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Film / Serenity

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"Half of writing history is hiding the truth."

"I aim to misbehave."
Captain Malcolm Reynolds

After Firefly, a Science Fiction Space Western, was cancelled partway through its first season, a massive letter-writing campaign was launched to bring it back. Years later, a movie was released to provide closure to some of the unanswered questions of the show and accompany the comic series and other Expanded Universe materials.

Shortly after the end of the series, the crew of smugglers on the Firefly-class cargo ship Serenity is still getting into trouble. The presence of River Tam, who escaped from a military Black Site facility that was turning her into a programmed assassin/psychic, has brought the fist of The Alliance down on her, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, River's brother Simon, Ms. Fixit Kaylee, Zoe, the philosophical pilot Wash, mercenary Jayne, the preacher Shepherd Book, and the courtesan Inara.

More details are brought to light about the experiments that were done on River by the government and the Alliance conspiracy that she learned by accident through her powers, driving her insane. Pursued by a ruthless and devoted Government Operative, the crew seek to solve the mystery surrounding River Tam and the Alliance that has caused them so much misery, and perhaps use it to get out from under the thumb of the Alliance once and for all.

Not to be confused with the 2019 movie of the same name, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.

This film provides examples of:

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  • Abandon Ship: Two separate cases in the film's climax. The Operative uses an escape pod to flee his flagship, while Mal and the others leave Serenity after it lands on Mr. Universe's base and the Reavers begin to harpoon it.
  • Absent Aliens: Per standard Firefly canon, no alien life whatsoever exists in the star system inhabited by humans. All conflict is strictly human versus human.
  • Act of True Love: The film starts with Simon breaking his sister out of the Alliance research facility where she was being experimented on. On viewing a recording of it, the Operative and the lead researcher discuss Simon's motives, and the fact that he pretty much threw his life away to do it. The scientist thinks it's insane, but the Operative points out that he's motivated by love, which makes him even more dangerous.
  • Adaptational Villainy / Adaptational Heroism: While not necessarily more villainous than the show, the Alliance in the film is certainly a different kind of villain. The film goes out of its way to show that the Alliance is composed of a group of well-meaning bureaucrats who are willing to trample all over individual freedoms and potentially commit atrocities in the name of the greater good. The Alliance in the show doesn't have anything remotely like a benevolent streak, with the nicest of the Alliance officials simply being apathetic jerkasses barely motivated to do anything more than their basic jobs, while most others are corrupt and willing to lie, cheat, and abuse their positions for personal gain. The setting for the show supports this with life under the Alliance being shown to typically be a wide gulf of Haves and Have-nots fostered by robber-barons and powerfully connected kleptocrats.
  • Aesoptinum: The Pax, an experimental chemical agent that the Alliance used to attempt to control possible violence in one of its colonies. It ended up failing spectacularly when most of the test subjects became so passive that they simply lay down and died of starvation, with a very small portion of the population instead becoming monstrous Reavers.
  • Affably Evil: The Operative. While he does extremely despicable things, he also praises his enemies, apologizes for his evil deeds, is perfectly willing to negotiate, and spares and helps the crew once he believes killing them would not serve any useful purpose.
    The Operative: I'm a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.
  • Air-Vent Passageway:
    • Serenity's ducts are large enough, but Mal still must get a wrench and properly remove the duct cover before entering them to get past a locked door.
    • After escaping the space battle in an Escape Pod, the Operative infiltrates Mr. Universe's complex via its air ducts.
    • Played for laughs at the end, when Simon and Kaylee are taking the "unresolved" out of their Unresolved Sexual Tension. They begin removing their clothes, then start kissing, then they fall down out of sight... and the camera pans up to show River watching from an air duct overhead.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Justified, as all the remotely compatible planets and moons have been Terraformed.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Since cost and lives are no object to recovering River Tam, the Operative begins by killing every contact and destroying every criminal hideout that Serenity could use to stay hidden.
    The Operative: When your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to.
  • Almost Dead Guy:
    • Shepherd Book, who lives long enough to give an inspiring speech.
    • Mr. Universe survives long enough to record a message.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Reavers are savage, mindlessly aggressive people whose sole purpose seems to be spreading death and destruction to everything they come across. Rape, cannibalism and self-mutilation are their hobbies. It is revealed that the original Reavers were Miranda colonists who had a negative reaction to an experimental mind-altering chemical agent.
  • Analogy Backfire: The Operative compares River to an albatross, recalling The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Mal, who's actually read it, points out that the albatross brought good luck and even saved the crew, and it was the Mariner killing it that brought doom on the ship.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The truth about the Alliance's actions on Miranda has been transmitted all over the Verse, and the Operative reports that it will weaken the current regime, but likely won't bring it down completely. Meanwhile, the crew of Serenity stays on the run (with River now serving as pilot full-time), with the future of the Verse anything but certain...
  • Anti-Hero: The crew are all differing types, from Simon, the straight arrow on the wrong side of the law, down to Jayne Cobb, a murderous thug who met Mal by trying to rob and kill him, until Mal offered him a job that paid better, leading Jayne to kill his old crew instead.
  • Anyone Can Die: Two major characters whom the audience know and love die in the movie. Book and Wash. According to the commentary, this is precisely why those two died, to heighten tension and make that final fight scene, in which nearly everyone else is hurt, all the more scary. (Also motivated by the fact that actors Alan Tudyk and Ron Glass couldn't commit to a sequel.)
  • Apocalyptic Log: Given by Dr. Caron, the scientist on Miranda, explaining what has happened to the people and how it created Reavers, the greatest threat of the 'verse. Once the crew finds it, they resolve to Bring News Back to the rest of the 'verse, revealing the Alliance's scheme.
  • Apologetic Attacker: River beats up Simon to get to the bridge. Afterward, she explains that she didn't know if he was going to say the trigger words to make her sleep, whereupon Simon wryly says, "You could have asked." Simon of course, always forgives his dear little sister. Also the Operative, who apologizes to Mal for killing all the crew's contacts (including an entire settlement with children and noncombatants), acknowledging that it was an evil deed.
  • Arc Words: River is haunted by the words "Lie down" in her dreams, and speaks the word "Miranda" right before the Bar Brawl. The Alliance poisoned the planet Miranda and its people lay down and died.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Kaylee directs an absolutely perfect one to Mal after he boots Simon and River off of the crew. Mal is left speechless, and Zoe and Wash wisely stay out of Kaylee's way after she storms off in a huff.
    Kaylee: If you had a care for anybody's heart—
    Mal: You knew he was gonna leave! We've never been but a waystation to those two, and how do you know what he feels?! Oh, he's got River to worry on, but he's still gonna show you... if I truly wanted someone bad enough, wouldn't be a thing in the 'Verse would stop me from going to her.
    Kaylee: [glares, unconvinced] Tell that to Inara.
  • Artistic License – Military: Appears as a Freeze-Frame Bonus in a scene of the Operative looking up Mal's service record from the War of Independence. Mal's rank in the record is indicated to be captain, which contradicts what viewers of the series know of him (namely, that he was a sergeant in the war and only became a captain after he bought Serenity). This was likely a choice made by executives to prevent confusion from moviegoers who had never watched the series, but that change is what brings this trope into play: an army captain and a naval captain have completely different levels of command authority, being two different grades on the officer's rank ladder.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: The colony on the planet Miranda. To drive it home, everyone there is either dead or went crazy.
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: River stands triumphantly on the pile of dead Reavers after defeating them.
  • Ax-Crazy: River at times, though it turns out she has a very good reason for it. She's been conditioned to respond to certain triggers, one apparently being "attack everyone." She also absorbed a number of the Alliance's dirtiest secrets, such as the accidental genocide of 30 million people on Miranda. Knowing that your benevolent government was behind creating the Reavers would be enough to drive anyone crazy, let alone reliving the events leading up to it.
  • Badass Crew: The whole crew kicks ass when they're forced to fight.
  • Band of Brothels: The Guild of Companions. After leaving the ship, Inara has become a teacher to licensed Companions in training.
  • Bar Brawl: Started by River, ended by her. Very, very quickly. She destroys the pub, and takes down many, many innocentnote  people. Mal considers it likely that some of them died.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: We only see the aftermath of the attack on Haven.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted;
    • River wins the fight with the reavers, but is covered in blood and gore, and both her face and hair are filthy by the end.
    • As River is piloting the ship off Miranda, she sports a long thin scar over her forehead.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mal and Inara, to the point where Mal knows something is wrong when he and Inara did not end up getting into a fight during a conversation.
  • Berserk Button: Most of the crew have one or more, which makes their lives plenty interesting. Part of the plot centers on Mal's berserk buttons slowly, but surely, forcing the crew apart.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed:
    • Mal, Jayne and Zoe share this view, at least when it comes to Reavers. When a bystander is captured, Mal shoots him dead before the Reavers can cut into him, an act later described by Zoe as "a piece of mercy". When Jayne looks like he is going to be captured, he asks Mal to do the same to him. The view seems to be universal among anybody who knows about Reavers.
    • Cruelly subverted with the Miranda recording, in which the scientist tries to shoot herself after it becomes clear that she is not going to escape the Reavers. She does not do it quickly enough.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: While Joss Whedon admitted ruefully that he violated his own avoidance of Space Is an Ocean and Space Is Noisy for the big showdown between the Alliance and Reaver fleets, he said it was Worth It.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Simon's principal motivation, largely fulfilled when his little sister is taken off the Alliance's must-kill list at the end of the movie.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Suggested strongly throughout the film, but also notable with the Oaty Bar commercial, where a message pops up during it saying "NOT MANDATORY", suggesting the Alliance are such control freaks they tell the population what to eat.
