analysis:
- He's capable of determining what kind of weapon was used on someone just from a few seconds glance.
- How Book saves the crew from Womack, a corrupt Alliance cop. He notices that Womack doesn't call for backup from a nearby Alliance base while pursuing them. Then he sees that Womack's uniform is from the wrong sector, putting him out of his jurisdiction. Since Womack is pursuing them in secret, they'd be able to kill him without the Alliance noticing.
- Badass Preacher: He's got a mean right hook.
- 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.
- For those wondering, his real name is Henry
- Blatant Lies: Whenver displaying knowledge hinting at his darker past, he sometimes gives an implausible excuse. Case in point, when asked how he knows so much about sniper vantage points and precision marksmanship, he simply replies "[shooting] rabbits."
- Compressed Hair: Hilariously scary the one time it's let out.River (hiding in a cargo compartment): The snow on the roof is too heavy. His brains are in terrible danger.Zoe: River? Honey? It's OK. He's putting the hair away now.River (not emerging): Doesn't matter. It'll still be there... waiting.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Wild Mass Guessing was all over the place until Joss Whedon finally settled it in A Shepherd's Tale by telling us about his Dark and Troubled Past. Book was a feckless thug who tried to become The Unfettered to escape from an Abusive Father. Then he became an Independent Mole and an Alliance torturer, but his inability to choose something to believe in killed over 4,000 people. After finally hitting rock bottom, he found God and religion, dedicating himself to spreading a message of peace and love to compensate for his wasted life.Book: I wasn't born a shepherd, Mal.
Mal: You have to tell me about that sometime.
Book: No, I don't.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Joss Whedon let slip years ago that Book got his name from someone he killed. He killed a random passer-by who looked like kinda like him and swapped wallets.
- Electronic Eyes: In The Shepherd's Tale its revealed that he had augmented eyes to let the rebels spy on the Alliance.
- Foreshadowing: That Book was more than he seems was hinted as early as the pilot where in the moments after Dobson gets distracted after accidentally shooting Kaylee, Book manages to both disarm Dobson of his gun and knocks him out with a one-two punch. In Objects in Space, Jubal Early notably goes after Book the exact same way he went after Mal, hinting that the two were Not So Different and that Early sensed that Book was far more dangerous than he appeared.
- It's more than that - Early engages Mal in an actual fight, and wins without expending much effort or making much noise. For Book, Early takes special care to outright ambush him, rather than fight him head-on. What does that say about Book?
- Former Teen Rebel: He eventually became a preacher, but he started out as a petty teenage criminal then became a spy during the war.
- Good Shepherd: After hitting rock bottom, he dedicated himself to spreading a message of peace and love. Whether or not he's officially ordained is, like many things about his past, unclear. Really, the flock of Serenity could use some good news.
- HeelFaith Turn: After doing a lot of nasty deeds in his youth, he found religion and reformed himself.
- Hidden Depths: How does a preacher know so much about Alliance troop movements, anyhow? Or how to use a weapon? Or so much about sniper rifles? Or about common criminal tactics and cons?Early: That ain't a shepherd.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: He's no River, but he can shoot a moving target in the kneecap. From the hip.
- Jack-of-All-Trades: Name a skill, and Book seems to have some experience with it. He's competent enough in the engine room, an excellent shot and close-combat fighter, appears to have some medical knowledge, and can operate heavy weaponry and prepare explosives when need be. Being a Browncoat infiltrator/Alliance special forces officer gives him quite a bit of grounding in esoteric skills.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: "Whatever you..."
- Meaningful Name: Shepherd Book. Quite obvious, really.
- Mysterious Past: Until it was finally revealed in A Shepherd's Tale, eight years after the series first aired.
- Precision F-Strike: Book is usually the most well-mannered of the crew, but during "War Stories," he busts loose with one of the filthiest Chinese swears in the book (which translates to "filthy fornicators of livestock") upon seeing Zoe come back with Mal's severed ear.
- Reluctant Warrior: But a conspicuously efficient one.
- Team Chef: As shown in the pilot, he's quite a cook.
- Technical Pacifist: Really technically. He's okay with beating up goons as long as it's not lethal.Zoe: Preacher, dont The Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin?Book: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: He's willing to fight and even use guns as needed, but refuses to kill.
- Turn to Religion: Implied in the show, confirmed in the graphic novel "The Shepherd's Tale". After being dishonorably discharged from the Alliance military he found himself on the streets of Persephone, but one day at a soup kitchen he started contemplating his bowl of chicken soup and came to a bit of a revelation concerning his place in the universe, after which he joined a monastery.
- Zoe: It's a piece of fay-yoo [garbage].
Mal: Fay-yoo? Ah... ah... OK, she won't be winning any beauty contests anytime soon, but she is solid. Ship like this, be with you till the day you die.
Zoe: That's because it's a deathtrap, sir.
The ship. Including the bits that fall off.
- The Alleged Car: She's not a prize winning beauty and there's some pieces falling off but she's still flying.
- Bilingual Bonus: Serenity's name is written in both English and Chinese on the hull.
- Big Damn Gunship: Parodied in the Cold Open of "The Train Job", where they con some yokels into backing down by threatening to blow a new crater in their moon. Serenity doesn't have any ship-mounted weaponry. In the film they temporarily mount an anti-aircraft weapon whilst disguising her as a Reaver ship.
- On the other hands, even the completely unarmed spacecraft capable of hauling several dozens tons of cargo could easily wreak nuclear-scale destruction on the unprotected moon, by simply pushing heavy enough rock into gravity well. Which made the abovementioned threat... actually, not so hilarious.
- Boring, but Practical: As boring as a starship can be. Serenity is hardly the most advanced cargo freighter and nobody's idea of a warship, but her highly modular design and abundant spare parts means with the right mechanic, she'll take you anywhere you want, whenever you want. Quite nice and homey on the inside too.
- Cool Horse: The shape of Serenity's bridge is clearly meant to evoke the shape of a horse's head and neck, in accordance with the show's Space Western setting.
- Cool Starship: She don't look like much, but she'll fool ya.
- Good Is Old-Fashioned: There aren't many Fireflies still around, and it's largely considered a relic by other characters.
- I Am Not Left-Handed: The rotating thrusters that made the 'Crazy Ivan' from the pilot possible is a rare mechanical variation.
- Meaningful Name: After the turning point in Mal's life, the battle of Serenity Valley.
- Shiny-Looking Spaceships: This is noticeably not in effect.
- Spell My Name with a "The": Averted—you don't say "the Serenity." It's like a person's name. Which is a healthy bit of Shown Their Work, since at least in English this is how you're supposed to refer to a ship's name.
- Thememobile: In-universe, Mal had the old hulk re-named Serenity after the Battle of Serenity Valley—the place he'd lost so many war buddies and all his faith. Metafictionally, Serenity is a place of sanctuary for some of the characters, and a means to quest for serenity for the others.
- Used Future: Literally—Mal buys her at a used ship lot. The salesman tries to steer him towards a more suitable (read: expensive) vessel. Serenity was in such bad nick she couldn't get off the ground, let alone be space-worthy when Mal bought her.
- What a Piece of Junk: Serenity may not look like much, but according to Kaylee, "she'll fool ya."