  • Biological Weapons Solve Everything: Failed spectacularly. The Alliance attempted to use an engineered gas to make the populace of a colony world peaceful and non-aggressive. The gas worked too well: most of the population became so apathetic that they just lay down and died. The others became hyper-violent berserkers, known as the Reavers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For the film and the series as a whole. The crew exposes the Alliance's crimes and turns the Verse against them, the Operative spares them once he sees that killing them will accomplish nothing, most of the remaining Reavers have been destroyed, Kaylee and Simon get their Relationship Upgrade, and the crew gets to fly off into the sunset. But Book, Wash, Mr. Universe, and whole communities of other good people had to die to make it all happen... and while it's suffered a crippling blow to its good publicity, the Alliance is still active and will probably try to hunt down the crew for vengeance eventually.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Shepherd Book, if we're talking just about the main cast. Otherwise, we've got whole settlements wiped out before him.
  • Black Screen of Death: When River makes her last stand against the Reavers, the screen cuts to black, and we don't find out how the fight is going for several minutes.
  • Blessed with Suck: River is a psychic and a Waif-Fu combat goddess, but was forced to trade her emotional stability and her grip on what's real, and is unable to shut out other people's thoughts and emotions.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: Although (according to the DVD) a translator worked hard to get Chinese slang correct, and the actors studied tape recorders, apparently it was still mangled in the pronunciation.
  • Bookends: At the beginning, as Serenity enters a planet's atmosphere, a piece of the ship falls off. In the very last scene, after Serenity is rebuilt, the same thing happens as the ship takes off.
    Mal: What was that?
    • Many of the Operative's words to the Alliance scientist at the beginning of the movie are the same as his words to Mal in the final fight.
    • The name of the film itself is a bookend. The first episode of the Firefly series was titled Serenity. The main story started with Serenity and ended with Serenity.
  • Bowdlerise: Usually when this film airs on television, River's involvement in the heist at the start of the film (in which she uses her psychic powers to detect danger) isn't shown. It's either cut for time, or because networks don't like the idea of a teenager helping out in something criminal, being depicted in a film.
  • Brain Bleach: He doesn't witness it, but Mal is nonetheless horrified by Kaylee's description of her, um, dry spell.
  • Break the Badass:
    • The fact that Jayne Cobb is the most comfortable with gore and violence makes it all the more significant when he is the one to demand the transmission of the Reavers messily killing the scientist be turned off. Jayne's fear of the Reavers in general seems to evoke this trope.
    • When the Reaver fleet appears out of the Space Cloud in front of the Alliance fleet, it is the Operative—stoic, nerveless mass-murderer and Knight Templar—who reacts with terror and desperation. (Although at least he acts: everybody else is too stunned to do anything.)
      The Operative: Target the Reavers! Target the Reavers! Target everyone! SOMEBODY FIRE!
  • Break the Cutie: In this case, River comes conveniently pre-broken. There are the R. Tam Sessions, and enough flashbacks to see her being broken.
    • The sudden look on Kaylee's face when she realizes Wash is gone is just heartbreaking.
  • Break the Haughty: With irrefutable evidence and a few well-placed words, Mal shatters The Operative's entire world view, systematically destroying every belief he's based his horrific actions on.
  • Brick Joke:
    • Mal instructs Jayne not to bring grenades to a meet because they aren't trying to blow people up. Jayne pouts, and then gets in an "I told you so" when the Reavers show up. Much, much later, on Mr. Universe's Planet, the Reavers attack them, and this time he brought the grenades.
    • Also the piece falling off Serenity mentioned under Bookends.
  • Bring News Back: After learning the horrible truth about what happened on Miranda, Mal and the crew of Serenity set out to reach the only means of sending/spreading the report on what happened. It's something of a variant on this in that the only "authority figures" around, the Alliance, had the report buried, since they were responsible for the whole thing, but Mal is determined to get the message out in order to speak for the people who died there, and to strike a serious blow against the Alliance.
  • Building Is Welding: The montage in the end where the crew is repairing Serenity includes a shot of Zoe welding something, complete with a big showy shower of sparks.
  • Bulletproof Vest: The Operative plans to talk to the heroes. He's not there to fight, so he comes unarmed. But he's not a complete moron...
  • Call-Back: In the series pilot, Mal says that the Reavers are obligated to chase you if you try to run from them. Not only does the entire Reaver fleet chase them from Miranda to Mr. Universe's planet, but one of the ships chases them when they try to flee the battle to land.
  • Cannibal Clan: The Reavers are based on the myth of the Sawney Bean clan.
  • Can't Stop The Signal: The Trope Namer. Mal uses Mr. Universe's equipment to broadcast the Miranda file and everyone in the 'Verse finds out the truth about the Alliance and the Reavers.
  • The Caretaker: Simon to River.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Mr. Universe records his last words:
    Mr. Universe: Guy killed me, Mal. Killed me with a sword. How weird is that?
  • Catchphrase: Lots of these, including:
    • The Operative:
      • "Do you know what your sin is?"
      • "This is a good death."
    • Wash: "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar."
    • Mr. Universe: "You can't stop the signal."
      Mr. Universe: From here to the eyes and the ears of the 'Verse, that's my motto. Or, it would be, if I started having a motto.
  • Ceiling Cling: River Tam avoids an Alliance patrol while escaping from the laboratory by planting each foot on either wall of the corridor and grabbing a ceiling protrusion with one hand. Summer Glau pulls it off with no trickery.
  • The Chains of Commanding: "Just... tell me when we're close."
  • The Champion: Simon, having given up his entire life to find and rescue River, will not rest until she is truly safe—though he does realize that he need not neglect his feelings for Kaylee in the process.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Mr Universe's love doll of all things. He records a message on it telling Mal about his backup transmitter.
    • Also Jayne's grenades, for a Chekhov's Lack of a Gun.
      Mal: No grenades.
      Jayne: Boy, sure would be nice if we had some grenades, don'tchya think?
      [final stand]
      Mal: Tell me you brought 'em this time.
  • Chemical Messiah: The Alliance wants its populations to be docile and peaceful, so it develops the drug Pax (G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate) and tests it on the planet Miranda. It doesn't go well (alternatively, it goes too well), so officially, there never was a colony on Miranda.
  • Chewing the Scenery:
    • Nathan Fillion (Mal) does quite a bit of this in the DVD outtakes.
      Mal: Did you see us fight?
      Kaylee: No.
      Mal: TRAP!!!
    • River also does this in the deleted scenes.
      Simon: What will Miranda show us?
      River: Death.
      Simon: Whose death?
      River: EVERYBODY'S!!!!!!
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Mal suffers a vicious case of it. It's mostly under control at the start of the film, then has a flare-up about half-way after it's been irritated by exposure to the truth about Miranda.
  • Close-Knit Community: Between the series and the film, Shepherd Book left Serenity and settled in a small town called Haven, where everyone seems to be friendly to both the crew and each other. The town is well named when Serenity needs shelter after a job.
  • Cold Open: The movie opens with the Universal Logo becoming Earth That Was, accompanied by a narration... that turns out to be a school lesson... that turns out to be a memory... which turns into a nightmare; then River is rescued, which turns out to be security footage being played back; then we fade into the title sequence and Serenity.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Alliance wears primarily blue and grey to match all their shiny tech. The Browncoats wear, um, brown, red, yellow, and orange, which goes with the Wild West setting. This symbolizes the Alliance's cold modernism versus the Browncoats' heart. The Tams wear dark blue, perhaps signifying their previous ties to the Alliance. The Reavers wear... heavily stained human skins.
  • Combat Pragmatist: A number of characters are willing to fight dirty.
    • Being a soldier-turned-outlaw smuggler and no longer bound by anything resembling official rules beyond "keep the ship flying", Mal has no qualms with bringing a gun to a proverbial knife (or, in the Operative's case, sword) fight. Mal shoots not one, not two, but three unarmed men over the course of the two hour film. Of course, when put up against an exemplary swordsman and martial artist such as the Operative, fighting dirty (and obfuscating his immunity to a certain attack) is just about the only reason Mal's able to keep up with him.
    The Operative: I want to resolve this like civilised men. I'm not threatening you. I'm unarmed—...
    Mal: Good! (immediately draws his gun and shoots the Operative right out of his chair)
    • In the same breath, the Operative himself. Every time the man engages in combat, his focus is always on ending the battle quickly, decisively, and with himself unharmed. As a result, he wastes no time, energy, or effort on flashiness, style, or meaningless forms: his fighting style is brutally functional and ruthlessly efficient.
    • As for Jayne? He's always been a fight-loving outlaw. While Mal avoids rules perhaps out of necessity due to the responsibilities placed upon him by his captaincy, Jayne flat-out doesn't care about them.
      Jayne: Hell, I'll kill a man in a fair fight—or if I think he's going to start a fair fight. ...
    • Likewise River, super assasin or not, she cannot hope to outmuscle Jayne. So she squeezes him in the crotch, then hits him there again before grabbing a nearby tray to bash him in the head.
  • Coming in Hot: Serenity crash-landing after being disabled by an EMP weapon.
  • Condescending Calmness: The Operative almost always speaks in an infuriatingly-calm, level voice, even as he ruthlessly stabs and slices his way towards the titular ship and her crew. This finally drives Mal into a fury after The Operative murders Shepherd Book and all of his followers then has the nerve to send a message expressing his condolences, saying that it was unfortunate but necessary to leave Mal with nowhere else to hide.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • During Mal's Shirtless Scene, you can see the scar where he got stabbed in "The Train Job," and another from Niska's torture device in "War Stories." Speaking of which, the "Mule II" hovercar is the official replacement for the "Mule" ATV that was destroyed in that episode.
    • A subtle nod to "Objects in Space":
      Simon: Am I talking to Miranda now?
    • The barrels ejected from Serenity as they escape the Training House look and function just like the pilot's "Crybaby".
    • The second Reaver ship to appear in the climax is the one from the pilot episode.
  • Cool Starship:
    • Serenity is one of the "rustbucket" variety.
    • The gigantic flying wrecks of the Reaver ships are, too—in their hideous way.
    • The Alliance warships are more in line with your typical shiny futuristic Standard Sci-Fi Fleet.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Blue Sun corporation is hinted to be behind the Academy.
  • Covert Pervert: Both Kaylee and River like to watch.
  • Crapsaccharine World: On the surface, the Alliance is a highly advanced parliamentary democracy with sophisticated science and technology. Start digging deeper and you have oppression and abuse perpetrated in the name of making them better. From relatively minor atrocities like involuntary surgery and brainwashing children, and turning teens into programmed assassins all the way up to annihilating entire colonies and covering it up to avoid public censure. We know from the series that an uninhibited free market reigns, with everything from indebted slaves to corporations withholding vital medicines for a profit to terraforming hackjobs apparently performed by the lowest bidders...
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • The Operative informs Mal that his ship has locked onto Serenity's pulse beacon and will fire with a single command. Mal responds by handing him that pulse beacon, dangling from its cut cables. He also preps six decoys to foil nav sat tracking, Serenity being signal #7.
    • Inara lights a flashbomb disguised as an incense stick—unbeknownst to Mal or The Operative.
    • The Operative might arguably qualify near the end, bringing in the entire fleet just to deal with one ship. Turned out to be extremely useful when Mal tricked a second fleet into pursuing him.
  • Creator Cameo: Joss Whedon plays the guy who guards the payroll.
  • Cruel Mercy: Mal does this to the Operative near the end.
    Mal: Hell, I'm gonna grant your greatest wish. I'm gonna show you a world without sin.
  • Cultured Badass: The Operative. Also, as it turns out, Mal, who's able to trade references to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner with him.
    The Operative: The girl will rain down destruction on you and your ship. She is an albatross, Captain.
    Mal: Way I remember it, an albatross was a ship's good luck, 'til some idiot killed it. [Inara narrows her eyes] Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • River, completely, totally, utterly obliterating the Reavers by herself.
    • In the Bar Brawl, River kicks the asses of every single person in the pub.
      Wash: Get to the part where Jayne gets beat up by a ninety-pound girl. 'Cause I don't think that's ever going to get old.
    • The Operative versus Mal and Inara. They barely escape with their lives and only because Inara had the foresight to light a flashbomb disguised as incense as soon as the Operative arrived.
  • Curse of The Ancients: All the swearing that isn't done in "Mandarin"(-ish) has an Old West feel to it. Gorramit.
  • Cute and Psycho: River
  • The Cutie: Kaylee and River
  • Danger Deadpan: Wash is a completely different character when flying the ship: normally he's loud and panicky, but at the helm, he is completely calm and collected, no matter what imminent doom might be following him.
    Wash: This landing is gonna get pretty interesting.
    Mal: Define "interesting."
    Wash: [deadpan] "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die"?
  • Dare to Be Badass: River admits to Simon as he lies dying from a gunshot to the stomach that she understands that she's always relied on him and the rest of the crew to take care of her through her helpless madness. Then, she adds that now, it is her turn to take care of them. Cue awesome.
  • Daydream Surprise: The outdoor classroom with a young River Tam at the beginning is not just a Flashback, but a hallucination of River's while she's Strapped to an Operating Table in the Alliance's military Black Site research facility.
  • Dead Man Writing
    • Mr. Universe survives his stabbing long enough to record a message using his lovebot.
    Mr Universe: Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that?
    • Dr. Caron (the scientist on the planet Miranda) says in her holographic message "I won't live to report this..." because she knows that the Reavers will soon attack and kill her. Moments later they do so, in a chilling and horrifying manner.
  • Death Glare: At one point Jayne, in his usual carelessly offensive manner, manages to irritate Zoe. She tells him that he wants to leave the room. And he does.
    • Though it was as much a warning as an annoyance, because Jayne had just punched Mal's Berserk Button with a force that might have knocked most men's heads clean off.
  • Death of a Child: The Operative is not above killing children, as he flat out informs Mal. As proof of this, when the characters arrive at Haven, Kaylee (the crew's most soft-hearted member) comes across a dead little boy about 10 years old (one whom she was briefly seen interacting with affectionately, earlier in the film). The Operative is aware that this is his Moral Event Horizon, but argues that these deeds are Necessarily Evil.
  • Deception Non-Compliance: Inara's conversation with Mal may have looked quite natural to the person forcing her to have it, but Mal correctly concludes that since they didn't argue at all, it was actually intended to lure him into a trap.
  • Demoted to Extra: Shepherd Book only appears in two scenes before his tragic death.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Reaver Territory... including the rusty, crudely put-together Reaver ships that appearto made from scavenged parts.
  • Despair Event Horizon: River's dialogue indicates that she crossed it at some point during her time at the Academy. The Operative crosses when he learns the Alliance made the Reavers. The R. Tam Sessions used to promote the movie sees the entire Break the Cutie process in action. Poor River...
  • Destroy the Security Camera: In the beginning of the movie, the crew is robbing a bank and there's a brief shot of Zoe shooting a security camera as they walk in guns drawn.
  • Determinator: Mal, who does not let little things like swords in his stomach get in the way. The Operative himself stops for nothing in his crusade for a better world.
  • Deus ex Machina: The Disability Immunity moment with Mal fending off the Operative's Pressure Point attack is foreshadowed only in the most tenuous,blink and you'll miss it shot of Mal's records that the Operative looks at. It specifies he was wounded three times in combat during the Unification War
  • Disability Immunity: The Operative hits Mal with the same pressure point attack that's paralysed his victim in the opening sequence. He gives his customary salute, prepares to run Mal through—and gets his throat punched. "Piece of shrapnel tore up that nerve cluster'n my first tour. Had it moved."
  • Door Jam: In the climax, River jumps into a horde of murderous Reavers, fights a few of them off, and jams the only door that would allow them to attack her allies. However, that leaves her to fight a small army totally alone.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Serenity is (obviously) the name of the spaceship, but the title also alludes to the Alliance's plan to control the people of the 'Verse by using drugs to make them naturally peaceful and docile. Historically, the title refers to the Battle of Serenity Valley and more broadly the Order vs. Chaos struggle between "civilisation" (The Alliance) and independence (The, erm, Independents) that forms the undercurrent of the film. Thematically, the Operative, Mal, and River are all looking for peace of mind.
  • Dramatic Irony: The audience and Mal know what the Reavers are, but the Operative does not, and boy is he in for a surprise...
    The Operative: There are a lot of innocent people in the air being killed right now.
    Mal: You don't know how true that is.
  • The Dreaded: The Reavers. They even scare the Operative, as they rape and eat their victims.
  • Dream Intro: The opening classroom scene is really a dream/memory that River experiences while being "treated" in the Academy (a military Black Site for psychological research).
  • Dressing as the Enemy: In the Action Prologue, Simon impersonates a high-ranking Alliance officer to gain entrance to the Academy, with the goal of freeinghis sister.
    • The crew successfully disguises Serenity as a Reaver ship by splashing it with blood-red paint and tying whole corpses to the front—using their murdered friends as those corpses.
  • Driving into a Truck: The Mule escapes the Reavers by flying straight into Serenity's hold—while the ship is also flying.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Poor Wash is abruptly impaled by a Reaver harpoon in the moment of his greatest triumph—successfully flying through a massive space battle and crash-landing Serenity on Mr. Universe's compound.
  • Dual Wielding: River uses a sword and axe taken off the Reavers during the big showdown.
  • Dutch Angle: Used when River "scans" the occupants of the trader outpost.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A lot of people die in order to reveal the horrible truth about Miranda to the whole 'Verse.
  • Earth That Was: Humanity has migrated to a large multi-star solar system and Terraformed dozens of planets and moons. Earth appears at the very beginning, showing the colony ships leaving it. "Was" is very appropriate; most of the planet is a sickly shade of brown, and there are several large explosions going off, possibly nuclear. The series is the Trope Namer.
  • Emergency Cargo Dump: Discussed Trope. Zoe wonders why Mal refused to let a civilian tag along with them on their hovercraft to escape a Reaver attack (Mal subsequently Mercy Killed him), and he says their hovercraft won't carry five. Zoe says they could've dumped the cargo, but Mal says they couldn't afford to fail the job.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: River sees a burning swing set after returning to Haven.
  • Enigmatic Institute: We actually see some of the lab River was experimented on in and it's confirmed that it does have connections to the Alliance government as the lead researcher declares that key member of parliament have observed River, which allows her to pick what happened to Miranda out of their minds with her new psychic abilities.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: After 10 minutes of schizophrenic, Smash Cut-ridden intro, we get the title card, and then a 4-minute-long Oner that brings us home to the ship and her crew. (Movie Magic Tidbit: the sets for Serenity are divided between top and bottom levels. The cut was disguised with a whip pan on one of the stairwells so that it looks like a single take.)
  • Escape Pod: Used by the Operative to escape his flagship as it was being destroyed.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • The Operative gets a fantastic one when he rebukes the Director of the Alliance research facility for not only allowing River Tam to escape, but also for allowing senior members of Parliament in the same room as Tam, a psychic who can read minds:
      The Operative: In certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.
      Director of research facility: [sarcastically] Well, unfortunately I forgot to bring a swor—
      [The Operative pulls out a sword]
    • The first scene aboard Serenity is a continuous take which highlights each member of the crew, as Mal walks through the ship and talks to each one of them.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: When The Operative tries to appeal to Malcolm, telling him he's "not a Reaver," you can see on his face that Mal suddenly realized what he had to do. In the next scene, he has the crew disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship to infiltrate their space.
  • "Everybody Helps Out" Denouement: The movie ends has Mal, Zoe, and Jayne (and The Operative's troops) fixing up the titular ship, while Simon and Kaylee are... otherwise engaged.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave:
    • When the crew figures out that "Miranda" is a planet, Serenity makes a perilous journey through Reaver territory, to try to find out why Miranda is so important. When they finally land planet-side, they discover the long dead corpses of an entire planet's population. Of course there were once survivors, but they all turned into Reavers.
    • Earlier, after the Operative has been outwitted by the crew of Serenity one more time, he proceeds to have everyone who has ever provided shelter to the crew killed, en masse, including any inconvenient bystanders, even Shepherd Book. This is what pushes Mal into going to Miranda to find out just what the Alliance is trying to hide.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Alliance fleet vs. the Reavers is a pretty clear case.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: Jayne asks, if the Alliance knew they were coming to Haven, why they attacked before Serenity even arrived. Zoe comes to the only logical conclusion: they didn't know, so they must have attacked everywhere they might have gone.
  • Facial Dialogue:
    • During the opening robbery, River and Zoe have a short conversation using nothing but facial expressions that goes something like, "That guy has a gun and he's about to pull it." "You sure? He looks like a hick." "Yes, I am sure, now stop him before he moves!"
    • When Inara first sets eyes on the Operative, her previously cheerful expression disappears completely.
    • When Simon mistakenly thinks that River might have multiple personalities, he asks if he is speaking to Miranda now. River's reply is a glance at her brother that says, "you idiot".
      • Her response to Zoe earlier also has a bit of this: "Hello, mind-reader?"
  • Fake in the Hole: Seen in the deleted scenes, when Mal and Inara escape from the Operative. Mal throws a real, but not armed, grenade, making the Feds near his shuttle dive off for cover... then Mal picks the grenade back up and goes on his way. Had it been left in, it'd be an Establishing Character Moment for Mal—cunning, pragmatic, frugal, and ultimately preferring the non-violent path.
  • Fan of the Past: In a sci-fi western with gunslingers galore, the Operative uses a sword to great effect. Lampshaded by one of his victims post-mortem.
  • Fanservice: Unsurprisingly large amounts of it, too...
  • Finagle's Law: Count on it every time.
  • Finale Production Upgrade: In a subversion to its television counterpart, Serenity was produced when fan demand was enough to warrant a full-length Hollywood flick, and was produced to wrap up its most salient plot threads (including Mal Reynold's Character Arc, River Tam's secret, and the origin of the Reavers), and because it was a movie, it featured much more expensive props, sets, and CGI effects.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: By the end of the film, Jayne has a measure of respect for Dr. Tam. Even offers him a drink.
  • Flirting Under Fire: Simon and Kaylee during the climactic fight scene.
    Kaylee: I didn't plan on going out like this.
    Simon: I never planned anything. I just wanted to keep River safe. Spent so much time on Serenity ignoring anything I wanted for myself. My one regret in all of this... is never being with you.
    Kaylee: You mean to say... sex?
    Simon: ...I mean to say.
    Kaylee: Hell with this. [cocks her gun] I'm gonna live!
  • Fly-at-the-Camera Ending: A chunk of Serenity breaks off and flies at the camera.
  • Flying Cutlery Spaceship: The Reaver ships are covered in jagged metal spikes, looking like they were slapped together from scrap metal. The Reavers also enjoy splattering blood like paint on their hulls and stringing half-eaten corpses to their bows. In the film, when Mal has to infiltrate Reaver space, he disguises Serenity in this fashion.
  • Forced Friendly Fire: During River's Bar Brawl, someone pulls a gun with the intent to shoot her. She simply grabs his arm and forces him to aim past her, shooting one of the fighters on her other side.
  • Forced to Watch: Mal beats down the Operative and ties him to a railing while he broadcasts the recording of the PAX log. The Operative is devastated.
  • Foreshadowing: A couple poignant moments:
    • The Alliance lacks manpower to keep peace on the outer planets so they hire private contractors. When they tried to subdue a planet by themselves in the past, they accidentally poisoned its people.
  • Also the fact that Miranda is located right in the heart of Reaver territory. That's because the Reavers come from Miranda.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: A few significant ones, depending on how you count:
    • The Fruity Oaty Bar commercial is full of them. Picture the strangest Japanese TV commercial you've ever seen, then take it up to eleven. And that's before River starts hallucinating.
    • One of the targets hit by the Operative is Whitefall, Patience's moon from the Pilot.
    • During River's second dream of the teacher's lesson, there's a moment only a few frames long where half the teacher's face is shown as a corpse.
  • Funny Background Event: During Kaylee's old recording of Inara before she left, River can be seen in the background being... well, being River, leaning over Inara's bed.
  • The Future Is Noir: All interiors on the ship and elsewhere are poorly lit.
  • Future Slang: Following the tradition of Firefly, a lot of the slang is (loosely) Chinese or a slurred version of current language.
  • Genius Bruiser: The Operative is exceptionally cunning and thoroughly deadly. He's also utterly ruthless, and has been given free rein by the government to do anything he needs to.
  • Get Out!: Zoe, to Jayne when she's good and pissed:
    Zoe: You wanna leave this room.
    Jayne: Damn right I do.
  • Ghost Planet: Miranda. Everyone there is dead of no apparent cause, victims of the PAX drug that caused them all to lie down and die.
  • Give Chase with Angry Natives: The crew intentionally provoke a fleet of Reaver spaceships into following them, so that they can use them in a surprise attack on the Operative's fleet.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • The Pax. The drug did work as advertised: people were rendered calm by it, so much so that they neglected their own well-being out of apathy.
    • The Alliance wanted to create an unstoppable psychic spy/assassin in the form of River, and in the process, they got exactly what they wanted—only said psychic spy/assassin turned against them and blew the whole Miranda scandal wide open.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Also the Pax. As with any drug, a small segment of the population proved to have an adverse reaction, creating the hyper-violent Reavers.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The Operative is a trained and skilled martial artist, Mal just hits things.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Sarah Paulson's recording ends with her being attacked by the Reavers. She's moved out of the frame, but the sound leaves no doubt about her fate.
  • The Government: The evacuation of Earth, naturally, required an Alliance between all the governments of Earth (chiefly America and China, whose languages are still commonly spoken). The Alliance was still necessary afterward to arrange terraforming and prevent clashes over viable worlds. By the time of the film, the Alliance is no longer necessary but still in charge, and those at the top are determined to stay in charge, providing a faceless Greater-Scope Villain responsible for sending the Operative.
  • Government Conspiracy: Possibly a private sector conspiracy by Blue Sun, but with definite government involvement.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: In this case, done without consent or knowledge, and without oversight or accountability.
  • Graceful Loser: The Operative—but not the Alliance; the Operative himself warns Mal that the Alliance will probably be coming after Serenity before too long.
  • Grand Finale: The film is pretty much this for the series.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language:
    • The Mandarin-ish and Cantonese-oid phrases scattered through the dialogue, often as family-friendly swearwords. Doubles as a Bilingual Bonus. As the DVD set shows, they use actual Mandarin phrases, although as mentioned above, the pronunciation is so atrocious that even native speakers will have trouble deciphering them, and some of them are absolutely hilarious in English.
    • The trigger phrase that Simon uses to put River to sleep after she clears out the bar is Russian, "Это курам насмех", meaning literally "This is hilarious to chickens", an old Russian saying used to denote something ridiculous.
    • Another Bilingual Bonus for the name of the chemical used on Miranda. Pax is Latin for "Peace".
  • Groin Attack: When River's violent programming is triggered in the bar on Beaumonde, in the middle of trashing the place and beating the crap out of everyone within reach, she grabs Jayne's package and squeezes. Hard. Jayne is icing it down in the next scene. This could be a subtle Brick Joke to the episode "Trash", when River insulted Jayne by stating that his is a girl's name, to which he angrily replied, "I'll show her good and all I got man parts."
  • Hand Signals: While the crew is exploring the planet Miranda, Zoe takes the point position and uses gestures to guide the movements of the rest of the team.
  • Hard-Work Montage: At the very end, the remaining crew put Serenity back together after her crash landing.
    Mal: Think she'll hold together?
    Zoe: She's tore up plenty. But she'll fly true.note 
  • Hate Plague: A small portion of Miranda's population had an extremely violent reaction to the Pax, becoming the first Reavers.
  • Have a Nice Death: The Operative usually offers one of these. He's not being insincere or mocking when he does this, since he's pretty big on the "honorable death" thing.
    The Operative: This is a good death. There is no shame in this.
  • Heal It with Booze: After being shot through the leg by a Reaver harpoon, Jayne busies himself by pouring his flask over his leg wound... and then taking a swig.
  • The Heavy: The Operative is a secret government agent who represents the Alliance's interests and carries out their plans to use extreme measures to create a better world. The government elite who give him his orders remain unseen, so he's the closest to an overarching villain in the movie and presents the biggest threat to the heroes.
  • Heel Realization: The Operative upon seeing the evidence of what happened on Miranda.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: In a deleted scene, Inara's reaction to the suggestion that she had a torrid affair with a pirate. Also, he's not a pirate, he's a smuggler, and VERY annoying.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Subverted by River; she declares You Shall Not Pass! to the Reavers and locks herself in a room filled with them to save her friends and family. Five minutes later, after everyone believes that she's been raped, killed, eaten, and possibly worn like clothing by the horde (in that order, if she's lucky), the doors slide back open—to reveal her standing completely uninjured and knee deep in enemy corpses.
    • Subverted earlier. Mal is going to take the shuttle to meet with Inara and spring The Operative's trap. He explicitly tells Zoe that if they do not hear back from him in an hour, "You come and you rescue me."
      Zoe: What? And risk my ship?
      Mal: What? It's cold out there. I don't wanna get left.
    • Played straight with Simon in what amounts to a lingering Heroic Sacrifice through the entire series and movie; he gives up status and fortune and lives with outlaws, so he can rescue and comfort his sister.
    • Played with just before the final confrontation between Mal and the Operative. When the Operative asks Mal if he truly believes in revealing the Alliance's dirty laundry and that he's willing to die for it, Mal affirms to both, confirming his stand of principles and how he's not running...and then immediately empties his gun at the Operative and forces him into cover while quipping that dying "ain't exactly Plan A."
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Zoe's response to Wash's death. She is in no way paralyzed with fear. Her response when everyone else asks where he is reeks of "must focus on the matter at hand, my emotional state is not important right now." It seems that she is determined almost to the point of suicide during the climactic fight, since she casually walks away from cover straight toward the waves of oncoming Reavers while firing her shotgun. The DVD Commentary says Joss Whedon and Gina Torres, Zoe's actress, argued about it. She felt Zoe would be more angry, and Joss explained that Zoe was suppressing it right up until the aforementioned point.
  • The Hero's Journey: Oddly, given the not-particularly-heroic nature of the crew, the film follows this pattern remarkably closely. It begins with Mal performing his everyday duties as a low-end crook and bank robber, only for his routine to be disrupted by a literal Call to Adventure; in this case, the signal that activates River. Though Mal initially refuses the Call, he Crosses the Threshold when the Operative murders his friends. With the aid of River's essentially supernatural powers, he descends through a swarm of monsters onto a planet of the dead, fights his way through a Road of Trials (in this case, a fleet of enemy ships) and then faces the Operative in battle before ultimately forcing him to Atone, while River reaches Apotheosis. In the end, the universe and the heroes Return to a new equilibrium.
  • Hidden Army Reveal: One ship emerges from the Space Cloud... followed by all of the Reavers.
  • Hidden Depths: You wouldn't count on Mal knowing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or River being a death machine. The Alliance didn't expect Simon to instantly adapt his natural brilliance into stealing test subjects right out of top secret labs. And Book... Book knows all about the Alliance, and operatives, and such. His strange expertise is explained in the third of the three comic books, "A Shepherd's Tale."
  • High-Class Call Girl: Inara, although since she left Serenity she has retired from active duty and is training younger girls in the art of Companioning.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: Included on the DVD, and they are indeed hilarious. For example, Nathan Fillion plays this scene completely straight, even as he's sending it entirely off the rails:
    Mal: Get these bodies together.
    Zoe: We got time for grave diggin'?
    Mal: Zoe, you and Simon are going to rope them together. Five or six of them, laid out on the nose of our ship.
    Simon: Are you insane?
    Mal: Put Book front and center. He's our friend, we should honor him. Kaylee, find that kid who's taking a dirt nap with baby Jesus. We need a hood ornament. Jayne! Try not to steal too much of their shit!
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In order: the Academy directors saw fit to put their heads of state in a room with a crazy psychic, not just show them video footage; the Operative's broadwave attempts to trigger River prevent Mal from turning the Tams off Serenity; and the Operative's assault on Haven and the other safeholds just makes Mal more determined to figure out what Miranda holds.
  • Hold the Line: The defense in Mr. Universe's complex against the Reavers. While Mal heads into the complex to broadcast the message, the rest of the crew finds a bottleneck to defend for as long as they can, with a blast door they can close to buy more time once they are in danger of being overwhelmed.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: When the hologram of the scientist on the planet Miranda plays, there are occasional shifts in the picture.
  • Holy Backlight: During Malcolm's call to action in the mess hall at the beginning of the third act, sunlight streaming through the dining hall windows frames him with an ethereal purpose.
  • Honor Among Thieves: The crew of Serenity are honorable people in a shady profession, especially their captain Mal, though he would protest the label.
  • Honor Before Reason: Especially Mal. Jayne calls him out on it when he gets fed up, but brings it up himself later.
    Jayne: Shepherd Book always said, "If you can't do somethin' smart, do somethin' right."
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Inara, to name one.
  • The Horde: The Pax has rendered the Reavers into a slavering horde through no fault of their own.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Joss states in the commentary that the point he wanted to make with this film is that while the Seven Deadly Sins are bad, they're also inseparable from human nature. This is demonstrated with Miranda, a world where everyone from whom sin was 'removed' is dead—and those who clung to it are no longer human.
  • Humans Are White: For a universe which is heavily Asian inspired and merged completely with Chinese culture, none of the main cast members even have Asian features; Tam is likely a Chinese surname, but Simon and River don't look at all Chinese. Even the colonists, Alliance navy and (from what little one can see) Reavers tend to be mostly Caucasian.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: River begs Simon to kill her when Mal has her chained to Serenity's floor.
    River: Put a bullet to me. Bullet in the brain pan. Squish.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: Parodied. Mal can tell the Rample twins apart because "Fanty's prettier", but there is no easy way to spot the distinction between him and Mingo. In the novelization of the film, it's clarified as a subtle voice inflection, which is barely noticeable in the film but can be heard by viewers with keen ears listening for it.
  • Identical Twin Mistake: The twins from the try to invoke this by pulling the Twin Switch on people for fun. They're frustrated that Mal can always tell which is which.
    Mal: Mingo. [Nods to Mingo] Fanty. [Nods to Fanty]
    Mingo: He's Ming-
    Mal: He's Fanty, you're Mingo.
    Mingo: [Stares at Mal for a moment before reluctantly smiling] How is it you always know?
  • I Did What I Had to Do: This has become the Operative's mantra, the only thing that keeps him functioning.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: River would give anything not to be a mind reader.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: One of three things the Reavers do to their victims. And if you're very, very lucky, they kill you first. From the Mercy Kill scene, it's clear they prefer their dinners alive and screaming.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Wash is killed by an enormous Reaver harpoon, straight through Serenity's windshield.
  • Indy Ploy: At first, Mal is forced into Villains Act, Heroes React by the Operative's campaign of destruction. When he finally decides that he will take no more, he switches to the Indy Ploy, uncertain how he can make things turn out well but determined to do so.
  • Insane Equals Violent: The Reavers.
  • Instant Expert: River being capable of flying Serenity at the end, though lampshaded in that she's psychic and a genius.
  • Instant Sedation: Averted when Kaylee is shot with three tranquilizer darts.
  • Instant-Win Condition: The Operative's mission is to eliminate River Tam before any of the big state secrets she has in her mind can be let out. He's willing to kill huge numbers of people, the protagonists included, to pursue this mission. Once the broadcast of the 'Pax' report goes out, that mission is a failure, so he has his men stand down, as the damage is done, and killing Mal and the others is no longer "necessary" to him.
  • In the Back: "You shot me in the back! I haven't made you angry, have I?"
  • Intro Dump: For viewers who haven't seen Firefly, the intro explains that Earth has been abandoned and humanity now occupies another star system, the Backstory elements of the Alliance/Independents war, River's treatment at the Academy and Simon's rescue, and introduces us to Serenity and seven of the nine major characters who already know each other. All done in ten minutes with admirable deftness.
  • Inverse Dialogue Death Rule: Both Played Straight and inverted. One major character, Book, and one throwaway character, Mr. Universe, get drawn-out deaths with the standard speech. On the other hand, Wash's death is instantaneous.
  • Ironic Echo: When Mal shows the Miranda recording to the Operative, he forces the latter to eat his words about how he was building "a world without sin" by showing him what such a world would actually look like.
    Mal: I'm not gonna kill you. Hell, I'm gonna grant your greatest wish. I'm gonna show you a world without sin.
  • Irony: Haven ain't so safe.
  • Jump Scare: Happens a few times, usually when the Reavers show up.
  • Jumped at the Call: Simon's rescue of River.
  • Karmic Thief: Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a private security payroll. It's a job hurting the Alliance, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his crew's cut to the poor.
  • Kick the Dog: After the Serenity crew prevent the Operative from tracking them down twice, he coldly reasons that they have to run somewhere, so he starts destroying every settlement where Malcolm Reynolds is known to have friends or contacts. More chilling than most examples because this is not anger or revenge, just a Scorched Earth strategy.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: It's safe to say that there's no sympathy for Dr. Mathias when the Operative kills him at the beginning. Likewise, the pilot of the Alliance vessel Mal rather ruthlessly murders has just slaughtered a ton of innocent people.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Shepherd Book is cut off in the middle of his inspiring speech; Wash in the middle of his Survival Mantra.
  • Knight Templar: The Operative, as summed up ably by Inara.
    Inara: We have every reason to be afraid.
    Jayne: Why? 'Cause this guy beat up Mal? That ain't so hard.
    Mal: Whoa! He didn't beat me up. Nobody said that.
    Inara: Because he's a believer. He's intelligent, methodical, and devout in his belief that killing River is the right thing to do.
  • Last-Second Joke Problem: Despite the loss of two beloved characters, the film nevertheless ends on a triumphant note. The Alliance's evil has been exposed publicly, the Operative calls it quits, and it really seems that our heroes have made a difference in the end. The ship dramatically lifts off and flies off into the space—and then suddenly (in a Brick Joke to the opening credits sequence) one of the flaps off the main thruster breaks off and flies into the camera and Mal goes, "What was that?" Roll credits.
  • Leader Wannabe: Jayne gets disgusted with Mal's leadership and states his desire to be the leader at one point.
  • Leave No Man Behind: Mal cruelly subverts this in the escape from the bank, shooting a settler who got grabbed by the Reavers. Zoe calls him out on it:
    Zoe: In the time of war, we'd have never left a man stranded.
    Mal: Maybe that's why we lost.
  • Lens Flare: Intentionally on Whedon's part.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: The Alliance had no idea what they set loose when they triggered River's implanted Waif-Fu.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Simon to River, and do not mortally wound Simon when River is around.
  • Lodged-Blade Recycling: The Operative really shouldn't have let go of his sword after he stabbed Mal with it. Mal uses it to pin him to the railing so that he's Forced to Watch the Pax broadcast.
    Operative: [stabs Mal] Do you know what your sin is, Mal?
    Mal: Aw hell, I'm a fan of all seven. [pulls sword back out] But right now, I'm gonna have to go with Wrath.
  • Make It Look Like a Struggle: Mal has an exchange with a guard early in the film about doing this so it doesn't look like the guard just rolled over and let them take the cash.
    Mal: The leg is good. It'll bleed plenty and we avoid any unnecessary organs.
    Guard: I was thinking more of a graze.
    Mal: Well, you don't want it to look like you just gave up.
    Guard: (affably) No, I get that.
  • Manchurian Agent: River isn't stable enough to become The Mole when triggered, but the Operative still uses her brainwashing to find her by making her cause a very conspicuous Bar Brawl.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Kaylee is getting rather tired of her dry spell, which is just one of the reasons she's unhappy Simon (her crush) is leaving the ship. One scene has her griping that "going on a year now, I ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!" Much to the dismay of most of the crew, who was standing near her when she mentioned this:
  • Maybe Ever After: Mal and Inara seem to end on this vaguely good note.
    Mal: Ready to get off this heap and back to your civilized life?
    Inara: I, uh... I don't know.
    Mal: Good answer.
  • Meaningful Background Event: When they're at the bar on Beaumonde, you can hear the news announcer on the TV talking about an attack where the only survivors were a group of people who sealed themselves inside of a bank vault.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Combined with a Bilingual Bonus, The Pax. Pax is Latin for Peace.
    • "Miranda" is a character in Shakespeare's The Tempest who famously says "O brave new world that has such people in't" upon seeing people from outside her sheltered island existence; this quote in turn is the inspiration for the title of Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World, wherein the dystopian totalitarian state uses drugs to pacify the (genetically engineered) people. A complex multi-layered reference.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Mal shoots a bystander when he gets grabbed by Reavers, and Jayne asks Mal to do the same when he gets his leg speared by a harpoon.
      Jayne: I won't get ate! You shoot me if they take me!
      [Mal aims his pistol at Jayne]
      Jayne: Well, don't shoot me first!
    • The Operative offers to do this to Dr. Mathias "like an ailing pet".
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read:
    • Simply being put in a room with key members of Parliament was enough to drive River completely monkey-shit. It is expanded on in the Novelization—she was writing coherent secret messages to Simon right up until that point, upon which they immediately degraded to hash.
    • On Miranda, River is able to hear the psychic echoes of the former population, and is driven to tears by what she hears: the deafening silence of millions of minds made so apathetic that they let themselves die.
  • Mind Rape: Whatever the Academy did to River, she didn't turn out very well.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: Mal, to his crew after finding the video on Miranda: "No more running. I aim to misbehave."
  • Mood Whiplash: The heist on Beaumonde seems like a failry light, typical Firefly episode with plenty of jokes and wry dialogue. Then the Reavers show up and things get very serious very fast.
  • The Big Damn Movie
  • My Fist Forgives You: Simon slugs Mal for (what else?) putting River in danger. Interestingly he is the only one of the crew that ever dared do that—it's a Call-Back to the series, where Mal punched Simon (twice!) in the "real" pilot for putting his ship in danger.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Dr Caron is horrified and devastated, near tears as she speaks of it, to learn what happened to the people of Miranda, presumably from a project she worked on.
  • Mysterious Past: Book, and to a lesser extent River. Book once again refuses to tell Mal how he knows so much about Alliance business and the criminal underworld.
  • Nay-Theist: Mal. More specifically, he is a maltheist. He equates belief to God, giving Book two of his better lines:
    Book: When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?

    Book: It doesn't matter what you believe in. As long as you believe.
  • Necessarily Evil: The Operative views his crusade this way. He abandons this notion after finding out the truth about Miranda.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Both Simon (The Medic) and Kaylee (a Wrench Wench).
  • Neutral Female: Subverted with Inara, who tries to fight the Operative alongside Mal. Key word "tries", given she's a Companion, and he's a highly trained government agent. Although...
    Inara: And that's not incense. [flashbang grenade detonates]]
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: The plot of the film is driven almost entirely by the Alliance's efforts to stop River from revealing the information she holds. Had they not activated her subliminal programming or hunted down the crew of Serenity, the heroes would never have gone to Miranda and learned the secret.
  • Noble Fugitive: Simon and River.
  • No-Holds-Barred Contest: The final fight between Mal and the Operative is a brutal beat down on both sides.
    • The first one is as well. Mal is clearly outmatched by the Operative, but he gets in plenty of good hits too; it's not a Curb-Stomp Battle by any means.
  • No Name Given: The Operative. His name is taken from Doctor Mathias identifying him as "an operative" of the Alliance Parliament. Of course, the Operative states he doesn't have a name to give anyway, given he officially doesn't exist.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: Played with between River and Mal.
  • No One Could Survive That!: River's Heroic Sacrifice. Except... she does.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Mr. Universe's "hard to get to" backup transmitter.
  • No Place for Me There: The Operative knows he can't live in the utopia he seeks to create.
    The Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
    Mal: So me and mine gotta lay down so you can live in your better world?
    The Operative: I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there, any more than there is for you. Malcolm, I'm a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.
  • Nose Art:
    • The ship's name is painted in a stylized seal on the bow of the ship, in both English and Chinese.
    • The crew later invokes this trope by disguising their ship as a Reaver vessel, complete with lots of red paint and human corpses lashed to the hull.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Reavers are never given any full shots throughout the entire film.
  • Now, Let Me Carry You: River, to Simon after he gets shot:
    Simon: River, I'm sorry.
    River: No...
    Simon: River, I hate to leave.
    River: No, you won't! You take care of me, Simon. You've always taken care of me. [stands up and faces the unclosed blast doors] My turn.
  • Offscreen Villain Dark Matter: Not a villain, but where did Mr. Universe find the money for that complex?
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The Operative's smugness turns to complete terror as he realises who Mal has brought with him to get past the blockade.
      The Operative: Target the Reavers! Target the Reavers! Target everything! SOMEBODY FIRE!
    • Inara is very good at reading and controlling body language, so when she meets the Operative, the way her smile fades before he even says anything speaks volumes.
    • The head scientist gets an understated one when Simon says, "She always did love to dance." He has just enough time to realize that this isn't a government official he's been escorting into Top Secret research areas before he is knocked out by the stun grenade.
    • The crew, when they learn where Miranda is located, as Zoe explains, in-between where they are and Miranda are the Reavers. All the Reavers.
  • The Oner: A 4-minute-long shot right after the title card, which follows Mal through the corridors of Serenity, establishing the geography of the ship, allowing him to interact with the other six people on board, and providing an Establishing Character Moment for all of them. (Per DVD Commentary, it's actually two shots disguised with a whip pan, because Serenity's upper and lower decks were built as different sets.) The cinematography decision was a deliberate attempt to ground the movie, which until then had involved nested flashbacks (River's school days, Simon's heist, The Operative's investigations), two Info Dumps and a lot of disorientation.
  • One-Woman Army: River's Waif-Fu lets her take on a whole roomful of Reavers and win. She's quite prepared to throw down with the Alliance soldiers, too.
  • Only a Flesh Wound:
    • When Mal gets stabbed during his fight with the Operative, though having Alliance medical care available soon after may make it somewhat less applicable.
    • During the Reaver chase scene in the opening, Jayne gets impaled through a leg by a barbed harpoon. It doesn't seem to bother him much until he's back on Serenity.note 
  • Organ Dodge: The Operative's Pressure Point technique targets a nerve cluster Mal had moved due to an old war wound. The Operative is led to believe that it actually worked before a devastating surprise counterattack.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: Inverted: a character doesn't say something they normally would, which tips Mal off.
    Mal: Did you see us fight?
    Kaylee: No.
    Mal: Trap.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Twice.
    • We don't see what happens to Dr. Caron on the hologram, but the fact that Jayne, of all people, can't stand to look at it hints at how awful it is.
    • Shortly afterward, the preternaturally calm and unflappable Operative is clearly panicking at the sight of the oncoming Reaver fleet.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise:
    • Mal's big plan to slip past the Reavers is to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship—it's just rundown enough to pass for one too.
    • When Mal slips into Inara's rooms, he's dressed as another Companion.
      The Operative: I'm impressed that you would come for her yourself. And that you would make it this far in that outfit.
      Mal: I can be very graceful when I need to.
  • Parallel Conflict Sequence: The final battle is fought in two places.
  • The Paralyzer: The Operative uses a strike that targets vital nerve clusters, paralyzing his victim. He tries it on Mal, but it fails because of a war injury.
  • Passing the Torch: In the final scene of the film, River takes her place in the cockpit of Serenity, taking over as pilot following Wash's death.
  • Pass the Popcorn: When Inara calls Mal, the rest of the crew watch on the bridge. Janye brings popcorn.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Alliance tried to create a world like this artificially. They wound up creating a big pile of people who died of apathy. Oh, and the Reavers.
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: River is the product of a program to develop psychic operatives, but what she saw and learned drove her insane. When she recovers, she is adamantly hostile to them.
  • Phone-Trace Race: After the Operative has several of Serenity's havens destroyed, he talks to Captain Mal on the Wave (Subspace Ansible). During the conversation Mal tells the Operative they won't be talking long enough for a Wave trace (which would allow the Operative to locate them) and turns off the communications device.
  • Playing with Syringes: River at the academy.
  • Please Wake Up: Zoe's immediate reaction when Wash is killed.
  • The Power of Love:
    • The core of Simon and River's relationship. Simon's love for River is practically the only thing holding her fractured psyche together. As a result, this is the force that allows her to pull herself together at the end of the film and save everyone.
    • Invoked at the end with River and Mal:
      Mal: You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do, since you already know what I'm about to say.
      River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.
      Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down, tells you she's hurting before she keens, makes her a home.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Although a followup and conclusion to the television series, there are a subtle amount of changes and simplifications made to make the movie more accessible to those who hadn't watched the series and/or to make the film more self-enclosed: The western/19th century clothing/motifs are heavily toned down, the swearing in Chinese is heavily reduced, Inara's profession is never disclosed, and Mal's Sergeant rank in the army is changed to Captain to avoid confusion about why he is called Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Also, he apparently received a commendation for valor in a battle that, in the show, was a massive failure for his side in which they abandoned their soldiers on the field (including Mal and Zoe.)
    • In addition, there are some elements of Simon, River, Alliance and possibly the Reavers that appear to be retconned to keep a simpler and more straight-forward narrative. In the show, Simon explicitly hires professionals to rescue River because the Academy knows his face after a failed previous rescue attempt (he may also recognize that he doesn't possess the required skills) as opposed to leading the rescue operation himself, River's insanity is discovered to be due to part of her brain being removed as opposed to possessing a dark secret that needs to be let out, and overall the Alliance in the television show appears to be more "apathetic, corrupt, and decadent" than the "meddlesome do-gooders who believe that Utopia Justifies the Means" you see in the film, which allows for a stronger antagonistic presence for the main characters.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner:
    "My turn."
    "She always did love to dance..."
    "You know what your sin is..."
    "Ah, hell. I'm a fan of all seven... But right now... I'm going to go with WRATH."
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • "Eight months. Eight months you had her on my boat knowing full well she could go monkeyshit at the wrong word and you never said a thing." It's easy to miss it, but this is a cuss word they couldn't drop on Fox, but could in a Big Damn Movie.
    • In the movie's novelization by Keith R.A. DeCandido, a version of the scene on Haven where Mal announces his plan to use the corpses of the murdered settlers as part of a disguise for Serenity to cross Reaver space is featured where Mal drops the F-bomb to emphasize his point. Pretty sure the same scene is featured in the early draft of the film's script floating around the 'Net, the version where Wash and Book don't die.
  • Pressure Point: Used by the Operative as a paralyzing technique, and subverted by Mal in his final fight with the Operative when he pretends to fall victim to this technique. In truth that particular pressure point was rendered invalid by the surgery used to fix a war wound, and he just plays along so he can catch The Operative off guard.
  • Proscenium Reveal: The opening, where Simon breaks River out of the Academy, is revealled to be a holographic security recording being studied by the Operative.
  • Psychic Powers: River Tam demonstrates uncontrolled telepathy and empathy. It's theorized by some that her combat prowess may be partly attributable to low-level precognition—seeing seconds into the future to determine an enemy's next move. She also has other abilities, such as an ability to discern health problems and locate dead bodies, find her way through strange environments with no guidance, and locate electronic devices or discern problems with machinery. Interestingly, "The R. Tam Sessions" imply that River already had some form of latent psychic ability before the Academy started working on her.
  • Psycho Serum: G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate ("the Pax") has this effect on about 0.1% of people, turning them into Reavers.
  • Public Secret Message: The code that makes River flip out is hidden in an ad spot for Fruity Oaty Bars.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: a downplayed example.
    The Operative: Key. Members. Of Parliament.
    • Also, after Mal realizes that Reavers are coming:
    Mal: Get them! Inside! The Vault!
  • Quick Nip: Jayne takes a swig from a flask after pouring most of it out on his leg wound.
  • Quote Overdosed: Like the series, it's very quotable. You can't stop with just one.
  • Radial Ass Kicking: River fights off Reavers coming at her from all sides.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Serenity's crew.
  • Ramming Always Works: The Operative's ship gets T-boned by a Reaver ship in the final battle, snapping it in half. The latter ship is significantly larger in addition to its chosen orientation, and the Reavers are crazy enough that they don't necessarily care about the damage to their own vessel.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Several times, the crew of Serenity speak Chinese to each other without any subtitles for the audience.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Operative comes off like this at first. When Dr. Mathias sees him reviewing footage of River's escape, he protests that there was nothing he could have done to prevent that. The Operative actually agrees with this, saying that Simon had spent far too much time and effort preparing for the escape for them to realistically have prevented it. Then he executes Dr. Mathias because he had, inadvertently, leaked government secrets by allowing Parliament members into the same room as a mind-reader.
  • Rebuilt Set: Serenity looks a tiny bit different from the version seen in the show; most noticeably, the bridge is much smaller and is missing the storage lockers behind Wash's chair.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Mr. Universe is apparently an old friend who the crew has had plenty of interaction with. None of it occurred during the series.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Mal predominantly wears red clothes while the Operative wears Blue.
  • Retraux: Joss specifically asked for old camera lenses to use to add the "70s Western" feel.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: The Alliance spends a whole lot of time and effort hunting down River Tam, including murdering just about everybody who may have been in contact with her, in order to cover up what she learned through her telepathy when she was in the same room as several high-ranking Alliance members. River, being insane, probably doesn't understand what she knows and, in any case, isn't in any position to tell anybody even if she does. But the Alliance's campaign of persecution gives Serenity's crew a big motive to find out and make the information public knowledge.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After Mr. Universe sells out Mal, the Operative instead kills him with a sword. How weird is that? Bonus points for getting it right in the middle of asking for his thirty pieces of silver.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: When Mal and Jayne are arguing what to do about River after the Bar Brawl.
    Mal: Do you want to run this ship?
    Jayne: Yes!
    Mal: ...Well, you can't!
    • Not exactly a question, but:
    Mal: I staked my crew's life on the theory that you're a person, actual and whole. If I'm wrong, you'd best shoot me now.
    River: *Dramatic Gun Cock*
    Mal: *looking freaked out* ...or we could talk more.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Averted. Simon's time on the ship has stripped this element from him, replacing it with a tired bitterness behind most of his actions.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Two main characters from the series, Book and Wash, are killed to highlight the danger of the Operative and the Reavers, respectively.
  • Schizo Tech: The just-settled Outer Planets have no infrastructures or industries built yet, and the Alliance considers anything past terraforming a low priority, which looks to be how the Alliance controls the outer planets. "Join us and we'll upgrade your tech. Don't and have fun adapting yourself."
  • School for Scheming: River went to the Alliance-sponsored Academy to learn things. Instead she was tortured and experimented upon.
  • Scotty Time:
    Mal: Kaylee, you got a day's work to do, and two hours to do it.
  • Send in the Search Team: On Miranda, the crew finds an Apocalyptic Log which is all that is left of the search team sent in to find out what went wrong with the Pax drug.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: River occasionally. Possibly Simon. Possibly Kaylee, too, via mechanic talk.
  • Seven Deadly Sins:
    • The Operative seems to be obsessed with them, asking his victims if they know for which sin he is about to kill them. Given that they think they can "make mankind better", the Alliance's chief sin seems to be Pride.
    • Mal is also a fan of all seven, but right now he's going with Wrath.
  • Sex Bot: Mr. Universe has one. Turns out to be useful for other things, too, like messages. It's not entirely clear why they call it this, since it never moves on its own and appears to just be a doll.
  • Shirtless Scene: Mal and Simon each get one. Joss Whedon actually apologizes in the commentary for shooting shirtless!Mal at such a close angle and not allowing a full look at his physique.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: A particularly brutal example. Wash provides much of the film's comic relief, as he does in the show. When the intense final showdown is about to take place, he's properly killed off.
  • Shoot the Dog:
  • Shoot the Rope: Mal needs several shots to sever the mini-harpoon from Jayne's leg. While he's hanging from the back of the Mule II at full tilt.
  • Shouting Free-for-All: Captain Mal tells his crew that they're going to disguise their ship as a Reaver vessel so it can pass through the Reaver blockade. They all start shouting in disagreement with his decision. The shouting only ends when Mal shoots the nearby survivor of an Alliance ship crash.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous. Special mention goes to the Reavers, who share the name of the Scottish/English Border-Reivers of the late Middle Ages, and exist in similar political circumstances, with similar behavior. Of particular note is the crashed Research & Rescue ship on Miranda: its ID number is C57D, sharing that designation with the C-57D Cruiser from Forbidden Planet. Miranda itself is a "black rock," forbidden and forgotten.
  • Shrouded in Myth:
    • Reavers, at least until their origin is revealed.
    • Inara, amongst the other Companions. Rumor has it, she had a torrid affair with a pirate.
  • Silly Prayer: Mal contacts Inara by coming to the convent she's in, coming up next to her, and asking her god for a pony in a Simpleton Voice.
  • A Simple Plan: Mal comes up with a lot of these. And they go wrong with alarming regularity.
  • Single Tear: The Operative, when he sees the footage from Miranda.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: At the end of Serenity: Float Out, it is revealed that Zoe is pregnant with Wash's daughter.
  • Sonic Stunner:
    • Simon apparently found one that only works at head level, then uses it to rescue River by setting it off and ducking (she's conveniently seated at the time).
    • Inara's flashbang-incense is a very crude version.
  • Sorry That I'm Dying:
    • Book to Mal.
    • Simon to River.
  • Space Clouds: The ion cloud around Mr. Universe's planet. Joss Whedon admitted that he knew exactly how unscientific this is, but he needed it there for Rule of Cool in the battle scene.
  • Space Pirates: The Reavers, though they don't care about the usual pirate goals; Rape, Pillage, and Burn is an end in itself for them.
  • Space Western: Though the Big Damn Movie has fewer obviously Western elements than its predecessor series, the slang is still intact, and the Serenity crew do commit a bank robbery in a frontier town.
  • Special Effect Branding: Both used and subverted throughout Firefly and Serenity. The Alliance and civilian vessels (particularly Serenity) have very distinctive differences from each other. However, while definitely "branded" with their Spikes of Villainy, painted blood, and corpses, the Reaver ships are still recognizable by class - one shot from Serenity's fleet battle shows an Alliance frigate and a Reaverized counterpart of the same ship in great detail.
  • Split Personality: Invoked by Simon. When River starts talking about "Miranda" out of nowhere, no one has any clue who or what Miranda is. At one point Simon asks her if he is "talking to Miranda right now." She responds with an eye-rolling expression of disdain that only a teenager could pull off.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: River, notably in the opening sequence, where she goes from unconscious and Strapped to an Operating Table to fully awake and directly behind Simon in the time it takes him to peer out the door. Simon himself pops up behind Mal when he's preparing to argue against taking River along on the job.
  • Stealth Pun: In the soundtrack, not the movie. The name of the song that plays during the introductory sequence (the classroom explanation of Earth That Was, specifically), is "Into the River". It all takes place in River's head.
  • Stress Vomit: While on the planet Miranda, the crew learns a horrifying truth about the origin of the Reavers, causing River Tam to throw up.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: Captain Mal does this by getting the Reavers to attack the Alliance.
  • Surprise Inspection Ruse: At the beginning, Simon Tam pretends to be a high-level Alliance official investigating the facility where his sister River Tam is being conditioned. He uses this access to help River escape.
  • Survival Mantra: "I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar." Savagely subverted when Wash dies in the middle of saying it. Then again, he's not flying any more. Flying is his super power. His milieu.
  • Swallowed a Fly: After a horrific encounter with the Reavers, the crew barely makes it back, and crashes the runabout back onto Serenity. Simon (who stayed behind) is frantic over River, who is oddly calm:
    River: I swallowed a bug.
  • Sword Pointing: The Operative does this to Captain Mal when he first draws his sword during their fight in Mr. Universe's complex.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: Serenity dives down through the Reaver–Alliance battle, barrels toward Mr. Universe's complex, crash-lands with a minimum of grace, and everyone appears to be okay—cue the Reaver harpoon through the cockpit. Poor Wash...
  • Taking You with Me: A wounded Shepherd shoots down the Alliance ship that destroys Haven. "Not very Christian of me."
    • The Operative's ship does this to the massive Reaper ship that rams it and snapping it in half, firing off a final energy beam that seems to inflict critical damage.
  • Talkative Loon: River. She's very much aware of it, but has no real control over it, as she states in one of her more lucid moments.
  • Terrifying Rescuer: Mal. After he loses his temper, the Vault Guard genuinely seems more afraid of him than the Reavers.
    Mal: You get everyone upstairs in there and you seal it. Long as you got air you don't open up, you understand?
    Guard: I—Buh—I...
    Mal: Get them! Inside! The Vault!
  • Theme Music Withholding: The "Ballad of Serenity" only appears in a simple guitar cover at the very end of the credits.
  • There Are No Therapists: Not that there's any out there that could help much in River's case, not the very least because she's a fugitive who the Alliance and the Academy want back very badly.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Operative calls in the entire fleet to deal with a single, unarmed, cargo transport. Might double as Crazy-Prepared, because it turns out to be really helpful.
  • Thicker Than Water: Simon has given up his entire life for River, and protecting her is still his singular goal.
    The Operative: Madness? Have you looked at this scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It's love, in point of fact. Something a good deal more dangerous.
  • This Is Reality: The Operative tries to convince Mal to give up with this argument.
    The Operative: Nothing here is what it seems. You are not the plucky hero, the Alliance is not an evil empire, and this is not the grand arena.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Once the truth of Miranda is known to the crew and River Stress Vomits, she suddenly finds that the intense pressure of the secret on her psyche has been lifted, leaving her much less insane than before.
    River: I'm alright. ... I'm alright.
  • Tired of Running: Having spent years trying to make a living and simply avoid the Alliance after their victory in the war, Malcolm Reynolds finally finds a reason to fight back: the secret of Miranda.
    Mal: 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.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Jayne Cobb. (Or at least more amoral than the rest of them anyway.)
  • Too Much Information: Mal, when Kaylee talks about she complains she's tired of masturbating to deal with her sexual frustration. Jayne disagrees.
    Kaylee: It's been on a year now since I had anything twixt my nethers wasn’t run on a battery! Mal: Oh God I can't know that!
    Jayne: I could stand to hear a little more.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • River. Boy does she ever. She is able to beat Jayne in a mostly fair fight, and later takes on an entire army of reavers by herself.
    • It's shown that Kaylee is able to hold her own in a fight as well, especially when she's properly motivated.
    • Simon as well. Both on a personality level (he is less Fish out of Water and more weary traveller now) and in combat (in the show, he was stated to be such a bad shot that he didn't manage to shoot anybody in the one raid he was part of. Here he takes down a score of Reavers alongside the others)
  • Tranquil Fury: Zoe and River both get this when their respective loved ones are hurt (or in Zoe's case, killed).
    • Zoe simply fires at first, then calmly wades into the middle of the advancing Reavers almost suicidally before getting hurt and pulled back.
    • River launches her own suicidal attack after Simon gets hit, but she's a lot more successful.
  • Tranquillizer Dart: Kaylee gets three darts to the neck during the final battle, but never does completely lose consciousness.
  • Trauma Swing: An eerie variation with River, who in one scene is standing behind a swing set that's engulfed in flames. It's shot so that River is framed by the burning swing.
  • Trigger-Happy: Jayne in general; Mal against the Operative.
  • Trigger Phrase: River has one. Played with in that a phrase makes her sleep; what turns her into a violent assassin is a subliminal message hidden within an innocuous advertisement.
  • Trojan Horse: How Serenity runs the gauntlet through the Reaver ships to and from Miranda—by disguising itself as one of them, corpses and all.
  • True Companions: Serenity's crew. Mal will protect everyone on his ship and will punish anyone on his ship for harming anyone else.
  • Twin Test: When Mal meets with his contacts, Fanty and Mingo, they try to pull this on him by claiming they're the other one. Mal sees through it, and when they ask "How do you always know?" he replies "Fanty's prettier." The novelization explains that Mal has identified certain tells— Mingo has a slightly deeper voice, for instance— but refuses to tell the twins what they are.
  • Tyke Bomb: River was taken at fourteen and turned into a psychic Super-Soldier at the Academy.
  • Understatement: "Hard to get to." Lampshaded by Mal when he sees where the equipment is.
  • Undying Loyalty: The Operative acknowledges Simon's unwavering instinct to protect River:
    The Operative: The boy spent his entire fortune developing the contacts to infiltrate this place.
    Dr. Mathias: Gave up a brilliant future in medicine as well. It's madness.
    The Operative: Madness? Have you looked at the scan carefully, Doctor? At his face? It's love, in point of fact. Something a good deal more dangerous.
  • Unperson: There is not a colony on Miranda and there never has been. And Miranda was never terraformed and never can be. And you're under arrest for asking.

    Note that Miranda had a population of several million, and the government managed to suppress all knowledge of it entirely, save for a blank entry on the Cortex (the setting's equivalent to the net) and some vague recollections.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: No, it is not your imagination that whenever Mal and Inara get within a foot of each other, electricity shoots out of your screen. It's the UST trying to explode your television/computer.
  • Unstoppable Rage: River falls into a very calm rage when Simon gets shot.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Between the Mildly Mandarin swearing, the use of archaic words like "quim", and various other slang such as "gorram" and "shiny", it's hard to find examples of usual euphemisms in this film.
  • Used Future: Justified. There is a deliberate contrast between the Shiny-Looking Spaceships of the Alliance and the used, battered craft on the border regions.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Operative and the Alliance's goal.
  • Victory Sex: The promise of this (and a Relationship Upgrade) with Simon spurs Kaylee to state she will survive the battle with the Reavers.
  • Villain Ball: The Operative killing all of Mal's contacts, and especially Shepherd Book, is what galvanizes Mal into taking action and finding out the secret the Alliance is trying to hide.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Happens to the Operative when he sees the Reaver ships following Serenity.
    • He has another, much more complete one when he sees the Miranda recording, and realizes everything he told Mal in the quote under This Is Reality is precisely backwards.
  • Voice of the Resistance: The broadwave of the Miranda recording.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: The appropriately-named Mr Universe.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Averted with River when she learns of Miranda's secret; it works to clear her sub-conscious of the problem she was having assimilating the information.
  • Waif-Fu: River, again. Those poor Reavers.
  • Watching Troy Burn: Serenity runs to Haven only to find it in flames.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Operative truly believes that he is Necessarily Evil and is building a better world.
    • As did the scientists who released the Pax drug on Miranda.
    Dr. Caron: We meant it for the best... to make people safer...
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: The ending relies on footage of a government-caused disaster being distributed across the Matrix, with only the word of known criminals, a girl with clear mental issues, and a "no-such-agency" government operative to back it. There's no mention of any possible Alliance countermeasures.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Zoe points out that Mal could have saved a man's life simply by dumping the loot from a heist. Mal replies that the loot is the only thing between them and abject poverty, but it's still not a choice they would have made during the war.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Nobody but Simon would have known if he had abandoned River. Not even River herself.
  • The Whole World Is Watching: At the end, armed with knowledge that the Alliance is responsible for the existence of the Reavers, Mal decides that everyone needs to know about this and for that, he intends to take it to Mr. Universe, who has the equipment to put it on every screen in the system.
  • Window Watcher: In the last few minutes, River does this from the ceiling. To her brother, no less.
  • Worth Living For: Played for laughs when Simon spits it out.
    Simon: In all that time on the ship... I've always regretted... not being with you.
    Kaylee: With me? You mean to say... as in sex?
    Simon: I mean to say.
    Kaylee: To Hell with this. I'm gonna live!
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Operative is not above killing children, as he flat out informs Mal. As proof of this, when the characters arrive at Haven, Kaylee (the crew's most soft-hearted member) comes across a dead little boy about 10 years old (one whom she was briefly seen interacting with affectionately, earlier in the film). The Operative is aware that this is his Moral Event Horizon, but argues these deeds as being Necessarily Evil.
    Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: I don't murder children.
    The Operative: I do. If I have to.
  • Written by the Winners: Comes up in the Cold Open; the teacher in River's dream gives a rather biased account of the war. Then there's Miranda...
  • You Are Already Dead: A variant, the Operative uses a nerve strike that, while not deadly in and of itself, does leave his victims paralyzed so he can stab them with his sword.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Neither River nor Simon Tam can return to their home on Osiris, because doing so would get Simon arrested and River sent back to the Academy. On a more blunt note, Malcolm Reynolds can't go back to his home on Shadow because the Alliance virtually destroyed the planet during the Unification War, rendering it uninhabitable.
  • You Have Failed Me: Double Subversion. The Operative's superiors aren't angry that Simon got River out, as he clearly went to extreme lengths to accomplish it. They are, however, extremely angry that River's "handlers" showed their pet psychic to key members of Parliament. In person.
    The Operative: Key. Members. Of Parliament. "Key." The minds behind every military, diplomatic, and covert operation in the galaxy, and you put them in a room with a psychic. [...] You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.
  • You Rebel Scum!: From most Alliance officials.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: River, when the only thing standing between the badly injured and exhausted crew and the oncoming Reaver hordes are some broken blast doors.
  • You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry!
    The Operative: Do you know what your sin is, Mal?
    Malcolm Reynolds: Ah hell, I'm a fan of all seven. But right now? I'm gonna have to go with wrath.

And notably Averted:

"What was that?"

Alternative Title(s): Firefly